Category Archives: Movies from Canada

Circle of Two (1981)

circle3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old man/young teen.

Ashley St. Clair (Richard Burton) is an aging painter of 60 who has lost his passion and hasn’t either sold, or attempted to do a painting in over 10 years. Sarah (Tatum O’Neal) is an unhappy 15-year-old who’s tired of dating guys her own age as she finds them to be immature and only interested in one thing…sex. She then meets Ashley, first after she sneaks into an adult theater to watch an X-rated movie and then later at a coffee shop. Despite the extreme differences in their ages they still connect through their mutual interest in art. Ashley even begins to paint again and the two share an enjoyable, but platonic friendship. However, once Sarah’s parents (Robin Gammell, Patricia Collins) find out about they put an immediate stop to it by locking her in her room and and in protest Sarah refuses to eat.

Based on the novel ‘A Lesson in Love’ by Marie-Terese Baird this film marks the final one to be directed by famed Greek director Jules Dassin and in many ways this may be the weakest one that he did. The whole way the relationship gets going is very rushed and forced. Bumping into the same person twice in one day, in the big city of Toronto, doesn’t seem likely and then having Sarah fall so head-over-heels for him to the point she starts spouting out the ‘L’ word quite quickly is dingy. A more plausible scenario would’ve had Ashley teaching an art class (he no longer paints, but still has to bring in an income somehow) of which Sarah attends and then through the course of several months a bond is slowly created.

The sex angle is a complete mess. Fortunately Ashley makes no moves on her, but Sarah does aggressively begin to come-on to him and at one point stands completely naked in front of him. In her autobiography ‘A Paper Life’ O’Neal expressed great discomfort in having to do this scene though I didn’t detect this, but maybe that’s just because she’s such a great actress, but either way the scene was completely unnecessary.  It’s also inconsistent with the character as she broke-up with her boyfriend Paul (Michael Wincott) because he was trying to pressure her into having sex and she was still a virgin, so if she didn’t want sex with a guy her own age why would she want it with one who was way older and is this era of pre-Viagra how could she even be sure he could do it? A better scenario would’ve had sex never coming into play and it was simply their other mutual interests that connected them and it was only outsiders, like Sarah’s parents, that presumed the worst when it really wasn’t occurring.

The one bright spot is the acting with both leads being superb. O’Neal proves that her strong and memorable performance in Paper Moon was no fluke and the only thing that keeps the film watchable. Burton is excellent as well. Although he usually has a strong presence here he wisely takes a step back playing someone who’s weak and tentative, which in many ways reflected his own career at the time where many felt he was washed-up and the years of alcohol abuse certainly did age him making him look even older than 60 when he really wasn’t, and thus a perfect fit for the part. The only issue here is that Tatum seems way too mature for 15 both physically and personality-wise and having her play someone who was 17 would’ve been more appropriate.

While the film remains marginally compelling the talky ending in which Burton goes on a long speech like a tenured professor lecturing to a college class practically ruins it. I was also frustrated that we never learn much about the old man, played by George Bourne Sr., an elderly gentleman who agrees to let Ashley paint his portrait for a fee, which in-turn revitalizes his career and I felt this character should’ve been in it more, or at least a few scenes showing what they talked about as his portrait was being done.

Tatum’s abstaining from all food plays-out poorly as well. For one thing she doesn’t change physically, so we’d never know she wasn’t eating if it weren’t mentioned. She then travels to New York and I was fully expecting her to pass-out in the middle of crowded Grand Central Station from a lack of nutrients, but apparently in-between time she had eaten something, but this should’ve been shown and the fact that it isn’t is a sign of shoddy film-making, which despite Dassin’s previous output, this whole movie ends up pretty much being.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 7, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jules Dassin

Studio: World Northal

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

The Disappearance (1977)

disappearance

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is his wife?

Jay Mallory (Donald Sutherland) is a professional assassin who works for a secret organization that contracts him out to do hits all over the world. After returning home from his latest assignment he finds that his wife Celandine (Francine Racette) is not there. Since they had a tumultuous relationship he initially presumes she left on her own accord, but then his friend and fellow hit man Burbank (David Warner) informs him that her disappearance may have something to do with his last hit. The organization that employs him now calls with another assignment, but this time they’re reluctant to give any details, which is unusual. Jay is afraid he’s being set-up as Burbank told him that the company is known to ‘retire’ those that are deemed no longer useful or trustworthy. He decides though to go through with the assignment as he’s curious how it will play-out and confident enough in his ability to get out of any jam, but soon finds himself faced with an entangling twist he never expected.

The film is a fascinating portrait of what can be done with creative direction. Stuart Cooper, who’s not exactly a household name and in fact this was his last theatrical film until 2010 when he did Magic Man, lends some interesting directorial touches that makes the story and characters more interesting than they might otherwise. What I especially liked was the non-linear narrative in which the movie cuts back and forth between the past to the present day. These types of storylines are typically frowned upon by Hollywood studios as they’re considered to be ‘too confusing’ for mainstream audiences to follow, but I had no such difficulty and felt it allowed in added nuance that would not have been present had the plot been approached in the conventional way. Nonetheless when the film tanked at the box office upon its initial release the studio insisted that the film be re-cut where the story would be presented in the standard linear format, but this version did even worse, so fortunately for the DVD/Blu-ray release it was brought back to its original way and labeled as being the ‘director’s cut’ though Cooper actually had no input on it, but eventually approved once he viewed it.

It’s also highly atmospheric particularly with the way it captures the cold, wintry climate of Montreal in the dead-of-winter. Having been born and raised in Minnesota I can tell a fake winter scene done on an indoor sound stage using artificial snow within seconds, but here the cold, including the mounds of snow drifts and nasty hollowing wind, is quite vivid and helps to symbolize the cold nature of the characters and the business they’re in.

I was a little more lukewarm with the acting. Sutherland can certainly be an outstanding leading man, but he seems too kind and sensitive for a person making a living killing others for money though I did like the scene where he plays memory games with his wife while at home, which brings out how crucial paying attention to detail is for his line of work. The supporting players are all familiar faces though I felt Warner was a bit wasted and underused. Virginia McKenna, best known for her starring role in the classic Born Free, is seen for only a brief bit though her interaction with Sutherland is quite pivotal while Christopher Plummer doesn’t appear at all until the final 15-minutes, but still manages to come-off with a memorable presence.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest downfall though is with the ending, which becomes one twist too many. Up until that point the twists had been a logical fit that made sense when you went back and thought about it. Then at the very end Sutherland gets shot and killed while walking home from the grocery store, but it’s never shown who did it, or why. Maybe it was the secret organization that wanted to ‘retire’ him, but this needed to be shown and explained. Just leaving the viewer hanging with a violent, but vague scenario isn’t satisfying and cheapens the rest of it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stuart Cooper

Studio: Trofar

Available: DVD (Region 2), Blu-ray

Crossover (1980)

patman1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s slipping into insanity.

Mr. Patman (James Coburn) works as a nurse at a psychiatric ward in Canada. While he enjoys his work and the patients respond well to his methods he’s put-off by some of the other doctors and administrators who he feels don’t really care about the people they’re supposedly trying to help. He’s also carrying on an affair with two women. One is Nurse Peobody (Kate Nelligan) who works at the same hospital he does and the other is Abadaba (Fionnula Flanagan) the wife of his landlord. While trying to juggle these two women and dealing with the pressures of his job he begins seeing strange visions and fears the he may be losing his mind.

This is quite similar to Beyond Reasonwhich starred Telly Savalas. This one though fared a bit better at least for the first 20 minutes. I liked the way the hospital and the patients are portrayed where their impulsive and unpredictable behavior gives it a certain creepy vibe and the staff needs to be high alert at all times, or face the consequences, which for me brought out the realistic stresses of doing a job like that. The bleak, gray, and rainy setting of Vancouver, shot there to take advantage of the Canadian tax concessions that were given to film production companies at the time, helps accentuate the grim elements.

The film though fails to take advantage of what could’ve been an intriguing plot. Not enough weird visions are seen and the few that are, are underwhelming. It should’ve been approached as a thriller and filled with all sorts of nightmarish and surreal imagery that could’ve helped build the tension, but instead it gets treated as a drama with long talky segments between Coburn and his two girlfriends that bogs the whole thing down until you don’t care what happens. John Guillermin, the director, had helmed many successful features before this one including: King Kong, Death on the Nile, and The Towering Inferno, but shows no panache here and seems to be giving the material only a half-hearted effort. It might’ve done better had John Huston, who was the original choice to direct, had been hired instead.

Coburn, who stated that he did the movie due to an interest in the character who decides he finds the crazy world inside the hospital more comforting than the outside one, but later admitted that had he read the script after its numerous rewrites instead of accepting the offer upfront, he most likely would’ve rejected it, is excellent and the only good thing about the movie. Nelligan, who described the film as being a ‘nightmare’ while working on it as well as calling it an embarrassment, is not as interesting and the entire supporting cast is blah though the young woman patient named Miss Montgomery, played by Tabitha Harrington, who enjoys walking around nude at least offers some diversion.

The script was written by Thomas Headly Jr. in 1971 who later went on to write Flashdancewhich storywise is quite different from this. There’s also a twist ending, though I figured it out long before it gets there and others most likely will too. I feel this was the type of concept where it started with the ending and then gotten written from there, but more side elements were needed instead of just relying on the twist to make it interesting, which for a 30-minute episode of ‘Twilight Zone’ might’ve worked, but as a feature film it gets stretched too thin.

Alternate Title: Mr. Patman

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 5, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Guillermin

Studio: Film Consortium of Canada

Available: DVD-R (j4hi.com)

Blackout (1978)

blackout

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Criminals invade apartment complex.

Inspired by the actual power blackout that occurred in New York City on July 13-14, 1977 the story centers on a group of felons lead by Christie (Robert Carradine) who are being transported to another prison. Along the way their police van crashes and the van drivers are killed instantly, but the felons survive. When they climb out they find that the city is without power. Using the police uniforms of the two dead drivers as well as their weapons they’re able to sneak their way into a nearby apartment complex under the pretext that they’re policemen and therefore the security guard allows them in only to be immediately killed once he does. The crooks then terrorize the residents by conning their way into each of the apartments the same way they did to get into the complex. Once they’re inside they rob the tenants and at certain points even kill them. Dan (James Mitchum) is an off-duty police officer who breaks into the complex to help save Annie (Belinda Montgomery) who’s being attacked and screaming for help from her balcony. He then single-handily goes about trying to track down the armed group despite being outnumbered.

This was yet another example where the entry in Leonard Maltin’s book does not accurately describe what occurs as whoever wrote the review states that it’s ‘balanced with black comedy’ though there’s really no comedy in it except for a brief exchange between a husband and wife attending a Greek wedding, which occurs at the beginning, but after that it’s all gritty drama.

The production was directed by Eddy Matalon who started his career doing music videos for Bridgette Bardot during the 60’s before graduating to soft-core porn in the 70’s under the pseudonym Jack Angel. He eventually, in 1977, tried his hand at horror with the universally derided Cathy’s Curse before following-up with this one, which fares better and as a grim thriller even succeeds though it’s not perfect.

My biggest complaint is that it cuts out too many pivotal moments. It shows how they enter into one apartment and even choose another because it has triple locks cluing them in that a rich person with a lot of expensive stuff must live there, but there’s other times when it does not show why they break into the apartments that they do. There’s hundreds of dwellings inside the complex and they weren’t going to be able to bust into all of them, so the reason for why they choose the ones that they do needed to be shown each time. There’s also a segment where Mitchum shoots and kills one of the perpetrators in the hallway, but it’s never documented where they take the body, or if they just leave it there for all to see.

Some of the stuff gets a bit over-the-top like when they kill the guard and then stage it to look like a suicide, but why would these desperate crooks care to take the time to do that? They’re in a rush to rob as many residents as they can before the power comes back on, who why not just put the dead guard’s body into a back room and be done with it? Tying Mitchum up into a contraption that would electrocute him once the power came back-on seemed too similar to the campy predicaments that would be the cliffhanger for each episode of the ‘Batman’ TV-show. These two-bit thieves wouldn’t have the care, or sophistication to do that. Either kill the guy, or tie him up the conventional way, but getting excessively overboard with it seemed too theatrical and predictably gives him just enough time to escape.

Mitchum is enjoyable. I liked how at the beginning he tries to chase down a purse snatcher, but fails, which shows that he’s not perfect and relatable, which makes you want to root for him even more to stop the bad guys. I did though have misgivings with Montgomery’s character who gets raped, but immediately after that she saves two people trapped in an elevator and even delivers a baby, which is too quick a recovery from such a traumatic event.

Aging stars from Hollywood’s gold era appear as the residents, but are given little to do especially June Allyson who’s seen for less than 5-minutes. Ray Milland’s segment had potential as he plays this rich, stuffy guy who refuses to give the intruders the combination to his safe even as they torture his wife. Eventually he gives in, but it would’ve been fun had he remained stubborn. They’d burn-up his place, which they do anyways, and kill his wife, but he’d still refuse to give it out. Then when the cops finally do arrive he could say in his last dying breath amidst the burned cinders “At least they never got the combination.”

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 25, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Eddy Matalon

Studio: Cinepix Film Properties

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Rubber Gun (1977)

rubber1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Making cash dealing drugs.

Steve (Stephen Lack) is a cash-strapped would-be artist who hasn’t made any money with his art exhibits in the past 5 years and has turned to drug dealing in order to bring in some income. He lives in a cramped, rundown studio apartment in Montreal with his makeshift ‘family’ who are also dealers as well as addicts. Bozo (Allan Moyle) is a student at nearby McGill University who is doing a thesis paper on drug use with the controversial position that it has positive effects and chooses Steve’s family as his subject, but without letting them know what he’s doing. Steve though is beginning to have second thoughts about being in the business as he sees what it does both on himself and those around him especially Pierre (Pierre Robert) a bi-sexual heroin addict who’s the father of a young daughter that he doesn’t seem able to take care of and whose addiction has caused him to become a narc with the police feeding him heroin in order to get info on Steve and the family.

Fascinating, experimental film that’s quite similar to Dealingbut with much more of an avante-garde flair. Director Allan Moyle, whose first film this was, takes the Paul Morrissey approach where he gives the actors a general idea of what the scene was about, but then lets the performers ad-lib the lines. The result is much more of a conversational quality where discussions ramble on a bit, much like in real-life, but remain revealing and amusing throughout.  Instead of feeling like you’re watching a movie it seems more like a documentary giving one a rare vivid view of the counterculture movement north of the border.

Probably the biggest surprise is Stephen Lack, who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced. I saw him in Scannerswhich he did 4 years after this one, and felt he gave one of the worst performances of a leading man I had ever seen and one of the main reasons that film didn’t succeed as well as it could’ve. Here though he’s amazingly engaging. Maybe it’s because he’s playing an extension of himself as I have no doubt that this is loosely based on his own experiences as a struggling artist, but the guy is quite funny in virtually everything that he says and does and I enjoyed how we see all different sides to his character from his partying one to more of a responsible one and by the end disillusioned with dealing. He even has a scene where he talks about regularly visiting his parents each week, who are quite conservative and unaware of his ‘occupation’, though it would’ve been even more fun to see the actual visit versus just discussing it.

My favorite character was Rainbow a small child, the daughter of Pierre and his girlfriend, who couldn’t have been more than 3 who goes on with her playing as the grown-ups in the room talk about drugs and other things. The image of innocence inside a room of jaded debauchery is darkly amusing. What’s better is that unlike most other movies she’s not given any cutesy lines to say and simply allowed to be herself, which makes her all the more engaging. Despite what’s initially perceived as ‘bad parenting’ you still get the feeling that these fringe adults do love the kid and in their dysfunctional way care for her, which ultimately makes the characters more appealing to the viewer instead of less.

The film has an obvious low budget look, with faded color, grainy stock, muffled sound, and choppy editing. Some may consider this a detraction, but it also helps accentuate the fringe realism with a kick-ass soundtrack to boot. In an era now where everyone his trying to make a movie on their phones with virtually no money this film should be used as a prime example on how to get it done by creating multi-dimensional characters and then allow the actors to fill-out the details through their improvisation, which helped lead writer/director/star Moyle to a Hollywood contract where he went on to make even more interesting movies on a bigger budget.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 24, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Allan Moyle

Studio: St. Lawrence Productions

Available: None

The High Country (1981)

high

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escaping into the mountains.

Jim (Timothy Bottoms) is arrested for dealing marijuana and taken by police car to jail when the brakes in the vehicle go out and the car overturns, which allows him to escape, but not before being shot in the arm by one of the officers. Kathy (Linda Purl) is an adult woman, who can’t read while also suffering from other learning disabilities. She leaves the family that she’s been staying with and goes hitch-hiking when she comes upon the injured Jim. Initially the two have nothing in common, but she’s able to help him with his injury and guide him over a rugged mountainous terrain, which will be out of reach to the authorities who are after him and in the process the two begin to form an unlikely bond.

While the film doesn’t have much to cheer about I did at least like the mountain scenery, filmed on-location at the Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. There’s also a few marginally tense moments where the two scale the side of the mountain, where like in the movie Deliverance, it’s the actors doing the actual climbing and not stunt people. I also enjoyed the offbeat humor of having Jim attend a bar where a sign hangs that read’s ‘absolutely no profanity allowed’ (what sort-of self-respecting bar would have this rule. I guess only in ‘nice’ Canada) and a brawl breaks-out when one of the patrons decides to swear.

The performances are engaging especially Purl’s whose blue-eyes exude the perfect look of innocence. I was though frustrated that we never get to see these ‘cigarette trees’ that she mentions and says is somewhere in the mountain country as I was expecting the movie to have an answer since the script brings it up. The film also initially shows Kathy reading a story to some children making it look like she can read, but we’re told later that she was only ‘telling’ the story, but a good director would clue the viewer in right away that something isn’t right with her reading and those around her can sense it.

Bottoms is strong too though it’s surprising how far his career had tumbled where in the early 70’s he was getting starring roles in acclaimed Hollywood movies, but by the 80’s was relegated to low budget indie projects and foreign films. His character here is a bit snarky and he’s hard to warm-up to though the scene where he saves Kathy helps remedy this. The fact though that he has a bullet lodged in his body and is initially in great pain with a bad infection and yet this all magically gets healed without ever receiving proper medical care seemed dubious.

Spoiler Alert!

I was not so happy with the father character who arrives pretty much out of nowhere in the third act and is somehow able to track the two down when no one else can. It’s never clear whether this guy is meant to be a nemesis, or not and he should’ve been introduced earlier and made a stronger impression upfront. He also looks way too young to be Kathy’s father, who’s clearly in her 20’s and yet he doesn’t have any gray hair and with his big bushy mustache and muscular physique looked better suited for a 70’s gay porno.

The dumbest thing though is how at the end it implies that Jim and Kathy get into a romantic relationship, which defies all credibility. There’s too much of an extreme mental disparity between the two. It will always be a parent-child scenario versus that of two people on equal footing. In fact that’s one of the reasons I got bored with it as there’s clearly limits to how far this quasi friendship, with Kathy being stuck with the mind of a 10-year-old, can go and the fact that the film creates this idea of a wondrous romance is just too absurd to swallow. The start of a nice little friendship where they become pen-pals would be cute enough, but anything more than that; no!

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Harvey Hart

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: None

By Design (1981)

by design

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gay couple wants baby.

Helen (Patty Duke) is a fashion designer who’s in a relationship with Angie (Sara Botsford). Despite running a successful clothing business together Helen still longs to be a mother. Angie isn’t so excited about having a kid, but if it makes Helen happy she’ll go along with it. The coupe initially consider artificial insemination, but turn it down when they see the type of male clientele that are allowed in and the adoption agency rejects them outright due to being gay. They eventually set their sights on Terry (Saul Rubinek) an obnoxious and sleazy photographer who works for them and has been hitting-on Helen for years unaware that she’s a lesbian. Helen hopes to have a one-night-stand with him simply to get impregnated, but as the planned event draws near she begins to have second thoughts.

The story certainly has potential and was ahead-of-its-time, but the way director/writer Claude Jutra approaches the material by implementing ill-advised silly humor and trying to turn it into a basic sitcom is all wrong. The one thing that I did surprisingly like was Saul Rubinek. Normally he’s not a favorite of mine, but here he plays the scuzzy, lecherous male on the prowl perfectly. I found it interesting too at seeing how much things have changed. He gets reported for touching a woman in her private area on the job without her consent, which would mean immediate termination today, but the two protagonist women bosses don’t do that. Instead they brush-it-off with a boys-will-be-boys mindset inadvertently making the woman who brought it to their attention feel embarrassed and even humiliated for coming forward.

What I didn’t like was his extreme transformation at the end where he becomes this kind and caring soul that’s too much of a change that wasn’t earned and makes him seem like two different people. The fact that he was unaware that Helen was gay even though everyone else knew seemed a bit preposterous. In keeping with the character’s arrogance and conquest nature he should’ve been fully aware of her being lesbian, but convinced he could ‘cure’ her of it if she simply went to bed with him. His relationship with one of the models, Sonia Zimmer, who for whatever bizarre reason has romantic inclinations for him even though during one photo session he says some of the most degrading and demeaning things I’ve ever heard a guy say to a woman, so unless she’s a masochist there’s absolutely no reason why this beautiful woman should desire him and thus making this romantic side-story completely stupid and unnecessary.

The story starts out okay and had me hooked for a little bit, but it quickly goes downhill. The jump-the-shark moment is when Helen has sex with Terry and at the same time for some inexplicable reason Angie has random sex with some guy (Alan Duruisseau) that she meets in a parking lot, but she’s a confirmed lesbian, so why the sudden/extreme shift? If she’s pan-sexual, or bi-sexual or just has some latent desire to sometimes ‘swing-both-ways’ is fine, but that needs to be introduced earlier and not suddenly thrown-in, out-of-nowhere without warning. The scene also culminates with Angie and Helen calling each other on the phone and professing their love for the other as they continue to have sex with the other men, which I know the director thought would be a ‘hilarious’ moment but comes-off as incredibly dumb instead.

Had this been handled in an intelligent manner it could’ve been ground-breaking, but the director was clearly insecure with the material and thus decided to just give it the jokey treatment, which ruins it. Duke also seems miscast though shockingly you do get to see her nude in a couple of scenes of which she looks pretty damn good.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 16, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Claude Jutra

Studio: Astral Films

Available: DVD-R

Goldenrod (1976)

goldenrod1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Injured champ seeks comeback.

Jessie (Tony Lo Bianco) is a successful rodeo rider who’s idolized by his oldest son Ethan (Will Darrow McMillan). His fortunes though take a turn for the worse when he’s seriously injured by a horse who stamps on his hip. Doctors tell him he’ll never be able to ride again, which causes him to become depressed. His wife Shirley (Gloria Carlin) leaves him for another man (Donnelly Rhodes) forcing him to go searching for other employment. After doing odd jobs he finally gets hired by John (Donald Pleasance) a alcoholic who lives alone on a farmstead and promises big things, but delivers little. Jessie’s depression worsens and he even attempts to kill himself, but his son Ethan saves him. Ethan then tells him that he wants to be a rodeo rider, hoping that the money he wins can help get the family back on track, but Jessie worries that Ethan will face the same hardships that he did and tries to talk him out of it, but to no avail.

This Canadian entry, which was filmed on-location in the province of Alberta, and partially shot at the world famous Calgary stampede, works off the same formula as the Canadian classic Goin Down the Road, which focused on two losers with big dreams who get in way over-their-heads. Jessie character is the same way. When he’s winning he’s arrogant and thinks he’s above the common man only to then learn a hard lesson. This type of character arc though isn’t interesting as the viewer shares no emotional connection in the protagonist’s plight and in some ways delights at seeing his misfortune since he was so diluted at the start that it all seems like a good comeuppance to bring him back down-to-earth.

Lo Bianco plays the part surprisingly well being that he was an Italian-American born and raised in Brooklyn, so why the producers felt he’d be a good pick to play a Canadian cowboy is a mystery, but he pulls it off and even manages to speak in a Canadian accent while losing his Italian one that he spoke with in The Honeymoon KillersThe character though is almost cartoonish with a child-like optimism that you’d think by middle-aged would’ve been vanquished. He starts to show some humility towards the end, but more of it should’ve come-out already at the beginning in order to make him appealing and relatable.

The film focuses quite a bit on the wife at the start only to have her disappear and then eventually come back at the very end, but this is too much of a departure and the movie should’ve cut back and forth, at least a little bit, showing how she was getting along with her new hubby while Jessie struggled raising the kids. Also, you’d think if she really loved the kids she’d want to stay in contact with them and not just abandon them, which is how it comes-off. Pleasance, who spent the 70’s dotting-the-globe working on films in three different continents, gets wasted in a role that starts out with potential, but ultimately doesn’t lead to much.

The picturesque scenery is nice, but the benign story doesn’t have anything unique or memorable. The dialogue lacks a conversational quality and used more to help narrate the story and describe what’s going on that in a good film should’ve been shown visually. I was surprised too that it takes place in the 50’s because it wasn’t until halfway through when a poster advertising a rodeo and the date on it is 1953 that I had even became aware of this. Up until then it could’ve easily been the 70’s. The only two things that give it a bit of a period flavor are the older model cars, but since some people like to drive these refurbished vehicles I didn’t consider it a tell-tale sign that it was a bygone decade. There’s also brief shots of the Canadian Red Ensign, which was the Canadian Flag before the Maple Leaf one, which didn’t come into effect until 1965. Otherwise this could’ve easily been a modern day story and probably should’ve been as setting it in the past doesn’t give it any added insight.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Harvey Hart

Studio: Ambassador Film Distributors

Available: None

Skip Tracer (1977)

skip1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Highly motivated debt collector.

John (David Petersen) enjoys his job working for a collection agency and going after people who are delinquent with their loan repayments. He has achieved ‘Man of the Year’ honors at the company and is motivated on attaining that title again. Brent (John Lazarus) is a young trainee who’s having a hard time getting the hang of it. He asks John for guidance by following him around and observing how he gets things done. John is reluctant at first, but eventually agrees. However, as their partnership evolves John starts having second thoughts about the ugly side of the business.

I worked briefly in the bill collecting business and can say first-hand this film gets it right. Director Zale Dalen must’ve worked in it himself in order to recreate it so accurately and what makes this film so good is the way it reveals the business to those who aren’t familiar with it to the extent that it’s like you’re not viewing it, but instead visiting it. The script smartly stays away from jazzing-up the storyline for the sake of drama and keeps everything on a believable level, which makes the graphic ending all that more startling. Even though it was made 45 years ago it’s still quite accurate to what could easily occur in collections offices today with the only difference being that there would be computers on the desktops now versus typewriters.

Petersen, in his film debut, is excellent, I’ve personally known people just like his character and their obsession with rising up in the company overshadows everything else even if it means becoming a complete jerk. What I didn’t get, and the one element that hurts this otherwise strong film, is that he lives in a rundown apartment and drives a beat-up car. If money is his drive and he’s won Man of the Year honors then I’d think he be living in a far ritzier place. Having the company demote him by taking away his office didn’t jive either. This seems like the type of guy who’d be arrogant enough to walk out of a company that didn’t show him the respect he felt he deserved and with his debt collection skills he could easily find another position at another collection agency, so watching him put up with the abuse from his boss undermines the character.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s shocking ending is strong and comes as a complete surprise, but I wanted to see more of a transition to the character. He essentially walks away from the job and down the street, but no idea where he ultimately ends-up. I would’ve preferred seeing him begin a new job, something that was much different than bill collecting, in order to make the transition complete because what’s to say he doesn’t just get another job, especially if his experience is in that area, that isn’t much different than the one he left? Keeping things as wide-open as it does isn’t as satisfying as seeing him working some lowly position even at lower pay, which would hit-home to the viewer that no matter how bad things were now we’d know he’d still never go back to his old ways.

End of Spoiler Alert!

This is one of the better films to come-out of Canada when it tried to jump-start its fledgling movie industry back in the 70’s. For his efforts Petersen won the Best Actor award at the 1977 Canadian Film Awards and Dalen won it for Most Promising Newcomer. The film also manages to achieve the amazing feat of making Vancouver, one of the rainiest and gloomiest cities in the world, look sunny and inviting.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 17, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Zale Dalen

Studio: International Film Distributors

Available: Blu-ray

Spasms (1983)

spasms3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Giant snake uses telepathy.

Years earlier millionaire philanthropist Jason Kincaid (Oliver Reed) got attacked by a giant serpent snake while on a trip in Micronesia. His brother, who went with him, died from the attack, but Jason survived and in the process began acquiring a telepathic connection to the snake. He pays some poachers to capture it and have it brought to his mansion. He also tries to use the services of Dr. Brasilian (Peter Fonda) who specializes in ESP research to help end the ongoing communication that the snake has with him.While Kincaid’s private lab is being constructed the snake is kept at the university lab run by Brasilian, but the reptile escapes and begins killing anyone it sees.

The film is based on the novel ‘Death Bite’ by Michael Marky and Brent Monahan, who wrote it in hopes of cashing in on the Jaws craze and having it made into a movie. The two were excited when a Canadian production company decided to produce it, but quickly became disillusioned with all the production delays and rewrites. When the original studio went bankrupt and the new one insisted on adding in a supernatural element the two writers to walk-off the set and disown the project.

Despite the film’s checkered history I found the production values to be quite impressive especially for a horror movie. The on-location shooting is varied and authentic, particularly the island setting and the main character played by Reed is less cardboard than in most other scary movies. Unfortunately the pacing is slow and not enough happens. I was expecting more scares and blood, but there really isn’t much of it.

The film’s biggest downfall is that you never get to see the snake. Initially during the attacks everything gets shown from the snake’s point-of-view by having a blue filter put over the camera lens, which doesn’t work because it’s done via a tracking shot making it look like the snake glides through the air instead of slithering like a real one would. Outside of a few seconds of seeing its head pop-up, which looks like a hand puppet, we’re never shown the beast in its entirety. Originally the idea was to use live snakes, which would’ve been great, and a 14-foot Indian Python was brought in, but this was found to be too costly and time-consuming, so it got scrapped. They then tried to use animatronics, but director William Fruet didn’t like the way it looked onscreen, so this was shelved too essentially making this a snake movie, but without any snake.

Despite being reportedly drunk most of the time during the production Reed adds a nice intensity though it made no sense at the end when he begins walking around without a cane even though he had being using one the whole time earlier. The special effects showing the victim’s arms and faces ballooning out after they’re bitten is pretty cool, but the ending is a letdown. It was supposed to feature a violent showdown between Reed and the snake, including having his arm swallowed by the beast, but director Fruet didn’t like the look of the special effects, so these scenes were cut and flashbacks showing things that had happened earlier got thrown-in simply to pad the runtime.

The big lesson here is that if you’re going to make a movie about a giant, monstrous snake then you need to at some point show it. Even if it means spending big on computer effects, or bringing in a real one, the effort has to be made. Trying to do one without actually showing the snake, as the snake here is probably seen a combined 10 seconds and never its full body, and expecting the audience to still go home satisfied afterwards is pretty absurd.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 28, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: Pan-Canadian Film Distributors

Available: VHS