Category Archives: Drama

Mass Appeal (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Priest and deacon argue.

Mark (Zelijko Ivanek) is a young rebellious man attending Catholic seminary, who has a rigidly idealistic approach to how he thinks things should be especially within the church and will routinely clash with his superiors. Father Tim Farley (Jack Lemmon) is a middle-aged man who enjoys not rocking-the-boat and basically just telling people what they want to hear specifically his congregation while avoiding controversial issues at all costs. Tim is put in charge of Mark for a month in hopes that he can teach him to be more tactful and not such an outward firebrand. The two argue quite a lot, but eventually start to bond. When Mark divulges that he had sex with other men in the past and that he has admitted this to the Monsignor (Charles Durning), which could get him kicked-out of the seminary, it puts Tim in a tough bind. Will he stand-up for Mark by refusing to allow the Monsignor to use Mark’s past against him, or will he slink away like he always has to the safety net of the quiet life where he avoids making a stir of any kind?

The film may seem initially like it’s a spiritual one as there are many scenes shot inside the church during Sunday mornings where it perfectly captures the ambiance of a church service including having the mothers quarantined inside a glass ‘crying room’ where they take their babies when they get cranky, but are still able to interact with everyone else via microphones. Yet the more you get into the movie the less religious it is with the centerpiece of the story being instead universal to everyday life as it deals with the different perspectives of the generations and how one wants to vigorously challenge the system while the other is content with accepting things as they are. The arguments that the two have could easily be transferred to debates in other areas of life whether it’s politics, or even business.

The story is based on a two character play, written by Bill C. Davis, that was first performed in small theaters with Davis playing the part of Mark Dolson, a character not unlike himself. Eventually it caught the attention of actress Geraldine Fitzgerald, who agreed to direct it while also helping to revise the script, which then lead to it being produced on Broadway with Milo O’ Shea as the priest and Eric Roberts, who later got replaced by Michael O’Keefe, as Dolson.

The movie made changes from the play including adding in characters like the Monsignor and Margaret, played by Louise Latham, who works as Tim’s housekeeper. I had no problems with the Monsignor role, which is well played by Durning, who makes a strong presence to the plot, but the Margaret character seemed a bit too extreme as she overreacts to saying even a little white lie and like it might get her ‘in trouble with God’. To me this was an unrealistic portrait of a theist as I don’t think they’re quite this stringent and can lie and sin at times like anyone else. It also made me wonder that if she’s so obsessed with being a ‘perfect Catholic’ then her friendship with Mark, who she gets along with initially, would turn frosty after she found out hat he had gay sex because in her mind, if she’s to follow the same Catholic principles, would go against the teachings, so she technically she shouldn’t be associating with him even though this doesn’t actually happen.

Spoiler Alert!

My main beef with the film, which is captivating for at least the first 45-minutes before it becomes too much like a filmed stageplay, is that we never get to see whether Mark is able to stay in the seminary, or not. The movie acts like the big payoff is seeing Tim give this fiery sermon in Mark’s defense, but I would’ve been more interested in seeing how the congregation responded to it. Did they come to Mark’s aid like Tim hoped, or did they turn on Tim and have him banished to a small church in Iowa, which he feared? Not having these questions answered doesn’t bring the story to a satisfying conclusion.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Glenn Jordan

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series)

Mouth to Mouth (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two teen girl runaways.

Carrie (Kim Krejus) and Jeanie (Sonia Peat) are two friends living in a juvenile detention center when one of them gets accused of stealing an item. Angered that they’ve been accused of doing something that they didn’t they escape into the night and onto the streets of Melbourne. They manage for find shelter in an abandoned factory building that also has an elderly homeless man named Fred (Walter Pym) living there whom they befriend. They find employment as servers in a cafe and that’s where they meet Tim (Ian Gilmour) and Sergio (Serge Frazzetto) who are two young men who have come to the city looking for employment. They girls bring them back to the factory building and the four create a makeshift home, but Carrie and Jeannie are not happy with the wages that they’re making nor having to shoplift on the side to make ends-meet. Carrie sees an ad in the paper for escorts and convinces Jeannie to join her as they’ll be able to make much more money doing that. Jeannie is reluctant at first, but eventually goes along with it, but after doing it for awhile Carrie becomes increasingly depressed, which eventually leads to her illicit drug use.

Initially I wasn’t excited to watch this as I’d seen many teen runaway movies before and failed to see what new perspective they could put on that would make it interesting, but I was surprised how very compelling it is. A lot of credit for this goes to writer/director John Duigan’s script, which has a nice conversational quality and the characters react the way real teens do where they never articulate how they really feel and go to great lengths to mask their true feelings. The setting, particularly the abandoned building is made all the more stark as a real one was used and not just some prop built on a movie set, which really hits home the kind of squalor some people will be willing to put-up with if their desperate enough and similar to the living conditions in the British film Rita, Sue, and Bob Too. 

Despite the actors having little or no acting experience they manage to give compelling performances and much of this was helped by having the cast room in a house for 2-weeks before the shooting started, which allowed them to bond with each other as well as refined their characters and rehearse their lines until it became almost natural to them. 

The script originally had more of a light-hearted tone, but after 14 rewrites it took on a harsher subject matter as director Duigan wanted to bring to life people that a middle-class movie audience only sees as ‘numbers on unemployment figures, or kids in juvenile court’ and in that regard it’s well-made. The ending is particularly gut-wrenching, but not surprising and yet I was very moved by it and it stayed with me long after it was over. 

On the complaints side it would’ve been nice to have had Fred come-up to their loft to either dinner with the four and see more how he interacted with them. The girls invite him, but he refuses, but for the sake of character development he should’ve agreed. The escort scenes only show Jeannie interacting with her client, but not Carrie with hers, which I found frustrating. Carrie is never seen visiting with her father either during the brief scene when she returns home as he’s not there, but having a conversation between the two could’ve been quite revealing. The film also features a great song entitled “The More You Love the Harder You Fall”, but no credits are given for who sings it, which is a shame.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 20, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated M (Australian Movie Rating)

Director: John Duigan

Studio: Victorian Film Cororation

Available: DVD (Region 0 Import)

Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Prostitute on the weekend.

Jenny (Wendy Hughes) is an elementary catholic school teacher during the week, but on weekends she’s a prostitute riding a train that travels across the Australian countryside. She picks up lonely men that she meets at the train’s bar and takes them to her cabin for sex, but makes sure they’ve left by 3 AM. While she’s friendly and conversational with them during the night by the next day she virtually ignores them. She does this to help pay for her handicapped brother’s needs and for many years she’s able to juggle these dual lifestyles without much of a hitch. Then she meets a suave businessman (Colin Fields) who gets her involved in an assassination plot that not only disrupts her routine, but sends her precariously close to losing her freedoms.

Director Bob Ellis said the idea for the film was inspired by a long train ride that he took with actor Denny Lawrence and the two wrote the script during the duration of their trip. In order to get the needed funding it was contingent that Wendy Hughes be cast in the lead, which Ellis felt was wrong for the part, but eventually agreed to simply to get the film made. Ultimately though he and the film’s producer, Ross Dimsey, had a different vision for the story and Dimsey greatly trimmed the final cut turning what Ellis felt was one of the best scripts he had ever written into something he would later disown. The full director’s cut had been stored at his residence and he was hoping to eventually release it to the public, but it got destroyed during a house fire.

The version definitely has issues with the biggest one being the slow, plodding pace. I was also disappointed that it starts with Jenny already a seasoned hooker as I would’ve been more interested in seeing how she came up with the idea and seen the awkward moments she most assuredly would’ve gone through when she first jumped in and did it. The fact that she had no ‘Plan-B’ for the potential times when a male client might get aggressive, or not promptly leave at the agreed to time, was a weak point for me. There’s one scene where one of her johns follows her out of the train and won’t leave her alone, but she calls out to a nearby security officer to get him away from her, but if she’s a seasoned sex worker she should have another line of self-defense to use, like a gun or something, to take out if things got out-of-control and no one else was around to help her and the fact that she doesn’t have this makes it seem like she’s not as streetwise as we’re supposed to believe.

Having Jenny suddenly let down her guard and fall for one of her johns (Colin Friels) didn’t make much sense either. After years of being defensive around her clients why now get all emotional about this one who comes-off just as sleazy and aggressive and just as potentially dangerous? The assassination subplot doesn’t get introduced until 60-minutes in and the way she’s able to off the target by simply scratching the guy lightly on his back with a fingernail dipped in poison seemed much too easy.

I did like the juxtaposition of a catholic school teacher being a prostitute, but the film doesn’t explore this contradiction enough. You’d think after having done this for a long time her superiors might catch-on, or have it filter back to them, which could’ve created more conflict and added tension to a story that for the most part is too leisurely paced to hold one’s sustained attention.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 10, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Ellis

Studio: Filmpac Distribution

Available: dvdlady.com

The Great Santini (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Warrior without a war.

Bull Meachum (Robert Duvall) is a Lieutenant Colonel pilot in the marines, who enjoys much camaraderie and respect amongst his colleagues, who affectionately call him ‘The Great Santini’.  However, his home-life is a different story as Bull treats his family the same way he does those under him in the service. His wife Lil (Blythe Danner) has learned to adjust to it, but his oldest son Ben (Michael O’Keefe), who is ready to turn 18, rebels and this causes much friction between the two, which eventually boils over to the rest of the children just as the family gets ready to move into a new residence in the deep south.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Pat Conroy, who in-turn based it on his real-life relationship with his strict, militant father Donald Conroy who gave himself the nickname from a magician that he had seen as a child. While the two had a rocky relationship, much like the son and father do in the movie, the film did help the two mend some fences and his father would routinely accompany his son on book signings and they were even in attendance on the set as the movie was being shot.

While the book was well received I felt that the movie came off disjointed and had a wide-array of tonal issues. The scenes with Santini in the military are quite funny, in a raucous sort of way, but when it shifts to focus on the family life it becomes more of a hackneyed drama. There’s also a long-drawn out segment dealing with a stuttering black man named Toomer (Stan Shaw) and his late-night confrontation with a white racist (played by David Keith in his film debut) that gets quite ugly and doesn’t have either Duvall or O’Keefe in the scene and seems like something for a completely different movie. Maybe in the book, which I have not read, this all came together better, but here it’s like a movie searching desperately for its center and never finding it.

Both Duvall and O’Keefe are excellent and both got nominated for the Academy Award for their efforts, but Danner as the wife is badly miscast. For one thing she looks too young for be O’Keefe’s mother and she speaks in a weird accent where it seems like she’s trying to affect a southern dialect, but it doesn’t sound authentic and wavers throughout. I also didn’t understand why her character married Santini as the two had little in common and for the most part seems to resent his bullish behavior much like the rest of the kids do. Why does she stick with him and what did she see in him to have her fall in love with him in the first place as these things just aren’t clear at all.

Lisa Jane Persky, who also makes her film debut as the oldest daughter Mary Anne, is an odd-piece of casting as well. Her performance is okay, but she certainly does not come-off like a child dominated by a supposedly abusive, controlling parent as she routinely teases and mocks Santini right to his face and at one point the teasing gets so bad it chases him away, which hurts the film’s credibility as it makes him seem far less of a tyrant and making O’Keefe’s dealings with him seem overrated. After all if a teen girl can get the old guy to run from her why can’t he do the same?

On the technical end the movie is okay and it’s fun seeing Julie Ann Haddock, best known for playing Cindy in the first season of ‘Facts of Life’ TV-Show, playing Santini’s younger daughter Karen. Unfortunately the film is too much of a mish-mash. Has some good moments here-and-there, but overall fails to deliver any type of sustained emotional impact.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lewis John Carlino

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He dreams of stardom.

In 1953 Larry (Lenny Baker), a young man in his early 20’s, decides to move out of his home in Brooklyn that he still lives in with his parents (Shelley Winters, Mike Kellin) and into an apartment situated in the artsy district of Greenwich Village. Larry dreams of becoming a movie star and feels the way to start his career is by living with fellow artists. He also wants to get away from his meddling mother, but finds no matter where he goes she always comes to visit many times at the most inopportune moments including when he’s holding wild parties, or making-out with his new girlfriend Sarah (Ellen Greene).

The film is loosely based on writer/director Paul Mazursky’s early life as a struggling artist, which is fine, but how much one likes this movie hinges almost completely on how much they can stand the main character. For me he wasn’t so likable. While I admit his mother was annoying she was still well-meaning and the way he constantly lashed-out at her seemed too angry and aggressive. I would’ve thought someone who had been raised in that type of overbearing environment all of his life would’ve figured out a more subtle way to placate his mom that wouldn’t have needed to be so abrasive. When he tells his neighbor lady (Rachel Novikoff) that he’s moving to Greenwich Village to ‘become a big star’ like it was going to be some automatic thing seemed a bit too deluded and you’d think by that age he would’ve been a little bit better grounded.

The friends that he makes, which include some early performances by Christopher Walken, Antonio Fargas, and Dori Brenner, are a bit off-kilter as well. For instance they visit a fellow artist friend named Anita (Lois Smith) at her apartment only to find her sitting inside the bathroom with her wrists slit and talking about how she wants to die. They manage to get her patched-up, but then return to the apartment a couple of weeks later with the same carefree spirit that they had the first time, but you’d think after what they witnessed they’d approach the place cautiously, or maybe never want to go there again, for fear that she’d try it again and this time succeed forcing them to witness a tragic sight and yet this bunch acts like for some reason the whole suicide thing will never reoccur only to be shocked when it does even though I as a viewer was completely expecting it.

The story is rather rudimentary and involves basic elements that seemed to be analyzed in a lot of coming-of-age films during the 70’s including having Larry’s girlfriend get pregnant and require an abortion, which wasn’t exactly a unique twist. I did though enjoy the scenes inside Larry’s acting class and the way his teacher (Michael Egan, who was portraying the legendary acting coach Herbert Berghof) challenged his students after his each performance that they gave in the class and requiring them to analyze why they portrayed a certain character the way they did. Not enough other movies capture the technical side to acting, so I felt these scenes stood out in a good way and were quite introspective to the craft. I also liked the dream sequence where Larry imagines himself as a successful star, but then this quickly turns into a nightmare where he sees himself booed by the audience and even has pies thrown in his face, which I felt brought out the insecurity many artists, especially actors, harbor, even the successful ones, where they secretly fear never being quite good enough.

Spoiler Alert!

My biggest complaint though was with the ending where for some inexplicit reason Larry gets hired to play a part in a movie and whisked off to Hollywood even though I didn’t see what was so great about his audition, or why this scrawny guy stood out to the casting directors from all of the other men that were also vying for the role. I realize that Mazursky was basing this on his own life as he was able to escape to Hollywood after getting the starring role in the Stanley Kubrick drama Fear and Desire, but this only occurs to a small handful of people and the vast majority who move to Greenwich Village never really leave it, or if they do it’s most likely to the suburbs where they’re forced to get ‘real jobs’, or maybe even back home to their parents after they run out of money. If the movie has Greenwich Village in its title then that’s where it should’ve stayed as most people who live there probably ultimately wouldn’t like Hollywood as it’s a completely different vibe and sometimes it’s better being a big fish in a small pond, which I felt is the message that the film should’ve conveyed as the Hollywood twist seemed too dreamy.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Either way the film is helped immensely by Shelley Winters, who plays the overbearing mother to a T and comes complete with realistic crying spells. This should’ve netted her a third Oscar and for all purposes was her last great role as the parts she got offered after this were virtually all of the B-movie variety. Baker on the other-hand, whose only starring vehicle this was as he died, at the young age of 37, less than 6 years after this film came out, is an acquired taste. I don’t know if it was his extreme skinniness that got to me, he was 6’0, 145 pounds, but I just couldn’t really ever warm up to him and felt that Harvey Keitel, who had been considered for the part, would’ve worked better. You do though get to see Bill Murray, in his live-action, feature film debut, as a party guest as well as Jeff Goldblum as a humorously obnoxious struggling actor doing whatever he can to stand out and get noticed.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Mazursky

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Last Metro (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding from the Nazis.

Bernard (Gerard Depardieu) is a young actor, who’s also a member of the French Resistance, living in occupied Paris during World War II. He gets a part as the leading man in a play at a playhouse run by Marion (Catherine Denueve) who has taken over the business since her husband Lucas (Heinz Bennent), who was Jewish, and supposedly fled the country when the Nazis took over, but in reality is hiding-out inside the cellar. Bernard and Marion don’t get along at first, but slowly form a bond when they find a mutual enemy in the form of theater critic Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard) who is an anti-Semite that writes a nasty review about their play, accusing it of being pro-Jewish, in an effort to close the place down, so that he can take it over.

The film, which was writer/director Francois Truffaut’s most successful movie financially and one of the highest grossing French Films ever, remains sufficiently compelling despite very little that actually happens. One of the elements though that I found intriguing was the behind-the-scenes segments revealing all the work that gets put into a play before its opening night premiere . I especially liked Nadine (Sabine Haudepin) as a young actress who tirelessly goes from one acting gig to another, sometimes multiple ones on the same day, in order to help her career and get established.

Revealing right away, or pretty much by the end of the first act, that the husband has never left the country like everyone presumes, was a mistake that lessened the intrigue. For one thing the place he is hiding in, which is the cellar of the theater, is not too creative and even has a back door leading out to the alley way, which made me feel that anyone could’ve caught on to his whereabouts a lot sooner especially as Marion sometimes leaves her visits with him by going out the back entrance. Any passer-by/snitch could see her doing this and wonder what the door lead to, or called the Nazi authorities to have them investigate. It’s also not clear how, in seemingly a few minutes time, Marion is able to hide Lucas and his bed/personal belongings, from the Gestapo when they eventually insist on checking-out the basement.

Marion’s interactions with her husband is not particularly compelling and yet these scenes take up the majority of the runtime during the second act while Depardieu, who is excellent, barely gets seen at all. Then during the third act Marion and Bernard suddenly get really into each other, but the interactions between the two needed to be shown more for this to be organic to the viewer and in fact should’ve been more the focus of the film than Lucas. Had I been the director I would’ve kept Lucas’ whereabouts a secret until near the end when Bernard finally becomes aware of it and used the mystery of whether Marion knew more about it than she lets on as part of the intrigue.

The ending is a bit of a disappointment. The tone of the film works as a drama, but then suddenly shifts with about 10 minutes to go into a quirky comedy, which doesn’t work. The story threads get wrapped up in too tidy of way leaving the dynamics of Marion’s relationship with Bernard and Lucas’ response to it wide-open. After 2 hours and 10 minutes the character arcs should’ve been better defined and since they aren’t it makes the viewer feel like the movie doesn’t really go anywhere, or lead to anything insightful, which is a shame as it’s a nice looking, period authentic production otherwise.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1980

Runtime: 2 Hours 11 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francois Truffaut

Studio: Gaumont

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Another Woman (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She reanalyzes her life.

Marion (Gena Rowlands) is a college professor over 50, whose taken a leave of absence in order to write a book. Due to the construction at her place she sublets another apartment in order to have it quiet for her writing, but finds that it’s next to a psychiatrist’s office and through the vent can hear everything that the patients talk about. She becomes especially intrigued with a young pregnant woman named Hope (Mia Farrow) who talks about how empty her life is and this touches a cord with Marion, who despite being much older, feels the same way about her own life. This then forces her to reanalyze how she’s treated her family and friends through the years and causing her to face some harsh realities about herself.

While writer/director Woody Allen has the reputation of a being an intellectual as well as a perfectionist, the film’s opening shot had to be rewritten several times before he was happy with it, it’s surprising how dumb he is with basic physics. The idea that Marion could put a couple of couch cushions over the vent and this would be enough to blot out all of the noise coming from the neighboring apartment just doesn’t ring true. Sure it might muffle the voices a bit, but not a complete block of sound to where she’d hear no noise at all and having the vent be in another room in the apartment, which would’ve allowed her the convenience of simply closing that room’s door in order to cut-off the noise, would’ve worked better.

I was also surprised how later on in the film, Marion tells the psychiatrist about the ‘acoustical irregularities’ that allows her to hear everything that’s said in his office and the Dr. admits to being aware of this, but says he’ll ‘correct it’. What kind of psychiatrist though would knowingly allow his patient’s most personal thoughts to get out for others to hear? This made me think the plot would’ve worked better as one of Allen’s comedies where a writer puts the stories overheard from the patients into their book and when it becomes a best-seller, both the author and Dr. get sued and tormented by the angry patients sending them to a psychiatrists of their own.

Like with all of Allen’s dramas the cast of characters are entirely made-up of upper middle-class intellectuals, which gives the film an elitist, snobby vibe by implying that these types of people are the only ones sophisticated enough to have complex problems that people in the lower socio-economic classes supposedly don’t. They seem too much like caricatures as well who have the exact same interests (writing, the arts, and going to operas) and it would’ve been nice had there been one working class person who wasn’t into all of these things thrown into the mix simply to give it a better balance.

The fact that just about all of the characters are having affairs, many times with each other, makes it too soap opera-like. The scene where Gena bumps into Sandy Dennis and her husband and the three go to a pub for drinks gets particularly over-the-top when Dennis bluntly accuses her husband of paying too much attention to Gena. In most cases if a wife has a problem with her husband’s behavior she’ll keep it to herself and then bring it up later when the two are alone and not out in public for everyone to hear especially to a friend that she hasn’t seen in awhile and is only an acquaintance.

I didn’t like Marion as she’s too cold and while I realize this was intentional she’s not the type of person that the viewer can warm-up to, or care that much about. Mia Farrow’s character is far more appealing and I wanted more of her and was shocked how little screen time she ultimately gets. The part wasn’t even meant for her as she was set to play Marion before she got pregnant and then when Dianne Weist, who was originally cast as Hope, had to leave the production due to illness and her replacement, Jane Alexander, didn’t approach the character the way Woody wanted, so it was eventually given to Farrow, who does quite well despite the fact that she was already in her 40’s at the time even though the person she was playing was supposed to be in their 20’s.

The film does end on a strong note, but it does take awhile before it gets there and comes-off as clunky and unintentionally funny at other points. The scenes with John Houseman, who plays Marion’s father, are particularly hammy as he sits at the dinner table conveying his lines like he still thinks he’s Professor Kingfish speaking to an auditorium full of students. However, David Ogden Stiers impression of Houseman (he plays a younger version of him during a flashback scene) is spot-on and the movie is almost worth catching just for that.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 21 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Blu-ray (Region 0), YouTube

Weekend of Shadows (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Manhunt for murder suspect.

In rural Australia during the 1930’s a farmer’s wife is found murdered inside her home. Suspicions immediately fall on a Polish laborer who had always been deemed ‘peculiar’ by the locals and while there’s no other evidence pointing to his guilt it’s enough to get the men in the community together to form a posse. Sergeant Caxton (Wyn Roberts) hopes that if he can capture the suspect it will help mend his reputation, which had been tarnished while working in Sydney and got him demoted to the small town that both he and his wife (Barbara West) don’t like. Vi (Melissa Jaffer) feels this will be a perfect opportunity for her shy husband, Rabbit (John Waters) to bond with the other men by going along on the hunt, but he resists thinking that the whole thing is just a knee-jerk, mob reaction and wants nothing to do with it, but at the behest of his constantly prodding wife he eventually joins, but learns to regret it.

Out of all of the manhunt movies that are out there this one may be the most unusual in that it doesn’t focus on the suspect at all, in fact you barely ever see him, but instead on the various men in the group. Surprisingly though this manages to be quite effective and I found myself wrapped-up in the various personalities of the participants and how all of them clash with each other at various times. The budget though is quite low, screenwriter Peter Yeldham and director Tom Jeffrey were forced to make many concessions on the script just to get the necessary funding, and while the stark production values will initially be a turn-off, the overall drama, which is based on the novel ‘The Reckoning’ by Hugh Atkinson, will eventually compensate.

I didn’t though like the flashbacks showing Vi and Rabbit’s courtship, which I felt wasn’t necessary and bogged down the tension. The relationship between them is intriguing on a certain level as it shows how wives can have a strong influence over their husbands and get them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise, this same scenario also gets played-out between the constable and his wife, but the scenes showing their dating period offers no further insights and no effort is made to make the actors appear younger even though the courtship had been many years prior.

Spoiler Alert!

While the film was a hit with the critics it sank at the box office recouping only $61,000 of the $495,000 that had been put into it, which soured Jeffrey from directing movies and he helmed only one other, The Last of the Knucklemenafter this one. Ironically Hugh Atkinson was quite impressed with the finished product, which was odd since most of the time author’s of the book which the movie is based are usually not happy with the director’s interpretation of their work, but Atkinon felt Jeffrey ‘got it’ particularly with the ending, which he stated represented the crucifixion. Personally I didn’t see this connection, and neither did Jeffrey, who felt like I did that the story was more about how group dynamics can get out of hand, but Atkinson insisted the crucifixion element was the centerpiece. The ending will be a surprise to many and leaves open many questions, but what you ultimately make of it will be up to your own personal perspective.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 12, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tom Jeffrey

Studio: The South Australian Film Commission

Available: VHS

Swing Shift (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Women help build aircrafts.

Kay (Goldie Hawn) lives with her husband Jack (Ed Harris) in a housing complex in Los Angeles and have a happy marriage until December 7, 1941 when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, which causes Jack to immediately enlist into the Navy and go off to war. Kay now must learn to manage for herself and with the shortage of men many companies begin recruiting area housewives to apply to help fill-in. Kay, along with the other women in her neighborhood, get a job at a factory that builds aircrafts. It’s here that she becomes friends with Hazel (Christine Lahti) who lived next door to her, but she never got to know since her husband considered Hazel to be ‘white trash’. She also meets a fellow co-worker named Lucky (Kurt Russell) who was not drafted due to a heart condition. Lucky takes an immediate liking to her and asks her out even though he knows that she’s married. Kay at first resists his advances, but eventually gives in and starts an affair with him just as Jack returns home.

The film does a good job of recreating the 40’s period atmosphere and there’s an opening catchy tune sung by Carly Simon, but everything else is dull and boring. Many people blame this on Hawn who did not get along with director Jonathan Demme and insisted on many scenes being reshot with another director. Demme was so incensed about the changes that he tried to have his name removed from the credits, but was talked out of it while Nancy Dowd, who had written the screenplay, got listed under the pseudonym of Rob Morton. Hawn’s defense for going against the objections of the director was that she was simply trying to ‘make the movie work’, but in 2017 the magazine Sight and Sound compared Demme’s director’s cut to Hawn’s version and the article’s authors felt that Demme’s was far superior.

This is also where Russell and Hawn first met and precipitated their long relationship that they’re still in today, which is great, but Russell’s character was one of the biggest problems. He continually pesters Kay for a date even after she makes clear several times that she’s married and isn’t interested, which makes him come-off like a potential stalker. I also didn’t understand why he was so obsessed with her, sure she was good-looking, but so was he and he moonlight as a trumpeter at a dance club where he was the center of attention and could easily attract other women, so why get so hyper-focused with Kay when he could easily find many other pretty ladies to date in her place? I also didn’t like that Kay eventually goes to bed with him, which ends up rewarding his bad behavior.

Kay’s relationship with Hazel doesn’t work either. Initially they come-off as having wildly divergent personalities and lifestyles, Hazel is even quite snarky with Kay at the start, but then overnight they become best chums, which isn’t interesting, or authentic. The odd couple-like love/hate approach would’ve offered more zing in a movie that’s too tranquil to begin with. Much of this may be blamed on Hawn as well, as she felt Lahti had become too much of a ‘scene stealer’ and had many of her scenes either rewritten or cut-out completely.

It would’ve worked better had it focused more on the job and women trying to make-it in what was at the time a predominantly man’s world. There are some moments of sexism shown particularly with the character played by Charles Napier, but it gets quickly resolved, which is too convenient and misses out on being a character building drama that this movie was in desperate need of.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 13, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jonathan Demme

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

A Hero Ain’t Nothing but a Sandwich (1978)

hero2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Getting hooked on heroin.

Benjie (Larry B. Scott) is an African American teen living with his single mother (Cicely Tyson), her boyfriend Butler (Paul Winfield) and her mother (Helen Martin) in a rundown area of Los Angeles. Benjie harbors a low self-esteem at being abandoned by his biological father years earlier and has not adjusted to Butler acting as his surrogate father and the two have many fights. To deal with his alienation he gets into drugs after befriending a local dealer named Tiger (Kevin Hooks). At first he dabbles in marijuana and likes the high it gives him, so he tries heroin, which eventually gets him hooked and it starts a downward spiral. His family tries to help him as best they can, but when he gets suspended from school they feel they have no other choice but to send him to a drug rehabilitation hospital where they hope he’ll recover.

While there were some critics, as evidenced by the film poster above, that did like the film there were also others at the time that labeled it as ‘preachy’ and coming off more like an after school special than a movie. Despite being based on the novel of the same name, which had been highly praised, and with a screenplay written by Alice Childress, who had also been the author of the book, I still came into it a bit leery wondering if the negative reviews had merit and I’d be spending the 2-hours bored, but I came away impressed with how captivating and sincere it overall was.

A lot of the credit goes to Scott, who although was 15 when it was filmed, but effectively looks only 13 like his character, which makes the scenes where he shoots-up all the more shocking. Winfield is also excellent playing someone who’s bitter about life due to a failed music career and reluctant to take on a fatherly role particularly when the kid lashes out at him at seemingly every turn. Glynn Turman is solid too as Benjie’s African studies teacher as well as David Groh, better know as Joe in the TV-series ‘Rhoda’, playing the only white teacher in an all-black school who feels like an outsider himself. Helen Martin though steals it as the elderly grandmother who gets violently mugged by two kids on the street at the beginning and then later on does a provocative dance for the family in remembrance to her days as a young dance hall girl.

What I did have a problem with were the scenes inside the drug rehabilitation clinic that get shown through a series of black-and-white photographs. I don’t mind directors throwing in artistic elements into the narrative, but when the film had been working as a straight forward drama for the entire first hour then it kind of needs to stay that way and suddenly changing the approach becomes distracting. I’m not sure why these hospital scenes get glossed over the way they do, but it makes the viewer feel more distant from the character and what he’s going through.

Winfield’s bonding with the kid ends-up being problematic as well. I didn’t have an issue with it at the start as I kind of liked seeing this guy, who clearly had no blueprint on parenting, being forced into a situation that he really didn’t ask for, or know how to navigate. However, he becomes a little too emotionally bonded with Benjie by the end that just didn’t seem genuine. After all this really wasn’t his biological child and he hadn’t even married the mother, so to take on all of this extra responsibility, that should’ve been the mother’s, didn’t seen realistic. Tyson needed to play a stronger role here having her stand side-by-side with Winfield as they help her son through the withdrawal process. Having her instead getting written-off as this kook who’s into voodoo and at one point strips her teenage son naked and throws him into a bathtub filled with potions that she feels will ‘cure’ him and eventually jumps into the tub with him is a definite cringe moment, particularly by today’s standards, and a low point in a movie that otherwise is adequately done most of the way.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 3, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ralph Nelson

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Tubi, Plex