Category Archives: Moody/Stylish

Angst (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Madman attacks peaceful family.

A serial killer (Erwin Leder) gets released from prison despite still having the urge to kill. He initially tries to strangle a female cab driver (Renate Kastelik), but she throws him out of her car before he can do it. He then goes running through the woods until he comes upon an isolated home. He breaks into it and kills each of the three family members living there one-by-one before eventually taking their lifeless bodies with him in the trunk of his car while he drives aimlessly around Austria.

This film is based on the real-life Austrian case of Werner Kniesek who murdered a family of three in their home on January 16, 1980 shortly after being released from prison. In that case Werner had known one of the victims previously while the movie its portrayed as if the killer has no connection to the occupants at all. In the actual crime Werner also killed the family’s cat where in the movie the pet is a dog, which the killer not only allows to live, but eventually befriends.

I’ve spent years complaining how most horror films aren’t very realistic, so I suppose I really can’t complain when one finally does decide to go all-in with graphic realism and not spare anything. The film certainly succeeds in being like a grisly true-life crime, but in the process it’s not very scary either. You know right from the start where it’s going, which makes the eventual violence come off as agonizingly drawn out and pointless. It’s like footage caught on a closed-circuit camera where you have no emotional bond with the people or action and when it’s over you’re left feeling drained and ambivalent.

Many people have praised the innovative camera work, which is provocative and some have even compared this to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but that film was more compelling in the way the main character was able to entice regular people to help him with his crimes while here there is virtually no dialogue or character arcs. There’s basically no story either just a graphic dramatization of a random crime that gets excessively drawn-out.

Leder is excellent and I liked how he portrays his character as being nervous, anxious and perpetually frightened as opposed to the stereotypical way of showing psychos who are robotically cold and relentlessly evil.  His voice-over narration allows for moments of insight too particularly when, as he is killing his victims, his thoughts are instead focused on past wrongs that were inflicted onto him from years ago by others, which made me believe this could very well be the thought pattern of most killers who selfishly remain fixated on their own personal injustices even as they callously destroy others.

The acting by the supporting cast is impressive too not so much from what they emote since they’re given very little to say or do, but more with the way they sacrificed  their bodies for the project particularly when the killer drags their lifeless corpses over broken glass (no mannequins or dummies were used) and down several flights of stairs. I also loved the dog and in fact he’s the highlight that allows for moments of levity and even comic relief in an otherwise unrelentingly grim film that will appeal only to a select group of people.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 2, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes, 1Hour 15Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Not Rated

Director: Gerald Kargl

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

Possession (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife goes crazy.

Mark (Sam Neill) is shocked to learn that his happy marriage isn’t so happy when his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) asks for a divorce. He hires a detective (Carl Duering) where he learns that she is living in an apartment, but she is not alone as something else resides there with her and it’s not human.

This was sadly the only English language film directed by Ukrainian born Andrzej Zulawksi who did most of his movies in Poland. This one was made in Germany in 1980 and what struck me almost immediately is that it seems like it could’ve been done just yesterday as it institutes much of the hand-held camerawork that is so prevalent in films today, but still quite rare back then. Sometimes I find this technique annoying and overdone, but here it helps build the plot’s kinetic energy and accentuates the material’s off-kilter tone.

The gifted Adjani is the main attraction particularly the drawn out scene where she becomes possessed while inside an underground subway, which has to be seen to be believed and quite frankly a landmark moment in cinema.  I also loved how the director focuses in on her expressive blue eyes where in one scene they convey a fiery evil and then quickly cuts to them exposing a pleading emotion that remains just as captivating.

Sam Neill makes the viewer feel almost exhausted as he manifests the feelings of his character to the point that he looks both physically and emotionally drained and his acting becomes indistinguishable from genuine raw emotions. I have seen him many films before, but here he’s like a different person and not connected to the man we’ve seen or known before.

There’s definitely some over-the-top moments, but what I really liked is how it never forgets about the little details either. I’ve complained before about how blood in most movies looks fake, but here it has just the right reddish hue, which looks more authentic as does the scene where Neill slaps Adjani violently. I also appreciated how the child character (Michael Hogben) is never forgotten. Too many other films dealing with a fighting couple introduce the child up front, but then he essentially disappears as it becomes all about the adults, but parenthood is a 24-hour job that parents can’t just forget about even when it’s inconvenient and this film nicely reminds both the viewer and characters of that.

The more the film went on the more convinced I became of how it could never have been made in the US as there’s too much of an emphasis on making movies ‘marketable’ and genre specific while this film defies all the preconceived formulas, which is why it’s so cool as you have absolutely no idea where it’s going and each new twist is a genuine surprise. Despite being almost 40 years old it remains fresh and inventive and far more original than 99 % of the other movies out there. It’s like a drug trip where after it’s over you feel like you’ve lived through an actual event.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 25, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours 7Minutes

Rated R

Director: Andrzej Zulawski

Studio: Gaumont

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2)

Clownhouse (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Clowns terrorize three kids.

Three brothers (Nathan Forrest Winters, Brian McHugh, Sam Rockwell) find themselves alone late one night in their big house when their parents are away on business. They try to scare each other by telling spooky stories involving clowns, but little do they know that three mental patients (Michael Jerome West, Byron Weible, David C. Reinecker) have escaped from a nearby insane asylum. They kill some men working as clowns at a local circus and then disguised as clowns themselves sneak inside the home where the boys reside and try to kill them.

This film has become better known for what went on behind-the-scenes as writer/director Victor Salva was convicted of having sex with the 12-year-old star Winters (no relation) during the production and ended up serving 15 months of his 3-year prison sentence at which point he was then released and has since gone back to filmmaking. To some extent even without having known this one could almost suspect that idea because, like in the movie Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom where the director featured a lot of underage nudity only to later be convicted of a similar charge, this filmmaker does the same thing by opening the movie with the boys walking around in their underwear and at one brief point capturing the young star’s naked behind, which was not needed and comes off as intentional voyeurism.

If you can get beyond the production’s notorious backstory then as a horror movie it’s not too bad as Salva shows a good ability at building a creepy, surreal-like atmosphere particularly the scenes done at the circus and then later at the large, ominous house. The only problem is that the setting is supposed to be a couple of weeks before Halloween even though all the leaves on the trees are green, which doesn’t exactly resemble fall.

The plot though is weak and it would’ve worked better had it not given away who these men in the clown costumes were until the very end, or maybe not at all. Having lunatic characters escape from a mental hospital is generic and it would’ve been more intriguing had the viewer suspected these clown as being a part of the child’s imagination instead.

Despite the short runtime the pace still bogs down with a premise that builds too slowly and drags out the suspense longer than need be. The mental patients behave more like professional clown performers and never even say anything once their make-up is applied, which is not believable and all the more reason for the film to have taken a surreal turn by portraying the clowns as figments of the boy’s imagination who have inexplicably come to life.

Ultimately it plays itself out too soon and lacks any type of final twist. Winters appears to be the same age as McHugh who was playing his older brother and at age 12 behaved more like a 6-year-old making me feel the the part should’ve been given to a younger performer. It is however fun seeing Sam Rockwell in his film debut and still looking very much like an adolescent.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 28, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 21Minutes

Rated R

Director: Victor Salva

Studio: Zoetrope Studios

Available: DVD

All the Colors of the Dark (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Haunted by her nightmares.

Jane (Edwige Fenech) is plagued by nightmares dealing with a blue-eyed man (Ivan Rassimov) chasing after her. She feels that the memories of the recent death of her child as well as the loss of her mother when she was younger may have something to do with it. Her sister Barbara (Susan Scott) has her see a psychiatrist (George Riguad) while her friend Mary (Marina Malfatti) suggests she attend a black mass, but neither helps and just makes things worse until she can no longer differentiate between her dreams and reality.

The film is a strong tie-in to Rosemary’s Baby and in many ways seems to be playing out the same essential plot, but doing it in a more vivid, graphic way. Instead of implying the horror like that one did this one goes straight to the stuff that was never shown or just briefly touched-on. For the most part I liked this approach as I always felt the Roman Polanski classic was too restrained and talky and could’ve gone farther cinematically with its intriguing premise than it did.

The visuals here are almost in-your-face particularly the surreal opening bit, which is the best moment in the movie. Director Sergio Martino keeps the viewer off-balance by constantly going back and forth between the present day and then to Jane’s nightmares until it becomes increasingly harder to tell the difference between them, which makes the viewer feel locked into Jane’s frightening dilemma right along with her.

Unfortunately rhe plot itself isn’t as creative and there were many times when I foresaw the twists long before they happened and could even predict when they’d come. The protagonist walks into too many traps that anyone else could’ve guessed was coming making her seem a bit dense while the cult-like mass segment had too many clichés making it campy while eroding from the rest of the film’s provocative style.

Fenech doesn’t look like the average housewife either, but more a magazine model and in fact all the women here have too much of that same appearance, which takes away from the authentic feel. Part of the reason why Rosemary’s Baby worked was because Mia Farrow came-off as fragile and vulnerable while Fenech has a detached look in her eyes that doesn’t allow her to emotionally connect with the viewer even though as the film progressed I softened on her more.

The on-going twisting of the dreams and reality eventually overstays their welcome becoming more annoying than intriguing particularly near the finish where too many false endings get played-out. Even though it never matches its first 10 minutes and isn’t as erotic as the film’s promotional poster suggests I was still glued to what was happening and it’s one of the more memorable Italian giallos of all-time.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 28, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sergio Martino

Studio: Interfilm

Available: DVD

Dead & Buried (1981)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dead people terrorize town.

Dan (James Farentino) is the sheriff of a sleepy New England town called Potter’s Bluff. Normally his days are routine but suddenly he finds himself investigating a bizarre case where a group of people murder a visiting photographer by burning him at a stake for no apparent reason. Soon other strange murders begin occurring and his peaceful little town as well as his own life gets turned upside down as neither he nor the town’s coroner (Jack Albertson) can come up with any answers especially as the dead victims start to come back to life.

The film, which was directed by Gary Sherman, starts off well as the big band era music and picturesque small town scenery makes it seem like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Sherman went to great lengths to keep every scene consistent with a gray color tone including having a giant flag hung over a cliff in order to block out the sunlight during outdoor scenes and keeping everything looking like it was under a continual foggy haze.

The story though can’t match the atmosphere and the interest level wanes pretty quickly. The dead coming back to life angle has been used too often and is no longer novel to the point that it’s now almost boring. There’s no consistent protagonist either. The sheriff eventually becomes one, but there are long breaks where the film follows other characters including a young family, who come into contact with the killers, but they’re not that interesting and it becomes difficult for the viewer to connect emotionally with anyone on the screen.

For years Dan O’Bannon was credited with creating the story and many movie posters advertised this due to his success with Alien, but O’Bannon later stated in a 1983 interview that he actually had nothing to do with the script and disown the film. Ronald Shusett apparently wrote the entire thing, but in order to get it sold he felt a big name writer needed to be attached to it, so he promised O’Bannon that they would implement some of the ideas that he had into the final revision in order to allow them to use his name on the credits, but when the film eventually came out none of O’Bannon’s suggestions had been used.

The film’s tone is yet another issue. Sherman had wanted to approach it as a dark comedy, but one of the film’s investors PSO International pushed for the gore to be emphasized more. The result is jarring as half the time it’s this quant atmospheric chiller while at other points it becomes without warning graphically gory.

Farentino is good, but Melody Patterson, who was 17 years younger than him in real-life, is miscast as his wife. Jack Albertson is the best thing in the movie. Initially I feared that his part was too small, but he comes on strong at the end, which is great and I was also happy to read that despite the fact that he was dying of cancer while the movie was being made he still remained alive long enough to attend its premiere although he had to do it while being in a wheelchair and connected to an oxygen tank.

If you’re looking for a horror movie that emphasizes atmosphere and an offbeat touch then this may hit-the-spot, but the plot needed to encompass a broader time frame as it didn’t seem believable that so much of the town’s people could be in on this secret without the sheriff becoming suspicion of things much sooner than he does. The twist ending is weak too as it’s full of loopholes and creates way more questions than it answers.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gary Sherman

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Fog (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ghostly fog haunts town.

As the town of Antonio Bay gets ready to celebrate its 100th year of existence a mysterious fog creeps into the area at midnight and then strange unexplained events begin to occur. The town’s priest Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) finds a secret diary detailing how 6 of the town’s founders intentionally sank a ship 100 years earlier. Now the ship’s ghostly victims have returned seeking revenge by insisting that 6 people from the community must die in order to make-up for the 6 that originally killed them.

John Carpenter’s follow-up to his highly successful Halloween has gained a fervent following, but in the end it really doesn’t amount to much. Maybe my expectations were too high as I had a friend who talked this up as being great, but the scares are lacking despite a good first act that nicely builds the atmosphere and has some effective visuals particularly the shots of the fog rolling in.

The interesting premise though gets ruined by having things explained too quickly. Sometimes a little mystery can go a long way and not knowing what’s causing the strange occurrences and only having it answered at the very end, or possibly not at all, would’ve made it scarier and more intriguing. The backstory makes the ghosts come off like sympathetic victims looking for justice and therefore less threatening. Instead of being this entity with no known boundaries they become logical, emotional beings that makes the scenario too contained and civilized and less intense than it could’ve been.

You wait for things to finally gel, but it never really does. The victims get attacked in a matter of seconds and the camera then quickly cuts away before any blood or violence is shown. The ghosts aren’t seen much either and amount to shadowy figures from a distance when they are with occasional glowing red eyes, but otherwise they lack visual flair.

Having three heroines was a mistake especially since Jamie Lee Curtis seems bored in her role and almost like she didn’t even want to be there. Her real-life mother Janet Leigh conveys far more energy and she could’ve easily been the star with Curtis cut out completely. The two do share a few scenes together, but frustratingly never any lines of dialogue.

Adrienne Barbeau, who at the time was Carpenter’s wife, is okay as a late night DJ working out of a lighthouse, but her over-the-air pleas to her young son Andy (Ty Mitchell) to get out of his house to escape from the ghosts came off as unintentionally funny. The simultaneous climaxes that occur at two different locations with some cast members fighting off the ghosts inside a church while Barbeau does the same inside the lighthouse doesn’t work and if anything the finale should’ve happened completely inside the lighthouse since that was a more unique setting.

The direction is competent and it’s not like this film, which was remade in 2005, is a bad one it’s just not particularly exciting or interesting. The horror needed to be amped up and the pacing quicker particularly as it got into the second act. The only moment in the film that impressed me had nothing to do with the horror, but instead was the shot showing Barbeau walking down a long, winding outside stairwell to get to the lighthouse, which was filmed on-location at the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse in Marin County, California.

 

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Carpenter

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

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

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbing his own bank.

Thomas (Steve McQueen) is a bank executive who devises what he feels is the perfect crime. He hires five men who he does not know nor do they know each other to rob his bank in broad daylight and then dump the money in a trash can at a cemetery where he retrieves it. The heist works flawlessly, but then insurance investigator Vicki (Faye Dunaway) comes on the scene and she almost immediately eyes Thomas as the culprit. The two begin a torrid affair with Vicki openly telling him her suspicions and that she’ll do whatever it takes to prove it, but Thomas has other plans.

What makes this film stand out from all the other bank robbing movies is that the heist scene was shot using a concealed camera. Only the bank officials and guards were aware that a movie was being made while the rest of the people were actual customers convinced that what was happening was real making their reactions of fear genuine. The best part of this sequence though is when director Norman Jewison has the camera put onto a dolly and glides it through the tear gas that the thieves set off.

The film is famous for its use of the split screen particularly during the opening credit sequence as well as Michel Legrand’s award winning music. Legrand wrote the score after viewing a five hour rough cut and the movie was then edited to be in tandem with the music instead of being done in reverse, which is how it’s usually done. For me the music comes off as sappy and out-of-place making it seem more like a romance when it’s really a game of cat-and-mouse and the blaring score almost gets in the way of it.

The best thing is Dunaway and I really don’t care how many face lifts she may have had, or how many years it’s been since she’s had a relevant role because she’s still a great actress and her presence here proves it. She filmed this before her breakout movie Bonnie and Clyde was released and she takes complete control of every scene she is in. Her character also works in what was still traditionally perceived as a man’s role and thus making it kind of groundbreaking. I also like that she’s never seen as weak or vulnerable in the traditional feminine sense and instead remains quite determined and focused throughout while never swaying from using her femininity as a weapon and nothing more.

McQueen unfortunately, and I can’t believe I’m saying this as he’s one of my favorite actors,  ends up being the film’s weakest link as the role goes against his rugged persona, which is what he’s good at. He had worked with Jewison before in The Cincinnati Kid and lobbied hard for the part, but Jewison rightly felt that character was not the right fit, but ultimately he relented, which was a mistake. The only time he is effective is when he’s doing his own stunts or driving on the beach in a dune buggy but otherwise he’s transparent and utterly dominated by Dunaway.

The supporting cast is good especially Jack Weston as a mope who gets hired on to partake in the robbery and then works as the clumsy catalyst that helps unravel it, but I was disappointed that his character ultimately disappears too soon and would’ve liked him to have remained for the duration. Otherwise this slick production, which was written by Alan Trustman who worked at a bank and would spend his idle time fantasizing on how to rob it, holds up well and includes the famous chess game sequence that still sizzles.

As for the 1999 remake, which changes many key plot points, I’ve never seen it nor do I have any interest to. Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo certainly make for an interesting pair, but I feel that if the original is a classic then it shouldn’t be touched and a law should be written disbarring remakes when they aren’t needed or asked for.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 19, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Day of the Locust (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Desperate people in Hollywood.

During the depression a young artist named Tod Hackett (William Atherton) comes to Hollywood to help design the set for a new movie. While there he meets a wide assortment of people, who seek fame and fortune, but find heartbreak and rejection instead. Tod falls for Faye (Karen Black) a woman striving to become the next big Hollywood starlet despite lacking any talent while her father Harry (Burgess Meredith) is on the opposite end of the spectrum. At one time he was a vaudeville comedian, but now with his failing health is relegated to selling health tonics door-to-door.

This film is the last great effort of director John Schlesinger whose films after this lacked the same visual style that made Midnight Cowboy and Far From the Madding Crowd cinematic masterpieces. From a visual standpoint it hits all the right chords and is filled with many memorable segments. The best ones include the scene where a group of bourgeoisie guests who come to Natalie Schafer’s home (she was best known for playing Mrs. Howell on ‘Gilligan’s Island’) to watch porn movies There’s also the scene where an entire film set comes crashing down and injuring the entire crew as well as the climactic moment where a large crowd waiting outside to see the premiere of The Buccaneer turn into a violent, bloodthirsty mob.

The acting is first-rate particularly Black who portrays her desperate character to a perfect tee. Meredith, who was nominated for a supporting Oscar, gives a vivid portrayal of her equally desperate father making his scenes quite entertaining. Donald Sutherland is also solid as a likable, but socially awkward outsider, which best suits his acting persona.

The script though by Waldo Salt, which is based on the 1939 novel of the same name by Nathanael West, misses out on a lot of the book’s subtext. In the movie Tod tries to rape Faye while at a party, but this eruption of his seems to come out of nowhere while in the book it gets better explained by showing how Tod continually harbors rape fantasies for Faye and makes these fantasies a running part of the story.

Donald Sutherland’s character, the aptly named Homer Simpson, which supposedly was the inspiration for Matt Groenig’s character in his famous comic strip, is a confusing enigma. In the book he is given a better backstory and revealed to be a man struggling with a lot of inner turmoil while here he’s seems more like a strange, naïve mope from another planet.

There’s also no explanation in the movie for why the word Locust is in the title, which is in reference to the Bible and the plague of locusts that descended onto the fields of Egypt. Tod symbolizes the locust in the novel’s version of the story while in the movie his character is more of an outsider observing the ugliness, but not having a hand at creating it

The biggest issue though is the film’s underperformance at the box office, which helped relegate both Black and Atherton, who at the time were considered up-and-coming stars, to supporting roles afterwards. I believe part of the reason for this is because none of the characters are likable. It’s fine showing humanity’s bad side as long as the audience doesn’t feel beaten-over-the-head with it, but the film wallows so much in the darkness that it overwhelms the viewer. Having a character that was slightly removed from the madness and not as flawed might’ve helped to balance things and make everything else that goes on more tolerable.

Overall though it’s a great film, but the statement it’s trying to make remains murky. Better efforts should’ve been made to tie it to the disillusionment of the American Dream, which is what the book does and not seemed so much like just a glimpse into a freak show of a bygone era like it ends up doing here.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 7, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 24Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Schlesinger

Studio: Paramount

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

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out 10

4-Word Review: He fails at monogamy.

Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a successful surgeon living in Prague during the 1960’s who has a way with the ladies. He enjoys his robust sex life, but then falls for the awkward and plain Tereza (Juliette Binoche) and the two get married even as Tomas continues to see other women on the side. Tereza becomes upset by this and threatens to leave him only for the two to get swept up into the events of the Prague Spring where Soviet tanks invade their country. They escape to Switzerland but Tereza is unhappy there as well and moves back to Czechoslovakia with Tomas later following. Although their living conditions under communist rule are harsh they still find that their mutual love keeps them happy anyways.

Although masterfully directed by Philip Kaufman I still found the characters to be poorly etched. Tomas’ ability to get beautiful women to literally throw themselves at him never gets properly explained. Yes he is good-looking, but there are a lot of handsome guys who aren’t able to get women to shed their clothes for them at seemingly the snap-of-the-finger. Some clear social skill or persuasive ability had to be shown and clarified to make the women’s behavior more understandable, but this never effectively gets addressed. The scene where Tereza gets ‘overpowered’ by Tomas’ aura when all he is doing is sitting at a table in a café reading a book, but it’s enough to get her to run up to him and tell him she’s available is a big stretch and makes this supposedly profound movie look like it was built on a very superficial foundation.

There’s also the question as to why Tomas would want to marry Tereza to begin with. This is a guy who can literally get any beautiful woman he wants so why settle for the dowdy/shy Tereza? What is it about her, or about his inner mind that would want to make him commit to her and not the others?

His relationship with Sabina (Lena Olin), who is his independent- minded off-again-on-again lover is far more believable and kind of made me wonder why Tereza even needed to be in the mix at all. As much as I liked Sabina I did find the storyline dealing with her budding relationship with Franz (Derek de Lint) to be rather unengaging. However the friendship that blossoms between her and Tereza as well as the underlying lesbian subtext is interesting and yet the film introduces this in a very long, drawn-out segment inside Sabina’s apartment only to then drop it without ever exploring it to its satisfying and full conclusion.

On the technical side it’s a splendid production. I particularly liked the imagery of the tanks rolling into the city and how Tomas and Tereza’s presence gets cropped into actual footage of the real-life event and how seamlessly it goes between black-and-white and color. Sven Nykvist’s cinematography is a marvel. Initially I felt his talents were wasted as the camera only captures the bleak colorless surroundings of old-town Prague, but then when the couple returns to the city after their brief foray in Switzerland the decay and grayness becomes even more pronounced and helps convey visually the depressing feeling of the communist oppression.

The film, which is based on the novel of the same name by Milan Kundera, has an interesting message, but it failed to give me as a viewer any type emotional impact. I was never able to understand what made these characters tick. This might’ve gotten better addressed in the novel, which I didn’t read, but gets lost in translation here and ends up hurting the provocative imagery that to some degree gets a bit over-the-top anyways. This could also help explain why despite being on the set as an ‘advisor’ Kundera expressed displeasure with the film version and refused to help promote it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 5, 1988

Runtime: 2Hours 53Minutes

Rated R

Director: Philip Kaufman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Bad Company (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two deserters go west.

Drew (Barry Brown) is a young man living in the south during the civil war who manages to avoid going into the army by hiding from the soldiers when they come to his family home to retrieve him. After they’ve left his mother (Jean Allison) gives him $100 and tells him to go west. When he gets to St. Joseph, Missouri he meets up with Jake (Jeff Bridges) and the two form an uneasy alliance with Drew even getting invited into Jake’s young gang (Damon Cofer, John Savage, Jerry Houser, Joshua Hill Lewis) of youthful outlaws. The six ride off into the west hoping to find adventure and opportunity, but instead meet hardship and violence.

The film’s stark tone would’ve been more compelling had there not been so many other westerns coming out at the same time with a similar theme. Instead of being this refreshing change-of-pace from the old western serial it just ends up creating new clichés from the then budding revisionist  genre. At certain points it seems almost like a carbon copy of The Culpepper Cattle Company, or even The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, which star Brown had been in just before doing this one.

The attempt to mix dry humor with harsh reality works fairly well and placing the setting amidst the sprawling wheat fields of Kansas gives it a distinctive look that is perfectly captured through the lens of cinematographer Gordon Willis although the piano score by Harvey Schmidt gets intrusive. This becomes particularly evident towards the end when the two boys get into a gun battle with a gang of outlaws and the action is choreographed to the beat of the music, which only helped to take me completely out of the story. What’s the use of spending so time creating a gritty realism if you’re just going to suddenly sell-out on it in a cheap attempt to be ‘humorous’ and ‘cute’?

The acrimonious friendship between the two leads is what I liked, but the film misses the mark by not focusing on this enough. The supporting cast wasn’t needed and the film should’ve focused solely on the two stars from the beginning making it like ‘the odd couple of the west’, which could’ve been memorable. Instead it meanders and only starts to gel by the third act, but by then it’s almost too late. I also wasn’t too crazy about the wide-open ending either, which offers no satisfying conclusion.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Benton

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube