Category Archives: Drama

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

One on One (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A college basketball star.

Henry Steele (Robby Benson) becomes the star of his small town high school basketball team, which is enough to get him a scholarship to a university in California on their team. Once there he becomes overwhelmed by the demands of his coach (G.D. Spradlin) as well as the under-the-table ‘business side’ of college athletics. The disappointed coach eventually asks him to rescind his scholarship, but Henry refuses leading to many brutal practices where the coach tries to make life a living hell for him, which he hopes will get Henry to finally quit, but to everyone’s surprise Henry perseveres and shows more grit in him than anyone ever imagined.

The script, which was co-written by Benson and his father Jerry Segal shows a revealing look of the underside of college sports making it quite compelling to watch particularly the first half-hour where Henry gets introduced to many things he hadn’t come into contact before including getting involved with ‘payouts’ to college benefactors, drugs, wild parties, amorous secretaries (Gail Strickland) and even romance with his tutor Janet (Annette O’Toole). The film has a nice year-in-the-life approach where the viewer feels like they are following Henry around by his side and experiencing the same first-hand situations as he does. It also examines the discrimination that athletes go through, which is rarely tackled in other films, dealing with Janet’s boyfriend Malcolm (James G. Richardson) who mocks Henry and other athletes like him for being ‘unintellectual’ and trained to passively obey all rules handed to them by their coaches while unable to think for themselves.

Benson’s performance of a wide-eyed, naïve small town lad works and the viewer can’t help but chuckle at his initial inability to handle the many new challenges he’s faced with while also remaining sympathetic to his ongoing quandary. Many actors may not be able to pull off such a feat, but Benson, who’s a far better performer than people may realize, does so flawlessly particularly the times when his character fights back and grows from a hayseed kid to a full grown man.

Spradlin has the perfect look and voice for a college coach and he coincidentally played a coach in North Dallas Forty, which came out that same year. However, his facial expressions reveal too much of his inner feelings particularly that of concern and worry where an actual coach would try to mask these vulnerable feelings from their players in order to prevent them from ‘reading’ what they are thinking and maintain more control.

Henry’s relationship with Janet comes off as forced. The two clearly were on opposite ends of the intellectual plain and I didn’t see what if anything that they actually had in common. Having Henry read ‘Moby Dick’ one of her favorite novels didn’t seem to be enough of a catalyst to have her suddenly fall-in-love with him. She brought in other athletes into her apartment to tutor and since she was paid $265 an hour I’d doubt she’d give that up, which most likely could cause tensions with their relationship, but this never gets addressed.

The songs by Seals and Croft don’t help and the film would’ve been better had they not been involved. They had some great chart toppers during the ‘70s, but slowing up the film by having a montage with their songs played over it takes the viewer out of the drama and unwisely reminds them that they’re just watching a movie instead. The Seals and Croft sound doesn’t coincide with a spots theme at all and it’s too bad that the Hall and Oates hit of ‘One on One’ hadn’t been released earlier  because that song would’ve been a better fit.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending has a dreamy/sports clichéd feel particularly the way Henry comes off the bench and scores all the points as the team scratches and claws their way from behind, which could be enough to make some viewer’s eyes roll, but the fact that all the fans run onto the court afterwards is what had me. This was only an early season game and usually fans only do this during a crucial late season contest or championship. Henry’s team was expected to go undefeated and they were losing to a team that they were favored to beat, so if anything the fans would’ve been annoyed that the game was so close and not inclined to rush the court, but more thankful that they had avoided a potential loss and then critical that the squad was not living up to expectations.

Having Henry stand-up to the coach at the end and leave the team may have been emotionally satisfying for a few seconds, but in the long run he’d be better off had he stayed. If he joined a new team he’d have to start all over again proving himself to the new coach and teammates while here he had finally gotten that out of the way. He’d also have to move to a new school, which would’ve hurt his relationship with Janet.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall though as sports movies go this isn’t bad and pretty realistic most of the way. Fans of college basketball should enjoy it as it gives one a sort-of behind-the-scenes view of the inner workings of college athletics.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 28, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lamont Johnson

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), 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

Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fashion model is troubled.

Lou Andreas Sand (Faye Dunaway) was a once famous fashion model who now sits in an isolated seaside cabin telling her life story to Aaron (Barry Primus) who records her conversations which he plans to use as a basis for an upcoming film. Through her stories she describes of being molested at the age of 15 by a much older man, her bouts with drugs and alcohol, her time spent inside a mental hospital and how she jilted her fiancé (Roy Scheider) by running out on him on their wedding day.

This film marks the directorial debut of Jerry Schatzberg who up until that time was best known as a still photographer and having captured the cover of Bob Dylan’s seventh album Blonde on Blonde. The inspiration for the movie was the life of model Anne Saint Marie who Schatzberg interviewed much the same way that the Aaron character does in the movie.

Unfortunately the director clearly doesn’t understand what makes his main character tick as she comes off as this one-dimensional, self-destructive cliché whose perpetually sad tales of woo become increasingly more contrived as the film goes on. We get no insight as to why she behaves the way she does turning her into a maddening caricature that frustrates the viewer and allows for no empathy.

A great deal of effort was put into the film’s visual style and on that level it’s a fascinating achievement. Adam Holender’s cinematography is quite vivid and makes you feel like you’re right there in the same room with the characters, but the fragmented narrative that comes with it is unappealing. Certain interesting dramatic moments get dropped and never gone back to, or readdressed at a much later time long after the viewer has lost interest. I suppose this is the reason that the word ‘puzzle’ gets used in the title as we are supposed to ‘piece together’ this woman’s life and personality through the erratic bits that she gives us, but she only succeeds at becoming an enigma.

Dunaway is a great actress, but tends to do better in parts calling for strong or emotionally ambivalent women. Playing the roles of vulnerable people is definitely not her forte. She’s managed to do it a few times, but it’s not easy for her and here she fails at it completely as she doesn’t understand her character’s motivations any better than the viewer.

The one actress that does do well here is Viveca Lindfors who was a beauty in her day, but by this time was already aging into her later years and yet she commands the screen with the brief time that she is on it and had she been seen more she might’ve saved it. However, the story lacks substance fails to be compelling and leaves the viewer with a lot of fleeting, fragmented images and nothing more.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jerry Schatzberg

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Region 2), Blu-ray (Region B/2)

Carny (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Runaway joins the carnival.

Bored with small town life and an overly-protective boyfriend (Craig Wasson) Donna decides at the age of 18 to break-free of her restraints and travel the countryside by working in a carnival. She befriends Frankie (Gary Busey) who works as a clown and she gets a job as one of the strippers before eventually working the string joint booth while slowly adapting to the shady ways of the gypsy-like lifestyle.

The carnival atmosphere is well-recreated and was directed by Robert Kaylor who years earlier helmed the documentary Derby, which was a behind-the-scenes look at life on the roller derby circuit and this film works much the same by fully immersing the viewer into the dark aspects of a tough environment while also exposing the personalities of the people who work in it. The revealing story manages to be both hard-hitting and intriguing.

The tone though stays too much on the negative side until the viewer feels almost bombarded with one unpleasant situation after another. There’s never anything redeeming and you’re made to feel tense waiting for the next uncomfortable twist to come about, which gets overdone. Certainly there had to be some good times and bonding that occurs and the film lightly touches on this at the very, very end, but I felt more of that should’ve been sprinkled in throughout.

There’s also too many con-games and underhanded shenanigans making me wonder if all carnivals were really this bad , or is it simply playing-it-up for dramatic purposes. The ending in which everyone works together to pull off an elaborate con on a meddling crime boss (Bill McKinney) comes off too much like a poor rendition of The Sting. Some potentially intriguing storylines get dropped; like what happened to Donna’s psycho boyfriend when he finds out that she has left him? I was fully expecting him to come back into the picture at some later point once he tracked her down, but instead he gets forgotten.

Robertson is a famous songwriter and musician whose been around since the ‘60s, but he grew up working in the carnival circuit and helped put his real-life experiences and insights into the script. His performance is okay, but the soundtrack he composed for the film is too upbeat and does not jive with the dark, moodiness of the plot.

The performances are the best thing. Foster usually plays characters that are confident, but here she is someone who is unsure of herself only to acquire an edge as the story progresses. Kenneth McMillan is engaging as the nervous, stressed-out owner and Meg Foster is good as a woman who’s become hardened from being on the road too long. Gary Busey is a standout too even though he sometimes gets mocked today for his weird behavior off-screen, but this guy was at one time considered a serious up-and-coming star and his presence here shows why.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 13, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Kaylor

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

Extremities (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She traps her attacker.

Marjorie (Farrah Fawcett) decides to grab a snack late one night at a convenience store. Since she plans on being in the store for only a minute she neglects to lock her car, which is enough time for her would-be rapist Joe (James Russo) to sneak into the vehicle and hide in the backseat. When she returns he attacks her, but she is able to break free and runs out. Unfortunately she leaves her purse behind and he’s able to find her address from her driver’s license. A few weeks later he attempts to attacker her again at her home, but she fights back and is able to turn-the-tables on him by tying him up and trapping him in her fireplace. She then plans on killing him by burying him in her backyard as she’s afraid she won’t get a fair trial, but when her roommates (Alfre Woodard, Diana Scarwid) return home from work they try to convince her otherwise.

The film is based on the 1982 off-Broadway play written by William Mastrosimone and starring Susan Sarandon, who eventually got replaced by Fawcett and then later by Lauren Hutton when the play opened in Los Angeles. The play was notorious for its intense violence where the stars would routinely get injured while going through the motions of their parts and audience members would become so upset by it that they would sometimes storm the stage in an attempt to protect the actress. The stage version is also different from the film one in that it doesn’t show the backstory, but instead starts right away with the Marjorie being attacked in the home and then the later aftermath.

The film was directed by Robert M. Young, whose best known effort previously was his film version of the stage play Short Eyes about a child molesters experiences inside a harsh prison. While that film was excellent this one isn’t as he approaches it too much like it’s a thriller with way too much loud, pounding music getting played when Joe attacks Marjorie inside the house, which actually takes the viewer out of the scene. The approach should’ve been more on the gritty drama side with no music and a handheld camera used to capture the action, which would’ve given the viewer a voyeuristic feeling like they are watching this from some hidden camera.

The scene where Marjorie ties up her killer and then hops into her car to go to the police only to have the vehicle mysteriously not start is ridiculous. This cliché has been used in movies way too many times and should be outlawed forever. Had she been in a cold climate we could’ve attributed it to the weather, but she wasn’t. Or if it had been mentioned earlier that her car has had problems starting then it might’ve worked better, but having it conk-out for no reason when it drove just fine before is a total cop-out and a sign of weak writing.

I was also disappointed that no backstory is given to James Russo’s character. Earlier in the film we are shown that he is actually a family man with a daughter, so I was intrigued to see what drove him to have this Jekyll and Hyde personality and how being a father and husband he could justify what he does and yet no explanation is ever even touched on, which I found highly disappointing.

Fawcett is good particularly with her big blue, expressive eyes. I also enjoyed Scarwid’s nervous persona and how she becomes torn at how to approach the dilemma at hand. The conversations between the three women are strong and should’ve been extended, but the film as a whole misses-the-mark and isn’t as penetrating, or groundbreaking as it could’ve been.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert M. Young

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Making Love (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her husband is gay.

Claire (Kate Jackson) thinks she has the perfect marriage yet her husband Zach (Michael Ontkean) harbors dormant feelings for other men and one day he decides to act upon them when he meets Bart (Harry Hamlin). Bart is more into one night flings, which heightens Zach’s inner turmoil as he’s not sure if he should stay with Claire, or live life the way he wants.

This film was considered groundbreaking for its time and even controversial, but it has not stood the test of time well and comes off as quite benign by today’s standards. Part of the problem is with Zach who has supposedly harbored these dormant feelings for a long time, but it is not clear why he suddenly decides to act upon them. The shift between happy married couple to an unhappy one seems to occur overnight and is jarring.

He asks Bart out for lunch when he has only known him for a few minutes, but if he’s quarreling with desires that he has never acted upon then I would think he’d be more hesitant and only move forward with Bart after having known him longer. He also denies to Bart that he’s gay and then a half-minute later is kissing him on the lips. Then quickly after that he’s hopping into bed with him, but I would presume someone who has never had sex with another man before would react more awkwardly and self-consciously their first time.

Hamlin’s character is far more interesting simply because he’s edgier than Zach who is too annoyingly goody-goody. I also enjoyed that he watches movies on a laser disc machine, which you rarely see anymore, but he like all the other gay men in the film has too much of a pretty-boy face and the film should’ve balanced itself by showing that balding, overweight, middle-aged men can be gay too.

The segments where the characters talk directly to the screen is unnecessary and amounts to incessant babbling as they describe things that the viewer could easily pick-up on visually. Wendy Hiller’s old lady character adds nothing and the scene where Zach goes home to visit his folks (Arthur Hill, Nancy Olson) is equally pointless and should’ve also been excised as the film’s runtime is too long to begin with.

Gay viewers may take to this better and the film’s intent may have been noble, but that doesn’t forgive its poor execution as the whole thing comes off like a shallow soap opera with cardboard characters manufactured to fit into an already preconceived concept. In fact the movie’s only good moment comes during a throwaway bit involving Erica Hiller, who was the daughter of the film’s director Arthur Hiller, playing an overly deluded, but woefully under talented singer who is convinced that she will be a smash with the audience during an amateur contest only to be booed off stage the moment she starts singing, which acts as an interesting precursor to a bad audition from ‘American Idol’.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s a disco star.

This film is based on a 1976 story that was published in New York Magazine entitled “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” by Nik Cohn, which for many years was considered a factual account of the disco trends of the young people at the time who frequented the disco 2001 Odyssey nightclub, but it later turned out, through the confession of its author, to have been totally fabricated. The story here centers on Tony (John Travolta) who still lives with his parents while working for low wages at a Brooklyn paint store, but longing for a more exciting existence. Despite being a ‘nobody’ during the week on Saturday nights he’s a star as he takes to the disco floor and has all the women flocking to him. Annette (Donna Pescow) is one of those women, but Tony finds her too unattractive and instead has eyes for Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) who he wants as his dance partner in order to win a contest.

From the ads and promotions you’d think this was nothing more than a lightweight teeny bopper romance looking to take advantage of the current disco trend, but the film is much more than that. In fact the dance sequences are boring and thankfully director John Badham keeps these segments contained although I would’ve cut back on them even more. The real essence of the film is Tony’s relationship with his friends, family and world as a whole. The film works as a terrific composite of what life in Brooklyn during the ‘70s amongst the teens and young adults was really like as they try to forge their way into young adulthood while fighting to find their place in it.

Travolta gives an outstanding performance mainly because he’s one of those actors who isn’t afraid to expose the vulnerabilities of the characters that he plays as Tony isn’t a completely likable person and many times acts quite arrogant and callous, which leaves the viewer feeling like they’ve seen an unfiltered portrait of a real person with all the edges showing instead of just a manufactured image.

Pescow is great in support. The image of her holding out a hand full of condoms is the one thing I’ve remembered vividly from the movie from when I first saw it over twenty years ago and the scene of where she is assaulted in the back seat of a car by Tony’s friends is genuinely heart breaking.

My only quibble with her is the moment where Tony informs her that he is choosing a different dance partner for the contest and she immediately breaks down crying. My belief is that most people because of personal pride will not wear their emotional vulnerabilities that openly especially if they are downtrodden like her character. Instead I think she would’ve responded to the news in a sort of aloof/defiant way like saying ‘fine if you don’t want me then I don’t want you’ before walking away and then crying about it later in private.

Gorney’s performance was the one that I really didn’t like as her put-on Brooklyn accent is too affected. With Pescow you could tell it was the genuine thing as she was from the region originally, but Gorney was born in Beverly Hills and attended college in Pittsburgh, so her attempts at putting on an accent was not needed or warranted and made her character seem too much at Tony’s working class level when I thought the idea was to show that she wasn’t.

As for her relationship with Tony I liked the concept that these two were genuine opposites, but I wished the movie had played this up more. She’s initially cold towards Tony and rejects his advances and then a few days later without him having done anything differently she’s suddenly warmed up to him. I would’ve liked some situation created where she was forced to hook-up with Tony as a dance partner because her original partner took ill or something and then had the frostiness between them continue and melt away only when they are on the dance floor.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is a bit limp. The fact that the two don’t end up getting into a long term romantic relationship, but instead agree to be ‘just friends’ is good as too many movies with this type of formula always seem to want to strive for the ideal love scenario, but in most real-world cases that just isn’t practical and these two had too much that was not in common and getting past those things would’ve proved futile.

However, the dance contest is a letdown as the film introduces a Puerto Rican couple who dance better than Tony and Stephanie, but Tony is still awarded the trophy supposedly because of racism, but why throw in this plot point so late? We’ve been following the trials and tribulations of Tony and Stephanie the entire way through not the Puerto Rican couple who we know nothing about. If the movie wanted to make a statement about racism at the club it should’ve been brought out much earlier and not at the very last minute when it becomes essentially pointless.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall though it’s a great movie that deserves its classic status as the characters and dialogue are richly textured and the film makes its message through subtle visual means without having to telegraph it. However, the PG-rated version, which was released two years later in an attempt to reel in the teen audience, sanitizes the story to the point that it takes out the heart of the film and should be avoided.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes (R-rated version) 1 Hour 52 Minutes (PG-rated version) 2 Hours 2 Minutes (Director’s cut)

Director: John Badham

Studio: Paramount

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

A Small Circle of Friends (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three friends sleep together.

Leonardo (Brad Davis), Jessica (Karen Allen), and Nick (Jameson Parker) are students attending Harvard University during the late ‘60s. As they become intertwined with the events of that turbulent era they also form a strong bond that lasts through their school years and on into young adulthood. Leonardo has a relationship with Jessica at first, but it doesn’t work out, so Nick steals her away. Initially Leonardo is angered, but he eventually adjusts and the three later form a ménage a trois.

This was the first film directed by noted producer Rob Cohen and overall I liked the feel. The narrative is fragmented and dreamlike, but it also has a nice nostalgic quality. The script is broadly written, but still gives one a good sense of what life was like on a college campus during that period. The final scene where Leonardo visits an underground student revolution movement where they resort to violent, unlawful means to achieve social change I found to be the most compelling.

Davis gives another great performance and I’m always amazed at the way he can play an effective gay character such as he did in the homoerotic Querelle, but still manage to pull off being a flaming heterosexual too. Allen says little, but her piercing emerald eyes had me hooked on her regardless. Parker is stiff and boring, but still successfully works as an anchor to the other two who are aggressively idealistic.

It’s also fun to see Shelley Long in her film debut. Her character has little to do with the main plot, but watching her portray a man during a stage production while wearing a mustache and male body hair glued to her chest is a hoot.

Usually with these types of films the viewer gets treated to a plethora of overplayed period rock hits, but not here. Instead it’s a loud, booming orchestral score that gets both obnoxious and pretentious as it makes it seem like this is an epic of some kind when in reality it’s just a simple story of young people learning to cope in the real world and the music should’ve reflected that with a quiet folk rock sound.

The film also doesn’t take advantage of the unorthodox sexual activity of its main characters. Three friends, even in these more liberal times, rarely end up becoming a sexual trio. Having this story element introduced late and then quickly dropped is frustrating and should’ve been more explored as it is the one unique thing in an otherwise derivative film that is good enough to get a passing grade, but not much else.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 12, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Rob Cohen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

Four Friends (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living through the ‘60s.

Four male friends from Indiana go from high school to college and then on into young adulthood while remaining close and supportive. All of them have a passion for Georgia (Jodi Thelen) a very independent woman who enjoys playing-the-field when it comes to men and at various points has jumped into relationships with the four of them individually and at different times. Yet it is Danilo (Craig Wasson) who seems to be the most infatuated with her and he spends his life chasing after her, but finds that when they are together all they do is fight.

The story is apparently very loosely based on the experiences of screenwriter Steve Tesich who immigrated to this country from Yugoslavia at a very young age. The film starts out realistically enough, but quickly devolves into a whimsical tale that introduces interesting plotlines only to resolve them in cutesy ways that ends up making this sprawling tale quite shallow.

One of the biggest detriments is the casting of Craig Wasson who is a horrible actor as he can convey only one type of emotion, which is that of anxiousness and only one type of facial expression, which is that of nervousness. If he dares to try to expand his limited acting abilities away from these two things it comes off as unconvincing. Hs character like all the rest have no appeal as they never grow or evolve and seem put in simply as props to help carry the transparent tale.

I did like Thelen who plays the part of a spacey, free-spirited woman quite well, but even here it ends up getting clichéd. The other male characters have no distinguishable qualities and she sleeps around with them like they are toys on her own personal roulette wheel. Wasson’s character was her exact opposite and the two share no real chemistry making their eventual romance come off as being quite forced.

The film also contains some campy over-the-top dramatic elements that are unintentionally laughable and ridiculous. One takes place during a wedding party where while in front of hundreds of guests the bride’s father goes inexplicably crazy and shoots his daughter, then groom and eventually himself. Later on during a performance art show one of Thelen’s friends, in an apparent drugged stupor, accidently puts her foot on the accelerator while sitting in a car that’s parked inside a building, which sends it crashing through the wall and spiraling several stories to the ground.

The one aspect that I did like is that it didn’t resort to the Forrest Gump formula where the main characters get involved directly into all the famous historical events of the era, but instead view them from afar, which is more realistic. However, the film doesn’t show enough ‘60s nostalgia and half the time you forget the setting is even in that time period.

I admire the ambitious concept, but it takes on too much and would’ve been better had the script been more focused and less sprawling. Nothing here is compelling or memorable and the viewer is left with a genuinely flat feeling when it is over.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: Filmways Pictures

Available: DVD