Category Archives: Movies Based on Novels

Some Kind of Hero (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Soldier returns from Vietnam.

Eddie (Richard Pryor), who spent years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, finally returns home, but finds that things have passed him by while he was gone. His wife (Lynne Moody) has fallen in love with another man and his mother (Olivia Cole) is in a nursing facility after having suffered a stroke. Because he was forced to sign a ‘confession’ to war crimes while under duress at the prison camp the army decides to withhold his veteran’s benefits and having no other source of income he decides to rob a bank, but things don’t go as planned.

The film, which is based on the book of the same name by James Kirkwood Jr., was meant to be a drama, but when Pryor signed on it was rewritten with comedy scenes added. Initially I thought Pryor wouldn’t be a good choice for the part as he is so well known as a funnyman, but it is actually his strong performance that helps carry the film through its rough spots.

The story starts out strong and despite having so many other movies that came out during that period that dealt with the same topic it is still quite gripping and revealing. The scenes dealing with Pryors’ incarceration and the harsh realities that he faces afterwards in civilian life all ring true and helps to make this an excellent movie for the first 45 minutes.

The film though starts to lose its footing with the introduction of Margot Kidder’s character. She plays a high-priced call girl who decides to go to bed with Pryor without charging him any money, but why? A sex worker isn’t going to make much of a living if she sleeps with guys for free and then getting into a relationship with him afterwards is even more farfetched. What’s so special about this guy that she falls in love with him compared to all the other men that she has already met through her line of work? Things get even dumber when Pryor insults her during an argument while visiting her apartment, but instead of throwing him out she leaves while saying she hopes he’ll ‘be gone’ when she gets back, but how can she trust he’ll not angrily tear up the place while she’s away? If it’s her apartment she should be in control and not the one who goes running.

Pryor’s character is confusing too. He becomes extremely nervous about robbing a bank to the point that he pees in his pants, but you would presume being a veteran and having seen the horrors of war he would find bank robbing to be not as tough. He also manages while bartering with some hardened gangsters to find the tenacity to turn them down when they give him a lowball monetary offer on some bank bonds that he has stolen, but how does he find the ability to be brazen in that situation, which many people would find equally intimidating, but not the other?

Also, Olivia Cole looks too young to be playing his stroke-victim mother and in fact was Pryor’s exact same age. I was expecting to see an old, withered woman with gray hair, but instead we get shown a black-haired woman looking around 40. Certainly there had to have been an older African American actresses available that would’ve been more age appropriate, so why not cast them?

Spoiler Alert!

What really kills it though is the ending where Pryor steals a briefcase full of bonds and uses that to get a large sum of money. Tacking-on such a fanciful-like ending where he is able to pull off a robbery that had long odds of succeeding minimizes all of the real world issues that came before it. Having a film start off by exploring realistic issues only to write-it-all-off with a ‘feel-good’ ending discredits the subject matter by taking a complex problem and then ‘solving it’ with a very unrealistic solution.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 2, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Pressman

Studio: Paramount

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

The Deep (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Couple finds sunken treasure.

David (Nick Nolte) and Gail (Jacqueline Bisset) are a couple scuba diving off the Bermuda coast when they come upon a shipwreck and some artifacts left from it. They meet with treasure hunter Romer (Robert Shaw) who tells them it is a part of a Spanish treasure and works with them to try to unearth the rest of it. Problems arise when a shipwreck from World War II, the Goliath that had carried a cargo of medicinal morphine rests right next to it. To get at the Spanish shipwreck they must also go through the Goliath. Cloche (Louis Gossett Jr.), a local drug kingpin, wants to get his hands on the morphine, which could be worth a tidy sum of money and he tries to scare away Romer and the couple from continuing their diving activities, so Romer makes a deal with Cloche, but it backfires and turns the expedition into an intriguing game of underwater double-cross.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, who because of the success of his first novel Jaws, was given an almost immediate green light to turn this book into a movie. The inspiration for the story was based on the real-life shipwreck of the Constellation, which occurred off the coast of Bermuda in 1942. Great effort was put into the underwater footage, which lasted for 153 days and consisted of 8,895 dives.

Unfortunately despite the title and underwater storyline the film lacks depth where it counts, which is with the characters. The movie starts out immediately with the couple scuba diving and finding the treasure before we have any idea who these people are or why they are even there and no suitable backstory is ever given, which makes them come off as bland people lacking any real distinction and that you care little about. Character development is still an integral part of moviemaking and the main ingredient that gets the viewer hooked into a story and yet this film completely lacks it.

I’ll give credit to both Nolte and Bisset for doing their own diving and Nolte looks great with his bleach blonde hair almost like he’s a surfer dude, but his presence really wasn’t needed. Bisset, despite the extreme limitations of the weak script, still gives a far better performance and I felt she could’ve easily carried the film without him and I’m not just saying that because she looks great in her skimpy underwater gear, which was purportedly the whole reason why this film did well at the box office. Sure she’s beautiful, but she’s also quite talented.

Shaw should’ve added an extra boost in support, but he doesn’t. Normally his strong personality literally eats up the screen in any movie that he is in, but he’s stifled by the benign characterization and unable to rise above it. In retrospect he should’ve never have accepted the part until he had actually read the script, but because he was offered $625,000 plus a percentage of the profits, he took the role before the script was even written and hence the whole problem.

Gossett is weak as the bad guy and is not seen enough to create any genuine feeling of menace. The segment where he and his cronies try to ‘terrorize’ Bisset by performing some very clichéd type of black magic voodoo on her is almost laughable. The only actor that is actually good here is Eli Wallach and it is a testament to his superior thespian abilities that even though he was straddled with a pointless, bit role he was still able to own every scene that he is in anyways.

The film’s only interesting moment, which apparently took 1,080 hours to shoot, is when a pack of grey sharks converge for an eating frenzy and get tangled up in the air hoses of the crew, but even this becomes unintentionally funny because every time one of the sharks move an air hose the crew is forced to suddenly jump up in the water making them look quite literally like a puppet on a string.

The script desperately needed some added element as the concept is too basic and one-dimensional.  Watching one dull group of people trying to get at a treasure while another equally dull group of people try to stop them does not make for a riveting cinematic experience.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1977

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

Jaws (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shark in the water.

A young woman (Susan Backlinie) goes out for a swim late one night only to have her severed hand wash up on shore the next day, which causes the Amity Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) to fear that her death may have been caused by a shark. Amity mayor Larry Vaughan (Murray Hamilton) doesn’t want his town to risk losing business, so he has his coroner deny that a shark was responsible and hence the beach remains open, but then more attacks occur. Eventually an eccentric shark hunter named Quint (Robert Shaw), Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) from the Oceanographic Institute and Brody head out on a small fishing vessel called Orca to locate the shark and then kill it, but they find the underwater beast to be far bigger and more cunning than they had ever imagined.

With its exceptional ability to slowly build tension and keep the viewer riveted from the first frame to the last easily makes this the quintessential thriller. John Williams’s legendary score adds to the murky ambience and in many ways is more memorable than the shark itself. Director Steven Spielberg wisely adds a secondary layer to the narrative by creating colorful and distinctive characters, most notably Quint, who gives the proceedings a flavorful nuance and makes the conversations and interactions that occur between the three inside the boat more interesting than what happens in the water.

The most amazing thing though is how little the shark is actually seen and in fact you don’t even get a glimpse of him until about an hour in. Part of this was due to the difficulty of getting the mechanical creation to perform properly in salt water, but in the end this became a blessing in disguise as it’s the mystery and allusion to its large size that makes it so riveting. The viewer feels as helpless and confused as the men on the boat, which makes the climactic sequence when the shark suddenly does jump onto the boat all that more impactful.

Spoiler Alert!

The film though does deviate heavily from the Peter Benchley source novel and a legitimate argument can be made as to which one presents the story better. In the book the tone is darker and the characters less likable. For me this makes it more intriguing from a psychological bent as it conveys the idea that humans are like the shark that they hunt as they both selfishly devour everything around them. Spielberg though didn’t care for this interpretation so the novel’s darker subtext gets erased, but it still made me intrigued, as much of a classic as this movie is, to see a reboot where the narrative stayed more faithful.

Some of the book’s subplots got too involved particularly the one dealing with the mayor’s connections to the criminal underworld, so I’m glad that one got toned down.  However I felt the one though dealing with Hooper’s affair with Brody’s wife (Lorraine Gary) should’ve been left in as it would’ve added extra tensions between the two while on the boat while also seeing how people can learn to work together even when they hate each other.

In the book Hooper dies when the shark attacks the cage that he is in while in the movie he is able to escape and somehow hide from the shark. This though seemed unrealistic as sharks have special sensing organs known as electroreceptors that allow them to detect the electromagnetic field emitted from a moving animal or at close range even the heartbeat of an immobile one, which means the shark most likely would’ve figured out where Hooper was hiding and gotten him.

In the book the shark dies from its many wounds just as it gets a few feet from Brody while in the movie it’s killed when the scuba tank that it has in its mouth explodes when hit by a bullet, but a 2003 episode of Mythbusters proves that in reality this wouldn’t have happened. My main beef though is that by having the shark literally blow-up into little pieces it denies the viewer the chance at seeing what the beast looked like as a whole. Supposedly this was one giant of a shark, so viewing it strung up at the end would’ve been a cool thing to have seen.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Despite these many differences the film still works splendidly and I don’t mean to imply that it doesn’t, but I would still suggest reading the book afterwards as it gives the story and characters an added dimension.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steven Spielberg

Studio: Universal

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

92 in the Shade (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rival fishing boat captains.

Tom (Peter Fonda), a lifelong drifter, moves back to his hometown of Key West, Florida where he hopes to start up his own charter boat business. However, Nick (Warren Oates) already owns one and not happy about having competition. He along with his friend Carter (Harry Dean Stanton) decide to play a cruel practical joke on Tom, who in an effort to get some revenge, destroys Nick’s boat, which sets off a warring rivalry.

Thomas McGuane was lucky enough to get to direct his own novel despite having no experience behind the camera yet frittered it all away with wild parties as well as an affair with the film’s co-star Elizabeth Ashley despite being engaged to Margo Kidder who was also cast in the movie and which set off quite a few fireworks behind-the-scenes. On a technical level I loved the way the working class/old town side of Key West gets captured along with the glowing gold sunshine of the region and Michael J. Lewis’ soothing banjo strumming soundtrack helps bring out the film’s laid-back ambiance, but outside of a few amusing moments that’s about it.

Initially the leisurely pace and quirky nuance is refreshing and I liked the contrasting personalities of the two leads, but not enough happens. By the second act you wonder what happened to the story as too many extraneous scenes and characters get thrown until it ends up being an abyss to nothingness.

The cast though is definitely game. The wacky dialogue between Burgess Meredith and Sylvia Miles, which I’m pretty sure was all ad-libbed, is quite amusing although the scene where she tries to shatter a glass by wailing out a high-pitched screech should’ve been extended. Joe Spinell, one of cult cinema’s great character actors, practically steals the whole thing with his few minutes of screen time. The scene where he is taught about the different kinds of fishes by having them displayed on top of a pool table is the funniest moment of the movie although the garish outfit that he wears when he goes out on the boat with Fonda comes in as a close second.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, at least in this recent version I saw from Amazon Video, took me by complete surprise. I had seen this movie twice before and both of those times it ended with Oates confronting Fonda on his boat, but instead of attacking him they sit down and have a friendly chat. Here it ended with Oates shooting Fonda and then immediately freezing the frame and rolling in the credits.

For me this alternative ending was frustrating as it left open too many unanswered questions. Having a film drag on as it does with virtually nothing occurring during its second and third act only to abruptly end it when it finally gets interesting is like a slap-in-the-face to the viewer and helps to explain why this bombed so terribly at the box office.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes (Alternative ending) 1Hour 33Minutes (Original ending).

Rated R

Director: Thomas McGuane

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video.

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Devil comes to town.

Based on the John Updike novel of the same name, the story centers on three single women (Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer) living in the town of Eastwick, Rhode Island who are also witches, but don’t yet realize it. All three want to meet up with the man of their dreams, which ushers in Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson). He is a rich playboy that buys the town’s landmark home the stately Lennox Mansion. The three women are initially seduced by his powers only to realize later that he is actually the devil incarnate and spend the rest of the time conjuring up a spell that will send him back to where he came from.

After achieving so much success with The Road Warrior franchise Australian director George Miller decided to take a stab at something completely different, but had to deal with studio politics during the production, which made the final product disjointed. However, despite an array of confusing plot points the offbeat elements are enough to hold your attention and keep things interesting.

The creative special effects add an imaginative flair, but tend to get overdone. I enjoyed the scene where Veronica Cartwright vomits out cherry seeds all over her house, which leaves an indelible impression, but then Nicholson does the same thing later inside a church where it becomes redundant and gross. Watching a floating tennis ball defying gravity is amusing, but not needed. This scene, where all four get together to play a game of tennis, should’ve instead focused on the underlying tensions between the characters, which would’ve given the movie some needed nuance.

I enjoyed Sarandon, who goes from being a repressed nerdette to sexual vamp, but overall the efforts of the game cast are wasted as there’s not enough distinction between the women’s personalities making them seem almost like the same person. The only female that is distinct and memorable is Cartwright who’s campy, over-the-top portrayal of a paranoid religious woman hits-the-mark and should’ve been enough to give her more screen time and at least one scene where she confronts Nicholson directly.

I would’ve preferred also that the women been aware right from the start that they were witches, which would’ve made them immediate adversaries to Nicholson instead of these dopey pawns that passively allow him to seduce them one-by-one in long drawn-out segments that become quite strained. In contrast Nicholson could’ve preyed on the other women in town while these same witches spent their time coming up with ways to stop him and thus creating more of a theatrical battle.

Nicholson is great, but his character like with the others is poorly etched. At the beginning he’s a conniving player who possesses the ability to manipulate these women almost seamlessly, but then during the second half this all changes, but with no clear explanation as to why. His speech though inside a church expounding on man’s ever daunting task to tap into the female’s psychic is priceless:

“Do you think God knew what he was doing when he created women, or do you think it was just another one of his minor mistakes like tidal waves?…If it was a mistake maybe we can do something about it; find a cure, then a vaccine, build-up our immune systems.”

The biggest issue though is that the film needed to be genre specific and played more like a horror movie with dark comical undertones instead of a serene/hybrid comedy. The New England setting is picturesque, but not right for this type of story. A better location would’ve been a town that was mostly cloudy and gloomy while containing buildings that were old and gothic, which would’ve helped to create an eerie atmosphere that is otherwise sorely lacking.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 12, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Miller

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Don is Dead (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two Mafia leaders feud.

After the death of his mob boss father, Frank (Robert Forster) finds himself embroiled in the middle of a feud between two rival crime families. Don Angelo (Anthony Quinn) comes to Frank’s aid and agrees to take over the family business and then once he dies everything will go to Frank. Luigi (Charles Cioffi) and his greedy lover Marie (Jo Anne Meredith) are not happy with this arrangement and in an attempt to weaken the alliance they arrange for Don to meet up with Frank’s girlfriend Ruby (Angel Tompkins) while Frank is away in Rome on business. The two immediately hit-it-off and begin a hot-and-heavy affair. When Frank returns and finds out about this he flies into a rage by first beating his girlfriend and then swearing further vengeance onto Don. Don in turn puts out a hit on Frank, which escalates an endless bloody mob war.

During the early ‘70s with the success of The Godfather studios were churning out mob themed films about as fast as they could be produced. Many of them were vastly inferior to Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, but this one may be the worst. The biggest problem is the nauseating violence that takes up the entire second-half. In The Godfather the killings had a lyrical quality that became a cinematic achievement and indelible on the viewer’s memory, but here the shootings are quite mechanical. Instead of being shocking they’re monotonous and impede the film from becoming anything more than just a cheap, uninspired Hollywood rip-off.

The film also lacks a likable character, which creates no emotional bond from the viewer to anyone onscreen nor any concern for who gets shot and who doesn’t. Tony (Frederic Forrest) is the only one with any type of arch as he wants out of the business at the start, but by the end is a hardened crime boss, which is too similar to Al Pacino’s quandary in The Godfather and only further cements this as being a poor man’s version of that one.

Forster is good despite displaying a rather affected accent. Quinn is also okay, but his character has little to do particularly by the second-half when he becomes almost comatose after suffering a stroke. What annoyed me most though was that there was never any final confrontation between the two. The whole thing revolved around a misunderstanding that they had, so a meeting at the end between them seemed almost mandatory, but it doesn’t occur making an already flawed film even more unsatisfying.

Marvin Albert, who was famous for writing the Tony Rome detective novels, penned this script, which is based off of his own novel, but the results are slight. The conflicts between the characters are not riveting and everyone comes off as being quite stupid for allowing themselves to be so easily mislead making the bloodshed that results from it even more grotesque. Maybe that’s the film’s point, but there have been so many better movies on this same subject that there really was no need for this one and whatever message it attempts to convey dies with the rest of the carnage on the screen.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: Universal

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

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

Black Eye (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Find the walking cane.

An old walking cane with a distinctive silver handle that had been used as a prop in many old Hollywood movies is stolen by a prostitute named Vera (Nancy Fisher) after it is laid on top of a casket of deceased actor at his funeral. Later Vera is murdered inside her apartment by a man named Chess (Frank Ashmore) who retrieves the cane, but not before coming into a violent confrontation with Shep (Fred Williamson) a black private eye who lives across the hall from her. Chess manages to escape, but Shep decides to track him down in an effort to find out why everyone is after the cane and what secret it might hold.

The film is an okay blend of action and mystery that tends to show its cards to soon. The revelation for why the cane is so much in demand is quite predictable and makes the viewer feel like they wasted an hour and a half of their time watching a pedestrian plot that leads nowhere. Director Jack Arnold dresses the story up by inserting offbeat scenes and eccentric characters that only adds a mild diversion to the proceedings, but still culminates with a flat finish.

Former pro football player Fred Williamson who played for the Kansas City Chiefs during the ‘60s is the best thing about the movie. Other athletes who turned to film acting after their sports careers were over were not as adept in front of the camera. Jim Brown for instance was great on the gridiron, but lacked an ability to play anything more than a hardened tough guy whose facial expression never changed. Williamson has more of an appeal because he doesn’t take himself or his role too seriously while also showing an ability to play either comedy or drama.

His female co-stars though are wasted and really didn’t need to be in it at all. Theresa Graves looks beautiful, but her character has no integral link to the story the lesbian angle dealing with the relationship that she has with her white girlfriend (played by Rosemary Forsyth) seems to be thrown in simply to give the film a certain perceived ‘kinky’ edge. Forsyth for her part has her voice dubbed and for what reason I don’t know, but it’s distracting and unnecessary.

88 year-old Cyril Delevanti, in his final film appearance, is quite amusing as an elderly man who’ll stop at nothing to get his cane back, but character actor Richard Anderson is a detriment. He plays a father who hires Shep to find his missing runaway daughter (Susan Arnold). At the end Williamson and Anderson get into a fistfight with Anderson doing his own stunts, which looks fake. A shot capturing him lowering his foot towards the camera in a dramatic attempt to show him stomping on Williamson (with the camera working as being Williamson’s P.O.V.) doesn’t work because it is clear that he is restraining his foot so it doesn’t actually hit the camera and break it. If you’re going to do a shot from this angel then have the foot actually pounce onto the camera even if it means damaging it because that would make it appear more authentic, or otherwise don’t do it at all.

For those that enjoy blaxploitation flicks from the ‘70s you may give this one, which is based on the novel ‘Murder on the Wild Side’ by Jeff Jacks, a slightly higher rating than I did. Some of the action is good especially a scene where Williamson escapes out of a immobile elevator and shimmies his way down the elevator shaft, but overall there’s nothing else about it that is distinctive to raise it above all the other black action films that are out there.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 17, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jack Arnold

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

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