The World’s Greatest Athlete (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Better than Jim Thorpe.

Sam Archer (John Amos) is the hapless head coach of the sports teams at Merrivale College where none of them have managed to win a single game in the 4 years that he he’s been there. He blames the problem on the inept student athletes and travels to Zambia with his assistant coach Milo (Tim Conway) to get back to his African roots. It is there that he comes upon Nanu (Jan-Michael Vincent) who possesses an amazing athletic ability. Sam is able to get Nanu to travel back with him to the US where he hopes he can place him on his many teams to get them to win, but finds an obstacle in the form of Gazenga (Roscoe Lee Browne) an African witch doctor who raised Nanu and has different ideas about what he thinks Nanu should become.

This film lost me right from the start with its inane and completely unbelievable plot. While I realize this was aimed at kids I still think it’s important to get a child to build a good logical foundation even in their early years and in that respect this film fails pathetically. The idea that all the sports teams at one school would be unable to win one single game in 4 years defies all laws of probability. Yes, there are many bad teams out there in both the pros and amateur level, but they can usually win a couple of games per season and the fact that none of them could here seems almost impossible.

Besides, isn’t it the coach’s responsibility to get the players to perform better and if he couldn’t shouldn’t he be blamed and not the players? Coaches are also in charge of recruiting prospects to come to the school, so if all he can bring in are inept stooges then that should be on him too. Most teams would’ve fired a coach with such a dismal record and yet in this film John Amos resigns when a school administrator puts ‘pressure’ on him to start winning even though 4 years should’ve been enough time to turn things around and anyone else in the same situation would’ve been given the boot long before.

The comic segments involving the athletes exaggerates their ineptness in an extreme way. One bit has a football players (played by David Manzy who later went on to star in the title role in the cult hit The Baby) hand the ball off to a player wearing the opposing team’s jersey and not realizing this was a stupid thing to do even though any first grader would know it was. For the comedy to be funny it has to have some bearing in reality and the ‘hilarious’ moments of sports bloopers that take up the film’s first several minutes don’t come even close.

On the plus side I did enjoy seeing Dayle Haddon in her film debut. While her character doesn’t have all that much to do or say I still found her youthful beauty nice to look at. Jan-Michael Vincent is at his attractive peak here too as this was fortunately filmed years before his self-destructive tendencies got the better of him. However, the character he plays, which is a lame parody of Tarzan, is incredibly dull. It would’ve been more interesting had he had some weakness that he had to overcome instead of just being super great at everything, which gets boring real fast.

Amos is quite amusing for his funny facial expressions alone and Conway has some engaging moments as well. I particularly liked him in the scene where Amos gives a televised interview and the camera zooms into him while Conway  desperately tries to get his face into the picture. The segment where Conway is shrunk to miniature size features some impressive special effects.

Some may enjoy Howard Cosell essentially playing himself as an obnoxious sportscaster who won’t allow his on-air partner, played by Joe Kapp, to say anything. However, this same bit was redone just 3 years later in the movie Gus where Bob Crane played the same type of egotistical announcer, but he was much funnier at it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 4, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Robert Scheerer

Studio: Buena Vista Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Kiss Me Goodbye (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her dead husband returns.

Three years after the death of her husband Jolly (James Caan) Kay (Sally Field) decides to move back into the house where her husband met his untimely fate when he fell down the home’s marble staircase. As she and her mother (Claire Trevor) get the home prepared for the arrival of her fiance Rupert (Jeff Bridges) she suddenly sees the vision of Jolly’s ghost in front of her. Only she can see, or hear it, which causes a great deal of confusion to those around her who all think she’s gone completely crazy.

The film is a loose remake of the Brazilian hit Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, which in itself was based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Jorge Amado although this one does not have the erotic edge that made that film so famous. The comedy takes too long to get going, is a bit heavy-handed at times, and puts no new interesting spin on the ghost theme making it seem like just another modern updating of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

The introduction of the ghost should’ve occurred after the couple was already married instead of before as it offers both Rupert and Kay too much of an easy out and the stakes needed to be higher. Kay still seemed very much in love with Jolly as she had a complete shrine of him in one of their rooms, so it would seem once the ghost of him arrived she’d have second thoughts of going through with the marriage even though that’s not what happens. As for Rupert it would’ve made more sense had he just walked out of the situation altogether since all the red-flags where there even before the ghost came about that she wasn’t completely over her first marriage and unable to give Rupert the full attention that he  wanted.

The cast is game for the most part although I felt Bridges looked much too boyish here almost like he was still in high school. Caan though is quite engaging and the one element that holds it all together even though he apparently disliked doing it. It’s also great seeing Claire Trevor in her first film appearance in 15 years and the outfits and hats that she wears look quite chic. Paul Dooley has a good funny bit at the end playing a former priest who tries to exorcise the ghost out of the home, which he mistakenly thinks possesses Kay’s dog (Shakespeare).

Much to my surprise I ended up laughing much more than I thought I would. Two of my favorite moments occurs when Rupert and Kay go traveling to a country lodge and stop off at a cafe where Rupert pretends to have a conversation with the ghost much to the confusion of a young boy (Barret Oliver) sitting at the table next to him. The fight that the two have later on while at the lodge, which causes the break-up of another couple (Alan Haufrect, Maryedith Burrell), who start to take sides, is quite good too.

Spoiler Alert!

I was laughing so hard at points I was ready to give this a 7 or 8 rating, but then it gets ruined by the stupid ending. The idea that the ghost would agree to just leave and never come back again was too convenient. Why would he have bothered to come back to this life at all, if he was going to be gotten rid of so easily?

Having Rupert slip down the same staircase that took Jolly’s life looks cheesy and unintentional funny. Jolly’s death was cheesy enough, but to do it a second time with someone else was dumb and what’s worse is that Rupert, even when he smashes his head onto the hard ground, comes back to life with no injuries. Why even have this scene at all if there was no point to it?

A better ending would’ve had Rupert killed the same way as Jolly and then come back as a ghost just like Jolly and then Kay could’ve enjoyed the two men at the same time. Possibly even have the menage a trois that had been tapped into in the first film, but nixed here because it was deemed American audiences would’ve been too prudish to accept.

I also thought it was a bit unbelievable that Jolly had all these affairs behind Kay’s back while he was alive and she seemed to have no clue it was going on. Most married people usually have a sense something isn’t right even if they can’t prove it. Having Kay’s friend Emily (Dorothy Fielding) admit to fooling around with Jolly and Kay not be bothered by it and just go on being friends with her didn’t jibe with me either.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

The Mirror Crack’d (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Poison in her drink.

A Hollywood production company arrives in a small English village, where Miss Jane Marple (Angela Lansbury) resides, to film a costume drama. The film will star two actresses, Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor) and Lola Brewster (Kim Novak), who are also bitter rivals. A reception is held to allow the villagers to meet the celebrities. During the reception Marina speaks with Heather Babcock (Maureen Bennett) a devoted fan who tells Marina about having met her years earlier backstage.  While she bores Marina with the details she also drinks a daiquiri cocktail that was laced with poison causing her to die and propelling Miss Marple, who is bedridden with an injured foot, and Inspector Craddock (Edward Fox) to investigate the case.

If there is one reason to checkout this otherwise so-so film it’s to see Taylor and Novak go at it as rival actresses. This was Taylor’s first feature film appearance in 4-years and, if you don’t count her cameo appearance in The Flintstones as well as 1987’s The Young Toscanini, which was never released in the US, the last one of her career. Her standout performance, which amounts to being a mixture of camp and poignant drama, more than makes it worth it and Novak is in top form as well playing-up the comic wickedness to a delicious level. Even Rock Hudson, who was reunited with Taylor 25 years after having done Giant together, does quite well as Marina’s exasperated husband.

Unfortunately Lansbury gets miscast as she was only in her mid-50’s while Marple was considered an elderly woman in her 70’s or 80’s. They dye her hair white in an attempt to make her appear older, but it still doesn’t quite work. It’s also a letdown not to have her in the majority of scenes like you’d expect. While I never read this Agatha Christie novel I have read some others as well as the movies that have been made from her works and all of them had the head detective taking an integral part in the investigation and not shackled up in her home doing nothing to propel the potentially engaging banter that she could have had with the suspects as she interviewed them. Ultimately the supporting cast gets more screen time than she, which was a waste.

The glossy cinematic element that was so apparent in other Agatha Christie movies like Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile is totally lacking here. Some of the on-location shooting does take place in what would be considered large mansions, but the interiors resemble rooms seen in any old building and convey no flair or distinction. Director Guy Hamilton admitted to not liking Agatha Christie’s books nor thinking much of the script, which he openly stated to the producers during the interview and yet they decided to hire him anyways,  but the result, with the exception of the kitschy film-noir opening bit, is mechanical while relying solely on the veteran cast to keep it interesting.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Guy Hamilton

Studio: Associated Film Distribution (AFD)

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

Annie Hall (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: The perfect date movie.

Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) is a professional stand-up comic going through a mid-life crises. Now in his 40’s he’s already been twice divorced and feeling like he may be unable to get into a solid, satisfying relationship. Then he meets Annie (Diane Keaton).  The two forge ahead into a relationship and things work well for awhile, but then the insecurities from both partners begin creating issues.

This film, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as Best Screenplay and Best Director (Academy Award for Best Actress too) has all the trappings of what I consider to be the perfect date movie. Some may disagree as the relationship between these two characters remains rocky throughout, but that’s why I think it’s so good. Other romance movies gloss over the different stages that a relationship goes through. They either rush past the start making it seem like the two people fall-in-love at first glance and immediately become a couple, or focus too heavily on the ups-and-downs of the dating phase, but then once they get married act like it’s ‘happily-ever-after’.

Here we’re given the whole shebang. We see the awkward start, which forms into an equally awkward relationship that eventually unravels once both partners realize they have different needs, much like in reality. I enjoyed how each person plays the same role, but at different times. Sometimes it’s Annie that wants to rekindle the romance while at other points she wants to break free and then at times its reversed with Alvy being the one trying to leave, or wanting to get back together. This is why I consider this to be a good date movie, especially for young couples, as they need to see that a relationship is a work in progress that constantly needs nourishing. The dynamics can evolve and both partners must be willing to adjust to the every changing needs of the other in order to keep it going.

The film is also filled with a lot of funny highly original bits that I haven’t seen done before or since. I loved the segment where subtitles get added to a scene revealing what Annie and Alvy are really thinking about each other while they have a psuedo intellectual conversation. The scene where the spirit/soul of Annie steps out of her body and then sits and watches Alvy and Annie making love in bed is funny too as is the dueling analysts bit (where the screen is split and  we see/hear Alvy and Annie talking about their romantic difficulties to their respective therapists at the same time.) This same approach occurs again with Alvy and Annie’s ‘dueling families’. Honorable mention must also go to animated bit with Woody and the Evil Queen from Snow White.

The only sad aspect is that the movie’s original cut ran 2 Hours and 4 Minutes, but the studio wanted it whittled down to a 90 minute runtime forcing many other potentially engaging bits to end up on the cutting room floor. Some of the bits that sound interesting featured Alvy’s grade school classmates in the present day, a junk food restaurant segment with Danny Aiello, as well as a fantasy segment where the New York Knicks basketball team competes against a team of 5 philosophers. Another scene had Alvy and Annie visiting hell that was reworked 20 years later and put into the film Deconstructing Harry.

Spoiler Alert!

Some of my film friends consider the ending to be an unhappy one, but I disagree. Yes, their relationship ultimately doesn’t work out and they decide to just remain friends instead, but for some couples this is actually the best option. The two were still on speaking terms and weren’t stalking or jealous of each other. Both had adjusted to the breakup and were ready to move-on. Not every relationship your in, even the ones that were fun for awhile, are meant to last and that’s okay.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: March 27, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

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

Fast Charlie…….the Moonbeam Rider (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cross country motorcycle race.

Charlie Swattle (David Carradine) is a WWI veteran and full-time conman who decides to enter into a transnational motorbike race that goes from St. Louis to San Francisco and will offer a big money payout to the winner. He tries to get his army buddies to help him, but they’re reluctant due to the belief that he’s a deserter. He then meets up with a sassy waitress (Brenda Vaccaro) who agrees to offer assistance, but only under stringent conditions.

The film is adequately entertaining but hurt by an uninspired, modest budget look. While efforts were made to make it appear like it were the 1920’s there’s no style to the direction nor any atmosphere. Too much emphasis gets placed on the cutesy comedy, which further erodes any semblance that this is an authentic period piece, which it clearly isn’t.

It takes a full hour before the race even gets going with the whole first half spent on the comic interpersonal relationships/banter that Charlie has with those around him. The race does have a few exciting moments including the point-of-view shots shown from the rider’s perspective as the motorbike careens down the bumpy backwoods dirt roads, but having the entire film shot in Oklahoma is a letdown. This is a race that is supposed to go across many different states and landscapes, but instead we’re given only one type of topography, which was obviously done for budget considerations, but ultimately comes-off like a cop-out.

Things do improve with the presence of Vaccaro, who only did the film due to contractual obligations with the studio. Leonard Maltin, in his review of the movie (or whoever wrote the review for him), incorrectly states that she plays an “early-day biker groupie” , which couldn’t be further from the truth. A groupie as defined by a dictionary search is someone who is: ‘An enthusiastic uncritical follower’ which Vaccaro clearly isn’t. The two instead share a very combative, contentious relationship where she is constantly putting him down and not trusting him, which certainly does not conform to the idol worship of the conventional groupie.

Carradine’s performance is okay. Some of his appearances in other films make it seem like he was sleepwalking through the part, but here he manages to show some oomph. He at least does better in this one than in the other similarly themed movie Death Race 2000where his face was hidden by a mask and he seemed almost like a robot. L.Q. Jones offers good support as his one-legged war buddy, who initially wants to kill Charlie, but then reluctantly agrees to be a part of his team. There’s also a good moment where the two try to desperately outrun a train while on a bridge, which is similar to the famous scene in Stand by Me, but this one was shot five year earlier.

My biggest complaint is that it follows the Rocky formula too closely. Despite being in a different time period it still has all the corny cliches of a feel-good sports movie. The ending is in no way ‘exhilarating’ as intended, but instead painfully predictable. Nothing is more frustrating than watching a movie where you know exactly how it’s going to end right from the start.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 4, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steve Carver

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

The Bell Jar (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She suffers from depression.

Based on the semi autobiographical novel of the same name by Sylvia Plath, the story centers around Esther (Marilyn Hassett) who suffers from various mental health issues and can’t seem to relate to the world around her. After graduating from college she goes off to work at a women’s magazine in New York, but finds that the demands and inevitable compromises of being a writer for a big city publication are not for her. She returns home to her mother (Julie Harris) only to find her emotional situation deteriorating even more. She’s eventually sent to a mental hospital where she goes through treatment.

In 1975 Hassett was picked from over 500 other actresses to play the part of paralyzed skier Jill Kinmont in the film The Other Side of the Mountain. The movie became a big hit and lead to her marrying the film’s director Larry Peerce.  While that film was a decent heartfelt story their attempts to bring Plath’s complex, multi-faceted novel to the big screen was clearly an overreach.

The major reason this doesn’t work is because of Hassett. During the early 70’s she had a youthful appeal, but by the time this was filmed she had hit 30 and no longer looked like a recent college grad in any way. For the story to work it hinges on the viewer seeing this person as someone who is young, innocent and vulnerable and unable to deal with the harsh realities of the young adult world that she’s experiencing for the very first time, but Hassett looks and in many ways behaves like a world-weary middle-aged person, which then loses the intended effect.

The portrayal of the central character is a weak point as well. In the similar themed film I Never Promised You a Rose Gardenwhich came out around the same time, the director of that flick did a good job of getting inside that character’s head and allowing the viewer to see the thoughts and fears that she had, but here we get none of that. We are left with no understanding about what’s really bugging Esther and why she behaves the way she does. Instead of us feeling for her we end up finding her off-putting, confusing and at times just downright selfish and bizarre.

The film does still manage to have a few interesting moments. I liked the scene with Jameson Parker, in his film debut who later went onto fame in the TV-show ‘Simon & Simon’, playing Esther’s fiance who strips in front of her so she can see what a naked man looks like upfront for the very first time. The erotic threesome between Hassett, Robert Klein, and Mary Louise Weller is interesting too as is the segment where Hassett is sitting alone at a late night diner and comes into contact with a disturbed, homeless man (Nicholas Guest) who comes in off the street and begins shouting nonsensical things for no reason, which can be a common, frightening reality living in the big city and not tackled enough in most movies.

While the movie stays pretty much faithful to the book it approaches the material in a shallow, mechanical way that offers no insight into the characters or situations and elicits no emotions from the viewer. It also takes some liberties with the material entering in elements that were never in the novel, or only vaguely touched on like the character of Joan, played by Donna Mitchell, being explicitly portrayed as a lesbian while in the book it had been only implied. She’s also shown making a suicide pack with Esther that was never in the original story. This was enough to get Dr. Jane Anderson, a Boston psychiatrist, to sue the film stating that she had been the Jane character in Plath’s novel, but because the movie distorted the truth it had harmed her reputation and career and she ended up winning a $150,000 settlement.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

 

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shark holds a grudge.

It’s been 9 years since the last shark attack in Amity. Since that time Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) has died from a heart-attack, but the rest of his family continue to live in the area and carry on his legacy. His son Sean (Mitchell Anderson) like his father, works in the police department and one chilly night gets assigned to repair a disabled buoy out in the harbor. It’s there that he’s attacked and killed by a great white shark, making his mother Ellen (Lorraine Gary) believe that the shark is intentionally hunting down the members of her family, she even has nightmares about it. She warns her other son Mike (Lance Guest) to stay out of the water, but since he’s an underwater research scientist this is not possible, which starts to create friction between the two.

Just when the public thought it was safe to go back to the theaters again another formuliac shark movie got propped-up. This one was the brainchild of Universal CEO Sidney Sheinberg, (who was also the husband of the film’s star Lorraine Gary) who wanted to promote the new Jaws ride at Universal Studios theme park. In order to keep the story ‘fresh’ they decided to add-in a mystical element to it, but it’s not thought out enough to make any sense. I would think a shark would view people the same way people view sharks in that they would all look alike. How would a shark know when a Brody family member was in the water? Better yet how would the shark know when the Brodys move from New York all the way down to the Caribbean?

In the early versions of the screenplay, as well as the novel version of the film, the mystical factor gets explained as having been caused by a witch doctor named Papa Jacques who has an ongoing feud with the Brody’s and uses voodoo to compel the shark to kill them, but this idea got nixed in the final draft as it veered too much away from the actual shark. In some ways this was probably a good thing because in the novel there are several chapters done from the shark’s point-of-view where he becomes confused about why he’s killing the Brodys, which would’ve been too ludicrous had that been put into the movie.

The film sorely misses Roy Scheider, who’s only seen in brief flashbacks, and Richard Dreyfuss, who both refused to do the sequel. Had they been the elements of the shark’s revenge and having the nightmares only to decide to go out together on a boat ride to conquer those fears, this might’ve been worth catching.

Lorraie Gary’s presence is not interesting as she had been only a minor supporting player in the first two. She’s not the only one to reprise her role as Lee Fiero, who played Mrs. Kinter the mother of the young boy who gets killed by the shark in the first film, can be seen very briefly. Fritzi Jane Courtney, who played Mrs. Taft in the first two movies, is also on hand reprising the same character, but by this time her hair had turned all white and I didn’t immediately recognize her.

The presence of Michael Caine has to be the biggest head-scratchier. Granted he was notorious for doing what became known as ‘paycheck movies’ where no matter what the quality of the script he’d take the offer if the money was good, but his part here is quite minor and there’s long stretches where he isn’t seen at all. He later admitted that he has never seen the film and is well aware that it’s a flop, but the house it helped build with the money he made is ‘really nice’.

In fact the only performance that I was really impressed with was that of Judith Barsi, who plays the daughter of the Mike character. She’s perky and precocious when it’s required, but also believably frightened when it’s necessary making her untimely death, at the hands of her own father just a year after this film was released, all the more tragic.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s most controversial moment has to do with the ending in which too variations were filmed. One has Gary ramming the shark with her boat and killing it while the other one has the beast exploding. Both versions show the cast jumping into the water as the boat they’re on breaks apart, but no explanation for how they ended up finding their way back to land, which is a big cop-out.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Probably the most amusing thing about this mess is the interview director Joseph Sargent gives on American Archives in which he mockingly laughs at his own film. He goes on to muse about Caine taking the part and shocked that he would think it was a ‘good script’. He then ponders about how ‘grown, intelligent men’ could ever work on a project that is so  stupid and admits that it was the money and power, as he acted as the film’s producer, that lead him to make the fatal mistake of doing it, which he knew was a really bad idea from the very beginning.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Joseph Sargent

Studio: Universal

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

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Conflict behind enemy lines.

Based on the true story of Operation Market Garden that occurred in September, 1944.  The strategy was, in an effort to hasten the end of WWII, to have allied forces drive into Germany and lock up key bridges, which would then block any attempts at German escape, but errors in judgement and planning occurred that caused many unnecessary casualties.

At the time this was one of the most expensive films every produced, but the reaction from critics was tepid.  While the producers insisted that every attempt was made for accuracy they also admitted to taking certain liberties for logistical reasons, which ultimately did not go over well with everyone. Many friends and spouses of the soldiers depicted in the film who were still around at the time complained about what they felt was misrepresentation in regards to what really happen and threatened to sue the filmmakers for libel.

Despite some obvious flaws, which can occur in any film that is this long, I came away quite impressed and even genuinely moved by what I saw. Some of the most memorable moments for me was seeing the parachute drop of thousands of allied paratroopers onto the Netherlands. It is one thing to see old pictures of this, and there are many available, but a completely other thing to have it done via live action in living color.  Another moving scene features Robert Redford reciting a prayer out loud as he and other men maneuver a boat across a river while bombs and artillery fire blast all around them, which is so vivid it made me tense up like I was at risk of getting hit just like the other men.

Another running segment I really liked dealt with the army taking over a couple’s house that was right next to a crucial bridge by barging in unannounced and turning the place into their headquarters. So many other war movies that I’ve seen have never shown this side of battle where innocent pedestrians and homeowners can literally just lose all of their rights on-the-spot and have no recourse. Watching their home get more and more torn-up  by the army as the film progresses is both darkly comical and horrifying as is the eventual mental breakdown of the home’s family.

Many of the complaints that critics had about the movie resided around the large cast and how certain actors were miscast especially Ryan O’Neal as Brigadier General James Gavin. While I admit O’Neal is a weak actor in most cases I came away feeling he did quite well here although if you see a picture of the real Gavin the two look nothing alike. My main criticism in this area was more around the appalling amount of money that the cast made with all of them collecting a fee of $250,000 per week, which would come out to $1,157,540 in today’s dollars while Redford made $500,000 per week that came out to $2,315,000. Now I have nothing against actors making as much money as they can, but many of the parts were just walk-ons and had only a few lines, so to make that kind of money for that little of work seemed obscene, but I guess if I were one of them I wouldn’t complain either.

A much bigger problem was the extreme shifts in tone and a misguided use of music. War time flicks, especially those made in the 40’s and 50’s had a lot of music, which was fine for the period, by many post 60’s films tried to stay away from an excessive soundtrack in order to capture more of the sounds of battle and heighten the realism. This movie though seems to want it both ways having virtually no music during the first-half and then suddenly without warning bombarding the viewer with a lot of it during the second-half, which gets the viewer caught up in the natural sounds of war only to ultimately take them away from it by the end.

While the film has many serious moments it also allows some quirky comedy to seep in, which like with the music issue came-off as jarring and unnecessary. Older war movies kept things on a patriotic level, but post 60’s the trend was to be irreverent, which in movies like Catch-22, can be done brilliantly. Here though it cheapens the effect making the viewer wonder how authentic it is when trendy, modern sentiments get haphazardly thrown-in.

Overall it succeeds at showing the absurdity of war in a profoundly visual way as we see first-hand the brutal injuries and deaths of the soldiers just trying to carry out their orders while the general who came up with the bad plan that killed so many sits in his plush office far removed the destruction that he created and never forced to face the horror of his mistakes.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1977

Runtime: 2 Hours 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Attenborough

Studio: United Artists

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

Finders Keepers (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stolen loot inside coffin.

Based on the 1974 novel ‘The Next-to-Last Train Ride’ by Charles Dennis, the story centers on Michael Rangeloff (Micheal O’Keefe) who is a con-man on the run from a women’s roller derby team by hiding out as a U.S. Army General. He boards a train that has a coffin on it with millions of stolen dollars hidden inside. Once he becomes aware of this he tries to hatch a plan with a kooky actress (Beverly D’Angelo) that he meets along the way in helping him to get the money out of the coffin and off the train without being detected.

This is the type of film that gives comical farces a bad name. I’m all for comedies with a hyper-frantic pace and mistaken identities, but it still needs to have some grounding in what’s possible. This thing relies way too heavily on coincidences and random events to hold it together. The whole scenario that leads Michael getting onto the train is too much of an overreach. A more sane and less dizzying premise would’ve had Michael working on the train as a conductor from the start and then coming onto the money by chance, which would’ve been far less protracted.

His relationship with D’Angelo is dumb too. The women immediately comes-off as a babbling nutcase, even admits to suffering from mental health issues, and the type of person who usually gets thrown off of trains and planes for their disruptive behavior. Most people would be glad to be away from her the first chance they had and yet here the two end up going to bed together and profess their undying love for each other within 24-hours of first meeting.

The original concept was to use this as a vehicle for Dudley Moore, but that idea got nixed when the studio decided they wanted to make it an ensemble comedy instead, which was a big mistake. O’Keefe plays the role admirable, but he doesn’t have enough finesse that a comic star would. The supporting cast doesn’t help either. David Wayne’s portrayal of the world’s oldest conductor relies too heavily on the stereotype that every person who gets elderly must also be senile and it’ hard to imagine how anyone could hold done a job being as forgetful and out-of-touch as his character is. Ed Lauter, who wears a wig here, does not have the needed comic flair to make his bad-guy role either interesting or amusing. Oh, and Jim Carrey appears briefly too, but it’s a small bit that isn’t anything special.

Richard Lester directed many good comedies in his career, but the stylish quality that made up so much of his films from the 60’s is completely missing here. Everything gets captured in a flat, uninspired way and I didn’t like the Canadian province of Alberta being substituted for Nebraska as its flat wheat fields look nothing like the rolling prairie of the Midwest and the bleak late autumn topography complete with leafless trees gives off a chilly, depressing feel.

The scene where D’Angelo and Lauter find themselves inside a house while it is being trucked down a highway is kind of cool and outside of the low budget 80’s flick Mind Trapthe only time I’ve seen this done on film. Watching the house then end up losing its roof, after it goes under a low hanging overhead sign, and going down the road with skeletal frame exposed is fun too, but everything else is a bore that tries too hard to be frantic when it wasn’t necessary.

I was also confused why the setting of the story had to be in the year 1973 as it doesn’t play-up the 70’s era enough to make it worth it. My only guess was that with the Vietnam War still raging that it fit into the storyline of having dead soldiers returning home in coffins. However, since the US continually gets involved in foreign conflicts all the time this same scenario could easily work in any time period and sadly wasn’t unique just to that decade.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 18, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Lester

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS

Mr. Billion (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Italian mechanic inherits fortune.

When his rich uncle dies in a freak accident humble mechanic Guido (Terence Hill) learns that he has inherited the man’s billion dollar fortune. However, everything is contingent that he sign the legal papers at precisely 12 Noon on Monday, April 12th in San Francisco in order to receive the money. John Cutler (Jackie Gleason) who has worked many years in the uncle’s corporation wants all the money for himself and will do anything to stop the signing, which requires Guido to travel across the country in various forms of transportation to get there.

This was Hill’s American movie debut, but the results and effort are mediocre at best. It was written and directed by Jonathan Kaplan, who was still in the Roger Corman production phase of his career, which makes the film come-off looking like just another pedestrian dive-in fare that he had been doing up to that point. The plot is thin and unimaginative, relies too heavily on car chases to make it interesting, and gets filled with a lot of logic loopholes that just don’t add up.

Hill gets upstaged by the talented supporting cast of characters actors at every turn. Sam Laws as an aging black man who brings Hill home with him only to end up getting into a big argument with his son (Johnny Ray McGhee) about it is fun as is R.G. Armstrong as a stereotypically over-the-top southern-styled sheriff. Gleason is a lot of fun here too especially his facial expressions and reactions that make his scenes enjoyable.

There are a few interesting moments including a helicopter crashing onto a little league game and all the people shown, from a bird’s-eye perspective, running out of their homes to witness the accident. Watching the police vehicles getting smashed-up in a stock car race is cool too and the aerial views of the Grand Canyon where the characters battle each other while literally teetering on the edge of a massive cliff are breath taking. Unfortunately there are a lot of slow, dull moments in-between. The dialogue is not sharp enough to be consistently amusing and the script is too run-of-the-mill like it was written in a matter of hours with no heart or thought put into it at all.

This film also marks the last screen appearance of William Redfield. He was an actor who had been working in films since 1939 when he was just at child, but never gained much fame until he was in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. However, it was while working on that film that he got diagnosed with leukemia. He decided to forge on with his acting work as best as he could and here he looks perfectly healthy, and even plays a character that has an interesting arc, and yet he ended up dying just month after filming had completed.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 3, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jonathan Kaplan

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Released: DVD-R (Fox Cinema Archives)