Category Archives: Outdoors

Fair Game (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Woman harassed by poachers.

Jessica (Cassandra Delaney) runs an animal sanctuary deep in the heart of the Outback. Sunny (Peter Ford), Ringo (David Sandford), and Sparks (Gary Who) are three big-game hunters, who grow bored shooting at kangaroos and set their sights at taking on some of the animal’s inside her property. They decide that Jessica herself may fun to ‘toy’ with too and begin a campaign of harassment that starts with them trying to run her car off the road with their big truck and just proceeds to get more violent and confrontational. Jessica though is determined to turn-the-tables on them even as the stakes against her survival grow continually more dim.

This is the type of film that right from the start goes against the rules of conventional storytelling as there’s very little character development or backstory. The viewer is immediately thrust into the battle while barely even knowing who these people are. Normally, I’d say it should’ve slowed up a bit and let us get some grounding before getting smacked with the action, but honestly in this instance it really wasn’t needed. You get enough of the general idea to know who to root for and the more violence that happens the more enthralled you get with it.

This is how many real crime happen where the perpetrators attack their victim out of nowhere and without warning giving the person very little time to think and forcing them to immediately respond to the danger without being able to ponder their options and in that regard this film, which was intended to be, by admission of the director, nothing more than a ‘comic book’ adventure actually does quite well. Usually I’d like a chance to catch my breath, but here any minor slow-up makes you feel off-kilter as it’s the action that propels it and the whole thing becomes more like an ‘experience’ than a movie.

Many have labeled this as Australia’s version of I Spit On Your Grave, but this is actually better. The different ways that the men terrorize our protagonist is far more interesting than the gratuitous rape that took up so much of the other one. While the men are at times a bit stupid I did like their relentless quality. They don’t get killed off as easily as in a Hollywood film. There were many times when I thought they should’ve been doomed, but they manage to survive it, which made me start to believe they might actually win the battle and thus allowed the tension to grow even higher.

Cassandra, who gained fame by being a co-singer with her mother Lorraine in a rock ‘n’ roll band called The 50’s and then later ended-up marring singer/actor John Denver, is quite good though I initially felt there needed to be more of an arc to her character. Perhaps having her be more timid at the start only to eventually bring out her warrior nature at the end as she’s a little too self-assured right from the beginning, but overall I came to believe it wasn’t necessary. I did think though it was unrealistic that she ran this sanctuary in the middle of nowhere, but didn’t own a gun, but ultimately having her tote a big rifle might’ve looked cliched and it also forces her to come up with creative ways to get rid of the bad guys, which is ultimately more intriguing.

The Outback gets used perfectly as the viewer gets both charmed by it’s beauty and terrified by some of the creatures that live in it including the weird lizard-like things that congregate on Jessica’s front porch and that she’s forced to shoo-away each morning when she walks out. The desolate landscape is also a good metaphor to the men’s soulless nature and also helps heighten the odds to just how alone and desperate Jessica’s situation truly is.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mario Andreacchio

Studio: CEL Film Distribution

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region A/B/C)

The Emerald Forest (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Amazon tribe kidnaps boy.

Bill (Powers Booth) is a hydro-electric engineer who’s designed a dam that’s being built deep in the jungle of the Amazon. One day while he’s having a picnic outside with his wife Jean (Meg Foster) and daughter Heather (Yara Vaneau) he notices his son Tommy (William Rodriguez) wandering off. He tries to catch up with him, but not before the child gets snatched away by an Indian tribe known as the Invisible People. Bill spends the next 10 years searching for him, but to no avail. Meanwhile Tommy (now played by the director’s son Charley Boorman) has grown into a man and become a full-fledged member of the tribe, but before he can marry the beautiful Kachiri (Dira Paes) he must retrieve some sacred stones in a remote spot of the jungle. It is there that he comes into contact with his father, who is still searching for him. The two bond once again and work together to escape the clutches of The Fierce People another native tribe that is violent and cannibalistic.

The film is loosely based on two true stories. The first one is an article printed in October, 1972 in the Los Angeles Times, which was read by the film’s scriptwriter Rospo Pallenberg, having to do with a Peruvian boy who had been kidnapped by an Indian tribe and when found 16 years later he didn’t want to leave as he, by that time, had become fully assimilated in it. The second one deals with the autobiographical novel from 1971 in which the author, Manuel Cordova-Rios, details his account of being kidnapped by an Amazon tribe in the early 1900’s as a boy and how he eventually grew to become a member of that tribe.

On a technical level director John Boorman achieves the same type of success that he had with Deliverance where the vivid on-location shooting makes the viewer feel fully immersed in the setting to the extent that you think you’ve physically traveled to another part of the planet. The chase sequence in which the protagonists must battle their way through a dense underbrush to escape an enemy that hides behind the foliage and that they can’t see is also quite similar to the one in Deliverance, but in many ways more exciting. The film also has a very strong masculine theme where the women are seen very little and in the case of Meg Foster get completely wasted.

My main issue is that the kidnapping segment happens too quickly and the boy’s transition into the tribe is too unrealistically seamless. I would think a kid at that age, he seemed to be around 10, would’ve been horrified about being taken away from his parents, the only family he had ever known, and yet the film glosses completely over the adjustment angle and makes it seem like it was no big deal.  The parents devastation at losing a son gets handled in the same shallow way where after the kidnapping occurs the story immediately jumps to 10 years later without every showing any of the grieving process that the family most assuredly would’ve had and in some ways unintentionally makes it seem like they were able to move-on with their lives without much problem.

The story does have its share of riveting moments, if you’re patient, with the best parts coming when the two tribes go to battle with each other, but the film unwisely straddles the fence between reality and fantasy. I don’t mind a fantasy if it’s that way all the way through, but this one tries to sneak it in at ill-advised times. The scene that got me is when Tomme goes searching for his father in the big city and even though he doesn’t know where his father lives he’s able to connect with some sort of Indian spirit that shows him a vision of his father’s condo and he uses that to find it, but that vision never gives him a specific address, so I’d think he’d remained just as lost and confused.

Spoiler Warning!

I didn’t care for the double ending either. Having the film finish after the father helps Tommy fight off the Fierce People and save the tribal women from a life of prostitution was good enough, but then tacking on Tomme again praying to his Indian spirits to create massive rain storm that damages the damn was too much. It also becomes a bit preachy with its denouncement about environmentalism making it seem more like a political propaganda piece and less like a feature film. Casting Boorman’s son Charley in the lead was a mistake too as his constant wide-eyed, deer-in-headlights expression becomes monotonous. The part was originally intended for C. Thomas Howell and while he may not be the greatest of all actors he still would’ve been a better pick here.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 3, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Boorman

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD

Long Weekend (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review:  A couple battles nature.

Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) are a young couple who are constantly at odds with each other. To help smooth things over they decide to take a trip into the wilderness and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. Along the way they accidently hit and kill a kangaroo with their vehicle. This sets off a chain-of-events that puts them under the increasing attack of various animals. First Peter must fight off an angry eagle who swoops down at him without warning. Then a possum and even a sea cow who stalks Peter while he is swimming. The two decide they must leave the area in order to save their lives, but everywhere they turn there’s another animal waiting for them.

The story idea is certainly an interesting one, but the concept is too wide-open. Scriptwriter Everett De Roche stated that the premise was all about how Mother Earth had her own auto- immune system and when humans started acting like cancer cells she’d attack, which is great, but why just this couple? There are millions of people who behave just like them, so why don’t they end up getting the same treatment?

The plot needed an extra spin to hold it all together, but it never comes. Having this small remote place hold a mystical power that allowed animals to behave differently than they would normally do elsewhere would’ve at least given it some needed focus. Perhaps a backstory too where other people would’ve gone to this same locale and complained about being attacked. Any extra plotline would’ve helped because the idea that these animals would just randomly attack a generic couple in some isolated moment in time that they never did before or after just doesn’t cut-it.

I didn’t like either that the couple bicker right away, but then later on become lovey-dovey only to proceed back to bickering, which is too bipolar. A better approach would’ve had them getting along at the start and then with the stress of the animal attacks tear their relationship apart, which would’ve created a more interesting character arc, which otherwise is non-existent.

I would’ve preferred that the lead characters been played by macho men who arrogantly tear up the wilderness with their SUV’s and kill the animals for shameless sport. Watching these ‘tough guys’ then unravel once the animals went on the offense turning them into sniveling, frightened cowards would’ve been far more of an entertaining payoff while hitting-home the importance to respect nature  in a more stark way.

The animal attacks aren’t all that riveting and take up very little of the runtime, but the creepy atmosphere is amazing. Filmed on the island of Tasmania I enjoyed the point-of-view shots of the SUV driving through the long, tangled unique looking trees that grow down there where when captured at night and through the beams of the vehicle’s headlights come off looking like gnarled fingers protruding from the ground. The intense music and haunting call of the sea cow are also quite unsettling and get even more so as the couple continues to hear it, which helps to make this a memorable horror flick despite the few drawbacks and a great example at how strong directing can help overcome a flat script. Remade in 2008.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Colin Eggleston

Studio: Hoyts Distribution

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Spanish), Amazon Video, YouTube

Sometimes a Great Notion (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Never give a inch.

The Stampers are a proud logging family who’ve run their business out of the small Oregon town of Wakonda for years, but now find that may be in jeopardy when the local union strikes against a large lumber conglomerate. The Stampers, headed by their stubborn, bull-headed father (Henry Fonda) refuse to go along with the other loggers and continue to run their business. The rest of the townspeople consider them to be traitors and get their revenge by burning their equipment and doing whatever they can to make their business fail, but despite all the obstacles and setbacks the Stampers prove to be a resilient bunch.

The story is based on the Ken Kesey novel and while the book spawned many accolades the movie pretty much fizzled and today is only remembered as being the first film ever shown on HBO when it began broadcasting on November 8, 1972. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its share of good points as I really did enjoy the vivid way it captures the logging business showing first-hand what it takes to cut down the large trees and move the timber. Everything is captured with an in-your-face style that makes you feel like you’re right there working alongside the others and all the stages of tree cutting are explored including the many potentially dangerous accidents that can occur within the blink-of-an-eye.

The film also features a few memorable scenes including a bird’s-eye view of a large barge of logs being tugged down the river, which is an impressive sight. There’s also the infamous drowning scene unique because I’m not quite sure how they were able to pull it off without the actor drowning.

The characters though are quite boring, don’t display any type of arc and instead convey a very one-dimensional cantankerous attitude all the way through, which isn’t fun. Lee Remick is the only one who shows a softer, more introspective side, but she’s not in it enough. The scene involving her in bed with Michael Sarrazin, who plays the younger brother to Paul Newman, could’ve given things a much needed spark and should not have been left on the cutting room floor.

Fonda though is an exception. I’m always amazed at how in his later years he had to take small roles in films that weren’t always A-list material, but would still steal the film away from the leading actors anyways and his answer as to why the family continues to work while clearly causing tension with the rest of the town is a gem.

The plot though gets presented in a sporadic way. So much attention gets put into the aesthetics that the story becomes largely forgotten and only trickles through at certain intervals. The perspective is a bit odd for a Hollywood film too especially for that time period where the idea was always a David vs. Goliath formula that would take it to the establishment and yet here instead of punching up it punches down. As a viewer I felt sympathy for the townspeople and their need to create a strong union to make life better for themselves, so watching this family arrogantly ignore their needs and forge on with their business seemed to be me selfish and not something that was noble or interesting.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s final shot, which features Newman tying his dead father’s severed arm on top of his tugboat, with the hand of the arm giving the finger to the town’s people on shore, is quite ghoulish. There’s no explanation for how he obtained the arm, but I’d imagine it would’ve required him digging up his father’s grave and cutting the limb off, which is pretty sick and twisted and thus loses the humorous quality that was intended and becomes just plain repulsive instead.

Alternate Title: Never Give A Inch

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Newman (Replaced Richard A. Colla)

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Universal Vault Series)

Heartbeeps (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robots fall in love.

Val (Andy Kaufman) and Aqua (Bernadette Peters) are two robots who meet one day at the factory while awaiting repairs. They quickly fall in love and decide to escape out into the wilderness while bringing alone Phil a small robot who does not speak as well as Catskill (voice of Jack Carter) a robot made to resemble a cigar smoking vaudeville-type stand-up comedian. However, two employees from the factory, Max (Kenneth McMillan) and Charlie (Randy Quaid) go on a pursuit to retrieve them. There’s also the malfunctioning law enforcement robot known as Crimebuster who also chases after the robots and will stop at nothing to bring them back.

This is a highly unusual film in that it uses robots as its main characters and has their point-of-view the whole way through. Other films have had robots of course, but they are put in supporting roles to the humans.  Here director Allan Arkush was determined to keep it authentic to the ‘robot experience’, by implementing a computer-type logic to everything that goes on, which creates  some surreal moments, but ultimately falls flat.

To be a successful film you still need to have characters that the viewer finds relatable and the robots are too, pardon the pun, mechanical. They never say anything that is interesting or funny and while they at times have an endearing child-like quality they do not create any emotional bond with the audience.

There still needed to be a human as the centerpiece, maybe someone the robots met during their escape, who takes them in and helps them in their quest to hide from those that are after them while also having the robots in some way help their new human friend in whatever personal challenges or battles they were going through.  They are a couple of times that the robots do come into contact with people with one occurring when they crash a party at a swanky hilltop resort with Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov playing two of the partiers, but the guests at the party are broadly played caricatures and the scene itself too brief. They also later meet-up with a couple, played by Melanie Mayron and Christopher Guest, who run a junkyard, but this occurs too late in the movie and should’ve been introduced earlier.

While the wilderness setting is scenic it fails to add much in the way of either excitement or comedy. Having the two escape into a big city would’ve been more compelling. The crimebuster robot that chases after them is too goofy and offers no tension or intrigue. Sometimes even in a comedy it’s good to have a little bit of that, or at least a bad guy that is competent enough to make the viewer wonder, if even for a second, whether our heroes are going to safely outsmart him or not, which doesn’t occur here.

It would’ve been nice too had there actually been some genuine laughs. The only attempts at humor are when Catskill cracks one of his long line of incredibly dumb jokes, which are intended to be lame, but having a few that were actually clever, would’ve helped. Even the talented Kaufman flounders as he uses the same accent of his famous foreign man character that he did during his stand-up routines as well as in the TV-show ‘Taxi’ ultimately making it seem like Latka in a robot disguise.

The make-up effects by Stan Winston are impressive especially the opening credit sequence at the beginning where the camera focuses onto the robots’ various parts close-up. Winston used a gelatin substance that gave off a authentic looking metallic appearance versus how it had always been done before where it had been painted on. However, two holes where created around the robots eyes, which gives it a mask-like appearance and ultimately ruins the attempt although it gets kudos for at least making a strong effort. I also liked the  clicking sound effect every time one of the robots blinked their eyes, which resembled the noise of a camera taking a picture. but it’s not consistent as it’s heard during the first half, but not during the second part.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 18 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Allan Arkush

Studio: Universal

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

The Gods Must Be Crazy II (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Misadventures in the desert.

Xiri (Eiros) and Xisa (Nadies) are the two children of Xixo (N!xau) and a part of a nomadic desert tribe of the Kalahari who go roaming off into the wilderness and encounter a truck driven by two elephant poachers (Lourens Swanepoel, Pierre van Pletzen). Having had no previous contact with modern technology the children become fascinated with the vehicle and climb into its water tank just as it drives off taking them many miles away from their home. When the children fail to return their father goes out looking for them and in the process comes into contact with a lawyer (Lena Farugia) and a zoologist (Hans Strydom) who are stranded after their small engine plane crashes as well as two soldiers (Erick Bowen, Treasure Tshabalala) fighting from opposite sides of the war and each precariously trying to get the upper hand on the other.

This follow-up to the run away hit was filmed in October, 1985, but took over 4 years to find a distributor and suffered many setbacks during its production, which frustrated writer/director Jamie Uys so much that he retired from directing after completing this one and never worked on another film. On the whole though it’s not too bad, but like with the first one it does start out a bit clumsily.

My biggest complaint had to do with the scenes dealing with the lady lawyer named Ann and her interactions with the macho pilot/zoologist Hans who takes her up in the plane, which to me became too sexist and too similar to the scenario played-out in the first film where a lady-in-distress being rescued by a male character more acclimated to the environment. However, in the first film this was funny because the male was so clumsy and inept it made him seem more like a lovable clod, but here the guy character resembles the male image, especially with his mustache, of the Marlboro man and his constant aggravation at this ‘ditzy lady’ isn’t amusing while her inability to understand technology played too much into the feminine stereotype that women can’t comprehend machinery must have a man come to their rescue.

I did find the small engine plane that they rode in, which was a modified Lazair Ultralight, fascinating as I found it interesting at how something so small and flimsy could carry two people and still get off the ground, but was disappointed to learn later that this was only because it got attached to a crane and in reality wouldn’t have flown. Although the filmmakers achieve this illusion pretty well the scene where the two fly above the clouds is clearly fake as you can tell the backdrop of the sky is a painting and in that regards the whole plane scene, especially since it really couldn’t fly anyways, should’ve been discarded and some other plot line created that would’ve brought the two together.

The two runaway children though are quite cute especially the frightened but resourceful little boy who grabs a nearby piece of wood to put on top of his head to fool the hyena that has been stalking him into thinking that he is taller than he really is, which actually ends up working. I was also most impressed with the scenes dealing the Honey Badger, which is known for its ferocious defensive abilities and lives up to its reputation here when he grabs a hold of Hans boot with his teeth and refuses to let go no matter how far Hans walks.

The last half-hour when all the various characters from the four divergent story lines eventually merge is when the film finally manages to hit its stride and it’s a shame this couldn’t have occurred sooner, but ultimately as a sequel it’s surprisingly funny and manages to retain much of the same charm from the first one.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jamie Uys

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, YouTube

March or Die (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Battle in the desert.

French Foreign Legion Major William Foster (Gene Hackman) suffers from memories of leading 8,000 of his own men into a failed battle, which has driven him to alcoholism. Now he and his regiment are assigned to protect an archaeology dig lead by Francois Marneau (Max Von Sydow) that sits in the middle of the Moroccan desert and is under constant threat  by an army of Arab revolutionaries lead by El Krim (Ian Holm).

The film was a labor of love for director Dick Richards who grew up watching the French Foreign Legion films in his youth and wanted to recapture that magic, but like with his earlier and much acclaimed western flick The Culpepper Cattle Company do it with a revisionist slant. Aesthetically it looks gorgeous and all the more impressive when you factor in that the majority of it was filmed in Nevada, but because the dunes in Morocco had a  different shade of color than the ones in North America the sand was flown in to camouflage this and you’d never know the difference. Watching the harsh treatment that the men had to go through as they trained to become soldiers is quite revealing as well and made the first hour of the film captivating.

Hackman though looks uncomfortable in his role and this could be attributed in large part to the fact that he fell off his horse during filming and was suffering from a great deal of back pain during the shoot. In either case he ends up getting sorely upstaged by Italian star Terence Hill, who up until this time had mainly done comedic styled westerns with his onscreen pal Bud Spencer, but here shines as a soldier who challenges authority and galvanizes the rest of the troops.

Marcel Bozzuffi is equally memorable as the cruel Lieutenant Fontaine who treats the men under him quite harshly most notably Top Hat played by Andre Penvern, but the theatrical/DVD release omits a crucial scene with him that was only shown in the TV print.  In that version he and his men chase after two deserters and then get involved in an ill-advised battle with some tribesmen, which ultimately causes him to break down in fear and kill himself, which would’ve been an interesting transition to witness since for the majority of the movie he remains cold and aloof otherwise.

Despite being a great actor Von Sydow’s presence here is a detriment as it will only remind viewers especially during the archaeology dig sequence of his work in The Exorcist where in the beginning of that film where scenes of him doing essentially the same thing. Catherine Deneuve is another excellent talent who is wasted in a part that doesn’t allow her much to do and only helps to slow down the already sluggish film with each scene that she’s in.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s most disappointing aspect though is with its ending, which should’ve been its strong point. The final battle is exciting and the shots of hundreds of chanting Arab soldiers coming over the dunes to attack is indeed impressive and even harrowing to see, but watching the systematic slaughter of the French soldiers and ultimately learning that they walked themselves into a trap is quite dispiriting. I know I’ve complained about the formulaic happy endings from time-to-time in some other films, but this one is too much of a downer and offers the viewer no payoff at all for having to sit through it. It’s almost like giving someone a reasonably enjoyable ride only to drive the car off the cliff at the end and expect them to thank you for it.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 5, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Dick Richards

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Shoot to Kill (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chasing killer through wilderness.

Warren Stantin (Sidney Poitier) is a veteran police officer who goes after a jewel thief when he kills his hostages while the two were negotiating for their release. Stantin feels like he failed them (the hostages) and must make restitution by personally seeing their killer brought to justice. The problem is that he doesn’t know who the killer is as he never saw his face. In an attempt to escape the authorities the killer then joins a group led by Sarah (Kristie Alley) who are hiking through the rugged forest terrain of northern Washington. Stantin joins forces with Jonathan (Tom Berenger)  an outdoorsmen who knows the area well and can lead Stantin on foot to where the hikers are as no one in that group realizes that one of them is a dangerous criminal.

The story is the inspiration of Harv Zimmel who wanted to incorporate his lifelong enthusiasm for hiking into a an exciting police story and for the most part it works. The story itself is kind of formulaic as cop thrillers go, but the vivid wilderness setting adds an extra element with a lot of hair-raising scenes including the point-of-view shots of Berenger dangling hundreds of feet in the air on a thin rope over a gulch and getting swung violently into the side of a rocky hill.

One of the coolest aspects of the film is the fact that the viewer, at least for the first half, has no idea who the killer is, which lends extra intrigue as you try to guess which one of the group members he is. In order to make it more interesting director Roger Spootiswoode cast actors who had played villains in past thrillers although I would’ve done the opposite by hiring actors who didn’t seem like killers at all and therefore making the ultimate reveal even more surprising and it’s a shame that the killer’s identity couldn’t have been kept a secret until the very end.

Poitier, who had spent the previous decade working behind-the-scenes as a director, is excellent in his first acting role in 11 years. He was 60 when he did this, but you’d never know it and he gets a few comical moments here too. It’s also nice that his skin color never comes into play as most of his other film roles always made his race a center issue. Berenger offers adequate support, but I was actually much more impressed with Alley who comes off as tougher and more resourceful than all of the other men.

There’s very little to complain about although one of my quibbles is that we never get to see Stantin’s personal life. Most cop films will always show a brief glimpse into a policeman’s home life in order to make him more ‘human’ or multi-dimensional. Here we see briefly Poitier talking on the phone with someone, supposedly his wife/girlfriend, but it would’ve been nice to have had a scene  showing the face of his significant other.

The film also has way too much music that lacks distinction and gets played over just about every scene. The story is exciting enough and there’s no need for a booming score to accentuate what we’re already caught up in. Since the majority of the pic takes place in the outdoors it’s best to allow the natural ambiance to work as the background sound and adding in anything above that comes off as heavy-handed.

Overall though the film is slick and exciting that starts strong and never lets up and includes a very unique final shootout that takes place underwater.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD

The Great Outdoors (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends ruin their vacation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1988

Released: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Deutch

Studio: Universal 

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

No Drums, No Bugles (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living in a cave.

Ashby Gatrell (Martin Sheen) is a conscientious objector. When the Civil War begins he wants nothing to do with it, so he escapes into the West Virginia wilderness where he hides out inside a cave for the 4 years that it goes on. He talks to no one during this time, which becomes a strain on him mentally and emotionally.

The one cast member concept is interesting, but few films have succeeded using it. Even Castaway doesn’t really count because the Tom Hanks character is only stuck by himself during the first two acts, but then comes home at the end to interact with others, but here it’s all just Sheen and if it weren’t for his brilliant performance it wouldn’t have worked.

What I liked most is that it shows how isolation can have its benefits. Watching the scenes where Sheen runs uninhibited through the endless fields with no one else around almost like he were a playful child brought out just how freeing being alone can sometimes be and something that other films dealing with the same subject never effectively tackle instead it gets portrayed as being a complete negative, which it isn’t.

I was also impressed at how the film captures all four seasons. I felt that this was needed, but presumed with its low budget that it wouldn’t be and was willing to forgive it for that reason and yet to my surprise it gets shown anyways. What’s even more amazing is that they have the camera stay focused on a certain natural setting for instance a grove of trees and then merge the summer season slowly into the winter one, so you see how these exact same trees and area looks during both times of the year, which I found to be really cool!

On the negative end there are segments where the character overhears conversations from other people as he hides nearby and listens in. The conversations though sound stilted like they were spliced in later after they had been recorded inside a sound studio and not the natural surroundings. We also never see the faces of these other characters as they speak, or very few of them, with the camera instead focusing only on their lower body making them seem unintentionally dehumanized.

The film should’ve started out with the war not yet begun and Sheen still in his family man role, which would’ve created a vivid character arch that is otherwise lacking. The brief scene where he does go back to his home late at night doesn’t work since he never speaks to any one there and we are given no real understanding of what he was like before he became a nomad.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is confusing as it shows the war ending and he goes back into his town, but finds no one there almost like they’d been kidnapped by some alien being or something. He finally hears some people singing inside a church, but the film never has him going inside, so the viewer doesn’t experiences his readjustment, or whether he was ever accepted back into the community at all, which makes the story incomplete. Too much time is spent on the wilderness scenes when that should’ve only been a part of the plot with the other stages of his life being examined as well.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 23, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated G

Director: Clyde Ware

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: VHS