Tag Archives: Cybill Shepherd

Americathon (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Time for a telethon.

The year is 1998 and the nation is suffering from an oil shortage, which forces everyone to get around using bikes and roller skates while cars are now nothing more than immobile objects lived in by those with little money. Due to the energy crisis President Jimmy Carter and his administration are lynched by an angry mob and replaced by a young, new-wave type politician named Chet Roosevelt (John Ritter). Chet’s first order is finding a way to save the country from bankruptcy and he decides to do it by broadcasting a national telethon hosted by B-celebrity Monty Rushmore (Harvey Korman).

The film is based on a skit done by The Firesign Theatre, which was a popular satirical group that poked fun of the politics and issues of the day by performing live action stories with a stream of consciousness narrative. The group was made up of four men who wrote all of their material together and no line of dialogue, or joke was allowed to be included in their scripts unless all four of them agreed on it.

While much of what they did was original and cutting edge this movie fails to capitalize on it. I was confused as to what the intended focus of the parody was supposed to be on. It seemed to be aiming for light satire, but the references and potshots that it does take in connection to politics, television and celebrities are quite sterile and the film is in desperate need of more edginess.

The pacing is also quite poor. The characters are nothing more than broad caricatures and the plot too over-the-top to take seriously, so the emphasizes is clearly on the humor, but the jokes needed a rapid-fire delivery like in Airplane to work instead of gags that are so subtle and drawn out that you barely even notice them.

The casting is off too. John Ritter is an engaging actor, but here he displays no energy at all and comes off like he’s been tranquilized with some sort of drug. Harvey Korman is talented in a sketch comedy setting, but annoying as a lead. The film seems to be aiming for the college crowd and 20-somethings, so why cast someone like Korman, who was in his 50’s at the time, and considered completely out-of-touch with that generation?

I did like Peter Riegert, who is appealing simply because he plays the only normal person in the cast, which should’ve been enough reason to give him the most screen time, which he doesn’t get, in order to help offset the misplaced ‘zaniness’ around him. I was also confused why George Carlin narrates the film instead of Riegert since he seems to be speaking through Riegert’s character.

Out of the entire runtime there are only two segments that are actually semi-funny. One includes a bit where Meat Loaf takes on a driverless car and defeats it like a matador battling a bull. Jay Leno plays a fighter in another segment who takes part in a boxing match against his own mother who continually taunts him by calling him ‘poopy butt’. Unfortunately everything else falls flat and nothing is worse than a comedy that thinks it’s being ‘hip’ and ‘edgy’ when it really isn’t.

Strangely both IMDB and Wikipedia list Cybill Shepherd in an uncredited role as the ‘Gold Girl’, which is very brief. Although the woman playing the part certainly looks and sounds a bit like Cybill I’m convinced that it really wasn’t her.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: August 10, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Neil Israel

Studio: United Artists

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

Special Delivery (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stolen loot in mailbox.

Jack Murdock (Bo Svenson) manages to pull off a daring bank robbery, but in an effort to elude the police he stashes the bag of money inside a mailbox and then waits for the late night mailman to open it up, so he can retrieve it. In the meantime he must deal with ditzy Mary Jane (Cybill Shepherd) who resides in an apartment just across the street from the mailbox and witnesses what Jack has done. She agrees to help him, but only if she can get a part of the take. They also must deal with a local bartender named Graff (Michael C. Gwynne) who is also aware of what Jack did and becomes determined to get at the cash before they do.

Although the film is labeled as a comedy it really isn’t. There are a few quirky conversations between Jack and Mary Jane, but it’s not much and most of the movie is quite gritty and tense. Watching the men trying to escape from the police by precariously climbing up the side of a building using nothing but a rope is realistically done and had me on the edge-of-my-seat. The scene where Mary Jane gets surrounded by a gang of bikers who try to rape her borders on being quite unpleasant and should’ve been excised as it adds nothing to the story, but in either case it solidifies this has being a hard-edged action flick that is anything but funny.

The plot is solid for the most part with my only complaint being that I’ve never seen, in any city that I’ve lived in, an outdoor mailbox with a late night mail pick-up of Midnight, or in this case 11:45 PM. Most mail boxes list 5 or 6 PM as the latest pick-up time and it would’ve worked better had it been earlier anyways as the darkness takes away a bit from the action. I also wanted the mailbox location to have been on an actual street corner and not a studio backlot as it would’ve given the film a more genuine atmosphere.

Svenson is amiable in the lead and seeing this really big, physical guy being so relatively soft-spoken creates a likable character. I also enjoyed the line he says to a group of bikers that he decides to single-handedly take on: “There’s one of me and only three of you.”

Shepherd is also quite good. I know I’ve bashed her in some of other film roles, but here her personality fits the part as she creates a kooky lady with a nice balance between being both eccentric and conniving.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending though is the one time that the film sells itself out as it features the two driving in a van that goes off a cliff and bursts into flames. The bad guys think Jack and Mary Jane were killed, but they managed to somehow escape it before it went over, but the film never shows us how this was done, which is a cop-out.

There is also a tacked-on twist that features the couple, having now successfully eluded both the bad guys and authorities, vacationing on a cruise ship where they catch the attention of two women, one of whom is the wife of the manager (Sorrell Booke) of the bank that Jack robbed. The women plot to make a play at Jack because they can tell from the outfit that Mary Jane is wearing that they are rich and therefore want to get at their money, but why reintroduce a character like the bank manager into the story when he was only seen briefly at the beginning and had very little to do with the main plot? And for that matter why should a wife of a bank manager plot to rob somebody else as she should be living an affluent lifestyle to begin with?

End of Spoiler Alert

Overall I found this to be a surprisingly fun movie that enters in just enough offbeat ingredients to make it original, but keeps the action consistently coming, which should be enough to please those that like excitement.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 12, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Wendkos

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: VHS

The Lady Vanishes (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where’s the old lady?

In 1939 while traveling by train from Bavaria to Switzerland American Heiress Amanda (Cybill Shepherd) befriends an English nanny named Miss Froy (Angela Lansbury). The two sit across from each other inside a train compartment. When Amanda awakens from a nap she notices that Miss Froy has disappeared and when she asks others where she went to everybody denies having even seen her. Amanda starts to question her own sanity and tries to use the assistance of American photographer Robert Condon (Elliot Gould) to help her figure out what is going on.

This film is a remake of the classic 1938 movie of the same name, which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on the novel ‘The Wheel Spins’ by Ethel Lina White. I last saw the original over 30 years ago while attending college, so my memories of it are fuzzy and I’ll be unable to compare the two. However, I do remember enjoying it and feeling that this thing doesn’t quite reach the same level.

The biggest issue is the casting of Shepherd. I think she’s a gorgeous lady, I loved seeing her in the low cut white dress and at one point she even appears to bravely do her stunts by jumping off a moving train, but her acting is not up to par. She can be great as a bitchy, sarcastic woman or even as a kooky eccentric, but as someone we want to root for or sympathize with, no way. Some of her former co-stars including Bruce Willis and Christine Baranski have described her as being cold and competitive to deal with and that’s the exactly same vibe I get every time I see her. Her efforts to cover that up in an attempt to play a more likable character doesn’t work, so instead producers should cast her in parts that mesh with her personality while getting someone else more affable for this role.

Gould has the same problem. He looks bored and out-of-place and I don’t know why the nationalities of the two lead characters, which had been British in the original, were changed to American here, but it doesn’t help. Besides there is absolutely no chemistry between he and Shepherd, which makes the romantic angle come off as quite forced. He was also considerably older than her and they should’ve at the very least cast two people more in the same age range.

Even the great Angela Lansbury is all wrong here. She still gives the role a stellar performance with her best moment coming when her eyes well up with tears as the other passengers openly contemplate throwing her off the train and into the clutches of an SS officer standing outside, which proves that the truly great stars don’t need any speaking lines to convey just the right emotion.  However, she was only in her 50’s at the time and didn’t come off looking elderly. Dame May Whitty played the part in the original and was in her 70’s, which is what the age of the actress playing the part here should’ve been.

The basic premise is still entertaining enough to keep things passable, but I would’ve liked the mystery angle played up more by showing things only from Amanda’s perspective until the viewer started to question her sanity as well. The scene where Amanda sees the name Miss Froy written in the dust of a train window by the Lansbury character earlier and then having that name strangely disappear off the window after they go through a tunnel makes no sense. This was supposed to be a ‘realistic’ thriller and therefore surreal elements should not have been thrown in.

The climactic sequence is entertaining, Arthur Lowe is enjoyable in a supporting part, and the Austrian scenery is luscious, but the movie is marginal and only helps to make the viewer appreciate the original more than anything.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 8, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Anthony Page

Studio: Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Irreconcilable Differences (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girl divorces her parents.

Nine-year-old Casey (Drew Barrymore) has decided she’s had enough of her parents (Shelley Long, Ryan O’Neal) and wants to get a divorce from them by using the emancipation law, which states that a minor can be freed of their parents if it is found that they have not meet their legal or equitable duty. Her mother and father fight this in court, but in the process are forced to expose all their skeletons including the awkward way they first meet, their affairs and eventual disdain for the other.

What surprised me most is O’Neal’s presence. His career has become so tarnished by his own real-life accusations of poor parenting that I would’ve thought this material would hit too close-to-home and he’d avoid it, but at the time this was considered a career resuscitator for him even though it ended up being only a brief one. His performance is actually quite funny making this his best work since What’s Up Doc?

I was equally impressed with Long who plays completely against type. Normally she’s best as snotty, prissy types, but here she reveals a much more vulnerable side and does quite well. At one point I even felt some genuine sympathy for her, which is something I’ve never felt at any other time with any of the other parts that she has played.

Sharon Stone, who gets listed in the opening credits as being ‘introduced’ even though she had already had a part in another theatrical feature Deadly Blessing that came out three years earlier, lends strong support. The way her character transitions from a wide-eyed free-spirit to bitchy Hollywood diva is quite entertaining and she looks great especially when topless. However, the bit where she exposes her excessively hairy armpits is gross and kind of tainted my image of her the rest of the way.

The script, which is based loosely on the relationship between Peter Bogdanovich and his wife Polly Platt with the Sharon Stone character representing Cybill Shephard who became the other woman, is sharp and filled with a lot of Hollywood in-jokes. The two funniest bits are the conversations between the guests at a chic Hollywood party as well as a glimpse of O’Neal’s disastrous attempt to direct a big budget rip-off of Gone With the Wind by trying to turn it into a musical.

The film though spends too much time on the parents while almost forgetting about Barrymore who’s only seen sporadically. The story also takes too long to play out with a final reconciliation segment that is overdone and sappy and helps to lose the wonderfully cynical tone that the film had earlier.

The only truly interesting aspect about the film is that Barrymore later used this same emancipation law to divorce herself from her real parents when she turned 15 and stated in interviews that she did it based off of the idea that she got from doing this movie.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles Shyer

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD

The Last Picture Show (1971)

last picture show 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Texas sized drama.

Based on the Larry McMurtry novel, who also co-wrote the screenplay, the story deals with the inter-workings and relationships of a people living in a small Texas town known as Anarene during the years of 1951 and 1952.  There’s Duane (Jeff Bridges) and Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) two high school seniors who are also best friends. Duane dates the highly attractive Jacey (Cybill Shepherd) who seems more geared to playing the field with every guy in town and even makes a play for Sonny, which seriously affects his relationship with Duane. There’s also Ruth (Cloris Leachman) the lonely coach’s wife who begins a brief affair with Sonny until he decides to bail-out for the more attractive Jacey. Sam (Ben Johnson) makes up part of the older generation still stuck in the dusty town and trying to make ends meet by running the local movie theater and pool hall both of which come to a halt when he dies suddenly.

I saw this film just recently outside on the big screen as part of the Texas Film Heritage and Preservation Society here in Austin. Although I had seen it before I was hit with how much more impressive and visually sumptuous it is on the big screen. Robert Surtees’ black and white cinematography is top-notch and the main ingredient to what makes it so spellbinding, so much meticulous attention is taken into each and every shot that one could almost watch this with the sound down and still find it thoroughly compelling.

Director Peter Bogdanovich takes great care to make sure that all of the elements are there and spins them together like a well-crafted machine so the viewer learns bit and pieces about these characters and their attitudes through each shot and camera angle that comes along. Filming it on-location in Archer City where McMurtry grew up helps accentuate the authenticity as does playing the country music from the period although I could’ve done with a little less of that and more of the sound of the wind and dust crackling across the barren region instead.

What surprised me most was how interesting and varied the love making scenes where and how instrumental they became to the film as a whole. One of the most memorable ones is when Sonny first tries to make love to Ruth, but is quite awkward about it. We see the pained expressions on both of their faces, hear the rusty springs of the mattress, and then finally witness Ruth’s attempts to shield her crying and frustration from Sonny. Duane’s futile attempt at sex with Jacey later on is also good particularly the fiery look of anger spewing from Jacey’s eyes when he is unable to perform. The scene involving a mentally challenged young man pushed into attempting sex with an obese and caustic prostitute inside the backseat of a cramped car is both darkly funny and sad, but the most provocative love making moment comes near the end when Jacey has sex with her mother’s boyfriend (Clu Gulager) on top of a pool table inside a dark and lonely pool hall while bracing the table’s side pockets with her hands for leverage.

The performances are all-around outstanding and both Leachman and Johnson won the Academy Award for their work here, but I still came away feeling, just like I did twenty years ago when I first saw this film, that Shepherd does the best job and leaves the most lasting impression. I love how her character slips between being insecure and indecisive to cunning and conniving and Shepherd’s facial expressions are completely on-target all the way. Her striptease done on top of a diving board is still pretty hot and my only complaint about the character is the way she elopes with Sonny and then completely bails on him the next day. I realize she didn’t love the guy and she’s just used him like she did others, but I didn’t understand what her motivation was in this instance as she seemed to get little if anything out of it.

I was also a bit disappointed that the Coach Popper character played by Bill Thurman didn’t have a bigger role in the story. The way he berates his players during practice is amusing and would most likely get coaches in today’s more sensitive world in hot water. I also found his constant spitting of tobacco juice into a cup that he carries around with him to be grotesquely amusing, but my biggest beef is the fact that we have a main character screwing his wife and the whole town knows about it, but never any reaction from the man himself. Maybe he was aware and didn’t care, but the movie should’ve made an attempt to show this, or at least some interaction between Sonny and the Coach since Sonny was at one time one of his players, which would have to make things quite awkward whenever they would bump into each other and in a small town that would most likely happen on more than a few occasions.

Overall though this is a great movie and I was surprised at how frank and explicit it was despite its 1950’s setting. Some may argue that it was done with too much of a revisionist mindset and things weren’t quite this wild, but others, like myself, will insist that it probably was, but just not talked about as much.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

The Heartbreak Kid (1972)

the heartbreak kid 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Newlywed cheats during honeymoon.

Lenny (Charles Grodin) meets Lila (Jeannie Berlin) at a bar and after a brief courtship decides to take the plunge. However, while traveling to Florida for their honeymoon he becomes aware of all of her annoying habits and quickly realizes he’s made a terrible mistake especially after coming into contact with Kelly (Cybill Shepherd) a statuesque blonde college girl who appears to have the hots for him.

It’s hard to tell what the moral of the story is supposed to be whether its date someone for an extended period of time before jumping into marriage or the idea that being with someone for ’40 or 50 years’ as the Lila character says constantly throughout is just not a sexy or romantic notion for some. Either way it’s a funny concept and the Lenny character with his self-serving needs is highly relatable. Grodin is perfect for the part and one of the main reasons the film succeeds. His facial expressions are great and his running excuse about visiting an ‘old army buddy’ every time he wants to see Kelly is hilarious.

Shepherd is good as well playing a snarky character that seems to closely resemble her persona. However, the motivations of her character seem all wrong. Had Lenny initially approached her I might have bought into it, but instead she is the one who makes the first move, which seemed hard to believe that this beautiful young woman would be attracted to such an average looking guy or why he even caught her attention out of the hundreds of other men already on the beach. Her character also comes off as a bona fide cocktease, someone who enjoys leading a guy on for the attention it gets her, but will quickly bail once it gets serious, which makes their eventual dreamy relationship seem all the more farfetched.

Eddie Albert gets one of his best latter career roles here and was even nominated for the Academy Award in the part as Kelly’s stubborn father who takes an intense dislike to Lenny. However, I wished their confrontations had been played up a bit more and felt cheated when Albert tells Grodin he will never agree to him marrying his daughter only to have the film immediately cut to showing him giving Kelly away to him at their wedding, but what exactly did Grodin do to win Albert over? We are never shown what it is and this in the process makes the viewer feel frustrated and confused and the film seem incomplete.

This same story was remade in 2007 by the Farrelly brothers with Ben Stiller playing the Grodin role and although that movie was overlong, poorly paced and filled with a lot of running jokes that weren’t funny it at least was a little more plausible especially with the way Stiller meets the other woman.

the heartbreak kid 1

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Elaine May

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS