Category Archives: Cold Climate/Wintertime Movies

…and justice for all. (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lawyer fights the system.

Arthur (Al Pacino) is a defense attorney who becomes increasingly more frustrated and disillusioned with the court system. He’s fighting to get one of his clients, Jeff (Thomas Waites), out of jail as he’s been sitting behind bars for over a year simply because he was mistaken for somebody else while also being forced to defend Judge Fleming (John Forsythe), a man that he vehemently hates, from a rape allegation.

The script by the husband and wife team of Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtain is chockfull of great insights into the American legal system and how messed up and prone to corruption it can sometimes be. Defense lawyers have in the past been glamourized in TV-shows like ‘Perry Mason’, but here the viewer gets a more stark assessment of their profession as they watch them being forced to defend those that they know are actually guilty. Yet it also balances this by showing how public defenders can also be the lone voice to those who are truly innocent and have no one else to speak up for them.

The film has a weird comedy/drama mix that doesn’t work and ends up getting in the way. When I first saw this many decades back I liked the humorous undertones as it gave production a surreal, satirical edge, but upon second viewing I didn’t find it to be as amusing. The script makes good hard-hitting points and adding in the humor only diminishes this message and takes away from the seriousness of the subject matter.

The side-story dealing with the suicidal judge, played by Jack Warden, should’ve been excised. I’ll admit the images of him eating lunch while sitting out on a ledge of a tall building, or trying to kill himself with a rifle are memorable, but pointless and by coupling this judge character with Forsythe’s crooked one seems to imply that all judges are either bad or crazy, which isn’t fair.

The storyline dealing with Arthur visiting his senile grandfather, played by Lee Strasberg, should’ve been cut out as well as it has nothing to do with the main plot. It also brings up many unanswered questions like why is Arthur close to his grandfather and not to his own parents and why did his parents apparently ‘abandon’ him? This backstory never gets sufficiently addressed and seems like material for a whole different movie altogether.

Spoiler Alert!

The storyline involving Judge Fleming is the most intriguing and should’ve been made the film’s primary focus, but I was disappointed with the way the judge glibly admits to his crime, which takes away the mystery angle and I would’ve preferred the truth coming out in a more dramatic manner. The film also has a very old-fashioned take to his situation by saying that just because the character is involved with BDSM activities that somehow makes him ‘deviant’ and more prone to committing rape, which has been proven untrue as there are plenty of people who can enjoy kinky activities with consenting partners and still remain ethical.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall the film is worth catching and has many interesting moments including Pacino’s final speech that he gives to a packed courtroom, which is a gem. This also marks the film debuts of Christine Lahti and Jeffery Tambor as Pacino’s lawyer friend who slowly goes crazy.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Director: Norman Jewison

Rated R

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

No Drums, No Bugles (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living in a cave.

Ashby Gatrell (Martin Sheen) is a conscientious objector. When the Civil War begins he wants nothing to do with it, so he escapes into the West Virginia wilderness where he hides out inside a cave for the 4 years that it goes on. He talks to no one during this time, which becomes a strain on him mentally and emotionally.

The one cast member concept is interesting, but few films have succeeded using it. Even Castaway doesn’t really count because the Tom Hanks character is only stuck by himself during the first two acts, but then comes home at the end to interact with others, but here it’s all just Sheen and if it weren’t for his brilliant performance it wouldn’t have worked.

What I liked most is that it shows how isolation can have its benefits. Watching the scenes where Sheen runs uninhibited through the endless fields with no one else around almost like he were a playful child brought out just how freeing being alone can sometimes be and something that other films dealing with the same subject never effectively tackle instead it gets portrayed as being a complete negative, which it isn’t.

I was also impressed at how the film captures all four seasons. I felt that this was needed, but presumed with its low budget that it wouldn’t be and was willing to forgive it for that reason and yet to my surprise it gets shown anyways. What’s even more amazing is that they have the camera stay focused on a certain natural setting for instance a grove of trees and then merge the summer season slowly into the winter one, so you see how these exact same trees and area looks during both times of the year, which I found to be really cool!

On the negative end there are segments where the character overhears conversations from other people as he hides nearby and listens in. The conversations though sound stilted like they were spliced in later after they had been recorded inside a sound studio and not the natural surroundings. We also never see the faces of these other characters as they speak, or very few of them, with the camera instead focusing only on their lower body making them seem unintentionally dehumanized.

The film should’ve started out with the war not yet begun and Sheen still in his family man role, which would’ve created a vivid character arch that is otherwise lacking. The brief scene where he does go back to his home late at night doesn’t work since he never speaks to any one there and we are given no real understanding of what he was like before he became a nomad.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is confusing as it shows the war ending and he goes back into his town, but finds no one there almost like they’d been kidnapped by some alien being or something. He finally hears some people singing inside a church, but the film never has him going inside, so the viewer doesn’t experiences his readjustment, or whether he was ever accepted back into the community at all, which makes the story incomplete. Too much time is spent on the wilderness scenes when that should’ve only been a part of the plot with the other stages of his life being examined as well.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 23, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated G

Director: Clyde Ware

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: VHS

The Concorde … Airport ’79 (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Missile targets passenger plane.

A corrupt arms dealer, Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner), has his deadly surface-to-air missile system target a Concorde airplane while it’s in the air when he finds out that one of the passengers on board, a news reporter named Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely), has incriminating information on him that she plans to report on once the plane lands. Captain Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) uses his superior piloting skills to avoid the missile, but then learns Harrison has installed a device on the plane that knocks-out its cargo door causing the plane to literally rip apart and forcing a dangerous emergency landing in the Alps.

This terrible idea for a movie came from its producer Jennings Lang who greedily wanted to squeeze out a story from an already tired formula if he felt it could continue to make a profit. Sometimes it’s best to get out while you’re ahead, but Lang, who wrote the story for this one, didn’t see it that way and ended up making a clunker that’s even worse than Airport 1975, which was already notorious for being one of the worst disaster flicks ever made. The plot here has all the trappings of being written by someone more interested in turning a profit than creating an actual movie as the characters are one-dimensional and the situations contrived.

The espionage undertone makes it seems more like a James Bond flick with most of the action occurring on the ground than in the airplane. Watching the plane trying to avoid the missile isn’t exciting because the unconvincing special effects clearly look like images being matted onto the screen. The scenes showing the passengers screaming as the plane turns upset down become laughable and get shown with a boring regularity. The part where Eddie Albert’s chair goes through the floor is the film’s unintentional comic highpoint particularly when he states “I thought I had the best seat on the plane.”

Yet the craziest element in the story is the fact that the plane, after the passengers spent the whole flight being terrorized by incoming missiles, lands in Paris and the people spend the night in a hotel. Then the next day they all happily board the plane again, which simply would not happen as there is no way that anyone anywhere would get back onto a plane, especially so quickly if ever, after what they had just gone through.

George Kennedy gives a solid performance and helps to give the film some minor credibility in what would turn out to be his last major film role as he would be relegated to minor supporting roles and B-movies afterwards. The rest of the cast though either gets wasted; particularly Mercedes McCambridge who only gets a few speaking lines, or become just plain irritating.

Jimmie Walker is the most annoying playing a goofball who boards the plane while still carrying his saxophone, which would never be allowed in reality, and even starts playing it creating worse noise pollution than the singing nun did in Airport 1975 and should’ve been enough to have had him thrown off the airline…while it was still in the air. Tacky B-celebrity Charo appears briefly as a nutty lady who tries bringing her dog on board. Fortunately she gets booted off before the plane takes off because otherwise I would’ve been rooting for it to have crashed.

The only interesting aspect about the movie is the plane itself. The Concorde was the fastest commercial jet built that had maximum speeds that were twice the speed of sound. I thought it was cool the way the plane light up signs informing the passengers once they had reached Mach 1 and made me wish I could’ve flown on one, but sadly the Concorde ceased operations in 2003 even though flying in one was quite safe. Ironically the only crash that occurred during its 30 year history happened with the plane that was used in this film, Flight 4590, which crashed minutes after take-off on July 25, 2000, killing all 109 on board.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 17, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Lowell Rich

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Ironweed (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life on the streets.

It’s the 1930’s and Francis Phelan (Jack Nicholson) has been living on the streets for over two decades. At one time he was a promising baseball player with a bright future, but then he accidently dropped his infant son and killed him. Dealing with the guilt and shame of it turned him into an alcoholic who roams the cold streets of Albany, New York looking for odds jobs and handouts when he can. He seeks out his lover Helen (Meryl Streep) for companionship and the two share a bottle of booze and their bitterness at the world that is ambivalent to their desperate situation.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by William Kennedy, who also wrote the screenplay and is directed by Hector Babenco who received wide claim for directing Pixote a film that dealt with homelessness in Brazil. This film is without question one of the best to tackle the lives of street people. Most films tend to treat the subject rather timidly and only analyze the topic from a distance (i.e. having a side character who is homeless, or maybe a main character who is temporarily on the streets), but this film engrosses the viewer completely into the homeless lifestyle while supplying absolutely no letup to their bleak existence. The result is a fascinating and revealing journey that shows how complex and multi-dimensional these people actually are while exposing every facet of the homeless experience including the indignities and dehumanization that they must face on a daily basis.

The casting is interesting particularly for the fact that both Nicholson and Streep had just starred together in Heartburn a year earlier playing a couple on the completely opposite side of the socio-economic scale. I commend Nicholson for tackling a challenging role that goes completely against his persona as normally he plays flamboyant types with over-the-top personalities, so it’s great seeing him take on a humble one who feels and acts like a complete miniscule to the world around him. However, the scenes where he interacts with the ghostly visions of people he has murdered in the past does not come off as successfully as it could’ve. The imagery is interesting, but the fact that he had played a character already that dealt with similar types of ghostly visions in The Shining causes the viewer to think back too much to that film and takes them out of this one.

Streep is outstanding and her constant ability to completely submerse herself into her characters and take on different accents with an amazing authenticity never ceases to amaze me. She really looks the part too by not only wearing no make-up, but having her teeth stained and darkened to effectively give off that decayed look. I’m genuinely floored at how many times most films neglect to do this. Actors portraying characters in destitute environments, or from the old west, may convey the down-and-out or rugged look physically, but their teeth still always look great when in reality they should’ve been in as bad of shape or worse as the rest of their bodies.

The supporting cast is good but they have little to do, which includes Fred Gwynne who appears briefly as a bartender. Carroll Baker though is excellent as Nicholson’s ex-wife. She was a blonde beauty that burst onto the scene in the ‘50s and was billed as the next Marilyn Monroe, but her acting ability quickly became suspect and by the ‘60s she was relegated to low budget B-movies and European productions, but in the ‘80s she made a Hollywood comeback in supporting roles and her appearance here was clearly her best performance and proves that she really could act. Margaret Whitton is also a standout as she takes part in one of the film’s few lighthearted moments as an eccentric woman who is prone to histrionic fainting spells and walking outside without any clothes.

The film though does suffer from a few too many dramatic peaks, which includes having two of Nicholson’s homeless friends die almost simultaneously, which only helps to lessen the effect by squeezing out more drama than it needs to, but overall this is a top notch effort where every scene and utterance rings true.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1987

Runtime: 2Hours 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: Hector Babenco

Studio: TriStar Pictures

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

Airport 1975 (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stewardess pilots the plane.

A businesses man (Dana Andrews) suffers a fatal heart attack while piloting his private plane causing his aircraft to fly directly into the cockpit of a Boeing 747, which kills the co-pilot (Roy Thinnes), the navigator (Erik Estrada) and seriously injures the pilot (Efrem Zimbalist Jr).  This forces the plane’s head stewardess (Karen Black) to take control of the plane even though she has no experience. Those at the control tower try to direct her via a headset on what to do, which helps steady the jet while they devise a way to get a professional pilot onto the craft in order to land it.

Compared to Airport this is a real letdown. In the first film the individual passengers came off like real people all suffering from their own personal dilemmas, but here they’re more like cardboard caricatures that barely have any speaking lines and there only to show panicked expressions and not much else.

The dialogue and ‘drama’ quickly becomes inadvertently campy. Linda Blair plays a Pollyanna-like girl suffering from an undisclosed illness who befriends a nun (Helen Reddy) who breaks out into an impromptu song on a guitar that would have most passengers complaining of noise pollution. Playing herself is aging silent film actress Gloria Swanson who dictates her autobiography into a tape recorder as she is on the plane, which seems dumb because it allows the other passengers to overhear it although at least for their benefit it will allow them to avoid having to buy the book once it’s published since they will know all about the juicy details already. The only entertaining passenger is Myrna Loy as a tipsy old lady who enjoys drinking boilermakers.

The plane’s excessively wide interior and its large seats make it seem more like the inside of a luxury train. The plane even has a winding stairwell at the center of it for people to walk up. I’ve flown on many jets in my life and have never seen one with an upstairs/downstairs. If you’ve been on a plane that has had one then please let me know. (Note since this review was written one of the followers to this blog, Rob, has supplied us with pics of an actual 747 from that era and proves that indeed these things described above did exist at one time in a plane, so please be sure to check-out his links to pics in the comments section.)

The special effects get badly botched. The sequence involving the small engine plane crashing into the jet looks fake as the plane gets shown through the cockpit window and is quite obviously matted in on a bluescreen. You can clearly tell too that an inflatable dummy was used as the co-pilot when he gets sucked out through the hole that is formed from the crash. The scene where the replacement pilot (Ed Nelson), who tries to board the plane to help land it, is killed when his release cord becomes caught in the jagged metal, comes-off as unintentionally  funny instead of horrific.

The outdoor aerial footage shot over the Wasatch Mountains is the film’s one redeeming element. I also enjoyed Karen Black in what is likely her definitive role. She has played so many kooky, offbeat characters that it’s interesting seeing her portray a normal one. I just wished that she would’ve piloted the plane the whole way through and even landed it. Having Charlton Heston, as a professional pilot, literally ‘drop-in’ and takeover is far less compelling. It also seems quite sexist by intimating that women aren’t capable of taking on challenges to their completion and at some point a man must step-in even when the women seem to be handling the situation quite well without them.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Airport (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Terror in the skies.

During a major snowstorm at Chicago’s Lincoln International Airport manager Al Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster) must scramble to keep the place open while trying to get a disabled jet plane that is stuck in the snow off the runway. Meanwhile on a flight headed for Italy there’s the mentally unhinged Guerrero (Van Heflin) sitting with a bomb in his briefcase set to go off and explode the airplane and killing everyone inside, so that his family back home can collect on the insurance money.

The film is based on the best-selling novel by Arthur Hailey and despite some critics, like Pauline Kael, hating it for its soap opera-like dramatics I still came away feeling it was perfect crackerjack entertainment. The characters on the plane are quite diverse with unique problems and personalities making them seem like real people that the viewer becomes genuinely concerned for. The special effects, particularly those done inside the plane, are effective and the film has a nice dramedy balance.

The only drawback, and I hesitate to bring this up as I think they did the best they could’ve done under the circumstances, are the special effects dealing with the snow storm. It was shot at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport during the winter of 1969, but unfortunately the whole time the film crew was there the weather remained sunny forcing them to eventually have plastic snow shown falling while the in the background the sky remains crystal clear and sunny. The snow shown falling during the nighttime scenes is equally problematic. I resided for many years in the North Country and I know that when it snows at night the sky gives off a bright white glow and it’s never pitch black like it is here.

The film was considered innovative at the time for its use of the split-screen particularly when it would show people talking on the phone to each other. Director George Seaton wisely doesn’t overplay this and uses the device sparingly for the most part however the segment where Lancaster is shown in one square talking to his wife, who is in another square along with their two daughters who each pop-up in their own individual squares it starts to resemble the opening to ‘The Brady Bunch’.

The acting by the female performers is quite strong. I was really impressed with Jean Seberg, her career started back in 1958 when she beat out 18,000 other applicants to get the starring role in Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan despite her lack of acting experience and although her performance in that film was lambasted by the critics I felt here she was solid and she could’ve easily carried the film during the scenes at the airport without Lancaster’s presence, who plays her boss, being needed at all.

Jaqueline Bisset is equally good as the stewardess who knows how to think on her feet.  I liked how this role didn’t take advantage of her looks or sexiness and instead kept it focused solely on her dramatic acting ability and I loved her shoulder length hair cut here as opposed to her really long hair style that she usually sports. Helen Hayes is hammy as the old lady stowaway, which netted her an Oscar, but Maureen Stapleton, who was also nominated for best supporting actress, is quite good too. Her talents lie more in her expressive face particularly the moment when she looks out the airport window and witnesses the plane carrying her husband, who she knows has a bomb, take off.

Dean Martin is excellent on the male end. Typically he comes off as tipsy and laid-back, but here he surprisingly takes the reins and helps propel the picture. George Kennedy is also surprisingly strong. Most of the time his presence amounts to nothing more than token supporting parts, but here he plays the gruff, brash airline mechanic to great effect and could help explain why his character was the only one to appear in all four airport movies.

The film does come off like it was released in the ‘50s instead of the 70s by having a cast that was mostly past their prime, but it’s by far the best disaster flick from the ‘70s, and there were a lot of them, as well as better than any of the three sequels that followed it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1970

Runtime: 2Hours 17Minutes

Rated G

Director: George Seaton

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Death Wish (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Architect becomes a vigilante.

In connection with the Eli Roth/Bruce Willis reboot that is set to be released to theaters this Friday I thought now would be a good time to go back and take a look at the original. The story centers on Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) who works as an architect and lives a comfortable life with his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) and adult daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan). One day while he is at work his New York apartment gets invaded by three thugs (Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Logan, Gregory Rozakis) who kill his wife and rape his daughter. Paul becomes outraged that the police can’t seem to make any headway on the case and decides to take matters into his own hands by becoming a self-styled vigilante shooting random thugs on the street late at night, which in turn has him becoming a cult hero to the many residents of the crime ridden city.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield. Garfield was inspired to write the story after his car got vandalized. He initially fantasized about tracking down the criminals and killing them before eventually speculating what would happen if someone actually went through with these feelings and decided to take the law into their own hands. The main difference between the novel and film is that in the book the vigilantism becomes more of the problem while in the movie it’s considered the solution.

Many critics at the time gave the film unfavorable reviews as they felt it advocated violence, but I found the movie to have a certain uplifting quality. While the message is certainly simplistic and one-sided it still nicely conveys the idea that ordinary citizens can make a difference and it is up to us, the American public, to foster change and not to simply leave it up to someone else. The film doesn’t completely promote violence as the solution either as there is one scene where an old lady (Helen Martin) scares off her attacker simply by using her hat pin.

The problem that I had with it was why does Bronson constantly get harassed by these thugs in the first place? Whether he is at a restaurant or on the subway the bad guys constantly hone in on him for no apparent reason even when there’s plenty of other people around. In the book it made more sense because the title character would intentionally set traps for the thugs like abandoning his car and putting an ‘out of gas’ sign on it, so the criminals would try to rob the vehicle and then when they did he’d shoot them. Of course this would make the character’s motives more questionable, which the film wanted to avoid, but in the process it becomes less believable.

While this has become Bronson’s signature role it still would’ve worked better had a less brawny actor played the part. In the book the character is a meek accountant and someone like Jack Lemmon, who was originally considered for the role, would’ve been a more authentic fit. Bronson’s image is so entrenched as a ‘tough guy’ that his presence here seems like just another of his action themed vehicles. Chuck should’ve also not known how to use a gun right away either and maybe even been initially clumsy with it as it would’ve made the character arch from peaceful novice to sharp shooting vigilante stronger.

I liked Michael Winner’s directing particularly the way he shot the interiors of the apartments and his grimy portrayal of the urban New York setting that perfectly played-up the city’s crime ridden paranoia at the time. This is also a great chance to see some young performers before they were famous including Christopher Guest as a patrolman. I also found it amusing that Paul Dooley and Vincent Gardenia share a brief scene together as they both went on to play the dad character in Breaking Away. Dooley portrayed him in the movie version while Gardenia played the part in the short live TV-series.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Paramount

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

Girlfriends (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She misses her friend.

Susan (Melanie Mayron) and Anne (Anita Skinner) are best friends and roommates, but when Anne decides to get married to Martin (Bob Balaban) and move out Susan can’t handle the solitude. She picks-up a hitch-hiker named Ceil (Amy Wright) who moves in for a bit, but it doesn’t work out. She then gets into a relationship with Eric (Christopher Guest) and even a 60-year-old married rabbi (Eli Wallach), but both of these end in heartache. The more Susan tries to ‘move-on’ the more she longs for the old days with Anne and Anne starts to feel the same way.

This was Claudia Weill’s feature film debut that met with high accolades including director Stanley Kubrick who considered it his favorite film of 1978. There’s a nice understated quality here that not only brings out a vivid late ‘70s feel, but also the very real day-to-day struggles of a young adult trying to swim through the quagmire of relationship and career obstacles. Melanie Mayron is certainly not a beauty by the conventional standard, but her plain appearance helps accentuate the challenges of the regular person trying to break-out and get noticed.

Susan’s struggles at trying to become a full-time photographer had me hooked the most as it portrays the universal challenges anyone can have in trying to get ‘their foot-in-the-door’ no matter what the profession, but I was a bit stunned when she forgets about the exhibition of her work at an art show. If someone is truly excited about getting their first big break then there is simply no way that would happen. It’s also hard for the viewer to completely empathize with someone’s career struggles if they themselves aren’t doing all they can to achieve it.

Another misguided wrinkle to the story was Susan’s relationship with a married rabbi who was almost 40 years older than her. These types of relationships suffer from extraordinarily long odds  and just about anyone would realize that from the get-go, which makes Susan’s ‘shocked’ reaction when the rabbi is unable to get together for a date due to family obligations seem almost  irrational. How a relationship like this could even begin to blossom is a whole other issue that never even gets addressed.

The film suffers from a few awkward scenes too. One has Wallach sitting down to play a game of chess with Melanie only for him to get up a minute later and leave for no reason. Why does he bother to show up for a chess game if he isn’t even going to make a single move on the board? Later Viveca Lindfors appears wearing a neck brace and yet no explanation is ever given for why she has it on. Later she’s shown without it, so why did she have it in one scene and not the other? Maybe it was for a minor accident, which can happen, but film is a visual medium and when something slightly askew gets shown it needs to get addressed even if it’s just in passing otherwise the viewer will key in on that and not the story.

Even more amazingly, and I can’t believe I’m saying this as I’ve never seen it in any other movie that I’ve ever watched before, but there’s an actual scratch on the camera lens that can be spotted in just about every scene. It appears on the top right hand side as a small white mark. If the sun is shining through a window it will reflect the light and be more pronounced. If a character walks in front of the window it fades a bit, but you can still see it and this continues throughout the entire run of the film. I can only presume that cinematographer Fred Murphy was aware of this, but due to the budget constraints they didn’t have enough money to replace the lens and decided to simply chug along with the scratch in place and hope no else would notice.

Ultimately though I found the story, in its simple way, to be touching and poignant this is particularly evident at the end where the viewer can see firsthand how friendships help add insight and support to a person’s life and are an important dimension to the human experience.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 4, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Claudia Weill

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

The Story of Adele H. (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She obsesses over soldier.

Based on actual events the story centers around Adele Hugo (Isabelle Adjani), the second daughter of famous French writer Victor Hugo, who in 1863 travels across the Atlantic to Halifax, Nova Scotia where she tries to rekindle her relations with Albert Pinson (Bruce Robinson). Pinson is now an officer in the British army and no longer has any interest in Adele. Adele though refuses to accept his rejection and makes numerous attempts to get him to marry her. The more indifferent he becomes the harder she tries, which eventually drives her into a complete madness.

Director Francois Truffaut took the accounts from Adele’s actual handwritten diary to help recreate the story. Unlike most films nothing was altered from the documented facts and although the stalker /jilted lover theme may seem like an overused storyline by today’s standards it was still a fresh topic back in the ‘70s and one of the first documented cases in human history of what has now become known as erotomania where a person becomes convinced that the object of their desires is in love with them even when they really aren’t.

What helps this film to stand out is that the audience isn’t made to fear the woman and her actions are not portrayed as being menacing. Instead the viewer feels genuinely sorry for her as we witness firsthand how debilitating mental illness can truly be as it destroys this otherwise beautiful woman’s personality and leaves her only a shell of a person in the process.

Adjani is excellent and although the film remains compelling it still comes off as feeling incomplete. Part of the problem is that we only see the character at one stage of her life. Reportedly in real-life Adele only started to show signs of mental illness when she reached her mid-20’s, so it would’ve been interesting to have seen scenes from when she was younger and behaving more normally. Flashbacks of when Adele first met Pinson, who was initially interested in Adele and even proposed marriage to her, would’ve been intriguing to see as well.

We’re never shown Adele’s relationship to her father either, which could’ve been quite revealing. We hear voice-overs from when he sends her letters, but seeing the two interrelate in-person was needed. This may have been the result of Truffaut given the rights to film the story by Jean Hugo, but only if Victor Hugo did not appear onscreen, but in either event the film is lacking in budget and scope where a wider biopic of the woman’s life would’ve been more satisfying including showing her later years while inside a mental institution, which gets only glossed over here.

As in most cases what occurred behind-the-scenes while the film was being made is sometimes more interesting that what happened in front of the camera and this production proved to be no exception as the cast and crew went through many of the same scenarios as the characters. Truffaut tried to start up a relationship with Adjani, but was rebuffed and then she turned around and had an affair with the actor who plays the character that rebuffs her character in the movie. This caused Truffaut great jealousy as he was forced to deal with the two’s affair from afar much like Adele had to do in the story when Pinson eventually marries someone else. Truffaut later described making this movie and dealing with his unrequited love for Adjani as a ‘daily suffering’.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francois Truffaut

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Reds (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He fights for socialism.

The film centers on the life of John Reed (Warren Beatty) who was a socialist activist that covered the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and later published his account in ‘The Ten Days That Shook the World’.  He became instrumental in forming the Communist Labor Party of America and marrying noted feminist Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) before returning to Russia and eventually dying there becoming only one of three Americans buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.

The project was a labor of love for writer/star/director/producer Warren Beatty who first became inspired by Reed’s story in the mid-‘60s and spent over15 years battling to get it produced. Unlike most actors-turned-directors Beatty was notoriously disliked by his cast and crew for demanding many different takes for even the simplest of scenes forcing his friend Gene Hackman, who agreed to appear in the film for free, to do 100 takes to convey only a few brief lines. Beatty also strangely decided to keep the camera running continuously even between takes resulting in three million feet of footage that weighed five tons to ship and if played continuously on the screen would’ve resulted in taking two and a half weeks to complete.

The story is okay and moderately compelling, but I felt too much emphasis was placed on Reed’s and Bryant’s relationship. Supposedly this was a biography on a famous historical figure, but the story gets lodged more on the rocky, unconventional marriage aspect and seemed at times to be more focused on Keaton’s character than Beatty’s.

I was also confused as to what exactly had Reed done that was so special, or elicit us to sit through such a long movie about him. In a normal epic the main character is instrumental in causing the events that we see, but here the protagonist is nothing more than a sideline observer with no direct control on what goes on. Technically he doesn’t change anything and the film is just one long look at how whatever he strived either fizzled or got corrupted before he eventually dies in virtual obscurity, which hardly seems inspiring or worth the time to watch.

The supporting cast helps significantly particularly Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill who has an affair with Bryant. It’s always interesting to seeing Nicholson play a subdued character since he’s usually so flamboyant and Jack makes the most of it, which helps give the story a little extra edge. Maureen Stapleton won the Academy Award for supporting actress even though her character is only seen sporadically, but she probably deserved the Award either way since she became a victim of Beatty’s overzealous need for multiple takes, which so infuriated her that she apparently screamed ‘Are you out of your fucking mind?” when Beatty demanded that she redo her scene for the 80th  time which got the rest of the crew to cheer their approval.

It’s also fun to see Jerzy Kosinski as the communist politician Grigory Zinoviev. Kosinski was best known for having written the novel ‘Being There’, which inspired the film of the same name, but later he was accused of having plagiarized the story from an earlier Polish novel and it was revealed that many of his other stories were ghost written by assistant editors, which is ironic since his character in the film gets accused by Beatty of having tampered and re-written his speeches and writings.

As a whole it’s adequately done, but the pace ebbs and flows. The interviews with people who actually knew Reed, or were connected to his life in some way are a highlight as is the scene where Reed tries to escape Russia by riding on a hand cart along a train track in the dead of winter, but everything else gets overblown.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 3, 1981

Runtime: 3 Hours 15 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Warren Beatty

Studio: Paramount

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