Tomorrow (1972)

 

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aiding a pregnant woman.

Jackson Fentry (Robert Duvall) is a lonely farm-hand who has never married and lives in a tiny shack on the grounds of the farm that he’s been hired to maintain. One day he comes across a pregnant woman named Sarah Eubancks (Olga Bellin) near the property who’s been abandoned by both her husband and his family. He brings her back to his modest shed to warm her up and since she has nowhere to go he eventually agrees, with the help of a local midwife (Sudie Bond), to assist through the birth of her child. Sarah though dies soon after the baby is born, but not before Jackson agrees that he’ll raise the child. For several years Jackson is able to do just that until the brother’s of the boy’s father arrive and take the child away. Then many years later Jackson is called-in for jury duty on a trial that, known only to him, has a connection to the boy he lost contact with. 

There’s been many movies that have tried to recreate the rural 1800’s, but many for the sake of drama, or to make it more relatable to modern audiences, tend to cheat things. They may make it authentic in some areas, possibly even painstakingly so, but then compromise in others due to the entertainment factor. This though is one film that could genuinely be described as being about as minimalistic as any director could possibly make it. Filmed on a farm in rural Mississippi that was owned by the grandfather of Tammy Wynette the movie gives one an authentic taste of life back then with little to no music and no sense of any staging. The bare-bones shack that Jackson must reside in gives the viewer a stark sense of the grim, no frills existence that many dealt with back then. The slow pacing aptly reflects the slower ways of life and having the camera virtually trapped in the shed, or at most the nearby property, symbolized how people of that era had to learn to endure and expect little.

While those qualities hit-the-mark I felt that black-and-white photography detracted from it. By the 70’s most films were shot in color and only a few like The Last Picture Show, Young Frankenstein, and Eraserhead just to name some, were not, but this was more for mood, or style. Here though with everything already at an intentionally drab level the color could’ve at least brought out the beauty of the outdoor scenery of a southern winter and offered some brief striking visuals and a cinematic presence that was still needed, but missing and kind of hurts the movie. 

Surprisingly I had issues with the acting. One might say with Robert Duvall present that couldn’t be the case, but his overly affected accent, he got it from a man he met once in the foothills of the Ozarks, was from my perspective overdone and even borderline annoying. Bellin is alright though behind-the-scenes she created problems by refusing to take any advice from director Joseph Anthony. She had done mostly stage work up until then and was used to having leverage about how she approached her character once she was onstage and considered that once the camera was shooting meant the same thing. It was okay, like with a play production, for the director to give advice during rehearsals, but when the actual filming started she should have free rein over her craft and having Anthony repeatedly reshoot scenes, like in typical film production, or suggest she do things differently as the filming was going on, was all new to her and not to her liking, which caused numerous arguments not only with Anthony, but Duvall as well making them both later admit that they regretted casting her and she never performed in another movie again. Out of the entire cast it was Sudie Bond as the lady who helps with the birthing that I found to be the most memorable. 

While the story has many commendable moments it gets stretched pretty thin especially since it was based on a short story by William Faulkner and then adapted first as a play and then to the big screen by Horton Foote (the first of two collaborations that he did with Duvall with the second one being Tender Mercies 10 years later). Almost the entire third of the film gets spent on Jackson’s conversations with the woman while his relationship with the son takes-up less than 10 giving the pacing and flow a disjointed feel. It’s also a shame that, like with The Owl and the Pussycat, which came out 2 years earlier, the producers compromised on the elements of the original piece as in Faulkner’s story the pregnant woman was black, but here she gets changed to being Caucasian. Had the character remained black then what Jackson does for her would’ve been more profound as he would’ve been taking great personal risk in helping her in an era and region of the country where racism was high and by no longer being a colored woman it lessens the drama and is not as impactful as it could’ve been.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 19, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joseph Anthony

Studio: Filmgroup Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Plex, Tubi, Amazon Video

 

Vasectomy: A Delicate Matter (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father considers male sterilization.

Gino (Paul Sorvino) is a proud Italian man who has fathered eight children, but now his wife Anna (Cassandra Edwards) doesn’t want anymore kids and pressures him to get a vasectomy. Gino fears the procedure, but eventually agrees only to have an angry confrontation with the doctor (William Marshall), which sends him running away from the operating room. Anna insists that he still must go through with it, or he won’t be allowed back into bed with her until he does. Meanwhile Gino must also worry about his greedy relatives, who’ve concocted an elaborate plan to steal money from the bank he works at and put it out of business.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie quite this bad. It’s not so much for any technical miscues. No shaky camera, boom mikes getting into the screen, atrocious lighting, schlocky sets, or bad acting. In fact all of those things are okay. What really reeks is the bland script that is poorly paced and not funny. The film starts out really slow and never gains traction. For a comedy there needs to be a lively plot and quick edits, but this thing dies out before it even has a chance to get started. 18-minutes in and I was still waiting for the first laugh and became genuinely confused whether this was meant to be a comedy at all. 

The main plotline is so weak that the inane crooked loan scheme is added jut to pad the runtime. The living situation of the family is rather unrealistic as well. Of course since it was the 80’s, the height of capitalism, the question of whether a family could actually afford 8 kids is never addressed, but most people, even those working at a bank, might find that situation financially challenging. The home looks too well maintained for having all those kids too who would most likely be running around and disorganizing everything. The mother is never shown having to deal with them either. In fact she comes-off as an affluent suburbanite who’s fully in-control of her life and able to out with her lady friends without the typical struggles of having to juggle her personal life with child rearing demands. All 8 kids end up being boys, but what are the odds of that? They’re also all around the same age like she popped them all out simultaneously and all of them get crammed into the same bedroom even though the house they resided in looked big enough that that shouldn’t have been necessary.

Paul Sorvino manages to be solid even though with his rotund belly he does look a bit pathetic during the scenes where he wears a baseball uniform. He does though sing the national anthem surprisingly well, apparently he sang opera to the crew between takes, and the segment where he goes in to the operation and babbles incessantly, is actually kind of amusing. I was not impressed though with Edwards as she looked too young to be his wife like she was still in her 20’s while he was already in his late 40’s. 

While I’m not a violent person I would consider, if I ever met the director of this, Robert Burge, to punching him as I honestly felt like he maliciously stole 90-minutes of my life and I don’t understand what the purpose was for it. 33,000 scripts get submitted yearly, but only 1 percent of those ever gets sold or produced, so how the hell did this one sneak through? Even a crew member from the film stated in his IMDb review that he’d give this a negative rating if he could. Maybe the director was a guy that had enough funds he was able to produce it himself and therefore didn’t feel the need to answer to anybody. If that were the case then this would’ve been an instance where having never made a movie would be better than living with the embarrassment of your name being attached to this mess for all those unfortunate enough to see it.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Robert Burge

Studio: Vandom International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

 

 

Cohen & Tate (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child witness gets kidnapped.

Travis (Harley Cross) is a 9-year-old who witnesses a mob hit and for his own protection both he and his parents (Cooper Huckabee, Suzanne Savoy) are put into a witness protection program where they are uprooted from the home they’d live-in and moved to an isolated place that has federal agents standing guard outside around-the-clock. One day the place gets invaded by Cohen (Roy Scheider) and Tate (Adam Baldwin), who are two hit men working for the mob. The mob wants to prevent Travis from testifying in court, so the two hit men kill the parents and the federal agents and then kidnap the boy and take him on a long road trip to Houston where the mob bosses can question him directly. Along the way Cohen and Tate bicker and make clear they do not like each other and Travis exploits this to get them to fight more and then uses it as a diversion to escape.

After writing the screenplays for The Hitcher and Near Dark Eric Red was finally given the green light to direct his own movie and tension-wise the film is compact, but visually it’s boring. The car ride taking place almost completely a night where we see nothing but the interior shots of an old, grimy car enveloped by pitch blackness is not interesting and having it instead take place in the daylight where the rugged, but scenic Texas landscape could’ve added ambiance would’ve worked better. The night setting also adds in a few logic loopholes like when the kid runs down the highway there’s tons of traffic, but why would there be so many vehicles in the dead of night and the middle-of-nowhere? Also, you’d think a least a few of those drivers who saw a kid running on the road might want to pull over and offer assistance, but none of them do.

The film’s only surprising element is seeing Roy Scheider play a bad guy, which he rarely ever did. The role was originally intended for Gene Hackman, who turned it down, and then offered to John Cassavetes, who also passed on it, which is ashame. Cassavetes, with his tall stature and hawk-like facial features would’ve been perfect. Scheider, for what it’s worth, is okay, but he looks frail especially when seated next to the much bigger and younger Baldwin making his character appear weak and vulnerable. The film wants to portray Scheider as being in-control, but that’s not really how it ever comes-off. 

The in-fighting between the hit men is a big problem as it telegraphs right away the eventual meltdown between the two and Bladwin’s character, as a young thug with a violent, quick triggered temper, is about as cliched as you can get. These guys don’t come-off as being very smart either making the film’s ironic theme at seeing this young kid outsmart them at every turn not that impressive since anyone with an IQ of 5 could’ve easily done the same thing. A well run criminal plan, or any plan for that matter, predicts unexpected possible problems upfront and has a Plan-B already in-place in-case they arise, but these guys seem like they never bothered to think through anything making their constantly perplexed expressions at every blunder that comes along unintentionally comical and more like they’re stooges instead of bad-ass killers.

The boy is another issue as he’s too savvy for his age. Most kids would be paralyzed with fear at being kidnapped by two thugs who’ve just killed his parents (it’s later learned that the father survived the attack, but upfront he didn’t know this). A normal kid would’ve sat in the back of the car crying and not known what to do, but this one acts super street smart and even talks back to the killers, which isn’t interesting or realistic. A better approach would’ve had him terrified and helpless at the beginning and then slowly becoming more emboldened as the story progressed. 

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is anti-climactic. A police helicopter spots the stolen vehicle that Scheider and the kid are in, so at the last second Scheider veers the car off the highway and drives it into the business district of Houston. However, there are no cars or people around even though it’s during the day. The police squad cars then quickly race in and surround them like they were waiting for him, but how would they have known he would end up in that area since he veered off the highway in an impulsive spur-of -the- moment way?

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Eric Red

Studio: Hemdale

Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Blu-ray

 

The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She steals stolen money.

Amanda (Goldie Hawn), who goes by the nickname Bluebird, works as a dance hall girl in the old west, but dislikes having to entertain the leering male clientele and looks for an opportunity that will allow her to live the ‘easy life’. She finally finds it in the form of a rich Mormon family from Utah who are looking for a nanny to watch after their large brood. In order to disguise herself as being one she’ll need to buy herself a suitable outfit, but she has no money. Then Charlie (George Segal), who goes by the nickname Dirtwater Fox, and who has just absconded with over $40,000 of stolen loot from the infamous Bloodworth Gang, walks into the saloon where Bluebird works and immediately starts flirting with her as she performs a dance routine on-stage. Bluebird finds him annoying, but agrees to go up to his hotel room as a prostitute performing a sexual service in order to get the money for her nanny outfit. However, once up there, Dirtwater refuses to pay her, so she drugs his drink, which knocks him out, and steals the briefcase with the stolen money. When Dirtwater wakes-up he goes after her and the two eventually meet back up, but find despite their mutual dislike that they must work together in order to avoid the vengeful clutches of the Bloodworth Gang who are hot-on- their-trail. 

The film was directed by Melvin Frank with a screenplay by Jack Rose, two men whose career peaks was during the 40’s and 50’s, but by the 70’s their senses of humor were quite dated and story ideas placid. After finding inexplicable success with the highly overrated A Touch of Classwhich starred Segal and Glenda Jackson, director Frank became convinced that he had a winning chemistry and wanted to re-team the two in a western romantic comedy. Jackson though rejected the offer and was replaced by Hawn, who quite honestly is the only good thing about the movie. She had been up to this time known for her dumb blonde, ditzy persona, but here goes against type by playing a sharp-tongued, no nonsense lady who takes little crap from anyone. She plays the part perfectly and in the process grows as an actress. Her use of different accents is fun as well as being spot-on and the song and dance routines that she does despite Leonard Maltin calling them in his review ‘misplaced’ are actually quite entertaining and deliciously bawdy. 

Segal though is the film’s detriment. His acting is weak and a good example of this is when he’s caught cheating at a card game and strung up by a noose by an angry mob and yet even as the rope is put around his neck he remains cool and calm when anyone else in that situation would be panicked and struggling to get away. His character is totally unlikable and never grows on the viewer. It should’ve been a signal when Jackson backed-out to have Segal replaced with a younger charismatic actor who was more Hawn’s age instead of forcing her character to fall for someone who was 12 years her junior.

For a western the action is light and fleeting and there’s several scenes including the extended one with the two inside the hotel room where the pace slows up to a complete halt and becomes visually stagnant making it seem almost like a filmed stage play. The film does not play-up the character’s relationship, or illustrate how it grows. When the stagecoach they were riding in goes off a cliff, which they were able to jump out of it in time, they must climb down a steep ravine to get to it in order to retrieve the briefcase of money that was still on it. Instead of filming the scene showing the two helping each other navigate the rocky terrain, which could’ve been both amusing and romantic, the film just immediately cuts to them already there without ever showing how they were able to make it down.

Spoiler Alert!

The most annoying aspect, at least story-wise, comes at the end when Dirtwater and Bluebird find the Bloodworth Gang’s hideout. Dirtwater sneaks into it and immediately detects a loose floorboard, which signaled a hidden trap door leading to where the money was stored, which came-off as too easy. What’s the point of attempting to hide the loot if some stranger can just walk in and in a matter of seconds detect where it’s located? It’s also unrealistic to expect that the money would still be in the bag as most likely the gang members would’ve already split-up the loot amongst themselves.

There’s also the issue of Segal getting shot several times at the end by the gang as does his horse. The horse then collapses to the ground and seemingly dies only to mysteriously, after laying motionless for quite awhile, get up and magically comes back to life without any explanation. Segal on the other-hand is ‘kept alive’ by being coaxed to keep crawling after the money bag, which Goldie holds-out in front of him, but are we to believe that he’s going to manage to continue to crawl hundreds of miles through the desolate wilderness in a bullet-riddled body before they’re able to find medical help?

The idea that Goldie would even want to keep the schmuck alive is dingy. The guy refused to give up the money even as he lay dying and no longer had any use for it instead of just handing it over to someone he supposedly ‘loved’. Anyone else in that same situation would’ve been incensed at his selfishness and just grabbed the money out of his hands and been on their merry way while letting the son-of-a-bitch rot where he was. 

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Melvin Frank

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD-R (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives)

 

 

Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going back to L.A.

Captain Andrew Bogomil (Ronny Cox), Sergeant John Taggart (John Ashton), and Detective Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) are working on a case known as the ‘Alphabet Crimes’ due to a monogrammed envelope in alphabetic sequence that gets left at the scene of each robbery. Billy decides to get the F.B.I. involved in order to have them help solve the case, but this upsets the new police chief, Harold Lutz (Allen Garfield), who demotes both Taggart and Rosewood to traffic duty and then suspends Bogomil when he tries to come to Rosewood’s defense. On his way home Bogomil gets shot and seriously wounded when he pulls over to help Karla Fry (Brigitte Nielson) who acts as a stranded motorist, but in reality is a part of the organization behind the crimes. When Axel (Eddie Murphy) hears about Bogomil’s shooting he immediately travels to L.A. and again hooks-up with Taggart and Rosewood to solve the case and avenge Bogomil’s assault. 

If  you can get past the overly complex crime mystery, which comes-off as a cheesy variation of Agatha Christie’s ‘The Alphabet Murders’, which apparently was the ‘inspiration’, this sequel, as 80’s sequels go, isn’t bad. Despite Leonard Maltin’s criticism in his review where he didn’t like that Bogomil and Axel had now become chummy and even planning a fishing trip together, I liked it. Maltin considered this ‘inconsistent’ with the first film where the characters were at odds through most of it, but I felt they had grown to like each other after what they had gone through previously and had no problem with it. What I didn’t like though was that Lisa Eilbacher for whatever reason doesn’t return and in her place they stick-in Alice Adair, who plays Bogomil’s daughter, that Axel is good friends with, but since she never appeared in the first one this relationship comes-off as quite forced. 

Having Ashton and Reinhold reprise their roles is great too, but they have little to do. In the first film they worked with Axel more as a team with each using their unique abilities to help take down the bad guys, but here Axel does virtually everything. This was most likely the result of Murphy co-writing the script where he vainly makes his character almost like a super hero and able to solve difficult clues and even at one point hacking into the criminal’s computer system while Ashton and Reinhold act as nothing more than observers who follow along, but add little input. I also didn’t like Reinhold’s character turning into a gun collecting nut, which was something that was never alluded to at all in the first one, but gets played-up here even though it makes the guy seem unintentionally creepy. There’s also a lot of talk about Ashton’s tumultuous marriage to the extent that I felt at some point we needed to see the wife, but never do. 

The humor is silly and doesn’t blend well with the action. What made the comedy work in the first one is that it remained on a believable level, but here starts to get downright stupid. A perfect example of this is when the three guys get into a strip club by pretending Taggart is the former President Gerald Ford, even though he doesn’t look that much like him, but it still manages to fool everybody in the place, which had me eye-rolling instead of laughing. The car chases are a bit farcical, much like the ones seen in a Disney movie, where they attempt to work-in a cheap laugh here and there as it’s going on instead of just making it exciting and realistic. 

I did like Brigitte Nielsen as the villainous and felt that given the time period having a female play a nefarious bad guy was novel. Maltin, in his review, described this as being ‘misogynistic’, but if the ultimate idea is for everybody to be equal then a woman should have just as much chance to play the occasional heavy as any man. Jurgen Prochnow, who plays the head of the evil operation, is too similar to Steven Chekoff, the bad guy from the first installment, to the extent that it seemed like that character had never really died, but instead got reborn through this guy, but his steely, ice-cold presence is cliched, over-the-top, and most of all not interesting.

Having Axel return to L.A. was a mistake and whole thing basically ends-up being a mindless rehashing with no particular point. Like with the first incarnation the producers considered many different potential scenarios before finally settling on this one including having Axel go to Paris and even London where he’d work with Scotland Yard. I would’ve preferred him staying in Detroit and then having Bogomil, Taggart, and Rosewood go there maybe to visit him while inadvertently getting caught-up in a case happening in the Motor City. This then would’ve turned-the-tables by having the three in a foreign environment and seeing how they adjusted to it and would’ve added revealing character development, which is otherwise missing.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 19, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tony Scott

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video 

 

 

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Detroit cop in L.A.

Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is a Detroit cop who likes working outside the system and by his own rules, which frequently gets him into clashes with his superior Captain Todd (Gilbert R. Hill). When his childhood friend, Mikey Tandino (James Russo), comes to visit him from Beverly Hills, but later is murdered, Axel requests to be put on the case, but Captain Todd refuses to assign him thinking Axel was too close emotionally to the victim to be able to give the case a fair investigation. To get around this Axel requests some time-off for a vacation, so that he can travel to Beverly Hills and do some investigating on his free time. When he arrives he meets-up with Jenny (Lisa Eilbacher), who was a mutual childhood friend of both Axel and Mickey. She works at an art gallery owned by Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff), who may be the one behind Mikey’s murder. When Axel tries to follow-up on this lead he gets himself in trouble with the police department there and quickly learns that in Beverly Hills everything is very much by-the-book. 

This film is a great example of how an idea for a movie can go through many changes before it finally comes to fruition. The original concept came about in 1975 when Michael Eisner, then head of Paramount Pictures, got pulled over for speeding while driving an old station wagon and was taken aback by the condescending way the Beverly Hills police treated him simply because he was driving a beat-up car. He came to the conclusion that the Beverly Hills police department was highly status conscious and wanted to bring this angle out in a movie. He sent out an open call asking for writers to submit scripts with a premise dealing with an outsider coming into the Beverly Hills police unit and clashing with their culture. Most of the scripts that were sent in he didn’t care for until finally in 1983 the one written by Daniel Petrie Jr. caught his eye. 

Both he and producer Jerry Bruckheimer enjoyed the comical elements that were in it and cast Sylvester Stallone as the lead, but he wanted the comedy removed and they refused to abide, so he walked-off the project and was eventually replaced by Murphy. Director Martin Brest, who had just been fired as director of War Gameshad grown disillusioned with Hollywood and considered getting out of the business, but was hounded so much by Bruckheimer that he had to change his phone number, but when the calls continued anyways he finally flipped a coin, so as to decide whether he’d do the project, or not. When he result came up heads he said ‘yes’ and because of the film’s later box office success he eventually had that coin framed and mounted on his office wall.

Eddie Murphy is clearly the entertaining catalyst that drives this and I was happy that despite him being black his race is never a factor. It’s also great that his hard-nosed supervisor that routinely chews-him-out isn’t some authoritarian white guy either, but instead an actual black police chief, Gilbert R. Hill, who was brought in as a police consultant, but eventually got cast and his exasperated expressions are more than enough to elicit genuine laughs. 

It would though have been nice to see Murphy, at least briefly, in a police uniform as the character comes-off as being too outside the system, so for the sake of balance seeing that at times he was still ‘a part of the team’ and had to conform. He also mentions being an expert thief during his youth, so for added character development this should’ve been explored; what caused him to change his ways and become a cop instead of remaining a thief? Unfortunately this aspect is never answered.

John Ashton and Judge Reinhold as the two cops who initially act like adversaries, but ultimately work together with Murphy as a team, are terrific. During the 70’s and 80’s cops weren’t usually portrayed in nice ways. Most movies either characterized them as being excessively buffoonish, or entirely corrupt, but here they got humanized. Ashton in particular is a perfect caricature of a cop without it having to go overboard and the script makes great use of Reinhold’s wide-eyed expression by working it into him being young and inexperienced. The conversation the two have while in the squad car where Reinhold talks about the ‘five pounds of red meat in the bowels’ was taken nearly word-for-word from what the two used during their audition that got them the roles.  

The car chases, particularly the one at the beginning shot in Detroit, are quite exciting and this is one of the rare cop films that manages to blend the humor with the action without having to compromise on either. The only complaint I have, and this may sound shallow to some, is that I couldn’t stand the mole, or whatever it is, on the center of Steven Berkoff”s forehead. I honestly found it very distracting, and there are quite a few close-up shots of his face, so it’s hard not to see it and in fact with each scene he’s in I kept focusing more on that than what was being said. There are pictures on the net of him as a child and even young adult where the growth was not apparent, so I’m not sure at what age it occurred, but since it’s in such a prominent part of his face, I would have, if I were him, had it surgically removed if medically possible. 

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martin Brest

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Off Beat (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not really a cop.

Joe (Judge Reinhold) works in the basement of a library. While he doesn’t hate his job he’s still looking for direction in life and feels he has missed his calling though he’s not really sure what that is. He’s friend with Abe (Cleavant Derricks) who is a New York City cop. One day Joe inadvertently messes-up a criminal sting that Abe was working on and in an effort to make it up to him Joe agrees to volunteer for a charity event that will require him to do ballet. It’s part of a city wide effort to get one policeman from each precinct to take part and Abe was chosen by his supervisor, but he has no interest, so he gets Joe to take his place while Joe pretends that he’s a cop in order to qualify for the audition. Joe is convinced he won’t make the cut, but when he meets the beautiful Rachel (Meg Tilly), who’s a cop that’s also trying out for the performance, he decides to press-on with it and in-turn finds that dancing gives him the interesting challenge that was otherwise missing in his life as well as a romantic relationship with Rachel. 

One of the things that really hurts the film right from the start is the totally wacky premise that seems to stretch all credibility. I found it very hard to buy into the idea that a policeman would be obligated, and in some ways almost forced, to get involved in a charity event that would take-up so much of his free time and require an extraordinary amount of rigorous training for no pay. Asking some cops to spend a few hours on one weekend at a soup kitchen passing out meals to the homeless is more reasonable, but pushing people into ballet that have no skills, or business in doing is just plain far-fetched. I felt too it was testing the friendship to obligate Joe in what turns out to being a very time consuming endeavor. Granted he learns to enjoy it, but upfront I can’t expect anyone to go that out of their way, even for a friend, over some simple mistake that the made earlier. Originally, and I can’t remember where I read this, the premise was for the characters to be prisoners and getting involved in the dance charity event would allow them the potential of getting their sentences shorten, which made much more sense, but the producers wanted to take advantage of the spate of comical cop movies that were popular at the time and therefore changed the characters into cops, but this just makes it dumb. 

The attempted comedy doesn’t gel either. It starts out at a park with undercover cops secretly listening into a conversation of two people, which seemed to have been taken right out of the opening scene in the far better movie The Conversation. It’s not made clear if that was meant to be an attempted parody of that one, but it doesn’t work either way and it’s best not to imitate a classic if you can’t improve on it as it ends up reminding one of that movie and how much more entertaining it was than this one. Later on there’s a bank robbery segment, which again seemed strikingly similar to another 70’s classic Dog Day Afternoonand again it’s not clear if this was intentionally stealing from that one in an effort to be amusing, but it doesn’t click either way. 

Reinhold shows why his Hollywood leading man career never lasted. He’s just not funny and all he seems good at is having that wide-eyed deer-in-headlights look and not much else. Other talented actors like Joe Mantegna, as Reinhold’s dance rival, and John Turturro, as Reinhold’s obnoxious boss, don’t get enough screen time and the friction that their characters create isn’t played-up enough, or results in any interesting confrontation. I did though really like Meg Tilly, who plays against type, as she’s usually cast as soft-spoken, flighty characters, but here plays someone who is tough and outspoken and does quite well.

The script, which was written by Mark Medoff, who had better success penning stageplays like Children of a Lesser God and When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?, does have a few heartfelt moments and having a main character feeling lost and directionless in this confusing world will be easily relatable to many, but there are just too many segments where the comedy misses-the-mark. The scenes where Reinhold is forced to try and chase down a thief and another moment where he has to arrest someone, but because he’s not a trained cop he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, could’ve been comical gold, but the film doesn’t play it out enough to be effectively hilarious. It peters-out with a fizzle by the end making it a definite misfire that didn’t do well with either the critics, or at the box office. 

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 11, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Dinner

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)

A Wedding (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Guests at wedding party.

Muffin (Amy Stryker) marries Dino (Desi Arnaz Jr.) at a wedding ceremony that is non-eventful. However, during the reception afterwards, held at the mansion of Dino’s family, the Correllis, everything begins to go wrong including having the family’s elderly matriarch, Nettie (Lillian Gish) promptly die just as the guests arrive. Snooks (Paul Dooley) and Tulip (Carol Burnett) are the parents of the bride, while Buffy (Mia Farrow) is Muffin’s jealous older sister. During the party Buffy lets Dino know that she’s pregnant with his baby, which sends the family into an uproar once word gets out. Meanwhile Mack (Pat McCormick), the cousin of the groom, makes it known that he’s ‘madly in-love’ with Tulip and wishes to have an affair with her. Tulip at first resists, but then devises a scheme where the two can meet in 2-weeks, at a location in Tallahassee, Florida under the ruse that Tulip will be going to visit her sister who lives there.

While director Robert Altman made some great movies and revolutionized movie-making with his over-lapping conversations technique, he did also produce a few duds. Most of them came during the 70’s when he was given too much free rein to make whatever he wanted in however way he wanted to do it, which culminated in a lot of over-indulgence. This one though, which came right in the middle of his down cycle, is one of his better efforts The idea came as an accident as he was tired of being hounded by a reporter asking, while he was still working on finishing up on 3 Women, what his next project would-be and he joked that he was set to ‘film a wedding’, which at the time had come into vogue for people to shoot the weddings of their family members in a home movie style. Later that night, after speaking with the reporter, he partook in a drinking session with the crew of 3 Women, where they discussed the possibilities of making a movie about a wedding where ‘everything would go wrong’ and by the end of the night he had already come-up with an outline for his script.

This film though, like with all of Altman’s movies, does come with its share of detractors. Gene Siskel in particular did not like the characters, who I admit are a cliche of the nouveau riche and too easy a satirical target. He also complained that there was no one likable, which is true, though films where one person in a large group somehow manages to rise-above-the-fray and being morally virtuous when all the rest aren’t, is unrealistic and having an amoral climate such as here where everyone gets dragged down to the same level as everyone else makes more sense.

The edginess of the comedy is dated as well as what was considered ‘pushing-the-envelope’ at the time, like introducing the characters who are secretly gay, smoke marijuana on the sly, have had multiple sex partners, or (gasp) had sex outside of marriage, is no longer even remotely the scandal, even amongst the most conservative, as it once was, so to enjoy the film one must put themselves in that time period to totally appreciate it. With that said, it still works beautifully. It’s amazing, when considering the massive amount of characters and intersecting story-lines, how well it flows and it’s never confusing, nor do you ever lose track of any of the characters, or their issues, even if they’ve not been shown for a while. The humor gets exaggerated just enough for comic effect, but always within the realms of reality, which is what I really enjoyed about it, is that this could easily remind people of their own real-life weddings, and wedding parties, that they’ve been through.

The cast is splendid and perfectly game to the script’s demands with many of them allowed to freely ad-lib. Howard Duff probably gets the most laughs as the chain-drinking doctor of a dubious quality and Viveca Lindfors as a caterer who becomes ill, takes a pill, and then breaks-out into a loud song during the reception. Burnett is superb as a middle-aged housewife looking for more excitement in her life while also juggling the difficulties of raising a promiscuous daughter and Paul Dooley is quite enjoyable as her brash, and never shy to speak-his-mind husband. I also got a kick out of Amy Stryker, who was cast on-the-spot simply because she wore braces and resembles a young Burnett in many ways and was therefore perfect to play her daughter. Though the ultimate scene stealer is Mia Farrow, who although well into her 30’s at the time, looks amazingly still adolescent-like and pulls off the part of a young daughter quite convincingly. She utters very few words, but makes up for it with her shocking topless scene (she looks great) and the bit where she openly tries to count everyone she has slept with to the stunned silence of the others, including her parents, in the room.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1978

Runtime: 2 Hours 5 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Melvin and Howard (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Melvin meets Howard Hughes.

The film is based on the true story of Melvin Dummar (Paul Le Mat), who on one night in December, 1967 came upon what he thought was a homeless man (Jason Robards) on the side of the road of a lonely desert highway after he parked his pick-up in order to take a pee. He gives the man, who is banged-up from a motorcycle stunt gone wrong, but who refuses medical attention, a lift and they have a long conversation as he takes the man to the Desert Springs Hotel in Las Vegas. During the trip he admits to being Howard Hughes, who at the time was one of the richest men in the world. Melvin does not believe him initially and goes about his life working odd jobs including that of being a milk man. He lives with his wife Lynda (Mary Steenburgen) and daughter Darcy (Elizabeth Cheshire) in a rundown mobile home, but Lynda leaves him and becomes a stripper. Melvin marries another woman named Bonnie (Pamela Reed), but his financial troubles continue until he receives an envelope stating that he’s been given $156 million from Hughes in his final will and testament. Melvin thinks his struggles are finally over, but they’re just beginning as he must go to court and defend himself from those who feel that the document was a forgery.

The star of this film is Jonathan Demme’s superb direction. He first directed while working under Roger Corman and doing a couple of cheap exploitation/drive-in flicks before branching out on his own with the quirky Citizens Band that had plenty of potential, but didn’t quite gel. This one clicks from beginning to end and helped greatly by the Academy Award winning script by Bo Goldman. I really enjoyed the dry, offbeat humor with the funniest moment being inside the little white chapel when Melvin decides to marry Lynda a second time after she gets pregnant. The scene where Lynda almost gives an elderly man (played by Herbie Faye in his final film appearance), who was acting as a witness to the proceedings, a heart attack when she kisses him after the wedding is over, s hilarious as is Melvin and Lynda working as witnesses to other weddings that go on there and being kissed, sometimes quite sensuously, by the other brides and grooms. The film also shows a good understanding of working class people, showing their struggles in life without ever demeaning them. The on-location shooting in both Utah and Nevada where many of the real-life events happened gives it a nice, gritty feel and look.

While I’ve complained about Paul Le Mat’s acting in some of my other reviews his performance here is perfect in a role he was born to play. He looks very much like the real Melvin Dummar, who can be seen briefly standing behind the counter at a bus terminal, and even more ironically is that now, in the year 2022 with his gray beard and hair that he sports as seen in pics from his twitter account, exactly like Howard Hughes in this film. Steenburgen, who netted the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, is a lot of fun particularly when she strips off her clothes and walks around fully nude in a public bar in a scene that had to be shot 9 different times as she was so nervous doing it. Dabney Coleman, in a small bit near the end, is quite good as the cynical judge, but I was disappointed that Gloria Grahame is given only one word of dialogue. Supposedly she had more lines, but her scenes got cut, but why bother to bring in a famous Academy Award winning actress if you’re not really going to use her?

My complaint comes mainly with the TV game show that Melvin and Lynda enter that works as a talent contest and called ‘Easy Street’. It was meant to be a hybrid of the ‘Gong Show’ and ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ where a contestant does some sort of act showcasing their talents and if the audience is pleased with it the contestant wins a prize by choosing what’s behind one of three doors. The problem here is that it’s made too look too easy as Lynda’s tap dancing should’ve gotten her booed off of the stage instead of cheered. Having them get lucky and win a big prize, $10,000, negates the hardship theme. It doesn’t propel the plot either as Melvin quickly misspends the money and they end up in the exact same situation there were in before with Lynda walking out on him, for a second time, which comes-off as redundant. The satirical elements of the game show isn’t played-up enough and the segment is more surreal than amusing.

I also felt the opening sequence where Melvin picks-up Howard should’ve been saved until the end. In the real-life event there was speculation that Melvin was a part of the ruse as his second wife Bonnie had worked for a magazine called ‘Millionaire’ that had access to Hughes memos and signature and some had felt that she had used this inside knowledge to forge the will, which was rife with spelling errors and other discrepancies. The film though doesn’t bring any of this up and acts like Melvin is totally innocent where as adding in some nuance where the viewer isn’t completely sure if Melvin is complicit could’ve added some interesting intrigue and then having the scene where he picks-up Howard, showing that he was telling the truth after all, be the surprise reveal instead of giving it all away right at the start. The title is also misleading. Makes it seem like it’s going to be some sort of buddy movie when really Howard is in it only at the start and then pretty much disappears.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 19, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jonathan Demme

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Projectionist (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Projectionist escapes into fantasy.

Chuck McCann plays a man named Chuck McCann who works in a projection booth of a New York theater. He spends his isolated days winding the film reels and putting them into the film machines so that they can be broadcast onto the big screen. He finds his job boring and he does not get along with Renaldi (Rodney Dangerfield) who is the head usher at the theater and routinely chews him out for minor infractions. To escape his mundane existence he imagines himself the star of his own movie playing the superhero Captain Flash who helps save a beautiful damsel in distress (Ina Balin) while also fighting-off the evil villain known as The Bat, which he sees as being Renaldi and his way of getting ‘back at him’ without having to do it in real-life.

Writer/director Harry Hurwitz, who appears as an usher who visits Chuck in his film booth, had some creative movie ideas during his career though most of the movies he made were hampered by a low budget and not fully realized enough to break-out and gain mainstream attention. This film, which was his first, is generally considered his best. It was shot in September-October of 1969, at the same time as Myra Breckenridge, with both movies being credited as the first to use superimposition of older movies, known as Hollywood’s Golden era, into the main story. Some of the clips, which features everything from old cartoons to news reel footage, is fun and even at times provocative. The Captain Flash segments, which are filmed in a grainy black-and-white to replicate the other older clips, are amusing and I really enjoyed seeing actual photographs of Chuck when he was younger, from infancy to a teen and then young adult, over the opening credits. There’s even some cool surreal moments where he walks out of the theater he’s working in and on the marquee is advertised the film we’re watching as well as a segment where Chuck the actor walks down the red carpet at the premiere of this film while talking about playing Chuck the character.

McCann, who’s probably best known for co-starring with Bob Denver in the 70’s children’s TV-show ‘Far Out Space Nuts’, reveals definite talent particularly his spot-on impressions of famous stars making you wonder with that much talent why does this character not make an attempt to go on stage at a local amateur night and show his stuff to an audience instead of hiding it away to himself. If the character has stage fright, or social anxiety, and that’s why he’s so shy and lonely then that needs to be brought out, which it isn’t, making the character poorly fleshed-out and in-turn makes the film less interesting.

The segments examining Chuck’s day-to-day activities, between the old film clips, are dull and have low energy. It’s like the production was completely dependent on the old footage to save it, which is not how a good movie works. ALL the scenes in a successful film need to be captivating in some way and a great number of them here fall flat. The character does not grow, or change in any way. In would’ve been fun to see Chuck confront Dangerfield in real-life instead of just fantasizing about it, or making an attempt to ask-out the beautiful woman instead of dreaming about her from afar.

Dangerfield, in his film debut, plays against type. Normally he’s the loser taking-it to the oppressive authority figure, but here he’s the heavy and helps keep it engaging. Ina Balin, on the other-hand, is beautiful, but I found it frustrating that she wasn’t given a single thing to say.

The story doesn’t evolve and ultimately comes-off as an experiment that fails to click. I was also surprised with the dark nature of  some of the old clips including bits with Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, the Klu Klux Klan and even one recreating the assassination of Lincoln, which didn’t have anything to do with the main theme and not sure why they were put-in.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 17, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Harry Hurwitz

Studio: Maron Films

Available: DVD-R