Category Archives: Made-for-TV

Amateur Night at the Dixie Bar and Grill (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Five minutes of fame.

A bar on the outskirts of a nameless small town becomes the social setting for a group of everyday people who flock to it one night in hopes of winning an amateur act contest. Every one of the contestants is fighting some inner demon or insecurity and critiqued by a judge (Henry Gibson) that is being bribed by different parties to choose their candidate over the others. There’s also a dangerous serial killer lurking about known as the Disco Killer, who has shot up several other venues in the area and may be eyeing the Dixie bar as his next target.

This TV-movie, which was written and directed by Joel Schumacher, seems way too similar to Robert Altman’s Nashville to be considered original. Clearly that film was this movie’s inspiration and this one does not go far enough with the concept and would’ve been better had its runtime been extended and the characters more fleshed out. Certain actors, such as Don Johnson and Candy Clark, are underused and there’s not enough of an understanding of the town that the bar was in. Some shots of rundown buildings in an isolated area would’ve helped give the viewer a better feel for how bored these people were and why they would be motivated to go on stage and essentially make fools of themselves just for the lofty chance at somehow escaping their otherwise hopeless existence with a small shot at fame.

What I did like is that the entire story takes place in one setting. The only time the camera ventures outside of the cramped place is when it goes into its parking lot for brief periods, but otherwise this bar is the center of the universe for these characters, which for many small town people, especially before the advent of the internet, is what bars such as these represented.

The stage acts themselves were a bit disappointing and could’ve been played-up more as I was expecting something a little more along the lines of stuff seen on the old Gong Show or stupid human tricks from David Letterman. The scene where a big fight breaks out in a dressing room that is far more exciting than anything occurring on stage does allow for some irony and the part where actor Rick Hurst attempts to crack open a coconut by using nothing more than his bare teeth is engaging, but more acts in this vein was needed.

Having Tanya Tucker appear as this shy woman who lacks confidence despite possessing the talent and walks off the stage in humiliation at the start only to redeem herself later, is too manufactured. I much preferred Pat Ast as this homely, overweight woman who unexpectedly wows everyone with some rousing showstopping numbers that should’ve made her the winner instead. I also felt that the so-called prize, which was simply the privilege to appear on stage at that same bar for two straight weeks, was too skimpy. People have bigger dreams than that even in a dusty small town and want more of a reward like  a trip to Hollywood, New York or a contract with an agent in order for them to be excited enough to go through what they do.

There is also no payoff to the Disco Killer storyline. He gets discussed quite a bit and there are even TV news reports about him, but then he never appears, which feels like a letdown. I’m not saying there needed to be a bloody sequence where a killer shoots people dead, but maybe a scenario where the contestants, who are quite competitive with one another otherwise, manage to come together enough to subdue the bad guy, or some other lighthearted element that would’ve at least brought a conclusion to the subplot instead of just letting it hang.

Sheree North as an embittered alcoholic easily steals it and has some of the best lines. There is also a long tracking shot in which the camera starts out at the back of the bar and then slowly weaves its way up onto the stage that is great too. The film certainly has its share of moments and as a TV-Movie it’s impressive, but lacks finesse for the big screen.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 8, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gay couple manage laundromat.

Genghis (Richard Graham) is a young Pakistani immigrant living in London and feeling frustrated by being trapped in his humble surroundings while living with his father (Roshan Seth) who due to his left leaning politics and alcoholism is unable to bring in any meaningful income. His Uncle Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey) is doing quite well even though some of his methods are unscrupulous. Nasser gets Genghis a job at his car washing facility, but Genghis has loftier goals. He wants to take over the rundown laundromat that Nasser owns and turn it into a thriving business with the help of his gay lover Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis). Nasser agrees and is surprised to see what a success it becomes, but is unaware that Genghis and Johnny are funding it with the help of illegal drug money and Salim (Derrick Blanche) is onto their scheme and wants a part of the take.

The film’s screenplay was written by Hanif Kureishi who liked the title character came to Britain from Pakistan and has become a much celebrated playwright despite starting his career writing pornographic novels. The story brings out many complex issues that could prove fascinating to those unfamiliar with the political landscape of Great Britain during the Margaret Thatcher era. The problems and racism that those from Pakistan had to face in the U.K. are vividly brought to the forefront, but what is even more interesting is the pressures and loyalties that they were expected to follow amongst their own culture and families and how these could end up being just as conflicting and confining as those placed on them by the outside world.

I enjoyed many of the scenarios that the film brings out, but was frustrated that the story offers no conclusion to any of them. I was interested in seeing how Nasser would react to Genghis and Johnny’s relationship, but we never get to find out even though the film teases us with a scene where he begins to suspect it. There is also no conclusion as to what ultimately happens to their laundromat business, or whether they were successfully able to expand it, which again gets touched upon. We aren’t even able to find out if Salim was able to survive a vicious beating by some street punks or whether these same punks were ever brought to justice. Why bother bringing up all these story threads if they are just going to be left open and why should the viewer be sucked into the quandaries of these characters if it is all just leads to one big ambiguous ending?

Daniel Day-Lewis shot to stardom with his role here, but I didn’t really feel he had the body type to be considered a ‘tough guy’ or even a bouncer type. Sure he’s tall, but still pretty skinny and not exactly muscular. I also thought the trendy pseudo-hip getups and hairstyles that he and his gang have look tacky and I first saw this film back when it was released and I felt the same way about the outfits then that I do now.

The direction by an up-and-coming Stephen Frears is okay, but his use of a soundtrack that resembles the noise of a washing machine takes away from the gritty drama element that this story supposedly wants to be as does the onscreen opening and closing titles that spin around like clothes in a dryer.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stephen Frears

Studio: Working Title Films

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

The Plumber (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: He destroys her bathroom.

Jill (Judy Morris) works inside her cramped apartment while her husband (Robert Coleby) goes off each day to teach at a local college. She is an educated woman who spends her time writing a thesis for an anthropology paper, but finds herself at a loss when one day a talkative plumber by the name of Max (Ivar Kants) enters her place insisting he needs to check her pipes. Even though there is nothing wrong with her bathroom he proceeds to tear it up anyways while conversing with her on a wide-range of increasingly uncomfortable topics. Her husband and her best friend Meg (Candy Raymond) feel she is making a big deal out of nothing and find the plumber to be nothing more than slightly eccentric, which makes Jill feel even more powerless to Max’s increasingly odd antics.

This film is an excellent testament to what a great director can do with very little.  What appears on the surface to be a low budget, one-joke flick is instead a cleverly disguised observation of the class system and the underlying prejudices and assumptions that exist on both ends. The story playfully jumps back and forth from being a black comedy to a thriller to even a psychological study, which not only helps to make it quite original, but highly unpredictable as well.

To me the most amusing aspect about it is the way we have this super intelligent, well-educated woman who can write long dissertations involving ancient African cultures, but when it comes to people in her own environment she is at a loss and unable to know how to respond or react to a stranger who on the outside should be completely inferior to her intellectually, but routinely gets the upper hand nonetheless. Having everyone around her ambivalent to her situation simply hits home how disconnected an individual can be to their surrounding even when they think that they aren’t.

Kants gives a great performance by creating a character whose ultimate motivation is never clear. Is he intentionally trying to terrorize her or like with her bathroom just trying to tear her down? He seems to do this not so much for who she is, but for what she represents, which is fighting back at a pretentious society that he feels unfairly looks down on him.

If this film, which is based on an actual incident that occurred with a couple of director Peter Weir’s friends, has any faults it is with the location. The apartment, where the majority of the action takes place, is incredibly cramped to the point that I was surprised a film crew could’ve even fit into it. Weir tries to dress up the place with some interesting African artwork, but it still looks drab and helps to make the visual portion of the film quite boring. Having Jill reside in a ritzy home in the suburbs would’ve made more of an interesting contrast and seeing the plumber tear up her posh bathroom would’ve been even funnier.

The fact that Jill immediately opens the door and lets Max inside without asking for any identification is another issue as it comes off as being too reckless and trusting.  Granted it was made in a more innocent era and the character does expound on this later on, but it is something that will make the film seemed dated or even off-putting to today’s viewers. I was also surprised that it took Jill so long to complain to the apartment’s landlord about the plumber’s antics as most people would’ve gone to him after the very first day.

In either case this is still a highly intriguing film that I’ve seen many times and continue to find just as funny and interesting with each viewing.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: June 8, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 15Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Peter Weir

Studio: The Australian Film Commission

Available: VHS, DVD

The Girl Most Likely to…(1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ugly girl gets revenge.

Miriam (Stockard Channing) is a homely student attending college who can’t seem to find a boyfriend or even any friends. Instead she is ostracized and rejected constantly in the cruelest ways possible. Upset by her depressing life she one day gets into her car and drives recklessly down the highway only to get into a crash, which forces surgeons to do major reconstructive surgery on her face that amazingly turns her into a beautiful woman. Now she can have any guy that she wants, but the bitterness of the way she was treated in the past eats away at her and she instead decides to get revenge by killing off all the people that rejected her using increasingly novel methods.

This made-for-TV film was written by Joan Rivers and it has the same humor that she used in her stand-up comedy act, which mainly focused on women’s deep seated insecurities involving their looks and the need to get married and please their husband. To some degree the whole thing is quite dated particularly the idea that a woman’s sole purpose in life is to use their looks to snare a rich husband who will then take care of them for the rest of their life. The humor and characters are also extremely clichéd and broad, but it still manages to have some funny bits.

Channing’s presence helps immensely and she manages to somehow carry off the role with dignity despite being degraded and humiliated at every turn. Her ugly makeover is impressive particularly the way they wadded up her nose to make her left nostril much larger than the right one, which had me reluctantly focused on it every time it came into view.

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The supporting cast features many familiar faces in small, bit parts some of which are quite funny including Joe Flynn as a surgeon unable to find a patient’s appendix, Larry Wilcox as a dumb football player named Moose, Warren Berlinger as Miriam’s plumber fiancée and Susanne Zenor as the haughty roommate. This also marks the acting debut of Larry Manetti who can be spotted in a small role as a football player.

The murders themselves are what help stand this film apart from the others in what otherwise could be described as a Carrie precursor. The scene where Miriam kills off the Wilcox character while skydiving is impressively captured as is the segment where Berlinger drowns in a flood in his own bathroom. The only one that doesn’t quite make sense is when she tries to kill a pool player by having him hit the eight ball that is secretly a bomb. However, when it does finally go off, it explodes the entire pool hall, which would’ve easily killed Miriam along with the others had she not been inadvertently lead away at the last minute.

Fans of black humor should especially enjoy this and for a TV-movie it is far and away better than most. It also scores better than River’s theatrical feature Rabbit Test, which she did five years later and wasn’t funny at all.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 6, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 15Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Lee Phillips

Studio: ABC Circle Films

Available: DVD

Lisa, Bright and Dark (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen has mental illness.

Based on the acclaimed novel by John Neufeld the story centers on Lisa (Kay Lenz) a teenage girl who begins behaving in strange ways. She feels that she is suffering from some sort of mental illness and asks her parents (John Forsythe, Anne Baxter) if she can see a psychiatrist, but they refuse as they were raised in an era where mental illness was considered a ‘character flaw’ that didn’t occur to ‘respectable’ people and psychiatry was still thought of as a ‘new-age’ type of practice. Her friends (Debralee Scott, Jamie Smith-Jackson, and Anne Lockhart) think differently and try to get her the help that she needs, but when that fails they then read up on psychotherapy themselves and try to help Lisa with their own brand of therapy.

This film, which aired on NBC in November of 1973 as a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, was critically acclaimed at the time, but it has not aged well. I applaud the effort at trying to destigmatize the myth of psychiatry, but the drama often times comes off as strained and unintentionally funny. The sappy songs by Rod McKuen are abysmal and enough to drive the viewer as batty as the main character.

I found it strange how enlightened Lisa’s teen friends were about mental illness and wasn’t quite sure that I bought into it. I would think they would be just as confused and frightened of Lisa’s behavior as the adults and maybe try to stay away from her completely. Seeing how sympathetic Lisa’s classmates are to her condition is nice, but not realistic. At that age I would imagine some of the teens would ostracize and mock Lisa while considering her some sort of ‘freak’ and the film would’ve been better balanced had at least shown briefly some of that, which it doesn’t. The idea that these girls could read a few books by Sigmund Freud and then be able to perform psychotherapy is laughable and the whole thing would’ve been better served had it taken place in a college setting as the students all look college-aged anyways and the plot would’ve been more believable because it could’ve had her working with students or interns that were majoring in psychiatry.

The film never bothers to give any type of explanation for Lisa’s issues nor any inkling as to whether she was able to find some sort of adjustment through medication or therapy. It all seems like an excuse to promote the acceptance of psychiatry to the mainstream and not about the main character at all, which makes it come off as a thinly veiled ‘message movie’ and nothing more.

Lenz, who for a time was married to singer/actor David Cassidy, does well in the title role, but I didn’t care much of her toothy smile. It is fun seeing Anson Williams and Erin Moran in supporting roles as they both later became cast members to the long running TV-show ‘Happy Days’. Richard Stahl also appears as the father of one of the girls, but has his voice dubbed for some reason, which was quite strange.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 28, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 15Minutes

Director: Jeannot Szwarc

Studio: Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions

Available: DVD (Out-of-print)

The Deadly Tower (1975)

deadly tower

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sniper in the tower.

This made-for-TV movie chronicles the events of August 1, 1966 when 25-year-old ex-Marine Charles Whitman (Kurt Russell) climbed to the top of the University of Texas campus tower and shot and killed 16 people while wounding a total of 32. The story intercuts between scenes showing Whitman preparing for the shooting while also looking at the private life of Officer Ramiro Martinez (Richard Yniguez) who eventually climbed up the tower to stop Whitman’s slaughter.

For the most part the film is taut and methodical and well above average for a TV film although Gilbert Roland’s voice over narration was unnecessary and a bit cheesy. The only time there is any music is during the scenes showing Whitman killing his mother and wife with a knife, which gets a bit too overly dramatic, but otherwise it comes off almost like a documentary making the viewer feel that they are right there as it is happening. It was filmed at the Louisiana State Capitol, which looks a bit different than the actual clock tower, but still similar enough that it works.

Russell who had just come off starring in a long line of Disney films is perfect in the role and even closely resembles the real Whitman. The fact that he has very few lines of dialogue is an asset and helps to make the character more foreboding and threatening. The rest of the all-star cast does pretty well although Forsythe’s character seems added simply to promote the gun control issue. Clifton James appearance as one of the police sergeants was misguided because he had already done a comic caricature of a redneck sheriff in the James Bond film Live and Let Die, so it was hard to take him seriously here and it took me out of the movie a bit because it kept reminding me of that one as well as his goofy policeman role in Bank Shot.

The film also takes liberties with the actual events in strange ways that makes no sense. For instance in the film when Whitman comes upon the tower receptionist he simply guides her to the elevator and tells her to leave, but in real-life he knocked her to the ground and split her head open before later shooting her. Also, in the film the first victim that he hits from the tower is a male, but in the actual incident it was an 18-year-old female who was eight months pregnant. The story also erroneously credits Martinez with the one who killed Whitman when the later autopsy found that all four shots that Martinez fired at Whitman missed him and it was actually the two shots fired by Officer Houston McCoy who stepped in after Martinez had emptied his rounds that proved to be the lethal hit. In fact Officer McCoy’s name gets changed here and is listed as C.J. Foss and is played by actor Paul Carr as a minor throwaway part that is barely seen at all.

Both McCoy and Martinez sued the producers for the inaccuracies. Martinez was upset because his wife was portrayed as being pregnant and Hispanic when in reality she had been German-American. The sidelight drama of some marital discord between the two was also apparently untrue and should’ve been left out completely as it adds nothing and bogs the thing down as a needless Hollywood-like soap opera.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Director: Jerry Jameson

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)

Nightmares (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: These stories aren’t scary.

This film is made up of an anthology of horror tales that were originally made for the ‘Darkroom’ TV-show that ran from 1981 to ’82 on ABC and was hosted by James Coburn.  The network deemed these stories to be ‘too intense’ for television so Universal decided to make it into a feature film. Unlike the series there is no actor or host that ties the stories together, which is unfortunate as Coburn’s presence could have given it a little personality. The biggest reason I was interested to watch this was to see what was considered ‘too intense’ for television back in the early 80’s and after viewing it the answer is ‘not much’.

The first story is entitled “Terror in Topanga” and features a mental patient on the loose in a suburban town and a housewife named Lisa (Cristina Raines) who has run out of cigarettes and feels compelled to go out late at night to get some. The segment is predictable and pedestrian with a twist ending that is a big letdown. Christophe Crowe who wrote the story is married to Raines in real-life and the two teamed up a few years later for an episode entitled “Prisoners”, which aired on the 80’s version of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ and is much, much better than this one and well worth seeking out.

“Bishop of Battle” makes up the second story and features Emilio Estevez as a teen obsessed with beating a video arcade game. This segment features the best visuals. I found the graphics that were used for the game were actually kind of impressive and fun to watch. Estevez is enjoyable as the tightly wound character and this segment also features Moon Zappa in a small part as well as Billy Jacoby (Jayne) who is the younger brother of famous child actor Scott Jacoby and looks just like him.

Lance Henriksen stars in the third story “The Benediction” as a priest who is grappling with his faith and thus decides to leave the ministry. As he starts out in his car on his journey to get away he finds himself being menaced by a black pick-up truck whose driver he cannot see and the two start to play a game of cat-and-mouse with their vehicles on a lonely stretch of desert highway. The scene where the pick-up bursts through the ground is the only interesting moment in what is otherwise a weak, uninspired rip-off of Duel.

The fourth and final story “Night of the Rat” is by far the worst. It pertains to a suburban family whose house becomes invaded by a giant demon-like rat. The special effects used to create the giant sized rodent are awful and would be almost comical if it weren’t so thoroughly botched and ridiculous. Veronica Cartwright who plays the perpetually nervous, high-strung mother gets a bit one-dimensional and irritating, but it is nice to see Bridgette Anderson as the daughter who later went on to star in Savannah Smiles before dying of a drug overdose at age 23.

The stories are flatly photographed with dull looking sets that have no cinematic quality to them and no business being on the big screen. This thing was given an R rating even though there is no swearing, or nudity and just the minimal of violence. I realize that the PG-13 rating was still a year away at the time, but this still should have been given a PG.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: September 2, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joseph Sargent

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, YouTube

Trilogy of Terror (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Menaced by a doll.

Interesting made-for-TV movie that first aired on ABC on the night of March 4, 1975. The film is broken up into three different horror stories all of which star Karen Black in different roles and all based on short stories written by Richard Matheson. Dan Curtis famous for producing the horror soap opera ‘Dark Shadows’ directs all three segments and even employs two actors from that series John Karlen and Jim Storm in small supporting roles.

The first segment is entitled Julie and features Black as a prim-and-proper college professor who gains the attention of Chad (Robert Burton) who is one of her students. Chad asks Julie out on a date and then drugs her drink, which knocks her out. When she is unconscious he takes revealing pictures of her and then uses these to blackmail her into continuing to have sex with him.

The ‘surprise’ twist on this one isn’t too interesting and full of a few loopholes. This also falls into the typical Hollywood treatment where an otherwise attractive woman with a great figure is labeled as ‘homely’ simply because she wears glasses and has her hair tied up into a bun. Although the storyline is surprisingly smarmy for the time period I still thought it was hooky that when he takes those ‘revealing’ pictures of her she is still wearing her clothes when most likely in reality he would have taken them off. The only intriguing element of this segment is the fact that Burton was married to Black at the time that this was filmed, so it was interesting to see them perform together especially since their union was brief and barely even lasted a year.

The second segment is entitled ‘Millicent and Therese’ and is the story of two feuding sisters both played by Black and their diametrically opposite personalities. It is interesting to see Black play such contrasting characters, but otherwise the story is weak and I had figured out the rather obvious twist of this long before it occurred and most others will too.

The final and most famous segment is entitled ‘Amelia’ and is about a woman who buys an African Tribal doll for her boyfriend. The doll is a miniaturized replica of an ancient hunter complete with a spear and outfit. A gold chain which is around the doll supposedly holds in its evil spirit, but when that chain falls off it begins attacking Amelia who then desperately tries fighting him off while all alone her apartment.

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While the idea of such a small doll with its tiny little arms being able to stab someone let alone turn doorknobs or bend the bolt of her door so she can’t get out seems a bit silly and absurd the action is still effective. Curtis’s use of dolly shots showing the camera zooming through the apartment at knee level in an attempt at displaying the point-of-view of the attacking doll is excellent. Despite the simple special effects they still work and the scariest thing about the doll is the weird chanting, hissing sound that it makes. The final image of this segment is quite possibly the most memorable of the entire film.

The only real suggestion I would have with this story is that it would have been nice to have shown the scene where the Amelia character goes to the shop and actually purchases the doll and shown more of a reason, or motivation for wanting to buy such a strange object in the first place.

21 years later Curtis made a sequel called ‘Trilogy of Terror II’ although that was not as well received. This film though is still enjoyable and well above average for TV-movie fare.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 4, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 12Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Dan Curtis

Studio: ABC Circle Films

Available: VHS, DVD, YouTube

I Can Make You Love Me (1993)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stalking is his passion.

To any true film fan TV-Movies have always been considered vastly inferior to the theatrical kind and I would be the first to agree.  However, there is one area where they can shine and that is in their depictions of true-life crimes. Mainly this is because they give it more time as they are usually shown in two parts over consecutive nights.  Also, their lower budgets worked better in recreating the docu-drama style.

Over the years there have been some classics in this area that have helped bring substance to the headlines as well as a better understanding of the victims, the perpetrators and the investigation. Some of the best that I would suggest would be Helter Skelter (1976) starring the Emmy-award winning Steve Railsback as Charles Manson.  The Deliberate Stranger (1986) with Mark Harmon as serial killer Ted Bundy.  There is also Deadly Intentions (1985), A Death in California (1984) with Cheryl Ladd as a woman who falls in love with her rapist, and my personal favorite Fatal Vision (1984) about the infamous Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald.

This film deals with the case of Richard Farley (Richard Thomas) that helped develop California’s first anti-stalking laws. Farley was a pudgy, middle-aged man who worked as a computer programmer at a company named ESL in Sunnyvale, California in 1984.  He had been there for 9 years and had no criminal record, but became unhinged when he met an attractive 23- year- old new employee named Laura Black (Brooke Shields).  He began to follow her around constantly as well as sending her gifts and love letters on a daily basis.  When she refused his advances he became even more persistent.  This continued for 4 years until, through his obsession, he ended up losing his job, his house, and his entire life savings, but his stalking continued. Black finally filed a restraining order against him, which sent him into a rage.  He armed himself with an array of guns, stormed the company and shot seven employees including Black, who managed to survive.

Unlike some of the previous movies that I mentioned above, this film did not get the two-part treatment.  Everything that happened gets crammed into 95 minutes, which makes a lot of it seem rushed.  Although the events took place over a four year period, the movie gives you the impression that it was just a few quick months. For the sake of time the film seems to leave certain interesting facts out, which is a shame.  For instance, in real-life Farley actually stood in front of Black’s house for hours going through every conceivable combination on her garage door opener until he was finally able to crack it.  There are also certain things that Farley expressed to Black through his letters that he ends up telling verbally to her here, which causes some of the dialogue to seem awkward.

The film was also not given much of a budget.  It was filmed on a grainy, videotape type of film stock that looks like it was done on somebody’s camcorder.  The story took place in California and yet for whatever reason it ended up being filmed in Topeka, Kansas and the differences in the landscapes are obvious and even a bit disconcerting.

Where the film really seems to come together is during the final 30 minutes where it recreates the office shooting. This sequence is well choreographed and makes you feel like you are right there.  The conversations that Farley has with the negotiator during these scenes are revealing.  I was confused after reading the accounts of the incident as to why Farley would have only shot Black once (in the shoulder) and then allowed her to escape.  Apparently, through his conversations with the negotiator, this was his intention.  He only wanted to injure her and then force her to survive so she would have to live with the ‘guilt’ of having ‘caused’ this by refusing to go out with him.

Another big selling point is the performances of the two leads. Richard Thomas as Farley is astounding.  He does not resemble the actual Farley, but makes up for it with a convincing portrayal that leaves a lasting impression. Shields is excellent as well. Normally I never gave her much credit in the past, but found a new appreciation for her acting ability here.  She does an especially good job during the scenes where she is shot and trying to escape.  It seemed like she was genuinely stressed and in real pain.

Another thing I liked here is that the character of Laura Black is portrayed as being very determined, resourceful, and strong.  She had to struggle with the company about this matter as initially they sided with Farley and was convinced that she must have ‘lead him on’. I felt it was a testament to her strength that she continued to keep working at the company and was still working there five years later when this film was made.

If you find true-life crimes to be intriguing and enjoy seeing them recreated to help your understanding of them, then TV-movies are you best source for this type of genre.  I felt that this case, with its myriad of psychological implications, was no different.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1993

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Alternate Title: Stalking Laura

Not Rated

Director: Michael Switzer

Studio: Leonard Hill Films

Available: DVD

Antonia and Jane (1991)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends aren’t always friends.

Jane (Imelda Staunton) is a depressed single woman slipping into middle-age and jealous of her lifelong friend Antonia (Saskia Reeves) who she feels is prettier and gets all the breaks. Jane pours her thoughts out to her therapist (Brenda Bruce), but the twist is that Antonia sees the same therapist and is having the same problems only in reverse as she is jealous of Jane. The first half-hour looks at things from Jane’s point-of-view while the second half shows it from Antonia’s.

The element that really makes this movie so enjoyable is the cutaways. Everything talked about during their sessions is recreated visually. These recreations are all quite funny. Some of my favorites are when Jane talks about a trip to Canada and we see her pushing over a tall pine tree with one hand. There is also the segment where Antonia’s 10-year-old son gives a raunchy stand-up comedy routine to his friends during his birthday party. The part where the two find themselves trapped in an old French war movie complete with them speaking fluid French and subtitles is quite creative as is the many different and colorful outfits that the two wear each year when they get together for their annual visit with the other.

Somehow friendships between females are quite different than the ones of their male counterparts. Harbored jealousies and insecurities seem to always lurk beneath the surface no matter how ‘happy’ their facades and this film explores them with biting and accurate detail as well as showing how skewed people’s perspectives can sometimes be. I also found myself digging the name Antonia and wondered why we don’t hear more women named that so…

Memo to all young couples and parents to be: Let’s get a few more  Antonias out there and a few less Ashleys. Thank You.

The Howard character played by Bill Nighy is also quite amusing. Jane meets him at an art exhibit where he displays big blown-up black and white photographs of twenty-four different naked rear-ends. The two go down the line and analyze each and every one, which in a strange way I thought was kind of interesting. I also got a kick out of the way he asks Jane out on a date.

Howard: Are you involved in a long-term monogamous mutually self-absorbed sexual relationship?

Jane: No.

Howard: Me neither.

In an effort to keep the quirkiness going the two women characters sometime do strange things that at times makes them hard to relate to and is the film’s only real weakness. For instance Antonia tells Jane that she is having an affair with Jane’s husband and Jane becomes very supportive of it and attends their wedding even though most people would probably want to kill their friend if they told them that and the unfaithful husband to boot. There is another scene where Antonia meets a stranger at a theater and goes back to his place for sex and even allows herself to get tied up during some kinky bondage games, which most viewers will consider being too reckless and putting oneself into too vulnerable a position with someone they don’t even know.

Usually films that seemed obsessed with tying everything together get overdone and annoying, but here the ironies are hilarious and become funnier as it goes along. Strangely it is the very end where the film loses it flamboyance and instead gives us a nice, simple scene of genuine human affection that leaves the strongest impact in this very offbeat and entertaining gem.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 2, 1991

Runtime: 1Hour 15Minutes

Rated R

Director: Beeban Kidron

Studio: Miramax

Available: VHS