Tag Archives: Ann-Margret

Lookin’ to Get Out (1982)

looking1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding out in Vegas.

Alex (Jon Voight) is a high stakes gambler in debt for $10,000. Joey and Harry (Allen Keller, Jude Farese) work with the syndicate and when they come around to collect their debt from Alex he escapes out of the city with his pal Jerry Feldmen (Burt Young) where they go to Las Vegas in hopes of recouping the money by playing blackjack. Alex employs the services of Smitty (Bert Remsen), an expert card counter, to help him at the dealer table, but just as he and Jerry think they’ve got their situation solved Joey and Harry reappear and chase the two through the hotel demanding that the debt be repaid immediately.

The script was written by Al Schwartz who based it on some of his own life experiences as he struggled to make it in the entertainment world. While working as the business manager to singer/songwriter Chip Taylor he showed him the script to get his opinion and Chip suggested that Al send it to Jon Voight, Chip’s brother, and when Jon read it he purportedly ‘fell in love with it’ within the first 30 pages. The story is a bit different as the situations itself aren’t necessarily funny, but instead it relies on the desperate nature of the characters and the way they interact with each other for its humor.

It was filmed at the MGM Grand Hotel, which at 6,852 rooms is the largest single hotel in the United States and third largest in the world. The ambience of the place is well captured and reminded me of the atmosphere of a lot of casinos I’ve stayed at where everyone is looking to ‘get lucky’ while in the process living very much on the edge. Having the plot that place over only a two-day period nicely reflects how gamblers live for the moment without any concern for either the past or future. It’s all just about the risk and excitement of beating the odds, which on that level, the film captures admirably well.

The acting helps, particularly from Voight who gives a souped-up rendition of his more famous Joe Buck character from Midnight Cowboy, playing a clueless schmuck who believes he can con his way out of anything and it’s also great seeing him share a scene with his real-life daughter Angelina Jolie, who at age 4 makes her film debut, appearing briefly as Alex’s daughter near the end and to date has been the only project that the two have done together. Young is also quite good as his more sensible friend and to an extent that he becomes the person the audience connects with. Remsen has a few key moments too playing a character that initially seems insignificant to the story, but slowly begins to have a much more meaningful presence by the end. As a buddy formula it works, but throwing in Ann-Margaret as Alex’s former girlfriend who comes back into his life, doesn’t gel and she should’ve been left out.

The foot chase where Alex and Jerry try to outrun Joey and Harry by dashing throughout the hotel is the film’s single best moment and I was impressed with how unlike other movie chases scenes there were no jump cuts and you can visually follow the action even as it shifts between different rooms. The other segments though get overly drawn-out. While his trademark was a slower, more subtle pace, which worked in his previous movies, director Hal Ashby would’ve been wise to have paired this one down. The plot isn’t intricate enough to justify the long runtime and a 90-minute version would’ve been ideal. The original theatrical cut was 105 minutes, which had issues too, but the longer director’s edition isn’t perfect either and in this instance less definitely would’ve been more.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1982

Runtime: 2 Hours (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Hal Ashby

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

R.P.M. (1970)

R.P.M.

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10′

4-Word Review: Caught in the middle.

Paco Perez (Anthony Quinn) is a college professor given the position of acting university president after a group of students overtake an administration building, which forces the other president out. Paco now has the duty of negotiating with these students in order to meet their requests and have them leave the building, but their list of 12 demands are extreme and Paco cannot agree to all of them. Eventually he accepts 9 of the conditions, but Rossiter (Gary Lockwood) the head of the student movement refuses to budge unless all 12 are met, which continues the standoff until Paco feels he has no other choice but to have the police called in and the students forcibly removed.

For a film with the title of Revolutions Per Minute this is woefully lacking in action. There had already been other films dealing with the campus unrest of the day including The Strawberry Statement and Getting Straight and while neither one of those were perfect they at least had violent confrontations between the protesters and authorities, but this thing is mainly all talk. These students are also the most uninteresting ‘radicals’ that I’ve ever seen and spend most of their time just looking out the window. I would think at their age they’d be partying, doing drugs, drinking, listening to rock music, sex, and maybe even some infighting amongst themselves in between meeting with Paco, but instead it has the atmosphere of a retirement community.

Writer Erich Segal and director Stanley Kramer, who later admitted this was the least favorite of his films and the first to do poorly at the box office, were too old and out-of-touch with the young generation to effectively tackle the subject in any meaningful way. The kids are bland and the scenes with them stagnate. All of the emphasis is put on Quinn and while some of the issues that it brings out, which mainly consist at how the older generation sees things and approaches things differently, is not enough to keep it compelling despite the arguments that he has with his much younger live-in girlfriend, played by Ann-Margret, which are the only times when the movie gets quasi-lively, but even then it’s not enough to save it.

The biggest disappointment is when the police finally do invade the building. I was hoping for a big battle to make up for all the boredom that came before, but Kramer fails to deliver. He unwisely uses music during these clashes, which should not be necessary as the yelling, screaming, and other noises from the chaos would be more than enough to keep it riveting, much like in Medium CoolHe also blurs out the images, so we just see these fuzzy little dots on the screen, which I guess was his idea of being ‘artsy’, but it doesn’t allow for any emotional impact. Ultimately it becomes just another run-of-the-mill flick looking to cash-in on the screaming headlines of the day, but offers no new insight. Kramer was famous for making ‘relevant’ films that tackled difficult topics like Judgement at Nuremburg, The Defiant Ones, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and while those were a success this one was an overreach and he should’ve quit while he was ahead.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 16, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stanley Kramer

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen idol gets drafted.

Based on the hit stageplay of the same name, the story deals with Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) a rock ‘n’ roll teen idol who gets drafted into the army.  As a big send off Conrad is chosen to perform in Sweet Apple, Ohio on the Ed Sullivan Show. As a special treat one lucky teen girl (Ann-Margaret) gets picked to give him a kiss while he sings the song ‘One Last Kiss’ written by Albert (Dick Van Dyke) a fledgling songwriter who hopes that the publicity of having a song sung by a big star will be just the ticket he needs to find success and enable him to finally marry his secretary (Janet Leigh) and get away from the clutches of his meddlesome mother (Maureen Stapleton).

The story was loosely based on the real-life incident in 1957 when Elvis Presley got drafted and in fact the part was originally intended for him, but his agent turned it down. While some may consider the humor here to be engaging satire I really felt it was lame and uninspired and only saved by the song and dance sequences. My main gripe was the way the teens get portrayed as being overly clean-cut kids, no leather jacket crowd here who smoked cigarettes even though they did exist, who are too benign and show no evidence of individuality. It would’ve been nice for the sake of balance to have at least one girl that was not into the rock star and didn’t faint or swoon the second she saw him, like all the others, and instead looked on with disdain at everyone who did.

While I did like Janet Leigh, who wears a black wig, and enjoyed her dance number at a Shriner’s convention I did feel overall that the adults here, with the exception of Paul Lynde, were boring and not needed. Van Dyke again gets straddled in another Rob Petrie type role who shows no pizzazz and having him a ‘mama’s boy’ at the age of 38 is more pathetic than funny. What’s worse is that Stapleton who plays his mother was in reality Van Dyke’s same age and despite some white in her hair really didn’t look that old and having the part played by an actual old lady would’ve given it more distinction.

The story should’ve centered around the teens, but in a more interesting way by entering into all the side dramas that almost always occur in these types of situations, but doesn’t get explored here. For instance there could’ve been some jealous classmates of Ann-Margaret’s upset that she got picked to kiss Birdie and not them and devised a scheme to ruin her big moment, or having all the boys, who admitted to hating Birdie because their girlfriends were so into him and not them, kidnapping him in revenge.

Despite having his name in the title Birdie has only a few lines of dialogue and needed more to do than just swiveling his hips, which becomes a derivative running joke. One idea would be to have him scared about going off to the army and secretly coming up with a plan with his fans to go undercover, so he could escape going, which would’ve added more depth to the satire, which is too placid, by showing how celebrities in private can be the opposite of their public image.

Beyond my many grievances with the story, which is even more flimsy than most musicals, I still found the songs, dances, and colorful sets to be fun and Paul Lynde has a few great lines. If one watches it for the musical quality while treating it as a relic of its time then it should still go over modestly well.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 4, 1963

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: George Sidney

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

A New Life (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life after a divorce.

Steve (Alan Alda) is shocked to learn that his wife of 26 years Jackie (Ann-Margret) wants a divorce, which forces him back into the dating scene that proves awkward. He eventually meets Kay (Veronica Hamel) and the two hit-it-off while Jackie gets into a relationship with a young artist named Doc (John Shea). Kay and Steve get married, but Jackie tires of her relationship and decides she’d be better off single.

Despite sporting an afro and beard it’s still the same Alda making the same bland type of movie with this one being more vanilla than his first two directorial efforts. At least with The Four Seasons and Sweet Liberty there was a mildly amusing spin to it, but here it’s sterile to a mind numbing degree and filled with nothing but generic characters going through basic life events almost like an inoffensive TV-movie on steroids.

Cutting back-and-forth between Alda’s budding new relationship and then Ann-Margret’s doesn’t work. At least with Alda there was a character arch as he goes from being a curmudgeon to sensitive modern day male, while Ann-Margret starts out cold and then just stays that way. As an actress she seems to have a hard time showing any genuine emotion while her attempts to convey inner angst come off looking quite affected. I realize she’s had a long, solid career, but her presence here is just plain blah and her square jaw features makes her look more and more like a female impersonator the older she gets. I also never believed that these two people were ever really married as they lack chemistry and their strained ‘spats’ become as trite as the material

The most annoying thing though is the scene where Alda grabs his chest while playing tennis and complains about severe pains so he’s rushed to the hospital, which is where he meets Kay. However, the lab tests reveal nothing wrong with him and the whole event gets written off as being ‘no big deal’ and never mentioned again, which is absurd.  People don’t collapse to the ground crying out in pain over ‘nothing’ as there had to have been some cause for it, so what was it? Having a movie blithely skip over this and treat it like some meaningless anomaly simply as an excuse so his character could begin a romance with Kay is truly weak writing and makes this threadbare film even more shallow.

Hal Linden is fun as Alda’s glib, womanizing friend and he should’ve been in the movie more since he’s the only thing that gives it a modicum of life while scrapping the side-story dealing with Ann-Margret. Focusing solely on these two middle-aged bachelors trying to make a go of it in the trendy, single’s scene had potential. At least it would’ve been better than the overly pat thing we get here that fails to stand out in any way.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 25, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Alan Alda

Studio: Paramount

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

Middle Age Crazy (1980)

middle age crazy

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not Ready for 40.

Bobby Lee (Bruce Dern) is a Texas businessman who builds taco stands for a living. Although he is genuinely happy with his life he finds his job boring and dealing with the demanding clients to be frustrating. He loves his wife Sue Ann (Ann-Margret), but her constant smothering him with love makes him feel suffocated. Turning 40 becomes a major milestone and one he wishes would go away. To compensate he starts to act erratically by buying himself an expensive sports car, telling off his obnoxious clients and even having an affair with a much younger woman, but it all makes him feel empty and just as lost and confused.

Having turned the wrong side of 40 myself now several years back I can vouch for what this character is feeling and some of the points it makes are certainly relatable to anyone the same age especially males. The first half of the movie is the best as it has several dream-like segments where the character fantasizes about seeing himself in different situations. The one where he sees himself presiding over his own funeral is amusing, but the best one is where he imagines having sex with his college-aged son’s girlfriend in the backseat of a car while the tune ‘Good Girls Don’t’ by the Knack plays on the radio.

The dialogue is equally funny with some politically incorrect lines that really hit-the-mark with the strongest one coming during a commencement speech that he imagines giving to a graduating class of high school seniors. It was so good I felt obligated to print a slightly condensed version of it here:

“Every year thousands of you kids put on these silly, fucking hats to hear some other kid in a silly, fucking hat tell you that you are the future, but there is not enough future to go around. If you want to know your real future look at your folks in the stands. Fat butts and sagging tits that’s your future. If you had any sense you would give back your diplomas and silly hats and stay 18 the rest of your lives. You don’t want the future because the future sucks!”

The acting is a real grab bag. Graham Jarvis a balding actor best known for playing uptight characters scores here as Bobby’s foul mouthed over-sexed friend J.D. Dern who is almost always engaging especially in bad guy roles seems too restrained and even boring. Ann-Margret is much too clingy as the wife and would probably drive any man away and Michael Kane’s caricature of an obnoxious Texas businessman is irritatingly clichéd.

The film veers into heavy-handed drama during the second half and ultimately limps along to a flat finale. Had the film stayed with the lighthearted, quirky tone that it had at the beginning it might have worked, but instead comes off as rather amateurish and disjointed.

The film is based on a Jerry Lee Lewis song and has a hard time taking a basic idea, which is what a song really is and trying to turn it into feature length material. It is also interesting to note that despite being filmed on-location in Texas the movie was financed by a Canadian production company, which technically makes it a foreign film.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 25, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Trent

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

The Pleasure Seekers (1964)

the pleasure seekers

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Finding romance in Spain.

Three young American women decide to room together in Madrid. Fran (Ann-Margret) is the flirtatious, sexy one. Maggie (Carol Lynley) is more stoic and sensible while Susie (Pamela Tiffin) is the most naïve of the trio. Fran falls in-love with a dashing young doctor while Maggie has an affair with her much older boss Paul (Brian Keith) and Susie tries to get her playboy boyfriend Emilio (Anthony Franciosa) to settle down and marry her.

The film is cute and engaging for the most part and helped mainly by the performances and contrasting personalities of the three female leads. Ann-Margret is quite sensual especially when she sings and dances in her bikini on the beach. She also does a great rendition of the film’s title tune and I was at a lost as to why it wasn’t played over the opening credits as it has a definite verve and bounce. Lynley is solid as the more jaded worldly-wise of the three and helps give the story an anchor. Tiffin is amusing with her wide-eyed comments and despite being considered dumb turns out to be quite clever in the way she manipulates her womanizing boyfriend.

I was hoping the film would focus more on their living arrangement as it is evident from the beginning that their different habits and perspectives would be ripe for interesting comic scenarios. Instead the film veers almost exclusively to the romance angle, which makes the film one-dimensional and dangerously close to being completely vapid. Certain prime comic set-ups do not get followed through on and the part where Susie allows herself to be lead into Emilio’s car before she even knows his name is just too recklessly insane even for a more innocent era. The songs are sparse and spread so far apart that you almost forget that it is a musical. I did like the flamingo dance segment done on stage by a talented male performer and then later at the beach by two children who couldn’t have been more than 3-years-old.

Normally I am a great admirer of Brian Keith, but his appearance here is all wrong. His gruff, brash manner does not work as a love interest and there is absolutely no chemistry between he and Lynley making their love affair seem unbelievable. This was also Gene Tierney’s last film.  She gets a rather thankless, small part as Keith’s jilted, bitter wife. Her hair is much shorter and she looks very middle-aged and lost all her youthful beauty that she had during her classic film roles of the 40’s and 50’s, but her confrontation with Lynley during a party is okay.

Basically this is an updated version of Three Coins in the Fountain, which was done by the same director and the only difference being that it took place in Rome. The film is pleasant enough to be watchable, but rather empty and mindless and best suited for romantics looking for an evening of mild entertainment.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 46Mintutes

Not Rated

Director: Jean Negulesco

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Not Available at this time.