Category Archives: Cold Climate/Wintertime Movies

The Brood (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wife creates dwarf murderers.

After suffering a mental breakdown Nola (Samantha Eggar) is sent away to a secluded clinic run by Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) who uses unorthodox methods to heal his patients. Once she gets sent there strange murderers resembling dwarfs begin to terrorize her family members including her daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds) who they kidnap. Her husband Frank (Art Hindle) is convinced there’s some connection between these strange killers and the institute so he goes there to confront the Dr., but is ill prepared to the secret that awaits him.

Through the years this film has become a staple to director David Cronenberg’s work and is well filmed with shadowy lighting and fluid camerawork that help create an ongoing creepy feel as well as Howard Shore’s pounding score. The film’s ultimate moment though remains Eggar’s bizarre ‘birthing’ scene where she takes a blood drenched embryo and licks it, which apparently was something she improvised on-the-spot. It remains perversely disturbing even by today’s standards, but was cut from the release at the time and only now is intact with the Criterion Blu-ray in all its glory or gruesomeness depending on your point-of-view.

The story though isn’t as clever as the filmmakers think as I was able to figure it out almost immediately and having to watch a protagonist take 90-minutes to come to the same conclusion that took me only 10-minutes makes for a rather annoying and dull plotline. There’s also no explanation for why Nola is able to have the ability that she does. If it’s connect it to the experimental therapy she’s going through then fine, but others in that group should , or at least some of them, be able to do the same thing, but they’re not, so why is that?

There’s also a murder scene that comes in the middle of the movie that to me didn’t seem logical. It entails the dwarf murderers coming into the kindergarten class that Candice is attending and using toy hammers that they pick-up from a nearby table to bludgeon her teacher to death. Normally toy hammers are lightweight,  so no matter how hard or how long a person may swing it at their victim it’s highly unlikely that it would be able to crush their skull. I also thought all of the children who witnessed the crime would’ve run out of the room screaming instead of just one and having them then stand around the body quietly whimpering afterwards sounded forced and fake.

Reed’s dark and commanding presence always helps every movie that he is in although it’s a bit weird that he becomes the ultimate hero especially after the opening scene in which he is emotionally abusive. Eggar, whose eyes look strangely wider and more rounder here, has her acting meddle put to the test by portraying a person that I didn’t think she had the ability to do, but she proves quite qualified.

The young Hinds is surprisingly effective despite her extremely young age, but Hindle is transparent as the protagonist. I realize that he acts as a sort of buffer to the craziness, but he lacks an edge and unable to match the energy of his flamboyant co-stars.

Horror fans should find this thing adequate, but for me the story is too basic and predictable they’re needed to be some sort of secondary angle or side-story. Supposedly Cronenberg was inspired to write this after dealing with the custody battle he had with his own ex-wife, Margaret Hindson, who had worked with him on many of his earlier projects. According to him Eggar’s character reflected many of her same traits.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 25, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Cronenberg

Studio: Canadian Film Development Corporation

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

Rabid (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Graft patient craves blood.

Rose (Marilyn Chambers) becomes the victim of a horrible accident when the motorcycle she goes riding on with her boyfriend (Frank Moore) crashes and she gets pinned underneath the burning wreckage. Fortunately for her the accident occurs near a clinic that specializes in plastic surgery. The head surgeon (Howard Ryshpan) is able to perform an experimental procedure on her that helps graft her burned skin back to normal, but in the process creates a strange orifice in her armpit that sucks blood from everyone she attacks. Her victims then become possessed by a rare form of rabies that sends the city of Montreal into a panic as the authorities try to control the outbreak while also trying to figure out the cause.

This marked director David Cronenberg’s third feature film and from a low budget standpoint the results are impressive. I was especially amazed by some of the car stunts including having an out-of-control vehicle jump a guard rail and crash onto a highway below where a large semi then rams into it. His ability to somehow hire an entire fleet of squad cars is admirable too as most budget-challenged films will make do with just one police car when having authorities investigate the scene of a crime/accident even though in reality there are usually many especially if the crime or accident is severe like here.

I also loved the way he captures the gray/bleak Canadian landscape, which helps supplement the film’s dark and moody tone as well as the bits of dark humor that gets implemented into the story that made me wish the whole thing had been approached as a black comedy from the start.

The horror though isn’t all that much and genuine scares are light including the scenes showing rabid people attacking others, which becomes both clichéd and redundant. The orifice itself looks like an asshole and similar to the giant one that Cronenberg created many years later for his equally provocative film Naked Lunch.

Unfortunately porn star Chambers doesn’t have the presence or talent for mainstream film work. She broke into the business years earlier with a bit part in the Barbra Streisand movie The Owl and the Pussycat, but to her surprise other film offers didn’t follow, which eventually forced her into the X-rated business, which included starring in the cult classic Behind the Green Door, but she always held out hope to one day breaking back into mainstream movies and finally got it here, but it never propelled her further.

Part of the issue is her voice which is abnormally high-pitched and at times sounds like that of a very young child’s. In certain scenes it’s worse than others, but I found listening to her speak to be disconcerting and distracting although she does still look great naked.

The somber, downbeat ending is unusual for a horror film and it might’ve had more impact had the main character been given more depth. The viewer though learns little about her and she fails to have a distinctive personality, which limits the film’s ability to be anything more than just a curio.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 8, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Cronenberg

Studio: Cinepix Film Properties

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

Lost and Found (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting keeps couple together.

Adam (George Segal) is a college professor vacationing in France whose car collides with that of British divorcee Tricia (Glenda Jackson). He tries to get her to write a letter admitting that she was at fault, but she instead writes the exact opposite while doing it in French, so he wouldn’t know. When he finally catches on to this he tracks her down at the ski resort and again collides with her this time on skis. Eventually they find a way to reconcile and even fall in love before finally marrying yet when they return to the states they start fighting again over just about anything until it seems that is all that they do.

Sloppy, poorly structured romance should’ve never been given the green light. The characters are bland and one-dimensional and the humor cartoonish while the couple’s relationship is strained to the extreme. The story has no momentum and the inane fighting seems put in simply to give it some comical conflict that leads nowhere and eventually becomes tiring.

The main problem is that the two reconcile too quickly. Viewers who watch these types of films enjoy wondering whether ultimately the couple will get past their differences and tie-the-knot, which is what compels them to keep watching, but here any suspense of that is ruined when they get married within the first half-hour and thus the arguments that they have afterwards is anti-climactic. The film would’ve worked better had the two remained antagonistic. The conflict could’ve started in the French Alps and then continued onto the college campus by having the Jackson character work as a prof in the same department as Segal and had their animosity only slowly melt away when they’re forced to work on some project together with the wedding bells then coming in only at the very end.

What makes this movie odd is that it reteams Jackson and Segal as well as the writer/director team of Melvin Frank and Jack Rose who all did A Touch of Class together just 6 years earlier. One would presume that this would be a sequel to that one with Segal and Jackson playing the same characters that they did before, but that’s not the case. In retrospect that’s how it should’ve been played and it would’ve then avoided having to show the dumb, over-the-top way that the two meet here, which is so forced and corny that it cements this has being a bad movie before its even barely begun.

The supporting cast manages to add some life. I got a kick out of Maureen Stapleton as Segal’s free-spirited, hippie-like mother, but she was only 52 at the time and didn’t even have any gray hair making her look much too young to have given birth to a middle-aged man in his 40’s and was in fact only 9 years older than Segal in real-life. Paul Sorvino is amiable as a talkative cabbie and the segment where he and Jackson try to resuscitate Segal after a failed suicide attempt is the only mildly amusing bit in the film.

The ski resort scenery is picturesque although it was actually filmed at Lake Louise in Albert, Canada and not in the French Alps like the movie suggests. You also get to see John Candy in a brief bit and Martin Short in his film debut, but everything else falls painfully flat and I couldn’t help but feel that the entertainment world had passed both director Melvin Frank and Jack Rose by. They had written and directed many successful comedies during the 40’s, but what passed off for funny back then now seemed seriously dated and it should be no surprise that they both only did one more movie after this one.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 13, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Melvin Frank

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

Born to Win (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Junkie needs his fix.

J.J. (George Segal) is a former hairdresser now residing on the streets due to his heroin addiction. To help pay for his expensive habits he agrees to transport drugs for Vivian ( Hector Elizondo) which gets him into deeper trouble with the criminal underworld. Eventually two cops (Ed Madsen, Robert De Niro) catch up with him and agree to strike a deal, which will allow him to avoid jail time if he agrees to turn Vivian and his cohorts in. J.J. though is more concerned with getting his next fix and nothing else matters not even the hot young chick Parm (Karen Black) who he has just moved in with.

There were many 70’s films, some might say too many, dealing with the drug addiction theme. Some were quite compelling while most of the others were highly clichéd. This one though takes a slightly different angle by injecting comedy into the proceedings and surprisingly it works. J.J.’s conversation with an older woman cashier (Sylvia Syms) about enemas, which he does in order to distract her from seeing his buddies stealing the company’s safe, is quite amusing. The best part though is when J.J. is stripped naked and forced to wear nothing but a woman’s bathrobe and then when he’s held prisoner in an apartment bedroom he flashes a young woman from across the street in order to get her attention to call the cops, but instead she proceeds to just flash him back, which is a laugh-out-loud moment especially when the viewer later gets to see Segal running down the city’s streets in the pink bathrobe with startled pedestrians looking on.

The film though fails when it tries to get serious. The dramatic moment where J.J.’s friend Billy (Jay Fletcher) takes some corrupted heroin and it kills him gets botched. Maybe it’s just me as I’ve seen many movies, but I could tell where this scene was headed right from the start and the intended ‘shock’ and ‘surprise’ of it instead becomes boring and overly played-out.

Karen Black’s presence helps. Her character is quite goofy to the point that she gets turned-on by J.J. when she catches him trying to steal her car and even invites him back to her place afterwards. Normally this behavior would be considered too wacky to be believable, but Black’s ability to channel her inner freak gives the whole thing an authentic feel and her later conversations dealing with how many men she has slept with is a gem as well.

Segal’s performance is solid, but we never effectively get inside his character’s head. The film would’ve been far stronger had we seen what his life was like before he became an addict and the jarring contrast in his lifestyles could’ve made for a powerful statement, which unfortunately is lacking. We also never get to see him actually putting the needle into his arm. We see at one point the needle marks in his skin, but seeing him taking the drug would’ve hit the message home visually.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is frustrating as he is given a bag of heroin that he knows may be tainted and ultimately will kill him if he takes it and yet it is left wide open as to whether he tries it or not. The idea that someone would be so strung out to get a high that they would knowingly take something that they knew could instantly kill them is an intriguing quandary that needed to be answered and the fact that it doesn’t is why this film despite a few good moments ultimately misses-the-mark.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ivan Passer

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich guy goes broke.

Arthur (Dudley Moore), still a boozing and irresponsible cad with a lot of money, finds out that Linda (Liza Minnelli), his wife of 6 years, wants to have a baby, but she can’t have one naturally, so they’re forced to consider adoption. They have a good initial meeting with the representative (Kathy Bates) at the adoption agency only to find that Burt (Stephen Elliot), still upset at the way Arthur jilted his daughter Susan (Cynthia Sikes) at the altar 6 years earlier, has taken control of Arthur’s inheritance through some wheeling-and-dealing and turned him into a poor man. Now for the first time in his life Arthur must find a job despite having no experience in the working world at all.

This sequel takes the idea of what I thought should’ve happened in the first film, but unfortunately botches it badly by creating a concept with too many loopholes. Exactly how does a man worth 750 million lose it all just like that? Wouldn’t he have some of that money stored up in the bank or in stocks? What about the money he would most certainly have tied up in assets and equity like the 6 homes that he mentions owning? Couldn’t he just sell those and everything he owns inside of them and use that money to remain solvent instead of going from super rich to super poor overnight?

Things get really overblown when Burt buys up every apartment building Arthur moves into and every company Arthur works for, so that no matter where he goes he’ll be assured of always getting fired or evicted. Yet Arthur was already doing poorly enough at his hardware store job, which would’ve gotten him eventually fired anyways without having to have Burt intervene. It’s also never made clear how Burt is able to find out which new company or apartment building Arthur is moving into or working for. Was there some person/spy following Arthur around and reporting back to Burt everything he was doing and if so this should’ve been shown, but never is.

There is another scene where the lady from the adoption agency arrives at Arthur’s and Linda’s new apartment in order to check-out their living conditions. Yet the couple had just agreed to rent the apartment five minutes earlier, so how would the adoption agency know that the couple was living there since they hadn’t yet informed anyone of their new address?

Jill Eickenberry, who had played Susan in the first film, was unable to reprise her role due to working in the TV-show ‘L.A. Law’, so director Bud Yorkin had her replaced with his wife Cynthia Sikes. Sikes though plays the part much differently. In the first film Susan came off as a naïve, wide-eyed innocent, but here she is deliberate and mean. The contrasting personalities of the character don’t work and the film would’ve been better had the character just been killed off maybe in a suicide because she was so distraught at losing Arthur, which would’ve then made Burt’s nasty scheme at trying to get back at him make more sense.

The cast though does a decent job and there are some scattered laughs, but overall it’s flat and draggy. Chris de Burg’s opening song pales in comparison to the chart topping, award winning hit that Christopher Cross did in the first film, which only helps to set the lifeless tone for the rest of the movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 8, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bud Yorkin

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

…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