Category Archives: Quirky

Sweetie (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sister is mentally ill.

Kay (Karen Colston) has begun a relationship with Louis (Tom Lycos) and things seem to be going smoothly as they move into a home together, but it quickly unravels when he sister Dawn ‘Sweetie’ (Genevieve Lemon) shows up with her boyfriend Bob (Michael Lake). Sweetie has been institutionalized in the past and her wild mood swings and erratic behavior quickly cause turmoil particularly with Kay. She asks her parents (Jon Darling, Dorothy Barry) for help, but her dad refuses to recognize Sweetie’s tragic current state and instead continually hearkens back to her childhood years when she was a cute kid with budding talent who would perform songs and dances to the family’s entertainment and delight.

This is a hard film to critique  as it starts off as a quirky comedy, but by the midpoint it becomes more dramatic and filled with a lot of uncomfortable even cringe worthy scenes as Sweetie’s mental decline becomes achingly apparent. Not only do you feel sad for her, but also for how it causes such a severe strain for the rest of her family, which accurately illustrates how mental illness isn’t just a one person issue as their behaviors will adversely affect those around them too.

The fact that the film’s tone switches halfway through, which would be considered a major no-no by Hollywood standards, is part of the reason why it works as it replicates real-life where sometimes you can have a touching, humorous moment only to suddenly get thrown into a troubling one.  This also shapes what life is like living with a mentally-ill individuals who may seem ‘okay’, but can turn erratic sometimes without warning and this ongoing tension vividly comes through for the viewer until they feel the same way as the characters.

I found the father though to be the most entertaining and interesting. One minute he’s scheming to get Sweetie out of the family car, so they can leave on a trip without her and then the next minute he’s driving back to pick-her-up, so they can be ‘one happy family’ again. While this may sound overly contradictory to some I felt it brought out  the inner turmoil many parents feel in dealing with their grown children where at times they can’t stand them, for whatever reason, but at other points can’t stand to be without them either.

Director Jane Campion, in her feature film directorial debut, adds in interesting touches like having the camera frame the characters off-center where instead of seeing them captured in the center of the screen they are shown in the right-hand corner, which helps accentuate the tone of the subject matter. There’s also an odd time-lapsed cutaways detailing a seedling tree pushing its way through the dirt and above ground, which wasn’t exactly necessary to the main plot, but kind of cool nonetheless.

Campion also wisely doesn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence with pat answers to a complex problem. Mental illness cannot be cured or even  always stabilized with medications, so leaving the viewer with a feel-good ending where everything works out and everybody is happy would be a cop-out and thankfully gets avoided here. Instead the we’re left pondering troubling questions, which stays with you long after it’s over and makes this a far better movie than most because of it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jane Campion

Studio: Filmpac Distribution

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video

Fools (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lost souls find love.

Matthew (Jason Robards) is sitting in a park one day trying to read a book when two children begin taunting a dog, which causes it to bark and impedes Matthew’s peace and quiet. He then warns the children that if they don’t behave the dog will rip their arms out, which angers the dog’s owner (Marc Hannibal) who then proceeds to punch Matthew in the face. Anais (Katharine Ross), who was also in the park, comes to Matthew’s aid and the two quickly begin a romance, but she neglects to tell him that she’s being followed by a private detective (Robert C. Ferro Jr.) whose been hired by her jealous husband (Scott Hylands) who’ll stop at nothing to win her back.

The film is a very odd mix of drama and late 60’s quirkiness that never gels and most of the time comes-off as disjointed and amateurish. The relationship happens too fast and lacks any type of distinction from the thousands of other cookie-cutter romances already out there. The folk-tinged songs sung by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition are too sappy and bog the pace down, which is too slow and ambling to being with.

The biggest issue though is the way scriptwriter Robert Rudelson throws in all sorts of characters and bits that have nothing to do with the main plot. This includes two FBI agents appearing out-of-nowhere who raid the couple’s home and then just as quickly disappear and are forgotten. There’s also a weird bit where the couple confronts a trio of hippies, one of whom is played by Jack Nance in his film debut, who are strung-out on acid and it gets quite violent and ugly. Another segment deals with a psychiatrist (Mako) fighting off an oversexed patient (Laura Ash) and these two do not interact with the two main characters at all, so why this even gets put into the film is confusing.

85 minutes into its runtime the film also suddenly adds in flashbacks and surreal moments including Ross seeing herself jump off a tall building. Surrealism in film can be great, but it needs to get introduced earlier and trickle all the way through instead of popping up near the end, which throws off the tone completely.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which Ross gets violently gunned down inside a Church during a babies baptism is jarring, misplaced and like everything else comes completely out-of-nowhere. To some degree you can credit the film for being ahead-of-its-time as it deals with a stalking/jealous husband, which was a topic that had not yet come into the mainstream conversation, but the bird’s-eye view of Ross’ bloody corpse lying on the sidewalk is much too disturbing for a film that had otherwise been quite playful and lighthearted. The reactions by the other people inside the church, one of whom is played by a young Suzanne Somers, is off-putting too as they just stand there in a calm silence instead of screaming and panicking like you’d expect them to.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Robards, who is typically a very good actor, channels too much of the non-conformist quality similar to the character that he played in A Thousand Clowns, which in that film was charming, but here it’s annoying mainly because it doesn’t make sense. In that film he was poor and bordering on being homeless, so his contempt for society made sense, but here he’s a famous horror movie star renting a swanky apartment that overlooks the San Francisco skyline making his anger seem out-of-place. There’s also a brief bit where he attempts to climb over a barbed wire fence, the film cuts away so we don’t get to seem him fully do it, but it looked like a painful if not impossible thing to do and something that shouldn’t be done by someone who wasn’t insane.

Ross on the other-hand is appealing and quite beautiful in literally every shot she’s in, which is the only reason I’m giving this dopey production even two points, but she unfortunately is straddled with a script that appears to have no point to it and if it does it doesn’t convey it in any type of discernible way.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 23, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Tom Gries

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: None at this time.

Some Kind of a Nut (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Grow beard, lose job.

One day while out on a picnic in Central Park with his fiance Pamela (Rosemary Forsyth) Fred (Dick Van Dyke) gets stung on his chin by a bee. The sting takes too long to heal, so in order to avoid having to shave over it he grows a beard, which doesn’t go over well at his job. When his boss (Peter Turgeon) tells him to get rid of it and he refuses it leads to his firing, which mobilizes his co-workers to walk off of their jobs in protest.

Writer/director Garson Kanin has written many funny and award-winning screenplays with Adam’s Rib and Born Yesterday being two of his most famous ones, but this script seems like it was written by a completely different person altogether. The idea of Van Dyke bucking-the-system and discarding conventional mores has definite potential especially since it was filmed in the late 60’s when a lot of that was going on, but the movie goes nowhere with it. Instead of dealing with the ramifications of his rebellion the plot pivots to his ex-wife’s (Angie Dickinson) attempts at reconciliation, which is too contrived and has nothing to do with the main theme.

Van Dyke has one brief moment of non-conformity and then immediately snaps back into being his staid self without showing any real growth or change. Instead of him directly organizing the effort to have his co-workers walk off their jobs on his behalf it’s actually another associate (played by David Doyle) who inspires it while Van Dyke stands back in awe like a main character who has become a passive bystander in his own movie.

There was no need for three female love interests either. Forsyth was the youngest so in some ways it made more sense for her to connect to his rebellious side, but instead it’s Dickinson his ex-wife. However, it’s never made clear what lead to their divorce in the first place, so unless they tackle that direct issue then whatever reconciliation they have will only lead to another break-up down-the-road. Zohra Lampert, who plays this beatnik type lady that Van Dyke befriends and goes out drinking with, is far more lively here than the other two actresses and showed just enough bohemianism traits to fit with the film’s attempted non conformist theme.

There are some interesting camera shots like a close-up of the actual bee sting and a segment, which I thought was real cool when I was in the third grade and first saw this film, showing a map of the nation and then a red miniature car similar to the one Van Dyke and Forsythe are riding in driving around on it to  each city on their trip. However this amounts to just being a shallow way to cover-up how boring and empty the script really is, which meanders too much on scenes that don’t propel the story along. A good example of this is when Forsyth and her two brothers (Elliot Reid, Steve Roland) chase Van Dyke around his apartment complex in an attempt to shave off his beard, which seemed like a futile waste of energy because he could just regrow it in a matter of a few days, so why even bother?

Released: October 1, 1969

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated M

Director: Garson Kanin

Studio: United Artists

Available: Amazon Video

Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Businessman becomes a magician.

Donald (Tom Smothers) is tired of the rat-race and decides one day to impulsively walk off of his job  and become a trained tap dancing magician under the tutelage of Mr. Delasandro (Orson Welles). While the pay isn’t good he enjoys the freedom of being on the open-road and avoiding the stress of climbing up the corporate ladder despite the efforts of his former boss (John Astin) who tries anything he can to get Donald to come back and work for him.

This was Brian De Palma’s first studio made venture and he borrows heavily from the same type of surreal comedy that he used in his two earlier independent films Hi Mom! and Greetings. While not all of the gags hit there’s enough inventive camera work and editing to keep it interesting making the fact that the studio ultimately hated the final product and fired De Palma from the project all the more perplexing. This film follows the exact same blue print of De Palma’s earlier work. Had they not watched those films and just hired him based on recommendation? If so then they have no one else to blame but themselves.

While I enjoyed the eclectic energy there are too many comic bits that veer way off from the main storyline and have absolutely no connection to the main plot. The script, by Jordan Crittenden, would’ve been stronger had all the humor been focused around a main theme as it ultimately comes-off as too much of a hodgepodge with no connecting message to it at all. What’s even worse is that some of the gags have a lot of comic potential that aren’t played-out to the fullest, which makes it even more frustrating.

Smothers is quite boring and seems unable to convey any other expression except for a smiling deer-in-headlights look. Apparently behind-the-scenes he didn’t get along with De Palma and refused to show-up for necessary retakes making me think he should’ve been the one fired as he could’ve been easily replaced by a wide array of other comic actors who would’ve done a far better job. Even Bob Einstein, who appears very briefly as a brash fireman, gets far more laughs than anything Smothers does throughout the entire movie.

Fortunately the supporting cast is excellent and one of the reasons that helps keep the film afloat. Welles is especially good as the washed-magician with the scene where Smothers and he get stuck inside their escape sack while trying to perform the trick being the funniest moment in the movie. Astin is amusing too as Smother’s former boss who slowly turns his room inside a seedy hotel into a thriving office. Katharine Ross is also a delight in a perfect send-up of a starry-eyed groupie.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending though in which Smothers finds himself back working inside the same type of corporate office job that he had tried to escape from at the beginning is a disappointment. Sometimes cyclical endings can be clever and ironic, but here it’s more of a cop-out. We never get any sense of how the experiences that the character goes through changes him making it all seem quite shallow and pointless. It also completely forgets about the Orson Welles character, who gets written-out after the second act even though his presence was one of the most entertaining aspects of the movie.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 7, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Coke bottle causes problems.

One day while flying over the Kalahari desert a airplane pilot inadvertently throws a coke bottle out of his cockpit window, which falls to earth and is found by Xi (N!xau) and he brings it back to his nomadic tribe. At first everyone is intrigued with the object as they are an isolated people unaware of modern technology. They think it’s a ‘gift from the gods’ and make use of the bottle in different and creative ways, but eventually the bottle causes friction from within the tribe because there is only one and no one wants to share it. Xi decides to ‘give the bottle back to the gods’ by traveling to the end of the earth and throwing it off. During his journey he meets a clumsy biologist named Andrew Steyn (Marius Weyers) and a pretty school teacher named Kate (Sandra Prinsloo) while also saving school children who are kidnapped by a group of terrorists led by Sam (Louw Verwey).

This film became the biggest box office success in South African history and when released abroad became the most successful foreign film in the U.S., but the film initially comes off like a nature documentary complete with monotone voice-over narration by Paddy O’Byrne only to then shift uneasily into a flick dealing with political revolutionaries who systematically massacre the heads of state via machine gun. It’s not until about 30 minutes in that the gentle comical flow of the story gets going, but even then there’s a lot of sped up stop action photography, dubbed voices, and a cartoonish sounding musical score that gives it a choppy amateurish feel throughout.

Yet despite all this the concept is quite original and filled with genuinely funny moments. Writer/director Jamie Uys, who appears briefly as a Reverend, shows an amazing ability to squeeze laughs out of virtually any scene and sometimes in the most amazing of ways. Some of my favorite moments was when the jeep hangs upside down in a tree, or the scene showing the same disabled jeep getting tugged along by another vehicle and because the desert was so flat and barren the man driving the vehicle is able to get out of it and it simply drives itself with no fear it would run into anything. The shot where N!xau arrives at what he thinks is the end of the earth, but in reality is a place known as God’s Window is quite memorable and picturesque as well.

Of course the film does come with its fair share of controversy and accused of being racist with two countries, Trinidad and Tobago, banning the movie from being shown there because of it. The main complaint centers around the bushmen tribe that N!xau comes from being shown as completely cut-off from the modern world and unsophisticated when in reality this is not true. The 2004 Columia TriStar DVD edition has a wonderful documentary called ‘Journey to Nyae Nyae’ on its bonus section where a filmmaker travels to the real-life desert bushmen tribe that actor/star N!xau resided and found that although the people were quite poor they were far from ignorant and in fact excitedly embraced technology like a computer when it was shown to them. There’s even a really cute segment where the children get shown this film and laugh along at all the same antics just like American audiences.

This same documentary also has a very sad edge to it as it shows the impoverished life N!xau had even after the film became a worldwide hit. While the movie grossed over 200 million N!xau was only paid $2,000 for his work and the other actors who played the bushmen got paid nothing. Director Uys tried to rectify this by paying N!xau many years later an additional $20,000 and a monthly stipend, but by then he had already become sick with tuberculosis and ended up dying from it in 2003.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 10, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jamie Uys

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Birdy (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fly like a bird.

Al (Nicholas Cage) becomes friends with an introverted neighborhood boy (Mathew Modine) nicknamed Birdy due to his fascination with birds. Al begins to follow Birdy around as he collects pigeons and stores them inside an aviary that he has built in his backyard. The two share a strong bond, which is broken when they both get drafted and have to go off to war. Al returns from battle with facial injuries, but Birdy is sent to a mental hospital because after missing in action for a month, he refuses to speak. Al spends time with Birdy trying to get him to talk again, but finds it futile and fears that if he can’t get him to talk the Dr’s will confine Birdy permanently.

The film is based on the William Wharton novel of the same name that was initially rejected by director Alan Parker as a possible movie because he considered the story to be ‘uncinematic’, but after the screenplay was commissioned to writers Sandy Kroopf and Jack Behr who were able to restructure the thoughts of the main character from the novel into dialogue and action Parker was then willing to sign on. The result is a interesting drama that manages to have some touching, quirky moments, but it’s also quite reminiscent of Brewster McCloud and comes complete with the same winged flying contraption which Birdy uses to fly briefly over a junkyard that Bud Cort also used to fly around the Astrdome in that film.

While both Cage and Modine give excellent performances I found the friendship between the two to be confusing. They had very little in common and why Cage would want to follow Modine around all the time as he collected pigeons, which he himself thought to be kind of ‘weird’, did not make much sense. Had they both had an interest in birds then it would’ve worked, but they don’t, so what’s the bond that keeps them together? Having them portrayed as being gay would’ve been the solution and at times it seems that is what Birdy is since he shows no interest in women at all and in one amusing scene watches in boredom while Cage has sex with another women on a beach. Cage could’ve been portrayed as being bi-sexual, or not fully aware of his secret attraction to Birdy, but could later eventually come out and that could help explain why he’d stick with someone that he otherwise found ‘kooky’.

Despite the film’s length  and having some definite slow parts including Cage’s ‘conversations’ with Birdy when he’s inside the mental hospital, which are quite static and should’ve been trimmed, there’s still some memorable moments including a scene showing baby canaries hatching out of their eggs. I also like the tracking shot where Birdy imagines himself flying and done from the point-of-view of a bird, which gives one a very authentic feeling/experience of what it would be like and it was shot with a Skycam, at least partially, which is the first time that had ever been used in a movie.

I also enjoyed how the film examines the different dynamics of both Cage’s and Birdy’s family life and the contrasting personalities of the parents where in Cage’s family the father, played by Sandy Baron, was the dominant force while with Birdy it was his mother (Dolores Sage). My only complaint in this area is that there’s a running subplot dealing with the fact that Birdy’s mother would take all the baseballs that the neighborhood kids would accidentally hit into her backyard and keep them, but no one knew where she hid them. Cage then, years later, asks the Dr’s at the hospital to convince the mother to send the hidden balls to Birdy in an effort to get him to talk again and the mother complies, but the scene showing her retrieving the balls is never shown. So much time is spent talking about where she hid the balls that the film should’ve revealed the hiding place while also showing a tender side to the mother who otherwise came off as being quite cold, so not having this scene at all really hurts the film.

Spoiler Alert!

There’s also complaints by some viewers and critics about the ending, which some, like critic Leonard Maltin, refer to as a ‘gag’ ending. For me this wasn’t an issue as it offered some much needed levity in what is otherwise a very dramatically heavy film, but I was frustrated that there’s no conclusion given to what ultimately happens to the two characters. They’re shown trying to escape from the hospital, but never whether they were able to break-free permanently. After spending two hours following these two around the viewer deserves more concrete answers as to their ultimate fate and keeping it so wide-open is a bit of a cop-out/letdown.

 

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1984

Runtime: 2 Hours

Rated R

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: TriStar Pictures

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

Slither (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for embezzled money.

Dick Kanipsia (James Caan) is a former car thief who has just been released from jail and is now trying to go straight. While in prison he started up a friendship with Harry Moss (Richard B. Shull) and decides to go to his rural home for a visit. It is there that Harry suddenly gets shot by a mysterious gunmen, but just before he dies he informs Dick about a secret stash of stolen money that can only be retrieved by contacting his former partners in crime: Barry Faneka (Peter Boyle) and Vincent Palmer (Allen Garfield). Dick then goes on a road trip trying to find these two men while also coming into contact with a lot of oddball characters and situations along the way.

When I first saw this film over 20 years ago I really loved it and was impressed with W.D. Richter’s offbeat script that relies heavily on quirky scenarios and dryly humorous non sequiturs to help propel it. A theme he later polished to perfection in his most famous film the cult hit The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension While I still enjoy the engaging set-up I’ve found that during subsequent viewings the unsatisfying ending ruins everything else that comes before it and ultimately hurts the movie as a whole, but first lets go over what I did like.

The chase element that gets incorporated into the story is cool and has a strong connection to the one in Duel. The idea of having these large black vans driven by a person we cannot see constantly chasing after our protagonist no matter where he goes is intriguing and helps create an interesting mystery angle. The unique design of the vans, which was a 1973 Dodge Rectrans Discover 25R,  featured no front doors, which coupled with its all-black exterior gives them a very threatening presence that is almost creepier than the truck used in Duel.

Caan’s detached persona helps separate him from all the nuttiness around him and makes him likable in the process. Boyle is amusing as his eventual cohort and Louise Lasser is surprisingly restrained as Boyle’s wife. You also get to see  film director Paul Thomas Anderson’s real-life mother, Edwina Gough, in a small role during a scene at a bingo tournament.

The only character though that I didn’t care for was Sally Kellerman’s who plays this semi-crazy lady that proceeds to just slow-up the pace of the film with every scene that she’s in. I admit the part where she robs a diner at gunpoint is kind of fun, but I’ve never been a fan of her breathless delivery and didn’t feel there was any need for her reappearing after her character was pretty much dropped from the story and forgotten and there’s never any explanation for how she was able to successfully track Caan down after he abandoned her.

Laszlo Kovac’s cinematography is good although it would’ve been nice had this been a genuine road movie where our main character would’ve been required to travel to highly varied settings/landscapes  in his quest to find the hidden money. I realize this would’ve upped the budget, but having to constantly stare at the dry, brown landscape of Stockton, California, where the majority of the shooting took place, is kind of depressing.

As I stated earlier it’s the ending that hurts the film more than anything. To sit through what is otherwise a creative plot only to find that it all just leads to nothing is a big letdown. I know that during the 70’s it was trendy to have anti-climactic movie finishes, but here there needed to be more of a payoff . Movies should also have the main character change in some way from what they were at the beginning, which doesn’t occur. Caan just quietly walks away from the chaos around him like everything he’s just went through was nothing more than a blip on his life’s radar and ultimately that’s the way the movie becomes with the viewer as well. Goofy enough to hold your attention, but never memorable enough to stay with you.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

UFOria (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: She dreams about spaceships.

Arlene (Cindy Williams) is a lonely woman living in a small town and working at a local supermarket. One night she starts having dreams about a spaceship landing in town and taking her away. Her new boyfriend Sheldon (Fred Ward), who is a shady drifter always looking to make a quick buck, works with his brother Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), much to her consternation, to use her ‘visions’ to make money off of it by portraying her as communicating with some outer worldly messenger that’s connected to God.

This film was made in 1980, but sat on the shelf for 5 years and it’s easy to see why as it’s difficult to put it into any predefined genre. It’s certainly isn’t a sci-fi flick and in a lot of ways it really isn’t a comedy either. There are a few funny bits, but they get lost inside scenes that go on far longer than they should, which never allows the film to gain any traction or momentum.

Williams is not right for her part and fails to convey the downtrodden look of a lonely woman in a role that would’ve been better served had it been played by an actress with a more plainish, dumpy features like Kathy Bates. It’s also annoying that she has these vivid dreams, but the viewer never gets to see them. Movies are a visual medium and should take advantage of that element as much as possible by showing what’s happening instead of just having a character describe it.

Stanton isn’t right for his part either. In certain films his low-key style is perfect, but here he fails to effectively convey the animated, fiery delivery of a TV evangelist, which is a part that needed to be comically played-up much more.

Ward was the only one that I liked and he really comes into his own with a character that isn’t particularly likable, but has an interesting arch where he goes from being a cynical non-believer to eventually defending Arlene from those who mock her. He also drives his car in the most bizarre way that I’ve ever seen with his feet up on the dashboard and not on the pedals.

Spoiler Alert!

I was hoping that the ending would be a payoff for having to sit through such a slow, poorly paced film, but ultimately it falls flat just like everything else. I liked the idea of a spaceship suddenly appearing, but then the film cuts to the closing credits without examining what happened to the people, how they reacted to it, or what the aftermath was, which I found frustrating.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The small town setting filmed in Palmdale and Lancaster, California gives off just the right rustic look and prime stomping ground for fringey, eccentric people like the characters here.  While the film does have a definite cult appeal the offbeat elements get stymied inside a lethargic pace that never allows it to gel, or become captivating.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Binder

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS

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

92 in the Shade (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rival fishing boat captains.

Tom (Peter Fonda), a lifelong drifter, moves back to his hometown of Key West, Florida where he hopes to start up his own charter boat business. However, Nick (Warren Oates) already owns one and not happy about having competition. He along with his friend Carter (Harry Dean Stanton) decide to play a cruel practical joke on Tom, who in an effort to get some revenge, destroys Nick’s boat, which sets off a warring rivalry.

Thomas McGuane was lucky enough to get to direct his own novel despite having no experience behind the camera yet frittered it all away with wild parties as well as an affair with the film’s co-star Elizabeth Ashley despite being engaged to Margo Kidder who was also cast in the movie and which set off quite a few fireworks behind-the-scenes. On a technical level I loved the way the working class/old town side of Key West gets captured along with the glowing gold sunshine of the region and Michael J. Lewis’ soothing banjo strumming soundtrack helps bring out the film’s laid-back ambiance, but outside of a few amusing moments that’s about it.

Initially the leisurely pace and quirky nuance is refreshing and I liked the contrasting personalities of the two leads, but not enough happens. By the second act you wonder what happened to the story as too many extraneous scenes and characters get thrown until it ends up being an abyss to nothingness.

The cast though is definitely game. The wacky dialogue between Burgess Meredith and Sylvia Miles, which I’m pretty sure was all ad-libbed, is quite amusing although the scene where she tries to shatter a glass by wailing out a high-pitched screech should’ve been extended. Joe Spinell, one of cult cinema’s great character actors, practically steals the whole thing with his few minutes of screen time. The scene where he is taught about the different kinds of fishes by having them displayed on top of a pool table is the funniest moment of the movie although the garish outfit that he wears when he goes out on the boat with Fonda comes in as a close second.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending, at least in this recent version I saw from Amazon Video, took me by complete surprise. I had seen this movie twice before and both of those times it ended with Oates confronting Fonda on his boat, but instead of attacking him they sit down and have a friendly chat. Here it ended with Oates shooting Fonda and then immediately freezing the frame and rolling in the credits.

For me this alternative ending was frustrating as it left open too many unanswered questions. Having a film drag on as it does with virtually nothing occurring during its second and third act only to abruptly end it when it finally gets interesting is like a slap-in-the-face to the viewer and helps to explain why this bombed so terribly at the box office.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 22, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes (Alternative ending) 1Hour 33Minutes (Original ending).

Rated R

Director: Thomas McGuane

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Amazon Video.