Category Archives: Movies Based on Actual Events

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

Heartburn (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Husband cheats on wife.

Rachel (Meryl Streep) writes for a magazine as a New York food critic and meets Mark (Jack Nicholson) at a wedding that they both attend. Mark is a political columnist who’s known around Washington for being quite a ladies man, but the two get into a relationship anyways and then eventually despite their reluctance married. Things go smoothly for a while and Rachel even starts to think that she has a ‘perfect marriage’, but then as she is about to give birth to their second child she realizes that he has been having an affair.

The film is based on Nora Ephron’s autobiographical novel dealing with her marriage and subsequent divorce to newspaper reporter Carl Bernstein. The book starts out with her ready to give birth to the second child, but the movie unfortunately takes a more linear approach to the narrative as it plods along through the initial courtship and wedding even though the red flags are clearly there and the viewer knows exactly where it’s going. The story would’ve worked better had it started at the 50-minute mark where Rachel finds out about the affair and then through brief flashbacks shown how the relationship began, which would’ve cut the runtime, which is too long for such slight material anyways, and helped make the proceedings seem just a little less predictable.

A lot of the humor doesn’t work either. The sequence involving the wedding ceremony and Rachel not sure if she wanted to go through with it which keeps the guests there for hours gets botched because I don’t believe the people would’ve remained sitting there for so long. When she finally does decide to proceed with the wedding the guests all look strangely refreshed when in reality most if not all would’ve been long gone and it would’ve been funnier to see them getting married inside an empty room save for one bored wedding guest who remained there simply because it couldn’t find a ride home.

The dream-like segments where an Alistar Cooke-like character talks about Rachel’s marriage problems while hosting a TV-show is too surreal and should’ve been excised because doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film, which is more reality based. The segment where Rachel finds out that Mark is having an affair and then it cuts to a shot of her holding a pie that she is taking to a dinner party is too obvious as the viewer immediately gets a strong sense that the pie will eventually be going onto Mark’s face and when it finally does it’s not funny, but anti-climactic instead.

The script fails to add any new insight into an already tired subject and the characters aren’t likable as they have too much of an elitist coastal feel about them and their lifestyles won’t resonate or connect with anyone living in another part of the country. There are just too many people in this whose only concern or form of entertainment is having catty gossip/conversations dealing with who’s cheating on whom, which quickly becomes derivative.

Streep and Nicholson are good and its interesting seeing them play together here as they also starred together just a year later in Ironweed playing two diametrically different people. Unfortunately Jack, who is for the most part quite likable, doesn’t look or behave at all like the real-life Bernstein, which his character is supposedly loosely based on. Dustin Hoffman, who had already played Bernstein in All the President’s Men was the first choice for the role and he would’ve been perfect, but for whatever reason he turned it down.

Ultimately though the film’s biggest drawback is simply Rachel herself as she frets and nitpicks about everything and her anxiety-ridden ways would most likely annoy any man, which makes the ultimate affair when it finally does happen seem inevitable and not a shock at all. When she ponders to Mark about if they should get married and she tells him that she fears she’ll drive him crazy and Mark replies ‘you already are’ I felt like saying ‘she’s driving the viewer that way too.’.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mike Nichols

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Footloose (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A town bans dancing.

Ren (Kevin Bacon) is a teenager from Chicago who moves with his mother (Francis Lee McCain) to a small town in Utah where he finds that dancing has been banned by the town’s fiery minister (John Lithgow). He becomes determined to try and change that and convinces the other kids including his new found friend Willard (Chris Penn) that dancing really isn’t all that bad. He also falls for the minister’s daughter Ariel (Lori Singer) who is far more liberated than you’d expect someone from a religious upbringing to be.

I remember when this film came out and I intentionally refused to see it as I felt that the plot was too absurd to be believable. I was born and raised in a small Midwestern town of about 7,000 people and the idea that some lone minister could overtake it and start making extreme rules that everyone would follow especially in the modern era of the 80’s is just not realistic. If the town was really small and isolated with a population of like 200 then maybe but the one portrayed in the film comes off as being fairly big and was filmed mostly in American Fork, Utah, which in the 1980 census had a population of 13,606. Having a scene dealing with a literal book burning makes the thing even campier and made me believe this would’ve worked better had the setting been the 1950’s.

There is also no explanation to what the penalty would be if one is caught dancing. Everyone acts like it would mean jail time or something like that when most likely it would just be a small fine and since when have teens ever been that compliant when it comes to rules? There are several scenes where they are seen with joints, so if they’re willing to fudge the law in that respect then why not do it with the dancing too?

The concept is loosely based on an actual incident that occurred in Elmore City, Oklahoma in 1978 where the local teens challenged a city ordinance that banned dancing. However, the incident there made more sense because it was an ordinance that had been on the books for over 90 years. Many cities and towns have old ordinances and laws that are no longer relevant, or followed, but just haven’t been officially removed as opposed to some minister coming into a town and implementing a new law that everyone is forced to comply with. The town was also much smaller (population of only 653 in 1970) than the one portrayed in the movie, so religious sentiment would be more able to oppress the rest of its citizens.

The drama for the most part is limp and does not justify its runtime as there are long segments that have nothing to do with the main story including cringe worthy scenes where we watch Singer dangerously trying to leap between two moving cars and a game of chicken between tractors with Bacon and another teen driving them. There’s also a B-storyline dealing with Bacon trying to teach Penn how to dance, which gets corny.

The most annoying aspect though for me was Singer’s character as she doesn’t seem like a minister’s kid at all. She behaves in too much of a free-spirited way and I would think someone raised in such a repressed environment would reflect some religious traits and yet Singer conveys none. Having her religious at the start and even opposed to dancing and then become tolerant to it after she meets Bacon would’ve created an interesting character arch. Also, if she behaved in a cult-like manner due to her strict upbringing then it would’ve made the minister character more menacing because the viewer would be made to feel that was what he wanted to turn the rest of the town into.

Lithgow is a great actor, but he’s not right for this type of part as he is too young and was only 12 years older than Singer who played his daughter. A much older actor would’ve better illustrated how the older generation was desperately trying to cling onto their old way of life in an ever changing world and how completely detached they were from modern teens. Also, the character here doesn’t seem threatening enough as he is unable to control his own daughter so then how is he expected to control the rest of the town?

The opening bit done over the credits showing the different types of dancing feet is the best thing in the movie although some may take a liking to Bacon’s dancing inside an abandoned warehouse although much of that was done with the help of body doubles.  Otherwise this empty-headed movie, which was remade in 2011, has very little to recommend.

I did want to mention too that recently there was an 80’s podcast that I listened to where they reviewed this movie and one of the critics complained that the town had only white kids and acted like somehow that was not politically correct, but having grown up in a small town during the 70’s and 80’s I can vouch for the fact that there were little if any minorities there and therefore having an all-white cast, whether it is politically correct or not, was realistic.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 17, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Paramount

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

The Delta Force (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Elite operation rescues crew.

Based on the real-life hijacking of TWA flight 847, which occurred on June 14, 1985, the story centers on a Boeing 707, which gets hijacked by a terrorist group lead by Abdul (Robert Forster).  The terrorists take over the plane and force it to fly to Beirut, Lebanon where they then separate the Jewish passengers and those that were in the Marines from the others. These hostages are then transported to a prison cell in Beirut while twelve other terrorists come on board. Major Scott McCoy (Chuck Norris) and Colonel Nick Alexander (Lee Marvin) head the Delta Force team assigned to rescue the remaining passengers on board while killing off the terrorists.

The film was directed by Menahem  Golan who headed the Cannon Production Company which was notorious for producing a lot of cheap, cheesy, grade-B action flicks during the ‘80s and initially I was fearing the worst although this one is surprisingly tolerable and adequately funded. The opening scenes inside the plane prove to be moderately intense with Hanna Schygulla a stand-out as the brave stewardess.

The second act though veers off in too many directions with the hostages essentially becoming forgotten as it then focuses more on the elite squad of soldiers, which dilutes the narrative too much. Eventually they’re just too many characters to keep track of and too many scenarios that occur outside of the airplane until it becomes confusing and overreaching. A good film should stick to only a few main characters that the viewer can connect with and keeping them in the majority of the scenes, but this thing takes on more than it can chew making the viewer feel detached from what is going on the more it progresses.

The third act gets filled with a lot of over-the-top actions segments that looks like it was taken straight out of a comic book and diminishes the realism that had come before it. Norris shows no screen presence at all and only comes alive when he is doing an action stunt while Marvin, who was much older and not in the best of health during the production, shows much more onscreen energy. It almost seemed like it would’ve been better had Norris not been in it at all especially with the way the film tries to portray him as being this mystical, super human figure that borders on being corny.

The music is geared for an American propaganda film and the film’s mindset is that the US is always the good guy in no matter what foreign mission or policy it takes on. It also conveys the idea that might equals right while the proportion of terrorists who are killed, which is essentially all of them, compared to only one American soldier seemed way off-kilter.

Forster gives an outstanding performance as the villain as he literally disappears into role while conveying a foreign accent that seemed so genuine I almost thought his voice had been dubbed. The terrorists are portrayed as being just as nervous as the hostages if not more so, while at certain random moments showing a surprisingly human side, which is well done, but unfortunately everything else here is formulaic and fraught with too much of an emotional appeal.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 14, 1986

Runtime: 2Hours 9Minutes

Rated R

Director: Menahem Golan

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

“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

The Todd Killings (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pied Piper of Tucson.

Skipper Todd (Robert F. Lyons) is a 23-year-old man who hangs around his local high school and dates many of the teen girls who are mesmerized by his ‘rebel image’. He has no ambitions to work and instead sponges off of his mother (Barbara Bel Geddes) who runs a nursing home while he also dreams of one day becoming a rock star. For kicks he convinces some of his friends to get in with him on murdering a 15-year-old girl just so he can see ‘what it feels like to kill someone’ and they oblige, but then the fear that the others might turn on him causes him to murder even more people.

The plot is based on the true story of Charles Schmid, who like the character here hung around a local high school in Tucson, Arizona dating many of the teens there before murdering 15-year-old Aileen Rowe as a ‘thrill-kill’ on the night of May 31, 1964. However, the film does not touch on the extreme eccentricities of Schmid including the fact that he wore cowboy boots filled with flattened cans in an attempt to make him appear taller (and explained the resulting limp as simply a product of getting shot at by the mafia). He also wore make-up to make his nose seem larger, created a large mole on his face so he’d appear more intimidating and even stretched his lower lip with a clothes pin so he would resemble Elvis Presley.

The film though shows none of this and instead tones the character down to the point that he becomes boring. Not only does Lyons look nowhere near as scary as Schmid did, but he plays the part like he was just some lonely kid looking for attention giving the viewer no sense of the allure that he had over the teen girls who flocked around him. Instead of being bigger-than-life the central character becomes flat and forgettable, which is hardly the right ingredient for a riveting drama or thriller.

The murders are not shown, so the viewer doesn’t get a true sense of the horror that went on. The scene where he strangles his girlfriend by gently placing his hands around her neck, which lasts for less than 3 seconds before she falls softly down dead is a perfect example of how overly restrained the whole thing is. The real-life events were shocking, so why create a sanitized film about it when if anything it should’ve been played-up.

The film also begins with the first murder having already occurred, so we get no insight about how he was able to convince his friends to kill the girl. The way he was able to get these otherwise seemingly good kids to do nasty things for him is the most frightening aspect of the case and yet the film glosses over this like it’s no big deal.

Richard Thomas gives a strong supporting performance as Billy Roy who befriends Lyons initially only to eventually turn-on-him. Belinda Montgomery seems quite sincere as his Lyons’ frightened girlfriend and I enjoyed Bel Geddes and Gloria Grahame as the two mothers, but the film’s tepid approach creates a movie that leaves no lasting impression at all.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 20, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Barry Shear

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)

9 1/2 Weeks (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A sexually charged relationship.

Elizabeth (Kim Basinger), a curator at a New York art gallery and recently divorced, meets John (Mickey Rorke) one day while shopping at a seafood place. Elizabeth is turned-on by John’s mysterious aura and they commence into having a torrid sexual affair that turns kinky, but eventually she becomes burnt-out by it and finds that besides the sex there is very little that they have in common.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Ingeborg Day under the pseudonym of Elizabeth MacNeil, which in turn was based on actual events that occurred to her when she was kept a virtual prisoner in her lover’s home for a period of two and a half months. The movie tones down the prisoner aspect and concentrates more on the erotic one, but the result is a confusing story that meanders without saying much of anything. The film was shelved for over two years because it kept getting bad responses from test audiences and constantly sent back to the studio for re-editing. When it was finally released it bombed badly at the box office.

The sexual aspect is tame and in these jaded times may even be considered laughable. The kink relies mainly on the use of blind folds and food items with the sex done from a feminine viewpoint that might arouse women, but unlikely to do the same for a man. The sexual games, as tepid as they are, get portrayed as being empowering to Elizabeth and something that allows her to release her ‘inner freak’, but I kept wondering what was John supposed to be getting out of all of this while she cavorts around naked or sucks provocatively on various food items. Maybe he was a voyeur that simply enjoyed watching and if so then it should’ve been made clearer because he comes off as nothing more than a transparent bystander otherwise.

We learn nothing about Elizabeth as the film progresses and her constantly giggly, screechy behavior makes her seem more like an immature schoolgirl and not a sophisticated, educated Manhattanite in her mid-30’s. She’s also too passive and easily manipulated without any reason given for why this is. Basinger’s performance is dull with a stunt double used during most of the sex scenes. Margaret Whitton who plays her best friend would’ve been far better in Basinger’s role because at least she shows some spunk and seemed genuinely human while Basinger is more like a zombie.

For a film with such strong erotic overtones there is surprisingly very little of it to see. The sex scenes show up in bits and pieces and then last for only a few minutes. In-between there’s long meandering segments that has nothing to do with the central theme and isn’t particularly interesting. The most memorable moment involves a conversation between Rourke and a bedding saleswoman (Justine Johnston) and even here things get botched because in one shot Rourke inadvertently knocks a vase off of a back shelf when he hops onto a bed in a showroom and then in the very next shot that same vase has magically gotten placed back.

I enjoyed the way director Adrian Lyne frames his shots as well as his color compositions and the provocative concept has a tantalizing quality, but Lyne seems confused about exactly what kind of message he wants to make with it and I think he was hoping that it would somehow manifest itself as the film progressed, but it never does. Bitter Moon, a film that came out 6 years later and had roughly the same idea, is far more impactful and worth your time in seeking out.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 21, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Adrian Lyne

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Agatha (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Agatha Christie runs away.

Despondent over her husband’s affair famous British novelist Agatha Christie (Vanessa Redgrave) decides to go away for a while to collect her thoughts. She then gets into a car accident while on the road and having her car disabled she first takes a train and then a cab to the Old Swain Hotel where she registers there under an assumed name. The police find her disabled car and fear that Agatha may have drowned in a nearby lake, been kidnapped, murdered by her husband Archie (Timothy Dalton) or committed suicide. A nationwide search begins that encompasses thousands of volunteers that scour the nearby countryside for clues. Meanwhile American reporter Wally Stanton (Dustin Hoffman), working off of  a tip from Agatha’s secretary, decides to check into the same hotel and begins following Agatha around where he keeps notes on everything she does while also falling in love with her in the process.

The film is loosely based on Agatha Christie’s real-life 11-day disappearance that occurred in 1926. No explanation was ever given for the reason nor was it even mentioned in her autobiography. Had there been some actual research about what might’ve transpired during those 11-days then this would be worth a look, but, as the film plainly states at the beginning, it is simply an ‘imaginary solution to an authentic mystery’, so then what’s the point?

Most likely it was nothing more than a woman looking to escape to some quiet location for a short respite that unfortunately due to the press getting wind of it, spiraled quickly out-of-control. The film’s low point comes in the side-story dealing with Agatha’s attempts to kill herself through a jolt of electricity from sitting in a Bergonic chair, but is saved at the last second by Wally who grabs her from the chair just as she’s shocked. Yet as he lays her limp body on the floor he doesn’t perform CPR, but instead shouts at her to ‘breath’ several times and despite no scientific study proving that this ‘technique’ can actually work she still miraculously begins breathing again anyways.

I have never read a biography on Christie, so I have no idea what her real personality was like, but the film portrays her as being a complete wallflower lacking any type of confidence and so painfully shy it’s pathetic. The character is so transparent it’s almost like she’s not even there. Hoffman’s character was completely made-up and the way he chain smokes reminded me too much of the character that he had played in Midnight Cowboy. His growing ‘love’ for her and the way he later expresses it is extremely forced and corny. Also, why is Hoffman given top billing when the main subject is Agatha?

Johnny Mandel’s soothing score is the best thing. I also liked the shot of the thousands of volunteers searching for her along the vast countryside, but everything else about the movie gets either under cooked or overbaked. The scene where Agatha tries to do a triple bank shot while playing pool gets badly botched. We initially see it captured from above where the entire pool table is in view. The pool ball banks off the side and rolls towards the corner pocket, but then it slows up and it becomes clear that it won’t make it to the pocket, so director Michael Apted cheats by cutting to a close-up of the ball and having it magically regain speed, which easily makes it into the corner pocket. The attempt was to ‘trick’ the viewer into believing that this was a continuation of the same shot but any halfway savvy person will realize this close-up was shot later and edited in.

The film’s poster tells us that ‘What may have happened during the next 11 days is far more suspenseful than anything she ever wrote’, but it really isn’t and in fact it’s not even close. The original intent by screenwriter Kathleen Tynan was to make this into a documentary after researching the true facts of the case, which would’ve been far better than the flimsy fanciful thing we get here.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Apted

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Right Stuff (1983)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The American space program.

Based on the 1979 best-selling novel by Tom Wolfe, the film explores the history of the American space program starting in 1947 when test pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepherd) successfully broke the sound barrier and then moving into the selection and training of the men who would lead the exploration into space culminating with John Glenn’s historic orbiting flight of the earth on February 20, 1962.

The film was a darling of the critics, but did poorly at the box office and I suspect this is due mainly to over reliance on comedy that eventually becomes off-putting. When doing a film dealing with historical events I don’t mind some comedy as real-life can always have its fair share of funny moments, but writer/director Philip Kaufman becomes obsessed with squeezing every ounce of humor that he can from each and every scene, sometimes even going off on tangents with it, until it seems like that’s more of the film’s focus. At the start there’s an okay blend, but then it gets out-of-control wacky, which creates a surreal world that seems to mock the events instead of tell them. The viewer also has to question whether the filmmaker’s, in their zeal to get a laugh in any way that they can, are really showing us something that is accurate or whether that was even a concern.

There’s also too many characters and they all possess the same clichéd all-American-fearless-good-ole’-boy charm that makes them indistinguishable from the other. The film should’ve had only one central character that the rest of the story revolved around. Supposedly the Chuck Yeager character (the actual Chuck Yeager appears briefly as a bartender) was supposed to do this by having him reappear throughout, but he is gone for so much of the time that you essentially forget about him.

This also becomes a problem when dealing with the story thread of Gus Grissom (Fred Ward) who supposedly ‘panics’ when his spacecraft splashes down. Because we never really get to know any of these characters on any deep level we have no clue why he behaves the way that he does. The scene where he supposedly explodes the hatch’s bolts, which in turn sinks the craft is disputed in its accuracy anyways, but it hurts the film’s pace either way. Spending virtually three hours being comical and then throwing in a highly dramatic element almost out of nowhere is jarring and then just as frustratingly it drops it without any suitable conclusion or exploration as to what might’ve really happened or why.

The production values are excellent, which is why I couldn’t hate it, but the movie also has tendency to one-up itself with each and every progressing scene and thus making John Glenn’s orbiting flight, which should’ve been the film’s highpoint, get lost in the shuffle. There’s also too much of a flag-waiving mentality that almost resembles a government produced propaganda film and helps give the movie an overblown, overreaching feeling when it’s over.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 21, 1983

Runtime: 3Hours 13Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Philip Kaufman

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

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