Category Archives: Movies Based on Stageplays

Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Married man wants fling.

Barney (Alan Arkin) is a middle-aged man, who after 22-years of marriage, has decided he’d like to fool-around for the first time. He doesn’t want an actual affair, just a quickie sex fling with indiscriminate women while inside his elderly mother’s apartment, which he has access to during the day while she’s away. The problem is that while he’s able to get attractive women into the place he can’t quite get any action leaving him feeling more sexually frustrated than when it began.

The film is based on the Neil Simon play that opened on Broadway in 1969 and ran for 706 performances. The play starred James Coco in the pivotal role who I felt was much better suited for the part than Arkin. Arkin is okay, but his comedic style can be quite frantic in tone that can sometimes border on creepy. He also had a full head of hair at the time even though the role called for a balding man, so he shaved the top of his head to appear semi-bald, but it looks tacky. Coco on the other-hand had a lovable loser quality that made you want to like him even when he did naughty things and he was naturally bald, so his appearance wouldn’t have looked as fake as Arkin’s. I can only presume that because Arkin was at the time an established film star and Coco was still just considered a fledgling character actor that’s why he got the offer while Coco didn’t, but it’s one of the main reasons the story doesn’t translate as well on film as it did onstage.

The directing by Gene Saks isn’t bad particularly the opening sequence where we things entirely from the point-of-view of Barney as he wakes-up and gets out of bed and starts his daily routine, which I found rather inventive cinematically. In fact it’s these moments where we hear the thoughts going on inside Barney’s head as he tries to get the nerve to break-the-ice with other women that he meets, which are the funniest. Unfortunately the scenes done inside the apartment don’t work as well as the place is too cramped and appearing more like a jail cell, which becomes visually static.

The three rendezvous that Barney has with three different women aren’t as clever or creative as they could’ve been. The first segment has Sally Kellermen, who is excellent, playing an Italian women, who comes up to his place, but then just proceeds to argue with him before leaving. My main problem with this scene was the motivation as she spots Barney working inside his restaurant, which precipitates the meet-up, but why would this incredibly hot woman get turned-on by this dopey looking guy to the point that she’d want to have casual sex with him? There were plenty of other men in the place, so why does Barney excite her over the others? The conversation that the two have inside the restaurant is never shown, which I found to be a cop-out and hurt the character development. Had she been portrayed as being a prostitute then it would’ve made more sense, but this is never confirmed, which makes this whole first segment quite weak.

The second segment deals with Paula Prentis as a struggling actress who Barney meets in a park. She borrows some money from him and then agrees to pay him back later at the apartment. However, when she arrives she seems like a completely different person. At the park she came-off as quiet and shy, but at the apartment she’s a babbling idiot that seems to be on acid. The dialogue during this sequence in which the characters basically talk-over each other the whole time quickly becomes annoying. The scene fades-out with the two getting high off of marijuana, but it never shows her leaving the place, so we don’t know for sure if they ended-up having sex or not.

The third and final segment has Renee Taylor playing a middle-aged woman, who is also married, coming-up to Barney’s mother’s place, but immediately getting cold-feet, which kills the intrigue as we know right from the start how it’s going to go. This scene also has a rapey vibe to it as Barney, now feeling frustrated at having struck out twice before, behaves in a much more aggressive manner by blocking her from leaving and then while half-naked jumping on top of her and pinning her to the bed while she yells for him to get off, which is cringy and not funny.

Having a film deal with all the strike-outs a person may face when it comes to having sex with others is an interesting idea. Too many other movies just show the ones that work-out, but in reality, especially with average looking people, there can be more misses than hits, so I appreciated the story in that regard. However, random sex with strangers where the women goes to a strange man’s place without worry or concern has become a thing of the past in this day and age of stalkers and self-protection making the theme here quite dated and out-of-touch.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 17, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gene Saks

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, PlutoTV, YouTube

Lovers and Other Strangers (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Marriage: Pros and Cons.

Mike and Susan (Michael Brandon, Bonnie Bedelia), who have been living together for a year and a half, have decided to get married, but as the wedding draws near Mike begins to have second thoughts. Meanwhile Susan’s parents, Hal and Bernice ( Gig Young, Cloris Leachman) have issues of their own as Hal is having an affair with Kathy (Anne Jackson) who is Bernice’s sister. Their other daughter, Wilma (Anne Meara), who is already married, but starting to regret it since her husband (Harry Guardino) seems more interested in watching old movies on TV than having sex. Mike’s parents, Frank and Bea (Richard S. Castellano, Beatrice Arthur) also have problems as they try to convince Mike’s older brother Richie (Joseph Hindy) to stay married to Joan (Diane Keaton) even though they’ve grown incompatible. Then there’s wedding usher Jerry (Bob Dishy) who spends his time trying to ‘score’ with nervous, nebbish bridesmaid Brenda (Marian Hailey) who can’t seem to decide whether she’s into Jerry or not.

While the film, which was based on the hit Broadway play of the same name written by real-life couple Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor, who adapted it to the screen, was a major success at the box office and received high critical praise it does in retrospect come-off like just another episode of ‘Love American Style’ or even ‘The Love Boat’. There are certainly some funny lines of dialogue and interesting insights at how the younger generations view marriage differently from the older one, but besides the very brief wedding scene, we never see the cast come together and interact as a whole making the movie and characters seem more like a collection of non-related vignettes than a cohesive story. It’s also quite talky with no action to speak of, so unless you’re really into conversational comedy you may get bored.

Mike and Sue, who act as the main characters, get overshadowed by the supporting players and become almost like an after thought the more the movie progresses. The opening sequence with them in bed together and contemplating marriage, which at the time was meant for shock effect since it was still considered taboo to have sex before marriage, will be lost on today’s audiences where living together is now by far the norm. I also found it hard to believe that they’d be able to fool both sets of parents for a whole year by pretending they were rooming with same sex roommates, Sue told her parents she had a roommate named ‘Phyllis’ and Mike told his folks he lived with ‘Nick’, but after awhile I’d think the parents would get suspicious especially when they’d never meet or speak to these other roommates even after a year’s time.

The segment where Mike tells Sue he doesn’t want to get married because he still likes hitting-on other women and then proceeds to pinch the ass of some lady on the street, all while in front of Sue, won’t go over to well with today’s viewers and for that matter shouldn’t have gone over well with Sue either even though she takes it all in stride like it’s no big deal while most other wives/girlfriends would’ve been highly upset. Having Mike inform Sue that he she has ‘fat arms’ could really upset a lot of women as many can be insecure about their bodies and dwell on these types of comments for a long time and not take it so casually like Sue does here. I thought she should’ve brought it back up later, out-of-the-blue in a non-related scene with something like ‘do you really think my arm’s are fat?’, which could’ve been funny.

There’s problems with the casting too especially Anne Meara playing Cloris Leachman’s daughter even though in reality she was only three years younger than her and looked it. I was also baffled why Meara’s real-life husband and longtime comic partner Jerry Stiller, who does appear very briefly in a minor role, wasn’t cast as her husband here. Harry Guardino does a fine job in the hubby role, but Stiller and Meara had a special chemistry and that would’ve shined through with the two onscreen. I also felt that Anne Jackson and Cloris should’ve switched roles. Having the very dynamic Cloris stymied in a boring bit of a clueless housewife was a waste of her immense talents and she would’ve been better able to display the anxiety of Anne’s character in a funnier way.

Bea Arthur and Diane Keaton, who both make their film debuts here, are quite good as is Richard S. Castellano whose repeated line of “So what’s the story’ became a popular catchphrase though the numerous close-ups of his face does make his fat bottom lip too pronounced. Marian Hailey, who left the acting profession in the 80’s and became children’s book author who now goes by Marian Hailey-Moss, is excellent too and perfectly conveys the persona of a single woman who is quite intelligent and well read, but also painfully insecure and indecisive. My favorite though is Gig Young as a philandering husband who tries to make everyone happy, but ultimately fails. This was his last great performance before alcoholism killed his career and his conversation with Jackson at end as they sit in two adjoining toilet stalls in a public bathroom is the film’s funniest moment though the house that his character owns, which is supposed to nestled in the rich swanky suburbs looks like a shambles, at the least exterior, as it’s painted with a watery white color that has spots where it completely exposes the red brick underneath looking like a rundown place that has been poorly maintained, which I don’t think was the intention.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Cy Howard

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Pirate Movie (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nerd dreams of pirates.

Mabel (Kristy McNichol) is a nerdy girl living in Australia as an American exchange student who does not fit-in with the three sisters (Kate Ferguson, Rhonda Burchmore, Catherine Lynch) of her host family. One day the four visit a sword play demonstration being put on at a local festival. All four immediately become infatuated with Frederic (Christopher Atkins) the handsome swordplay instructor who later on invites them on a boat ride except the sisters don’t want Mabel to come along, so they untie the boat from the dock before she can board. Mabel then rents another boat to catch-up to them, but gets caught in a storm and washed up to shore in an unconscious state where she has a dream about a crew of 18th century pirates lead by The Pirate King (Ted Hamilton) who cast Frederic off their ship when he refuses to become a pirate like them. Frederic then washes up to shore where he meets Mabel and her sisters, but this time the sisters are all nerdy while Mable is the beautiful maiden that he immediately falls in love with. However, they must also avoid the clutches of The Pirate King and his men who also come to the island looking for women to kidnap.

The story is loosely based the the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta from 1880 called The Pirates of Penzance, but jacked-up with a lot of campy comedy and modern day, teeny-bopper songs that, unless you’re really into 80’s cheese, makes it an almost excruciating experience to sit through. I don’t mind some campiness, but there still needs to be an exciting plot and a story that has a sense of adventure and even a few moments of tension for balance, but all this thing has is one lame gag after another. There’s also a ton of anachronisms including an Inspector Clouseau-type character and even light sabers that have absolutely no place in a movie set in the 18th Century.

The dream concept gets poorly played-out as this is supposedly Mabel’s, but when a person is having a dream then everything is from their perspective and they’re involved in someway with everything that goes on in it and yet here there’s a great number of scenes where Mabel isn’t even present. She also mentions at one point that since this is ‘her dream’ she wants a ‘happy ending’, but people don’t usually know they’re dreaming while they’re having it and only become aware after they’ve awaken.

Kristy is much more entertaining in the nerd role (she looks literally like Peter Billingsley from A Christmas Story) and she should’ve remained in that character and then earned her way into becoming a beautiful, confident women at the end instead of having her change over to one in a split second like here. Atkins is amusing simply because he has a big-brawny body with the high-pitched voice of an 8th grader though his poor acting, which at first works since the movie itself is bad, eventually got on my nerves.

The only funny bits are the behind-the-scenes outtakes that get shown during the closing credits although Ted Hamilton, who also served as the executive producer, does have a few amusing moments even though as the villain he’s too hammy.

Spoiler Alert!

The romance I didn’t like because it happens too quickly as romances are more interesting when there’s a challenge to overcome and since Frederic had no experience with women many funny awkward scenarios could’ve been incorporated, but aren’t. What really annoyed me is that when Mabel does finally wake up Frederic is right there, almost like magic, and kisses her, so they fall in love just like in the dream, but what’s the use of having a dream concept if the reality is going to play-out in exactly the same way? Could’ve been funnier had they gotten together only to eventually realize they couldn’t stand each other, which would’ve added a smidgen of reality that this otherwise vapid thing is sorely missing.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 6, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ken Annakin

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

The Last of the Knucklemen (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Isolated miners living together.

A group of miners, some of them with criminal records and no other means of employment, survive together in the remotest area of the Outback as they make a living working for Tarzan (Gerard Kennedy) who leads the team and gives them their paychecks. At night they sleep via bunkbeds in a small tin shack where they also play card games, drink, and occasionally brawl. Pansy (Michael Preston) is the de facto leader, who uses his quick temper and husky build to intimidate anyone who challenges his authority. The only one he doesn’t fight is Tarzan, but only because he’s the employer. Then a new man arrives named Tom (Peter Hehir) with a mysterious past. He has karate skills that allow him to take-on Pansy’s fist-fitting ability, but Pansy has a secret weapon of his own when he brings in Carl (Steve Rackman) from a nearby town who’s a huge guy with very few teeth, who he feels can beat Tom in a fight and everyone else in the camp takes bets on who they think can win.

The film is based on the stage play of the same name written by John Powers who himself had never worked in a mining camp, but had always been intrigued with the ruggedness, wildness, and overall isolation of them after growing up hearing bawdy tales from his Uncle Harry who had been employed at one of them. 20 years after hearing his uncle’s stories he then decided to turn those rustic tales into a play while also incorporating it with the adventures of Ronald Biggs who was a train robber who managed to evade the authorities for many years. Pitting a known criminal trying to just hide-out at a remote camp with the gruff nature of the men who worked there he felt would make for an interesting dynamic and the play, which opened in 1973 in Australia and 10 years later in the U.S. where it starred Dennis Quaid, was met with rave reviews.

Director Tim Burstall was looking to do a male bonding pic and had a choice between doing this one or The Odd Angry Shotwhich was reviewed last week, and came to the determination that this was the better fit. He particularly liked the outback setting and became focused on finding the most remote town to film it in and eventually chose the itty-bitty one of Andamooka, which at the time had only 316 people living there and today has even less. While the town certainly met the rustic quality it had no police and the inhabitants, much like the characters in the story, had previous criminal records forcing the producer to sleep with a gun at his side and the production’s payroll under his pillow. It also at times caused interruptions with the filming when one day one of the locals threatened to blow up the set with a stick of dynamite, which sent the cast and crew running, until the special effects man realized the stick had no detonator.

The interior scenes were done on a soundstage in Melbourne, though it’s so impressively camouflaged you’d never know it. My only complaint with the outdoor shots is that filming took place during September and October, which is Springtime in Australia where temps aren’t as hot, and in fact they were quite chilly, so that intense hot Outback feel, which is the whole basis of the story, never really comes through.

As for the story, it’s surprisingly engaging despite the fact that there’s really not much of a plot and everything hinders on the interactions of the characters. Fortunately the characters are so well defined that you enjoy and are even intrigued at how they all relate to each other and the love-hate relationship that they share. One of the most gripping moments has nothing to do with the climactic fight, but instead on an intense poker game between Pansy and the elderly Methusela (Michael Duffield), where each tries to bluff the other while also raising the money stakes to drastic heights.

The fight itself, which you wait through the whole movie to see, wasn’t as exciting, or captured in as intense of a way, as I was expecting. The animosity between Tom and Pansy wasn’t played-up enough either and only comes to a head during the third act while I felt it should’ve been brewing from the very start. Tom as a character is quite dull and is seen a lot less than Methusela who’s the scene-stealer. The sequence between Tom and Carl’s battle is surprisingly quick while the big showdown between Tarzan and Pansy gets captured from a distance and shown over the closing credits, which I found quite disappointing. There’s no answer to who ultimately wins the fight either, which despite the film’s other good qualities, is a big letdown.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 11, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Hexagon Productions

Available: DVD (Import Region 0)

Stork (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Outcast falls in love.

Graham (Bruce Spence), who goes by the nickname Stork, is a rebellious left-wing radical who finds working to be an impediment to his time and freedom and therefore is routinely fired. After losing his most recent job by doing a striptease in the office he’s allowed to move-in to his friend Westy’s (Graeme Blundell) apartment, which he also shares with Clyde (Helmut Bakaitis), Tony (Sean Myers) and Anna (Jacki Weaver). Anna is promiscuous and sleeps interchangeably with both Clyde and Tony, and on rare occasion, even Westy. Stork wants in on the action, but Anna is more concerned with finding him a job instead eventually though they have sex only to have Anna inform everyone that she is pregnant, but nobody knows whose baby it is.

The film was a landmark in Australian cinema in that it became the first box office success in Aussie history and cemented the idea that domestic films made in Australia could find an audience. Before that most Australian theaters only showed movie from Britain and Hollywood, so this film and its success helped usher in what became known as Australia’s New Wave. This was also the first film written by the prolific David Williamson, which he states was an autobiographical account of his own life and based on the hit play ‘The Coming of Stork’, which also starred Spence.

The funniest aspect of the film is simply Spence himself, whose tall, gangling body and freakish looking face gives the movie its necessary edge. He initially wanted to quit during the production as he felt he wasn’t right for the part nor ready to take on the pressures of movie acting, but director Tim Burstall convinced him to stay, which is good as the movie wouldn’t have worked without him. Weaver is also quite enjoyable playing a more subdued personality, which is in complete contrast to Stork’s, which is what makes their relationship intriguing.

I enjoyed the dream-like segments where Stork imagines himself working at different alternative jobs with the best one being the one he does in Antarctica, but the film is unable to maintain the fast pace style that was needed for the quirky material to work. Too many long, drawn-out segments in-between the fantasy moments that does nothing, but drag the whole thing down. The story is unfocused with too much time spent on Stork looking for a job while the relationship angle get pushed to the side until the third act.

The characters are not well defined either. Stork is certainly a rebel, but what made him become this way? It would’ve helped had we learned more about his relationship with his family and is upbringing, but that never comes. Anna’s sleeping around is quite unconventional particularly doing it with men who live together, but we’re never given much insight to what makes her tick, nor how the men accept this behavior as most, especially during that era, would be possessive and not keen with ‘sharing’ a girl with their friends, but why they’re so opened-minded is never made clear.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, which has Anna getting married to Clyde, but letting Stork tag along creating another threesome scenario, leaves open too many unanswered questions. It would’ve been nice had more been shown of this new arrangement and whether it was able to work-out, but since it doesn’t it becomes an unsatisfying character study.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 27, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Tim Burstall

Studio: Roadshow Films

Available: DVD (Region 4 Import, Out-of-Print)

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Messiah in the desert.

Based on the rock opera of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice, the story centers on the last days of Christ (Ted Neeley) and his interactions with one of his disciples named Judas (Carl Anderson).  Judas does not agree with the direction that Jesus is taking the group and the two share a falling out. The next day in Jerusalem Judas visits the Priests (Bob Bingham, Kurt Yaghjian), who have already made the decision that Jesus must die for the sake of the nation. Using money to bribe him they get Judas to reveal where Jesus will be staying. Then on the next night Judas arrives with guards who arrest Jesus where he’s then taken to the Priests home and sentenced to death.

This film is very similar to Godspell, which came out the same year and was also based off of a Broadway musical. In my opinion they should’ve combined the two into one as there’s not that much of a difference between them. Probably the biggest contrast is that one was filmed in New York City while this one was shot on-location in Beit Guvrin National Park in Israel.  While the extreme heat of the desert forced the cast to take breaks from filming every 20 minutes to hydrate it’s a definite plus cinematically since this was the location where the biblical stories took place and because few people from the US have ever been there, so the landscape holds a distinctive appeal.  Director Norman Jewison takes full advantage of the unique caves that were dug there centuries ago to create many interesting shots.

The cast of characters show a little more distinction and aren’t all dressed like free-spirited vagabonds from the early 70’s like in Godspell although they still act like hippies. Jesus in this film looks more like the accepted artist’s rendition of him as opposed to a clown, but he gets seriously overshadowed by Anderson’s flamboyant performance as Judas to the point that the whole movie would’ve been better served, and more interesting, had he been made the main character.

I enjoyed Yvonne Elliman’s ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, which later became a chart topper, and ‘King Herod’s Song’, which gets performed with campy gusto by Josh Mostel. The film though makes the same mistake as the other one in that there’s no dialogue in-between songs it just goes from one musical number to the next, which gives it a dizzying quality. If you’re really into musicals, or its spiritual message, then you may enjoy it, but anyone looking for conventional type of storytelling will be put off from the very beginning.

I didn’t get why all the anachronisms that get thrown-in either. It starts out with everyone arriving to the scene on a bus like they’re present-day performance artists putting on a show, but then shifts into them becoming the parts that they’re playing until you can’t tell the difference. Several scenes feature army tanks and even airplanes, which were never a part of the actual time period, so why have them? If this was all done to make it ‘hip’ for modern audiences then it doesn’t work and for many will come-off as ridiculously kitschy, which it is.

The one thing it does do well (since I presume everyone, believer or non, knows the story I feel I don’t need to put a ‘Spoiler Alert’ on this one) is the crucifixion, which gets played-out in a far more intense way than in Godspell where he died on an electrical fence that lasted for less than a minute. Here it gets dark and genuinely disturbing and during the ’39 Lashes’ moment forced Neeley’s mother, who had attended the film’s world premiere, to walk out of the theater as she found it too intense.

From my vantage point it’s well produced, but shallow though Jewison did show the film to Pope Paul VI who proudly proclaimed “I believe it will bring more people around the world to Christianity than anything ever has before.” However, it was not without it’s share of controversy including from religious groups who accused it of being both blasphemous and anti-Semitic. Jewison even admitted, in response to the criticisms, that it was never meant to be anything authentic or deeply theological.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Universal

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

I Never Sang for My Father (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father and son clash.

Based on the Broadway play of the same name written by Robert Anderson, who also wrote the screenplay, the story centers on college professor Gene (Gene Hackman) who tries to mend his relationship with his father Tom (Melvyn Douglas) a very bull-headed man who can’t seem to get along with anyone. When Gene’s mother (Dorothy Stickney) passes away suddenly it becomes a concern what to do with the father who is showing early signs of dementia and other health issues. Gene, who has recently been widowed himself, wants to remarry and move off to California, but his father prefers him to stay close by in New York. When Gene offers to move his father to California the old man refuses leading to a bitter feud between the two that also opens up old wounds.

To show just how good this movie is one only needs to compare it to Dad, which was an 80’s film starring Ted Danson and Jack Lemmon, which had a similar subject matter, but that film conveniently glossed over the many negative aspects of taking care of an elderly parent while this one tackles the downside head-on. Hearing the arguments that Gene has with his sister Alice (Estelle Parsons) and how neither one of them want to be straddled with the responsibility of being a round-the-clock caretaker I found to be refreshingly honest. Too many modern movies, in their attempt to make the lead character likable, never address these very real concerns. Also in the movie Dad the Ted Danson character flies across the country to help his father with no explanation for how this affected his job or finances while this one does touch on the economic realities. It also shows how elderly people aren’t always that lovable and can at times be genuinely nasty.

Douglas is outstanding as he manages to bring out different sides to his character. While the viewer finds him exasperating I still enjoyed the shots showing him kneeling at his bedside in prayer, which gave him, even as old and crotchety as he was, a child-like dimension. The conversations that he has about his own father and the poor relationship he had with him are quite revealing as it shows how the same issues can go across many generations with Douglas inadvertently treating his own son in the same shoddy way his old man treated him and not even realizing it.

With Douglas’ powerhouse performance Hackman gets overshadowed. He has fleeting moments where he displays his trademark anger and pent-up frustrations, but it doesn’t come-off as quite as genuine as it does in some of his other roles. It also would’ve been nice had there been some flashback scenes showing past altercations between the two, which would’ve helped the viewer emotionally connect to what he was feeling instead of having their differences just briefly touched on through dialogue. In many ways Parsons comes-off better and the reasons for her anger at her father is more clearly and eloquently explained.

The only complaint that I had with the film is when Hackman goes touring the assisted senior living homes. While the film had approached the material in a straight forward dramatic manner, which stays quiet true to the play, it suddenly shifts during this segment to becoming more artsy and cinematic by blocking out the dialogue and instead playing loud, moody score with a more subjective, hand-held camera. While this is all right I still felt it wasn’t needed and goes against the tone of the rest of the film, which had been very minimalist up until the then. The sudden pounding music doesn’t make the visuals showing the bleak living conditions of those places anymore shocking or disturbing and if anything becomes unnecessarily jarring and in-the-way.

These scenes also feature a very early appearance of James Karen as one of the directors of the senior facilities that Hackman tours. However, with the dark curly hair that he has here and the thick horn-rimmed glasses that he wears, you most likely won’t recognize him unless you look closely and even then you still might not think it’s him. With the decision by director Gilbert Cates to play music over these scenes we unfortunately never get to hear hear what he was saying or how he was trying to sell the dismal looking place to the potential customer, which could’ve been interesting.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Gilbert Cates

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Miss Firecracker (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Entering a beauty contest.

Carnelle (Holly Hunter) lives in Yazoo City, Mississippi where she works in a factory and suffers from the reputation of being promiscuous. In order to improve her lot in life she decides to enter into The Miss Firecracker Contest, which is held annually in her town every 4th of July. She is hoping to emulate the success of her cousin Elain (Mary Steenburgen) who won the contest years earlier as well as proving to both herself and others that she isn’t a loser, but the competition proves harder than she thought forcing her to reevaluate what’s really important to her.

The film is based on the stageplay written by Beth Henley, who is better known for writing Crimes of the Heart, which won many accolades while this one didn’t. Part of the reason is that when this play was first produced in 1980 many critics thought it was going to be a pro-feminist satire poking fun of beauty contests, which it isn’t, while others disliked it because they perceived it as being an antifemist since Carnelle takes winning the contest very seriously.

For me I was expecting something along the lines of Smile, which was a very funny, on-target 1970’s look at beauty contests, the flawed people who run them, and the superficial women that enter them. I was thinking this would be an 80’s update to that one and was sorely disappointed to find that it wasn’t. The two people who run the contest, which are played by Ann Wedgeworth and Trey Wilson are hilarious in the few scenes that they are in and the film could’ve been a complete winner had they been the centerpiece of the story.

I was also hoping for more of buildup showing Carnelle rehearsing her routine for the pageant as well as her interactions with the other contestants, which doesn’t really get shown much at all. For the most part the pageant is treated like a side-story that only comes to the surface in intervals while more time is spent with Carnelle’s relationship with Elain and her other cousin Delmount (Tim Robbins) which I did not find captivating at all.

Hunter gives a very strong heartfelt performance, which is the one thing that saves it, and Alfre Woodard, who normally plays in dramatic parts, shows great comic skill as the bug-eyed character named Popeye and yet both of these actresses screen time is limited. Instead we treated to too much of Steenburgen, who comes off as cold and dull here, and Robbins, who plays a borderline psychotic that is creepy in a volatile way and not interesting at all.

First time director Thomas Schlamme, who had only directed documentaries and comedy specials  before this, employs a few things that I enjoyed like tinting the flashback scenes with a faded color, but overall he doesn’t show a good feel for the material. Too much of the time it see-saws from being a quirky comedy to maudlin soap opera, but nothing gels.

Even the film’s setting gets botched. In the play the town was  Brookhaven, Mississippi, but for whatever reason the film changed it to Yazoo City where the on-location shooting took place. While it does a nice job in capturing the town’s look it doesn’t reflect the right vibe, or any vibe at all for that manner as the townspeople seem more like something taken out of a surreal Norman Rockwell painting than real everyday folks.

The soundtrack is also an issue as it gets filled with a placid elevator music type score that got started in Steven Spielberg’s Amblin films and was played in a lot Hollywood comedies during the 80’s and 90’s. While it may have a pleasing quality to it also lacks distinction. The music should’ve had a more of a southern sound that would’ve reflected the region and composed specifically for this production instead of  stealing a generic tune that had been used in hundreds of other movies already.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Thomas Schlamme

Studio: Corsair Pictures

Available: DVD

Godspell (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Jesus is a hippie.

A group of modern day young adults dissatisfied with their mundane lives decide to follow the calling of John the Baptist (David Haskell) to learn the teachings of Jesus (Victor Garber). They spend their days roaming the vacant streets of New York City while doing song and dances that are inspired by the Gospel of St. Matthew.

This film is based on the hit Broadway play that in turn was the brainchild of John-Micheal Tebelak. Tebelak was a student at Carnegie Mellon University in 1970 when he attended an Easter Vigil at St. Paul’s Cathedral only to end up getting frisked for drugs by the police simply because his clothing attire resembled that of a hippie. He became incensed that the modern day Christian was out-of-touch with the younger generation and became compelled to bridge-the-gap by going home and writing this play, which lead to him getting offers to produce and direct it, first at experimental off-Broadway theaters and then finally Broadway itself.

While this film’s intentions may be noble, it doesn’t completely succeed although its ability to take advantage of the New York City locations is a chief asset. Many prominent sites of the city get used including the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, and even a breath-taking dance sequence on top of the still being built World Trade Center. The film also manages to somehow, outside of the very beginning and very end, clear out all the other people from the city making the Big Apple seem like a giant ghost town, which in a way gives off a good surreal vibe, but it also would’ve been interesting seeing this troupe dealing with the everyday person and the reactions that would come from that.

The song and dance numbers are well choreographed, but there ends up being too many of them. The story lacks a plot and to a degree comes off as nonsensical. I realize they’re singing about parables from the Bible, but the viewer isn’t paying attention to that and instead focused on the colorful locales and comical antics of the hammy performers and it’s quite doubtful that a non-believer would suddenly get ‘inspired’ by anything that goes on here. Young children will most likely by confused and even frightened by it while teens and young adults, which was the target audience, will by today’s standards roll-their-eyes and consider it a relic of a bygone, drug-trippy era.

The cast shows a lot of energy and many of them were from the original stage version, but ultimately there’s no distinction between them. While most musicals have at least some dialogue and drama between the songs this one has none. It’s just two hours of non-stop singing and unless you’re deeply into the message this won’t really gel well with most viewers. The clothing styles, which at the time may have been ‘hip’, now look silly including having Jesus with an afro and walking around in over-sized shoes, which to me resembled a clown.

This might’ve worked better on stage where the intimate setting would allow one to feed off the vibe of the other audience members, but as a film it’s off-putting and the dazzling visual direction cannot overcome its other shortcomings.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated G

Director: David Greene

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

There’s a Girl in My Soup (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playboy falls for hippie.

Robert (Peter Sellers) is a dashing playboy who enjoys having random sexual encounters with women, even having sex with a bride on her wedding day. Despite being in his 40’s he shows no signs of wanting to settle down and get married. Then he meets Marion (Goldie Hawn) a groupie for a rock band who finds out that its lead singer Jimmy (Nicky Henson) has been unfaithful to her. With nowhere else to go she lets Robert pick her up and take her back to his pad where he tries to seduce her, but without much luck.

Although the stageplay for which this film is based did quite well its translation to the screen leaves much to be desired.  Despite director Ray Boulting’s efforts to liven up the scenery by placing several scenes in exotic locales while also sprucing up Robert’s place by inserting his bathroom to have all mirrors in it that cover both the walls and ceiling, the film still ends up coming off like a filmed stageplay that lacks both energy and action. Even the dialogue, that usually helps  keep other plays that have evolved onto the big screen, lacks bite and becomes as stale as the rest of the proceedings.

The relationship is only funny when Marion rebuffs Robert’s advances and openly tells him how unsexy he really is, but when she foolishly ignores her better judgement and starts falling for the cad is when the whole thing goes downhill. There’s also confusion for why Robert, who openly enjoyed his single life and sleeping around with various beautiful women, which he seemed to have no trouble getting, would suddenly fall for a young woman that he didn’t have much in common with. For a relationship to begin both sides have to initially be looking for one and there is absolutely no hint that is what Robert wanted, so what about Marion got him to suddenly change his mind?

Sellers is okay although critics at the time complained that his performance was ‘lifeless’, which it is, but he makes up for it with his Cheshire cat grin. The role though doesn’t allow him to be inventive, or put on many of his different accents or personas, which he is so well known for. The character and situation are also too similar to the one that he played  in I Love You Alice B. Toklas, which he did just two years earlier.

Hawn is great and I enjoyed seeing her playing a snarky woman instead of the spacey blonde that she usually does, you even get a nice shot of her naked backside, but her character is too similar to one that she did in Butterflies are Free. In fact the two people that come-off best here are not the stars at all, but instead John Comer and Diana Dors as a middle-aged, bickering couple who should’ve been given more screen time.

Overall there’s just not enough laughs here to make sitting through it worth it. The plot has no point and the characters don’t grow or evolve making it a waste of time for its two leads whose talents are above this type of material.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ray Boulting

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube