Tag Archives: Donald Sutherland

The Day of the Locust (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Desperate people in Hollywood.

During the depression a young artist named Tod Hackett (William Atherton) comes to Hollywood to help design the set for a new movie. While there he meets a wide assortment of people, who seek fame and fortune, but find heartbreak and rejection instead. Tod falls for Faye (Karen Black) a woman striving to become the next big Hollywood starlet despite lacking any talent while her father Harry (Burgess Meredith) is on the opposite end of the spectrum. At one time he was a vaudeville comedian, but now with his failing health is relegated to selling health tonics door-to-door.

This film is the last great effort of director John Schlesinger whose films after this lacked the same visual style that made Midnight Cowboy and Far From the Madding Crowd cinematic masterpieces. From a visual standpoint it hits all the right chords and is filled with many memorable segments. The best ones include the scene where a group of bourgeoisie guests who come to Natalie Schafer’s home (she was best known for playing Mrs. Howell on ‘Gilligan’s Island’) to watch porn movies There’s also the scene where an entire film set comes crashing down and injuring the entire crew as well as the climactic moment where a large crowd waiting outside to see the premiere of The Buccaneer turn into a violent, bloodthirsty mob.

The acting is first-rate particularly Black who portrays her desperate character to a perfect tee. Meredith, who was nominated for a supporting Oscar, gives a vivid portrayal of her equally desperate father making his scenes quite entertaining. Donald Sutherland is also solid as a likable, but socially awkward outsider, which best suits his acting persona.

The script though by Waldo Salt, which is based on the 1939 novel of the same name by Nathanael West, misses out on a lot of the book’s subtext. In the movie Tod tries to rape Faye while at a party, but this eruption of his seems to come out of nowhere while in the book it gets better explained by showing how Tod continually harbors rape fantasies for Faye and makes these fantasies a running part of the story.

Donald Sutherland’s character, the aptly named Homer Simpson, which supposedly was the inspiration for Matt Groenig’s character in his famous comic strip, is a confusing enigma. In the book he is given a better backstory and revealed to be a man struggling with a lot of inner turmoil while here he’s seems more like a strange, naïve mope from another planet.

There’s also no explanation in the movie for why the word Locust is in the title, which is in reference to the Bible and the plague of locusts that descended onto the fields of Egypt. Tod symbolizes the locust in the novel’s version of the story while in the movie his character is more of an outsider observing the ugliness, but not having a hand at creating it

The biggest issue though is the film’s underperformance at the box office, which helped relegate both Black and Atherton, who at the time were considered up-and-coming stars, to supporting roles afterwards. I believe part of the reason for this is because none of the characters are likable. It’s fine showing humanity’s bad side as long as the audience doesn’t feel beaten-over-the-head with it, but the film wallows so much in the darkness that it overwhelms the viewer. Having a character that was slightly removed from the madness and not as flawed might’ve helped to balance things and make everything else that goes on more tolerable.

Overall though it’s a great film, but the statement it’s trying to make remains murky. Better efforts should’ve been made to tie it to the disillusionment of the American Dream, which is what the book does and not seemed so much like just a glimpse into a freak show of a bygone era like it ends up doing here.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 7, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 24Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Schlesinger

Studio: Paramount

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

Animal House (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: They like to party!

In 1962 the Dean of Faber College, Vernon Wormer, (John Vernon) wants to rid the campus of the Delta Fraternity as he considers their rundown house and partying ways to be a blight to the University. He works with the clean-cut Omega President (James Daughton) to establish a kangaroo court which has Delta’s charter revoked. The Delta members then seek revenge by creating havoc at the homecoming parade of which both Wormer and his wife Marion (Verna Bloom) are attending.

The film, which was a huge box office hit at the time of its release, succeeds by wisely balancing the farcical humor with a believable setting where many of the scenarios shown were based off of real-life experiences of the film’s writer Harold Ramis and producer Ivan Reitman during their own fraternity years. While the film does devolve at the end to being just a procession of slapstick gags it also manages to provide diverse characters and a genuine college atmosphere, which was filmed on-location at the University of Oregon.

The inspired casting helps especially John Belushi who mostly improvised his part. Although he’s best remembered for his pimple gag I actually laughed more when he cries out like he’s lost some prized possession after witnessing a crate of alcohol go crashing to the ground. His ability to chug an entire bottle of whiskey in one take is impressive and I liked how his character, as crude as he is, was able to convey a sympathetic side in his attempts to ‘cheer-up’ a despondent Flounder (Stephen Furst) after his car gets wrecked.

Tim Matheson is equally engaging as the cool and collected fraternity leader whose dry delivery doesn’t initially hit you as being funny until you go back and actually think about what he has just said. Kevin Bacon is hilarious in his film debut as a member of the snotty Omega Theta Pi who tries to quell a panicked crowd only to get quite literally flattened by them.

It’s also great seeing Verna Bloom, an actress relegated to mostly plain Jane roles, wearing a snazzy brunette wig and playing a sexually frustrated woman who has an amusingly drunken ad-libbed segment. Karen Allen is gorgeous as always playing a ‘good-girl’, but who isn’t afraid to flip someone the finger if she has to. You also get a nice glimpse of her bare ass as well as Donald Sutherland’s, apparently Allen only agreed to show hers if he bared his, and for the record Matheson’s crack gets exposed briefly too.

However, what I took away from this movie the most were the politically incorrect segments. The most extreme one is when Larry (Tom Hulce) contemplates having sex with Clorette (Sarah Holcomb) after she passes out drunk, which would be considered date rape now, but treated merely as throwaway bit here. Then in a later scene Larry tries to have sex with her again only for her divulge to him that she is just 13. Although the actress looks much older and was actually 19 when it was filmed it still gets implied that they went ahead and had sex anyways despite the character’s age issue.

I was alive when this film was released and although there was criticism pertaining to the film’s overall raunchiness these specific segments, which would create shockwaves now, were never brought up. Whether things are better now, or we’ve become too sensitive about stuff that was merely considered ‘tasteless’ back then is a whole other argument. Yet when they say things shown in the ‘70s could never be done now it’s all true, which makes watching this movie and others like it feel almost like you’ve slipped into a different universe.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 27, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Landis

Studio: Universal

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

The Great Train Robbery (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A daring gold heist.

In 1855 Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) comes up with an idea to rob a large shipment of gold from a traveling train.  He recruits the services of his mistress Miriam (Lesley-Anne Down) and a screwsmen named Robert Agar (Donald Sutherland) to help him do it. The heist requires that they make copies of four keys that are used to open the safe, but each are possessed by four different bank executives forcing them into an elaborate scheme to attain them all. Eventually the authorities become aware of their plan making their heist even trickier to pull off.

The story is based on an actual incident that occurred in 1855 that Michael Crichton became intrigued by, which inspired him to write a fictionalized account that became a best-selling novel and in turn lead to him being offered the chance to direct the film version. As a period piece it succeeds as I loved the variety of wardrobes that the characters wear and the lavish settings that not only reveals London’s rich neighborhoods of that era, but its poverty-stricken ones as well all in amazingly accurate detail.

The film has an underlying quirky tone that is engaging, but this also makes it seem less authentic. For a crime caper to be enjoyable one must believe that it could really happen, or what the characters do is actually possible. There were times when I wasn’t convinced of either and the blame goes to the film trying too hard to be cute instead of just sticking to the detail.

Henry Fowler (Malcolm Terris) is one of the bank executives with a key who proudly proclaims to wear it around his neck, which he states that he ‘never’ takes off. In order to get the key and allow Robert to make a wax impression of it, Miriam pretends to be a prostitute who convinces him to take off the key, so they can make love, which he immediately does. This seems too easy as rarely do humans behave exactly as you think they will. When things come together without any hitch you start to question its validity. If a guy says he ‘never’ removes his key than make it much harder to convince him to do it, or force Robert to make the wax impressions of the key while Henry still has it around his neck and making out with Miriam, which would’ve been funnier.

Another segment has Robert breaking into an office at the railway station where two of the keys are stored inside a cabinet. The night watchman that guards the office always leaves at the same time for exactly 75 seconds to go to the bathroom. Robert is then forced to break into the office and make the wax impressions of the keys and then get out within that same 75 second time frame, but who goes to the bathroom at the exact same amount of time each and every time they go? Most people will go within a certain time range, but no one is that robotic to literally ‘count out the seconds’ as they pee. Having a character behave in such an extreme way only accentuates the film’s whimsical quality while throwing the believability out the door.

Later on in an effort to get inside the train compartment Robert pretends to be a corpse inside a coffin. To create a stench a dead cat is put in alongside him, but how was Robert able to withstand the horrible odor as people standing outside the coffin kept complaining about the unbearable smell. What was it about Robert that made him tolerate it as long as he does when almost no one else could’ve? This makes Robert seem super-human and gives even more leverage to the fact that this couldn’t have really happened at least not in the way done here.

The exciting ending features Connery, not a stunt double, but the actor himself getting on the train roof as the train is running at 55 mph and trying to go from the front of it to the back while ducking under numerous bridges that come whizzing by at lightning speed. This had me holding my breath, but I still came away wishing the film had stuck more to the original account. I read a brief overview of the real crime that was written in more detail by David C. Hanrahan in ‘The First Great Train Robbery’.  There are many differences between the real event and how it gets portrayed here with the real account being far more interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

A Man, A Woman and a Bank (1979)

man a woman and a bank 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A very large withdrawal.

Small-time crook Reese (Donald Sutherland) teams up with his computer expert friend Norman (Paul Mazursky) to pull of what they hope will be the perfect crime. Their plan is to reprogram the alarm system of a bank while the building is still under construction. Then when it finally gets completed they’ll break into the vault undetected and walk away with a cool 50 million dollars. Things though get off to a rocky start when commercial photographer Stacey (Brooke Adams) snaps of picture of Reese as he is stealing the blueprints of the building. In an effort to get the negatives back he tracks her down, but ends up falling in love with her instead putting their elaborate plan at risk.

There’s been a million and one bank robbery films done and many of them can be quite entertaining, but this one misses the mark from the very beginning. For one thing it gives us no backstory to the characters, or how they were able to come up with the idea in the first place. Giving a compelling reason for the viewer to become emotionally attached to the characters and their quest helps and this film fails to give it. The plan itself seems too easy and full of a lot of potential pitfalls that the script conveniently overlooks. The idea that the Norman character would be able to break into the bank’s security system by simply feeding the computer with a lot of useless usernames until it finally breaks down and starts spitting out the secret information is in itself quite questionable.

The pacing is poor and the story meanders onto several different story threads that have nothing to do with the crime. Analyzing Norman’s marriage difficulties and Stacey’s troubles with her possessive boyfriend (Allan Kolman) seems like material for a whole different movie and does nothing to help keep the interest going in this one. In fact the movie spends so much time on these other tangents that the robbery begins to seem almost like a side-story.

Stars Sutherland and Adams reunite after starring in Invasion of the Body Snatchers just a year earlier. The two share a good chemistry, but Sutherland is too laid back in the role and Adams’ hyper energy helps only so much. The film’s best performance and ultimate scene stealer is Mazursky who is completely on-the-mark as the nervous friend and gets quite a few good lines.

The film does have a couple of unique scenes that I liked including a collection of candles made to look like well-known game show hosts and a security guard who does jumping jack exercises only to light up a cigarette the minute he sits back down. The crime though is boring and does not offer enough tension. I was almost hoping they’d end up getting caught as they are able to pull it off too easily with a plan that I don’t think would ever work in real-life.

man a woman and a bank

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 8, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Noel Black

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

invasion of the body snatchers 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aliens create human clones.

Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) is a public health inspector who finds that people around him are beginning to behave strangely. It starts with his friend Elizabeth (Brooke Adams) who insists her boyfriend Geoffrey (Art Hindle) has somehow ‘changed’. Soon other people are saying the same thing and they slowly realize that human clones are being created from alien pods while the people sleep. These clones look exactly like the people they have replaced, but are devoid of any emotion. Matthew and Elizabeth along with married couple Jack and Nancy (Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright) try to escape, but find themselves increasingly outnumbered in this creepy remake of the 1956 classic.

Talented director Philip Kaufman who has never gotten enough credit does a masterful job of weaving an updated version of the tale with more contemporary sensibilities. The balance between sci-fi, thriller and drama really works. The story is perfectly paced and the characters and situations remain believable throughout. Transferring the setting from a small town to San Francisco was inspired. Kaufman captures the sights, sounds and everyday ambience of the city better than just anybody who has done a film there and I really loved the shot of an early morning fog settling in on the top of the Transamerica Pyramid.

The special effects are fantastic. The opening sequence showing the alien spores raining down on the city and hitting onto plant and tree leaves where they form into flowers is very authentic looking and nicely captured. The coolest part though is watching the clones of the humans form out of the pods particularly the sequence showing Bennell’s clone coming to life while he sleeps. Seeing a dog with a human head is wild and Bennell’s destruction of a pod factory is also quite exciting. Denny Zeitlin’s electronic music score is distinctive, but not overplayed and effectively used at key moments although I did feel that there should have been some music played over the closing credits instead of just dead silence.

invasion of the body snatchers 2

Sutherland is good, but his 70’s style afro isn’t. The part where he tries in vain to warn various city officials of the impending invasion, but can make no headway is a perfect portrait of government bureaucracy and almost a horror movie in itself. Adams is beautiful and the way she can somehow make her eyeballs quiver has to be seen to be believed. Goldblum is fun as a brash struggling writer who never seems to know when to stop talking and has a conspiracy theory about everything. Cartwright plays a panicked woman better than anybody and Leonard Nimoy is solid in a sort of Spock-like role where the character believes everything must have a logical conclusion.

There are also some neat cameo appearances as well. Robert Duvall can be spotted at the beginning swinging on a swing. Kevin McCarthy who starred in the original steps into where he left off in the first one as a man running into traffic and warning motorists of the invasion. Don Siegal who directed the first film plays a cab driver and famous cinematographer Michael Chapman can be seen briefly as a janitor. Director Kaufman casts himself in a bit part as a man banging on the glass of a phone booth while Sutherland is making a call.

This movie is smart and stylish and in a lot of ways I liked it better than the original. The only real drawback is the fact that it becomes increasingly clear that these people aren’t going to escape and the drawn out chase sequence becomes more depressing and defeating than exciting.

invasion of the body snatchers 1

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 20, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Philip Kaufman

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD

Little Murders (1971)

little murders

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review:  They shoot at people.

Patsy (Marcia Rodd) is a woman who practices the art of positive thinking despite her dismal urban surroundings. She meets Alfred (Elliot Gould) who is very detached and dropped out of society and no longer shares any hope in humanity, but she decides to marry him anyways and ‘reform’ him.

For a black comedy this one has got to be tops. It stays on a grimly humorous level from the beginning and doesn’t let up especially with its wicked ending. Everything gets the offbeat treatment and if it starts out conventional it is soon turned upside down until it is absurd. The funniest scenes involve Patsy taking Alfred home to meet her parents where things become very odd until they are absolutely hilarious. The wedding scene is also a classic where Donald Sutherland plays a hippie minister and gives a speech about masturbation that is as outrageously funny today as it was back then. Yet it is the surreal scene of seeing Alfred riding a subway car while dripping with blood and nobody saying anything that leaves the strongest impact. The targets that this film satirizes are just as potent today as they were back then. The film also manages to dig a bit deeper than most and successfully analyzes the myriad of societal complexities while not siding with any particular social movement or philosophy.

Rodd is terrific in her film debut and Gould is good in a surprisingly restrained performance. Jon Korkes is also excellent as an infantile adult son in an over-the-top send-up of grown children still living at home. However, it is Vincent Gardenia that ultimately steals it playing a hard-liner conservative father who finds himself becoming literally imprisoned by the increasingly insane world around him.

Although still potent this outrageous story seems to have lost some of its zing through the years and doesn’t seem to be as offbeat or ‘out there’ as it once did. It also lacks any type of cinematic flair and at times seems to be nothing more than a filmed stage play.

However, for fans of black comedy and relics of a bygone era it doesn’t come much better than this. Although it has softened a bit there are still enough bizarre and funny moments to please those with an acquired taste.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan Arkin

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

The Split (1968)

the split

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbery during football game.

Since today is Superbowl Sunday I wanted to come up with a film from the 60’s with some sort of football theme and decided to dig this one out of the obscure pile that has just recently been released onto DVD through the Warner Archive label. The film has two special distinctions. For one it is the first movie to ever get an R rating under the MPAA’s then new rating system. It also shows scenes from two actual football games. The first one is a game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Atlanta Falcons that was played on December 3, 1967 and won by the Rams 20 to 3. The second game shown was one played a week later between the Rams and the Green Bay Packers where the Rams also prevailed by a score of 27 to 24.  Both games were played at the L.A. Coliseum with the plot of this movie taking place at another part of the stadium during these games although it is clear that the scenes involving the actors was done on a studio soundstage.

The story, which is based on a novel by the prolific Donald E. Westlake, involves a group of criminals who pull of a daring robbery during the football game, but when it comes to splitting up the money things go awry and they are soon turning on each other.

The crime itself isn’t all that interesting and tends to be a bit plodding with a minimum of suspense. Having things go wrong at the end and the group start turning on each other is redundant since they had been bickering amongst themselves from the very beginning. The characters are all unlikable making it hard for the viewer to get wrapped up into the plight of which of them gets the dough and which doesn’t. Personally I was hoping they would all just get killed off and no one would get any money because their constant yelling and fighting quickly becomes tedious and tiring.

The film’s one main highlight is a fight between Jim Brown and Ernest Borgnine, which carries the novelty of the fact that the two had a similar type of confrontation just a year earlier in the film Ice Station Zebra. Here, like in that film, Borgnine seems to get the best of Brown, which doesn’t make any sense because Brown was athletic, muscular and twenty years younger. There is also a scene where Borgnine puts his fist through a picture on the wall and shatters the glass. However, not only does he not wince in pain, which would be expected, but it somehow doesn’t even cause him to bleed.

Brown can sometimes be good in certain supporting roles, but as a leading man he can’t carry the picture. His facial expressions make him look like he is almost bored and just walking through the role. I know he was a great Hall of Fame running back, but that doesn’t mean he will turn into a great actor and casting him in lead roles of major studio pictures seemed awfully risky.

Warren Oates is terrific as always in a supporting role as one of the group’s henchmen. Donald Sutherland is also really good as another member of the group. I loved his Cheshire cat-like grin as well as his bowl haircut that gives him a creepy look. Julie Harris also sports a different style of hairdo from her usual short cut and she looks attractive as well as being near perfect in her part as an icy cold bitch that has no qualms about torturing a man to death in order to find her money.

SPOILER ALERT!

One of the biggest problems I had with the film was a plot twist that should have made it more interesting. It involves the James Whitmore character who plays the landlord of Diahann Carroll who is Brown’s girlfriend and hiding the stolen money in her apartment. Whitmore enters her place when she is alone and tries to rape her. Seeing an old wrinkled guy attacking a hot young black woman is wild in itself, but he also finds a machine gun in her dresser and holds it like he is masturbating with it and spews its bullets into her body like it is his ejaculation, which I found to be edgy and cool. He also finds the money and takes it for himself while making an anonymous phone call to the police to implicate Brown as the killer. However, when the police detective played by Gene Hackman investigates the case they quickly find out it was the landlord who did it, but it was never explained or shown how they came this conclusion as well as the fact that they end up killing him, which is completely glossed over and mentioned just briefly when the other characters read about it the next day in the newspaper. To me this created a major plot hole that needed to be filled.

The film also has a twist ending that doesn’t work and is very confusing. It happens as Brown is walking through the airport at the end with his share of the money and he hears what sounds like Diahann Carroll’s voice calling his name and he turns around with a shocked expression before the frame freezes and cuts to the credits. However, Carroll’s character was clearly killed and Brown saw the dead body, so how did she come back to life? Some viewers have stated that they think the voice was all inside Brown’s head, but that still needs to be explained and would normally prove frustrating to the viewer, but since the film is so bland it really doesn’t matter.

I feel I am being very generous in giving this picture 5 points, but the direction is fast paced and nicely compact and the jazzy Quincy Jones score is groovy. However, it certainly isn’t worth missing the big game for, nor any other game for that matter.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 4, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Gordon Flemyng

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video