Category Archives: Drama

The Rain People (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Needing to find herself.

Natalie (Shirley Knight) wakes up one day and decides to simply get in her car and drive off with no particular destination in mind. She has just found out that she is pregnant and not sure if she can or wants to handle the responsibilities that come with it. She leaves a note to her husband (Robert Modica) telling him she needs time away from him to think things through. During her travels she meets Jimmy (James Caan), otherwise known as ‘Killer’, he was a former football player straddled with a brain injury that has now left him mentally handicapped. She also meets Gordon (Robert Duvall) a traffic cop who pulls her over for a speeding ticket. The two eventually start to date, but the more Natalie tries to find herself the more lost she becomes.

The film was for the most part considered an ‘experimental’ one as the subject matter was years ahead of its time. While many road pictures of the day like Easy Rider took the male perspective this one dared to tap into the feminist viewpoint, which up to that point hadn’t been explored as much if at all. I enjoyed how the film questions the whole wife/mother idea, once considered ‘the ultimate destination’ for any woman, but here brings out the complex issues that come with it and how not every woman may want to be trapped by it, or even find contentment in that situation.

What’s even more interesting is that Natalie never really seems to go anywhere. Yes, she does get in a car and starts driving and passes by many picturesque places of rural America along the way, but trying to escape the clutches that she feels holds her back never goes away. Everyone she meets, including Gordon who’s stuck raising a young daughter (Marya Zimmet) that he wasn’t totally prepared for, seem to be in the same predicament as her making it feel like the further she drives away the closer she gets to where she started.

Francis Ford Coppola makes wonderful use of the rain and there are many shots of it particularly in the first half as we see it creating puddles on the road and even streaming down the car windows in close-up. The cloudy, murky weather acted as a nice motif to Natalie’s inner emotional state and the confusion that she was going through. The film’s promotional poster seen above is excellent too and brings out the moodiness of the movie with one perfect shot although seeing the couple kissing in the backdrop is a bit misleading as that’s one thing you definitely don’t see here despite Natalie’s efforts to try and find it. The two people should’ve, in order to be consistent with the theme of the film it was promoting, been seen standing side-by-side instead of hugging.

I also really loved Coppola’s use of flashbacks here, which gets sprinkled in throughout. I liked the scenes showing the couple in happier times during their wedding as it illustrates how relationships that go bad or don’t work out still had their good moments even if they were brief. The flashbacks dealing with Duvall trying to save his family from a burning house are quite revealing too as what he describes verbally through voice-over is quite different from what we see.

Leonard Maltin, in his review of the film, called the script ‘weak’, which I completely disagree with. Yes, not a lot happens, the random situations that Natalie goes through perfectly reflect what could happen to anyone on a trip, which I liked because the plausibility here is never compromised. She ends her journey feeling as lost as she did when she started, but I felt that was the whole point, so in my opinion the script is strong.

George Lucas, who worked as an aide on this production, filmed a 32-minute documentary of this movie as it was being made called Filmmaker, which is accessible on YouTube although the sound quality is poor. This film has several revealing moments including conflicts that director Coppola had with Knight, but what I found most interesting is that when the crew traveled down to Chattanooga they all cut their hair and shaved their beards,which included Coppola himself, as they felt the locales wouldn’t work with them unless they appeared clean-cut. Seeing Coppola with a rare non-beard look alone makes this short film vignette worth catching.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1968

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

A Star is Born (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His career goes downhill.

John Norman Howard (Kris Kristofferson) is a famous rock singer who’s found that his career on the road has taken its toll. He’s become jaded by the money and fame and now bored with it while spending his days and nights committing self-destructive acts that alienate the rest of his crew. One night after walking off the stage of his own concert after singing only a few songs he goes to a bar where he sees Esther (Barbra Streisand) singing on stage. He becomes impressed by her talent and uses his resources to make her a star. The two eventually get married, but as her career continues to rise his goes in decline.

This is the third remake of the story that was originally written by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson. The first version came out in 1937 and starred Frederic March and Janet Gaynor while the second one was released in 1954 and starred James Mason and Judy Garland. This version differs from the other two in that the setting was the music scene instead of the movie business, but overall the efforts here to revitalize the tired formula are trite and predictable.

A lot of the blame can go to Streisand who acted as both the star and producer to the project. For one thing she was too old for the part as she was already in her mid-30’s when this was filmed and wearing a tacky afro hairstyle to boot. It would’ve been more effective had a truly young person, like a woman who was 19, which is a typical age for someone to have dreams of breaking into the rock scene, was cast. Possibly having the character start out as one of Kristofferson’s groupies, instead of doing it like it’s done here where he just meets her at random at a bar, which is awkward and forced, and then through their time together he learns of her aspirations and talents and works to help her meet her potential.

It also would’ve helped had the young starlet had the same singing style as Kristofferson, which would’ve made the concert scene where he walks off stage and brings Esther onto it more believable. Kristofferson’s music, or what little we hear of it, has clearly a more hard rock edge while Streisand sings mellow love songs. In the movie we’re supposed to believe that all these fans who paid good money to see Kristofferson sing are suddenly without warning given Streisand instead and are so taken aback by her talent that they all clap and cheer when in reality I think they would’ve been upset and demanding their money back as they came to hear hard rock and not the lite stuff.

I enjoyed Kristofferson’s performance and his impulsive self-destructive acts give the film energy and edge. However, the chemistry between the two is non-existent and he later said that working with Streisand was “an experience which may of cured me of the movies.” His decline gets handled in a rushed, heavy-handed way. Music careers are by their very nature cyclical. Rock stars get replaced with every generation as teens prefer their own singing idols and not those of their parents. For him to become so quickly devastated when his record sales begin to plummet is unrealistic as nobody stays on top forever. He should have enough money to wade out the career lulls and simply held on to when his fans grew up and became nostalgic and then hit the retro tour circuit like many of the pop/rock icons from the past do.

Streisand’s character is flat, one-dimensional, and just plain too-good-to-be-true. She’s well known in real-life for her notorious ego, in fact director Frank Pierson described her as being egocentric, manipulative, and controlling and refused to ever work with her again, so having her then portray someone who is gracious and humble seems very phony and not something that she’s effectively able to convey. The original concept was to have the character be like Janis Joplin and go through a self-destructive decline of her own, but Streisand nixed this idea, which is unfortunate as it would’ve given the film some needed nuance.

The footage of the massive crowds at the concerts is the one element that I found impressive and the segment showing the vast stretch of land that Kristofferson owned in the middle of the Arizona desert was pretty cool too. Everything else though in this otherwise overlong film is boring. Fans of Streisand’s singing may take to it better, but there’s too much of it, making it seem like this was just one big vanity project for her and nothing more.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1976

Runtime: 2 Hours 20 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Frank Pierson

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive),  Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Outrageous! (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Female impersonator befriends schizophrenic.

Robin (Craig Russell) works as a gay hairstylist during the day, but longs to be up on stage as a female impersonator.  Liza (Hollis McLaren) is a schizophrenic who leaves the hospital she was confine in and moves in with Robin her longtime friend. Both find ways to help each other with their problems, which allows Robin the confidence to finally get on stage in drag as Tallulah Bankhead, which makes him an instant hit and gets him a paid gig in New York City. However, when he moves away Liza’s condition worsens forcing Robin to decide what’s more important: his budding career, or his friendship.

The film is based on the shorty story ‘Making It’ by Margaret Gibson, which in turn was based on her experiences dealing with mental illness and her real-life friendship with Craig Russell whom she roomed with in 1971. The story nicely tackles the challenges of dealing with mental illness and how Robin’s support helps Liza overcome her demons that the other professional Dr’s and counselors that she sees don’t because they only view her as just another patient instead of a person.

The grainy, low budget quality works to the film’s advantage as it brings out the fringe, economically disadvantaged lifestyle that the two lived in while McLaren’s performance shies away from the cliches of mentally illness causing the viewer to see her as a regular everyday person, not just some ‘crazy’, valiantly fighting a nasty illness that she can’t always control.

The segments dealing with Russell’s onstage act are quite entertaining as well though when I first saw this film decades ago I found these moments to be off-putting as they turned it more into a documentary, or a comedy special that took the focus away from the actual essence of the story, which was the friendship. However, upon second viewing I liked the way it captures the gay club scene that was unique to that time period. Russell’s impersonations where he does Barbra Striesand, Judy Garland, Mae West and Bette Midler just to name a few are outstanding. I’ve seen some female impersonator acts before, but Russell’s far outshines any of the others I’ve ever watched as he gets the body language, voice, and facial expressions of the people he’s playing just right to the point that he completely disappears into the women characters until you can’t tell the difference.

While the film does have many touching moments I felt it should’ve shown how Robin and Liza first met instead of having it start with them already knowing each other when she moves in with him. Since they are such an odd pair capturing how and where this unique relationship all started and what element brought them together seemed crucial, but we never see it nor does it even get addressed in conversation. Having this backstory could’ve helped the film stay a little more centered on the relationship as well and prevented the over reliance on Russell’s stage routine, which while quite good, still takes up a bit more of the runtime than it should’ve.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Benner

Studio: Canadian Film Development Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

I Never Sang for My Father (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father and son clash.

Based on the Broadway play of the same name written by Robert Anderson, who also wrote the screenplay, the story centers on college professor Gene (Gene Hackman) who tries to mend his relationship with his father Tom (Melvyn Douglas) a very bull-headed man who can’t seem to get along with anyone. When Gene’s mother (Dorothy Stickney) passes away suddenly it becomes a concern what to do with the father who is showing early signs of dementia and other health issues. Gene, who has recently been widowed himself, wants to remarry and move off to California, but his father prefers him to stay close by in New York. When Gene offers to move his father to California the old man refuses leading to a bitter feud between the two that also opens up old wounds.

To show just how good this movie is one only needs to compare it to Dad, which was an 80’s film starring Ted Danson and Jack Lemmon, which had a similar subject matter, but that film conveniently glossed over the many negative aspects of taking care of an elderly parent while this one tackles the downside head-on. Hearing the arguments that Gene has with his sister Alice (Estelle Parsons) and how neither one of them want to be straddled with the responsibility of being a round-the-clock caretaker I found to be refreshingly honest. Too many modern movies, in their attempt to make the lead character likable, never address these very real concerns. Also in the movie Dad the Ted Danson character flies across the country to help his father with no explanation for how this affected his job or finances while this one does touch on the economic realities. It also shows how elderly people aren’t always that lovable and can at times be genuinely nasty.

Douglas is outstanding as he manages to bring out different sides to his character. While the viewer finds him exasperating I still enjoyed the shots showing him kneeling at his bedside in prayer, which gave him, even as old and crotchety as he was, a child-like dimension. The conversations that he has about his own father and the poor relationship he had with him are quite revealing as it shows how the same issues can go across many generations with Douglas inadvertently treating his own son in the same shoddy way his old man treated him and not even realizing it.

With Douglas’ powerhouse performance Hackman gets overshadowed. He has fleeting moments where he displays his trademark anger and pent-up frustrations, but it doesn’t come-off as quite as genuine as it does in some of his other roles. It also would’ve been nice had there been some flashback scenes showing past altercations between the two, which would’ve helped the viewer emotionally connect to what he was feeling instead of having their differences just briefly touched on through dialogue. In many ways Parsons comes-off better and the reasons for her anger at her father is more clearly and eloquently explained.

The only complaint that I had with the film is when Hackman goes touring the assisted senior living homes. While the film had approached the material in a straight forward dramatic manner, which stays quiet true to the play, it suddenly shifts during this segment to becoming more artsy and cinematic by blocking out the dialogue and instead playing loud, moody score with a more subjective, hand-held camera. While this is all right I still felt it wasn’t needed and goes against the tone of the rest of the film, which had been very minimalist up until the then. The sudden pounding music doesn’t make the visuals showing the bleak living conditions of those places anymore shocking or disturbing and if anything becomes unnecessarily jarring and in-the-way.

These scenes also feature a very early appearance of James Karen as one of the directors of the senior facilities that Hackman tours. However, with the dark curly hair that he has here and the thick horn-rimmed glasses that he wears, you most likely won’t recognize him unless you look closely and even then you still might not think it’s him. With the decision by director Gilbert Cates to play music over these scenes we unfortunately never get to hear hear what he was saying or how he was trying to sell the dismal looking place to the potential customer, which could’ve been interesting.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Gilbert Cates

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Sometimes a Great Notion (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Never give a inch.

The Stampers are a proud logging family who’ve run their business out of the small Oregon town of Wakonda for years, but now find that may be in jeopardy when the local union strikes against a large lumber conglomerate. The Stampers, headed by their stubborn, bull-headed father (Henry Fonda) refuse to go along with the other loggers and continue to run their business. The rest of the townspeople consider them to be traitors and get their revenge by burning their equipment and doing whatever they can to make their business fail, but despite all the obstacles and setbacks the Stampers prove to be a resilient bunch.

The story is based on the Ken Kesey novel and while the book spawned many accolades the movie pretty much fizzled and today is only remembered as being the first film ever shown on HBO when it began broadcasting on November 8, 1972. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its share of good points as I really did enjoy the vivid way it captures the logging business showing first-hand what it takes to cut down the large trees and move the timber. Everything is captured with an in-your-face style that makes you feel like you’re right there working alongside the others and all the stages of tree cutting are explored including the many potentially dangerous accidents that can occur within the blink-of-an-eye.

The film also features a few memorable scenes including a bird’s-eye view of a large barge of logs being tugged down the river, which is an impressive sight. There’s also the infamous drowning scene unique because I’m not quite sure how they were able to pull it off without the actor drowning.

The characters though are quite boring, don’t display any type of arc and instead convey a very one-dimensional cantankerous attitude all the way through, which isn’t fun. Lee Remick is the only one who shows a softer, more introspective side, but she’s not in it enough. The scene involving her in bed with Michael Sarrazin, who plays the younger brother to Paul Newman, could’ve given things a much needed spark and should not have been left on the cutting room floor.

Fonda though is an exception. I’m always amazed at how in his later years he had to take small roles in films that weren’t always A-list material, but would still steal the film away from the leading actors anyways and his answer as to why the family continues to work while clearly causing tension with the rest of the town is a gem.

The plot though gets presented in a sporadic way. So much attention gets put into the aesthetics that the story becomes largely forgotten and only trickles through at certain intervals. The perspective is a bit odd for a Hollywood film too especially for that time period where the idea was always a David vs. Goliath formula that would take it to the establishment and yet here instead of punching up it punches down. As a viewer I felt sympathy for the townspeople and their need to create a strong union to make life better for themselves, so watching this family arrogantly ignore their needs and forge on with their business seemed to be me selfish and not something that was noble or interesting.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s final shot, which features Newman tying his dead father’s severed arm on top of his tugboat, with the hand of the arm giving the finger to the town’s people on shore, is quite ghoulish. There’s no explanation for how he obtained the arm, but I’d imagine it would’ve required him digging up his father’s grave and cutting the limb off, which is pretty sick and twisted and thus loses the humorous quality that was intended and becomes just plain repulsive instead.

Alternate Title: Never Give A Inch

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Newman (Replaced Richard A. Colla)

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Universal Vault Series)

The Gig (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Band’s first paid engagement.

Marty (Warren Rogers) works as a used car salesman during the day, but in the evening he gets together with 5 other middle-aged male friends and takes part in a Dixie style jazz band. For 15 years they’ve been doing this until they get an offer with pay to play at the Catskills for two weeks. Marty is initially quite excited, but the others have family and job obligations and aren’t sure if they can do it. He’s finally able to get 4 of them to agree, but with one bowing out due to surgery is forced to add in a professional bass player named Marshall (Cleavon Little) who is talented, but also arrogant and opinionated. Once they finally arrive at the location they find their living quarters to be small and cramped and the resort owner (Joe Silver) to be overbearing making them wish they hadn’t come and  leads to the group’s unraveling.

The film, which was written and directed by Frank D. Gilroy, takes a realistic view of middle-aged life. Most films have the perspective that middle-aged people in the affluent suburbs are in control of their lives and do things on a whim if they so please while here it’s the exact opposite. In fact the whole first act, which I found to be the most entertaining, is spent showing how each member frets about whether they’ll be able to get time off from their jobs and permission from their wives to go, which perfectly illustrates how even doing something on a lark can have potentially far reaching consequences.

Unfortunately the second half stagnates as certain potentially interesting conflicts get introduced, but then all end up getting resolved in pat and uninteresting ways a few minutes later making it feel like the story isn’t really going anywhere, or leading to anything. A few of the characters become a bit too strained even for henpecked suburbanites especially Arthur, played by Daniel Nalbach, who is in his 50’s, but still a mama’s boy who becomes guilt ridden when he’s away from his mother for even a couple of days, which gets a bit pathetic. There’s also the issue of Rogers speaking in a sort of slick-salesman type dialect, which I found annoying.

The third act offers some spark with arrival of an obnoxious singer, wonderfully played by Jay Thomas, whose over-sized ego outweighs his talents and who openly clashes with the band, which promises to lead to potential fireworks. Yet the film doesn’t play this part up enough having the band leave before the brewing anger can come to a full peak.

Those that have played gigs in amateur bands may take to this better as I’m sure they’ll relate a lot to what goes on here and I really did love the final shot showing the band playing a moving tribute along the roadside of a busy highway, but everything that come in-between is trite. The drama is too contained making it feel, especially when coupled with its dull, low budget cinematic look, more like a one-hour TV dramedy than a theatrical feature.

It also would’ve been nice had more of a backstory been done of the group and their many years of playing together instead of starting right away with them getting the gig offer. Showing them during the good times where they got along would’ve then made the scenes where they eventually unravel more compelling.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 26, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Frank D. Gilroy

Studio: Manson International

Available: VHS

Harry & Son (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Looking for a job.

Harry (Paul Newman) is a construction worker who starts to have seizures involving headaches and blackouts that causes him to lose his job. He asks his son Howard (Robby Benson), who lives with him, to help out by finding a full-time job of his own, but Howard, who has graduated from college, seems content with his part-time car washing gig and no aspirations for anything other than one day becoming a famous writer. Harry feels Howard is not being practical and prods him to take working life more seriously or risk getting thrown out of the house.

Although this wasn’t a critical darling when it was released it still has a nice slice-of-life feel to it dealing with believable people going through some very real everyday problems, which keeps it compelling. Newman does well as a director and co-scripwriter, but his performance is one-dimensional. Normally he’s a terrific actor, and one of my favorites, but Harry remains too grouchy and bitter, almost like he’s channeling his character from Hud, and only near the end shows a different side to him, which is too late.

Benson’s scenes prove to be more interesting although as an actor he’s just as one-dimensional in the other way as he continually shows a deer-in-headlights expression all the way through like that’s the only type of emotion he can convey and it’s no wonder that his career in movies eventually faded. There is one moment though where he shows intense anger and gets in his father’s face to the point that I thought a fist-fight would break out, which would’ve been cool, but ultimately it doesn’t happen.

What I did like about his scenes was when he goes to work at a ‘real job’, which features a wonderful performance by Morgan Freeman as his supervisor, and he’s unable to keep up with the demands of  it, which perfectly illustrates how kids getting out of college can be highly educated but woefully underskilled to everyday work demands. His scenes with Ossie Davis, where he tries to steal his car as a re-possessor, are quite memorable as well.

What I didn’t like about his character was that he gets back into a relationship with a girl, played by Ellen Barkin, who had cheated on him previously by sleeping around with a lot of different guys. If a person is prone to cheat on you once they’re apt to do it again, so why put yourself through heartache a second time? She’s also carrying a baby, which is not is, in fact she isn’t sure whose it is, so why agree to take on all the bills, responsibility, and stress of a kid if you don’t actually have to?

The female roles here are not needed and tend to just make the movie longer than it needs to be. The title of the film promises to examine the relationship between a father and son, but it does not delve into it as much as it should. Having Harry’s daughter, played by Katharine Borowitz, enter into the story does nothing but add needless drama that goes nowhere. Judith Ivey’s character is not necessary either as she plays a nympho who sleeps with both father and son at different times and the two men then talk and joke about it afterwards even though in real-life I’d think most fathers and sons would feel very awkward talking about their mutual sexual conquests making this scene insincere.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending goes against the entire grain of the flick by having Howard receive $1,500 check after he sends out a story submission to a publisher, but most publishers like to work through an agent and I don’t think they’d blindly send out money to an unproven writer without first coming up with some sort of contract. Since the film starts with a blue collar theme that’s where it should’ve ended by having Howard adjust to jobs requiring manual labor instead of inserting the Hollywood pipe dream.

Howard’s reaction to Harry’s death is odd too. He runs into his dad’s bedroom only to find his father lying on the floor motionless and then proceeds to just sit there and cry  even though the more normal thing would be to call 9-1-1 or attempt to resuscitate him. It’s also annoying that we never find out exactly what Harry’s ailment was making it like one of those cliched, generic mystery illness that befalls movie characters for no other reason than to keep the drama going.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Newman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Taps (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cadets take over academy.

At the conclusion of another school year at Bunker Hill Military Academy, General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott) announces, to his shocked cadets during the commencement proceedings, that their school has been sold to real estate developers and will be closed in 1 year. Then that evening tragedy strikes forcing the board of trustees to close the school immediately. The students lead by Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton) who had just been promoted to Cadet Major decide to take matters into their own hands by taking over the school with force and refusing to leave it unless guarantees are made to keep it open.

The film is based on the novel ‘Father Sky’ by Devery Freeman and the first half has excellent potential. The drama is intense and on-target and brings up a myriad of interesting conundrums dealing with the thin line between loyalty versus rebellion and how at different times both can be good and bad. It also deftly examines how bad things can come from the best of intentions.

Unfortunately all the action takes place in the first hour leaving the second half woefully undernourished with nothing happening. Everyone stands around expounding until all the tension that had been so nicely built-up at the beginning gets sapped away leaving boredom in its wake. The film also tries too hard to make its point becoming overwrought and preachy in the process. The dialogue between the characters loses its conversational quality and instead starts to sound like mini speeches.

The acting by the soon-to-be-stars is good and includes Sean Penn in his film debut as well as Tom Cruise in a breakout role that originally he rejected because he was only hired to be a background character, but his presence during rehearsals so impressed director Harold Becker that he decided to give him a bigger part and he  leaves a lasting impression particularly at the very end. Hutton, who was just coming off his Academy Award winning work from Ordinary People is effective too despite his thin frame and the scene he has where he discusses the situation with the cadets’ distressed parents are his best moment.

Scott on the other hand comes off as old and tired, granted that was the type of character he was playing, but it still isn’t a showy role for an otherwise famous actor and in fact he only appears in the film’s first act. The scene dealing with him trying to break up a ruckus between a group of students and cadets is poorly edited. One shot has his gun being taken out of its holster by another student only to magically reappear in Scott’s hands in a later shot, which comes off looking like a jump cut.

From a simply logical perspective it becomes abundantly evident right from the beginning that these kids have gotten in way over their heads with no endgame and nothing is worse than seating through a plodding plot that you know won’t end well.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1981

Runtime: 2 Hours 6 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Harold Becker

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

That Cold Day in the Park (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spinster takes in boy.

Frances (Sandy Dennis) is a rich, but lonely woman living a reclusive life inside her luxury Vancouver apartment with only her service staff to keep her company. One day she spots a teen boy (Michael Burns) sitting all alone on a park bench while it’s raining. She decides to invite him up to her apartment where she gives him food and a shower and becomes very attached to him despite the fact that he does not speak. Unbeknownst to her he has a whole other life with friends and family, but decides to exploit Frances’ generosity for his own gain only to learn that Frances has her own devious plans in mind.

The film’s only interesting aspect is Robert Altman’s direction, which is far different from the later movies that he did in the ’70’s, which emphasized conversations going on by secondary characters who weren’t always even in the scene, which here occurs only once when Frances goes to a doctor’s office, but is otherwise non-existent. Instead Altman successfully captures Frances’ isolated condition including the quiet apartment atmosphere where the viewer feels as trapped inside the four walls of the place as the character’s and the idea that there was an actual film crew on the set with the actors seems almost hard to believe. I also enjoyed the way the boy’s family life is shown by having the camera remaining outside and peering into the house’s windows to capture the action and dialogue going on inside.

The film fails though to be compelling as there is no reason given for why Frances feels so compelled to bring in this boy, or why this otherwise pretty, able-bodied woman should be so alone in the first place. One scene even has another middle-aged suitor propositioning her with a relationship, which she coldly refuses, but why? Is she more into teen boys and if so this needs to get explained and the reason given for it.

Dennis is an interesting actress, but isn’t up to playing characters with a sinister side and she’s a bit too young for the role. An older woman such as Ingrid Bergman would’ve been far better able to convey the age disparity between the two characters, but she unfortunately refused the part when offered. Burns is only adequate and the fact that he doesn’t initially speak makes the dynamics between the two interesting and the film should’ve delayed the fact that he could talk until the end, instead of revealing this in the middle part, which takes away any potential for mystery and intrigue.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, which consists of Dennis trapping Burns inside her apartment makes no sense. The fact that she nails the windows shut is ridiculous as he would only need to pry the nails out of the wood, which he successfully does to a few of them anyways, in order to open the windows back up and get out. He is also physically stronger than her and the fact that she uses no weapon means he could overpower her if he wanted. Besides his family already knew where he was as his sister (Susanne Benton) came to visit him and would most likely come looking for him when he didn’t come home, so having it end by portraying him as a helpless hostage with no way of escaping is quite weak and unsatisfying.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 8, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: Commonwealth United Entertainment

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

The Stone Boy (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4 Word Review: Accidentally killing his brother.

Based on the 1957 short story by Gina Berriault, the film centers on a 12-year-old boy named Arnold (Jason Presson) who accidentally kills his older brother Eugene (Dean Cain)  one morning while they go out to pick peas on their farm. His parents (Robert Duvall, Glenn Close) don’t know how to react to the tragedy and begin to treat Arnold like he’s a stranger to his own family, which causes him to consider running away.

In an era of big budget special effects I enjoyed the film’s low-key approach, but this gets ruined right away by instilling all sorts of ill-advised cinematic effects, including slow motion, during the shooting scene. You can’t spend so much time and effort creating a docu-drama look and feel to a production, which nicely reflects the slow/quiet paced lifestyle of rural America, only to suddenly pivot away from it at the most inopportune time, which results in a jarring, disconcerting feel for the viewer.

The shooting scene goes against the grain of the main character too. We’re supposed to emotionally connect with the kid, but the way he behaves is bizarre. I would’ve expected him to start crying when he realizes he has shot his brother and go running back to the house for help, but instead he conveys no emotion at all and calmly continues to pick the peas like nothing has happened, which makes him seem mentally disturbed.

It’s also rare for a person to instantly fall over dead with one shot like the brother does here. For that to happen the bullet would’ve had to hit the heart directly or some other vital organ, but the gun went off while it was being held at a precarious angle and most likely the bullet would’ve only grazed his brother, or just injured him. The accident also occurred not far from the house, so why the parents didn’t immediately come running out when they heard the gun going off, or the boy screaming is hard to understand. It’s important to note that we don’t actually hear him scream as the scene is shot with no sound, but we do see him open his mouth real wide in horror, so I can only imagine that he did scream out and if so the rest of his family should’ve heard it.

It would’ve been better had this scene not been shown at all and only alluded to, or done like it was in Ordinary People, which had a similar storyline, but didn’t play out the death sequence until the very end as a flashback. In either case the rest of the film is okay and even has a few touching and profound moments, but it stretches out the premise of the short story it’s based on too much, which creates draggy periods that prevents it from being as effective as it could’ve.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Christopher Cain

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube