Category Archives: Foreign Films

“Crocodile” Dundee II (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Now that’s a knife.

Mick (Paul Hogan) and Sue (Linda Kozlowski) having been living together in her New York apartment for a year since their last adventures from the first film. Sue’s ex-husband Bob (Dennis Boutsikaris) is working for drug enforcement in South America. He witnesses and photographs the murder of a rival drug cartel leader at the hands of Luis Rico (Hechter Ubarry) and his men. Once Bob realizes that he’s been spotted he runs for cover to his hotel, but the men chase after him and kill him, but not before he sends the film negatives of the killing to Sue. The drug gang then kidnaps Sue in order to get their hands on the negative and it’s up to Mick to find a way to free her while also single-handedly fighting off the gang.

This sequel manages to avoid the missteps of so many others by wisely not trying to replay what we saw in the first installment, but instead taking it into a new direction and therefore allowing the theme and characters to progress. To some degree the plot does come off like an episode of ‘Miami Vice’ and the villains are also incredibly dull and generic. Do we really need bad guy Luis explaining to Sue why he got into the drug dealing business, because of the ‘money’ and ‘power’, as if there would be any other reason?

Having her ex-husband, someone who was never seen at all in the first film, act as a catalyst is problematic too. It seems like one’s ex-spouse; especially someone he hasn’t spoken to in years would be the last person to send crucial photographs to. He works for the DEA, so why not send it to them?

However, even with these issues I still kind of liked seeing Mick forced into action. The first film consisted mainly of him bragging about his exploits, but here we get to see first-hand some of his actual survival skills. It also puts to test his easygoing personality and we see if he can remain amazingly low-key and likable in situations that most other people couldn’t.

Unfortunately unlike in the first flick the comedy does not come from Hogan’s character, but instead from others around him that witness his exploits. Outside of an amusing segment that comes early on in the film where Mick tries to talk a man out of jumping off a ledge his character is portrayed in a darker more intense way although not enough to erase his ever going charm.

Kozlowski, who ended up marrying Hogan in real-life 2 years after this film was released, is stuck in a thankless supporting role where she doesn’t have much to do. The film poster portrays the idea that the two fight the bad guys side-by-side, but in reality Hogan does most of it while Linda simply tags along and observes. The real scene stealer is John Meillon whose last theatrical film this was. He was in the first one, but his presence there didn’t amount to much, but here his character, working in tandem with Mick, is an integral part of sending the drug gang on a wild goose chase.

The scenes shot in Australia are gorgeous and in fact the spot where the drug gang campout is the same place where Picnic at Hanging Rock was filmed. Charles S. Dutton who plays a man by name of Leroy Brown and pretends to be a drug dealer even though he really isn’t is quite amusing too and overall the film is a mildly entertaining way to spend two hours.

Spoiler Alert!

My only problem is in regards to Leonard Maltin’s review of it where he states that he felt the film was too leisurely paced and wished they’d “get on with it especially when all suspense about the outcome is eliminated”, but after watching it this makes no sense. The bad guys are not fully defeated until the very, very end in fact it quickly cuts to the credits once they are. There’s even some concern that Mick may have accidently been killed, which also occurs at the very end, so it seems that Maltin, who I generally like as a critic, either didn’t really watch the movie, or the whole thing, and therefore has no idea what he’s actually talking about.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 20, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Cornell

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Romantic Englishwoman (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Writer suspects wife’s infidelity.

Unhappy in her marriage Elizabeth (Glenda Jackson) goes off to Baden-Baden, Germany for a little respite and there meets up with the dashing Thomas (Helmut Berger). Although quite charming Thomas is also caught up in the criminal underworld and being chased by gangsters. After the two share a brief tryst she returns home to her husband Lewis (Michael Caine). Lewis suspects that Elizabeth was unfaithful during her trip, but can’t prove it. He invites Thomas to stay at their place in order to help him finish a screenplay that he is working on and in the process the affair between Thomas and Elizabeth starts up again, but this time Lewis is determined to stop it.

The concept is intriguing, but the film gets ruined by playing its cards too early. A far more interesting scenario would’ve been to have Lewis not suspect Thomas at all or even his wife’s longing for him and instead simply invited Thomas over as a genuine writing partner and only slowly becoming aware of the tensions boiling beneath the surface. Unfortunately having Lewis almost immediately figure things out even before Thomas arrives makes for a very boring first hour with the couple arguing over the same staid, redundant infidelity talking points that have been done a million times before.

The story’s only interesting wrinkle has Thomas starting up a relationship with the nanny (Beatrice Romand), which made more sense as Elizabeth was way older than him and I failed to see why he would’ve been attracted to her to begin with. The nanny was young and cute and it was fun seeing Elizabeth seethe with the same type of jealousy as Lewis, but the film quickly kills this storyline by having the nanny forced to move out and everything goes back to the same formulaic love triangle.

Having Lewis recreating scenes in his screenplay that replicates what he is going through in real-life had potential as it nicely illustrates the thin line between fact and fiction that writers routinely do. Unfortunately the film treats these scenes in a campy/hooky manner and then drops it just as quickly as the romance scenario mentioned above.

The direction is static with a camera nailed to the ground and everything captured in a dingy, shadowy way. The opening bit detailing how Elizabeth first meets Thomas had a naturalistic quality, but the shot were she spots Thomas from across the room and her eyes remained locked on his and she never turns away is not believable. If two people are strangers and one catches the other one staring at them it’s sheer human reflex that the other one will divert their gaze as it’s rude, awkward and off-putting otherwise. Also, to have the word romantic in the title is absurd especially after the two proceed to have sex inside an elevator during their first meeting, which is pure animalistic lust and a more accurate title would’ve been ‘The Horny Englishwoman’.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act helps fill in the gaps in regards to Thomas’ secret past, but having Elizabeth run off with him makes her character seem exceedingly shallow as she essentially abandons her young child in the process. Earlier in the film she got very upset when she saw her child sitting out on a ledge and she fired her nanny for being irresponsible and not watching him more carefully only to then by running off with Thomas behave just as irresponsibly.

The film’s final shot features strange people inhabiting Lewis and Elizabeth’s home like they’re having a party without the owners there. Lewis then after having taken Elizabeth away from Thomas and back with him drives the car the two are in up to their house. Elizabeth looks shocked at seeing all the people inside, but Lewis has a jaded expression and seems to being enjoying watching Elizabeth’s discomfort, but then the film cuts to the credits and never explains what’s occurring and nothing is more frustrating than a film which ends just as it’s finally beginning to get interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 26, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Losey

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

“Crocodile” Dundee (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: That’s not a knife.

Sue (Linda Kozlowski) is a newspaper reporter who gets permission to cover a story about an Australian bushman named Mick better known by his nickname Crocodile Dundee (Paul Hogan) who was able to fight off a croc attack before successfully crawling to safety. To do this she travels to the outback, so she can learn about his way of life firsthand. After spending six weeks interviewing him she then invites him back to New York with her. Once there Mick finds the city life and the people in it quite confusing. He also takes an almost immediate disliking to Richard (Mark Blum) Sue’s fiancée.

Loosely based on actual events the laid back story goes down easy and is full of charm, but its basic premise is a bit hard-to-swallow. I thought the idea of having a reporter go clear across the globe to interview some no-name bushman over an obscure and completely unsubstantiated crocodile attack claim just wasn’t realistically worth the time or money. Crocodile/alligator attacks occur yearly all over. Why not save the money by sending the reporter to Florida instead where you could probably just as easily find and interview someone who survived a similar incident?

Most of the time a journalist will be accompanied by a photographer, but here she takes the pictures as well as doing interviews even though with most big time newspapers and many times even the small ones that is never the case. This also brings up the issue of her traveling for weeks all alone in the middle-of-nowhere and even sleeping under the stars with a man she essentially knows little about. What’s to say he wouldn’t attack her at some point and if so who would she call? I believe most women wouldn’t be comfortable in that scenario and thus having a third party present such as a photographer or other chaperone would’ve made far more sense.

The money issue, or the fact that the newspaper apparently pays him to come back to the states with Sue, seemed illogical and wasteful. Why is a newspaper spending money to bring a bushman into a foreign land? If it is to see how he adjusts to it that’s one thing, but the majority of the time Mick spends in New York he is by himself with Sue nowhere near him covering his reactions, so then what’s the point? Later Mick decides to stay in the Big Apple for a longer period, but where does he get the extra money to do that?

The scene where Mick puts a water buffalo into a trance-like sleep is baffling too. Supposedly he does this because they are driving along in a jeep and the buffalo won’t get out of the road and let them pass, but how is putting the animal to sleep where he then plops his big body onto the road going to help? The film then conveniently cuts without any explanation of how there were ultimately able to get around him.

The second act where Mick comes to New York is the funniest, but even here it doesn’t get played-up to its full potential. The amusing scene where Mick meets some prostitutes, but is unaware of what they do is hard to believe. Even a country boy should’ve been aware of the world’s oldest profession especially when he is over 40 and his naivety in that situation just doesn’t completely work. The film’s most famous scene where Mick scares off some muggers by showing them his large hunting knife also proves problematic when you realize that it is unlikely he would’ve ever been able to get that thing past customs.

Hogan’s appealing performance makes it work. However, it would’ve been better had the guy been younger like in his early 20’s instead of well over 40, which would’ve made some of his awe and wonderment seem a bit more genuine and believable.

For year’s Hogan, who also co-wrote the script, insisted that the Dundee character was of his own creation, but then later it was found that it was really based on the life of Rod Ansell who in 1977 at the age of 23 got stranded in the wilderness of Australia’s Northern Territory for 7 weeks when the dinghy he was riding in capsized and in the process he fought off a crocodile whose head he kept as a souvenir. His adventures were documented in the film To Fight the Wild, as well as published in a book. He did many TV interviews about his ordeal back in the late 70’s which is where Hogan first became aware of him and then when this film became famous he sued Hogan, but lost the case and the fact that he made no money off of it became a major source of bitterness to him, which lead to his addiction to amphetamines that subsequently lead to his death in a police shootout in 1999.

Here’s a pic of Ansell alongside Hogan’s movie likeness of him:

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Peter Faiman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She performs daily chores.

This is a highly unusual film which analyzes in minute detail the monotonous tasks that a single mother performs throughout her day and was apparently inspired by writer/director Chantal Ackerman growing up with a mother who suffered from obsessive/compulsive disorder. The story centers on Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig) a woman raising a teenage son while living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Belgium. During the day she entertains various men with sexual services and uses the money that she receives for this to help maintain things for both herself and her teenage son Sylvain (Jan Decorte). When she is not working as a prostitute she is busily cooking and cleaning, but as each day passes her routine becomes sloppier, which is a subconscious signal that something is bothering her and only at the very end does the viewer find out what it is.

Some have hailed this as a masterpiece including being listed among the ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’ by Steven Schneider. Normally I enjoy films that buck the conventional narrative and trying to learn about a character through the way she performs her daily routine as opposed to doing it the standard way through dialogue and action is commendable, but the cinematic flair is missing making this seem more like ‘monotonous task porn’ than a movie.

For instance when we watch Jeanne wash her dishes the camera does it in a very static way from behind her instead of doing something flashy like a close-up of the water glistening of the dish, or from some other provocative angle. Akerman has stated that she took this approach in order to show respect to her character’s ‘personal space’, but this only ends up giving it a closed-circuit TV feel.

Nonetheless I still remained strangely intrigued, but I’m not sure if this was because of some reviews I read beforehand where I was told that about the ‘surprise/shocking ending’ that would somehow make what I was watching all seem worth it, or because of what I was actually going on. I’ll agree that seeing the way she prepares and cooks her various meals is fascinating, but it’s for all the wrong reasons as you become more caught up in the task itself than the character and to say that one’s mind doesn’t eventually begin to wander after 3 hours and 20 minutes of this would be an understatement.

The 3-day arch that she goes through from where she performs her tasks proficiently on the first day only to screw them up more and more by the third one needed to be much more apparent as her ‘screw-ups’, like dropping a newly washed spoon on the floor, are too subtle and not enough of a payoff. Cinema is still a visual and dramatic art form and yet this film runs away from that at every conceivable turn making it seem more like an assault on one’s stamina instead.

Spoiler Alert!

The only true cinematic moment comes at the very end when Jeanne kills one of her male clients, but there’s no reason given for why she does this or what the aftermath will be. To have to sit through all that comes before it just to walk away with unanswered questions is frustrating and almost like being told a joke where the punchline is not an equal payoff to the long, tangent-filled set-up that it took to get there. I like the concept, which is intriguing, but it could’ve been accomplished in half the runtime making this an interesting experiment that can be appreciated as an oddity, but nothing more than that.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 14, 1975

Runtime: 3Hours 21Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Chantal Ackerman

Studio: Olympic Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video

Local Hero (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Businessman travels to Scotland.

Mac (Peter Riegert) works for a gas company out of Houston, Texas that wants to buy up the small town of Ferness, which sits on the north shore of Scotland and turn it into an oil refinery. It’s Mac’s job to travel to the town and offer the citizens a generous monetary offer to sell their homes. He is not excited about going as he enjoys doing business over the phone, but once there he grows attached to the more laid-back pace. The townspeople grow found of Mac as well and eager to take the money and become rich. The problem is that through research they find that it is actually Ben Knox (Fulton Mackay) an eccentric man who lives in a ramshackle house on the beach who owns the land and he is unwilling to sell no matter what the price.

This film received positive reviews at the time of its release and one of the few movies to get a 100% positive rating at rotten tomatoes and yet after watching this now twice I’m still mystified over what all the fuss is about. When I first saw it several decades ago I came away feeling like I had just viewed something where very little happens and upon the second viewing I felt the exact same way.

I get that the emphasis is supposed to be on the quirky humor and that’s fine, there’s even a few chuckles, but the script flat lines after its initial set-up.  The eccentric characters and offbeat quality becomes one-dimensional and the story offers no true conflict or tension. Everything gets handled in such a subtle, dry way that there’s barely any drama at all and seems not really worth the effort to watch.

It would’ve worked better had there been one true antagonist, somebody that would be in stark contrast to everybody else and create genuine upheaval to the otherwise benign complacency. Initially it seemed that Lancaster’s character, who owns the oil refinery, would be a perfect foil to the serenity. Most business owners are consumed with the profit margin, but this one is instead more interested in astronomy. I realize that writer/director Bill Forsyth wanted to work against the grain and not portray the typical caricature of a hard-driven business man, but how can a guy run a successful business if the financial bottom line isn’t his main drive? Making the business owner a lovable kook as the rest takes away any potential confrontation of which this movie could’ve used some.

Riegert is equally transparent. His yuppie tendencies should’ve been played up more and his dramatic arch from big city businessman to lover of small town life more apparent. I was hoping that after he slowly became fond of the place that he would be one to throw the monkey wrench into the proceedings by refusing to make a deal and fighting to save the town even as the other residents are more than happy to leave it, which would’ve been much funnier.

The townspeople are blah too. The viewer only gets to know a few of them and they’re indistinguishable from the other. The only one that stands out is the lady with a punk look and I was intrigued to learn more about her and how she was able to get along with everyone else despite dressing in such a radical style and yet we never hear her utter a single word.

Ben Knox is the only character that offers a twist as we initially perceive him to be a homeless nobody only to realize that he ultimately holds all the cards and yet it just teases the viewer with a potential confrontation between he and the townspeople that never comes to fruition. I was also disappointed that we didn’t get to see the inside of his makeshift home that looked so rundown and precariously put together that you truly wondered what the interior looked like or how someone could survive living in it for as long as he does. Lancaster goes into the home to negotiate a deal with him and I felt the camera should’ve followed him in.

If you’re looking for lightly amusing comedy that goes down easy then you may take a little more of a liking to this. If you desire a movie with something more than just incessant whimsy then this flick will not suffice.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 18, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bill Forsyth

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Jonah Who Will be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their lives lack purpose.

Eight individuals (Rufus, Miou-Miou, Dominic Labourier, Roger Jendly, Jacuqes Dendry, Myriam Boyer, Jean-Luc Bideau, Myriam Mezieres) who were a part of the French protests in May, 1968 now live on a communal farm where they find that their lives lack meaning due to being forced into jobs that do not inspire or interest them. Jonah is the baby of the one of the members who they hope will grow up into a better, more open world.

I usually prefer European films due to their leisurely pace that emphasizes nuance and doesn’t feel the need, like in most Hollywood flicks, to hit-you- over-the-head with a broad generalized message and yet this one took me quite a while to get into. The major hurdle is that it rotates between too many different characters making it hard to follow any of them as there are long gaps between when we see one individual until we see them again. I was also frustrated that we didn’t get to see what these characters were like back in 1968 as this period only gets briefly alluded to even though seeing firsthand how much they had changed would’ve been interesting.

Although billed as a comedy it is much more a dramedy with only fleeting moments that are funny. The best bits are done in black-and-white when the characters imagine themselves in some other situation outside of their dreary existence. My favorite of these are when the adults watch eight children playing on top of a muddy hill only to then have the adults imagining that they are the kids wallowing around in the mud themselves.

The characters do eventually grow on you once you get to know them making the ending far more impactful than the beginning. Miou-Miou, who just a year earlier played a prostitute with no discernable personality in the dark comedy Going Places is the life of the movie here as a supermarket cashier who doesn’t charge certain customers the full price of their groceries in her attempt to ‘rebel’ against what she feels is an unfair system and her visits with an elderly shut-in (Raymond Bussieres) inside his apartment are both amusing and touching.

The film’s message and its searing attacks on capitalism are something you’d never see any American movie, but thought provoking nonetheless placing this almost on the same level as O Lucky Man!. I also liked that you feel the pain and anguish of these characters without having it explained to you through dialogue, which is a sign of masterful filmmaking that I wish was more prevalent in movies that are done here.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Release: December 1, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Alain Tanner

Studio: Action Films

Available: DVD (Import all regions)

Lovers and Liars (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lovers on the road.

Anita (Goldie Hawn) is vacationing in Rome and rooming with her friend Jennifer (Lorraine De Selle) while she auditions for roles in commercials that are being shot there. One day Jennifer’s married lover Guido (Giancarlo Giannini) comes over. He wants to have sex with Jennifer before driving off to Pisa to visit his dying father. Jennifer throws him out, so he gives Anita a ride where he continuously tries to make a play for her despite her constant resistance.

The flimsy set-up is the one thing that kills the film before it even gets started. The idea that putting any two people of the opposite sex together on a long car ride will be enough to elicit a romance is ridiculous. There needed to be more to tie these two together. Having them get together because they’re running away from the same person or a natural disaster would’ve given it a little more meat, but trying to create something from nothing like it essentially does here is about as vapid as you can get.

I realize that European films have the reputation of being more leisurely paced, but this thing takes that concept too far as virtually nothing happens. Certain elements get thrown in to inject some excitement like a big car pile-up that gets abruptly forgotten just as quickly as it gets introduced, but none of it helps to move the story forward

There is also no clear reason why either of these two characters would be interested in the other. Guido was than willing to jump into the sack with Anita’s roommate just a day before, but now acts like he can’t live without Anita and she’s the complete center of his world despite having nothing particularly special occur between the two of them. He even physically removes her from a taxi, so she’ll remain with him, which should’ve been enough to end the relationship and not continue it.

Guido gets portrayed as being the consummate player, so why get fixated on Anita who he’s only known her for a little while? As for Anita why fall for a guy that gets forceful and controlling? She’s successfully traveled the world this long without a man, so why suddenly settle for this womanizing dud?

The script is a poorly fleshed-out concept lacking character development or structure. It barely has any energy when they’re together, but then when they’re separated, which occurs during the second half, it gives even worse. There’s even a couple of misguided scenes dealing with Giannini speaking to strangers in Italian even though for the viewer’s sake it’s still done in English yet Hawn, whose character speaks only English, will still turn around and ask him what he had just said forcing him to repeat himself even though the viewer has already heard it.

It’s nice seeing Hawn chuck the ditzy blonde act and instead portray a feisty, confident woman, but pairing these two big box office heavyweights is not enough. There still needed to be a story and this vacuous thing doesn’t have one. Even Hawn fans will want to stay clear from this despite the fact that her presence is the only salvageable thing about it.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: April 25, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes (Original European cut ran 2Hours)

Rated R

Director: Mario Monicelli

Studio: PEA

Available: DVD

Brannigan (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Duke in London

Jim Brannigan (John Wayne) is a gruff Chicago cop hired to extradite mob boss Ben Larkin (John Vernon) from London back to the states, but Brannigan finds that England’s more restrained form of policing doesn’t conform to his and is at immediate odds with British police commander Charles Swann (Richard Attenborough) from the beginning. Things become even more problematic when Larkin gets kidnapped forcing the police to engage in a ransom drop in order to get him back. Brannigan must also avoid a very aggressive hit-man named Gorman (Daniel Pilon) who was hired by Larkin to kill him.

This was Wayne’s second attempt at playing a modern day tough guy policeman, which was mainly in response to being snubbed from the starring role in Dirty Harry. His first flick as a cop was McQ, which was quite derivative and made The Duke look like an old, sickly walking corpse ready to keel over at any second. Here though Wayne is strangely reinvigorated and seems much spryer on his feet. He also doesn’t take himself quite as seriously and spends most of the time eliciting humorous quips and comebacks, but by the end the London scenery and array of supporting characters start to overshadow the big guy until he becomes almost like a co-star in his own movie.

The story is a bit different from a typical Wayne vehicle in that the first half has virtually no action and consists mainly of the police surveillance of the kidnappers and trying to figure out what they’ll do next. One drawn out scene even deals with Wayne and lady cop friend Jennifer (Judy Geeson) following a mail truck around London in order to see where the ransom money, which they think is in the truck, will be taken.

While this subdued approach may annoy the more action addicted Wayne fans I found it to be a refreshing change of pace and I liked how the film analyzed the boring aspects of police work instead of just glamorizing the sexy shootouts. Unfortunately the second-half devolves back into the familiar formula, which includes not only an uninspired car chase, but a big barroom brawl as well. The brawl, which was filmed at the exclusive Garrick Club, is the most off-putting because it’s done in a comically slapstick way that drains all the grittiness and realism that the film tried so hard to create in the first-half right out of the movie altogether.

The sleek looking, dark glasses wearing hit-man, who drives a ritzy looking sports car seems like a character straight out of a James Bond movie. The segment done in slow motion as well as the running joke of having every hotel room that Brannigan stays in get destroyed by those who is after him only helps to cement this as being just another whimsical, uninspired cop outing that despite a first half that showed some promise has nothing edgy or original about it.

The idea of having Brannigan essentially trying to ‘save’ a mobster’s life just so he can bring him back here to go to trial isn’t a very riveting plot point to begin with. The Larkin character is completely unlikable, so the viewer could care less whether he can escape the clutches of his kidnappers or not and the story would’ve been far more compelling had Brannigan been out to save a kidnapped child instead, which along with the other misguided ideas described above probably explains why this thing ended up tanking badly at the box office.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 26, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Douglas Hickox

Studio: United Artists

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

Saturn 3 (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Space couple battles robot.

Mentally unhinged Captain Benson (Harvey Keitel) arrives on a space station that is located on Saturn’s 3rd moon along with a robot named Hector that has brain tissue made up of human fetuses. On the space station resides Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett) who are a couple researching on how to grow plants without soil. Captain Benson is assigned to assemble the robot, which will supposedly help the couple in their research, but instead it goes on a rampage killing Benson and then threatening to do the same to the other two.

The film was the brainchild of award winning set designer John Barry best known for his production design in the movies Star Wars and A Clockwork Orange. Unfortunately most of his work was done inside an office and his ability to actually direct actors was limited leading to constant conflicts between he and star Douglas, which eventually forced the film’s producer Stanley Donen to step in and takeover. Barry then left to work on The Empire Strikes Back only to collapse suddenly and die just a few months later from meningitis at the young age of 43 while never seeing the completed version of his original vision.

The sets are dazzling and clearly the film’s best element. In fact one could watch the movie for its visual quality alone with no sound and be better entertained. The robot is amazing too because he comes off looking like a genuine mechanical concoction and not just some stunt guy in a body suit. The thing doesn’t even have a head, but simply a protruding wire coming out the top with two lights on the end of it representing its eyes. Watching him being put together is mesmerizing as he looks very much like modern robots seen today at science shows making the film, at least in this area, seem astutely ahead-of-its-time.

The story though comes-off like an afterthought. Never once did I feel any tension even as the robot chases the couple all around. The characters are bland and the cast needed to be larger as the production lacks energy or liveliness. The dark, isolated space station is gloomy and depressing, which eventually crosses over to the film as a whole.

This was supposed to be a sci-fi/horror hybrid in the realm of Alien, but unlike that movie this one lacks any shocks or scares. There were two scenes that were filmed but later deleted one involved a dream sequence where Adam and Alex kill Benson while another had the robot ripping apart Benson’s dead body. These scenes sounded like they had exact edginess that the film lacked and it’s a head-scratcher why they were cut. When you’re trying to attract the same audience of another sci-fi flick that had its share of gore then you need to go for the gusto and not hold back.

The casting is cockeyed. Why is a 65-year-old codger banging a hot 30-year-old? Not only does it look like a father/daughter thing but even more like a grandfather/granddaughter situation. Kirk’s a fine actor, but not for this and his son Michael would’ve been a far better choice especially since there’s no chemistry between the two stars anyways.

Farrah’s acting skills have improved slightly from her first two films, but she still comes off as transparent and in-over-her-head, hired solely for her looks and nothing else.  Male viewers will enjoy her brief topless scene, but most likely no one, male or female, will be excited about seeing Kirk’s bare wrinkled old ass, which you’ll unfortunately also get a glimpse of.

I was most perplexed by the fact that Keitel’s voice was dubbed over by actor Roy Dotrice apparently because Donen didn’t like Keitel’s Brooklyn accent, but why hire the guy in the first place if you don’t like the way he speaks? The dubbing is obvious from the moment he utters his first word and will be a definite distraction to Keitel fans.

Ultimately the film becomes victim to what happens to a lot of big budget sci-fi productions where too much emphasis is put into one element while almost no thought is given to anything else. The result is a flimsy entry into the sci-fi genre that barely deserves any attention at all.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director Stanley Donen (John Barry uncredited)

Studio: ITC Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Great Train Robbery (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A daring gold heist.

In 1855 Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) comes up with an idea to rob a large shipment of gold from a traveling train.  He recruits the services of his mistress Miriam (Lesley-Anne Down) and a screwsmen named Robert Agar (Donald Sutherland) to help him do it. The heist requires that they make copies of four keys that are used to open the safe, but each are possessed by four different bank executives forcing them into an elaborate scheme to attain them all. Eventually the authorities become aware of their plan making their heist even trickier to pull off.

The story is based on an actual incident that occurred in 1855 that Michael Crichton became intrigued by, which inspired him to write a fictionalized account that became a best-selling novel and in turn lead to him being offered the chance to direct the film version. As a period piece it succeeds as I loved the variety of wardrobes that the characters wear and the lavish settings that not only reveals London’s rich neighborhoods of that era, but its poverty-stricken ones as well all in amazingly accurate detail.

The film has an underlying quirky tone that is engaging, but this also makes it seem less authentic. For a crime caper to be enjoyable one must believe that it could really happen, or what the characters do is actually possible. There were times when I wasn’t convinced of either and the blame goes to the film trying too hard to be cute instead of just sticking to the detail.

Henry Fowler (Malcolm Terris) is one of the bank executives with a key who proudly proclaims to wear it around his neck, which he states that he ‘never’ takes off. In order to get the key and allow Robert to make a wax impression of it, Miriam pretends to be a prostitute who convinces him to take off the key, so they can make love, which he immediately does. This seems too easy as rarely do humans behave exactly as you think they will. When things come together without any hitch you start to question its validity. If a guy says he ‘never’ removes his key than make it much harder to convince him to do it, or force Robert to make the wax impressions of the key while Henry still has it around his neck and making out with Miriam, which would’ve been funnier.

Another segment has Robert breaking into an office at the railway station where two of the keys are stored inside a cabinet. The night watchman that guards the office always leaves at the same time for exactly 75 seconds to go to the bathroom. Robert is then forced to break into the office and make the wax impressions of the keys and then get out within that same 75 second time frame, but who goes to the bathroom at the exact same amount of time each and every time they go? Most people will go within a certain time range, but no one is that robotic to literally ‘count out the seconds’ as they pee. Having a character behave in such an extreme way only accentuates the film’s whimsical quality while throwing the believability out the door.

Later on in an effort to get inside the train compartment Robert pretends to be a corpse inside a coffin. To create a stench a dead cat is put in alongside him, but how was Robert able to withstand the horrible odor as people standing outside the coffin kept complaining about the unbearable smell. What was it about Robert that made him tolerate it as long as he does when almost no one else could’ve? This makes Robert seem super-human and gives even more leverage to the fact that this couldn’t have really happened at least not in the way done here.

The exciting ending features Connery, not a stunt double, but the actor himself getting on the train roof as the train is running at 55 mph and trying to go from the front of it to the back while ducking under numerous bridges that come whizzing by at lightning speed. This had me holding my breath, but I still came away wishing the film had stuck more to the original account. I read a brief overview of the real crime that was written in more detail by David C. Hanrahan in ‘The First Great Train Robbery’.  There are many differences between the real event and how it gets portrayed here with the real account being far more interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video