Category Archives: Movies Based on Short Stories

Disconnected (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Receiving harassing phone calls.

Alicia (Frances Rains) is a young adult woman who brings an elderly man (William A. Roberts) up to her apartment one day so that he can use her phone to make a call. However, once he leaves she begins receiving odd calls at all times of the day and night where loud unexplained sounds emit from the receiver. She also gets a call where she overhears a conversation between her boyfriend Mike (Carl Koch) and twin sister Barbara-Ann, who are apparently are seeing each other behind-her-back. She then breaks up with Mike and begins dating Franklin (Mark Walker) whom she met while working at a video store. Franklin seems nice at first, but she’s unaware that he’s also the notorious serial killer who has been murdering young women in her area.

This horror oddity is the product of Gorman Bechard, who while still a film student decided to make a movie on his own with the low, low budget of only $40,000 and filming it almost entirely inside his tiny one-bedroom apartment. While it’s not a complete success it’s offbeat enough to hold your attention and guaranteed to keep you guessing to the very end.

The scenes inside the video store I enjoyed the most particularly Franklin’s complaints at how it didn’t have enough foreign films, or older movies, which was always the criticism I had of my local video stores too. The dark humor of Franklin hanging a crucifix over his bed where he commits the murders and the little prayer he does before he offs his victims I found amusing. Bechard’s odd camera shots including one segment done with black-and-white, freeze-frames is another asset that keeps it inventive.

The performance by Raines, who is beautiful, is excellent and I felt she would’ve had a long career ahead of her had she not giving up acting in order to raise a family. I was not as enamored though with the two guys playing the cops who lend a cartoonish flair that was not needed. I didn’t like too that one of them gets interviewed by someone sitting behind a camera that we don’t see and asking a bunch of questions almost like it’s a documentary, which begs the question as to who this person was and why does he just interview the cops, but no one else?

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest problem though is that it gets rid of the Franklin too quickly without playing up that scenario as much as it could’ve. It also cuts away without ever showing how the cops are able to subdue him, or how Alicia is able to get away, which seems like a standard scene that a horror movie fan would want to see and not just have discussed later.

The weird calls ultimately become boring. It also takes Alicia too long to figure out that maybe a good way to stop them would be to unplug the phone from the wall, which she finally does at the very end, but most other people would’ve done it a hell of a lot sooner.

The twist ending where the old man that was seen at the start, but then disappears only to return and be shown walking out of her apartment makes no sense. Some viewers have speculated that maybe he was a ghost of some kind, but that’s not made clear. My personal feeling is that there was no meaning to it and it’s intentionally left vague, so the individual viewers can read into it whatever they want, but it’s not a satisfying way to end almost 90-minutes of viewing and in many ways, despite the interesting bits, makes it quite annoying. A better, more focused conclusion would’ve certainly helped.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gorman Bechard

Available: VHS, Tubi, Blu-ray (Limited Edition only 2,000 copies printed) 

The Last American Hero (1973)

lasthero

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He follows his dream.

Junior Jackson (Jeff Bridges) works in his family’s moonshine business as a driver who transports the liquor and uses his superior driving skills especially his patented ‘bootlegger-turn’ in which to avoid capture he gets the vehicle to make a 180-degree turn by using the emergency brake, which then allows his car to go speeding off in the opposite direction. However, the authorities are able to catch-up with his father (Art Lund) and they throw him in jail for 11-months. With no moonshine business Junior is forced to find other means for an income, so he decides to try and turn his driving skills into a profit venture by entering into a demolition derby run by Hackel (Ned Beatty). He does well in this and eventually moves up to the higher levels and makes enough money for him to decide on turning it into his career, but his family does not approve as they feel it’s too dangerous. Junior is also forced to buy his own race car and pay for his own pit crew, which causes him to go back into the bootlegging business as a runner all to the disapproval of his father who feels it will just lead Junior into the same prison that he was in.

Overall this is one of the best bio’s out there and impeccably filmed and edited by actor-turned-director Lamont Johnson, who appears briefly as a hotel clerk. Johnson’s directing career was a bit spotty, he also did notorious clunkers like Lipstick and Somebody Killer Her Husbandbut this one is virtually flawless and there’s very little to be critical about on the technical end. The racing footage is both intense and exciting and one of the few racing movies where I was able to follow the race as a whole and not just be bombarded with a lot of jump cuts. I also appreciated how it captures the pit stops and the different conversations that the driver has with his crew during these moments and how sometimes this can be just as intense in its own way. The on-locations shooting done in and around Hickory, North Carolina as well as some of the neighboring race tracks during the fall of 1972 helps bring home both the ambiance and beauty of the region.

For me though what really stood out was Junior’s relationship with his family and how they were not supportive, at least initially, to his dreams as a racer and forcing him to have to pursue it on his own. Many times people who have ambitious goals don’t always have their friends and family on the same page with it and the road to success can definitely have its share of loneliness while also testing one’s own inner fortitude. One of my favorite scenes, that goes along with this theme, is when Junior is inside a K-mart and comes upon a recording booth that allows him to make a voice tape message that can be sent via the mail to one’s family or friends. Junior conveys into the microphone what he wants to say to his family, but ultimately seems to be talking more to himself than them, as a kind of self therapy to release the inner tensions that he’s been feeling, and subsequently never actually sends it out.

The acting is top-notch particularly by Bridges. Normally he’s good at playing mellow, level-headed characters, but here does well as someone who at times is quite volatile and caustic. There’s great support by Beatty as an unscrupulous race track owner, Ed Lauter as a highly competitive owner of a competing racing teams as well as Valerie Perrine as a woman who enjoys bed-hopping between different men, sometimes with those who are friends with each other, and yet completely oblivious with the drama and tensions that this creates. William Smith is good as a competing racer and while his part is small the scene where he walks in on Junior sleeping with his girl (Perrine) and the response that he gives is great. I thought Geraldine Fitzgerald, who plays Junior’s mother, was excellent and her Irish accent somehow effectively made to sound southern, but she should’ve been given more screen time.

The story is based on an Esquire article written by Tom Wolfe that was entitled ‘The Last American Hero was Junior Jackson. Yes!’, which in turn was based on NASCAR racing champion Junior Jackson (1931-2019) who also served as the film’s technical advisor. The movies pretty much stays with the actual account, but does change one pivotal point in that it has the father going to jail when in reality it was Junior who was sentenced to 11-months in 1956. Why this was changed I don’t know, but it usually helps the viewer become more emotionally connected to the protagonist when they see them going through the hardship versus someone else, so having Bridges spend time in the slammer would’ve made more sense. The film is also famous for its theme song ‘I Got a Name’ sung by Jim Croce, but this song has been played so much on oldies radio that one no longer connects it with the film and in fact when it does get played it takes you out of the movie because it reminds you of somewhere else where you’ve first heard it, which most likely wasn’t this movie.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 27, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lamont Johnson

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

White Dog (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog attacks black people.

Late one night while driving home aspiring actress Julie (Kristy McNichol) hits a stray dog, which she takes immediately to an emergency vet. They find that his injuries were minimal and she’s allowed to take him home until his owner can be found. She soon starts to bond with the White Shepherd dog, who at one point saves her from a would-be rapist. She also becomes aware that he attacks black people when he goes after one of her African American friends unprovoked. She takes him to an elderly dog trainer named Carruthers (Burl Ives) who advised that the dog should be put to sleep, but another trainer named Keyes (Paul Winfield), who is black, wants to rehabilitate the animal, but finds this undertaking far more challenging than he initially expected.

The story is based on a real-life incident of novelist Romain Gary and his actress wife Jean Seberg, who during the early 60’s took in a stray dog that had previously been an Alabama Police dog, who they later learned, was trained to attack black people. Gary wrote about this experience in a short story that was published in Life Magazine in 1970 and this was eventually turned into a novel. The novel though incorporated many things that had not occurred in real-life, nor in the movie, including having the dog trainer being an angry black Muslim who gets the dog to start attacking white people including Gary himself.

The story rights were purchased by Paramount in 1975 with Roman Polanski set to direct, but when he was forced to flee the country due to statutory rape chargers the projects was put on hold. Then after the success of Jaws producers decided to turn it into a ‘jaws with paws’ storyline with the racism angle taken out, but when director Samuel Fuller was signed on he returned the plot to its original theme, which caused controversy when the NAACP, without ever having seen the film, accused it of being ‘racist’, which frightened Paramount executives enough that they gave the movie a very limited engagement with no promotion, which led to it recouping only $46, 509 out of its original $7 million budget. Despite eventually getting released on VHS and shown sporadically on cable outlets such as Lifetime, it languished in obscurity until finally getting a DVD/Blu-ray issue in 2008 where it’s now seen in a totally different light.

For me the biggest problem is the hackneyed drama starting with the dopey way the dog gets hit by a car and yet miraculously healed enough to go home that very same night and never showing any lingering injuries. The potential rape scene is too manufactured as well as it has the rapist magically appearing in the apartment without showing how he broke-in and later having one of the cops state that he had just arrested the same guy earlier that year for another rape attempt, so if that’s the case then why wasn’t he still in jail? It also has the dog sleeping as the bad guy sneaks in, but I’ve found dogs have a keen sense of awareness and would’ve heard the guy trying to bust in and growling or barking long before he actually made it into the apartment. Having Kristy go on a late night jog with the dog and then being chased by a masked assailant, which the dog would scare away, would’ve been a better way to have done it.

I also didn’t like the part where Kristy meets the dog’s owner and he openly admits to training him to attack black people, which to me didn’t seem believable. I liked the idea of having the owner being this seemingly kindly old man, played by Parley Baer best known for voicing the Keebler Elf, that you’d never expect as being someone who’d train an animal to do such a thing. However, freely admitting this to a stranger is like a murderer admitting to their crime. Most won’t fess up because they know it would get them into a lot of trouble if they did. Movies should also not be obligated to explain everything and like in real-life should leave a few things open-ended. When Kristy accuses him of this he could reveal a funny look on his face, giving the viewer insight that he most likely was guilty, but then have him verbally deny it like most people would.

While I could’ve done without the slow motion and booming music I did find the dog’s retraining sessions with Keys to be the film’s best moments and Winfield’s strong presence is excellent. However, trying to use a dog as a metaphor to racism doesn’t really work, nor hold-up to logic. Winfield explains that the dog was most likely beaten by a black person hired by a white man to get the dog to become the way he does, but I don’t think this could be achieved as the dog would just hate that one individual and not connect it to the man’s skin color unless he was abused by a whole group of black people. We’re also told that the dog does not hate black people he just fears them, but if that’s the case then why does he go out of his way to attack and kill them. Animals will only go on the attack if they feel threatened, but if the perceived threat keeps their distance then the dog shouldn’t feel the need to be aggressive making the blood splattering attacks that the dog does come off as quite over-the-top.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Samuel Fuller

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD/Blu-ray (Criterion Collection)

The Night, The Prowler (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Victim turns into prowler.

Late one night Felicity (Kerry Walker), who is an adult woman still living at home with her parents (John Frawley, Ruth Cracknell), finds that a prowler (Terry Camilleri) has invaded her bedroom. After getting into a conversation with him she is surprised to learn that he’s a married man with kids, who enjoys prowling as a side gig to make up for the monotony and stresses of his home life. Felicity then realizes that the suburban lifestyle that her parents want her to live does not fully satisfy the individual and therefore decides she doesn’t want it. She breaks off her pending engagement with her fiancé (John Derum)  and turns into a prowler herself breaking into men’s homes late at night and learning to enjoy the underbelly of society by socializing with the homeless and other people that her parents always told her to stay away from. She soon finds a sense of empowerment by thumbing her nose at the elitists that make her her suburban community and doing all the forbidden things that her former cloistered lifestyle never allowed.

The film was directed by Jim Sharman best known for having done The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The basis for this project comes from his collaboration with playwright Patrick White and the many plays of his that he directed while doing experimental theater in Sydney during the 70’s. White wanted to expand one of his short stories into a screenplay and Sharman suggested this one had the best chance of working. The two had both grown up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and wanted to create a film that showed their inner disdain for the arrogant, privileged people that populated the neighborhoods there and how the sterility of those environments may have been a comfort to the adults, but stifling and alienating to the teenagers.

To some level the film is interesting, but the fragmented narrative becomes an intrusive turn-off. Normally I like films that to get away from the mainstream approach and use different cinematic styles to tell a story, but the presentation here never allows you to get emotionally invested into the characters or their situations. There’s too much cutting back and forth between the present day, the past, and even some dream-like segments that ultimately makes the whole thing confusing and off-putting. That’s not to say that there aren’t some provocative moments as there are, but the non-linear approach never allows it to catch its stride, or feel like its progressing forward.

I did enjoy though the scenes with Felicity in the park late at night talking to the homeless while inadvertently scaring off a gang of young hoodlums by chasing after them and demanding that they assault her. When she breaks into a rich couple’s home and systematically destroys it and their subsequent over-the-top facial reactions when they come home to witness it is a hoot too. There are though some very disturbing moments too including Felicity’s conversation with a naked, starving homeless man (Harry Neilson) that she finds lying inside the filthy squalor of an abandoned building.

The one thing that holds it all together is the acting. Walker is perfectly cast in the lead as her plain looks and perpetually despondent expression visually signals her inner angst and alienation. Cracknell though completely steals it in a campy send-up of the suburban housewife/ mother that is at times both comically absurd and over-the-top funny. Her odd behavior keeps the interest going even as the story and direction at times lull and in fact it was enough to have nominated for the Best Actress Award by the Australian Film Institute.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jim Sharman

Studio: New South Wales Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Outrageous! (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Female impersonator befriends schizophrenic.

Robin (Craig Russell) works as a gay hairstylist during the day, but longs to be up on stage as a female impersonator.  Liza (Hollis McLaren) is a schizophrenic who leaves the hospital she was confine in and moves in with Robin her longtime friend. Both find ways to help each other with their problems, which allows Robin the confidence to finally get on stage in drag as Tallulah Bankhead, which makes him an instant hit and gets him a paid gig in New York City. However, when he moves away Liza’s condition worsens forcing Robin to decide what’s more important: his budding career, or his friendship.

The film is based on the shorty story ‘Making It’ by Margaret Gibson, which in turn was based on her experiences dealing with mental illness and her real-life friendship with Craig Russell whom she roomed with in 1971. The story nicely tackles the challenges of dealing with mental illness and how Robin’s support helps Liza overcome her demons that the other professional Dr’s and counselors that she sees don’t because they only view her as just another patient instead of a person.

The grainy, low budget quality works to the film’s advantage as it brings out the fringe, economically disadvantaged lifestyle that the two lived in while McLaren’s performance shies away from the cliches of mentally illness causing the viewer to see her as a regular everyday person, not just some ‘crazy’, valiantly fighting a nasty illness that she can’t always control.

The segments dealing with Russell’s onstage act are quite entertaining as well though when I first saw this film decades ago I found these moments to be off-putting as they turned it more into a documentary, or a comedy special that took the focus away from the actual essence of the story, which was the friendship. However, upon second viewing I liked the way it captures the gay club scene that was unique to that time period. Russell’s impersonations where he does Barbra Striesand, Judy Garland, Mae West and Bette Midler just to name a few are outstanding. I’ve seen some female impersonator acts before, but Russell’s far outshines any of the others I’ve ever watched as he gets the body language, voice, and facial expressions of the people he’s playing just right to the point that he completely disappears into the women characters until you can’t tell the difference.

While the film does have many touching moments I felt it should’ve shown how Robin and Liza first met instead of having it start with them already knowing each other when she moves in with him. Since they are such an odd pair capturing how and where this unique relationship all started and what element brought them together seemed crucial, but we never see it nor does it even get addressed in conversation. Having this backstory could’ve helped the film stay a little more centered on the relationship as well and prevented the over reliance on Russell’s stage routine, which while quite good, still takes up a bit more of the runtime than it should’ve.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Benner

Studio: Canadian Film Development Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Heartland (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life on the frontier.

In 1910 a widow named Elinore (Conchata Ferrell) and her 7-year-old daughter Jerrine (Megan Folsom) travel to Wyoming where she gets a job as a housekeeper to rancher named Clyde (Rip Torn). The two slowly fall-in-love, eventually marry, and have a baby of their own. Unfortunately the harsh winter and remote locale takes its toll causing tragedy to both their small family and to the ranch itself.

The story is based on the letters written by Elinore Pruitt Stewart to her former employer as she described her adventures working on a ranch as a homesteader to Henry Clyde Stewart during the years of 1910 to 1914. The film stays very faithful in tone and content to the period and some of the most fascinating moments are simply observing the different chores that they had to do back then and what now comes off as very archaic.  Shooting the film on-location in the Rocky Mountain region, substituting Montana for Wyoming, and capturing all four seasons helps add to the authenticity.

Farrell’s strong personality gives life to her character and reveals the inner strength required to endure and survive the hardships of frontier life and it’s amazing how closely she resembled the real Elinore Stewart as evidenced by an old photograph of her taken in 1913. Torn is also quite good, but his thick Scandinavian accent makes it difficult to understand everything he says. I also really enjoyed Folsom as the young girl, who doesn’t have much dialogue, but more than makes up for it with her expressive face. Lilia Skala is also good as Mrs. Landuer a headstrong elderly neighbor who goes by the nickname of Grandma.

While the soundtrack matches the period flavor I felt there was too much of it and would’ve enjoyed more silence as that is pretty much all you would’ve heard anyways on the frontier during that time. I would’ve also liked more of a backstory to Elinore, specifically showing why she was widowed, in real-life her husband died in a railroad accident before their daughter Jerrine was even born, and yet it would’ve helped the viewer understand Elinore better had this been dramatized, or at least touched on.

The ending is also too abrupt. It brings up all the challenges in maintaining the ranch, but no conclusion as to whether they were able to withstand them all or not. Several story threads get left hanging even though in real-life Elinore lived 19 years past when this story took place and Clyde lived for another 35 years, so having some denouncement at the end explaining where they ultimately ended up past what we see here was in my opinion very much needed and the fact that it doesn’t occur makes the film seem like only half-a-movie.

There’s also some scenes that may make certain viewers uncomfortable. Many of them deal with animals getting killed including a wild pig that gets shot at point blank range and then skinned and gutted. Since this was apart of the frontier life back then I didn’t have a real problem with it, but others might. The most disturbing scene though deals with a cow trying to give birth and requires both Torn and Farrell sticking their hands inside the cow’s vagina at the same time in order to turn the calf around, so that its head will come out first. They then tie a rope around the calf’s head and yank him out in extremely explicit fashion. While some may consider this the miracle of birth others may not be able to stomach it, but overall it does help to heighten the realism either way.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Pearce

Studio: Filmhaus

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Stone Boy (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4 Word Review: Accidentally killing his brother.

Based on the 1957 short story by Gina Berriault, the film centers on a 12-year-old boy named Arnold (Jason Presson) who accidentally kills his older brother Eugene (Dean Cain)  one morning while they go out to pick peas on their farm. His parents (Robert Duvall, Glenn Close) don’t know how to react to the tragedy and begin to treat Arnold like he’s a stranger to his own family, which causes him to consider running away.

In an era of big budget special effects I enjoyed the film’s low-key approach, but this gets ruined right away by instilling all sorts of ill-advised cinematic effects, including slow motion, during the shooting scene. You can’t spend so much time and effort creating a docu-drama look and feel to a production, which nicely reflects the slow/quiet paced lifestyle of rural America, only to suddenly pivot away from it at the most inopportune time, which results in a jarring, disconcerting feel for the viewer.

The shooting scene goes against the grain of the main character too. We’re supposed to emotionally connect with the kid, but the way he behaves is bizarre. I would’ve expected him to start crying when he realizes he has shot his brother and go running back to the house for help, but instead he conveys no emotion at all and calmly continues to pick the peas like nothing has happened, which makes him seem mentally disturbed.

It’s also rare for a person to instantly fall over dead with one shot like the brother does here. For that to happen the bullet would’ve had to hit the heart directly or some other vital organ, but the gun went off while it was being held at a precarious angle and most likely the bullet would’ve only grazed his brother, or just injured him. The accident also occurred not far from the house, so why the parents didn’t immediately come running out when they heard the gun going off, or the boy screaming is hard to understand. It’s important to note that we don’t actually hear him scream as the scene is shot with no sound, but we do see him open his mouth real wide in horror, so I can only imagine that he did scream out and if so the rest of his family should’ve heard it.

It would’ve been better had this scene not been shown at all and only alluded to, or done like it was in Ordinary People, which had a similar storyline, but didn’t play out the death sequence until the very end as a flashback. In either case the rest of the film is okay and even has a few touching and profound moments, but it stretches out the premise of the short story it’s based on too much, which creates draggy periods that prevents it from being as effective as it could’ve.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Christopher Cain

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Tell Me a Riddle (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Adjusting to old age.

Eva (Lila Kedrova) is an elderly woman who has been diagnosed with cancer, but her husband David (Melvyn Douglas) does not tell her of the terminal disease and instead takes her on a cross country journey to visit their grandchildren in San Francisco. Eva though begins to feel homesick and wants to return to the place that she is used to only to learn that David sold the home without her knowledge and forged her signature on the papers, which creates a rift between the two just as she enters her final days of life.

This modest low budget film was notable as the first feature film in America to be written, directed, and produced by women. It is based on the 1961 short story by Tillie Olsen and the first feature directed by actress Lee Grant, who felt that after she won the Academy Award for best supporting actress in 1975 that her days on the screen were numbered due to her age and the only way to stay busy in the business was to go behind the camera. She choose this script because it tackled two topics most important to her: feminism and her fear of aging.

For the most part, at least at the beginning, the slow pace works as it helps replicate the elderly lifestyle. The flashbacks showing the couple when they were young, which features a then unknown Peter Coyote as the younger David, help to make the two main characters more multi-dimensional. The different locations that they go to and live-in on their trip, which includes sleeping in their daughter Jeannie’s (Brooke Adams) cramped apartment while she sleeps with her boyfriend across the hall as well as visiting an elderly friend, Mrs. Mays (Lili Valenty), who lives in a place no bigger than a small bedroom and forced to walk-up several flights of stairs just to get to it, helps to give the film an indie vibe.

Unfortunately the second half stagnates as the couple’s journey ends at Jennie’s apartment, which cuts off the visual variety that gave the movie energy during its slow spots. The cross country journey should’ve been played-up much more, like with Harry and Tonto, where the trip becomes the main focus by having the couple travel by car instead of by plane while still keeping the main crux of the story intact.

Douglas gives an impeccable performance and speaks in an authentic Eastern European accent and Adams does quite well in support. However, Kedrova barely says much of anything making her character seem like she’s suffering from a personality disorder and having Douglas do the majority of the talking comes off too much like he’s the ‘narrator’ and it doesn’t help. I also didn’t like the hearing aid cord dangling out of her ear either, which seemed overdone. My grandmother, who lived at the same time this movie was made, wore a hearing aid too, but it was much more inconspicuous and didn’t require any cords.

The film also suffers from an unrelentingly downbeat perspective making old age seem like it’s just one depressing thing after another. I liked the way this same subject matter was approached in Harry and Tonto  where it examined the elderly years from different angles showing how there could be some downsides to it (like with any age), but also some positive ones too. Instead of approaching it as an end-of-life scenario it presented it as a transition that was still full of possibilities and new adventures, which is what I wished this film had been better able to convey.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lee Grant

Studio: Filmways Productions

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Time After Time (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: From 1893 to 1979.

In 1893  writer H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) constructs a time machine and introduces it to his skeptical guests at a dinner party that he is hosting unaware that Dr. Stevenson (David Warner) who is also attending the party is the notorious Jack the Ripper. When the police surround the home looking for Ripper he jumps into the time machine and escapes to the year 1979. Wells then quickly follows him to modern day San Francisco and tries chasing him down, but along the way he meets Amy Robbins (Mary Steenburgen) who he fall in love with.

Initially I enjoyed seeing Wells’ confusion at dealing with modern society and the technology and had the film stayed at this level the whole way it could’ve been quite entertaining, but Wells ends up adapting too quickly. I was willing to accept that he was just a smart guy who could figure things out by being very observant, but Jack ends being the same way. Jack even attends a discotheque wearing a John Travolta-like white leisure suit, until it seemed like he was always a part of the modern world, and the original time traveling spin gets unfortunately phased out.

The romantic relationship that forms between Wells and Mary comes off as forced. Having her ask him out on a date while she’s working at her job and after only talking to him for a few minutes seemed too forward and unprofessional. Does she do this to all of her customers and if so how can she hold down a job if she’s coming on to all the men that she meets and if not then why would she ask out Wells so quickly after having just met him? Having the two end up going to bed together makes Wells seem too contemporary and not like a person from the Victorian era from which he came where sexual relations outside of marriage were much more taboo.

The script is full of a lot of loose ends too. For example: Wells goes to a jeweler to trade in his jewels for US currency, but the jeweler won’t accept them unless Wells shows a valid driver’s license, which he doesn’t have. The next day he goes to a different jeweler who gives him the money without asking for the ID, but why? In between Wells goes to a church where he speaks out loud in an awkward prayer, so are we then to presume that the second jeweler gave Wells the money without requesting the ID because of divine intervention?

There’s also a moment when Jack runs out into the street and gets struck by a car and is sent away to a nearby hospital, but then returns later showing no visible bruises or scratches. There’s also no explanation for how he was able to fool the nursing staff into thinking he had died as when Wells goes to the hospital that’s the explanation he’s given.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is equally screwy. It has Wells and Mary going a few days into the future only to read a newspaper article reporting Mary getting killed inside her apartment by Jack, so they return to the present and then back to the apartment where Mary then takes a nap, which seemed hard to believe knowing that Jack was coming to kill her there and she’d be too tense and nervous to ever relax enough to go to sleep. Why even go anywhere near the apartment anyways and instead just find a room at a nearby hotel? There isn’t much tension to her potential death either since all Wells would need to do is go back a few days in his time machine and she’d be as good as new.

The explanation that Mary never got killed, but instead it was really her friend, who she had invited over to dinner is problematic too because even though there wasn’t DNA testing at that time they could still identify the victim through their dental records.

The story, which was based on a 55-page treatment written by Karl Alexander, who later expanded it to a novel, which was released at the same time as the movie, has a lot of potentially interesting ideas, but it ends up taking on too much. A decision should’ve been made to focus on either the romance or Wells’s pursuit of Jack, but not both. Trying to cram two plot-lines together results in a script that’s too rushed and poorly thought out.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Nicholas Meyer

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Empire of the Ants (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant ants terrorize island.

A group of prospective home buyers are taken on a tour of a small island off the coast of Florida that supposedly has ‘prime beach front property’, but in reality it’s worthless. Marilyn (Joan Collins) is the realtor touring the others around, which quickly gets cut short when ants, who have feed off of toxic chemicals that were illegally dumped there and have now grown to giant size, begin attacking the people.

This film marks yet another tacky production by director Bert I. Gordon who enjoyed making movies filled with special effects dealing with giant animal life much like he did just two years earlier in Food of the Gods. The effects are predictably laughable where process shots showing close-ups of ants get combined with shots of the actors on the set, but you can tell that the quality of the film stock is different making the ants look completely out-of-place in the setting. When the actors get directly attacked by the ants large rubber mock-ups were used, but this gets combined with a shaking camera and quick edits making the action hard to follow.

It might’ve worked a bit better had it not given away right up front the cause for why the ants got so big and thus allowed for some mystery. Having the toxic waste be the cause just adds more questions than answers anyways. For instance: why were these chemicals being dumped to begin with and why did they choose this island? How were the ants able to get so big so fast? Did they just feed on the chemicals and then ‘poof’ they were big, or how fast or slow did the process work? Why were just the ants the ones that got big? Supposedly other insects, spiders and birds might’ve ingested the chemicals too, so why don’t they grow to a giant size as well?

The cast of characters are predictably stale and taking a full 30-minutes introducing them to the audience before the action even kicks-in just makes the movie even more boring. Having more eccentric characters would’ve helped like having the ants attack a clown convention that was meeting there, which would’ve given the film a humorous/offbeat edge that is otherwise lacking.

For the record I did enjoy Robert Pine who plays this coward who makes no attempt to save his wife when she’s attacked and then obsesses afterwards that everyone believe his story that he ‘couldn’t find her’ and there was ‘nothing he could do’. Collins is quite attractive, most will remember her for her appearance on the TV-show ‘Dynasty’, which was her career peak, but done when she was already well into her 50’s and no longer had a youthful appeal, but here she looks youngish and easy-on-the-eyes, which helps during the film’s slow moments.

The film states during the opening credits that it’s ‘inspired’ by the H.G.Wells story, but that short story, which was published in 1905, was way different. For one thing it didn’t involve ants growing to a giant size, so trying to connect the two as the producers here do, is outrageous. Had the filmmakers stuck more closely to that story, the film would’ve been much more interesting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 29, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bert I. Gordon

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video