Category Archives: Drama

March or Die (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Battle in the desert.

French Foreign Legion Major William Foster (Gene Hackman) suffers from memories of leading 8,000 of his own men into a failed battle, which has driven him to alcoholism. Now he and his regiment are assigned to protect an archaeology dig lead by Francois Marneau (Max Von Sydow) that sits in the middle of the Moroccan desert and is under constant threat  by an army of Arab revolutionaries lead by El Krim (Ian Holm).

The film was a labor of love for director Dick Richards who grew up watching the French Foreign Legion films in his youth and wanted to recapture that magic, but like with his earlier and much acclaimed western flick The Culpepper Cattle Company do it with a revisionist slant. Aesthetically it looks gorgeous and all the more impressive when you factor in that the majority of it was filmed in Nevada, but because the dunes in Morocco had a  different shade of color than the ones in North America the sand was flown in to camouflage this and you’d never know the difference. Watching the harsh treatment that the men had to go through as they trained to become soldiers is quite revealing as well and made the first hour of the film captivating.

Hackman though looks uncomfortable in his role and this could be attributed in large part to the fact that he fell off his horse during filming and was suffering from a great deal of back pain during the shoot. In either case he ends up getting sorely upstaged by Italian star Terence Hill, who up until this time had mainly done comedic styled westerns with his onscreen pal Bud Spencer, but here shines as a soldier who challenges authority and galvanizes the rest of the troops.

Marcel Bozzuffi is equally memorable as the cruel Lieutenant Fontaine who treats the men under him quite harshly most notably Top Hat played by Andre Penvern, but the theatrical/DVD release omits a crucial scene with him that was only shown in the TV print.  In that version he and his men chase after two deserters and then get involved in an ill-advised battle with some tribesmen, which ultimately causes him to break down in fear and kill himself, which would’ve been an interesting transition to witness since for the majority of the movie he remains cold and aloof otherwise.

Despite being a great actor Von Sydow’s presence here is a detriment as it will only remind viewers especially during the archaeology dig sequence of his work in The Exorcist where in the beginning of that film where scenes of him doing essentially the same thing. Catherine Deneuve is another excellent talent who is wasted in a part that doesn’t allow her much to do and only helps to slow down the already sluggish film with each scene that she’s in.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s most disappointing aspect though is with its ending, which should’ve been its strong point. The final battle is exciting and the shots of hundreds of chanting Arab soldiers coming over the dunes to attack is indeed impressive and even harrowing to see, but watching the systematic slaughter of the French soldiers and ultimately learning that they walked themselves into a trap is quite dispiriting. I know I’ve complained about the formulaic happy endings from time-to-time in some other films, but this one is too much of a downer and offers the viewer no payoff at all for having to sit through it. It’s almost like giving someone a reasonably enjoyable ride only to drive the car off the cliff at the end and expect them to thank you for it.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 5, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Dick Richards

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Oliver’s Story (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Adjusting to wife’s death.

It’s been 6 years since Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) lost his wife to leukemia and he’s still having a hard time learning to move on from it. He hasn’t been in a serious relationship since and his friends including his step father (Edward Binns) are pressuring him to start dating. Finally by chance he meets Marci (Candice Bergen) while she is out jogging. She is secretly an heiress to a massive fortune, which allows the two to connect due to their similar well-to-do upbringings, but when things start to get serious Oliver finds himself  resisting unable to cut the ties from his past and move forward.

This is definitely a sequel that nobody asked for and in fact both O’Neal and Bergen initially had no interest doing it. The original film worked because it centered on the couple and when you take away one of them you have only half a movie. Oliver on his own is boring and watching him learn to adjust to life as a single person is not compelling and no different than the hundreds of other movies dealing with the dating scene.

John Marley, who played Jenny’s father in the first film, refused to appear in this one because he was unhappy with how his name was going to be placed in the credits, so he got replaced by Edward Binns who seems to be playing a completely different character. Here the father-in-law and Oliverhave acquired a chummy friendship and even hang out together despite this never having been established in the first film. Ray Milland reprises his role as Oliver’s father, but gets portrayed in a much more likable way while in the first one he came off more as a heavy.

The film’s only interesting aspect is seeing how much the social norms have changed. Here being single is considered like a disease and his pesky friends are emboldened enough to set Oliver up on dates and openly telling him that he needs to ‘get out more’ even though by today’s standards the single lifestyle is much more prevalent and accepted and doing these same types of actions now by well meaning friends would be considered intrusive and obnoxious.

Having one of the women that he meets at a dinner party invite him back to her place despite barely knowing him is something not likely to occur today either. The way though that Oliver meets Marcie is the most absurd as he quite literally chases her down while she is jogging, which would scare most women into thinking that they had a crazy stalker on their hands.

On the production end the film is competently made with the springtime scenery of New York as well as shots of the couple’s trip to Hong Kong being the only thing that I enjoyed. The story though lacks punch and drones on with too many side dramas. O’Neal’s performance is good, but his chemistry with Bergen is lacking, which ultimately makes this a production that had misfire written all over it before a single frame of it was even shot.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Korty

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video,  YouTube

Love Story (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Romance and then death.

Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) is attending Harvard Law School where he meets Jenny (Ali MacGraw) a student studying classical music. The two don’t hit-it-off at first, but eventually fall in love and marry despite the objections of Oliver’s father (Ray Milland). Just as things seem to be falling into place Jenny gets diagnosed with a fatal illness, which sends Oliver’s world spinning out-of-control.

Erich Segal’s script, which he later turned into a best-selling novel, is simplistic, but the on-location shooting done in and around Harvard is outstanding and helps give the film, along with some well done hockey footage, an added energy. This is one of only a few films to be allowed to shoot there and they were kicked out after only a week due to being too much of a distraction, but it was just enough to give the movie a good authentic college vibe. The snowy landscape plays a big part of it and there’s even a scene where the two play in it, but some shots feature a lot of it in the background only to have a few scenes spliced in where there is none of it on the ground, which makes it a bit visually jarring.

On the romantic side I liked the fact that Jenny is initially prickly towards Oliver and he has to work at getting her to soften up. Men actually do enjoy a challenge and having a woman just throw herself at a guy, or having the relationship start out seamlessly is just not as interesting or realistic. However, having Oliver profess that he ‘loves’ her after only the first date glosses over the courtship aspect too much and essentially ruins the intrigue in the process.

O’Neal is excellent here and he was picked over a lot of other big name stars simply for his ability to react to a situation in effective ways, which he ends up doing quite well. Yet I felt it would’ve worked better had he been the one from the poor-side-of-town as he’s more convincing as a rugged blue collar type instead of a studious student, or their contrasting economic backgrounds not been played-up at all since for me it didn’t really add much.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s most notorious flaw though, and one that was parodied in a very funny send-up of the movie on ‘The Carol Burnett Show’, is the whole mystery illness thing (supposedly it’s leukemia, but never explicitly stated) that comes out of nowhere without Jenny ever showing an symptoms and having her die in a sudden car accident would’ve solved this issue and been more believable.

Personally though I was more shocked by the fact that the Dr. tells Oliver about Jenny’s diagnosis before he informs her. If she were a child that would be fine, but she’s an adult and deserves to know about her own health affairs before anyone else and if this had occurred today it would’ve gotten him into a lot of trouble.

The narrative also gets a bit askew as Oliver takes the news much harder than she does. Shot after shot shows him getting all misty-eyed almost like the viewer should feel worse for him, as he is now losing the object of his affections instead of her for losing her life.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film is also famous for the line “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”, which to me never made any sense as relationships are dependent on the other party asking for forgiveness when they’ve done wrong and simply presuming they can get away with anything and expect unconditional acceptance doesn’t work. Two of my female friends agreed with me on this, which only proves how placid and shallow this film ultimately is.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: Paramount

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

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She suffers from schizophrenia.

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Joanne Greenberg, which was written under the pen name of Hannah Green, the story focuses on Deborah (Kathleen Quinlan) a 16 year-old who is put into a mental institution during the 1950’s by her parents (Ben Piazza, Lorraine Gary). A pretend secret kingdom that used to be a childhood fantasy has now completely taken over her life and she is unable to deal with reality. At the institution she works with a sympathetic therapist named Dr. Fried (Bibi Andersson) who tries to get Deborah out of her fantasy world an back into the real one.

The film was produced by Roger Corman better known for his cheap, sleazy drive-in fare, so seeing him try to take the helm by producing a serious picture is a concern since exploitation always seemed to be his foray, but with the then recent success of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest he felt stories with a mental institution theme was a potential money-maker. The production values though right from the start look pretty cheap especially when compared to the Milos Foreman film making this a very weak cousin to the 1975 classic.

The producers made many changes from its source novel much to the consternation of the book’s author who was never consulted during the making of it and who ended up disliking this film version immensely. One of the biggest difference is that the film completely omits the antisemitism, which the filmmakers felt was too much of a ‘hot button topic’, that the main character in the book had to deal with and instead blames her mental health problems solely on her bout with cancer.

For me though the biggest issue centers more on the recreation of Deborah’s make-believe, mystical world which she calls The Kingdom of Yr. In the book the kingdom starts out as a beautiful magical place that slowly turns ugly and threatening while in the movie it’s portrayed as scary from the very beginning, which is confusing as there’s no explanation for how the whole thing started. The sound of the whispering voices going on inside Deborah’s head is creepy, but sight of the characters inside the kingdom, which was played by members of Oingo Boingo looks cheesy and like the singers from the Village People, which gives the film an unintended camp feeling. Instead the characters should’ve been captured from a distance where they were seen as ominous shadowy figures whose faces were never shown.

Despite these drawbacks I still found myself caught-up in much of the drama especially the cruelty that Deborah and her fellow patients received at the hands of an abusive orderly played by Reni Santoni. Unfortunately some of the scenes showing Deborah interacting with the other mentally-ill people in the hospital gets watered-down by having a lighthearted melody played during it, which gives off the idea that this is ‘lightly comical’ instead of the gritty no-holds-barred drama that it should be.

Quinlan gives a great performance, possibly the best of her career and I particularly enjoyed the way she uses her expressive blue eyes to convey her inner madness and turmoil. You also see her as a relatable human being who you want to see get well as opposed to being some sort of ‘freak’. Susan Tyrrell is great in support as one of the patients as well as Martine Bartlett who plays another troubled patient and who starred just a year earlier as the cruel mother in Sybil, which was a TV-movie with a similar theme. Casting Bibi Andersson though as the psychiatrist was for me a distraction since she also played one in Persona, which was her signature role and therefore I couldn’t separate her from that one.

In 2004 the novel was turned into a play under the full cooperation of Greenberg who acted as a consultant. The antisemitism from the book was incorporated into the play as well as several other things that had been omitted making me believe that a remake based on the play should be given a much needed green-light as this film unfortunately is adequate, but not great.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 14, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Anthony Page

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Rabbit, Run (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s maladjusted to adulthood.

Harry (James Caan) was a basketball star in high school and nicknamed Rabbit because of his speed. Now he’s a middle-aged man working a thankless job and stuck in a loveless marriage with an alcoholic wife (Carrie Snodgress). One day he decides to just jump into his car and drive away from all of it. He meets his former coach (Jack Albertson) who hooks him up with a prostitute (Anjanette Comer) and the two begin a makeshift relationship, but that doesn’t work out either. Rabbit then decides to return to his wife just as she’s ready to deliver their second child only to ultimately have tragedy strike.

Although the film was not as well received by the critics as the John Updike novel that it’s based upon was I still cam away liking it. There are indeed some lulls but director Jack Smight nicely incorporates the on-location shooting of Reading, Pennsylvania where Updike was born into the story, which gives it a distinctive visual flair. The scene where Rabbit walks into his gray, dingy old apartment only to see his wife slouched on the sofa with a liquor bottle would make anyone want to get up and run out of there and visually you get a sense of what Rabbit is feeling and therefore you don’t totally blame him for doing what he does even as irresponsible as it is.

Caan gives a great performance in a part he was born to play and I was impressed with his long distance running that occurs both at the beginning of the film and the end. However, if would have been nice to have had some flashbacks showing the character in better times. It’s one thing to talk about the character’s success on the basketball court and it’s another to actually see it. It would’ve also helped explain his weird rendezvous with his coach as the old man tells him, much to Rabbit’s shock, that the most important thing in life is ‘tits and pussy’. I think the reason for this, without having actually read the book, is that as a teen the coach acted as a role model and put up a moral facade for his players, but now as both are adults he sees the more jaded side of the guy, but without the benefit of a flashback this point gets lost.

The characters are nicely multi-dimensional, which makes watching them interact fascinating. I enjoyed Arthur Hill as a minister who tries to redeem Rabbit only to admit that he has fantasized about doing the exact same thing that Rabbit did although his wife, played by Melodie Johnson, is too young and dresses too provocatively to ever be taken seriously as being an actual pastor’s wife.

Spoiler Alert!

Smight captures the book’s shocking elements nicely including the baby drowning scene in the bathtub where the viewer sees it from the infant’s underwater point-of-view. However, the moment where Comer gets pressured to ‘go down’ on Caan in an effort to perform fellatio with him, which she apparently did with some of her other customers, has clearly lost its edge since it’s a more mainstream sexual practice between couples now than it was back then although the pounding music that gets played over this sequence as they ‘debate’ whether to do it or not is good.

The ending though I found disappointing as it’s too similar to the one in Adam at 6 AM, which came out around the same time and had the film’s star Michael Douglas driving away from his obligations in a car while here Caan does the same, but only on his feet yet one can’t run away from things their whole lives. I was hoping to see how he changed during the different stages of his life, which this film doesn’t show. Updike wrote three follow-up novels to this story ‘Rabbit Redux’, ‘Rabbit is Rich’, and ‘Rabbit at Rest’, and I hope that they can remake this film while adding elements of those stories into it, which will create a fuller composite to the Rabbit character and his life, which this film lacks.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 10, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), YouTube

The Caretaker (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Homeless man moves in.

Based on the Harold Pinter play the story centers around Aston (Robert Shaw) who suffers from an undisclosed mental illness and lives alone in a cramped, cluttered room of an abandoned home that his brother Mick (Alan Bates) is trying to renovate. Mac Davies (Donald Pleasence) is a homeless man that Aston invites to stay with him, but Mac proves to be a difficult roommate and when Aston asks him to leave Mac refuses and instead tries connive with Mick to have Aston thrown out instead.

From a purely technical standpoint this is a brilliant film as Clive Donner’s direction perfectly captures the claustrophobic setting. It can be hard to recreate a truly cluttered interior, but this room really comes off looking like a storage closet with so many items crowded into it that you wonder how the performers were even able to move around or how the camera crew could fit in to film it. You eventually lose touch with this being a movie at all, but instead start to feel like you’re right in there with the characters as the camera creates an incredible intimacy with the people on the screen until it’s like they’re breathing right on you.

The performances are impressive and the one thing that keeps the viewer captivated as there is very little action otherwise. All three starred in the stage production and basically did this for free as the budget was so low that they couldn’t be paid upfront and were promised a percentage of the profits if the film went into the black. Shaw is particularly interesting as he has played so many dominating characters in the past that watching him portray someone who is shy and unassuming and still do it with equal effectiveness is a testament to his talents while Pleasence, who wears heavy make-up to make him look much older than he really was, is almost unrecognizable.

My only complaint is that not enough happens. I’ve seen and enjoyed many of Pinter’s other plays that were turned into films and although this one is well crafted it still lacks the necessary payoff. I kept waiting for that great dramatic moment that seems from the very beginning to be just bubbling underneath the surface, but it never materializes. I wanted more of an arch that the characters and material seemed ripe for and to have it just end the way it began with not much occurring in between is a real disappointment. Again, the performance and camerawork keep you captivated, but it all adds up to being much ado about nothing and the story’s ultimate message/point being quite murky.

Alternate Title: The Guest

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 2, 1963

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Clive Donner

Studio: Janus Films

Available: DVD (Region 2)

Daisy Miller (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She’s a real tease.

While studying in turn-of-the-century Switzerland Frederick (Barry Brown) comes upon the beautiful Daisy Miller (Cybill Shepherd) who’s touring Europe along with her nervous and talkative mother (Cloris Leachman) and precocious younger brother Randolph (James McMurty). Frederick is smitten with her beauty, but unable to handle her free-thinking ways. Nonetheless he follows her around Europe where he continually becomes confounded with whether she likes him or not, or whether he’ll ever be able to convey his true feelings towards her.

This film, which is based on a short story by Henry James, was originally conceived by Peter Bogdanovich as being a vehicle for both him and his then girlfriend Shepherd to star in with Peter playing the part of Frederick and Orson Welles directing it. Peter had become mesmerized with Cybill while directing her in The Last Picture Show and left his then wife and children to move in with her in a situation that was later satirized in Irreconcilable DifferencesFortunately Welles realized that Peter’s obsession with making Cybill a big screen star had sapped him from all common sense and bowed out of the film project considering the material to be weak and lightweight, which it is, but this only then helped to convince the determined Peter to direct it himself.

The result isn’t as bad as I had initially presumed and in a lot ways it’s strangely engaging and certainly  far better than At Long Last Love another Bogdanovich/Shepherd concoction that was rejected by both audiences and critics alike. This one though takes advantage of Cybill’s conniving, flirtatious nature, which is something I feel she’s been doing her whole life and therefore makes this character a reflection of who she truly is. Leonard Maltin described her performance as “hollow”, which I agree as we only see one side to her personality, but when she plays that one side as well as she does then it becomes entertaining nonetheless.

Brown is excellent too and far better in the role than Peter ever would’ve been as Brown manages to retain the necessary modicum of self-respect even as he chases her around like a lovesick mope. Instead of this becoming off-putting we sympathize with his internal quandary and this then helps to propel the story forward even as it seems to be going nowhere.

The film’s other big asset is its on-location shooting. Some viewers have described the period costumes and set-pieces as being great, but for me this was only so-so. What I really liked though was the scene done inside the Coliseum at night under the moonlight, which gives off both a surreal and creepy feeling and adds an extra ambiance making me wish the segment had been extended as well as adding a trip to Rome on my own personal bucket list.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest failing though comes at the end where Daisy catches malaria and promptly dies, but we never see her sick and only gets told this after she’s already dead. Having a scene showing her ill and vulnerable as opposed to always being free-spirited and in control would’ve helped give the character an added dimension especially if it had been done with Frederick at her bedside.

The idea that if Frederick had just been less ‘stiff’ towards her that the relationship might’ve blossomed is ridiculous as I think this was the type of woman who enjoyed manipulating men and even if she got married to one she’d continually toy with them until she got bored and moved on to the next. Having her die isn’t ‘sad’ as the film suggests, but instead a happy one for Frederick as now he’s ultimately out of her grip and able to free himself to find someone who would really care for him.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

River’s Edge (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens ambivalent to murder.

A high school clique must deal with conflicting issues when one of their members (Daniel Roebuck) murders his girlfriend (Danyi Deats) and leaves her nude corpse along the riverbed where he then proudly shows it off to anyone who wants to see it. Some of them consider going to the police while others like Layne (Crispin Glover) thinks they should simply bury the body and cover-up for John’s deeds since he’s their friend.

While I liked the film’s atmosphere and the strong drama I didn’t care for the preachy tone. This is most evident in the scenes with Jim Metzler playing a teacher who’s a baby boomer and brags about how great his generation is compared to today’s teens and even at one point wags his finger at them over their apathy, but never once answers why they’ve become that way. Every generation likes to feel that they’re superior to the one that comes after it and the film seems to want to align itself with that point-of-view; that the kids today just don’t seem to ‘get-it’, but what’s caused that? Is it just some ‘bad DNA’ or instead a crumbling societal structure and if so then the adults are partially to blame for it, which is a complex area that the film seems reluctant to go to.

The fact that there isn’t any real insight to the cause and it doesn’t even analyze the family life of all its characters is a bit frustrating. It does show the chaotic, broken home life to one of them, which could be construed as part of the problem, but then later this gets negated when the teen from that household is the one who ultimately goes to the police.

Keanu Reeves character is a further detraction as he becomes too much of the conventional hero. Watching him literally shake from guilt while sitting in a classroom gives away all the tension as it makes it clear he will eventually go to the police and it would’ve been more intriguing had this instead been kept a mystery. Initially we’re supposed to be ‘shocked’ that the teens don’t immediately run to the police upon discovering the body, but then having him later get accused of the crime once he does go only helps to make those that didn’t seem the wiser.

Dennis Hopper’s character is a problem too. He’s great actor who plays the part brilliantly even though it seems too similar, at least initially, to the one he played in Blue Velvet almost to the point of it being typecasting. Having the guy start out as this weird, overly eccentric, mentally unstable loner who goes around in public with his sex doll only to then turn around and become a moral authority to ‘the crazy kids of today’ is just too much of a weird clash.

Crispin Glover, with his androgenic looks and wild, hybrid VW that he drives around in, is the film’s true star and many might even say that he IS the movie. His warped idea of friendship, loyalty, and ‘honor’ is amusing and even engaging and in a offbeat way brings a sense of innocence to an otherwise jaded climate. The plot would’ve worked better had it made him the centerpiece by turning it into a black comedy where he becomes the anti-hero by trying to save his friend from getting into trouble, which ultimately would’ve hit home the same message that the drama does anyways.

Despite having its plot start from the middle and work into a nebulous finish, it’s still a gripping and groundbreaking film and something I found myself quite caught up in. I just wished it hadn’t felt the need to envelope it with a social message, but instead allowed the situation play out naturally with an ambiguous tone, which would’ve then forced the viewer to ponder the ramifications of it by themselves instead of trying to do it for them.

Although the film never mentions it this it is actually based, or at least inspired by a true incident that occurred in Milpitas, California when 14 year-old Marcy Renee Conrad was murdered by 16 year-old Anthony Broussard on November 3, 1981. After dumping the dead body into a ravine Broussard then showed it off to 10 of his friends who didn’t do anything about it until finally 2 of them decided to go to the police. However, there are some major differences from the real case to the one portrayed here. In the actual incident Marcy was also raped and Broussard was African American and his ultimate fate was much different than what happens to the killer in the movie.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tim Hunter

Studio: Island Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Promises in the Dark (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Caring for cancer patient.

Elizabeth ‘Buffy’ (Kathleen Beller) is a 17-year-old high school senior who breaks her leg while kicking a soccer ball. Alexandra (Marsha Mason) is the attending physician who feels that a beak of that magnitude should not have occurred simply by kicking a ball, so after doing more x-rays they find a cancerous tumor, which necessitates having the leg amputated. While Buffy recovers from that further tests reveal that the cancer has spread and this causes Alexandra to lose her cold, defensive exterior as she tries to comfort Buffy through the remaining time that she has.

This film nicely keeps everything at an earnest level and avoids jazzing things up for dramatic purposes, which is refreshing. The acting from Ned Beatty as Buffy’s father and Susan Clark as the mother is outstanding with Clark’s character being particularly interesting especially when she doesn’t run to her sick daughter’s aid when she hears her cry for help, but instead remains frozen at the bottom of the stairs, which was something I wanted to have explored more.

Mason’s excellent dramatic talents seemed ripe for this type of material, but strangely she doesn’t come-off as well as I would’ve expected. I liked that she is portrayed as being strong and in control and the fact that she just happens to be female, in a time when doctors was still a male dominated profession,  and it’s never used against her is great, but the character’s arch, in which she learns to open-up more after her divorce, is not half as compelling as Buffy’s struggles, which should’ve made her the main character while the Dr. role thrown in as a minor secondary one.

Alexandra’s romantic relationship with another Dr., played by Michael Brandon, wasn’t necessary either. To some degree I liked how the film keeps this at a realistic level, by having the relationship full of a lot of ups-and-downs as opposed to having their eyes magically lock on each other and then in the next shot showing them in bed together like a lot of other movies do, but supposedly the element of this story was Alexandra’s friendship with Buffy and that in many ways becomes secondary to the romance.

Beller is the best thing as her sensitive portrayal connects strongly with the viewer making what she goes through quite upsetting. Having to watch a likable person learn to adjust to life with only one leg, which she does quite commendably, is one thing, but having her then go through more cancer treatments until she is left a virtual vegetable is just too much to bear and it makes the second hour downright tortuous to have to sit through.

Spoiler Alert!

Some may argue that having Buffy die was just keeping things real, but then why throw in a whole secondary story-line that doesn’t get introduced until the third act, which has a Karen Ann Quinlan-like quality to it as it deals with Buffy being kept alive long after her brain activity has ceased and Alexandra’s fight with Buffy’s parents to have the machine shut off. The fact that Alexandra eventually succeeds in turning it off only brings up more questions like did this get her into trouble with her job/reputation, or sued in court by Buffy’s parents? None of this gets answered or even touched on, but should’ve and in essence seems like a plot for a whole other movie.

Films from the 70’s were notorious for having sad endings, which in many ways made them more sincere. Yet this movie is so unrelentingly with it that I failed to see how anyone could enjoy it. Certainly it’s not something you’d ever want to watch more than once, or one that you’d ever want to invite a friend or date to as it would put a damper to any evening. This may be too maudlin for even fans of tearjerkers, which are the only people that could possibly like it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 2, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerome Hellman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video

Romero (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Priest battles the oppression.

Based on the life of Oscar Amulfo Romero (Raul Julia) the film centers on his ascent to Archbishop of San Salvador during the political turmoil of 1977. It was presumed that Romero who had traditionally always been reserved and apolitical would act as a nice balance between the authoritative military regime and the congregation, but as the oppressive authorities welded more of a dogmatic style and killed anyone who spoke out against it, Romero became the symbol of the resistance sending him into a perilous position where his livelihood and life came into serious doubt.

On the technical end this film does quite well and noted Australian director John Duigan creates a vivid atmosphere of the time period. Many scenes are quite disturbing and even gut-wrenching as we see the faces of men, woman, and children shot and killed in cold-blood. The part where Romero sits inside the squalor of a prison cell while hearing the moans of someone being tortured in the next one and unable to do anything about it except cry out was for me the most unsettling. The outdoor scenery has a scorched earth look, which nicely reflected the mood and mind-set of most of the people living there and every shot showing a military tank passing by got me jittery. Sometimes nothing would occur, but just seeing a tank was enough to make me nervous and to that end the film does its job as I’m sure that was the same feeling those that lived through the ordeal also felt.

Although Julia does not resemble the actual Archbishop who was in his 60’s at the time and looked much older than Julia who despite the dyed gray hair still appeared to be in his 40’s, his all-around performance is quite exemplary. Throughout his career he had played many flamboyant parts, so seeing him effectively portray a buttoned-down persona was quite interesting and a testament to his acting skill.

Spoiler Alert!

The only issue that I had was that on the emotional level it fails. Since it was produced by the Catholic church I presumed that we’re supposed to feel ‘inspired’ when it’s over and yet I walked away from it feeling anything but. I kept waiting for a Gandhi-like moment where we would see first-hand how all of his struggles finally came to fruition and how one person can truly move mountains and make a difference and yet that never happens. Instead he gets murdered while conducting a religious service and the war he sought to end continued to rage on for another decade killing an additional 60,000 to 90,000 more people.

Yes, there were indeed moments where Romero displayed amazing courage, but every time he revealed his bravery it just made his situation even worse. If the idea was to motivate the viewer to go out and be a hero it doesn’t work. If anything it unintentionally seems to state that laying low and keeping your mouth shut in the face of adversity is a good thing because at least you’ll remain alive and if you do choose to fight, it will only lead to death and nothing substantial to show for it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Release: August 25, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: John Duigan

Studio: Four Square

Available: DVD, Amazon Video