Category Archives: Dry Humor

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)

I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daughter reunited with father.

Libby Tucker (Dinah Manoff) is a 19-year-old who decides one day she wants to go off to Hollywood to be an actress. While still living in New York she manages to take a bus to Denver and then hitch-hikes the rest of the way. Libby’s father, Herb (Walter Matthau) is a successful screenwriter living in Hollywood and she hopes to use his connections to get her big break, but unbeknownst to her Herb is at a low point in his career. He hasn’t been able to churn out any scripts lately and avoids making pitches to producers altogether. He lives in a ramshackle place with his on-again-off-again girlfriend Steffy (Annn-Margaret), but overall he’s lost his confidence and can’t seem to find it. He also hasn’t seen Libby in 16 years after he left her mother when she was only 3 years old. Libby realizes their first meeting will be awkward especially since he doesn’t even know she’s coming, but she hopes to make a bond with him as she feels it’s the one thing emotionally that’s missing in her life.

The film is based on the Broadway play of the same name written by Neil Simon that first premiered in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theater with Tony Curtis playing Herb, Joyce Van Patten as Steffy and Manhoff in the role of Libby. While the play received so-so reviews the feedback for the film was overall negative with Siskel and Ebert even selecting it as one of the worst movies of 1982.

One of the biggest problems is Libby who seems too naive for her age. Being a 6-year-old with wide-eyed dreams of becoming a movie star is one thing, but Libby is 19, a legal adult, with absolutely no experience in acting, a thick Brooklyn accent, and less than stellar looks and yet somehow expects to make it big almost overnight. Dreamers are okay, but they still have to have at least one foot in reality and this gal acts like she’s from a different planet. She also uses a flash camera and tries to take pictures into the dark night through the window of her bus, which any halfwit will tell you won’t turn out, and yet she’s gleefully unaware of this making it seem like she just popped out of the womb yesterday and lacking not even a smidgen of common sense.

Herb is another problem. He literally abandoned the family over a decade ago and has made no attempt to communicate with the kids since then. Most adult children who’ve been through that have no interest in meeting the absentee parent who was never around. If they do it’s only to learn a little about them, but not necessarily expecting them to be a part of their lives, or to have an emotional bonding and yet Libby does expect this, which again just makes her too goofy to be believable.

I was confused why Herb would even want Libby back in his life. This was a man who presumably could’ve cared less what she was doing for the past 16 years and yet now after she moves-in he becomes a nervous parent worrying when she stays out too late, but if he didn’t worry about her staying out late before when she was in New York then why now? I’d think if a father hasn’t seen his children in that long a time then they just don’t care and don’t want to be bothered. In reality this ‘reunion’, where only one member wants it to happen, should’ve been a far colder experience. Having the dad then turn his bachelor life upside down to accommodate her seemed forced and didn’t help to explain why Herb behaved the way he did for the past decade and a half, if at heart, he really was just a caring, swell guy.

Ann-Margaret is good playing the one character that seemed half-way relatable and helps balance things, but she’s not in it enough. The script has Simon’s sharp dialogue, which helps, but the plot is built on such a superficial foundation, and written by someone who clearly never experienced child abandonment himself nor cared to do any research on it and was simply using it as an excuse to create cheap, sentimental drama, that it’s hard to take seriously, or find compelling in any meaningful way.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 26 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Lovers and Other Strangers (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Marriage: Pros and Cons.

Mike and Susan (Michael Brandon, Bonnie Bedelia), who have been living together for a year and a half, have decided to get married, but as the wedding draws near Mike begins to have second thoughts. Meanwhile Susan’s parents, Hal and Bernice ( Gig Young, Cloris Leachman) have issues of their own as Hal is having an affair with Kathy (Anne Jackson) who is Bernice’s sister. Their other daughter, Wilma (Anne Meara), who is already married, but starting to regret it since her husband (Harry Guardino) seems more interested in watching old movies on TV than having sex. Mike’s parents, Frank and Bea (Richard S. Castellano, Beatrice Arthur) also have problems as they try to convince Mike’s older brother Richie (Joseph Hindy) to stay married to Joan (Diane Keaton) even though they’ve grown incompatible. Then there’s wedding usher Jerry (Bob Dishy) who spends his time trying to ‘score’ with nervous, nebbish bridesmaid Brenda (Marian Hailey) who can’t seem to decide whether she’s into Jerry or not.

While the film, which was based on the hit Broadway play of the same name written by real-life couple Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor, who adapted it to the screen, was a major success at the box office and received high critical praise it does in retrospect come-off like just another episode of ‘Love American Style’ or even ‘The Love Boat’. There are certainly some funny lines of dialogue and interesting insights at how the younger generations view marriage differently from the older one, but besides the very brief wedding scene, we never see the cast come together and interact as a whole making the movie and characters seem more like a collection of non-related vignettes than a cohesive story. It’s also quite talky with no action to speak of, so unless you’re really into conversational comedy you may get bored.

Mike and Sue, who act as the main characters, get overshadowed by the supporting players and become almost like an after thought the more the movie progresses. The opening sequence with them in bed together and contemplating marriage, which at the time was meant for shock effect since it was still considered taboo to have sex before marriage, will be lost on today’s audiences where living together is now by far the norm. I also found it hard to believe that they’d be able to fool both sets of parents for a whole year by pretending they were rooming with same sex roommates, Sue told her parents she had a roommate named ‘Phyllis’ and Mike told his folks he lived with ‘Nick’, but after awhile I’d think the parents would get suspicious especially when they’d never meet or speak to these other roommates even after a year’s time.

The segment where Mike tells Sue he doesn’t want to get married because he still likes hitting-on other women and then proceeds to pinch the ass of some lady on the street, all while in front of Sue, won’t go over to well with today’s viewers and for that matter shouldn’t have gone over well with Sue either even though she takes it all in stride like it’s no big deal while most other wives/girlfriends would’ve been highly upset. Having Mike inform Sue that he she has ‘fat arms’ could really upset a lot of women as many can be insecure about their bodies and dwell on these types of comments for a long time and not take it so casually like Sue does here. I thought she should’ve brought it back up later, out-of-the-blue in a non-related scene with something like ‘do you really think my arm’s are fat?’, which could’ve been funny.

There’s problems with the casting too especially Anne Meara playing Cloris Leachman’s daughter even though in reality she was only three years younger than her and looked it. I was also baffled why Meara’s real-life husband and longtime comic partner Jerry Stiller, who does appear very briefly in a minor role, wasn’t cast as her husband here. Harry Guardino does a fine job in the hubby role, but Stiller and Meara had a special chemistry and that would’ve shined through with the two onscreen. I also felt that Anne Jackson and Cloris should’ve switched roles. Having the very dynamic Cloris stymied in a boring bit of a clueless housewife was a waste of her immense talents and she would’ve been better able to display the anxiety of Anne’s character in a funnier way.

Bea Arthur and Diane Keaton, who both make their film debuts here, are quite good as is Richard S. Castellano whose repeated line of “So what’s the story’ became a popular catchphrase though the numerous close-ups of his face does make his fat bottom lip too pronounced. Marian Hailey, who left the acting profession in the 80’s and became children’s book author who now goes by Marian Hailey-Moss, is excellent too and perfectly conveys the persona of a single woman who is quite intelligent and well read, but also painfully insecure and indecisive. My favorite though is Gig Young as a philandering husband who tries to make everyone happy, but ultimately fails. This was his last great performance before alcoholism killed his career and his conversation with Jackson at end as they sit in two adjoining toilet stalls in a public bathroom is the film’s funniest moment though the house that his character owns, which is supposed to nestled in the rich swanky suburbs looks like a shambles, at the least exterior, as it’s painted with a watery white color that has spots where it completely exposes the red brick underneath looking like a rundown place that has been poorly maintained, which I don’t think was the intention.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Cy Howard

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Lookin’ to Get Out (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding out in Vegas.

Alex (Jon Voight) is a high stakes gambler in debt for $10,000. Joey and Harry (Allen Keller, Jude Farese) work with the syndicate and when they come around to collect their debt from Alex he escapes out of the city with his pal Jerry Feldmen (Burt Young) where they go to Las Vegas in hopes of recouping the money by playing blackjack. Alex employs the services of Smitty (Bert Remsen), an expert card counter, to help him at the dealer table, but just as he and Jerry think they’ve got their situation solved Joey and Harry reappear and chase the two through the hotel demanding that the debt be repaid immediately.

The script was written by Al Schwartz who based it on some of his own life experiences as he struggled to make it in the entertainment world. While working as the business manager to singer/songwriter Chip Taylor he showed him the script to get his opinion and Chip suggested that Al send it to Jon Voight, Chip’s brother, and when Jon read it he purportedly ‘fell in love with it’ within the first 30 pages. The story is a bit different as the situations itself aren’t necessarily funny, but instead it relies on the desperate nature of the characters and the way they interact with each other for its humor.

It was filmed at the MGM Grand Hotel, which at 6,852 rooms is the largest single hotel in the United States and third largest in the world. The ambience of the place is well captured and reminded me of the atmosphere of a lot of casinos I’ve stayed at where everyone is looking to ‘get lucky’ while in the process living very much on the edge. Having the plot that place over only a two-day period nicely reflects how gamblers live for the moment without any concern for either the past or future. It’s all just about the risk and excitement of beating the odds, which on that level, the film captures admirably well.

The acting helps, particularly from Voight who gives a souped-up rendition of his more famous Joe Buck character from Midnight Cowboy, playing a clueless schmuck who believes he can con his way out of anything and it’s also great seeing him share a scene with his real-life daughter Angelina Jolie, who at age 4 makes her film debut, appearing briefly as Alex’s daughter near the end and to date has been the only project that the two have done together. Young is also quite good as his more sensible friend and to an extent that he becomes the person the audience connects with. Remsen has a few key moments too playing a character that initially seems insignificant to the story, but slowly begins to have a much more meaningful presence by the end. As a buddy formula it works, but throwing in Ann-Margaret as Alex’s former girlfriend who comes back into his life, doesn’t gel and she should’ve been left out.

The foot chase where Alex and Jerry try to outrun Joey and Harry by dashing throughout the hotel is the film’s single best moment and I was impressed with how unlike other movie chases scenes there were no jump cuts and you can visually follow the action even as it shifts between different rooms. The other segments though get overly drawn-out. While his trademark was a slower, more subtle pace, which worked in his previous movies, director Hal Ashby would’ve been wise to have paired this one down. The plot isn’t intricate enough to justify the long runtime and a 90-minute version would’ve been ideal. The original theatrical cut was 105 minutes, which had issues too, but the longer director’s edition isn’t perfect either and in this instance less definitely would’ve been more.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1982

Runtime: 2 Hours (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Hal Ashby

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Mahoney’s Last Stand (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to find solitude.

Leroy Mahoney (Alexis Kanner) wants to be away from the rat race and out in the Canadian wilderness where he feels he can live in peaceful harmony with nature. He finds a rundown home in a vacant area and begins the process of renovating it only to meet a woman named Miriam (Maud Adams) who lives nearby and routinely comes over to visit. Felix (Sam Waterston) is his old friend from the city who hitches a ride to the country and moves-in. Later, so does Felix’s girlfriend Joy (Diana Leblanc) making Mahoney feel like he’ll never find the solitude he craves and will always be surrounded by people who annoy him.

The film was the inspiration of Kanner, who not only starred in it, but wrote the script, co-directed, and even produced. The quirky tone is what helps it stand out as it’s a mixture of the man-in-the-wilderness theme meets the counter culture and to a great degree it works. Some of my favorite moments are things that might seem off-putting, or even boring when put in any other film, but here it helps add to the offbeat quality like the scene featuring Mahoney sitting on his porch endlessly twiddling with his garden hoe, or the segment where he remains trapped in his outhouse as he’s too afraid to come out and meet with Miriam when she arrives unannounced.

The Mahoney character, if you can get past his odd accent and crusty exterior, is quite engaging. Initially he comes off as this rugged individualist only to end up getting scared late at night over the least little noise that hears outside. The scene where he tries to pretend he’s a seasoned horseback rider in an attempt to impress Miriam and his love-hate friendship with Felix and Joy are all amusing as well, but what I really liked is that he remains a true introvert all the way through. Most other films make the broad presumption that everyone secretly craves companionship and can only be truly happy with other around, but here Mahoney only finds his ultimate utopia when he’s finally all alone.

The film’s rustic landscape, which was shot in and around King City, Ontario, helps add to the ambiance. It was filmed between October and December of 1971 with the idea that filming would wrap before the snow and cold moved in as there was no heating in the cabin, but fortunately an early season snow hit the production in late November and gets incorporated into the story. Although it only blanketed the area with an inch or two it still at least gave a preview to what living in Canada year round would be like and if you’re going to do a pic about the rugged adventures of dealing with the northern climate then there better be some snow and cold in the mix or it’s just not fully authentic otherwise.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending really stands out as it recreates the feeling of solitude in a way I’ve never seen done before and will stick with you long after it’s over. It features Mahoney wondering around his property naked with only the faint sound of a water drip in the background, which gives the viewer a total sense of peace and freedom and has a soothing meditation-like quality.

Alternate Title: Mahoney’s Estate

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: Unreleased theatrically until 1976.

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Harvey Hart, Alexis Kanner

Studio: Topaz Productions

Available: None

The Clinic (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Helping those with V.D.

A day in the life of a clinic in Melbourne, Australia that specializes in treating people with venereal disease.  Both the doctors and the patients have many issues to deal with, but not all of them have anything to do with sexually transmitted diseases including Dr. Eric Linden (Chris Haywood) who after spending the day treating patients is more worried about meeting the mother of his gay partner for the first time. There’s also Dr. Hassad annoyed with the lamp on his office desk that he can’t get to work right no matter how many times he tries to fix it and three men visiting from China who think they’re at a health clinic, not a VD one, but nobody can translate to them that they’re in the wrong place.

For the most part this is a funny engaging ensemble comedy similar to Britannia Hospital, a satirical comedy done in the U.K., or The Hospital done here in the US and starring George C. Scott.  There’s also distant shades to the 80’s TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’ that toed the line between being surreal and serious.  The editing is fast paced as it cuts back and forth between various scenarios happening at the same time throughout the different offices in the building.

There are also many characters and it’s hard to keep track of all them. They’re introduced at such a dizzying pace that the viewer isn’t allowed to get attached to any of them as you see them for only a couple of minutes and then it cuts away to someone else and never going back to the previous one until much later when you’ve almost forgotten about them, or their dilemma. Some may consider this the hallmark of bad filmmaking as in Hollywood the idea is to have, even in an assemble comedy such as this, one central character for the audience to connect with and then colorful people surrounding them, but here no one takes center stage. Director David Stevens admitted in interviews that he was pressured by producers to go more the conventional route, but he resisted and in many ways it succeeds better because it gives you a true day-in-the-life feel of the inter-workings of a clinic and the constant hustle-and-bustle of patients coming in and out that a story more focused on one person might not be able to convey as effectively.

The lack of music is another thing that is unusual. During the opening sequence all that is heard is traffic noise while the credits roll and it’s not until 1 hour 5 minutes that any type of soundtrack is heard in a rare moment that does not take place at the Hospital, but instead on a beach. There is a bouncy tune sung by Alistair Jones over the closing credits, but other than that there’s nothing, which again I found okay as it uses the ambience of the people walking around and talking as the film’s soundtrack, which helps heighten the realism. The nudity is different here too as it’s solely close-ups of male genitals, but none from females, which bothered some viewers, but I found alright. What I did question though was the males so obediently disrobing in front of a female Dr. as I felt some of them would be uncomfortable and even hesitant to do this.

The conversations and throwaway lines are quite funny, which is the film’s centerpiece as are the quirkiness of the characters who say one thing, but end up doing the complete opposite much like people in real-life. There’s also a few serious moments that brings up the stigma that people with V.D. had to deal with including one who loses his job, but these don’t come to satisfying conclusions and should’ve been explored more.

Overall it’s an enjoyable 90-minutes although by the final 15 it starts to exhaust itself. Had it been done with a smaller cast might’ve helped although technically it’s still quite fluid throughout though some may point to its poor box office showing where it managed to only recoup $414,000 profit from its $1 million budget as a sign that the unconventional narrative was a failure. This though is more likely because of distributors at the time being reluctant to show the film fearing public backlash at what was still considered a taboo subject.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Stevens

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: None at this time.

Citizens Band (1977)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The CB radio craze.

Spider (Paul LeMat) makes a living repairing CB radios in the home he shares with his crochety father (Roberts Blossom). In his spare time he monitors channel 9 on his own CB, which is used as an emergency channel to report motorists who are in distress. When he comes into contact with a disabled plane that crashes right onto the highway and he’s not able to use his CB to call for help due to some kids clogging up the channel with idle chit-chat he goes on a crusade to destroy the radios of everyone in town who are misusing the frequency. While doing this he also dates a cheerleading coach Pam (Candy Clark) who he’s engaged to marry unaware that she has a thing for his brother Dean (Bruce McGill) the local high school gym teacher.

The film, which was written by Paul Brickman, who went onto greater success writing/directing Risky Businesshas its share of quirky characters/moments that paints small town life in a romanticized but humorous way. To a degree it succeeds, but the people are a bit too nice for their own good. There are many scenarios where just about anyone else put into the same situation would respond in an angry way and yet here everyone remains mild mannered no matter what hits them, which may be dryly funny at first, but after awhile gets one-dimensional.

Small town people are no different than anyone else and if one finds out that your fiancée is suddenly seeing some other guy, especially after you’ve given her a ring, most would become upset and the way Spider takes it in such a ho-hum way doesn’t seem natural. Later when the two brothers finally confront each other there’s no fight, or even shouting, they just end up hugging each other, which I guess is nice, but it would’ve been better had there been some action or confrontation, which this film sorely lacks. Maybe having them breakout into a fist fight that destroys the apartment in the process, but done in a slapstick way only to eventually, once they’ve exhausted themselves, forgive and forget.

The two women (Marcia Rodd, Ann Wedgeworth), who meet at random during a bus ride only to find that they’re married to the same man (Charles Napier), has the same issue. Once they confront the two-timer there’s no fireworks at all. They pretty much instantaneously forgive him and then proceed to have a genteel conversation about where everybody is going to live instead of watching the two give the guy the business, which would’ve been more entertaining. There is a scene where the two women let the cows escape from the guy’s truck, but even this gets botched because we never see the cows run through the town and all the destruction they would most likely create.

The rest of the film works on the same level. Too much emphasis on the subtle with nothing really standing-out. The characters respond to everything with the same laid-back manner until there’s no distinction between them. Eventually it just flatlines. Instead of being this offbeat look at small town life it becomes more a whimsical fairy tale where the people don’t resemble actual folks.

I believe this is the main reason why this film did so poorly at the box office where it recouped a paltry $850,000 back from its initial $5 million budget. The studio thought it was due to the title because of the word ‘band’ being in it and people mistakenly thinking it was a musical, so they reissued it as Handle With Care, but it did no better. This also became yet another film directed by Jonathan Demme that fared well with the critics, but not the public and this trend continued with his films all the way through the 80’s before he was finally able to hit-pay-dirt with Silence of the Lambs.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Alternate Title: Handle With Care

Released: May 18, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jonathan Demme

Studio: Paramount

Available: Amazon Video, YouTube

Road Games (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Truck driver pursues killer.

Quid (Stacy Keach) is an American working as a trucker in Australia and hauling a frozen shipment of pigs through the outback and into Perth. Along the way he becomes menaced by a strange man (Grant Page) driving a black van who has a penchant for picking-up prostitutes who then end up dying. Quid is convinced that the man is the serial killer that is being reported about on the news, but before he can go to the police he gets tabbed as the killer himself forcing him, with the help of Pamela (Jamie Lee Curtis) a hitch-hiker he picks up along the way, to find the real killer before he gets arrested for crimes that he did not do.

One of the coolest aspects of this film is its voyeuristic quality where visual clues are a requirement for the viewer to pick up on to figure out what’s going on.  Too many other movies don’t take enough advantage of this idea and usually sell-out by having everything explained through dialogue, but here director Richard Franklin, a major devotee of Alfred Hitchcock, who tried to model the story after Rear Window, keeps the viewer feeling like they’re an active participant.

The film’s drawback, and most likely one of the main reasons it didn’t do well at the box office, is that the tension  ebbs and flows. Too much labor gets put into dressing up the plot with a lot of quirky side stories. This includes having Quid  coming into contact with the same motorists through his travels, which I didn’t think was realistic that these same drivers would be taking the exact same route as him while maintaining the same speeds as he over a several day period, so that no matter where he went they were never far away. I have traveled extensively by car on long road trips similar to this one and have never kept passing the same motorists like Quid does here.

The film also lacks, with the exception of a surprise double ending that comes at the very end,  any type of actual scares. There is a running build-up making you believe that a shock is just around-the-corner, but ultimately it’s a letdown. People watch these things with the anticipation they’ll be jumping-out-of-their-seats at some point, but this is too tame and at certain points it’s almost more like a comedy.

The killer, who was played by a stuntmen and not a professional actor, lacks any type of presence to distinction. For things to get really intense, which it never does, the bad guy has to stand out and make the viewer feel on edge every time they see him, which this transparent guy is unable to do. It would have also been more interesting had his face not been shown until the very end instead of Quid seeing what he looks like early on when he spots him through his binoculars.

I was surprised why the two lead characters were played by Americans since the setting is the down-under and the story better served by performers who were native born. That’s not to say that Keach or Curtis don’t give engaging performances because they do, but I don’t believe there’s too many American truck drivers working in Australia, so there needed to be some explanation for why Keach was there and why, being that he was not from the region, he was so educated about the history of the area, as evidenced when the two camp-out overnight and he tells her the back story of an abandoned telegraph station that sits nearby.

The romantic undertones that are lightly introduced does nothing but sap away the tension. I also found it curious why Curtis would be trusting of Quid upfront as she’d have no idea whether the serial killer could’ve been him and therefore she should’ve been more guarded, which she isn’t.

The climactic sequence features a unique car chase where three vehicles follow each other around the back alleys of Perth late at night, but at very slow speeds, which surprisingly is effective. However, the script should’ve been tighter and the editing quicker. The film’s leisurely pace and colorful supporting characters works against it. There needed to be more shocks, more of a confrontation between Quid and the killer, and basically just more of a conventional thriller-like approach.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 26, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Franklin

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Pocket Money (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Herding cattle for money.

Jim Kane (Paul Newman) is a not-too-bright modern-day cowboy living in Arizona that is broke and without a job. In desperation he takes an offer from a shady businessman named Bill Garrett (Strother Martin) who promises Jim a lot of money to buy a certain breed of cattle in Mexico and then bring them up to the US. Jim has his suspicions about the deal, but decides he has no choice but to take it. He elicits the help of his longtime pal Leonard (Lee Marving) another down-on-his-luck loser. Together they find the cattle and herd them to the states despite a lot of obstacles along the way, but when they return Bill and his cronies are nowhere in sight forcing Jim to seek him out and right the injustice.

Many people have complained about the film’s slow pace and the script, which was written by Terrence Malick and based off of a novel by J.P.S. Brown, has a lackadaisical quality, but to some extent I really didn’t mind it. Too many Hollywood movies are compelled to rush right into the plot while leaving atmosphere and characterizations behind, but here Laszlo Kovacs cinematography brings the rustic western locations to life. I had traveled just recently to a small town in Mexico earlier in the year and this film captures the same ambience that I saw including all the feral dogs running around, the old rundown buildings that make up the town center, as well as the pot-holed filled roads. It was almost like I can gone there a second straight time.

Newman is brilliant in a rare comedic turn. His character is dopey, but in a funny, lovable way where you laugh at his ineptness one minute and cheer him on the next. Marvin is good too and the banter the between them as well as their contrasting approaches to things help keep things interesting. Reports where that the two did not get along and Marvin even admitted as much in interviews stating that Newman ‘finessed’ him during their scenes and when you get two big name actors with heavy egos this sometimes happens, but they were at least professional enough not to let their animosity show through on the screen. Both Wayne Rogers and Strother Martin, who co-starred with Newman just 5 years earlier in the classic Cool Hand Luke lend great support and in Martin’s case should’ve been seen more.

Spoiler Alert!

My biggest beef comes with the ending, which is a complete letdown. The intention was to show the life of two aimless men who are going nowhere, which is fine, but there still needs to be a payoff at the end. Instead when Newman and Martin finally confront Rogers and Martin in a hotel room, after searching everywhere for them, nothing happens. They never get their money, or revenge, or anything. Even losers can have a random moment of small victory, which is what I felt was needed here, and to have nothing of substance occur makes the viewer feel like the joke was on them and sitting through this, despite the marvelous production values, becomes sadly a big waste of time.

End of Spoiler Alert!

This was another case of where Leonard Maltin’s review, or whoever wrote it for him, is off from what you end up seeing. He commends the performance by Jean Peters, who plays Newman’s ex-wife, like it’s something special when in reality it’s just a throw-away-bit that lasts for a couple of minutes and isn’t too memorable. He also comments on Marvin’s car, which he states is ‘the damnedest thing you’ll ever see’ even though despite a few multi-colored panels I didn’t see what was so unusual about it. The craziest car I’ve ever seen in a movie is the one the two teens drive in Robert Altman’s 1985 flick O.C. and Stiggs, but again watch both movies for yourself and then decide, but I believe most would end up agreeing with me.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: National General Pictures

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

The Long Goodbye (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: His cat is hungry.

One night detective Phillip Marlowe (Elliot Gould) is visited in his home by his long time pal Terry Lennox (Jim Boulton), who informs Marlowe that he’s had a fight with his wife and asks him if he can have a ride to the Mexican border, which he obliges. When he returns home he is met by two cops (Jerry Jones, John S. Davies) who bring him into the station with questions about the whereabouts of Lennox whom they insist has just killed his wife. When Marlowe refuses to divulge anything he gets put into jail only to released 3-days later when it’s reported that Lennox has killed himself. Marlowe becomes suspicious about the suicide and determined to do his own investigation while also getting involved with Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) and her alcoholic, writer husband Roger (Sterling Hayden) both of whom may hold the secret to Lennox and what really happened.

By the early 70’s only two of Raymond Chandler’s novels had yet to be filmed, this one and ‘Playback’. United Artists agreed to finance the film and commissioned Leigh Brackett, who had been the screenwriter for another Chandler novel turned into a movie 1946’s The Big Sleep, to write the screenplay for this one. Robert Altman was later approached to direct it and while he was not a fan of the Phillip Marlowe character, whom he labeled as being a ‘loser’, he agreed to take on the project due to the unexpected ending, which had not been in the novel, but that Brackett had added into the screenplay.

While Altman may have seemed an odd choice, he never even read the source novel of which the film is based, the eccentric little sidelights that he adds into the proceedings make it worth it. Some of the movies that he did towards the late 70’s became a bit too undisciplined where his films would go off on tangents with stuff that had very little to do with the main plot, but here the story is strong, so the little detours that Altman adds in helped to playfully accentuate the plot instead of drowning it out.

Some of my favorite Altmanisms included  Marlowe looking for food to feed his hungry cat, who I might add for an animal gives a spectacular performance, and how a stocker that he meets at the grocery store while searching for cat food he ends up meeting again at random at the police station. The next door female nudists, who are also into yoga and attract the attention of both the police and the bad guys who come to Marlowe’s place, are fun too.

There’s some marvelous framing by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond including capturing Roger and Eileen having an argument inside their home, which was filmed at Altman’s Malibu residence, through a glass patio door while at the same time in the reflection you see Gould walking along the beech. Later while Eileen and Marlowe are having a conversation by an open window you can see in a distance, which the other two are unaware of, Roger walking into the ocean in an attempt to kill himself.

Spoiler Alert!

The film also features what I feel is one of the most shocking and disturbing scenes that I’ve ever seen put into a movie and that’s a statement that I don’t use lightly. I’ve seen hundreds of gory horror films, but what happens here I’ve found far more unsettling. I think the reason is because it’s completely unexpected as it features the character played by film director Mark Rydell smashing a glass coke bottle onto the face of his girlfriend who just seconds earlier he had stated that he was deeply in-love with. Hearing her scream out in unending pain while cupping her hands over her face as blood spews out makes it come-off as very real. Even more amazing is that the part of the girlfriend was played by an amateur named Jo Ann Brody who never appeared in any other film and was a waitress that Altman and Brackett met when they went out to dinner while working on the script and who they asked on-the-spot if she’d like to be in their movie.

Altman admitted that he knew this violent scene, which had not been in the book, would upset some fans, but he felt it was important to bring the viewer back to the reality that these were violent characters at heart. This could also be seen as a foreshadowing to the surprise ending when Marlowe finds Lennox still alive in Mexico and then unexpectedly shoots him. In the novel Marlowe allows Lennox to walk away unharmed, but Altman liked the violent twist.

Personally I was ambivalent with the ending here and might actually have preferred the way it was done in the book. My main issue though with it is that Eileen spots Marlowe leaving the place where Lennox was just shot and since she was in a relationship with Lennox and also had strong criminal connections I’d think she’d end up, one way or another, going after Marlowe once she realized he had killed her lover causing the ending to leave open too many potentially interesting tangents that should’ve been followed through on.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video