Category Archives: College Life

Not a Pretty Picture (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reenacting a rape incident.

While Martha Coolidge is known today for having directed such 80’s classics as Valley Girl and Joy of Sex she started her career in the 70’s doing documentaries mainly about high school students. After having done three of those she decided to do one that was more personal and dealt with a real-life incident that occurred to her when she was 16 when she got raped on a date with a college student who was 20. While she went about casting the actress to play her as a teen she was shocked to learn that the actress, Michele Manenti, had a similar experience. The film then weaves between reenactments of the date rape and the situations that lead up to it as well as the aftermath. There’s also interviews with the cast members who talk about the emotions they go through while playing the characters including Jim Carrington, who plays the rapist named Curly, who confesses that he thought women secretly wanted to be raped due to his belief that they fantasize about it.

What I got out of the film and enjoyed the most was looking at the acting process and how the performers used elements of their own experiences to help shape the characters that they play. I was genuinely surprised that only one of the cast members, Amy Wright who has a small role as Cindy, ever went on to do another movie. The two stars, who I felt were both outstanding, never acted in anything at least film or TV wise even though I felt they should’ve had long careers. I realize that the acting profession is a very competitive business and what may seem like the cream-of-the-crop in college may not be able to rise to the top in the real-world, but it still seemed sad that they weren’t able to do more, or at least more in front of the camera. It’s also surprising how non-dated this is. The conversations they have both about dating and acting is something that could’ve easily been shot today and just as topical. If it weren’t for them openly smoking indoors in a public setting, which is a major no-no now, you would never have known this was done in the 70’s.

While the conversations that Coolidge has with the cast proves to be insightful the reenactments aren’t as compelling. The scene involving the conversations that the four friends have inside a car has some interesting points, but it goes on too long and gets static. The aftermath where Martha is ridiculed by the other girls at her school and called a ‘whore’ because of the rumors that Curly spreads stating that she was a ‘willing participant’ and the stressful moments she has when she doesn’t get her period and fears she may be pregnant are quite dramatic, but the most important scene, the rape itself, gets botched. All the other recreated scenes where done as if in real-time and with sets that replicated the era, which was 1962, but with the rape it’s staged as a rehearsal with Martha and the other stagehands clearly in view as it occurs and Coolidge constantly stops the action to have them redo the scene several times in order to get it right, but this takes the viewer out of the moment and mutes the emotional impact. In hindsight I think they should’ve done the entire recreation, both the rape and what lead up to it as well as the aftermath, first and then went to the behind-the-scenes footage afterwards instead of inter-cutting it, which may have been novel for the time, but eventually gets off-putting.

The film’s focus was apparently intended to be on Martha and her reactions at seeing her own rape get played-out as the camera keeps panning back to her face as she watches the actors perform it and then at the end she describes her feelings in a emotional way. While I’m sure this was a tough thing for her to do I still felt it would’ve been more encompassing to have it about all the other women, including the actress in this film, that this has happened to and how men in that time period were able to get away with it and never had to be accountable. That to me was more disturbing and the film ends up missing that point, or not hitting-it-home hard enough, and thus isn’t as strong, or ground-breaking as it could’ve been.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 31, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 23 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Martha Coolidge

Studio: Coolidge Productions

Available: Vimeo

Fandango (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The privileges of youth.

Gardner (Kevin Costner), Phil (Judd Nelson), Kenneth (Sam Robards), Dorman (Chuck Bush) and Lester (Brian Cesak) are five college friends from the University of Texas in 1971, who are getting ready to celebrate their impending graduations when Kenneth announces that he’s been drafted into the Vietnam War and Gardner has too. To help lighten the mood the boys decide to take an impulsive road trip where they travel to unique areas of Texas, including searching for buried treasure in the Rio Grande, sleeping under the stars at the old filming site of Giant, and even taking part in parachute jump near Pecos.

This film is based on a 24-minute film that Kevin Reynolds directed while attending the USC film school. In that movie the boys were all from Baylor University and traveled to Pecos, Texas in order to test the courage of their most frightened member and use the help of eccentric flight instructor Truman Sparks, played by Marvin J. McIntyre, who reprises his role in this one, to teach and train the young man on how to jump from a plane. The student film managed to catch the attention of Steven Spielberg, who was so impressed with it that he offered Reynolds the chance to turn it into a full-length movie. Unfortunately once it was completed Spielberg for whatever reason disliked it and had his name removed from the credits while also refusing to help distribute it forcing the film to suffer a limited engagement though in recent years its cultivated a cult following.

The movie does have many funny moments including the opening bit where Phil’s parents (Stanley Grover, Jane A. Johnston) visit his frat house during one of their raucous parties. The sky diving sequence, which gets copied shot-for-shot from the original is quite engaging as is their attempts to hook their disabled car up to a speeding train. Costner is also very amusing, he had actually auditioned for the student film, but lost out, but when he found out it was going to be remade into a feature film he re-auditioned. I’m so used to seeing him play serious roles that I didn’t realize he had such great comedic timing, but for the most part, he’s the life of the movie.

Where the film fails is that it’s too unfocused. The setting is supposedly 1971, but you’d hardly know it and very little effort is made to give it a feel of that era. Even the opening song sung by Elton John that gets played by over the credits was released 2 years after the events in the movie supposedly took place, so to keep it accurate with the time setting only songs that came out in 1971, or before should’ve been used.

The side-story involving Gardner having dated Kenneth’s fiancee, played by Suzy Amis, seems unneeded and really doesn’t go anywhere. Normally, in most real-life friendships, having a friend date and ultimately marry one’s former girlfriend could be a deal-breaker that would lead to a lot of jealousy and potential anger. I’m sure there’s a minority of friendships where the participants would be mature enough to overcome this issue, like here, though this isn’t interesting, so why bother introducing this wrinkle if its dramatic elements aren’t going to get explored?

The part where it really jumps-the-shark is during the planning of the wedding, which is too full of logic loopholes to be able to buy into even on a whimsical level. It features Gardner and Phil being able to pull off his massive wedding ceremony in the town’s square on very short notice by conning too old guys sitting on a nearby park bench into agreeing to help out, which leads to more people getting involved until the whole town, even the mayor, takes part in a wedding ceremony, and its preparation, of people they don’t even know. If anyone can show me an example in the whole history of the world of when this has ever happened in reality then I’ll take it back, but otherwise I found it ridiculous.

The ending is way too abrupt. The whole reason Phil agreed to go on the parachute jump was for Kenneth and Gardner to agree to not dodge the draft, but whether they withhold their end of the bargain is never shown. Everyone just basically wanders off like they have better things to do, which is how the viewer, despite some fun moments, ends up feeling about the movie, which would’ve had more impact had it chucked the whimsy and had a little more serious drama.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 25, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Kevin Reynolds

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Fraternity Vacation (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Guys hit on babe.

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: April 12, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Frawley

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Girls Nite Out (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Scavenger hunt turns deadly.

After the DeWitt university basketball team wins the championship the female students go on an all-night scavenger hunt using clues given to them at regular intervals by the DJ at the college radio station, who they listen to via portable radios. During the event many of the participants turn-up dead having been murdered by a killer dressed in a bear costume. No one knows who it is, but many suspect it might have something to do with Dickie Cavanuagh who murdered his girlfriend Patty, the daughter of the school’s security guard Jim (Hal Holbrook), in a jealous rage years earlier and has ever since been locked away in a mental hospital.

The plot is similar to Midnight Madnessbut the scavenger hunt in that one was done in a much more vivid way and a had a wider variety of locales while this one occurs in a limited setting making it visually quite boring. Much of the reason for this was because Upsala College gave the producers only one weekend to film forcing them to cram the entire shoot into a 3-day period and causing much of the cast to work 24-hour shifts in order to get it done while Hal Holbrook did his part separately and only interacts with the cast once in a scene where he has a brief exchange with his real-life son David Holbrook, who plays one of the suspects.

Given that it’s actually quite impressive how good the performances are, but everything else, including the poor pacing, is rock bottom. Way too much time gets spent on the set-up including boring scenes at a campus party that aren’t engaging. The actual hunt doesn’t get going until almost 40-minutes in even though it should’ve begun with the hunt right away while nixing the early conversations and characters that add little to the suspense.

The film also suffers from a musical soundtrack made up entirely of bubblegum bands from the 60’s like The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Ohio Express, and 1910 Fruitgum Co., which all had a sound that was by the early 80’s completely out-of-touch and something no self-respecting college kid would be caught listening to. Especially at a college party where the idea is to play recent hits that are trending and not dancing to songs that sound like jingles from a commercial. Personally I like The Lovin’ Spoonful, but their style was dated by that time, so it seemed weird that was the only band that the college radio station ever played, which would’ve had none of the students listening to them if that was all they were going to hear.

Things do pick-up once the murders get going. Some critics complained that the killings are unimaginative and are handled in a routine way, which they are, but I did like the killer’s weapon that’s fashioned to look like a bear claw using knives in place of the paws and similar to what Freddy Krueger later used in Nightmare on Elm Street. The identity of the killer is also a surprise, so it scores a few points there, but overall it’s still no better than the hundreds of other slashers that were released around the same time.

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Alternate Title: The Scaremaker

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Deubel

Studio: Independent-International Pictures

Available: DVD

R.P.M. (1970)

R.P.M.

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10′

4-Word Review: Caught in the middle.

Paco Perez (Anthony Quinn) is a college professor given the position of acting university president after a group of students overtake an administration building, which forces the other president out. Paco now has the duty of negotiating with these students in order to meet their requests and have them leave the building, but their list of 12 demands are extreme and Paco cannot agree to all of them. Eventually he accepts 9 of the conditions, but Rossiter (Gary Lockwood) the head of the student movement refuses to budge unless all 12 are met, which continues the standoff until Paco feels he has no other choice but to have the police called in and the students forcibly removed.

For a film with the title of Revolutions Per Minute this is woefully lacking in action. There had already been other films dealing with the campus unrest of the day including The Strawberry Statement and Getting Straight and while neither one of those were perfect they at least had violent confrontations between the protesters and authorities, but this thing is mainly all talk. These students are also the most uninteresting ‘radicals’ that I’ve ever seen and spend most of their time just looking out the window. I would think at their age they’d be partying, doing drugs, drinking, listening to rock music, sex, and maybe even some infighting amongst themselves in between meeting with Paco, but instead it has the atmosphere of a retirement community.

Writer Erich Segal and director Stanley Kramer, who later admitted this was the least favorite of his films and the first to do poorly at the box office, were too old and out-of-touch with the young generation to effectively tackle the subject in any meaningful way. The kids are bland and the scenes with them stagnate. All of the emphasis is put on Quinn and while some of the issues that it brings out, which mainly consist at how the older generation sees things and approaches things differently, is not enough to keep it compelling despite the arguments that he has with his much younger live-in girlfriend, played by Ann-Margret, which are the only times when the movie gets quasi-lively, but even then it’s not enough to save it.

The biggest disappointment is when the police finally do invade the building. I was hoping for a big battle to make up for all the boredom that came before, but Kramer fails to deliver. He unwisely uses music during these clashes, which should not be necessary as the yelling, screaming, and other noises from the chaos would be more than enough to keep it riveting, much like in Medium CoolHe also blurs out the images, so we just see these fuzzy little dots on the screen, which I guess was his idea of being ‘artsy’, but it doesn’t allow for any emotional impact. Ultimately it becomes just another run-of-the-mill flick looking to cash-in on the screaming headlines of the day, but offers no new insight. Kramer was famous for making ‘relevant’ films that tackled difficult topics like Judgement at Nuremburg, The Defiant Ones, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and while those were a success this one was an overreach and he should’ve quit while he was ahead.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 16, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stanley Kramer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R

Petersen (1974)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going back to school.

Tony Petersen (Jack Thompson) is an electrician who decides to go back to school and major in English. He feels people look down on him because he works a blue collar job and hope that by returning to college to get a degree that will change, but instead he finds he’s still not getting the respect that he desires particularly from his stuffy professor (Arthur Dingnam), so he ends up having an affair with the man’s wife (Wendy Hughes),  but things don’t stop there. He has sex with the coeds too including right out in the open on the campus grounds for public display while hundreds of onlookers surround them.

The screenplay was written by acclaimed Australian playwright David Williamson, who’s best known for having penned the cult hit Don’s Party However, this film lacks the fluidity of that one and seems more like a selection of vignettes than a story. The leader character isn’t likable either and comes off as selfish while in Don’s Party we were able to understand the protagonists frustration with his marriage here the domestic situation doesn’t seem as bad and therefore watching him mess around isn’t cute, funny, or sexy and instead just tiring and off-putting.

The biggest problem though is that the film starts right away at the halfway point where Petersen has already been attending school and neck-deep in an affair instead of going back to where it all began. Showing Petersen’s frustrations with his job and income, instead of just being told about it through dialogue, would’ve helped the viewer empathize more with his situation and emotionally invested with his quandary instead of feeling lost and ambivalent in the jumbled narrative.

There are a few good scenes here-and-there including a very ugly moment where a group of obnoxious bikers crash an upscale party and make things quite tense for the guests who are seemingly unable to do anything about it. Later there’s a poignant segment involving a discussion that Petersen has with his father (Charles Tingwell), who works as a reverend at a church despite professing to having lost his faith. Petersen’s public sex act has great potential too and even though it does contain full frontal male nudity, which at the time was still considered shocking to see in a mainstream film, it doesn’t get played-up enough to really being as funny or irreverent as it should’ve been.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s also several moments though that needed more context, which is frustratingly lacking. One includes Petersen getting caught making-out with his friend’s wife by his own spouse (Jacki Weaver) who looks very disappointed in him, but we never get any follow-up almost  like the whole situation just gets forgotten by the next day. There’s another scene where Petersen rapes his lover inside her own office, but without showing any aftermath. Such a violent, disturbing act deserves some denouncement and not treated like a throwaway bit such as it is.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall if you stick with it the characters do have a way of growing on you, but the story needed to be more developed. Too much emphasis on being edgy and provocative, but filled with characters in desperate need of depth and better connecting pieces between scenes.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 25, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: DVD (Import Region 2)

Getting Straight (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Student unrest plagues campus.

Harry Bailey (Elliot Gould) was at one time a student radical, but after returning to campus from serving time in Vietnam his perspectives have changed. Now he simply aspires to get a teaching degree, but the other students want him to take part in their campus protests, which he resists. His girlfriend Jan (Candice Bergen), who is much younger, starts to get active in the student movement, which creates further pressure for Harry. He sees the absurdity on both sides, but as the protests become more violent and the response from school administrators more inept, Harry comes to the conclusion that he can no longer sit on the sidelines.

If there is one thing that really stands out it’s Gould’s performance in a part he was clearly born to play. In fact the studio refused to go ahead with the project unless Gould made a commitment to star in it. Had he decided not to take the part the studio would’ve shelved the project permanently as they felt there was no other actor that was right for the role and they were correct. Fortunately Gould did accept and his running, raucous, irreverent commentary is the most entertaining thing about it.

Unfortunately his presence is so powerful that he dominates Bergen who comes off as transparent and overwhelmed. She certainly looks quite beautiful and I particularly enjoyed her cowgirl look with two ponytails, but her presence is blah. Maybe the producers wanted a weaker performer to expose how unequal the character’s relationship was with each other, but the result makes the conversations that the two have dull and tepid because Bergen can simply not keep up with Gould’s rapid-fire delivery.

Their fights are a little more entertaining with some of the jabs Gould throws out being downright funny especially when he accuses Bergen of being ‘just a guy with a hole in the middle.’ Yet the fact that the two get back together after flinging out some very nasty insults made no sense. There are certain things that were said here that got personal and couldn’t just get written-off as having been said in a ‘fit of anger’ like they do here. In most real-life relationships it would’ve created a rift that would never have returned things to the way it was before.

The protests come-off looking too staged, which includes one scene where Gould and Bergen stand in the middle of all of the chaos and manage to somehow hold an extended conversation even as everyone around them is getting beat-up.  In the original novel by Ken Kolb there weren’t any student protests and were only added in by director Richard Rush to give the story a more topical feel, but there were too many other films with a similar theme that  were more effective. Even The Strawberry Statement starring Bruce Davison, which had its share of faults, still at least managed to make the student’s confrontations with the police look more authentic and intense.

Some of the arguments that Gould dishes out as he battles with administrators, and sometimes with the students too, are on-target and even funny like when he challenges the new curfew rule by pointing to one of the students (played by John Rubinstein) and stating: “At the start of the school year he just wanted to get laid. Now he wants to kill somebody…you should’ve just let him get laid.”

Gould’s angry confrontation with Jon Lormer who plays one of the school board members has a riveting quality and that’s where this movie should’ve ended. Having it continue to where Gould then later confronts Leonard Stone, who plays another school board member, gets too heavy-handed and ultimately kills the film’s best moments with a lot of talky bits that seem insightful, but really aren’t.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1970

Runtime: 2 Hours 5 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Rush

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Youtube

The Bell Jar (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She suffers from depression.

Based on the semi autobiographical novel of the same name by Sylvia Plath, the story centers around Esther (Marilyn Hassett) who suffers from various mental health issues and can’t seem to relate to the world around her. After graduating from college she goes off to work at a women’s magazine in New York, but finds that the demands and inevitable compromises of being a writer for a big city publication are not for her. She returns home to her mother (Julie Harris) only to find her emotional situation deteriorating even more. She’s eventually sent to a mental hospital where she goes through treatment.

In 1975 Hassett was picked from over 500 other actresses to play the part of paralyzed skier Jill Kinmont in the film The Other Side of the Mountain. The movie became a big hit and lead to her marrying the film’s director Larry Peerce.  While that film was a decent heartfelt story their attempts to bring Plath’s complex, multi-faceted novel to the big screen was clearly an overreach.

The major reason this doesn’t work is because of Hassett. During the early 70’s she had a youthful appeal, but by the time this was filmed she had hit 30 and no longer looked like a recent college grad in any way. For the story to work it hinges on the viewer seeing this person as someone who is young, innocent and vulnerable and unable to deal with the harsh realities of the young adult world that she’s experiencing for the very first time, but Hassett looks and in many ways behaves like a world-weary middle-aged person, which then loses the intended effect.

The portrayal of the central character is a weak point as well. In the similar themed film I Never Promised You a Rose Gardenwhich came out around the same time, the director of that flick did a good job of getting inside that character’s head and allowing the viewer to see the thoughts and fears that she had, but here we get none of that. We are left with no understanding about what’s really bugging Esther and why she behaves the way she does. Instead of us feeling for her we end up finding her off-putting, confusing and at times just downright selfish and bizarre.

The film does still manage to have a few interesting moments. I liked the scene with Jameson Parker, in his film debut who later went onto fame in the TV-show ‘Simon & Simon’, playing Esther’s fiance who strips in front of her so she can see what a naked man looks like upfront for the very first time. The erotic threesome between Hassett, Robert Klein, and Mary Louise Weller is interesting too as is the segment where Hassett is sitting alone at a late night diner and comes into contact with a disturbed, homeless man (Nicholas Guest) who comes in off the street and begins shouting nonsensical things for no reason, which can be a common, frightening reality living in the big city and not tackled enough in most movies.

While the movie stays pretty much faithful to the book it approaches the material in a shallow, mechanical way that offers no insight into the characters or situations and elicits no emotions from the viewer. It also takes some liberties with the material entering in elements that were never in the novel, or only vaguely touched on like the character of Joan, played by Donna Mitchell, being explicitly portrayed as a lesbian while in the book it had been only implied. She’s also shown making a suicide pack with Esther that was never in the original story. This was enough to get Dr. Jane Anderson, a Boston psychiatrist, to sue the film stating that she had been the Jane character in Plath’s novel, but because the movie distorted the truth it had harmed her reputation and career and she ended up winning a $150,000 settlement.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS

Midnight Madness (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: All night scavenger hunt.

Leon (Alan Solomon) is a geeky college student who comes up with an elaborate scavenger hunt to be played by his fellow students. The object of the game is to pick-up on certain clues hidden throughout the city of Los Angeles and each team must solve the clue given to them before they can move onto the next one. The game is played by 5 teams who have 5 members each: David Naughton heads the preppy Yellow team, Maggie Roswell plays the leader of the nerdy girls red team, Eddie Deezen leads the geeky white team, Brad Wilken leads the green team, which is made up of party animal jocks, and Stephen Furst heads the anti-social/misfit blue team.

On the surface this comes off as just another crude, sophomoric 80’s teen comedy complete with gross out humor of having to watch overweight Furst constantly stuffing his face with food, which is genuinely painful to watch when you realize that in real life he had a big issue with diabetes that made him retire from acting and he ultimately died from the illness. The film fails to have anything all that funny in it and it doesn’t even show any skin from its attractive female cast, which most likely was a result of it being financed by Disney.

The game itself though is kind of interesting and posses some legitimate logic oriented clues that force both the viewer and participants to think it through in order to solve. There is also some interesting on-location shooting done in famous landmark locations throughout Los Angeles including the Griffith Observatory, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, which helps give this otherwise low budget production a bit of a visual spark.

Even with these elements in place the film fails to take full advantage of its setting. If this is all supposed to take place during the wee hours of the night then there really shouldn’t be such large crowds present at the locations they go to including tours going on at the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer plant. It would’ve been more of a surreal ambiance had it just been the players of the game roaming around an otherwise shuttered city while everyone else was fast asleep. The final part of the game takes place in the daytime, which again ruins the nightime/midnight theme and effort should’ve been made to have the entire story take place while it was dark.

The story is also full of a ton of logic loopholes including never explaining how Leon was able to get his face painted on the side of beer cartons at the beer plant as well as a wide assortment of other issues. One also had to wonder why Leon goes to such great lengths to create such an elaborate game that doesn’t really seem to benefit him directly. If this kid is so smart to create such an intricate game then why doesn’t he put his creative energies into forming a profitable business so he doesn’t have to live in a rundown apartment that has paper thin walls and a crabby landlady screaming at him every time he makes any noise?

The cast has some familiar faces in small roles including Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman) in a bit part at a game arcade and Marvin Kaplan, an aging character actor best known for his work in Adam’s Rib and the TV-show ‘Alice’, as an overwhelmed hotel desk clerk. Kudos also go out to Irene Tedrow as an elderly and quite obnoxious landlord and Dirk Blocker, who is the son of famous ‘Bonanza’ star Dan Blocker and looks just like him, as a dim-witted party animal who just can’t get enough beer.

Naughton though is quite stale in the lead and doesn’t seem to have much acting talent at all although I did like the in-joke of seeing him drink a Dr. Pepper since he’s probably best known for singing the ‘I’m a Pepper’ jingle in TV commercials during the 70’s. This also marks Michael J. Fox’s film debut who plays the younger brother to Naughton though the subplot dealing with his anger at being taken for granted by his older sibling is misplaced and heavy-handed in a film that is otherwise super silly.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Micheal Nankin, David Wechter

Studio: Buena Vista Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Gotcha! (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spy game turns real.

Jonathan (Anthony Edwards) enjoys playing the make-believe spy game of Gotcha on his college campus by shooting his fellow students with paint darts of which he is quite good at. For a vacation he goes to Paris, France and meets Sasha (Linda Fiorentino) who is a real-life spy transporting undercover documents from behind the iron curtain. She gets Jonathan to travel with her to East Berlin where he reluctantly finds himself caught-up in the spy action and having bad guys shoot at him with bullets instead of paint balls.

The film has its engaging moments, but the plot gets played-out in a haphazard way. The beginning comes off too much like just another banal coming-of-age comedy with guys using all sorts of corny lines to get women to go to bed with them and a lot inane dialogue and comedy bits are used to help string it along.

Things do improve once he meets up with Fiorentino who puts on an effective foreign accent and adds much needed chemistry. The vivid on-location shooting avoids the well known landmarks and instead focuses more on the hotels and restaurants, which makes the viewer feel like they’re traveling alongside the characters.  Jonathan’s transition from cocky college student to scared kid in way over-his-head is interesting too, but something that I wished had been played up more.

Edwards’ performance helps the viewer remain sympathetic to his quandary despite the fact that it was his own naivety that got him into his jam. I didn’t like his hairstyle though, which to me looked more like a wig and, since he’s shown to be openly bald in his later years, it probably was. He was also older than his character and looking very much like the 23 years of age that he was, which is what Fiorentino guesses when she first meets him and not like 18, which is what his character supposedly is making the opening conversation that the two have unintentionally ironic.

The third act in which Jonathan returns to the states, but the Russian spies continue to chase after him, is when this thing really goes south. It would’ve worked better, and been more believable, had the entire spy scenario remained in Europe instead culminating on the same college campus where it began making the intended irony too forced and too cute for its own good.

There were times when I did get caught-up in the intrigue, but film ruins the tension by always answering it with a comical twist that makes it come-off as too gimmicky. There’s also no explanation as to what was on the film role that Jonathan and Sasha were trying to smuggle out and the Russians were so eager to get back, which makes the plot transparent instead of exciting.

The one moment though that I really did like and even found quite memorable is when a caged tiger is brought into a classroom to show the veterinarian students how to shoot a sick animal with a sleep dart. The animal seems to be in very real pain and with genuine moans of discomfort and the part where he gets hit with the dart forces him to leap up in his cage in a very startled manner. I’m not sure how they were able to pull off getting a legitimately hurt tiger into the scene, but it’s the one segment where the movie isn’t silly and it’s too bad the rest of the script couldn’t have fallen in-line with that same type of approach.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Jeff Kanew

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD