Category Archives: Movies that take place in Chicago

On The Right Track (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid picks race winners.

Lester (Gary Coleman) is a homeless 10-year-old living inside at locker at a train station in Chicago. In order to make money he shines shoes and while he does he gets premonitions telling him who will be the winners of that day’s horse races. Frank (Michael Lembeck) is a cop in charge of juvenile delinquency. When he gets a call to have Lester removed from the train station and put into foster care he does so reluctantly until he meets Jill (Lisa Eilbacher) who he instantly falls for. Jill is an aspiring singer who looks out for Lester as best she can. She doesn’t want to let Frank take him away and Lester is deathly afraid of going outside the safe confines of the train station. Then Frank becomes aware of Lester’s ability to pick race winners and comes up with a plan that can make all three rich.

After watching Jimmy the Kid, the only other theatrical feature that starred Coleman, I didn’t think this one could possibly be worse, but I was wrong. The plot is incredibly weak, poorly thought-out, and Coleman is the least funniest thing in it. I’ll admit during the first season of ‘Different Strokes’ when he’d play the Arnold character and say his famous catchphrase ‘What you talking about, Willis?” he was cute and engaging, but here, playing a super smart kid that’s worldy-wise beyond his years, he’s a bore.

How he is able to know so much, from obscure sports records to health and science info, is not adequately explained. He doesn’t go to school and has no money to buy books and never leaves the train station in order to go to a library and this was light years before the internet, so where is he getting all this expertise from, or was this knowledge was just magically imprinted on his brain the second he popped out of the womb?  How he’s able to predict the horse race winners is another issue. What cosmic force allows him to see who the winner is and why does it only work if someone else places the bet, but if he does it then it won’t?

The humor is nonexistent and I didn’t laugh once though some of it is surprisingly edgy for a ‘family friendly’ movie. One segment has him talking about artificial insemination in which Coleman describes it as ‘sex without the fun’, which is something that would be said by an individual who’s actually had sex in order to know it was ‘fun’ not a kid. There’s even a bona-fide rape joke where Maureen Stapleton’s characters expresses her fear of being sexually assaulted and Coleman politely walks away without saying anything while subtly implying that he believes she’s ‘too ugly’ for that to happen. Another scene has Lembeck talking to Eilbacher about how he ‘got her into bed’ on their first date, which again is bit too mature of a subject for 10-year-old kids, who are the intended audience.

The supporting cast of old pros helps a little particularly Norman Fell as a wimpy mayor who’s afraid of heights. I also got a kick out of C. Thomas Cunliffe, who’s only movie appearance this was, who coneys all of his lines while chomping down on a cigar. Maureen Stapleton has an endearing quality as Mary the Bag lady who comes into a lot of money after placing  a bet on one of Coleman’s tips though I was a bit perplexed by a TV interview her character does in which the reporter describes her as being someone who ‘dropped out’ 12 years earlier, like a person ‘chooses’ to be homeless.

This also marks the film debut of Jami Gertz who plays ‘Big Girl’ though I admit I didn’t spot her. It was probably when I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead over the headache this annoying movie was giving me, which I did many times throughout.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: March 6, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lee Phillips

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

Windy City (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Keeping the gang together.

Danny (John Shea) is a struggling writer living in Chicago. When he was young he had big dreams of being a best-selling novelist, but now that he’s older he’s finding adulthood to be a lot tougher than he thought. He’s also broken-up with his longtime girlfriend Emily (Kate Capshaw) and dealing with his best friend Sol (Josh Mostel) who’s dying of leukemia. He wants the gang from childhood to get together one last time and take Sol out on the lake in a sailboat ride and pretend that they are pirates. Sol always fantasized about being one when they were kids and Danny wants to do something special for him before he passes-away, which could be at any time, but the other friends now have family and job obligations to meet and don’t think they’ll be able to make the trip, which Danny finds disappointing.

This was yet another entry in a string of films that came out in the early 80’s dealing with the baby boomers growing out of their 60’s hippie phase and into the less idealistic adulthood years of the 80’s. While none of them were all that great this one ranks at the bottom and a lot of the reason for it is that it’s too shallow. Star Shea, who looks almost exactly like Micheal Ontkean, is a perfect example as he looks like someone snatched off of a model magazine cover and his character displays no faults of any kind. He’s so caring, gracious and generous, which along with his pristine pretty-boy looks, make it almost nauseating. He does have insecurity in regards to his writing, but every writer has this and thus the arguing that culminates from this with his girlfriend becomes quite redundant and doesn’t propel the story.

Maintaining the same clique of friends that you had growing-up isn’t realistic. At least in The Big Chill it analyzed how the member’s of the old college gang had changed and how they weren’t as close as they were and that this was inevitable even though this film acts like somehow it can be overcome, which it can’t. Sol is the only interesting member and the story should’ve been centered around him and maybe one, or two close friends from the old crew that have remained together while the rest moved-on, which would’ve been more authentic. The extra friends don’t add much anyways and respond and say predictable cliched stuff making them more like clutter than anything.

Danny’s relationship with Emily is superficial too and there’s no concrete reason is given, or shown to what caused their break-up. Danny’s inability to move-on from her and the way he snoops into her window late at night would make him a creepy stalker by today’s standards. Having him careen down the streets of Chicago in a desperate attempt to stop her wedding, like in The Graduate, which gets mentioned, is pathetic. I was impressed though when he tries to jump over a drawbridge, which I thought, since this film is so irritatingly romanticized, that he would make, but instead he goes right into the river, which is the best part of the whole movie. ..it’s just a shame he didn’t stay there.

I did enjoy the picturesque scenery of Chicago, but felt there needed to be more of it especially since the city’s nickname is in the film’s title. I did get a kick out of the football game in the park that the guys play. Usually when a bunch of middle-agers get together for a game it’s rather informal, but here they had actual refs and even spectators, which I found amusing. The rest of the movie though is strained and will have many rolling-their-eyes. The best example of this is when Sol tells Danny that he’ll send him sign after he’s dead, in this case blowing Danny’s hat off of his head, so I knew right away when he says this that a scene of Danny’s hat getting blown-off and him looking up into the heaven’s will occur at the very end and sure enough that’s exactly what happens, which makes this film not only rampantly corny, but also painfully predictable though female viewers may rate it more favorably.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 21, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Armyan Bernstein

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS

Towing (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting a corrupt company.

Lynn (Sue Lyon) and Jean (Jennifer Ashley) are two friends who work at a bar and become increasingly aware of a corrupt towing company in town run by Butch (J.J. Johnston) that tows away cars for questionable reasons and then demands hefty fees for the owners to get them back. Many people in the city of Chicago have been affected and are considering starting-up protests, but when Jean gets fired from her job when a customer has his car towed that she parked is when things really get going. She then gets a job at a gas station across the street from where the towing company is located. She and Lynn as well as Lynn’s new lawyer boyfriend Chris (Joe Mantegna) trick Butch into towing away the Mayor’s daughter’s car, which soon gets him in on notice with the mayor himself.

Although she’s worked on several documentaries, for feature films this was a one-and-done project for writer/director Maura Smith as she hasn’t done another one since. The film looks cheap right from the start and initially I feared this was going to be rock-bottom fare, but it does improve enough to have a slight amiable quality. The story though is too threadbare to hold much interest and in attempt to ‘go for something deeper’ incorporates a side-story dealing with the challenges of being a single woman and going through a lot of empty, dead-end dates, but these segments don’t mesh with the frivolity and overall silliness of the rest and ultimately give the film an amateurish feel.

This obscurity’s biggest claim-to-fame is that it marks both the beginning and end of two careers. For Joe Mantegna this was his film debut and he does have one funny moment, probably the only funny moment of the whole film, where he tries to connect the chains of a tow truck to a car, but being a lawyer he doesn’t really know how to do it. For Sue Lyon this was her final starring role as her brief appearance in Alligatorwhich she did 2 years later was basically just a walk-on. This was also the final time she wore her patented long blonde hair as it was after this that she became a brunette and then ultimately raven-haired. For the most part she seems to be having fun while sporting an engaging smile and amused laugh throughout. She even at one point puts on a wig and pretends to be a hooker and in another part disguises her voice to sound like an old woman, but the production was about as low budget as you can get and I can see why she felt staying in the business wasn’t going to be worth it if this was all the better she was going to be offered.

Jennifer Ashley lends unique support as the flirtatious one who exudes a sensual energy and Johnston, who was at one time an amateur boxer who has written 4 books on the subject, is solid as the heavy and even, despite the script being written by a woman, allowed say to the C-word. My favorite though was Steven Kampmann, probably best known for playing Kirk Devane in the first two seasons of ‘Newhart’ before turning his energies full-time to screenwriting, who plays an angry citizen who helps the two women get back at the towing company though having him break-off to commit hi-jinks of his own along with his girlfriend (played by Audrie Neennan) takes away too much from the central lead characters and dilutes the plot.

The on-location shooting done in Chicago is nice especially with the way it focuses on the working class neighborhoods though I was surprised that even though it was filmed in October and November the scenery already looked quite cold and the actors appear to be shivering as they say their lines. The cool soundtrack has a funky beat and fun lyrics. Had the music been sold separately it would’ve attained a lot of fans and helps give the film some much needed personality and distinction that it otherwise lacks.

Alternate Title: Who Stole My Wheels?

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 16 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Maura Smith

Studio: United International

Available: Amazon Video

Last Resort (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family takes nightmarish vacation.

George (Charles Grodin) is a Chicago salesmen who loses a major client when he calls him fat, which in-turn costs him his job. Feeling the need to get away from the cold Chicago winter and reassess things he decides to take his family to a tropical island for some much needed r-and-r, but finds the place run by crazy people who house everybody in tiny little cabins. The island is also surrounded by a barbed wire fence due to a civil war going on, which soon has George stuck in the middle of it.

This film was directed by Zane Buzby, who appears here as a abusive summer camp counselor and who has since left the directing profession and devoted her life to brining aid to last surviving members of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, which is a far better way to spend her time than making films like these, which isn’t funny and lacks any type of visual style. Much of the blame for this is the low budget, which makes the movie look cheap right from the start with its stock footage of a Chicago blizzard, the generic music score, and every indoor shot looking quite shadowy as if they weren’t able to afford enough spotlights to give it the properly lighted look. The island setting is bad too looking nothing like an actual island, but instead the brown, sun scorched landscape of a studio backlot.

The story is built around a lot of gags the majority of which aren’t funny, or even slightly original. The concept is the reverse of a National Lampoon’s Family Vacation where Chevy Chase plays the inept father who bungles everything while everyone else around him is normal. Here the father is the normal one and all the other people are nuts, but this doesn’t work as well as the folks behave in such an extremely absurd and obnoxious way that they have no bearing at all to real people and for satire to work it still needs to have some semblance to reality and this thing has none. It’s just insanity for the sake of goofiness with no point to it, which gets old fast.

I’m a big fan of Grodin, but his dry humored, deadpan observations are not put to good use and he ends up getting drowned out by all of the foolishness. I did though at least start to understand why Howard Stern always would accuse him of wearing a wig. To me I never thought he did wear one and Grodin, who disliked Stern immensely as he felt the shock-jock’s humor was too vulgar, would hotly dispute these accusations and even had one segment on his own short-lived talk show during the late 90’s where guests were allowed to tug on his hair just to prove it was natural and wouldn’t come off. However, here for whatever reason it really does appear like some rug plopped onto his skull that doesn’t even fit the dimensions of his head right.

Some of the supporting cast, which consists mainly of yet-to-be-famous, up-and-coming-stars does help a bit. This though does not include Megan Mullally, who plays Grodin’s daughter Jessica, who puts-on a high pitched, squeaky voice that I found really irritating. I did though find Jon Lovitz somewhat amusing as a bartender that can supposedly speak English, but can’t understand anything that Grodin says. Phil Hartman, wearing a blond wig, is a riot as a French gay guy named Jean-Michel who comes-onto Grodin, but my favorite was Mario Van Peebles as a flaming gay man who’s also one the tour guides. Some viewers may complain that his portrayal is too over-the-top and stereotypical, but it’s still campy fun especially at the end when he rips off his wig and suddenly turns into a macho guerrilla soldier freedom fighter.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 9, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Zane Buzby

Studio: Concorde Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Shout Factory TV, Pluto TV, Tubi

Continental Divide (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reporter falls for naturalist.

Ernie Souchack (John Belushi) is a newspaper reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times who routinely covers the criminal activity of the local mob, but when his reporting gets a little too close to the action the mob boss (Val Avery) has Ernie beaten-up by a couple of corrupt cops. Howard (Allen Garfield), Ernie’s editor, decides to send him to Colorado for his own protection where he’s assigned to do an interview with the eccentric outdoor enthusiast Nell (Blair Brown). Nell, who spends her days researching eagles, lives alone in a tiny cabin high-up in the Rockies and normally does not take a liking to any reporters. Ernie though moves into her place for 2-weeks and while their initial reactions to one another is frosty they eventually end-up in a romantic relationship.

Hard to imagine that Lawrence Kasdan, who has written and directed so many great movies in his career (Body Heat, The Big Chill), was the screenwriter for this one, but this clearly isn’t his best work. The story is obvious and the set-up too forced. Nothing is worse than watching a movie where you know exactly how it’s going to end right from the start. Part of the problem is that Brown’s character is not played-up enough and she’s nowhere near as feisty as she billed as being. I found it unnerving too that she’d let a strange man burst into her cabin out of nowhere and sleep inside her place in the same room with her without any real protection to stop him from getting frisky if he wanted to. That wooden stick she used wasn’t going to help her especially if he attacked her while she was asleep. For all she knew this guy could’ve been an escaped killer, so what was going to prevent him from assaulting her in the middle of the night?

The main issue though is that these two had absolutely nothing in common, so the odds that a relationship could ever actually form between them is virtually nil. I know that there’s that age-old adage ‘opposites attract’, but there still needs to be a few things that the two have in common, despite the other differences, for that to work. The story’s logic is that spending 2-weeks with someone will be enough to create that romantic feeling, but if that were the case then every teen would automatically fall for their fellow campers each year during summer camp.

I could understand from Belshi’s perspective how Brown would attract him sexually, but what this tubby, out-shape, smoker offered her to make her go so ga-ga over him, I didn’t see. A far more believable romantic partner for her was Max Birnbaum (Tony Ganios) who is a muscular former NFL player who dropped out of society and lived as a hermit in the wilderness. The two share a couple of trysts, but then he conveniently disappears even though he gave the story some potential dramatic conflict and should’ve stayed.

Some people like this movie because it gives you a chance to see Belushi in a wider acting range, but he’s not very funny and doesn’t have anything to say that is either witty or clever. Having the second half of the film shift back to Chicago where Brown comes to visit might’ve been interesting had her character been better defined and we could see her difficulties in adjusting, but since her eccentricities never gets played-up enough these scenes add little.

Spoiler Alert!

I’ll agree with Leonard Maltin in his review where he stated that Kasdan clearly couldn’t come up with a finish and that’s the truth. Having the two go through a quickie, makeshift wedding only to then return to their separate ways and continue to live far apart made no sense and didn’t really ‘resolve’ anything. What’s the use of getting married if you’re never going to see the other person? The script needed more fleshing-out and seems like a broad outline in desperate need of character development and a more creative scenario.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Release: September 18, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Apted

Studio: Universal Pictures

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

Head Office (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Climbing the corporate ladder.

Jack (Judge Reinhold) is a recent college graduate and business major who gets a job at a prestigious Chicago company named INC. Jack has very little ambition and more interested in making it with the women than climbing the corporate ladder, but despite his lack of effort he keeps getting promoted. He begins to realize that his ascension may not have anything to do with who he is and more with the fact that his father (George Coe) is a influential senator and the company’s CEO (Eddie Albert) wants to gain his favor in order to have a textile plant moved to a Latin American country that will allow them cheap labor and more profits.

The film, which was written and directed by Ken Finkleman, starts off with a bang and has many funny gags, but eventually wears out its welcome by relying too heavily on age-old clichés and caricatures.  Everyone knows the business world can be corrupt and filled with eager boot lickers driven by those with power-hungry career aspirations and willing to backstab anyone that might get in their way. Trying to fill 90-minutes with this same point-of-view that just gets repeated over and over is not amusing nor insightful and if anything becomes boringly predictable.

The characters lack distinction and are more like yes men robots than real people. I worked at several Fortune 500 companies during my lifetime and can attest that there are indeed the proverbial ass-kissers, but they’re plenty of people that have no interest in playing the company game and realize it’s sheer folly because the more you work up the ladder the more a pawn to the system you become. Some are simply satisfied to have a job and provide for their families and yet the film does not show these folks at all, which makes it one-dimensional and ultimately unrealistic.

Reinhold is weak in the lead, which is another reason it doesn’t work. This is a film that is in desperate need of a socialist or someone that is very anti-corporate and just there to openly thumb their  nose at the system and try to muck it up if they can and yet half the time it’s confusing what Reinhold’s position is. He’s too transparent and has no strong presence at all.  There’s also a scene where he gets shot at by a disgruntled ex-employee, which would’ve been enough to make most people never want to go back to that company again as no job is worth that and yet Reinhold returns like it somehow was no big deal.

The supporting cast is interesting and includes such familiar faces as Danny DeVito and Rich Moranis, but they die-off quickly. What’s the use of bringing in big-name stars if they’re going to be killed off right away? It’s fun seeing Jane Seymour playing against type as a power hungry boss. She made her mark in romantic roles for the most part, so it’s impressive seeing her doing a different type of part and doing it well and it’s just a shame she wasn’t in it more. Eddie Albert is good too and plays the violin in a convincing way, or at least is smart enough to know how to move his fingers so it looks realistic.

Spoiler Alert!

However, the gag involving Reinhold inadvertently destroying an expensive Stradivarius violin that gets handed to him by Albert gets ruined when it’s made known that it wasn’t authentic, but simply a prototype. That was the only moment in the film where I had laughed-out-loud, but leave to this dumb movie to botch even that.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 29, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Ken Finkleman

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD

The Gore Gore Girls (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Somebody’s killing the strippers.

Private investigator Abraham Gentry (Frank Kress) gets hired by Nancy (Amy Farrell), a reporter for The Globe newspaper, to investigate the murder of a stripper named Suzy Cream Puff (Jackie Kroeger). Abraham will get $25,000 to investigate the case and another $25,000 to solve it as long as he gives The Globe the exclusive story. Soon more strippers turn up dead and Abraham starts to have a long list of suspects including Grout (Ray Sager) a Vietnam veteran who enjoys smashing melons with faces drawn on them, similar to how the strippers got their heads smashed, in order to relieve his post traumatic stress disorder.

This was schlockmeister Herschell Gordon Lewis’ final film until 2002 and was meant to be a combination between the lighthearted nudies that he made in the early 60’s and the more graphic gore films that he did in the later part of the decade. The result though is a misguided mess where it seems more like a gag reel with tacky gore thrown in at certain intervals than a horror film.

The production values are really cheap even for a low budget production and contains basically just a few settings. One features the cramped living room of Abraham’s house that looks to be nothing more than a one bedroom apartment, which doesn’t quite make sense since the guy is a world famous detective you’d think he be living in a plush place especially with his elitist attitude. The other setting, which takes up the majority of the story, is the strip club that looks like it was filmed in the corner of somebody’s dingy basement.

The gory murders aren’t much fun and would be considered quite sick if they weren’t so tacky and fake. The jump cuts are the biggest problem as the bad guy kills the stripper one second and then in the next frame has seemingly been able to skin their heads completely and crushed their skulls, which is too quick. The ping pong ball sized eyeballs that the killer gouges from their heads are ridiculous looking too as eyes are actually oval shaped and not round as presented here.

The stripping routines take up too much of the runtime and seem put in simply to pad the anemic plotline. I’m not going to complain about watching beautiful women taking off their clothes, although to be honest the women here aren’t so hot, but I got real tired of hearing the same music played over and over again during each different set. Aren’t strippers allowed to come up with their own music and dance routines, or is that a new phenomenon that wasn’t a thing back in the 70’s?

I hate to psycho-analyze a film director and have never done it before, but the misogyny here is rampant. If there had been one strong, smart woman character present then it would’ve have been a issue, but instead females get portrayed here as being incredibly dumb and easily manipulated. The Nancy character is shown to be unable to take care of herself and needs a man present to look out for her particularly when she passes out on a city sidewalk after having only a couple of drinks. She faints and screams at the sight of a dead body too while the man remains stoic and shows no emotional reaction at all. Maybe this was supposed to be a part of the ‘comedy’, but it comes off as severely dated and out-of-touch with the times.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 21 Minutes

Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Rated X

Studio: Lewis Motion Picture Enterprises

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Pennies from Heaven (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Escaping from the depression.

Arthur (Steve Martin) is a struggling sheet music salesmen during the depression, who’s looking to escape his dreary existence by becoming a songwriter, but finds that no one including his wife (Jessica Harper) cares about what his dreams, which leaves him feeling lost and alone. He then meets perky schoolteacher Eileen (Bernadette Peters) and the two begin an affair despite her not knowing that he is already married. When she gets pregnant and loses her job because of it Arthur is nowhere to be found and instead he gets unjustly tabbed for committing rape on a blind woman (Eliska Krupka) that he did not do.

The film is based on a 6-part miniseries that aired on the BBC in 1978 and starred Bob Hoskins. Martin saw it and was so enamored with the story that he became compelled to have it remade here and the studio even hired the same writer, Dennis Potter, to pen the script although the studio forced him to do 13 rewrites before they finally accepted it. Despite the extravagant musical numbers, which are pretty good, and positive critical reception, the filmed failed to achieve any success at the box office where it took in a paltry 2 million that barely made a dent in its 22 million budget.

A lot of the blame can be placed on the casting of Martin. While I admire him for not allowing himself to be typecast, and for dying his hair brown here, he still comes off as misplaced. You keep waiting for him to say something goofy and absurd like his character in The Jerk would and when he doesn’t you start feeling bored and frustrated. For his part he lashed out at those that didn’t like it calling them ‘ignorant scum’ while anyone who did enjoy the film he labeled ‘wise and intelligent’.

Yet his character is also a problem as he comes off as arrogant and selfish the whole way through. He constantly antagonizes his shy wife pressuring her to submit to his kinky sexual fantasies and when she doesn’t he threatens to walk out. He then lies about his marital status to Peters and is cold and ambivalent when she gets pregnant making him seem like a true jerk and not the funny kind in his earlier film.

Jessica Harper I enjoyed much more. I think she gives her finest performance here and I was genuinely surprised she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. Her interpretation of a shy, sheltered Midwestern wife from a more innocent era is completely on-target and I came to sympathize far more with her than Martin. The line that she utters when the police investigators come to her house, after Martin gets accused of rape, is the best moment in the movie. Peters is good too, but I felt her character got in the way and the film would’ve gelled better had it focused solely on the dysfunctional marriage.

The dance numbers are well choreographed with the best one being with Christopher Walken who does a bona fide striptease that took him over 2 months to rehearse. The bit in which Martin and Peters find themselves transported inside a film starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers is quite cool too although Astaire himself tried blocking the footage from being used. He later commented that as a viewer ” I have never spent two more miserable hours in my life” and describing every scene in the film as being “cheap and vulgar.”

The story though starts out too slowly and for the first hour seems like there really isn’t any plot at all. It improves by the second half, but there needed to be more urgency at the beginning and many viewers may not be willing to stick with it.  Having the actors lip-sync the songs was a bad idea too. It gives the whole thing an amatuerish vibe making it seem like it was intended to be a campy comedy when it really wasn’t.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Damien: Omen II (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Damien learns his destiny.

After the death of his adoptive parents, Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) moves in with his Uncle Richard Thorn (William Holden) and his wife Ann (Lee Grant) in Chicago. Thorn is a rich industrialist and Damien lives a privileged life in the suburbs of Chicago alongside his cousin Mark (Lucas Donat), who is set to be heir to his father’s company, but first the two boys are sent off to the military academy. It is there that Damien learns that he is the Antichrist and puts a plan in place where he can kill off Mark and his parents so that he can take over Thorn industries and use it for his nefarious purposes.

It’s unfortunate that David Seltzer, who wrote the script to the original Omen film, choose not to pen this one and instead Harvey Bernhard the film’s producer outlined the story and then hired Stanley Mann to write the script, but the plot is basically a retread of what occurred in the first one with the father this time played by Holden, going through the same realizations that Gregory Peck did in the original, while offering no surprises or interesting twists. Had Seltzer written it he would’ve had it begin where the first one ended with Damien inside the White House having been adopted by the President and his wife, which would’ve offered far more intriguing scenarios than anything that gets played-out here.

The film also suffers from having Damien, much like in the first one, not being all that scary or mean at least not at the beginning. For the most part he behaves like a nice kid. The scene where he takes revenge on a bully at the academy actually had me on his side as well as when he shows-up a teacher in front of the class by knowing all the answers. Having an aunt character, played by Sylvia Sidney, despise him and consider him a ‘bad influence’ doesn’t help things as this is something that the viewer needs to see for themselves and not just have described by another character.

The characters played by Robert Foxworth and Lance Henriksen, who know about Damien’s secret and essentially ‘groom him’, is confusing because it’s never explained how these men would know this, or what their backgrounds are. If there’s a group of devil worshipers out there, or demons sent directly from hell in human form to help Damien in his evil quest than this needs to be elaborated instead of just having them appear knowing things that no else does, but without any explanation.

Like in the first one it’s the death scenes that make it worth watching and there are a few good ones including one that occurs under the ice of a lake and another very gory one that happens inside an elevator, but there’s also some where the victim just falls over dead due to Damien’s powers, which is a letdown. If the film is going to market itself on the death scenes then ALL of them need to be creative and memorable and not just a cherry-picked few.

The pristine, white wintry landscape is nice, although not exactly suitable for a horror film, and I did enjoy Lee Grant who plays the wife role in a far more multi-dimensional way than her counterpart Lee Remick did in the first one, she even gives the film its one unexpected wrinkle, which occurs at the end, but otherwise there’s nothing much else to get excited about here. In between the death there are a lot of boring segments with no tension at all. The movie, which is a bit overlong, does not have the terror increase as it progresses, but instead just gets more drawn-out.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Don Taylor

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Music Box (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She defends her father.

Anne Talbot (Jessica Lange) works as a defense attorney in Chicago and is shocked when her kindly father (Armin Mueller-Stahl), who immigrated to the US from Hungary many years ago, is threatened at having his citizenship revoked due to being accused of committing past war crimes.  Several witnesses have come forward to identify him as being ‘Mishka’ a man who headed a Nazi terror unit known as the Red Arrow that systematically tortured and killed Hungarian Jews during WWII. Anne refuses to believe this and immediately volunteers to defend him in court, but as she researches the case she finds many unsettling elements that makes her question whether her father really is the victim of mistaken identity as he claims, or actually the man responsible for committing heinous acts against humanity.

The film was inspired by the true-life case of John Demjanjuk who immigrated to the US in 1952 and worked as an auto worker for many decades before being identified by 11 Holocaust survivors as being Ivan the Terrible who tortured and killed many Jewish prisoners while working as a guard at a concentration camp. Script writer Joe Eszterhas also adds his own experiences into the story by channeling the emotions he felt when he found out that his father had been involved in disseminating anti-semitic propaganda during WWII.

The plot had all the hallmarks of being a trenchant courtroom drama especially since it was directed by Costa-Gavras who has shown a knack for helming political thrillers with a psychological bent, but it all ultimately falls flat. Much of the problem is that we learn little about Mueller-Stahl’s character as his face never shows any emotion. At first this makes it interesting as he comes off like this kindly old man who seems the complete opposite of what he’s being accused of, but after awhile we need to see what’s going in his mind and beneath the facade. Whether it’s anger, fear, madness, or evil at some point it needs to get conveyed in his face as the trial goes on, but instead all the viewer sees is a constant blank stare that keeps the character frustratingly transparent.

Having a male model pose as the younger version of him in the wartime photos was a mistake too. Googling images of Mueller-Stahl when he was young shows that he looked much different than the model in the movie making the portions where the witnesses positively identify Stahl from the photos seem off-kilter since the guy in them even when given the realities of aging doesn’t look anything like the man sitting in the courtroom. To avoid this they should’ve cropped an actual pic of Mueller-Stahl into the war time photos.

The court case itself ends up becoming quite draggy because instead of focusing on one witness they put in several of them one after the other who essentially retell the same type of story, which gets redundant. There’s also some Hollywood theatrics that get thrown in like when Mueller-Stahl physically confronts one of the witnesses in the courtroom with no one attempting to restrain him before he collapses to the floor in a completely over-the-top fashion. Having everyone in the trial then get flown across the Atlantic to a Hungarian hospital to hear testimony from a dying witness only helps to turn the entire thing into a misguided spectacle.

Lange, who was Hollywood’s darling at the time and constantly offered first dibs at every ‘important’ movie that came out, gives a good performance, but her emotional character arch is predictable. The focus should’ve been on Mueller-Stahl’s character and what made him tick, but no insights are ever given even during the climatic final confrontation, which ultimately cements this as being a big disappoint.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1989

Runtime: 2 Hours 4 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Costa-Gavras

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD