Tag Archives: Beverly D’Angelo

National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985)

european vacation

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Griswolds tour Europe.

After winning a trip to Europe Clark (Chevy Chase) and his family set out to see the sights. First they go to London and France and then Germany only to end up in Italy where they get involved with a couple of thieves. Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) also becomes an international porn star when stolen video of her singing naked in the shower gets shown at the local adult theaters.

Although John Hughes is credited as the co-writer he had nothing to do with the script and the majority of blame for this mess goes to Robert Klane. Klane burst onto the scene during the early ‘70’s with the brilliant Where’s Poppa that deserves to go down into the annals of all-time original comedy, but his output since then has proved to be mediocre and the uninspired humor here is no exception. The comedy in the first installment was solely focused on all the amusing elements that can occur when a family takes a trip, but here gags of any kind get thrown in with much of them being crude and pointless.

The performers who play Rusty and Audrey are poor replacements to the ones in the first film. Anthony Michael Hall was asked to reprise his role, but decided to commit to doing Weird Science instead. After he bowed out it was decided to then cast a new person in the Audrey role as well, but the presence of the teens here is not as fun. In the first film they were portrayed as being the sensible ones, which made for an amusing contrast to the more child-like Clark, but here they are straddled with the generic issues of the everyday teen, which isn’t funny or interesting and includes Audrey dealing with an eating disorder and having a nightmare where she stuffs her face full of junk food, which is gross.

There is also a potpourri of recognizable character actors who appear briefly in bit parts and include : Eric Idle, John Astin, Paul Bartel, Robbie Coltrane, Moon Unit Zappa and Victor Lanoux all of whom get wasted to the point where I was surprised they even agreed to appear unless they just really needed the money. The side-story dealing with the Griwolds and some thieves is dumb and looks to have been written in simply to pad the running time.

Chase himself has gone on record to state that he dislikes this film and it’s easy to see why. The on-location shooting is nice, but everything else falls horribly flat. In fact the only funny gag in the whole thing is when Clark gets trapped in a London roundabout and is unable to make a left turn, which forces him to drive in circles for hours, which apparently isn’t such an uncommon occurrence.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 26, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Amy Heckerling

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

vacation

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going on a trip.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) decides to drive his family of four from Chicago to California in order to visit the world famous amusement park of Wally World. Sure they could’ve flown, but he feels that getting there is ‘half the fun’, so they pack up their station wagon while losing their luggage along the way, running out of money, getting stranded in the desert and forced to take along the crabby Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) who makes everyone miserable.

The film is loaded with laugh-out-loud gags particularly at the beginning. I enjoyed the snapshots of touristy places that get shown over the opening credits as they look exactly like homemade pics stripped directly from somebody’s family album. Clark’s attempts to recreate their proposed trip on the computer only to have his animated station wagon eaten up by a Pacman-like monster is hilarious and imaginative. The scene showing him trying to get back into his old car after its been crushed, or falling asleep at the wheel and driving haphazardly off the road only to end up miraculously at a hotel are also quite good.

The screenplay was written by John Hughes and based on a story he wrote for the September 1979 issue of National Lampoon’s magazine. The plot nicely tackles all the problems that can occur on a typical family outing. Everything from having to visit boring in-laws to squabbling kids in the backseat get comically examined and most likely will remind everyone of their own family trips that started out fun, but turned into a nightmare.

I enjoyed seeing comic legends Eddie Bracken and Imogene Coca cast in supporting roles as well as other recognizable stars popping up for brief bits. This is also the best casting of Rusty and Audrey and watching the kids being the sensible ones while the Dad is more child-like is fun. However, their lack of appreciation for the song ‘Mockingbird’, which Chase and Beverly D’Angelo do an admirable rendition of, is outrageous even for teens and should’ve been enough to have them thrown into Lake Michigan immediately!

The script though begins to go off its hinges with the running joke involving supermodel Christie Brinkley. She plays a hot babe who seems for some strange reason to be attracted to middle-age schmuck Clark. The script was originally written to have this as Rusty’s sexual fantasy, which might’ve worked better, but as it is here it makes no sense.  The character drives so fast in her sporty red convertible that she should remain miles ahead of them and yet she is constantly repassing them almost like she’s a stalker and the odds that she would’ve coincidently been staying at the same hotel as them, out of the thousands that are out there, are astronomically slim. It all might’ve been saved, at least for the male viewers, had she gone nude, which was the original intent, but she refused. In either case it’s a boring bit that is not funny, or believable, or for that matter even sexy.

Spoiler Alert!

I also found the ending to be a letdown. The original one had Clark purchasing a BB gun and using it to invade the home owned by Wally (Eddie Bracken) after they find that his amusement park has been temporarily shut down and then forcing him and his associates to sing some songs before the SWAT team closes in. However, this ending rated poorly with test audiences so it was changed to where Clark and the family invade the park itself and force a security guard, amusingly played by John Candy, to take them on the rides while threatening him with the same type of BB gun.

Personally I disliked both endings because they are over-the-top and make little sense. There is no way that an amusement park would completely shut down for 2-weeks to make repairs especially in the middle of summer, which it is at the height of tourist season and risks too much of a loss of revenue. Certain individual rides may get shut down from time-to-time, but not the whole place. There is also never any explanation as to who is running the rides from the ground that the Griswolds and the security guard go on. Some may argue that it might be done by the black security guard, which is played by actor Frank McRae, but this is never explicitly shown or implied, so it therefore cannot be automatically assumed.

It also takes away too much from the film’s overall theme, which was making fun of less than ideal situations that occur on a lot of family vacations. Yes they do get exaggerated for comical purposes, but there was still a grain of truth to it while the ending instead borders on the surreal.

A better version would’ve been to have the family go to the park and have it open for business as expected, but then get caught up in a lot of crowds, long lines, overly priced rides and roller coasters that made them physically sick, which it did to the cast in real-life anyways.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Despite some of the script’s weaknesses this is still the funniest installment to the Griswold adventures and far better than its 4 sequels or the 2015 reboot. I also enjoyed the on-location shooting as well as the music by Lindsey Buckingham. His song ‘Holiday Road’, which gets played during the film’s opening, has become the mainstay to the franchise even though I found ‘Dancing Across the U.S.A’ that gets played over the closing credits to be better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 29, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harold Ramis

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Paternity (1981)

paternity

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bachelor wants a son.

Despite managing Madison Square Garden, having lots of money and good looks Buddy Evans (Burt Reynolds) is still single at 44. He is happy with his bachelorhood, but still longs for a having a son. He comes up with the idea of paying a woman to have his child while treating it solely as a business proposition without any romance or relationship attached to it, after interviewing several ‘candidates’ he finally settles on Maggie (Beverly D’Angelo) a waitress who can use the money to further her education. Things are expectedly awkward at first, but as the process continues Maggie finds herself falling in love with him and trying to turn it into a relationship despite his reluctance.

Reynolds is a dynamic star with an engaging onscreen presence particularly in comedies, but his appearance here hurts the picture more than it helps it. For one thing it doesn’t make sense why this great looking guy with tons of cash can’t find a woman. And just why is he so reluctant to get into a committed relationship? What about this character’s background makes him the way he is? It never gets explained, but would’ve helped give the film more depth had it been. A better concept would’ve been portraying the character as being a rich guy who is also short, fat, bald and lacking in the romantic graces, but woman still tolerate because of his money, which would’ve ultimately made this more realistic, edgier and funnier.

I really liked D’Angelo and considered this her best performance, but having her fall in love with the guy and turning this into just another formulaic, sterile romantic comedy was a ridiculous stupid idea and makes it almost excruciating to watch. The guy spends the whole time acting like he owns her by telling her what to eat and do while being outrageously ambivalent to her feelings or needs. Any woman that would fall in love with a guy that her treats that way should see a psychiatrist and get some self-respect.

Comedian David Steinberg makes his directorial debut here and I liked the way he begins the film by having pictures of baby’s faces lining the screen during the credits all to the sound of them cooing and crying. He also pays loving tribute to his adopted city of New York by having some fabulous shots of the skyline and some scenic moments in Central Park that accentuate the fall foliage. In fact it is for these two reasons only that I generously give this thing a measly 1-point.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG

Director: David Steinberg

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS

Christmas Vacation (1989)

christmas vacation 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Christmas at the Griswold’s.

It’s the season to be merry and to celebrate Clark (Chevy Chase) gets a tree that is too big for their house and his hopes of installing a backyard pool are dashed when his holiday bonus check doesn’t arrive. Meanwhile their home gets crammed with in-laws including his hillbilly cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) who never ceases to be obnoxious and crude.

I first saw this movie upon its release and didn’t much care for it, but upon second viewing I found it a bit more appealing. The humor isn’t exactly sophisticated or original, but manages to be amiable enough to be entertaining. Some of my favorite moments were just the small things like the way Clark angrily kicks the toy Santa in his front yard when he can’t get his outdoor Christmas lights to work or even the goofy reindeer glasses that Clark and Eddie drink eggnog out of. Clark’s innuendo filled stammering when aroused by a beautiful young saleslady is nothing new, but always funny especially with the way Chase does it. The running dialogue is full of amusing lines and good enough to spring up Quote-a-long film showings of this picture at many chain theaters including the Alamo Drafthouse Theater here in Texas.

Even though it has acquired a fervent cult following and been judged a ‘classic’ by some it still has its fair share of issues. For one thing they had too many in-laws over to fit into that mid-sized house and I wondered where they all slept and showing Rusty their teenage son sleeping in the same bed with his teenage sister seemed to border on the perverse. The film also has a frustrating tendency to not follow through with all of its gags including the part where Clark falls through the floorboards of his attic and into the top bunk bed of son’s bedroom below, which I’m sure would’ve caused a lot of issues, but we’re never shown it. The virtually plotless script by John Hughes, which relies solely on rapid-fire gags becomes a bit derivative and tedious by the final half-hour and is saved only by a funny squirrel attack as well as an S.W.A.T. team ambush. I also felt a bit uncomfortable laughing at a cat getting electrocuted, which the studio was going to cut, but then left in when it proved popular with test audiences

Young Juliette Lewis is cute and my favorite of the rotating Audrey’s. Beverly D’Angelo is the hottest MILF out there and I was a little shocked at the way she seems to grab Chase directly on his crotch during the S.W.A.T scene. I liked the veteran cast that made up the grandparents, but outside a few cryptic lines by E.G. Marshall they are essentially wasted especially Doris Roberts and Diane Ladd who play the two grandmothers and don’t have more than a few lines between them. Quaid is a scene stealer, but he gets a bit crude in spots. It’s fun seeing Mae Questal best known as the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl in her final film role as a daffy, elderly aunt and I also enjoyed Nicholas Guest and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Griswold’s neighbors. They are portrayed as being this annoyingly pretentious, trendy yuppie couple, but the truth is I started to sympathize with them as their house continually gets damaged by Clark’s mishaps and I would have ended up being even more outraged and confrontational than they were had I been in their spot.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Jeremiah Chechik

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Sentinel (1977)

the sentinel 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Gateway to Hell.

Alison (Cristina Raines) is a fashion model looking for a place of her own. She is dating Michael (Chris Sarandon) and living with him, but has decided she is not ready for marriage and wants her own apartment. She finds an old, but stylish place in the Brooklyn Heights area of New York City that is already furnished and decides to move in, but then strange things begin to occur convincing her that the place may be haunted and when she starts to have physical maladies she is sure that something within the building is trying to possess her and the other residents she sees are really evil demons.

From the very first scene still film reeks of being just another, tired rip-off of The Exorcist. The first hour features no real scares and it is only during the second part that it becomes a full-fledged horror movie giving the film an overall disjointed feel. The much hyped final, which features severely deformed people who are not wearing make-up isn’t that impressive and unable to equal any of today’s horror movies. If anything I wished they had played this part up even more as it is the only time this otherwise generic thing gets even slightly diverting.

Rains, who by her own admission has never ever actually watched the movie, makes for a weak lead. Sure she is beautiful, but the character is dull and ordinary and she gets easily upstaged by co-star Sarandon who clearly shows how to carry a scene and deserves top billing over her for that reason alone. Her characters motivations didn’t make much sense either. Why would such a young woman want to move into a place filled with antique furniture and inhabited by senior citizens that she has nothing in common with? Also, when creepy things start to occur she doesn’t just move out right away like a normal person would, but instead goes back to the place several more times. There is also a moment when she hears strange noises from the upstairs apartment and then gets out of her bed and locks her front door, which seemed crazy because she is living in New York City and should be locking her doors ALL the time to begin with.

The only real interesting thing about this film for me was seeing older stars at the end of their careers in bit parts. Ava Gardner is fun as the leasing agent and Arthur Kennedy is solid as a mysterious priest as well as John Carradine as an older blind priest who lives upstairs and wearing creepy contacts. There is also Sylvia Miles who appears topless and camps it up as a lesbian neighbor with a Russian accent at least I think it was Russian. Christopher Walken can be seen briefly as a detective giving his gum a workout and Beverly D’Angelo plays a nubile lesbian who doesn’t say a single word, but more than makes up for it with her masturbation scene.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 7, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD

Honky Tonk Freeway (1981)

honky tonk freeway 4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Get off on it!

This exceedingly free-form style narrative follows several different oddball travelers from all areas of the country who converge on the small town of Ticlaw, Florida whose citizens are trying to build an exit ramp off of the freeway or risk having all of their shops and businesses go under.

The unusual narrative device might have worked had it been complimented by material that was more original. Instead it’s rather generic and bland. Things start off well with a biting, edgy flair, but this quickly drops off and becomes only mildly amusing afterwards. Some of it even gets silly with a lot of overused jokes aimed at easy targets. To me the only good moment is when a group of men try to trap a wild rhino into a cage.

Some people have compared this to Nashville; but that film at least had an overrunning theme that tied things together while this one has none and most of the time seems to go nowhere. I did like the script’s underlying concept of the randomness of our existence and where we end up and who meet a lot of times is just up to pure chance, but it doesn’t explore this enough or make any strong statement with it.

It also forces us to follow characters that aren’t captivating or interesting. The caricatures are too broad and their eccentricities go over-the-top. The only one I found slightly memorable is David Rasche as an overzealous pimp constantly trying to recruit women into his business even some nuns!

On the performance end Beverly D’Angelo comes off best as a nymphomaniac struggling to have a relationship with just one man. The rest of the cast though is pretty much wasted especially Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy as a bickering old couple. William Devane as the mayor is miscast and speaks in a southern accent that is horrible.

The film also contains a logic loophole as the townspeople blow up the bridge of a nearby busy freeway, which will then force all incoming traffic to exit into the town. This should then conceivably create a traffic overflow with more cars and people coming in than the town is equipped for and yet screenwriter Edward Clinton never bothers to touch on this very real issue and instead keeps things contained to only a few travelers.

I did like the on-location shooting, which was done in the small town of Mount Dora that is just a north of Orlando. Many times when films are made in Florida it is done in Miami or areas along the coasts, so it was nice instead to see something done in the countryside that takes advantage of its interesting and diverse topography.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 21, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Schlesinger

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Hair (1979)

hair 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hippies versus the establishment.

A young draftee (Savage) goes to New York to join the army. Along the way he inadvertently walks into a ‘happening’ of hippies in Central Park who begin to socialize with him and the rest of the film looks at their efforts at trying to get him not to go.

It is easy to see how during its era this stage play would have been an exciting even vibrant experience. It perfectly captures the moods, thoughts and uniqueness of the period. However this film version doesn’t. It’s made ten years too late and the spirit just isn’t there. Even the protest rallies seem mechanical and manufactured. The period was known for its bright psychedelic colors and yet here everything is gray and bland. The camera angles should have been more unconventional and Twyla Tharp’s much ballyhooed choreography looks like nothing more than jumping around with song renditions that are horrible.

The hippies themselves are also a problem. For one thing Treat Williams looks too old as their leader. They also appear too clean-cut as these guys are literally sleeping on the streets and yet none of them have a beard.

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A few good moments do abound. Williams’ constant confrontations with the establishment are fun. Having them crash a society party and then having Williams dance on a table with Charlotte “Facts of Life” Rae is great. The dramatic twist at the end is powerful and really hits home at how impersonal and sad that war really was.

Savage looks and talks like the country boy he is playing, which is good, but his brief attempt at singing is downright awful. Brad Dourif was the original choice for the part and I think he would have done better.  Beverly D’Angelo is enticing as a snooty girl who transforms into a hippie one and Miles Chapin is amazing simply because he was a 28-year-old man that managed to convincingly look and act like a 17-year-old.

One quibble involves the wearing of the same army outfit by several different people. The uniform is originally worn by a general who is on the short side. They steal it and put it on Williams who is much taller and yet it still fits perfectly. They then put it on Savage who is much thinner and yet strangely it fits perfectly on him as well.

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My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 14, 1979

Runtime:  2Hours 1Minute

Rated PG

Director: Milos Foreman

Studio: United Artists

Available:  DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video