Tag Archives: Eileen Brennan

The Great Smokey Roadblock (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old man keeps truckin’.

John Howard (Henry Fonda) is an aging truck driver laid up in a hospital while his rig is repossessed. Feeling that his life may soon be ending he decides to escape from the hospital, take back his rig, which he has named Eleanor after the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and go for one last cross-country run. He picks up a spiritual hitch-hiker (Robert Englund) as well as a group of prostitutes who hide in the truck in an effort to escape the law, but the authorities are onto John’s plans and try to stop him before he can complete his trip.

If there is one reason to watch this otherwise flat and forgettable flick it is for the performance of Fonda, who despite his ailing health still had what it took and easily commands the screen from his other co-stars. In fact Fonda creates such a strong presence that many of the ‘colorful’ supporting characters could’ve been scrapped completely as the most enjoyable moments come with Fonda conversing with Englund who has a diametrically different personality and perspective, as the two drive down the highway.

Eileen Brennan lends good support in a rare dramatic role and it’s fun seeing Susan Sarandon, who also co-produced, playing a minor part as one of the prostitutes. She looks so young here and it was hard to believe that only a decade later she would have aged so much that she would be playing a prostitute again in Bull Durham albeit a much more mature one.

Dub Taylor is enjoyable as a crazy, hick, which he has done many, many times before and it should’ve gotten old by now, but he always exudes so much energy in his parts that its highly diverting anyways. However, the efforts by Austin Pendleton, John Byner, and Valerie Curtain aren’t as entertaining and the motivations of their characters so unclear that it would’ve been better had they not been in it at all.

The only action comes when John takes his truck and crashes it through a police barrier, which gets shown in slow-motion. Whether a truck would’ve actually been able to plow through several police cars and not cause any injuries or fatalities and no significant damage to the rig itself is highly dubious and only helps to prove how trite and whimsical this whole thing is.

There are moments when the film seems to be straining for something deeper, but it never gets there. There are so many other, far better road movies out there that this one doesn’t even deserve an honorable mention. Writer/director John Leone is clearly working over-his-head here and it’s no surprise that this was his only feature in a movie that amounts to being a passable time waster at best and nothing more.

Alternate Titles: The Last of the Cowboys, The Goodbye Run

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 7, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Leone

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

Available: DVD

Private Benjamin (1980)

private-benjamin

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She joins the army.

Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn) is having a tough time. She is only 28, but has already been married twice. The first time was for 6 years while the second time was for only 6 hours as husband number 2 (Albert Brooks) ended up dying of a heart attack while they made love on their wedding night. Heartbroken she calls into a radio show for advice and gets hooked into joining the army by an unscrupulous recruiter (Harry Dean Stanton) who makes it sound like it would be far more pleasant than it really is. At first Judy has a hard time adjusting to the rigors of a demanding Captain (Eileen Brennan), but eventually she finds new found self-esteem and coping skills that she never would’ve attained in the civilian world.

The film starts out awkwardly and a better scenario about how she joins the army could’ve been thought-up, but once it moves into the training camp segment it gets funny. In fact I would’ve extended these scenes more as it’s the best laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. Kudos also goes out to the editing by Sheldon Kahn who creates sharp transitions that accentuates the humor.

Hawn, who was pregnant with Kate Hudson when she was offered the role and had to go through 6-weeks of basic training to prepare for the part, is excellent in a film that helped bring her career out of the doldrums. In fact I would say this is one of her best roles and I enjoyed how the character becomes more confident and independent as it goes along.

Brennan is terrific as the nemesis and I wished her conflicts with Hawn had been played-up more. The character disappears too soon and manages to return briefly, but isn’t as effective. Her brief romantic encounter with the Craig T. Nelson character should’ve been cut as I saw this woman as being frigid, or even a closet lesbian who was married to the army because that is all she had, which made the scene where Hawn puts blue dye into Brennan’s showerhead seem cruel to me. Yes, she had been mean to Hawn earlier, but that was only because she felt her army career, which again was essentially her whole life, was being threatened and the other women should’ve been more sympathetic to that.

Hal Williams is good in support as the Sargent as is Sam Wanamaker as Judy’s overly protective father. Albert Brooks though is horribly wasted as the second husband and his heart attack is much too quick and mild to be realistic. Stanton is also shamefully underused playing an army recruiter that should’ve been investigated and out of a job for the outlandish misrepresentations that he gave.

The film does go on a bit too long and includes Judy’s romance with the Armand Assante character that seems like a whole different movie, but overall it still works although this has to be the tamest R-rated movie ever. I realize this was before the PG-13 era, but it still should’ve gotten a PG as the only ‘objectionable’ elements consist of the word ‘shit’, which is said once, a simulated sex scene that is brief and done with the characters under the covers and a segment involving the girls sitting around a campfire smoking pot. In fact 9 to 5, which came out that same year and was given a PG rating, had a similar pot scene that was much more extended.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Clue (1985)

clue

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Inspired by board game.

Six individuals (Martin Mull, Eileen Brennan, Lesley Ann Warren, Madeline Kahn, Michael McKean, Christopher Lloyd) are invited to an isolated New England mansion at the behest of Wadsworth (Tim Curry) the butler to the mansion’s owner. It seems that these six people have been blackmailed by Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving) and now Wadsworth, who is employed by Boddy, has decided it’s time to let them off the hook, but not before Boddy himself turns up dead having been murdered by one of the guests. As they try to unravel the mystery more homicides occur forcing the rest to find the killer before he/she finds them.

Initially this film, which is based on the famous Parker Brothers board game and currently being remade, is okay entertainment. The fast paced dialogue has a few good lines and the mystery element lends for some mild intrigue. The performances are also spot-on with each actor perfectly cast for their part. I especially liked Eileen Brennan as the nervous Mrs. Peacock as well as Warren as the sarcastic and snarky Miss Scarlet.

Unfortunately after an agreeable first 40 minutes it finally, like with its many victims, goes down with a thud. The concept just isn’t solid enough for feature length material and the idea of trying to stretch it out by adding more victims only convolutes things and makes an already ridiculous premise even more so. Having Curry spend the final part going back through all the things that had occurred before in an effort to ‘solve’ the case while rushing the rest of the cast from one part of the mansion to the other as he explains it is not amusing, but instead dizzying, redundant and pointless. What may have seemed initially like a novel idea instead becomes just another excursion into silliness and way too similar to Neil Simon’s Murder by Death, which came out in the ‘70’s and also starred Brennan.

True mystery buffs will be the most disappointed as the emphasis is completely on comedy and not in creating any type of elaborate whodunit for the viewer to figure out. The plot itself contains no real ‘clues’ and everything that occurs during the course of the film has nothing to do with who ultimately ends up being the culprit.

The film’s only real unique element is that it featured three different endings with different ones shown at various theaters. The DVD features all three with option to choose one at random. However, the first two are lame and only the third one, which features everyone as the murderer, is the only one that is halfway decent and should’ve been the sole one used.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 13, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes (Includes all three endings)

Rated PG

Director: Jonathan Lynn

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

FM (1978)

fm 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: No static at all!

Q-SKY is the number one radio station in Los Angeles and this is mainly due to program director Jeff Dugan (Michael Brandon) who has lined up a good rock playlist as well as an eclectic bunch of on-air personalities. However, Regis Lamar (Tom Tarpey) the sales manager wants to play some army recruitment commercials, which Jeff refuses to do and when he gets into a fight with management over it he quits. The rest of the staff decides to come to his rescue by staging an on-air sit-in where they lock themselves inside the station and refuse to play any commercials until management agrees to hire Jeff back, which soon attracts the attention of hundreds of listeners that pack the streets of L.A. until it becomes a mob scene.

If this movie succeeds at anything it is in its ability at bringing the ‘70s back to life. In fact if you ever wanted to get into a time machine and travel back to that decade to see what things were really like this film does it better than just about any other from that era. The sights, sounds and attitudes from that crazy decade literally ooze from every frame until you feel like you are living it yourself.

The film also manages to recreate the behind-the-scenes life at a radio station in a realistic way. Back in the ‘90s I worked in radio and even had my own weekend overnight show called ‘After Hours’ at a FM station in Chicago and the atmosphere shown here is on-target and enough to make me long to go back to it if it just paid more.

The characterizations are fun. Eileen Brennan takes a rare dramatic turn and does quite well playing an older D.J. named Mother who is burnt out from the business and wants to quit, but can’t quite pull herself completely away from it. Martin Mull is amusing as the narcissist Eric Swan who considers his on-air persona to be an ‘art form’ and he even traps himself inside the radio booth when he breaks up with his girlfriend and refuses to leave until one of his many female listeners agrees to take her place. Ironically both Mull and Cleavon Little who plays Prince the overnight jock also played D.J.’s in two other movies. Mull was in Jingle All the Way while Little was in Vanishing Point.

The film also has a strong ‘70s soundtrack. Not only does it open with a great stereo version of Steely Dan’s title hit, but just about every rock hit from 1978 can be heard playing in the background at some point. There is also excellent concert footage of Jimmy Buffet as well as Linda Ronstadt who those live versions of ‘Tumbling Dice’, ‘Poor, Poor Pitiful Me’, and ‘Love Me Tender’.

The film unfortunately falls apart at the end with a sit-in segment that proves unrealistic and exaggerated. Radio personal are hired and fired every day. It’s the nature of the business and one knows that going in and prepares for it. It is highly unlikely that any of the other employees would stage a sit-in like the one shown here simply because it would put not only their job, but careers in complete jeopardy. Dugan with his strong resume could easily find himself a job at another station pretty quickly, so their efforts seemed unnecessary. The idea that hundreds of people would come out onto the street to protest and even overturn cars is ridiculous and what’s worse is that the crowd scenes were clearly done on an inside soundstage making the entire segment look staged and fake.

I loved the first half and had it stayed on that slice-of-life level this could’ve been an interesting time capsule. In some ways it still is, but the ending gets so stupid that it pretty much ruins the whole thing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 20, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John A. Alonzo

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: VHS

Sticky Fingers (1988)

sticky fingers 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Roommates spend drug money.

Hattie (Helen Slater) and Lolly (Melanie Mayron) are two struggling musicians who share a crummy apartment run by slumlord Stella (Eileen Brennan). They are having trouble making ends meet when their friend Diane (Loretta Devine), who is a drug dealer, asks them to hold onto a bag for them while she is out of town. Inside the bag is $950,000. The girls decide to ‘borrow’ some to help pay their rent and then they continue to take more until they have spent $224,000 of it and when Diane comes back she is not too happy nor are the people that she works for.

For a film that is written and directed by a woman and co-scripted by Melanie Mayron it has every conceivably negative female stereotype placed on its two leading characters and if this had been done by a man he would be accused of being a sexist. The two women are ditzy shopaholics who lack any common sense are indecisive and greatly insecure and have no level of sophistication.

They spend tons of money on clothes and needless gadgetry, but then remain in the same rat hole of an apartment. If they had any brains they would have bought a house on the other side of the country and then escaped. The drug money couldn’t get reported to the police as stolen and since this was the 80’s and before cellphones and the internet it was a lot easier to ‘disappear’.

The strained arguments the two have about derivative issues, which are supposed to be funny, become annoying and unending instead. Their shouting over which color of sponge to use for dish washing was so ridiculous it almost made me want to turn it off.

Slater who was just a few years removed from her Billie Jean character gives a decent performance despite the limitations of the character. Mayron with her curly carrot top hairdo looks downright ugly and the fact that her character remains with her boyfriend even though he continues to have a not so subtle relationship with his previous girlfriend makes her seem pathetic.

I did like Brennan and some of her sardonic lines. If she had been cast in the lead the film would have been helped immensely.

There are definite shades of an independent movie trying to break out, but it lacks the style, attitude and hipness. The attempt at trying to revive the screwball comedy is a dismal failure and not even good for a few laughs. The only two things I liked was the concert the two perform in while wearing glow in the dark costumes and the crawl of the closing credits that rotates at different angles, which only proves how bad this movie is when the closing credits becomes the highlight!

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 6, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director:  Catlin Adams

Studio: Hightop Productions

Available: VHS