Category Archives: Movies that take place in Texas

Split Image (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their son becomes brainwashed.

Danny (Micheal O’Keefe) is a struggling athlete who’s feeling overwhelmed by the demands and pressures of college life. He meets-up with Rebecca (Karen Allen) who invites him to a weekend stay at what turns out to be a religious cult run by Kirklander (Peter Fonda). It is there that Danny becomes brainwashed into the organization and cuts off all ties with his parents (Brian Dennehy, Elizabeth Ashley) who decide they have no option but to kidnap him and then have him deprogrammed by a brash, caustic deprogrammer (James Woods) who they find to be rude but helpful

This film is very similar to Ticket to Heaven that was produced in Canada and has the same story and structure. The Canadian production though is a bit better especially with the way it examines the protagonist getting acclimated into the cult. Both films have the young man becoming brainwashed in a matter of one weekend which to me is too quick. The Canadian film though at least examines the different activities that they go through to wear him down and it gets in your face with it, so the viewer feels as exhausted as the young man when t’s over while this film glosses over that part making the transition seem too extreme. The Canadian film also detailed the character’s constant inner turmoil even after he’d been indoctrinated while here Danny behaves like a light switch that completely changes from his old self in a snap and then never looks back, which is less realistic

The B-story dealing with a romance that he has with Rebecca while in the group degrades the the story to a sappy opera level and should’ve been left out. Allen certainly is perfect for her role as her bright, beaming blue eyes gives her character that brainwashed appearance, but the extended conversations she has with Danny are strained making me believe that the scenes inside the cult should’ve been cut as they’re corny instead of compelling and focused instead  solely on the parents point-of-view at trying to get him out.

The film though does score with the deprogramming segment, which gets much more extended here. Director Ted Kotcheff uses elaborate visual effects to convey Danny’s point-of-view and unlike in Ticket to Heaven the deprogrammer doesn’t allow the family and friends to sit-in on his sessions as he feared they won’t understand his methods, which is more believable.

Ashley as the mother is great especially her meltdown near the end with Danny when he tries to physically attack her.  I had some problems though with Dennehy’s character as he seemed much too calm and laid back and even starts singing as they drive to the cult location even though most people would be nervous and then later showing him breaking down and crying as he watched an old video of Danny is too overwrought.

Woods though perfectly captures the anti-hero with his intended brashness being more amusing than offensive. The part where he plays-out a scene to the movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Spencer Tracy was I’m convinced ad-libbed and a great example of  how his acting genius gives this movie a needed edge and whose presence keeps it watchable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, Amazon Video

Rolling Thunder (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: No hand no problem.

Major Charles Rane (William Devane) returns home to a hero’s welcome after spending 7 years a prisoner of war. As part of the ceremony he’s given 2,555 silver dollars to commemorate each day that he was held in captivity. A few days later a group of thugs invade his home looking for the silver dollars and when Rane refuses to tell them where they are they stick in his hand into his garbage disposal before shooting both his son and wife dead. Now with a hook for a right hand he goes on an unrelenting search for the killers determined to kill each and every one of them while using his hooked hand as a weapon.

What might’ve been considered violent and groundbreaking back in 1977 seems awfully trite and formulaic now. Paul Schrader’s original screenplay portrayed Rane as a racist and the story culminated with him indiscriminately shooting a group of Mexican’s as a metaphor to America’s involvement in Vietnam, but of course studio execs considered this ‘too edgy’ so everything got watered down and all that gets left is a benign and predictable revenge western updated to the modern-day.

The much ballyhooed violence isn’t all that gripping either. Originally there was a graphic shot that showed a prosthetic hand being sliced up in the disposal, but test audiences became repulsed by it causing the studio execs to take the shot out of the film even though by today’s standards that might not be considered as disturbing as it was back then and might even have given the film some distinction, which it is otherwise lacking.

The scene where the son and mother are killed is poorly handled too because we never see them actually shot as it’s done off camera. This then negates the horror of it and makes it less emotionally compelling with even a quick shot of their bloodied bodies needed for the necessary strong impact. I also thought it was weird that when Rane comes back to the scene of the crime we’re shown the sofa where the two were killed on, but there are no blood stains on it even though most likely there should’ve been.

Devane’s performance is a detriment as well as he is unable to effectively convey the character’s intense, brooding nature. The film would’ve worked better had Tommy Lee Jones, who appears here briefly, been given the lead as he, even in the few scenes that he is in, gives off the required intensity perfectly while Devane is seemingly overwhelmed by the part’s demands making it easy to see why he never became the big screen star that the producers were hoping for.

Linda Hayne’s role was not needed and despite her beauty pretty much just gets in the way. She plays Rane’s girlfriend who begins to date him after his family’s slaughter and tags along with him in tracking the killers, but she tends to be a bit annoying with too many conversations centering around Rane’s need to ‘get over’ his family’s death and seemingly treating his loss like it should be a minor inconvenience that he should simply ‘move on’ from. There is a moment where he seems ready to throw her out of the car and leave her stranded in a field, which would’ve nicely illustrated the character’s obsessed and loner nature, but like with everything else in the film it gets softened by having him dump her later on in a more civil way, which again becomes like a cop-out to the story’s otherwise rough theme.

The shoot-out inside a chapel is pretty good and I really liked James Best as the bad guy with all the sweat pouring down his face, which was apparently accomplished by having him wear ice cubes underneath his hat. Having Devane use his hook to grab, quite literally, Luke Askew by the balls I suppose deserves some kudos too, but overall it’s a bland viewing experience that fails live up to its hype with the whole hooked hand as a weapon concept needing to be played up much more. The movie’s poster makes it seem like it will be a lot cooler flick than it actually is.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Flynn

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD

Piranha (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mutant fish attack swimmers.

When two teenagers disappear late one night while swimming in a pool inside an abandoned military complex it’s up to Maggie (Heather Menzies) a professional skip tracer to find them. She recruits Paul (Bradford Dillman) a drunken backwoods loner to serve as her guide. As their investigation continues they learn that the swimmers were killed by some mutant fish that had been created by the government to be used as a weapon during the Vietnam War. Now that the war was over they were being kept inside a secret underwater tank, but when Maggie inadvertently drained the tank in order to search for the bodies she released the fish down the river where they are set to attack a children’s summer camp of which Paul’s daughter Suzie (Shannon Collins) is in attendance.

This is billed as a spoof of Jaws and supposedly according to Leonard Maltin’s review loaded with in-jokes, but to me I saw very little that was humorous and in many ways this film could work as a legitimate horror film on its own. The only amusing moments I found are when Maggie plays a Jaws video game near the beginning as well as a female beachgoer who is spotted reading ‘Moby Dick’, but otherwise the chuckles are light unless you count Dick Miller as an overzealous promoter who is indeed pretty funny.

The film starts out like I wants to be different from the typical horror film and initially I was intrigued particularly with the two protagonists. Normally the female/male leads in these types of films consist of good-looking teens/college aged kids, but here we get a guy who was near 50 and a female, who although being quite attractive has more of a take-charge attitude that is usually seen in a guy. Having the film play against gender stereotypes was for me the best thing it had going for it and I really liked the way the awkward relationship between Maggie and Paul initially developed.

Unfortunately it doesn’t stay that way and by the halfway mark Paul is the one taking control while Maggie is just tagging along, which I found disappointing. It also tries to sneak in a romance angle, which is ridiculous since the guy was clearly old enough to be her father. Paul is also seen continually drinking alcohol, but he never shows any signs of being inebriated and I realize alcoholics have a higher tolerance to the stuff, but still I doubt he would’ve been able to stay so sharp and heroic as he ends up being while still under the influence as he supposedly is.

The fish attacks become monotonous and consist of the same shot of rubber fish put on strings shown swimming towards their prey and the sound effects used for the fish when they start biting was performed by underwater dental drills, which to me sounded cheesy. There are a lot of pools of blood that form around the victim as he/she are being bitten, but not much else in the way of special effects. Only at the end does it get gorier and there’s even a shot of one of the fish coming straight towards the screen with its toothy mouth wide open, but I felt this should’ve been put in earlier.

The supporting cast of eclectic B-movie stars is interesting but underused and this also marks the final film appearance of Barry Brown who at the age of 27 killed himself just two months after the film wrapped shooting and was already dead by the time it was released to theaters. Overall though, the whole thing, which was remade in 2010, is watchable but disappointing. The humor and offbeat elements should’ve been played-up much more and the characters made to be more eccentric especially the two leads. In the end it becomes just another routine horror flick that’s no better or worse than the hundreds of others that are already out there.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 3, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joe Dante

Studio: New World Pictures

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

Local Hero (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Businessman travels to Scotland.

Mac (Peter Riegert) works for a gas company out of Houston, Texas that wants to buy up the small town of Ferness, which sits on the north shore of Scotland and turn it into an oil refinery. It’s Mac’s job to travel to the town and offer the citizens a generous monetary offer to sell their homes. He is not excited about going as he enjoys doing business over the phone, but once there he grows attached to the more laid-back pace. The townspeople grow found of Mac as well and eager to take the money and become rich. The problem is that through research they find that it is actually Ben Knox (Fulton Mackay) an eccentric man who lives in a ramshackle house on the beach who owns the land and he is unwilling to sell no matter what the price.

This film received positive reviews at the time of its release and one of the few movies to get a 100% positive rating at rotten tomatoes and yet after watching this now twice I’m still mystified over what all the fuss is about. When I first saw it several decades ago I came away feeling like I had just viewed something where very little happens and upon the second viewing I felt the exact same way.

I get that the emphasis is supposed to be on the quirky humor and that’s fine, there’s even a few chuckles, but the script flat lines after its initial set-up.  The eccentric characters and offbeat quality becomes one-dimensional and the story offers no true conflict or tension. Everything gets handled in such a subtle, dry way that there’s barely any drama at all and seems not really worth the effort to watch.

It would’ve worked better had there been one true antagonist, somebody that would be in stark contrast to everybody else and create genuine upheaval to the otherwise benign complacency. Initially it seemed that Lancaster’s character, who owns the oil refinery, would be a perfect foil to the serenity. Most business owners are consumed with the profit margin, but this one is instead more interested in astronomy. I realize that writer/director Bill Forsyth wanted to work against the grain and not portray the typical caricature of a hard-driven business man, but how can a guy run a successful business if the financial bottom line isn’t his main drive? Making the business owner a lovable kook as the rest takes away any potential confrontation of which this movie could’ve used some.

Riegert is equally transparent. His yuppie tendencies should’ve been played up more and his dramatic arch from big city businessman to lover of small town life more apparent. I was hoping that after he slowly became fond of the place that he would be one to throw the monkey wrench into the proceedings by refusing to make a deal and fighting to save the town even as the other residents are more than happy to leave it, which would’ve been much funnier.

The townspeople are blah too. The viewer only gets to know a few of them and they’re indistinguishable from the other. The only one that stands out is the lady with a punk look and I was intrigued to learn more about her and how she was able to get along with everyone else despite dressing in such a radical style and yet we never hear her utter a single word.

Ben Knox is the only character that offers a twist as we initially perceive him to be a homeless nobody only to realize that he ultimately holds all the cards and yet it just teases the viewer with a potential confrontation between he and the townspeople that never comes to fruition. I was also disappointed that we didn’t get to see the inside of his makeshift home that looked so rundown and precariously put together that you truly wondered what the interior looked like or how someone could survive living in it for as long as he does. Lancaster goes into the home to negotiate a deal with him and I felt the camera should’ve followed him in.

If you’re looking for lightly amusing comedy that goes down easy then you may take a little more of a liking to this. If you desire a movie with something more than just incessant whimsy then this flick will not suffice.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 18, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 51Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bill Forsyth

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Cloak & Dagger (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid witnesses a murder.

Davy (Henry Thomas) is an imaginative 11-year-old who spends his days immersed in the fantasy world of an espionage game called Cloak & Dagger and its rugged hero Jack Flack (Dabney Coleman). His home life spent with his dad (also played by Coleman) isn’t as exciting and he uses his escape into the game as his way of coping with a father who is too busy to have any time for him. One day he inadvertently witnesses a murder and just before the victim dies he hands Davy a video game cartridge telling him that there is top secret information on it. Now Davy finds himself in a very real game of life and death forcing him to depend on the advice of his fantasy hero and help from his dad to save him from the bad guys.

Tom Holland’s script is based on the short story ‘The Boy Cried Murder’, which was first made into a movie in 1949 The Window that starred Bobby Driscoll. This version is definitely aimed for the kids, but manages to be engaging enough to keep an adult’s attention, which is what makes it fun. Director Richard Franklin, a noted Hitchcock disciple, manages to infuse humor with the suspense and uses a variety of locations to keep the action interesting.

Thomas is excellent as the kid, but I felt his character seemed a bit too even-keeled about things. I would think a kid would be traumatized at witnessing a murder and unable to cope, but Davy takes things in much too matter- of-fact way only to become overwhelmed by the reality of the situation much later when I felt it should’ve occurred right from the start.

Christina Nigra is cute as Davy’s young friend Kim, but she looks to be barely 6 years-old. Her lines are amusing, but she conveys them in a way that has no inflection like she is simply mouthing stuff that she has memorized. The dashingly handsome Michael Murphy makes for an effective bad guy and elderly real-life couple Jeannette Nolan and John McIntire get flashy roles in the twilight of their careers. You can also spot Louie Anderson in a brief bit as a cab driver.

Dabney Coleman’s presence is the only thing that doesn’t work. He’s a gifted comic character actor, but only engaging when he plays a sleazy slimeball and never as a good guy. Here he is downright boring and already in his 50’s making him a bit too old for either the father or superhero. I don’t think they are too many kids who would imagine their own fathers in the role of an idolized comic book-like hero anyways. Most of the time it would be someone who is brawny and glamorous. In either case the film would’ve worked better and made more sense had the father and hero role been played by two completely different actors.

For me though the best part of the movie is simply its on-location shooting done in San Antonio. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t film a scene at the Tower of the Americas, but the other tourist sites are included featuring a fun chase sequence at the River Walk, the Sunken Gardens and even the Alamo. In the case of the Alamo they were allowed to film the exteriors there, but the interiors were recreated on a soundstage, but having been in the actual Alamo I couldn’t tell the difference, which is impressive.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 13, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Franklin

Studio: Universal

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

Executive Action (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who really killed JFK?

A group of former intelligence officials along with right-wing corporate capitalists conspire to assassinate President John F. Kennedy whose agenda they feel has gone too far to the left. Two teams of assassins are hired and they work in the desert to hone their shooting skills so as to be able to hit a moving target at 15 mph. Once this is accomplished they set-up a fall guy by the name of Lee Harvey Oswald to take the wrap while hiring another man, Jack Ruby, to kill him outright should he begin to squeal.

It may be a shock to some that in this age where conspiracy theories of the JFK assassination have now almost become the norm the cultural climate at the time of this film’s release was not for it. All the major Hollywood studios declined to offer financing and it was up to the film’s star Burt Lancaster and his good friend Kirk Douglas to put up the necessary funds just to get it made. Many television stations refused to run ads for it and due to the negative press it was pulled from theaters after only two weeks and resided in virtual obscurity before finally getting released onto VHS in the early ‘90s.

While I commend their attempt at getting the conversation going the results are less than compelling and the film fails to be riveting at any level. The reasons for planning the assassination are too broad and the characters are all uniformly colorless. The shooters themselves have no stake in the ultimate agenda other than they were paid to do it and in real-life there would’ve been a high chance that one of them would crack at some point or get nervous and make a mistake. The money that they were paid to do the job was not as much as you might think making me believe that once they ran out of it at least one of them would’ve gone to the press or authorities and divulged what really happened. The Jack Ruby link is weak. It is inferred that he does get hired to kill Oswald, but it never explains how they were ever able to get him to agree to do something that would most assuredly have him sitting in jail for the rest of his life.

There is also too much stock footage of actual news events of Kennedy and even Martin Luther King Jr. that gets shown. It doesn’t help propel the plot in any way and almost seems like it was put in simply to pad the running time. The recreation of the Dallas parade and Kennedy’s limo ride down the streets of the city is badly botched. While it’s nice that they filmed it on the actual site where it occurred it becomes painfully clear that there is no parade or crowds there. Instead they splice in old news reel footage of the actual parade, which they intercut with scenes of the actors playing the shooters, which they hoped would give the viewer the impression that they were all in tandem, but it doesn’t.

It was fun seeing veteran Hollywood stars playing bad guys for a change particularly Lancaster although he comes off as comatose and his hair looks disheveled in every shot. The film though doesn’t succeed at putting to rest anything. The plot is not believable and does nothing but create more questions than answers.

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My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 7, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Miller

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)

life of judge 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He rules the town.

Roy Bean (Paul Newman) rides into a lonely western town that is being ruled by a group of violent vagrants that attack and rob him as he enters their saloon and then they tie him to an end of a wagon and drag his body through the dusty desert landscape. Fortunately for him he manages to survive the ordeal and gets his revenge by returning to the saloon and killing off the others. After which he appoints himself as the judge who oversees all issues of law and order in the vicinity, which quietly begins to prosper under his leadership.

Although based on an actual historical figure the script by John Milius goes wildly off-the-mark that has no bearing to anything that actually occurred and ends up becoming highly fanciful in the process. There are certainly some amusing bits here and there, but the tone is too whimsical and loses any semblance of grittiness until it doesn’t seem like a western at all. The story also lacks a plot and the overall theme that is way too similar to The Ballad of Cable Hogue, which was directed by Sam Peckinpah and came out just two years before this one.

During my trip this summer I traveled to Langtry, Texas where the real Judge Roy Bean lived and where most of this movie was filmed.  I was surprised to find how interesting the true events of his life were and how the movie would’ve been much more fascinating had it just stuck to what really happened instead of making it all up. In real-life Bean entered the town in the spring of 1882 where he opened up a saloon and soon was appointed the Justice of the Peace by the state since the next nearest court was 200 miles away. The jurors for the cases that he heard were made up of his own bar patrons who were required to buy drinks in between court hearings. No one was sent to jail since he did not own a cell and all those accused were simply fined in the amount of cash that they had on them at the time.

I also found it was amusing at how different the performers looked in comparison to their real-life counterparts. Newman shows some resemblance to the actual man, but Victoria Principal, who plays Bean’s Mexican bride Maria Elena, clearly looks far sexier than the real one did.

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Overall, the film is passable for those wanting nothing more than an evening of light entertainment. The scene where Bean travels to San Antonio so as to meet Lily Langtry (Ava Gardner) a stage actress who he adores his quite good as it takes the character, who had by then achieved almost a mythical quality, and turned him back into being quite mortal when he fights through the city crowds and becomes nothing more than just another-face-in-the-crowd to the people there.

I also enjoyed seeing the town grow into a big oil boom city although in reality this never happened and the place as of today only has a population of 18 people. Stacy Keach’s cameo where he wears heavy make-up to resemble an albino renegade who rides into town and challenges Bean to a gunfight is quite amusing, but it’s probably Principal’s performance in her film debut that ends up becoming the film’s most enduring quality.

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(The actual saloon where Judge Bean tried heard his cases, which still stands today.)

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released:  December 18, 1972

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Huston

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Blood Simple. (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Love triangle turns deadly.

Julian (Dan Hedaya) is a jealous and controlling husband who suspects that his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating on him. He hires a sleazy private detective named Loren (M. Emmet Walsh) to follow her around only for Julian to ultimately learn, to his shock, that not only is she fooling around, but it is with Ray (John Getz) who is one of his employees. Filled with rage Julian then asks the detective if he’d be willing to kill both of them for a price. Loren says he will, but then fakes the murder simply so he can collect the cash, which then leads to a myriad of twists.

This marks the Coen brother’s feature film debut and I was surprised to learn that every major studio passed on it and it wasn’t released to theaters until it got a favorable response after being screened at the Toronto Film Festival. The film is filled with the directorial flair that we’ve become accustomed to in their movies. I particularly enjoyed the inventive camerawork with my favorite shot being a tracking one done down a bar top in which the camera somehow leaps over a drunk’s head. The opening shots showing the desolate, dry and heat soaked Texas landscape helps give the film a gritty flair and the brief, clip-like dialogue that seems more like sound bites is quite interesting and helps reveal more by what the characters don’t say than by what they do.

McDormand is terrific in her film debut and her angelic-looking blue eyes help make her character more appealing to the viewer while the rest of them come off as being pretty vile. I was also impressed with how her Texas accent here sounds just as effective as the Minnesota one that she did in Fargo.

Hedaya does well playing the type of part he’s become best known for and I’ll give him credit for allowing himself to be put into a hole and having dirt thrown on him, but when he gets shot it is clear that his eye lids are fluttering and chest moving up and down, which should’ve been equally obvious to his shooter as well.

The story is slick, but the character’s actions not so much. Both Julian and the detective sneak into Ray’s house, but park their cars, which have very distinctive features, right in front of the home in which any neighbor looking out their window could report seeing it later when speaking to the police. Ray’s actions are even dumber as he gets fingerprints all over the murder weapon and then foolishly carries a dead body into his car where it doesn’t take a genius to know that the victim’s blood will most likely seep all over his backseat cushions.

The story appears to take place in the summer as the daytime scenes show the characters sweating, but then at nighttime we see the character’s breath, which makes it seem more like a winter time setting. I also thought the viewer should’ve been shown how the detective was able to doctor the photos to make it look like Abby and Ray had been shot as this was well before the age of personal computers or photo cropping.

There is another scene near the end where Abby, in an effort to escape from her killer, climbs out of her bedroom window and into a neighboring room. However, there was no ledge for her to climb onto making it almost impossible for her to do what she did, which is why I think they didn’t even attempt to show it and was simply something that we are expected to ‘forgive’ in order to enjoy the rest of the movie.

Despite these minor flaws I still found it to be an inventive film and one of the better attempts at creating a modern-day film noir that should be considered the standard for all others that followed.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joel Coen

Studio: Circle Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Last Picture Show (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Texas sized drama.

Based on the Larry McMurtry novel, who also co-wrote the screenplay, the story deals with the inter-workings and relationships of a people living in a small Texas town known as Anarene during the years of 1951 and 1952.  There’s Duane (Jeff Bridges) and Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) two high school seniors who are also best friends. Duane dates the highly attractive Jacey (Cybill Shepherd) who seems more geared to playing the field with every guy in town and even makes a play for Sonny, which seriously affects his relationship with Duane. There’s also Ruth (Cloris Leachman) the lonely coach’s wife who begins a brief affair with Sonny until he decides to bail-out for the more attractive Jacey. Sam (Ben Johnson) makes up part of the older generation still stuck in the dusty town and trying to make ends meet by running the local movie theater and pool hall both of which come to a halt when he dies suddenly.

I saw this film just recently outside on the big screen as part of the Texas Film Heritage and Preservation Society here in Austin. Although I had seen it before I was hit with how much more impressive and visually sumptuous it is on the big screen. Robert Surtees’ black and white cinematography is top-notch and the main ingredient to what makes it so spellbinding, so much meticulous attention is taken into each and every shot that one could almost watch this with the sound down and still find it thoroughly compelling.

Director Peter Bogdanovich takes great care to make sure that all of the elements are there and spins them together like a well-crafted machine so the viewer learns bit and pieces about these characters and their attitudes through each shot and camera angle that comes along. Filming it on-location in Archer City where McMurtry grew up helps accentuate the authenticity as does playing the country music from the period although I could’ve done with a little less of that and more of the sound of the wind and dust crackling across the barren region instead.

What surprised me most was how interesting and varied the love making scenes where and how instrumental they became to the film as a whole. One of the most memorable ones is when Sonny first tries to make love to Ruth, but is quite awkward about it. We see the pained expressions on both of their faces, hear the rusty springs of the mattress, and then finally witness Ruth’s attempts to shield her crying and frustration from Sonny. Duane’s futile attempt at sex with Jacey later on is also good particularly the fiery look of anger spewing from Jacey’s eyes when he is unable to perform. The scene involving a mentally challenged young man pushed into attempting sex with an obese and caustic prostitute inside the backseat of a cramped car is both darkly funny and sad, but the most provocative love making moment comes near the end when Jacey has sex with her mother’s boyfriend (Clu Gulager) on top of a pool table inside a dark and lonely pool hall while bracing the table’s side pockets with her hands for leverage.

The performances are all-around outstanding and both Leachman and Johnson won the Academy Award for their work here, but I still came away feeling, just like I did twenty years ago when I first saw this film, that Shepherd does the best job and leaves the most lasting impression. I love how her character slips between being insecure and indecisive to cunning and conniving and Shepherd’s facial expressions are completely on-target all the way. Her striptease done on top of a diving board is still pretty hot and my only complaint about the character is the way she elopes with Sonny and then completely bails on him the next day. I realize she didn’t love the guy and she’s just used him like she did others, but I didn’t understand what her motivation was in this instance as she seemed to get little if anything out of it.

I was also a bit disappointed that the Coach Popper character played by Bill Thurman didn’t have a bigger role in the story. The way he berates his players during practice is amusing and would most likely get coaches in today’s more sensitive world in hot water. I also found his constant spitting of tobacco juice into a cup that he carries around with him to be grotesquely amusing, but my biggest beef is the fact that we have a main character screwing his wife and the whole town knows about it, but never any reaction from the man himself. Maybe he was aware and didn’t care, but the movie should’ve made an attempt to show this, or at least some interaction between Sonny and the Coach since Sonny was at one time one of his players, which would have to make things quite awkward whenever they would bump into each other and in a small town that would most likely happen on more than a few occasions.

Overall though this is a great movie and I was surprised at how frank and explicit it was despite its 1950’s setting. Some may argue that it was done with too much of a revisionist mindset and things weren’t quite this wild, but others, like myself, will insist that it probably was, but just not talked about as much.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video