Tag Archives: Brenda Vaccaro

Water (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Island nation fights back.

Governor Baxter Thwaites (Michael Caine) runs the British Colony island of Cascara a largely peaceful place that is mostly ignored by everyone else. Then one day one of the oil rigs on the island taps into a underground reservoir of water that has all of its impurities already removed. The delicious tasting drink, that can also be used as a laxative, becomes much sought after from bottling companies across the globe. Now suddenly the British government wants everyone on the island to move out and find some other island to live on while taking over and turning this one into a profit making venture.

The film is patterned after many British satires of the 50’s through the 70’s like The Bed Sitting Room and O Lucky Man that mixes in wacky characters with absurd comic scenarios and also trying to make sharp political observations in-between. Unfortunately this film, which is based on a story by Bill Persky who appears briefly as a TV director, goes soft and is too similar in its vapid tone to Persky’s other social satire flop, Serial, which came out 5 years earlier. The message is too ambiguous and the plot too cluttered with insignificant characters that it becomes almost nonsensical.

The characters are so eccentric that the viewer cannot identify with, or care about any of them. The film in a way comes off as almost racist since the island is populated with black people, but the main characters are all white while the blacks folks get completely pushed into the background. If anything the viewer could’ve sided with the islanders and their quest to protect their homeland, but since all focus is put on the British people who control them, that never happens.

The eclectic cast is the only thing that somewhat holds it together. Brenda Vaccaro, who normally plays in dramatic roles, is very funny as Caine’s feisty wife although I could’ve down without her misguided accent. Valerie Perrine, with her clear blue eyes is fun too as an idealistic social activist although she was already in her 40’s at the time in a role which would’ve been better served by someone in their late teens or early 20’s.

Caine on-the-other-hand isn’t all that entertaining with the exception of the scenes showing him wearing a cocked hat, which are amusing.  He at least seems more comfortable here than in Blame it on Rio, which he did the same year as this one, but due to the subject matter in that one he clearly looked quite awkward and stiff while here he’s having a fun time even if the audience really isn’t.

This also marks the last feature film appearance of Leonard Rossiter, who died in his dressing while waiting to go on stage in a play he was in just a few months after completing his filming here. Normally he’s enjoyable to watch even when he’s playing a stuffy character, which is what he usually did anyways, but here he’s too much of a jerk and I did not find him to be humorous or interesting in any way.

If there is one person that ultimately does comes-off best it would be Billy Connelly who’s hilarious as this rebel leader who refuses to speak and instead communicates everything through singing. Dick Shawn is also quite good as this arrogant actor whose career has declined and now forced, much to his dismay, to being a spokesperson for informercials. You can also spot Joyce Van Patten very briefly in an uncredited role as a TV news reporter.

George Harrison, who also produced the film, appears near the end playing the bass guitar in front of political leaders at the UN while Ringo Starr handles the drums and Eric Clapton does the vocals, but the movie would’ve been more entertaining had all three of them been given roles to play, or at  least it couldn’t have hurt. The film’s title is a bit misleading too as the water ultimately has nothing to do with what saves the island from takeover, or allows them to keep their independence.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 11, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Dick Clement

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD

Cookie (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daughter becomes getaway driver.

Dino (Peter Falk), a longtime racketeer, gets released from prison after a 13-year sentence. He meets up with his long time crony Carmine (Michael V. Gazz0) only to learn that Carmine sold off his share of the business, but now refuses to give him his entitled proceeds. Dino then plots an elaborate revenge and uses his estranged daughter Cookie (Emily Lloyd) to help him. At first the two don’t get along,but eventually forge a friendship when she proves to be quite resourceful as a getaway driver.

This movie proved to be the start of Lloyd’s career downfall. She burst onto the scene with her acclaimed performance in Wish You Were Here, which had all the critics fawning over her including Roger Ebert who called her performance “one of the great debut roles of a young actress”. With her new found fame she moved to New York at the age of 17 and immediately got the starring role in this film, which unfortunately proved to be her undoing as she showed erratic behavior on the set due to a condition that was later diagnosed as being attention deficit disorder. At one point during filming her irritated co-star Falk slapped her because she repeatedly flubbed of her lines, which caused her to then reportedly slap him.  It was behind-the-scenes stories like these that made studios reluctant to hire her and costing her to miss out on a lot of big roles.

While I’ll commend her ability to put on a very effective Brooklyn accent where you can’t even hear a hint of her native British one I still felt overall her performance here is quite weak and one of the main reasons that the film fails. Her facial expressions are too one-note and she shows an aloof detachment in all of her scenes almost like she really doesn’t want to be there. It’s evident onscreen that she and Falk didn’t care for each other making the bonding that their two characters have come-off as forced and insincere. I didn’t know why her character was even needed, I presume it was done to attract the all-important teen demographic, but she’s not funny and there’s long stretches where she doesn’t even appear. Her attire looks too much like the clothing style worn by Molly Ringwald during the 80’s and while that may have been the fashion it’s still good to have a character come up with a clothing style that is unique to them, so she doesn’t end up looking like just a leftover cast member from a John Hughes’ movie.

The supporting cast are what make this movie funny and had the story centered around them it could’ve been special. Gazzo is great as the mob boss who is intimidating one minute and then frightened and contrite the next. Dianne Weist, is quite funny too, particularly her extended crying bouts, as Falk’s mistress and Brenda Vaccaro steals a few scenes as his dog groomer wife. You can also spot Joy Behar in a brief bit as well as Jerry Lewis although his part is quite colorless and I’m surprised he even took it.

The script by Nora Ephron and Alice Arden relies too much on Mafia cliches while failing to add a unique or interesting spin to it. There’s also too many scenes, three of them to be exact, involving the explosion of a limo. One time is okay, but it saps away the surprise/shock value when it keeps happening and much like the movie itself fizzles out with a whimper.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Susan Seidelman

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Going Home (1971)

going-home

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father and son reunite.

One night during a drunken rage Harry Graham (Robert Mitchum) kills his wife (Sally Kirkland), which gets witnessed by their 7-year-old son Jimmy (Jan-Michael Vincent). 13 years later Harry is paroled and Jimmy uses this opportunity to try and reconcile with his father and find out why he did it, but Harry has moved on. He has a new job and a girlfriend named Jenny (Brenda Vaccaro) and when Jimmy appears it creates an awkward tension that gets progressively worse.

One of the biggest problems with this film is that the characters and their motivations are not fleshed out enough and their actions make little sense. I’ve watched a lot of true-life crime shows and have found that in cases where this situation has occurred in real-life that the adult child will usually cease communication with their father and completely disown them, so it seemed strange why Jimmy would want to restart their relationship. If he was curious to know why Harry did it then he could’ve simply written him a letter with that question, which he never bothered to do while the man was incarcerated.

The film also fails to show what happened to Jimmy during the time Harry was in prison. He is shown arriving at an orphanage, but nothing about what does when he gets there or being put into a foster home and getting adoptive parents, or moving in with relatives, which is what usually occurs. He somehow has no friends or job and if this is because of his childhood trauma then it should get explained or more strongly implied, but it isn’t and it leaves a big void in the story.

Harry’s actions are equally confusing. The murder gets played out at the beginning and we see the stabbed mother crawl down the stairs and beg Jimmy for help and then Harry comes down and looks at the dead body before turning towards the boy with a guilty expression, but if  he feels so bad about what he has just done and the traumatic impact he’s put his son through then he should’ve thought of that beforehand. I would’ve expected to see a completely different set of emotions in the man’s eyes like anger, rage, insanity or even fear because now he knows he’ll will be going to prison, but guilt wouldn’t play into it, at least not that quickly if ever.

Mitchum’s character is straddled with conveying only one emotion throughout, which is guilt. We never tap into the other side of the man that propelled him to commit such a heinous act and his explanation, which is that he ‘just got drunk’ is insufficient. The character also pops up too conveniently at times. One moment is when Jimmy goes back to their former home, which has now been turned into a whorehouse and he hides in the basement. Harry comes looking for him and despite the fact that there are many people there and it’s a large place he immediately goes to the cellar, but how would he have known to look there? Another segment has him magically coming to Jimmy’s rescue when his son is accosted by a group of sailors underneath a boardwalk even though he was bowling in another building and would have no way of knowing what was occurring outside.

The film has solid production values and director Herbert B. Leonard shows flair with the location shooting, which was done in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. There is also a good scene inside a chicken coop  and actor Josh Mostel (Zero’s son) has an interesting film debut playing Harry’s young, flippant parole officer who delights in demeaning his client as much as possible, but the story leaves open too many unanswered questions and isn’t impactful or relevant.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Herbert B. Leonard

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)

Death Weekend (1976)

death weekend

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She can defend herself.

This Canadian thriller, which is loosely based on actual events deals with a rich playboy named Harry (Chuck Shamata) who invites Diane (Brenda Vaccaro) who is also a model to spend the weekend with him at his isolated lakeside cabin that is miles from anywhere. On their way there they run into a biker gang whose leader (played by Don Stroud) takes an intense disliking to Harry. The gang tracks the two down at their cabin where they proceed to terrorize them before eventually killing Harry and forcing Diane to defend herself alone, which she does valiantly.

In a way this is a poor man’s version of I Spit on Your Grave or Straw Dogs, but not nearly as effective. For one the violent scenes aren’t very intense. This is due mainly to the fact that writer/director William Fruet keeps the camera too removed from the action and never once uses a hand held. There is also no gore as Fruet always cuts away just before anything happens and what little you do see looks tacky. Of course a film doesn’t have to be gory to be scary or intense, but if it is going to have this type of violent theme then it should at least equal it in style. The tension also ebbs and flows and the four hoodlums are too dumb and seem like cardboard cutout caricatures that possess no human qualities whatsoever.
The Harry character does allow for some added dimension, which helps and hurts. I liked the way he sees himself as this ‘refined’ gentlemen and yet views women in the same Neanderthal way as the thugs. He brags of having money and power, but when that gets stripped away from him he becomes amazingly spineless. This makes for a good commentary of the rich and successful, but unfortunately also turns him into being too much of a jerk and when the bad guys proceed to tear his place apart we are not ‘horrified’ at all, but instead enjoy seeing it.

There are actually a few good elements one of which is the music score, which effectively creates an ominous feeling. It was also filmed in Ontario Canada during the autumn and the desolate, bleak landscape helps match the bleakness of the situation and characters. I also loved the morning mist captured during the final chase sequence that gives things a very eerie look. There is also a well-staged car chase at the beginning that was done at high speeds and features some great stunt driving.

The film is saved somewhat by Vaccaro’s interesting performance as a victim. She is independent and self-sufficient and refuses to allow herself to be seen or used as a sex object. This goes along with the film’s overall theme which seems to run on the emergence of the woman in a man’s world and the basic redefining of the female role in society. Yet I felt it would have worked better had the character harbored the old female traits at the beginning and then had these new traits come out as the film progressed.

death weekend

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Title: House by the Lake

Released: September 17, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Fruet

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS