Category Archives: Movies Based on Actual Events

Careful, He Might Hear You (1983)

careful2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Custody battle between sisters.

When his mother dies just a few days after his birth PS (Nicholas Gledhill) moves in with his Aunt Lila (Robyn Nevin) and Uncle George (Peter Whitford). There he has a happy childhood growing up in a working-class neighborhood. Then Lila’s wealthy sister Vanessa (Wendy Hughes) arrives stating she wants custody of the child on weekdays since she has more money and because PS’s absentee father (John Hargreaves) named her as co-guardian. PS doesn’t like going to Vanessa’s as she’s much more rigid and authoritarian forcing him to go to a private school filled with snotty kids and doing other things like taking piano lessons, which he doesn’t like. Vanessa also suffers from a fear of thunderstorms while Lila and George are unemployed making it hard for the judge to decide who the better guardian should be once the battle goes to court.

The film is based on the 1963 novel of the same name written by Sumner Locke Elliot who in turn based it on events of his own life after his mother died just one day after his birth. The film succeeds mainly from the sincere performance of its child star who is quite cute, at times maybe a little too cute, but then surprises the viewer in one completely unexpected moment of nastiness near the end. I also liked the way director Carl Schultz frames of the point-of-view shots where we see things from the child’s height making the adults appear foreboding and like he’s being swallowed up into their world, which is pretty much what happens.

While the film is billed as being this big court battle between two women it really comes-off like a character study of Vanessa, who gets much more screen time and a more of in-depth personality. This is good because Nevin’s character is a bit too basic and offers no real surprises though she does have an unexpected asthma attack while testifying in court, which I felt was a bit over-the-top since this was something that should’ve been introduced earlier if it was going to come into play during a pivotal moment. Hughes though is excellent. She had been only in supporting roles up to this point, mainly that of youthful girlfriend types to the main character, but here she successfully carries the film in an atypical part of a frigid woman.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s crowning achievement though is the way it takes a character, in this case Vanessa, who you really don’t like for most of the movie, and then turns her into someone you sympathize with and even feel sorry for by the end. A lot of movies don’t do this, especially the Hollywood ones where the good guys and bad guys must work within a rigid formula, so it’s refreshing seeing a film do something differently and it really works. I found myself thinking about this one long after it was over and feeling emotionally conflicted by it and it’s all because of Hughes’ ability to create a three dimensional person that doesn’t fit into any stereotype even though you initially think she can be. A highly recommended film for those who understand how difficult it can be to deal and communicate effectively with children and how one’s best efforts can sometimes backfire badly.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Schultz

Studio: Hoyts Distribution

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Hoodwink (1981)

hoodwink4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretending to be blind.

Martin (John Hargreaves) is in jail for bank robbery and with very little chance for escape he comes up with the idea of pretending to be blind, which he hopes will gain sympathy from the court and ultimately a lighter sentence. The con eventually pays off as he’s transferred to a minimum security prison with only a 3-year sentence to serve even though the Dr.’s who examine him are unable to determine if he’s faking or not and the guards within the prison believe he’s making it up and routinely set traps for him to fall into hoping it will will expose the lie. Things though get complicated when Sarah (Judy Davis), a minister’s wife, takes a liking to him, which allows him to leave the prison grounds during the day, so that he can, under her tutelage, learn to become self-sufficient with his handicap so that he’ll be prepared to live on his own in the real-world once he’s formally released. The two though fall-in-love causing her jealous husband (Dennis Miller) to threaten to come forward with Martin’s charade, which could put him in terrible jeopardy.

To some extent it’s hard to believe this could’ve happened, but it’s all based on the true story of Carl Synnerdahl, who was able to fool everyone that he couldn’t see for over 18 months while inside the Australian penal system and it allowed him, like with Martin, to be given special privileges that he wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. What perplexed me though was that testing someone’s so-called blindness should’ve been easy as you could act like you’re going to poke you’re finger into his eye real quickly and if he’d blink, or recoil his head, then you’d know he was able to see it and was a faker, and yet no one in this movie thinks to do that.

If you’re able to get past this issue, then it’s a fun movie most of the way. I liked the scenes shot at Bathurst Jail, the same prison that Synnderdahl was in, that has a very old-time jailhouse look and quality. I also enjoyed the sumptuous, sprawling countryside view from Sarah’s living room window that could beat or rival any one else’s. That acting is great too with Hargreaves able to create, despite all of his shenanigans, a sympathetic character. Davis though is the scene-stealer, she won the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Supporting Actress, as the sexually repressed wife who’s in constant flux about whether she wants to leave her situation, or stay faithful.

The drama though becomes less compelling when Martin almost immediately admits his ruse to Sarah, who then goes forward with it to her husband even though I thought him trying to pretend he was still blind with them in their house could’ve created some interesting dynamics that unfortunately never get played-out. The affair and her husband’s jealous rage is toned down instead of ramped-up causing the third act, which should’ve had a lot of fireworks, to fizzle. The couple had vast potential to being key players, but instead get treated more like ornaments that don’t throw as much of a monkey wrench into the proceedings as they should’ve, or that you’re expecting.

Spoiler Alert!

The conclusion, which is far different than what occurred in the real-life incident, has Martin stealing a car and escaping, but this leaves too many questions unanswered. Will he eventually get caught, which is most likely, and what happens to him then when the prison system finds out that they had been duped? These issues should’ve been examined and leaving it wide-open isn’t satisfying and I suspect the reason that lead to it doing poorly at the box office.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 5, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Claude Whatham

Studio: New South Wales Film Corporation

Available: DVD (Import Region 2)

Crazy Joe (1974)

crazy1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gangster’s rise and fall.

Loosely based on the real-life exploits of a New York gangster named Joe Gallo (Peter Boyle) the story centers on Joe’s rise in the underground criminal world and his challenging of Mob Boss Falco (Luther Adler) as well as Don Vittorio (Eli Wallach) the head of all crime families. When Joe and his brother’s agree to carry out a hit for Falco, but are only paid $100 each for the crime they feel rebuffed and plot revenge by storming Falco’s mansion and taking member’s of his family hostage. Through Don, who acts as an intermediary, they’re able to settle the dispute, but later Joe finds that he’s been double-crossed, which sends him to jail during a sting operation. While in prison he makes friends with Willy (Fred Williamson) an African American. The two form an uneasy alliance where he agrees to help Joe settle his score once they both get out.

With all of the gangster movies that came out during the early and mid 70’s it gets harder and harder to tell them apart, or have much in the way to say about them since they all tend to be alike with very little variation. This film is a clear example to cash-in on the Francis Ford Coppola classic by quickly producing this cheapie, which was shot in the U.S. with American actors by an Italian production company, which in essence makes it a foreign film. While the plot and action lack anything original I did find the opening sequence where they carry-out the hit by shooting a man and his cronies while inside a restaurant to be captivating. The action itself isn’t what’s interesting, but seeing the men singing and joking around inside the car, both as they drive-up to the place and then again as they leave it, to be fascinating in a disturbing sort of way where no matter how viscous the act they feel no guilt and happily go back to being their playful selves almost instantaneously.

Boyle’s performance helps a lot. He was in another film just 4 years earlier with a similar title called Joe where he played a violent right-wing extremist and he got so turned off by the fan mail he received with people telling him how much they enjoyed watching the ugly acts that his character did and said in that movie that he vowed never to appear in another violent film again and yet just a few years later that’s exactly what he did, but I’m glad. He exudes a great amount of energy and liveliness into the role and helps keep the movie entertaining to the point that it’s only interesting when he’s in it and a complete bore when he’s not. Effort is made to humanize him as it see-saws between moments where he’s killing people and then other points when he’s saving them particularly when he goes into a burning building to help some children get out.

The supporting cast is strong especially the always reliable Wallach and Williamson whose angry gaze melts right through the screen. I also really enjoyed Adler as the arrogant crime boss who feels he’s ‘all-powerful’, but physically is quite old and frail and eventually into the helpless position of being put inside an iron lung while still callously giving out all the orders and demanding full compliance. Louis Guss is equally amusing as a tough guy killer who when kidnapped immediately folds by wetting his pants and begging for his heart medication.

Unfortunately Henry Winkler, in his film debut, is not as effective as his demeanor is too refined and gentile and does not reflect the savagery of the others almost like he walked in on the completely wrong film set. Rip Torn is badly miscast as well. While the other actors appear to be genuinely Italian and speak with authentic accents Torn doesn’t. Instead he keeps his Texas draw intact, which is totally out-of-place, and while a good supporting player in other movies sticks out as a completely sore thumb here.

Ultimately though the poor production values sink it. To some extent it helps on the violent end as the killings are done in a more graphic and raw way, much like an Italian horror film, which makes it more real than The Godfather where it was handled in a lyrical fashion, but the plot has nowhere much to go. You know where it’s headed right from the start with an ending that’s completely predictable and has no impact. Doesn’t particularly help either that the film’s promotional poster gives away the final scene.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carlo Lizzani

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Available through Non-Standard DVD (Public Domain).

The Odd Angry Shot (1979)

odd3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aussie soldiers in Vietnam.

Based on the novel of the same name by William Nagle, who wrote about his actual experiences fighting in Vietnam as part of the Australian army, the story centers on a small group of Aussie men who go to a war that they feel they have no business being in. The story centers on Harry (Graham Kennedy) a bitter middle-aged man who believes his country doesn’t care whether he lives or dies, Bill (John Jarrat) who faces army life for the first time, and Rogers (Bryan Brown) who must deal with crippling injuries when he steps on a landmine as well as Bung (John Hargreaves) who goes through tremendous grief after receiving heartbreaking news in a letter from back home.

To some extent the film features a fresh take as most other movies dealing with the Vietnam War were done from the U.S. perspective and many people may not even realize that Australia had involvement in the conflict and at one point over 7,000 troops stationed there. However, the tone is confusing as it wants to be irreverent like M*A*S*H at certain intervals while at other times more like Apocalypse Now. Some of the amusing moments do work particularly the scene where the U.S. soldiers challenge the Aussies to a contest to see if a deadly spider can kill a scorpion and then having the spider take on the scorpion inside a dish pan that you get to see close-up, which is pretty cool. There’s even some weird imagery involving a dream that Bill has, which is visually arresting. While these scenes are passively entertaining they also make the story come-off as meandering and pointless. The concept may have been to show how boring the war experience can be, but this still needed to be done in a way that kept things gripping, which ultimately the film isn’t.

Having the story center around one main character would’ve prevented this. Initially it starts off like Bill is that person by showing his going-away-party with his friends and family, but then once the setting changes to Vietnam he isn’t seen much and if anything Harry becomes the main star. Observing how Bill’s perspective and personality evolved and become more hardened as the war progressed could’ve been intriguing, but the film fails to deliver. With the exception of Harry there’s not much distinction between the other men in the group, which impedes the viewer from ever becoming emotionally invested in any of them and thus less impactful overall.

The way the violence gets portrayed is interesting as it occurs at random periods without warning. The group can be having a lighthearted time one minute only to be doused with enemy fire the next, which helps recreate the reality of battle where death and destruction can be sudden and unexpected. This put me as a viewer quite on edge, but the characters never reflected that same unease, or by seeing their comrades dying, or injured changed them in any way even though I felt it should’ve.

On the technical end it effectively looks like it was shot on-location even though it really wasn’t. Dramatically though it suffers from not have a centralized character and a vague point-of-view.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 1, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tom Jeffrey

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Emerald Forest (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Amazon tribe kidnaps boy.

Bill (Powers Booth) is a hydro-electric engineer who’s designed a dam that’s being built deep in the jungle of the Amazon. One day while he’s having a picnic outside with his wife Jean (Meg Foster) and daughter Heather (Yara Vaneau) he notices his son Tommy (William Rodriguez) wandering off. He tries to catch up with him, but not before the child gets snatched away by an Indian tribe known as the Invisible People. Bill spends the next 10 years searching for him, but to no avail. Meanwhile Tommy (now played by the director’s son Charley Boorman) has grown into a man and become a full-fledged member of the tribe, but before he can marry the beautiful Kachiri (Dira Paes) he must retrieve some sacred stones in a remote spot of the jungle. It is there that he comes into contact with his father, who is still searching for him. The two bond once again and work together to escape the clutches of The Fierce People another native tribe that is violent and cannibalistic.

The film is loosely based on two true stories. The first one is an article printed in October, 1972 in the Los Angeles Times, which was read by the film’s scriptwriter Rospo Pallenberg, having to do with a Peruvian boy who had been kidnapped by an Indian tribe and when found 16 years later he didn’t want to leave as he, by that time, had become fully assimilated in it. The second one deals with the autobiographical novel from 1971 in which the author, Manuel Cordova-Rios, details his account of being kidnapped by an Amazon tribe in the early 1900’s as a boy and how he eventually grew to become a member of that tribe.

On a technical level director John Boorman achieves the same type of success that he had with Deliverance where the vivid on-location shooting makes the viewer feel fully immersed in the setting to the extent that you think you’ve physically traveled to another part of the planet. The chase sequence in which the protagonists must battle their way through a dense underbrush to escape an enemy that hides behind the foliage and that they can’t see is also quite similar to the one in Deliverance, but in many ways more exciting. The film also has a very strong masculine theme where the women are seen very little and in the case of Meg Foster get completely wasted.

My main issue is that the kidnapping segment happens too quickly and the boy’s transition into the tribe is too unrealistically seamless. I would think a kid at that age, he seemed to be around 10, would’ve been horrified about being taken away from his parents, the only family he had ever known, and yet the film glosses completely over the adjustment angle and makes it seem like it was no big deal.  The parents devastation at losing a son gets handled in the same shallow way where after the kidnapping occurs the story immediately jumps to 10 years later without every showing any of the grieving process that the family most assuredly would’ve had and in some ways unintentionally makes it seem like they were able to move-on with their lives without much problem.

The story does have its share of riveting moments, if you’re patient, with the best parts coming when the two tribes go to battle with each other, but the film unwisely straddles the fence between reality and fantasy. I don’t mind a fantasy if it’s that way all the way through, but this one tries to sneak it in at ill-advised times. The scene that got me is when Tomme goes searching for his father in the big city and even though he doesn’t know where his father lives he’s able to connect with some sort of Indian spirit that shows him a vision of his father’s condo and he uses that to find it, but that vision never gives him a specific address, so I’d think he’d remained just as lost and confused.

Spoiler Warning!

I didn’t care for the double ending either. Having the film finish after the father helps Tommy fight off the Fierce People and save the tribal women from a life of prostitution was good enough, but then tacking on Tomme again praying to his Indian spirits to create massive rain storm that damages the damn was too much. It also becomes a bit preachy with its denouncement about environmentalism making it seem more like a political propaganda piece and less like a feature film. Casting Boorman’s son Charley in the lead was a mistake too as his constant wide-eyed, deer-in-headlights expression becomes monotonous. The part was originally intended for C. Thomas Howell and while he may not be the greatest of all actors he still would’ve been a better pick here.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 3, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Boorman

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD

Fortress (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Australian schoolchildren get kidnapped.

Sally (Rachel Ward) is a school teacher working in rural Australia where she teaches in an old-fashioned one-room school house. The ten students are made up of different ages and an even mix of boys and girls. One morning while class is beginning a group of four masked men invade the building and take the children hostage. They throw them into an underground cave and then put a large boulder over the cave opening to lock them in. Sally and the students go searching through the underground caverns and manage to find another way out, but every time they think they’ve reached freedom the kidnappers always seem to be one-step ahead of them.

The film’s main selling point are the children, which at first I didn’t think would be a good idea. It can be hard to get kids, for many of them this was their first movie project, to show the necessary emotions in an effective way and while they don’t always respond to things quite the way I think a real kid would I still found their resiliency to be uplifting. I also enjoyed seeing how the older boys grew into men during the experience and watching Sally precariously balance her obligation of the being the mature, brave one while still hiding her inner emotions of fear and panic.

The location shooting takes advantage of many different Australian locales including the Buchan Caves where the action in the first act takes place. Later on we’re given exciting view of a them running through the forest late at night in an attempted escape as well as them returning to yet another cave for the climactic finish. The story manages to be reasonably tense throughout though the killers always managing to catch-up with their victims no matter where or how far they go does ultimately test the plausibility. The film’s tone is a bit off-kilter as well. Most of the time it seems to want to be a story of victim empowerment and resourcefulness, but then intermittently throws in some jarring violence, which wasn’t necessary.

Spoiler Alert!

While it’s great seeing these kids remain stoic it also seems hard to believe. After being put in the cave they find a way out where they then spot a farmhouse, which was several miles away only to ultimately realize that the kidnappers have been there waiting for them. They then great treated to a man getting gunned down before their very eyes, but manage to escape from their to yet another cave that is many miles away and again the kidnappers find them and continue their assault of terror. Normally after all this most people, especially young children, would feel overwhelmed and defeated and eventually fall into a traumatized state instead of the warrior mentality that they do. While the good guy fighting back approach may be more of an audience pleaser I wasn’t sure if this was a realistic response when given the daunting circumstances. Also, why would the bad guys not invade the cave the kids are in right away instead of staying back and giving the group ample time to create the makeshift weapons’, stuff that would take hours if not days to make,  in order to be ultimately used against the kidnappers like they are?

The Lord of the Flies – themed twist ending comes out of nowhere and seems too forced to be effective. Watching the group surround the last of the bad guys and viscously stabbing him with their weapons’ in slow motion made enough of a statement and that’s where it should’ve ended. Adding in the denouncement where the kids are back in school and have the heart of the killer placed inside a glass jar in the middle of the room was just too heavy-handed. With what they’ve been through most kids would never want to step foot in that school again and where are the parents during all of this as they’re never shown?  Having a human heart in a jar is pretty nasty and you’d think  one of the kids would’ve talked about it to others and word would ultimately get around.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The plot is loosely based on an actual event that occurred in the small town of  Faraday, Australia on October 6, 1972 when Edwin Eastwood and Robert Boland kidnapped a young teacher and her students from a remote one-room school house similar to the one depicted in the movie. However, there are many differences between the real event and what happens in the film. For one there were only 6 students and all of them were girls. They were never taken to a cave either, but instead held in the back of a van. When the kidnappers left the next morning to retrieve the ransom money the teacher, whose name was Mary Gibbs, managed to kick out the back door panel with her leather boots and escape with the children and eventually the two men were later caught.

The irony though is that’s not where the story ends as Eastwood was able to escape from jail in 1977 where he then kidnapped another group of children and their teacher, but was again caught. He then served a 16 year sentence, but was eventually paroled in 1993 and has been a free man working as a truck driver since.

Teacher Mary Gibbs and the six students who were kidnapped during the real-life incident.

The van in which Gibbs and the students were held captive.

The school house in which Mary Gibbs and her six students were taken hostage on October 6, 1972.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1985 (HBO Broadcast)

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated: TV-MA

Director: Arch Nicholson

Studio: HBO Premiere Films

Available: DVD

Speed Zone (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Another cross-country race.

A collage of wacky characters convene to a countryside inn, which will be the starting point of another illegal cross-country race known as the Cannonball Run that will have people driving their cars from Washington D.C. to Santa Monica, California in record time with the winner receiving $1 million. Many attempts have been made in the past to stop it, but to no avail. However, this time Police Chief Spiro T. Edsel (Peter Boyle) makes a commitment to stymie the race any way he can, but as usual the participants are able to complete it without much hassle.

This is the fifth attempt at making a movie dealing with the real-life race called Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash that would start on the east coast in either New York or Connecticut and finish at the  Portofino Inn in Redondo, California. The race was run 5 times during the 70’s with the last one occurring on April 1, 1979. 4 other movies had already been made on this same subject and include: The Gumball RallyCannonball!, The Cannonball Runand Cannonball Run IIWhile those films featured some exciting stunt work the comedy elements and characters were usually quite lame and cartoonish and the box office receipts, particularly for Cannonball Run II, had slowed completely after an initially good first weekend making it seem that producers would realize that this theme had run its course, but Hollywood being Hollywood stubbornly decided to resurrect the idea and even offering Burt Reynolds a big sum of money to reprise his role, but he refused.

Initially I thought this one might be a bit of an improvement as it starts out right away with a Lamborghini, driven by John Schneider, being chased down the highway by a bunch of cops, which if you’re going to do a movie like this is the way it should be done. Keep the emphasis on the action and car stunts while minimizes the comedy and dialogue. Unfortunately this unravels pretty quickly by first having the Lamborghini skip across a lake, which was proven on the Myth Busters TV-show not to be possible, and then deviates to the cartoonish characters standing around interacting with one another, which is not funny and not what people who came to watch a car race movie want to see.

Outside of Jamie Farr, who reprises his role as an Arab sheik, but is fortunately only seen at the beginning, the rest of the cast is made up of new faces not seen in any of the previous ones, but having a new set of people playing the same campy roles doesn’t help. Boyle gets listed as having a lead role, but his character really doesn’t do much and is so ineffective at impending the race you wonder why they even bothered to write-him into the script. Tim Matheson too plays a character that isn’t funny and I can only imagine that he took the part, much like the Smothers Brothers who also appear here, simply for the money, but certainly this cannot be anything they’d want to highlight on their resumes.

I did like John Candy who unlike the rest actually seems more like a real person and not just a buffoonish nut. Unfortunately he gets paired with Donna Dixon as his driving partner who speaks in an affected Brooklyn accent, which I found quite annoying. They should’ve had his SCTV-alum partner Eugene Levy ride with him as the constant bickering the two shared along with their contrasting personalities would’ve been amusing.  Alyssa Milano has a good bit as a student driver being instructed to pass all cars that are foreign made. I really liked Brooke Shields appearance too where she plays herself working as a flight attendant so she doesn’t have to settle for ‘bit parts in movies’. In fact her part is so funny it’s the only reason I’m giving this otherwise stupid dreck 2-points.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 21, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jim Drake

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS

Death in Venice (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man obsesses over boy.

Based on the Thomas Mann novel of the same name, the story centers around Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) a composer in the decline of his career and suffering from ill health. To recuperate he travels to the Grand Hotel des Bains in Venice, Italy, but finds his relaxation cut short when he becomes infatuated with Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen) a 15-year-old Polish boy who’s staying with his family. Gustav can’t seem to keep his eyes or mind off of him, but never physically approaches the teen or makes any attempt to communicate with him. While his fixation grows so does the cholera epidemic that is gripping the city, which may end up taking both of their lives.

Like with most of director Luchino Visconti’s films the pace may be too slow for some viewers, but I found it to be fascinating right from the get-go. One of the aspects that really stood out is Visconti’s ability to recreate a period atmosphere. Nothing seems stilted or rehearsed. Visconti wisely pulls the camera back and allows things to happen naturally. The people in the background don’t seem like film extras at all, but real people going about there lives that Bogarde just happens to be in. It’s also really cool that it was shot at the Grand Hotel des Bains where author Mann stayed in 1911 when the real incident that the story is based on occurred.

I liked too that Gustav does not play-out is mental fantasies and remains at a comfortable distance from the boy at all times. Too many other movies give off this impression that everyone who obsesses over somebody else immediately goes after the person they’re attracted to when in reality many don’t. For some they realize things would never work out with whoever they’re attracted to as well as the legal ramifications, or because of the fear of rejection they prefer to keep it at a fantasy level. While they may still figuratively stalk the person, or observe them intently, it never goes beyond this point. In fact the ones that do aggressively go after their target are more the exception than the rule although in the movie world you’d think the opposite was true, so it’s nice to have at least one film that takes this topic in a different direction.

The fact that its based on a true story that Mann eventually fictionalized in his novel makes it all the more interesting. According to Mann’s wife Katia in a 1974 memoir she describes how her husband kept staring at a young boy he saw at the hotel whom she described at being 13 and was portrayed in the movie as being 15, but in reality was only 11. She stated that he kept gazing at the boy the whole time and always thought about him during their vacation.

The actual source of Mann’s attraction was later discovered to be Baron Wladyslaw Moes who was on vacation with his three sisters and had no idea that he was being observed. In fact Moes only became aware that he’d been the inspiration for the book when he saw the film upon its released in 1971. The biggest irony is that Moes looked nothing like the Tadzio character in the movie as evidenced by the below photo of him (blue circle) taken in 1911 the same year as when Mann spotted him.

The biggest issue that I had was seeing Tadzio making eye contact with Gustav like he’s aware that he’s being watched. Initially when I saw this in the theaters many years ago I took this eye contact thing to being a point-of-view fantasy of Gustav, but upon second viewing it seems the intention was different. Personally I don’t like this idea because at the age of 15 I don’t believe the teen would’ve been able to handle this behavior from an older man and would’ve either confronted him about it, or told someone else. Maybe if Tadzio had been older, like in his 20’s, and use to being seen as an object then maybe, but since he was so young this would’ve been all new to him and thus making him very uncomfortable very quickly and causing him to ultimately unravel.

Andresen’s performance is rather poor to boot. There were other good looking young actors who could’ve easily played the part in a more interesting way, but apparently Visconti was looking for a very specific type of look, but Andresen  appears uncomfortable throughout and has stated in interviews that his experience on the set was not a happy one. Bogarde in turn does quite well as he’s able to create a riveting performance despite having very little dialogue.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1971

Runtime: 2 Hours 10 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Luchino Visconti

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Conflict behind enemy lines.

Based on the true story of Operation Market Garden that occurred in September, 1944.  The strategy was, in an effort to hasten the end of WWII, to have allied forces drive into Germany and lock up key bridges, which would then block any attempts at German escape, but errors in judgement and planning occurred that caused many unnecessary casualties.

At the time this was one of the most expensive films every produced, but the reaction from critics was tepid.  While the producers insisted that every attempt was made for accuracy they also admitted to taking certain liberties for logistical reasons, which ultimately did not go over well with everyone. Many friends and spouses of the soldiers depicted in the film who were still around at the time complained about what they felt was misrepresentation in regards to what really happen and threatened to sue the filmmakers for libel.

Despite some obvious flaws, which can occur in any film that is this long, I came away quite impressed and even genuinely moved by what I saw. Some of the most memorable moments for me was seeing the parachute drop of thousands of allied paratroopers onto the Netherlands. It is one thing to see old pictures of this, and there are many available, but a completely other thing to have it done via live action in living color.  Another moving scene features Robert Redford reciting a prayer out loud as he and other men maneuver a boat across a river while bombs and artillery fire blast all around them, which is so vivid it made me tense up like I was at risk of getting hit just like the other men.

Another running segment I really liked dealt with the army taking over a couple’s house that was right next to a crucial bridge by barging in unannounced and turning the place into their headquarters. So many other war movies that I’ve seen have never shown this side of battle where innocent pedestrians and homeowners can literally just lose all of their rights on-the-spot and have no recourse. Watching their home get more and more torn-up  by the army as the film progresses is both darkly comical and horrifying as is the eventual mental breakdown of the home’s family.

Many of the complaints that critics had about the movie resided around the large cast and how certain actors were miscast especially Ryan O’Neal as Brigadier General James Gavin. While I admit O’Neal is a weak actor in most cases I came away feeling he did quite well here although if you see a picture of the real Gavin the two look nothing alike. My main criticism in this area was more around the appalling amount of money that the cast made with all of them collecting a fee of $250,000 per week, which would come out to $1,157,540 in today’s dollars while Redford made $500,000 per week that came out to $2,315,000. Now I have nothing against actors making as much money as they can, but many of the parts were just walk-ons and had only a few lines, so to make that kind of money for that little of work seemed obscene, but I guess if I were one of them I wouldn’t complain either.

A much bigger problem was the extreme shifts in tone and a misguided use of music. War time flicks, especially those made in the 40’s and 50’s had a lot of music, which was fine for the period, by many post 60’s films tried to stay away from an excessive soundtrack in order to capture more of the sounds of battle and heighten the realism. This movie though seems to want it both ways having virtually no music during the first-half and then suddenly without warning bombarding the viewer with a lot of it during the second-half, which gets the viewer caught up in the natural sounds of war only to ultimately take them away from it by the end.

While the film has many serious moments it also allows some quirky comedy to seep in, which like with the music issue came-off as jarring and unnecessary. Older war movies kept things on a patriotic level, but post 60’s the trend was to be irreverent, which in movies like Catch-22, can be done brilliantly. Here though it cheapens the effect making the viewer wonder how authentic it is when trendy, modern sentiments get haphazardly thrown-in.

Overall it succeeds at showing the absurdity of war in a profoundly visual way as we see first-hand the brutal injuries and deaths of the soldiers just trying to carry out their orders while the general who came up with the bad plan that killed so many sits in his plush office far removed the destruction that he created and never forced to face the horror of his mistakes.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1977

Runtime: 2 Hours 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Attenborough

Studio: United Artists

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

Mississippi Burning (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for missing activists.

Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman) and Alan Ward (William Dafoe) are two FBI agents sent to Jessup County, Mississippi in 1964 to investigate the disappearance of three civil rights activists who had been canvassing the area trying to get the African Americans registered to vote. The two soon find that any attempts to get to the truth are stymied by the town’s sheriff (Gailard Sartain) and his deputy (Brad Dourif) who exert a fear over the residents not to say anything. However, Rupert finds a ray-of-hope in the form of the deputy’s wife (Frances McDormand) who shows signs of harboring a dark secret. Rupert feels if he can somehow get her to talk that they could then crack the case.

The film is based on the murders of James Earl Charney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who were killed on June 21, 1964 in Philadelphia, Mississippi while in the area promoting voter registration rallies.  Screenwriter Chris Gerolmo began writing the script after doing research on the incident and his intent was to keep the story as accurate as possible, but once Alan Parker was hired to direct big rewrites were made causing major friction between the two. The ultimate product, once it was eventually released, became quite controversial at the time mainly from surviving family members of the slain activists for the way the film fictionalized things.

Ultimately though I felt it was pretty well made and I was very impressed with the visual aspect that director Parker bought to it. Filmed on-location in several small towns throughout the state of Mississippi the film manages to bring to life the period in stunning detail. The only caveat being the portrayal of the white townspeople who all come-off as one-dimensional racist stereotypes. Of course we know there were bigots living there, but I suspect there had to be some that weren’t and even if the reason they didn’t come forward is because they were scared the film should’ve made an attempt to show this.

The portrayals of the two agents and the different ways they approach the case is interesting. I liked seeing Hackman in a more detached, laid-back character who isn’t as constantly intense as he usually is. Dafoe is good to with his hard-nosed, by-the-books mentality, but we learn absolutely nothing about their private lives especially Dafoe’s which makes him less interesting as we only see him in one type of setting. I thought it was a bit weird too that Dafoe, who in real-life was 25 years younger than Hackman, got cast in the role of Joseph Sullivan, who was the real-life FBI agent that he was portraying in the film, as Sullivan was in reality 9 years older than John Proctor whom Hackman portrayed.

Spoiler Alert!

Using Mrs. Pell, the deputy’s wife, played by McDormand, as the tipster that let the agents know where the dead bodies were buried, was creative license that the screenwriter used since at the time the identity of the real tipster, then known only as ‘Mr. X.’ was a mystery. Eventually in 2004 it was revealed to be that of Maynard King, a highway patrolman. Using the deputies wife in place of the patrolman was okay, but it becomes too obvious that she’ll eventually squeal since it’s made to look like she’s the only non-racist person in the town and thus signaling upfront that she’ll do the conscientious thing. It would’ve been more intriguing as she been a bigot and then to everyone’s shock ultimately reveal the secret anyways for whatever reason.

Having her husband bring home a group of men to observe him beating her when they become aware that she’s told the agents the victim’s whereabouts to me didn’t ring true. I would think any husband, even the abusive kind, would want to keep the couple’s arguments private and not let the whole world in on it. If he loved her even a little I would think he’d give her a chance to explain herself before her tore in on her, but bringing along friends to witness the event rarely occurs even in the most abusive of relationships. Even if it was done to protect his reputation (making sure the other racist townspeople knew he had nothing to do with his wife’s betrayal) I think he’d still have them stand outside the home while he beat his wife and not like it’s done here.

I was glad at least that upon Hackman’s urging a scene featuring him sleeping with McDormand was left on the cutting room floor. A law enforcement agent sleeping with a potential witness is highly unethical even if Hollywood movies do it all the time. Hackman should not have to sleep with her to get her to do the right thing nor does a budding friendship between a man and woman, especially if one of them is married, necessarily always have to automatically lead to sex because many times in reality it won’t.

The film’s second act is also problematic as it sets up the premise, agents looking for missing activists in a racist southern town, and then goes nowhere with it. No new wrinkles get entered in and too many ugly racial confrontations get shown until it becomes almost too depressing to watch. We understand up front the injustice that is going on and don’t need this to constantly get repeated like it does.

The ending scene has the whites now standing side-by-side with the blacks in unity, which is nice to see, but a bit over-the-top dramatically. Where were these open-minded white folks at the beginning, or are we to accept that this one incident as now ‘cured’ the town of it’s racist behavior and moving forward everyone will now hold hands and sing Kumbaya?

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 2, 1998

Runtime: 2 Hours 8 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video