Tag Archives: Dry Humor

Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Can’t get over her.

            Charles (John Heard) meets Laura (Mary Beth Hurt) at his job and immediately becomes smitten.  She is married and upfront about it, but since it is not going well she decides to go out with him. They soon move-in together, but it only lasts for a couple of months before Laura goes back to her husband. This is a crushing blow to Charles who obsesses about her constantly and tries any way he can to win her back.

This is in many ways a dated movie and normally I would consider that a detriment, but here I found it to be an asset. It is refreshing and fun to see a person drink a little on the job, or playfully touch a female co-worker as he walks past them and not have it become an immediate sexual harassment lawsuit. There is also the part where Laura invites Charles back to her home after only their first date, which could be considered reckless, but it’s nice to go back to an era that was more trusting and not everyone was labeled a potential psycho until proven otherwise.

There is of course the subject of stalking which is what Charles does, but here it is natural and actually kind of sweet. Some of it may be considered a little ‘creepy’, or even pathetic, but none of it is menacing, or done with criminal intent. To me this makes more sense and is more realistic to expect that when someone has strong feelings for someone else and spent special times with them that they would have trouble ‘moving-on’ when the other person breaks it off and their inability to do so shouldn’t necessarily make them ‘crazy’, or ‘maladjusted’ and this film very effectively shows that.

This is a terrific movie about relationships. The characters are real and relatable. The situations they go through are universal and the best thing is that it stays that way until the bitter end without pulling any punches. Anyone who has gone through difficult relationships will appreciate the honesty and it’s a real shame they don’t make movies like this anymore.

Heard is excellent and plays an extension of the same 60’s radical character begrudgingly moving into adult life that he did in Between the Lines, which was his first collaboration with writer-director Joan Micklin Silver. A young Peter Reigert is appealing as Charles’s roommate Sam. Kenneth McMillan, a looks- challenged character actor who usually plays slimy people, is surprisingly likable as Charles’s stepdad. Legendary screen actress Gloria Grahame, in one of her last roles, is highly amusing as Charles’s crazy mother. I was never quite sure what any of her scenes had to do with the main story, but her presence was fun anyways.

The film also contains some offbeat scenes and an original sense of humor. This includes the scene where Charles makes a miniaturized replica model of the home that Laura lives in and then uses dolls to play the parts of Laura and her husband and child. There is also the part where Charles meets Laura’s husband under the guise of being a home buyer and then stands up in front of him and states his undying love for his wife as well as a goofy conversation that he has with a wacky elderly lady roommate when he visits his mother in the hospital. The best though is the running conversation that Charles has each day with the blind cashier at a candy counter that gets better and better as the movie progresses.

The film nicely captures the wintry Utah landscape and although the original title for the film was Head over Heels this other title works much better and not only fits the season in which the story takes place, but also the ever difficult and complicated dating scene as well.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Alternate Title: Head over Heels

Released: October 19, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG: (Brief Nudity, Adult Theme)

Director: Joan Micklen Silver

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, Netflix Streaming

Taking Off (1971)

taking off 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Running away from home.

This is a thoroughly entertaining gem that takes a look at the early 70’s American culture through a foreigner’s eyes in this Milos Forman’s first American feature. The comedy bounces playfully from the wry, to the absurd and even the satirical without ever losing its charm.

The film examines what happens when parents Larry and Lynn Tyne (Buck Henry, Lynn Carlin) find that their daughter Jeannie (Linnea Heacock) has run away. Instead of focusing on the teen, as most films tend to do, it instead looks at the parents. It shows that the adolescent years can be as awkward for the father and mother as it is for the teen and parenting is a journey much like growing up is. I especially liked the part of the message showing how people in their forties have a need to run away and find themselves too.

The film matches its unique perspective with offbeat humor. You get to see parents smoking pot for the first time in order for them to experience what the kids go through. Another scene has them getting together for a wild game of strip poker. There are also amusing cutaways of auditioning singers, which is where the daughter runs away too. One of the singers is a sweet young thing who sings a soft melody that is laced with the word ‘fuck’ and has to be heard to be really appreciated.

Both actors who play the parents are excellent. Balding, bespectacled Henry fits the mold as the overworked, henpecked father/husband quite well and it is fun to see him display isolated moments of unexpected rebellion. Carlin conveys a nice characterization of an overwrought mother who wants to communicate with her daughter, but has no idea how.

Jeannie is the one we learn the least about, which is actually to the film’s benefit. This isn’t just the Tyne’s daughter, it’s everybody’s daughter complete with all the trials and tribulations that every parent goes through with their teen. In fact the film’s most definitive moment is probably the freeze-frame shot of disdain on the daughter’s face as her parents try to entertain her and her boyfriend with a song from ‘their’ generation. It’s the type of look that defines the parent/teenager relationship no matter if it’s today, tomorrow, or a hundred years from now, which may help to make it accessible to today’s viewers despite an overabundance of early 70’s period flavor.

Characters actors Audra Lindley, Paul Benedict, and Vincent Schiavelli are terrific in support. This also marked the film debuts of Georgia Engel and Kathy Bates. Ike and Tina Turner appear as themselves.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 28, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R (Language, Adult Theme, Brief Nudity)

Director: Milos Foreman

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Region 2)

Midnight Run (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chased by the mob.

Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) is a bounty hunter that is looking to get into a less stressful profession. He is offered 100,000 to find bail jumper Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) who worked as an accountant for the mob and skimmed 15 million from them. Jack thinks he can use the money to open up a coffee shop, but finds that the FBI is in hot pursuit of Mardukas as well. There is also rival bounty hunter Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton) who wants his hands on Mardukas and the money. Jack even finds himself chased by the mob looking to silence Mardukas before he can turn states evidence.

The catalyst of the film is the relationship between Jack and Jonathan and how it slowly turns into an unusual friendship during their long adventure. Both Grodin and De Niro have diametrically opposite personalities and acting styles, which is why this thing really works. The relationship ebbs and flows on the antagonistic level most of the time and the friendship really doesn’t build until the very end and even then it is tenuous, which is nice.  Too many times in ‘buddy’ movies such as this the sentiment becomes forced, but fortunately here it is very balanced and their interactions believable throughout.

Grodin was an inspired choice. I have always thought the guy to be a very talented, underappreciated, and unique comic performer. However, he was not a big name star and the studio heads originally wanted Robin Williams for the role and then even considered changing the sex of the Mardukas character to female and having Cher play the part, but director Martin Brest liked Grodin’s style during his audition and held out until he got him even though it meant losing the backing of Paramount and forcing them to go with Universal.

Grodin adds a lot that the other two stars, as very talented as they are, just wouldn’t be able to do.  One is a completely improvised conversation that he has with the De Niro character while they are stuck inside a train car, which is the one scene from this film that I remember most clearly from having first seen it over twenty years ago. There is another improvised scene involving Mardukas and Jack pretending to be FBI agents and going into a local bar looking for counterfeit bills that makes great use of Grodin’s sardonic humor and deadpan delivery.

John Ashton is a riot as Marvin the rival and slightly dim-witted bounty hunter. He is so over-the-top obnoxious and crude that you can’t help but laugh at it. He takes the caricature of the tough, brash, gruff, blue collar Chicagoan to a hilarious extreme. He is like legendary football coach Mike Ditka on speed. Denis Farina, as the mob boss, is also good as is Joe Pantiliano as the frantic bail bondsmen.

Another thing that makes this movie so successful is that it is able to work on three different levels in a very cerebral way. Not only is it a very good comedy and character study, but it’s not half bad with the action either. The best sequence here is when the two men get swept away by a strong river current, which has the actual actors doing most of the stunts.

Of course the script, by George Gallo, does have a few holes and implausibility’s that can’t avoid being mentioned since some of them are integral to the main plot. The biggest one is when Marvin, in an attempt to impede Jack and find his whereabouts, gets on the phone with Jack’s credit card company and identifies himself as Jack and is able to easily find out where the card was last used and have it cut off. However, with every credit card company I have worked with I am forced to give some more identification before I am given any information including my social security number, a secret word or phrase, or a PIN and yet here Marvin isn’t required to give any of that. There is also that fact that when Jack finds out that his credit card is being rejected he doesn’t just get on the phone with his credit card company and get it straightened out, which is what anyone else would do.

There is also a segment where Jack is somehow able to fleece the FBI badge from agent Alonzo Mosely (Yaphet Kotto), which Jack then uses to impersonate him with during his trip with Mardukas. However, this just would not have been possible as the two men met only briefly inside a car with Alonzo sitting in front and Jack in back scrunched between two other agents who keep a close eye on him. The FBI has also been searching for Mardukas for six years and yet Jack is able to find him easily, which to me seemed too convenient.

The excessive swearing is another issue. Yes, sometimes cursing can help build the grittiness of the characters, but here it goes overboard. Officially the word ‘Fuck’, or a variation of it, gets said a total of 119 times, but I was convinced it was more than that. Its overuse is so redundant that it almost becomes a distraction.

            All things considered this is still a winner. This is one of my favorite De Niro roles and in my opinion his best foray into comedy as I feel his work in the Meet the Parents series is generally wasted. There is also an emotionally strong scene when Jack goes back briefly to visit with his ex-wife and fourteen year old daughter. Normally these types of scenes end up being clichéd, but here it really hits the mark, especially Jack’s interactions with his daughter.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 20, 1988

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes

Studio: Universal

Rated R (Language)

Director: Martin Brest

Available: DVD, HDDVD, VHS, Amazon Instant Video 

Lady in Cement (1968)

 

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Tony solves the case.

Frank Sinatra returns as detective Tony Rome in this sequel to the 1967 hit. Here, while going on a diving expedition off the coast of Florida, he finds a naked woman underwater with her feet encased in cement.  He then meets a large and mysterious man by the name of Gronski (Dan Blocker) who hires him to find the girl’s killer, but he is not so sure that Gronski himself may have something to do with it.

            One of the things I really liked about the film as well as in the first one is the very cynical, world-weary, streetwise nature of the detective character. It seems to be a part that Sinatra was born to play and he does it well. I don’t think it was too far off from Sinatra’s real personality, which is why it works. I loved the cryptic dialogue and snappy one-liners. The banter is fun and intoxicating. It was the best thing about the first film and continues to be the case in this one. If anything it is the one thing that really carries it.

            The mystery itself is dull.  In the first film the case was more intriguing and complex. Here it seems mechanical and uninspired. It gets played out in a formulaic way with the standard suspects that seem borrowed from other, better stories. The twists and turns aren’t exciting, or surprising. The movie is more concerned with being amusing and filled with hip banter making the case itself seem like a side-light and not allowing the story to move forward. Yes, the bickering is fun, but there still needs to be a plot to match it and that was not the case here. The suspense is lacking with a final denouncement that is nothing special. The climatic fight sequence is particularly clichéd and forced.

            The opening bit where Tony finds the dead woman underwater is poor as well. It happens right away with no build-up even though I felt one was needed. I would think if a dead person had been trapped underwater for any period of time there would be some discoloration and decay. Instead the woman looks gorgeous, wearing a provocative expression one would find on an erotic model. Her skin is unblemished and she even still has her lipstick and make-up on, which I thought was unrealistic and pretty much ruins the story’s validity before it even gets going.

            The presence of actor Dan Blocker is a major asset and helps the film’s appeal. Blocker was probably better known for playing the character Hoss in the hit TV-series ‘Bonanza’. The fight sequences that he is in are amusing because he can simply throw the other men around like they are toys and seems unstoppable in the process. Like in the TV-series he exudes a lot of charm and is very engaging. There is even a brief in-joke where he is sitting in his room watching an episode of ‘Bonanza’. He and Sinatra make an unlikely, but interesting pair although when shown together he does make Frankie look puny, out of shape, and even a bit washed-up by comparison.

            One of the biggest issues I had with the first film was that there were a lot of loopholes. Particularly one scene where Tony kills a man and then he glibly tells the police that it was ‘clearly self-defense’ and he is never brought in for questioning, or arrested. That just didn’t jibe with me as there are many cases where a person kills someone in self-defense, but the case still ends up being brought to trial. Tony is very good friends with the police chief (Richard Conte), but I still didn’t think that would make him untouchable. At least here when Tony gets framed for a murder the police tell him they are going to have to take him in, which seems more plausible.  This culminates into an extended car chase sequence, which due to the long edits, slow speeds, bird’s eye view camera shots, and laid-back music, make it one of the least riveting and most uninteresting car chases you’ll ever see.

The production values are high and I have no real complaint on it from a technical stand point.  Everything is slickly handled despite a weak story.  There are some strong homophobic undertones, which may offend some, but I felt it fit the era. If you like Sinatra then you will find this passable, but if you enjoy a good mystery then don’t bother because in that area this thing falls flat.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 20, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Director: Gordon Douglas

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

T. R. Baskin (1971)

tr baskin

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Out on her own.

T. R. Baskin (Candice Bergen) is a young woman who leaves the nest by striking out on her own in Chicago. Unfortunately she finds nothing but a lot of loneliness, dead-end dates, crummy apartments, and soul-sucking jobs. Our protagonist becomes so emotionally beaten down that when a traveling salesman named Jack Mitchell (Peter Boyle) calls her looking for a ‘good time’, as he mistakenly is given her number under the impression that she is a prostitute, T.R. accepts his invitation simply as a chance to connect with someone. The film then cuts back and forth between conversations that she has with Jack in his hotel room as well as her experiences when she first gets into the Windy City.

Although this film does have its share of faults I was really taken aback by its strong emotional impact. The film was directed by Herbert Ross who would later do Footloose, The Goodbye Girl, and Steel Magnolias. The screenplay was written by Peter Hyams famous for writing and directing Capricorn One, Narrow Margin, and 2010 to name a few.

The film manages to recreate the monotony and isolation of day-to-day living better than just about any other movie that I have seen. Some of the best scenes include T.R.’s job interview process at an accounting firm as well as a long camera pan showing all the rows and rows of desks in the office and T.R. looking lost in the middle. There is another part where she sneaks back into the office on a weekend day in order to make silly announcements over their intercom system and the images of all the dark shadowy desks looks just as ominous. Another moving moment is when she is shown pacing her lonely apartment as well as her phone conversation with her parents where she tries to convince them that she is doing ‘just fine’, but breaks down into tears the second it ends.

The film leaves you with a strong impression. The music that was selected was first-rate and fits the mood of the picture perfectly. It is a real shame that this sleeper has never been released on either VHS or DVD and has not been shown on television since December of the 1980 when it was broadcast on Cinemax. It is well worth seeking out and certainly deserves more attention.

Bergen is terrific in the lead. This is before she attained her acerbic persona from her ‘Murphy Brown’ days and here comes off as more shy and sensitive. Her delicate and attractive features help capture the viewer instantly.

Boyle is equally good and the introspective conversations that the two have nicely runs the gamut between funny and sad. James Caan, who for some reason appears unbilled, has a nice cameo as an attractive and intelligent man that T.R. falls for only to have him callously break her heart.

If the film has any flaw it is in the fact that it is a bit uneven. It starts out with some terrific dry humor including a hilarious scene when she goes apartment hunting, but eventually the movie becomes too much of a downbeat drama. There are certainly universal truths to many of the sad situations that she goes through, but I found it frustrating that we are never shown her eventual fate. All we see is a small period in her life and then a very abrupt and unsatisfying ending. It would have been nice if the story had cut to five, ten, even twenty years down the road and allowed us to find out if she ever found ‘Mr. Right’ and some happiness.

Despite being made forty years ago this film is as trenchant and timely as it was back then. People who avoid watching older films because they believe that they are ‘dated’ are being foolish. This film has more bearing in reality and the human experience than a lot of the movies out today.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: October 20, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Paramount

Available: Amazon Instant Video

Closely Watched Trains (1966)

closely watched trains

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Boy loses his virginity.

This is an engaging, amiable Czechoslovakian import that won the Academy Award for best foreign film of 1966. The story pertains to a young man named Milos (Vaclav Neckar) who follows in his father’s footsteps and gets a job at the local railway company during World War II. He almost immediately becomes bored with it and gets preoccupied with a beautiful young train conductor named Messa (Jitka Scoffin). The two have a sexual tryst, but Milos is unable to ‘rise to the occasion’.  He becomes despondent and even tries to commit suicide, but is saved at the last minute. While he is recuperating in the hospital the Dr. informs him that he suffers from premature ejaculation.  Milos then spends the rest of the time scouring the village for some prostitutes that he can ‘practice on’ so that he can learn to control his condition and become a ‘real man’.  A subplot involves plans to blow-up a German train carrying some high level ammunition.

Despite the fact that it is very leisurely paced and everything happens at one not very exciting location I still found the film to be immensely enjoyable. I had the feeling that director Jiri Menzel spoke straight from the heart with this one. The bleakness of the characters situation and the poor, hopeless conditions of their country is vivid and yet the ingenuity and perseverance of the human spirit never fades. Anyone who has dealt with an oppressive situation will most assuredly relate. The fact that this film stays so highly amusing and touching despite the depressing elements is what makes this a winner.

In a lot of ways this was years ahead of its time. The very liberal sexual attitudes and provocative scenes were stuff not yet seen in most movies and didn’t really become the norm, even for European films, until the 70’s and 80’s. Although not extreme there is indeed some lingering eroticism and even nudity. One segment involves Milos’s very amorous co-worker Hubicka (Josef Somr) rubber stamping the naked rear of Zdenka (Jitka Zelenohorska) who works as the station’s secretary. When her shocked mother finds out about this she parades her daughter all around town, exposing her rear to everyone, so that they can witness the ‘outrageous crime’ while the amused Zdenka finds it a turn-on.  There is also another scene, which another reviewer considered to be the most unique scene ever put on film that involves an old woman and a goose. I’ll agree it is very different, but I am not exactly sure what she was doing with it, or if I want to know, or if it is even legal, but it does indeed catch your attention.

Of course the drawback to this is the fact that the character’s attitudes seem far too modernistic for the era. At no time did I feel like I was really being transported back into the 1940’s.  There was also a little too much preoccupation with the sex angle and I felt there needed to be a little more balance with the actual war.

The Milos character is a bit too wide-eyed. He looks literally like a ‘deer-in-headlights’ through the entire progression of the movie. He seems overtly naïve for someone of 18. I know it was done for comical purposes, but having his mother dress him for his first day of work was going over the top. For the first half of the film he has hardly any dialogue and it is difficult for the viewer to relate to him, or get inside his head. Things do even out at the end when he ‘transforms into a man’, which I liked, but the opening half paints him too much as a caricature.

If there was one thing that really rubbed me the wrong way it would be the downbeat ending. I didn’t think it was necessary and tended to go against the film’s theme, which was human survival and coping. Still, it’s a good film with a great message. The budget was clearly very low, but it’s entertainment value high.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Jiri Menzel

Studio: Filmove

Available: VHS, DVD (The Criterion Collection)

$ (Dollars) (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbery done inside safe.

Inspired by the British hit Perfect Friday this inventive and original bank heist film holds up well and has a great mix of action and comedy as well as oozing with cynical sensibilities and jaded characters.  It is one of the very few films ever made that has a symbol for its title and no words. Although most reference books do list the word ‘dollars’ in parenthesis, technically it is the dollar sign that is the official title. It also has the distinction of not displaying its title on screen in any type of print format. Instead a brief scene with a large steel structure made into a dollar sign is shown at the beginning being hauled in the air by a crane.

The story evolves around a crafty bank robbery devised by Joe Collins (Warren Beatty) who is also the bank’s security expert. He comes to realize that various criminals have stolen money stored in the safety deposit boxes inside the bank’s safe.  He figures that he could steal the money from them and they would be unable to go to the police. He gets a ditzy call-girl named Dawn Divine (Goldie Hawn), who has been a prostitute to most of the criminals whose money is in the safe, to call in a bomb threat to the bank. As the bank is evacuated, Joe enters the safe and closes it. He then methodically transfers the money from the bad guy’s boxes and into Dawn’s, who also rents a box there, as the bomb squad searches for the explosive. Then the next day Dawn takes the money from her box and stuffs it into her bag without anyone suspecting a thing.

Of course this is only the first-part. The second half deals with the crooks slowly figuring out what happened and chasing down Joe, who they think has the money. This begins one of the longest and most elaborate chase sequences ever put on film.  It takes up almost the whole second hour and it is amazing. Joe ends up being chased through city streets, tunnels, subways, trains, and even on a frozen lake with thin ice. Beatty did most of his own stunts here, which is impressive especially during the lake sequence, which was done on location in Sweden. When he goes through the ice he is really going into icy water and seems to be genuinely struggling to get out. Veteran character actor Scott Brady is memorable as one of the antagonists named Sarge.  He was much older than Beatty, but this contrast is fun, especially with the very relentless way he stays on Joe’s tail despite being out-of-shape.

Goldie is great as always, somehow her ditzy blonde routine never seems to get old and it is played to perfection here. I did have a few issues with the character though. She has sex with these slimy middle-aged men and even plays out their kinky fantasies, but ends up only taking $100 dollars from them for her ‘services’. I know this takes place in 1971, but even if you factor in inflation it still seemed low when these guys were loaded. I also thought her attitude was a little too carefree.  She invited these men into her apartment, but seemed to have no back-up plan in case things got out of control, which seemed risky. It is also never explained how Joe came to know her, or devise the plan that he did, but it would have been helpful. There also the fact that despite being a very crucial link in the plan she shows little confidence and describes how she always breaks down under pressure. It is nice that Joe stays supportive and sticks with her, but I felt it was unrealistic. Just about anyone else would have second thoughts about going through with it when they have a partner who is so shaky, or at the very least considered someone who is more self-assured.

Beatty is a terrific. He displays a cool demeanor and nicely underplays everything.  His mop-top Beatles like haircut  shows in a subtle, visual way his non-conformity from the more staid and conventionally dressed bank mangers.

Gert Frobe, best known as the villainous Auric Goldfinger from the classic James Bond film Goldfinger, is a hoot as the bumbling, clueless bank manager Mr. Kessel. The only actor I didn’t like was Arthur Brauss as ‘the candy man’. He certainly had the steely cold eyes of a killer, but his excessively raspy voice was a distraction and did not sound natural. There was no reason given why he sounded that way, but I would have liked one.

Even after 40 years the film still seems fresh. There are certain things here that I have never seen anywhere else. The prolonged chase is one, but there is also the scene where, to get Joe out of the safe, they have a torch burn a hole through the metal. They use an actual blowtorch and the sounds of it burning into the metal as well as the smoke and flying sparks is vivid and exciting.

I know my brother, who once watched the film with me, as well as other reviewers on IMDB, have complained that the first part of the film is too disjointed, slow and confusing. It does have a certain fragmented, cinema-vertite style to it where the viewer is forced to make their own connections, but I have watched this movie several times and it has never bothered me. The robbery and chase are so creative that I feel it more than makes up for any other limitations.  This early segment also effectively show how nasty the villainous men are and there is a part where, at a strip club, a stripper has a giant image of a dollar bill projected on her nude body, which I found to be evocative and artsy.

Critic Leonard Maltin has called this film ‘awfully similar to Perfect Friday’, but I have to disagree. I have seen both movies, which are excellent in their own right, but quite different in a lot of aspects. If you are looking for light entertainment that is exciting and still intelligently done, than this is a good flick to check-out.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Richard Brooks

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Anderson Tapes (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: They can hear everything.

In Sean Connery’s long and storied career in which he has played in a wide variety of films, The Anderson Tapes somehow always gets lost in the shuffle, which is unfair as it is really an offbeat gem waiting to be discovered and appreciated.  Fortunately in October it was finally released to DVD and the print is excellent and there is now discussions of a remake, but see the original first.

It involves a man by the name of Duke Anderson (Connery), who upon being released from prison, seeks to borrow money from the mob in order to finance a high scale robbery of an apartment building that is filled with affluent tenants. The problem is that Duke is being tailed by the government who, through means of sophisticated electronic devices, are able to record everything he says and does.  Even by today’s standards I thought the gadgetry and the way it was used was quite clever.

Many things help make this film stand out. One is the very distinctive music score by the legendary Quincy Jones.  It has a weird electronic, techno quality to it that nicely compliments all the gadgetry in the story.

The casting is also interesting.  Martin Balsam, who made a career playing typical, everyman characters, appears here as a flaming gay interior decorator, which he does hilariously well. Comedian Alan King gets cast in a serious role as the crime boss. Even the casting of Connery is offbeat.  Usually he plays characters with strong personalities who are very much in control.  Here he plays a character who is constantly forced to compromise and trying desperately just to hold everything together  he even ends up getting rejected by his girlfriend (played by Dyan Cannon) for another man and all Connery’s character can do is stand there looking dumbfounded.

The script has some really sharp dialogue. This is probably the third or fourth time that I have seen this film and yet I was still impressed by some of the great lines that I hadn’t caught from the previous viewings.  One should actually make a point to watch this film twice just so they can take in all the great writing, which coincidently was done by Fran Pierson the same person who did Dog Day Afternoon.

The most unique thing about the movie though is the actual robbery sequence, which is made memorable due to director Sidney Lumet’s innovative approach.  It is told in semi-flashback form where you see a scene of the robbery and then it cuts to a scene where the victim recounts what happened to the police, which makes for some creative segues. The robbery victims are full of odd quirks and quite amusing.  Two of the best ones involve Margaret Hamilton best know as the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz who plays a cursing, argumentative elderly woman in this her final film role. I also like the bedridden, paraplegic young boy (Scott Jacoby) who is far more resourceful than anyone thinks and ends up single handily ruining all of their well thought out plans.

This sequence also edits in scenes of the police force quietly getting set-up to raid the building.  I especially like the shots of the S.W.A.T. team members sliding along a rope from one high rise rooftop to another.  It is photographed in a realistic way so you see them dangling high in the air with nothing but the street below, which made me cringe a little.  This is also a great chance to see Garret Morris in a pre-Saturday Night Live role playing the head of the S.W.A.T. team.

There is very little that I didn’t like in this film that I otherwise found to be original and engaging from start to finish. However, of the two issues that I do have, one is the ending, which in typical 70’s fashion was a bit of downer. It does have a twist to it, but it is not as clever as I think the film-makers thought it was.  There is also a glaring factual error that in a film as sophisticated and polished as this should never have happened.  It deals with a woman on a phone stating that she is calling from Wichita Falls, Kansas.  Now Kansas does have a city of Wichita, but Wichita Falls is actually in Texas.

I highly recommend this movie not only to those who may be fans of Connery or director Lumet, but also to those who enjoy movies with an offbeat story and approach.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Prime Cut (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Shoot-out in Kansas.

If you enjoy a great compact action flick, but are tired of the same old formula then Prime Cut may be for you.  It is the story of Nick Devlin (Lee Marvin) who is head of the crime syndicate in Chicago who travels to Kansas City to take on the head of their syndicate and avenge the death of one of their men as well as recouping an unpaid debt.

The movie has a lot of great offbeat touches that starts during its opening montage that takes place in an actual slaughterhouse.  Here you get a graphic glimpse of the inner mechanics of meat packing while soft, romantic piano music is played in the background.  The credits are displayed in a way that makes them look like they are being sliced by a meat cutter with cool meat cutting sound effects.  From here the quirky elements just keep coming. There is a wild chase through a wheat field where Marvin and Sissy Spacek find themselves attacked by a giant wheat thrasher that eats up their limousine and spits out the car parts into hay bails.  There is also a well filmed shootout amidst a sunflower field as well as Spacek’s revealing see through dress, which she wears to a posh restaurant and a giant plastic cow that gets shot up with holes and spews out milk.

This film is so unique that I am amazed it hasn’t acquired a stronger cult following. It stands up very well by today’s standards and even seems a bit shocking as it includes a scene involving white slavery where drugged young women are caged naked in stalls just like cattle and ranchers inspect and bid on them.

Marvin does well in his tongue-and-check role and pretty much steals it. He speaks his snappy lines in his usual terse manner with his famous stone expression, but he does it with a wink in his eye and at times even shows a soft side.  Sissy Spacek, in her film debut, looks young and fresh faced here. She is pretty and appealing in a very natural way. Only Gene Hackman as the villain named Mary Ann seems wasted. He does a good job for the material that he is given, but he needed more screen time and his character is not allowed to evolve at all.  Honorable mention also needs to go to Gregory Walcott as Hackman’s slimy henchman named Weenie.  The two get involved in an amusing scuffle while their accountants sit at their desks and busily add up their numbers and futilely try to ignore them.

Director Michael Ritchie nicely captures the Kansas landscape and gives it a very picturesque quality. It is probably the best on-location shooting of Kansas since Picnic. I did wish that the film was a little longer and showed more of a history between the two adversaries. It also seems to run out of steam at the end with a final shoot-out that isn’t all that clever or exciting and not up to the standards of the rest of the film.  Still this movie should appease any action fan and the story and direction are consistently original.

My Rating: 8 out 10

Released: June 28, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

Stay Hungry (1976)

 

stay hungry 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Read the book instead.

Craig Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a young southern man left alone with his butler in a big mansion when both his parents die in a car crash.  He works at a shady investment firm run by the con-man Jabo (Joe Spinnell).  They have managed to purchase all the other buildings on a block except for a workout gym. Craig is told to meet with the owner of the gym named Thor (R.G. Armstrong) and transact a purchase, so the firm can use the space to build a high-rise office complex.  However, once Craig meets with some of the people working there, including Joe Santo (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who is a body builder and uses the gym to prepare for the Mr. Universe title, as well as the pretty receptionist Mary Tate (Sally Field) he starts to have second thoughts about going through with the deal.

The film is based on the 1972 best-selling novel of the same name by Charles Gaines. There are quite a few differences between the book and the film, with the novel being much better. In the book there is no real estate firm, or potential acquisition of the building. Craig is simply bored with life and goes to a gym on a whim and uses the idea of bodybuilding as a way to find an identity. The book also features a camping trip that the group goes on and a fascinating psychedelic experience that Craig has when he takes an illicit drug that was completely cut out of the movie. The book has much richer characterizations and a profound philosophy that is devoid in the movie.

The film is poorly paced. Nothing really seems to happen and it only comes together at the end and by then it is too late.  Director Bob Rafelson tries to make the movie take on too many things. It shifts awkwardly between drama and sardonic comedy, but fails to achieve any type of cohesion, or momentum.  The flow is more like a European style of filmmaking where the story is told in a more relaxed pace and features long takes and side conversations. However, the dialogue isn’t interesting enough to carry it and the film focuses too much on the relationship between Craig and Mary, which happens too fast and doesn’t seem to have enough chemistry.

I also didn’t like how the character of Craig is portrayed. Bridges gives his usual dependable performance, but he has no southern accent even though he is from the area and everyone else speaks in a very thick one. He talks and acts much more like he is from the west coast and, like the viewer, acts as if he is some detached stranger that is just passing through with no real roots in the area, people, or customs. I think the Hollywood producers intentionally did this because they figured mainstream audiences could not relate to a southerner, who are still straddled with the unfair stigma of being hick, redneck, and racist. So the character was modified to bring broader appeal, but in the process becomes unrealistic and a bit annoying.

On the technical end it is okay although the budget looks limited. Filming on-location in Birmingham, Alabama helps, but I would have liked to have seen more of the area. There are a few unique scenes that make it somewhat enjoyable. One includes Craig stealing a painting off the wall of an office and another involves a throng of half-naked body builders spilling out onto the streets of the city and holding up traffic. There is also a very violent altercation at the end between Craig and Thor that features them battling with each other while using equipment from the gym. The action here is choreographed and edited nicely and looks genuinely real. There is also a brief moment where Field and Bridges go water skiing that was done by the actors themselves and not stunt doubles.

Schwarzenegger is appealing in what is considered his first official acting debut since in his previous two films his voice was dubbed and he had no speaking lines in the other. I liked the way the character is humanized here and shown with a different side to him including having him play the fiddle in a country band. Field is good playing a very feisty and rambunctious character. It also features her in a nude scene although it is from the back only. Woodrow Parfrey also deserves mention as Uncle Albert simply because his eccentric acting style always grabs your attention even in the smallest of roles. He also is the film’s narrator and speaks with the most authentic, best sounding Southern accent out of everyone.

R.G. Armstrong is by far and away the most memorable part of the film. He wears a hilariously awful wig throughout and is slimy in a real goofy way in every scene he is in. His best part comes when he has sex with a couple of prostitutes while on some of the workout machines. He also did, at age 60, his own nude scenes, so you have to give him credit there.

stay hungry 1

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 23, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Rafelson

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD