Category Archives: Movies for the Whole Family

The Great Outdoors (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends ruin their vacation.

Chet (John Candy) decides to take his wife (Stephanie Faracy) and two kids (Chris Young, Ian Michael Giatti) on a well deserved family outing up to a lake resort town in Wisconsin. Unfortunately their fun excursion  gets crashed by their obnoxious friend Roman (Dan Aykroyd) and his wife Kate (Annette Bening) who along with their two creepy twin daughters (Hilary Gordon, Rebecca Gordon) proceed to turn the pleasant vacation into a nightmare.

Calling this John Hughes script paper thin is an understatement and it reminded me of an interview I once read where Hughes bragged that he could write his screenplays in a matter of only a day or two although with this one I’m surprised it took even that long. Not only is the premise devoid of any original ideas, but it seemed more like material for the Griswold family and I was confused why it wasn’t just made as part of the Vacation series although I preferred Candy over Chevy Chase as he’s much more likable without the sneering sarcasm, and his presence here helps make it at least modestly enjoyable.

The comedy also avoids becoming too farcical or lewd, which was nice, and manages to keep things semi-believable to what might occur to a regular family in the woods including my favorite part where the two men try to kill a bat that has gotten into the cabin. The setting, which was filmed on-location in Lake Bass, California is scenic and the woodsy cabin, built specifically for the film on a studio backlot, is impressive because you would never know the difference.

However, the animosity between the two characters, which is supposedly the heart of the humor, is not played-up enough or as half as much as I was expecting. In many ways it seemed almost like it was Candy who was more the obnoxious one particularly when he tells a scary story that gets everyone upset. The scene where he puts a candy bar on the hood of his car to attract a bear makes him look really stupid, and something that should’ve been done instead by the supposedly dopey second-banana character like Aykroyd.

The kids, especially the twin girls who seemed spookier than the twins in The Shining, are annoying and I thought it was weird that they are played-off as creepy for the majority of the film only to then near the end have the viewer expected to suddenly start caring for them when they get trapped in a cave.  As for the two boys they’re dull and transparent and the scenes dealing with the romance that the oldest one has with one of the teen waitresses (Lucy Deakins) are extremely formulaic and unnecessary and almost like it were put in simply to pad the runtime.

The running gag dealing with the talking raccoons is childish and the one dealing with a man (Britt Leach) constantly getting struck by lightning is completely ridiculous.  The story is nothing more than a procession of gags that lacks momentum or pace. The laughs are sporadic and subside after the 45-minute mark making the final half a chore to sit through and that includes the climactic bear attack, which is forced and over-the-top.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1988

Released: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Deutch

Studio: Universal 

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

The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Orphaned kids strike gold.

Russell (Bill Bixby) is a slick gambler living in the old West who finds that he has unwittingly become the guardian to three orphaned children ( Clay O’Brien, Brad Savage, Stacy Manning). Initially he tries to pawn them off on other people, but eventually he takes a liking to them when he realizes that they’ve inherited a mine that has gold in it, which soon makes everyone else in town want to adopt them.

This Disney film, which was based on the 1971 Jack Bickham novel of the same name, fares better than most of their other films and in fact became its biggest money maker from the 70’s. It helps that the main character of Russell isn’t as squeaky clean as the typical Disney leading man as it’s strongly implied that he cheats at the poker games that he wins and the fact that he gradually softens towards the kids through time creates a nice character arch. Susan Clark, who’s the love interest, is good here too as she plays against type for a Disney leading lady by being more tom boyish and masculine despite the fact that apparently behind-the-scenes she was scared to death of horses and every scene that required her to ride one had her instead on a mechanical one although you could never tell.

The typical Disney comical trappings are given a unique spin here too, which also helps. Instead of having another boring barroom brawl, which is so common in many western comedies, we are treated to a funny lovers spat between Clark and Bixby inside the bar where props get thrown around between the two while everyone else sits frozen and unsure of what to do. There’s no cartoonish car chase at the end either, but instead a genuinely hair-raising battle between Bixby and Slim Pickens, who plays one of the bad guys, down the white rapids of a river. The shooting was also done on-location at Deschutes National Forest in Oregon, which improves the setting from the usual studio back lot.

Even the kids are tolerable without having their cuteness or innocence get overdone even though the running joke dealing with the young girl constantly having to go pee isn’t as funny as it seems when you think about it and most likely in reality would’ve been a warning sign of a very serious medical condition instead. Also, the scene showing the kids getting trapped in the mine after an earthquake should’ve also shown how they were able to get out instead of simply cutting to the next scene with them back in town of it without any explanation as to how they got there.

The real stars of the film though are Don Knotts and Tim Conway as the comically bumbling would-be crooks. This marked the first of five film appearances that the two did together and in many ways this is probably their best effort. I always liked seeing them together because it was a rare chance for Knotts to play the smarter of the two instead of always being the dope himself although some may find Conway’s extreme ineptness more annoying than funny. In either event they help enliven the proceedings and became the stars of the sequel The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, which will be reviewed next week.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two vaudevillians rob bank.

Harry and Walter (James Caan, Elliot Gould) are two down-on-their-luck marginally talented comedians living in the 1920’s who go to jail when they’re caught trying to rob their audience members during a tacky onstage ‘psychic’ stunt that goes horribly wrong. While in the slammer they meet up with Adam Worth (Michael Caine) a rich man from society’s upper crust who enjoys robbing banks just for the thrill of it. They come upon the blue print for his next proposed heist and take a picture of it and then after they escape from jail challenge Adam on who will be able to rob the bank first.

This is one of those 70’s movies that I found to be refreshingly original and quite funny, but when it was released it was met with harsh reviews and was a bomb at the box office. After some bad test audience reactions it was heavily cut much to director Mark Rydell’s dismay who felt a lot of the better jokes went missing although producer Tony Bill and star Caan blame Rydell for the film’s failure and insist that much of the humor in the original script was never even filmed or used.

I can’t explain why the film didn’t do well as I personally found as bank heist movies go this one to be quite  unique. So many bank robbing films from that era, and even today, paint the scheme in a one-dimensional way by portraying the robbers, who we are usually supposed to sympathize with, as a modern-day Robin Hood, while the cops and those out to stop them are represented as being the greedy,oppressive establishment, but this film takes things a step further, which is what I found interesting. The competition aspect gives it an extra.,likable edge and really made me want to root for Harry and Walter and their gang of losers who take on the arrogant Caine and his snotty buddies. Instead of the viewer just being intrigued at how they’re able to pull of the robbery as is the case with most heist films we are much more emotionally invested with its outcome.

Caan and Gould are what Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman should’ve been in Ishtar. These guys are definite losers, but still appealing and comical at the same time. Caan has never been known for his comedy and he has referred to this movie as ‘Harry and Walter Go to the Toilet’, which is a shame because he shows nice energy here and is able to keep Gould in check by not allowing him to drone on and steal the spotlight as he can sometimes do when left alone or with a less capable co-star.

If the film fails at all it’s by entering in too many supporting players. The title mentions only Harry and Walter and they should’ve pulled off the heist alone with maybe only Keaton tagging along for balance. As it is though a whole massive group gets in on it to the point that the two leads have little to do. While the group is busily trying to figure out how to open the safe Harry and Walter are on stage trying to extend a stage play  The film still works pretty well despite this issue, but technically the two men should be at the center of the action and in a lot of ways they really aren’t and in fact become almost like supporting players by the end.

The film also goes on too long with the denouncement being far more extended than it should, but it’s still a fun, breezy watch that reflects the gilded age flavor well and uses leftover sets from Hello Dolly to enhance the scenery perfectly.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Hambone and Hillie (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Dog reunites with owner.

Hillie (Lillian Gish) is a 90-year-old grandmother returning to Los Angeles from her stay in New York. In order to board the plane she must put her dog Hambone in a cage, so that he can be transported separately. Unfortunately a young girl opens the cage and allows Hambone to escape, but only after the plane carrying his owner has already taken off. Hambone then goes on a cross-country trek to reunite with Hillie and has many adventures in-between.

Most dogs that are abandoned from their owners become strays and live on the streets, in rescue shelters or are taken in by a new owner, but they are definitely not homing pigeons that can somehow smell their owners scent from thousands of miles away. They also can’t read maps or road signs or even tell direction making this film’s premise totally ridiculous. Also, dogs, like with most animals, have very short attention spans, so the idea that this mutt is harboring a long-term ‘strategy’ even as he meets other people is absurd. Yes dog/owner reunions do sometimes occur but they almost always require another person getting involved in order to bring the pet back.

The film also cheats things by having the dog in Philadelphia during one scene and then in the next shot he is in Chicago, but without showing how he did it. His ability to survive on his own is also highly questionable. Since he is a domesticated pet he’d have no hunting or foraging skills especially when he goes through the forest and desert. We sometimes see strangers giving the dog water during his trek, but never showing him eating anything. After he crosses the desert you’d expect him to be at a near starving state with his ribs showing, but they aren’t. What’s even crazier is that after walking through the desert he then spots Hillie in a car driving away and he runs after the vehicle at full speed even though after what he’s been through he should barely be able to walk at all.

The acting is pretty bad too with O.J. Simpson and Candy Clark, whose birthing contractions become almost comical, giving the two worst performances. I also chuckled at how Timothy Bottoms gets listed in the opening credits as having a ‘special appearance’ even though there’s absolutely nothing special about it unless you count the moment where he refers to Gish, a woman who was 90 at the time and 60 years older than him, as a ‘young lady’.

The two children (Marc Bentley, Nicole Eggert) who take in the dog for a while are so squeaky clean that they become Stepford-like. The fact that their mother (Nancy Morgan) had brown hair, but they were blonde didn’t make sense either. Granted the father is never shown and maybe he did have blonde hair, but darker hair is the stronger gene, so unless they were adopted that’s what they should’ve had.

The only interesting bit is when a handicapped girl (Sidney Greenbush) puts a cross around the neck of a dog that was traveling with Hambone and tells this dog that the cross will help protect her, but then later this same dog gets hit by a car and dies, which was odd since the movie seemed pro-Christian and even has a scene where the girl’s grandfather (Alan Hale Jr.) reads from the Bible, so you’d think they’d show the dog that wore the cross not getting hurt, or miraculously escaping a close-call, but it doesn’t. What’s even more revealing is that when the dog gets buried the cross is then hung on the grave marker and the camera does a close-up on it that seems to be pushing a subtle pro-secular message by reminding the viewer that wearing the cross did nothing to help save the dog’s life.

Another odd element is that the dog shown on the movie’s promotional poster is not the same one that was used in the film. This might be because, and I’m only guessing here, that the dog in the movie had a freaky looking pair of eyes– not sure the breed– that made him look almost possessed and the film studio worried that his appearance might scare the children away from seeing the movie.

In either case this schmaltzy family film is a dud and even dog lovers will find it hard to take as only they or the most indiscriminating children could possibly enjoy it. Others should beware.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Roy Watts

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: VHS

Hero at Large (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actor becomes a hero.

Steven Nichols (John Ritter) is a struggling actor who is hired to wear the Captain Avenger outfit in public in order to help promote the movie, which he himself is not in, that is soon to be released. While picking up a snack late one night at a convenience store he inadvertently witnesses a hold-up and decides to put on his Captain Avenger disguise to ward off the crooks and the trick works and makes him an overnight sensation. Walter (Bert Convy) who works for the mayor (Leonard Harris) decides to hire Steven to play Captain Avenger fighting off more crooks in different scenarios, but this ends up causing Steven serious conflicts with Jolene (Anne Archer) the pretty lady who lives across the hall from him and who he has just started up a relationship.

I really like John Ritter, but his appeal here gets put to the extreme test and it isn’t enough to save what is otherwise a very flat film. This was supposed to be the movie that jettisoned his career to the big screen, but instead it quarantined him back to TV-star status and he was never able to recover. By the 90’s he got a few more leading movie roles, but they were in crude, low-brow stuff like Stay Tuned and Problem Child, which were never going to win the Academy Award, but even they were better than this bland thing.

The script by A. J. Carothers, who mainly wrote for Disney and TV-sitcoms, doesn’t go far enough with its premise and misses too many prime opportunities to be funny. The most disappointing is the film’s pivotal moment where Ritter tries to stop a hold-up, but you would think someone who has never fought off criminals before would be clumsy in his first attempt, which should’ve invited in some slapstick comedy, but it never comes. You would also think hardened street crooks would laugh at Steven in his super hero getup and probably turn around and beat the shit out of him especially since he carried no weapons instead of running away from him in fright. Yet this potentially big moment gets played out like a throwaway scene that lasts for less than a minute and is quickly forgotten.

The emphasis instead gets focused on Steven’s generic romance with Jolene, who after knowing him for only a little while lets him move into her apartment where he platonically sleeps on the sofa even as she continues to see her boyfriend, which seems like quite a stretch. Her constant smiling at Steven’s ongoing ineptness makes her seem more like a parent bemused at her child’s wide-eyed naivety than as an equal love partner.

What is worse is the film’s attempts at satire, which are too obvious and it beats home its simplistic, feel good message like it’s being told to a group of eight-year-olds. The super hero costume that he wears is unimaginatively designed and barely masks Steven’s identity, which makes the subplot dealing with how almost no one is able to figure out who this super hero guy is as quite ridiculous.

Spoiler Alert!

The dumbest part though is the ending, which gets played up to a nauseatingly melodramatic degree and has Steven, wearing his Captain Avenger outfit, running into a burning building just as all the other firefighters are told to evacuate it and then somehow able to save a child unscathed even as the building falls in on him, which all helps cements this woefully uninspired flick as an excellent candidate for a bad movie night.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 8, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Martin Davidson

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Popeye (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He doesn’t like spinach.

Popeye (Robin Williams) is a sailor who travels to the seaside village of Sweet Haven in search of his long lost father (Ray Walston). It is there that he moves into the upstairs room of the Oyl residence and becomes attracted to their daughter Olive (Shelley Duvall). Olive though is engaged to the gruff Bluto (Paul L. Smith) whose bullying ways is giving Olive second thoughts. When she tries to leave town in order to avoid the impending marriage she meets Popeye and they get into a relationship while also coming upon an orphaned baby that they name Swee’pea (Wesley Ivan Hurt), but Bluto becomes determined to destroy their union by kidnapping the child.

I remember watching the Popeye cartoons growing up and while I was never much of a fan this film version fails to replicate the original storylines. In the cartoons the relationship between Olive and Popeye seemed in constant flux and many times Olive would be ‘stolen away’ by Bluto’s courting and Popeye would have to win her back. Here the confrontations between Bluto and Popeye are played down significantly and there’s only two fight sequences between them and they last for only a few minutes.

The biggest difference though is that here Popeye doesn’t like spinach even though in the cartoons his spinach consumption was the whole reason he got his strength. Apparently when Popeye was introduced in 1929 he got his strength from rubbing the hairs on a magical whiffle hen named Bernice, but modern day audiences equate Popeye with spinach and changing this concept makes it seem like the film is not staying true to form. Kids who enjoyed the cartoons come to the movie expecting the same theme not watching something that’s going to take what they love into a completely different direction. What’s worse is that here there’s no explanation for how Popeye gets his amazing strength, which makes the already loopy storyline even dumber.

Williams gives a great performance, but his presence gets drowned out by the introduction of too many other characters including Paul Dooley as Wimpy who almost seems to have more screen time. Watching Walston play an older version of Popeye as the father is not funny, but instead incredibly annoying and again only helps to overshadow Williams’ great work.

I originally thought the casting of Duvall was inspired as I don’t think there’s any other actress living or dead who shares the physical traits of the Olive Oyl character quite as well as Duvall and in fact she admitted in interviews that she was nicknamed Olive Oyl by the school kids growing up. However, she overplays Olive’s nervous mannerisms which become repetitive and irritating while her attempts at singing are beyond bad.

The town of Sweet Haven, which took seven months to construct and consisted of 19 buildings built off the cost of Malta that still stands today, are the film’s strongest element, but everything else from its unfocused script evaporates into a mass sea of boredom. Robert Altman, who can be a great director at times, was the wrong choice for this type of production. He excels at doing existential adult dramas not kiddie flicks and children watching this thing will most assuredly become bored and the adults will too.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Cat from Outer Space (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cat alien seeks assistance.

Jake (voice of Ronnie Schell) is an alien who closely resembles a cat that lands his disabled spaceship on earth and is unable to get help from his mothership to return back to his planet. Using his powerful collar that allows him to speak telepathically he seeks the assistance of Frank Wilson (Ken Berry) a lab assistant who seems smart enough to understand Jake’s dilemma. Before they can do anything though the army comes in and takes the spaceship and stores it inside a warehouse under tight security forcing Frank and the cat to break into the building in order to retrieve the ship and get the cat back to his planet.

I admit that when I was 9-years-old I watched this movie and came away thinking it as ‘pretty cool’ and for a kid I suppose this could still seem passable, but for any discerning adult it’s nothing more than mumbo-jumbo sci-fi. The biggest issue is the collar, which allows the cat way too much power.  He, or anyone else touching it, can do virtually anything even flying through the air or moving other objects through mind control. The thing is so powerful that you hardly feel that the cat is in any type of real danger, which hurts any potential tension. The plot has one caveat, which is if the collar is ever taken off of the cat then he is helpless. Yet this rarely occurs and when it does he, or somebody else, is able to retrieve it quickly making this plot-point a mute issue. The collar even allows him to fly a disabled plane making me wonder why then he couldn’t just use it to do the same thing to his disabled spaceship.

Spoiler Alert!

The film is different from other Disney films of that era in that it doesn’t end with a climactic car chase, but instead has a hair-rising finish in the air with Berry standing on top of an airplane wing trying to rescue his girlfriend Sandy Duncan who is trapped on a helicopter that has no pilot. The stunt work for this is quite impressive and exciting, but I kept wondering how long a helicopter could go in the air without a pilot before it would spin out-of-control and crash. Of course this finally does occur once Duncan is conveniently rescued, but I kind of felt in reality it would’ve happened much sooner.

The film’s final scene involves the cat getting sworn in as a United States citizen, which is pretty loopy since he’s still allowed to go around wearing his collar, but how could the government trust anyone with that since it would virtually allow them to do just about anything? And wouldn’t it attract foreign powers looking to steal if for their own nefarious means making the film’s ending seem more like just a beginning to a far more complex subplot.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The cast is unusual for a typical Disney film too in that there’s not a single child or teen present even though it’s a movie aimed for kids. Instead it has Berry who is so utterly benign he becomes offensive in his inoffensiveness. McLean Stevenson as his sports betting pal is fun and Harry Morgan is quite amusing playing another one of his blustery overly-authoritative characters. Schell, who speaks for the cat, gets a small role as one of the members of the army, but has his voice dubbed. James Hampton, who appeared with Berry in the TV-show ‘F-Troop’, can be spotted in a small role as well.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 9, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shyster manages baseball team.

Drowning in debt small-time promoter Marvin Lazar (Tony Curtis) decides to take over the Bear’s baseball time by escorting them to Japan and managing them in a game against the Japanese champions run by coach Shimizu (Tomisaburo Wakayama). Problems arise though when Lazar runs out of money and is forced to partake in shady ploys to keep the team afloat.

The script was written by Bill Lancaster, who had penned the first one, and produced by Michael Ritchie who had been the director on the original, but the immense charm from the first installment is completely lost here. The wide-open poorly structured story lacks originality and filled with strained humor that will barely crack a smile.

The kids lack pizazz and play-off of tired caricatures that are no longer cute or funny. The biggest drawback is that the feisty Tanner who had been so prominent in the first two films is missing. It also looks weird and unrealistic that there is such a vast age difference amongst the kids in the line-up. Aren’t Little Leagues usually designed to be age specific? For instance there is usually a Pee-Wee division and then a 10 to 12 age division and so forth, so then why do we have kids here who look to be in the second grade matched with others who seem ready to enter the Junior High? Such a wide range in skill levels would make it virtually impossible to field a functional team from the get-go.

The playing ability of the team seems to have strangely regressed as well. In the first film they came close to winning the championship and in the second installment they did, but here they play like complete bumbling novices with no baseball experience at all.

Curtis is amusing, which helps save the film from being a complete disaster, but it hurts it as well because the script becomes geared completely around his character while the kids are overshadowed and forgotten. The story goes on long misguided tangents that have nothing to do with baseball at all including a segment dealing with Curtis challenging a Sumi wrestler to a match and the Japanese players getting involved in a singing contest, which begs the question if this is a movie about the Bears team then why is more screen time given to the Japanese one?

The side-story dealing with Jackie Earle Haley’s romantic foray is dumb too. He spots a young Japanese lady (Hatsune Ishihara) walking out of a nondescript store on a busy Tokyo street and for some reason becomes completely mesmerized by her and begins chasing her all around city and aggressively coming onto her like he’s a stalker, which would’ve scared any normal woman, but here this crazy behavior gets her to ‘fall-in-love’ with him despite the fact that she speaks no English.

The production values are surprisingly slick and the on-location shooting done in Japan is nice, but the script and humor is empty-headed and forgettable. It’s also interesting to note that George Wyner who appeared in the first film as the manager of the White Sox team appears here in a completely different part as a network executive.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Berry

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Playing in the Astrodome.

Having won the league championship game a year after losing the first one the Bears now look to play the Houston Toros at the Astrodome between games of a Major League double-header. The problem is that they no longer have a manager, so Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley) recruits his estranged father (William Devane) to act as one for the team’s benefit. Kelly and his father do not get along, which causes friction with the rest of players, as they prepare to play the Toros who are much bigger physically and have far more talent.

If there was ever a reason as to why making a sequel from a successful first film is usually a bad idea this movie could be held up as the best example. The originality and fresh humor from the first gets completely lost here. While the first one conveyed a strong message this one has none at all and barely even a story instead just a thin plot wrapped around episodic comedy that barely elicits even a chuckle.

It does at least allow for some screen time showing the parents of the kids, which was woefully lacking in the first one. It also gives the kids more speaking lines and their presence is more central to the storyline while in the first film it was almost completely spun around Matthau. Unfortunately with the exception of Haley and Jimmy Baio, who plays Carmen the team’s new pitcher, none of the child actors have enough talent to carry the movie, which makes the scenes with them in it quite lethargic and lifeless.

Devane is extremely weak in the lead and his character poorly defined. The way he gets asked to volunteer as the team’s coach is quite awkward and the fact that he literally takes over the team in a matter of just 2 short days like he’s a seasoned manager that’s been doing this for years seemed unrealistic. It was also hard-to-believe that this guy, who worked at a pipe fitting plant, would be so adept at baseball strategy and able to convey these skills to the players as effectively as he does without having any prior experience.

The Astrodome is captured as being this impressive monolithic structure when in reality, if you see it in person, it is quite underwhelming. I realize when it was first built in 1964 it was considered the ‘8th wonder of the world’, but time has not been kind to it. If you go to see it now, which I did just this past summer, it gets dwarfed considerably by the far bigger and more majestic looking Reliant stadium, which sits right next to it. There are so many other buildings that have been built around it that the Astrodome now gets easily overlooked and almost forgotten making Kelly’s fascination with the structure seem quite dated.

In the first film the climactic game was full of high drama, but the one here is a bore. Watching the security guards try to tackle Tanner (Chris Barnes) and carry him off the field is genuinely funny and probably the film’s one and only highlight in this otherwise pointless excursion that would’ve been best left unmade.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 8, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Pressman

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Bad News Bears (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: From losers to winners.

Ex-minor league baseball player and now full-time pool cleaner Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) gets hired to coach a bunch of unskilled, untalented kids in a competitive baseball Little League. At first Buttermaker is only interested in collecting a paycheck and has no drive in teaching the kids the fundamentals or even in winning, but things change after the season opener when his team gets drubbed by the far superior Yankees. Buttermaker takes offence at their arrogant manager (Vic Morrow) and feels compelled to ‘show-him-up’. To do this he brings in the talented Amanda (Tatum O’Neal) to be the team’s new pitcher as well as Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley) who is an excellent fielder and hitter, but as his competitive juices flow, so does his surly side making the game no longer fun to play for the kids.

Don’t be fooled because this is anything but a simple kid’s flick. Sure the kids can watch it and enjoy it, but the multi-layered story brings out many issues that the adults will be more than able to relate to. Director Michael Ritchie deftly picks-up on the many nuances of Little League culture and if one played in it or was involved in any capacity then this movie will tap into those memories and bring back a flood of nostalgia.

My only complaint is a missing side-story dealing with the parents attending the games. It is mentioned in passing how the adults are able to be friendly with each other as the season begins, but by the end they are usually no longer on speaking terms, but it would’ve been much more revealing had this been shown instead of just discussed.

The script was written by Bill Lancaster who was the son of legendary actor Burt Lancaster. He based the story of his own experiences of playing Little League ball and the Buttermaker character is supposedly a composite of his famous dad.

This also marks the fifth film that Ritchie directed dealing with the theme of competition. His first was Downhill Racer, which dealt with the sport of skiing, The Candidate dealing with a senatorial race, Prime Cut, which was about rival crime syndicates, and Smile about the ugly side of beauty pageants and while all those flicks were good this one is his best.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s climactic game, which has the Bears taking on the mighty Yankees for the championship features many of baseball’s intricate tactics that will appeal to the seasoned fan, but still be straight forward enough for the novice to grasp. It also has the film’s most famous scene where the Yankees’ manager smacks his own son (Brandon Cruz), who was the team’s pitcher, when he doesn’t obey his father’s instructions. Then on the very next play, and in order to get back at his dad, the kid fields a grounder, but refuses to throw it to first base, which allows the opposing team to score an easy run.

It is intended that the viewer should side with kid, but I didn’t. For one thing the dad’s advice was good, since this hitter had already gotten some runs off of him earlier it made sense to pitch low and outside. Just because he kid wants to ‘strike him out’ doesn’t mean that he will or that it’s a good idea. Strategy is a part of the game and that’s what a manger is there for. What happens if this kid grows up and plays in the big leagues and then decides he doesn’t want to do what the manager tells him. How’s that going to go over?

The kid also seemed like an incredibly self-centered little brat. Supposedly he lives with his dad 24/7, so couldn’t he have picked some other time to get back at his old man instead of jeopardizing the game for the rest of his teammates who are counting on him to help win?

This also brings up the issue of who’s really the ‘mean manager’.  It’s supposed to be Morrow, but Matthau in a lot of ways gets just as bad if not worse especially with the way he ends up treating Amanda making me almost surprised that she showed up the next day to play. To me it would’ve been more satisfying having one of the Bears players do to Matthau what the son did to his father and in my opinion Matthau would’ve deserved it more.

This then brings up the third issue which is the fact that Matthau has this extraordinary epiphany in the middle of the big game where he realizes in his zest to win he might’ve pushed things too far and decides to pull back. I realize this is the film’s central theme, which is that becoming overly competitive is not good and can turn otherwise nice people into assholes if they aren’t careful, but the shift comes off like a Jekyll and Hyde. Most of these types of games last for only an hour, so having a guy at the start of the hour come off as this relentless warrior willing to do whatever it takes to win only to end the game being this high minded idealist lecturing the other parents on how it’s important that all the children get a chance to play even if it means blowing the game seems too severe for such a short period of time.

I wasn’t completely happy about the Bears losing the big final game either. Normally I’d consider this a good thing because it works against the formula. It’s also beneficial for kids to realize that not everyone ends up with the big trophy or that ‘the good guys always win’, but more important to hold your head high and be proud of your accomplishments, yet I still remained a bit frustrated. You become so emotionally invested in them winning that it’s deflating when it doesn’t happen, but it’s still one of the best sports movies ever made either way!

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 7, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube