Tag Archives: Christopher Walken

The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Small town fights developer.

Milagro, New Mexico becomes the centerpiece to controversy when a rich developer (Richard Bradford) decides to build a resort, which cuts off the water supply to the rest of the struggling inhabitants of the nearby town. Joe Mandragon (Chick Vennera) is one of those farmers who is frustrated with the current situation and in a fit of rage kicks a water valve, which allows water to flow into his field where he soon begins to grow beans. Kyril Montana (Christopher Walken) is then sent in by the rich tycoons to ‘settle-the-score’, which only helps to make the town’s resistance to the development even stronger.

The film is based on the 1974 novel by John Nichols and was directed by Robert Redford eight years after he helmed his first feature the very successful Ordinary People. From a completely technical standpoint the film shines in all areas as it delightfully mixes whimsical comedy with harsh real-world issues and manages to keep the tone consistent throughout. My favorite element was the difficulty the activists had in getting the townspeople  ‘on-the-same-page’ and organized to fight their mutual enemy, which illustrated one of the biggest challenges to fighting for social change where just trying to convince and mobilize others is sometimes the toughest part.

John Heard has the film’s best character arch playing a former political activist who dropped out of trying to change-the-world years ago, but after sufficient prodding finally gets back to his old form in one very fiery and memorable moment. Walken is quite good in reverse playing a man sent to initially squash the rebellion only to eventually soften a bit (just a bit) on his stance. Carlos Riquelme is delightful as the elderly Amarante who despite being weak with age fights-the-good-fight including a hilarious scene where he precariously tries to drive a bulldozer.

I wasn’t quite as crazy about Daniel Stern’s inclusion. He plays his part well and the character is likable, but I didn’t understand the need for him in the story. It almost seemed like the filmmakers didn’t trust that the Hispanic cast alone could carry it and a white guy needed to be added in in order to usher in a more mainstream demographic. Vennera is weak only because he constantly reminded me of Bruno Kirby Jr. and could’ve easily passed off as his twin in both his looks and voice.

The only argument I would have against the film, which is otherwise a charmer and does not in any way deserve the outrageous R-rating that it was given, is the addition of Robert Carricart as the Coyote Angel that only Riquelme’s character can see. To an extent this cheapens the struggles that the townspeople go through because it gives what is otherwise a serious problem too much of the fable-like treatment. I would’ve preferred a grittier approach focusing solely on the efforts of the people to create the change, which would’ve left a stronger emotional impact and avoided telegraphing the idea that it was all going to work-out due to this extra magical force.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 18, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Redford

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Happiness Cage (1972)

mind snatchers

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: They control his mind.

Christopher Walken plays James Reese a veteran of the Vietnam War who has issues with aggression. After numerous arrests he gets shipped off to a hospital in Europe run by Dr. Frederick (Joss Ackland) and overseen by a U.S. General (Ralph Meeker). There they do tests on the patients by implanting special devices into their brains that connects to their pleasure centers and can quell their aggressive behavior by having them feel a pleasurable sensation every time a button is pressed from a remote.

Walken’s performance is outstanding and Ronny Cox as his fellow patient is also quite good especially the part where he has the device implanted into his own brain, which turns him into a sad, pathetic, child-like state. Bette Henritze gives an interesting performance as well as a naïve, middle-aged nurse hired to make the patient’s stay more ‘happy’ by supplying them with books and board games only to be attacked and raped by Cox and then forced to play a game of checkers with him afterwards.

The story, which was based on a play by Dennis Reardon, certainly has its moments. In fact I was surprised how caught up into I got since the production values are close to appalling. The film was shot in Denmark in a building that looks like it was formerly a rundown mansion converted into a makeshift hospital for the sake of the movie. It all looks embarrassingly cheap and the idea of having a big hospital with a full-time staff and even a barbed wire fence and guard dogs, but only three patients is quite hard to believe.

Had the budget been bigger it might’ve been able to reach a broader audience. Bernard Girard’s direction is okay for the limitations that he was given, but the film’s faded, grainy stock and overall amateurish look becomes a turn off from the beginning and something that it cannot overcome. The plot itself is interesting, but the concept has been filmed before and with better results.

Alternate Title: The Mind Snatchers

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 28, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bernard Girard

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

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