Tag Archives: Enterainment

Harper Valley PTA (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She gets her revenge.

Based on the hit 1968 song the story centers on Stella Johnson (Barbara Eden) whose liberated single life style and provocative way of dressing is considered ‘scandalous’ by the prudish members of her local school board. They give a letter  to her daughter Dee (Susan Swift) to be send home for Stella to read, which informs her that if she doesn’t ‘clean up her act’ they’ll have her daughter expelled. Stella then goes to the school board meeting and exposes all of their dirty secrets and then continues the harassment by playing dirty pranks on them one-by-one.

The song, which was written by Tom T. Hall and sung by Jeannie C. Riley, was a cute novelty ditty that encompassed the social rebellion of the late ‘60s through the scope of small town southern life. The film though ruins the song’s appeal by overplaying its theme and losing touch with its core issue.

The song had a very heavy country tinge to it making it seem that the setting should’ve been the Deep South, but for some reason the film takes place in Ohio instead. It also has the time period as being the present day, late ‘70s, which makes some of the lines in the song, which Stella reiterates pretty much word-for-word when she tells the board members off, seem dated and out-of-touch. Stuff like sock-it-to and ‘Peyton Place’ referred to hit TV-shows that by the late ‘70s had already been off the air for years, so the film should’ve either updated the script to make it more topical to the times, or had the time period be in the ‘60s, which like with the southern locale would’ve given the film a far stronger atmosphere.

Having Stella tell off the board members like in the song seemed sufficient, but having her continue her efforts by pulling elaborate pranks on them made it come off like overkill and in some cases borderline cruel and even criminal. The fact that other people in attendance at the board meeting clap and cheer when Stella humiliates the PTA board makes it seem that these people are on their way out and don’t have much of a hold over anything, so watching Stella continue to humiliate them further is not emotionally satisfying. They’re also so easily taken advantage of that the pranks cease to be either entertaining or funny.

The only segment that is genuinely fun is the one where a sex ed. film gets shown to the high school students. The film seems to be an actual product from the early ‘60s and features rather graphic animated illustrations. We unfortunately only get treated to a couple of minutes of it even though it was the funniest thing in the movie without ever actually trying to be.

Eden looks gorgeous and probably even hotter than she did in ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ minus the harem outfit. If you watch this for basic eye candy then you’ll be satisfied, but she speaks initially with a southern accent that she ends up losing by the second half.

John Fiedler gives good support by appearing fully nude in one segment despite not having the physique for it, so I commend his bravery. Audrey Christie shows equal regard by exposing herself with her head completely shaved, but overall the only character that I really liked was Susan Swift’s who seems the most relatable and like with the song her character should’ve been the central one and not Eden’s.

The threadbare premise gets stretched out far longer than it should. The story and the many pranks have a very redundant and mechanical quality to them that quickly becomes old. I’m not sure whose idea it was to try to turn the song into a movie, but it was one that should’ve been shot down quickly and never seen the light-of-day.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard C. Bennett

Studio: April Fools Productions

Available: DVD

Four Friends (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living through the ‘60s.

Four male friends from Indiana go from high school to college and then on into young adulthood while remaining close and supportive. All of them have a passion for Georgia (Jodi Thelen) a very independent woman who enjoys playing-the-field when it comes to men and at various points has jumped into relationships with the four of them individually and at different times. Yet it is Danilo (Craig Wasson) who seems to be the most infatuated with her and he spends his life chasing after her, but finds that when they are together all they do is fight.

The story is apparently very loosely based on the experiences of screenwriter Steve Tesich who immigrated to this country from Yugoslavia at a very young age. The film starts out realistically enough, but quickly devolves into a whimsical tale that introduces interesting plotlines only to resolve them in cutesy ways that ends up making this sprawling tale quite shallow.

One of the biggest detriments is the casting of Craig Wasson who is a horrible actor as he can convey only one type of emotion, which is that of anxiousness and only one type of facial expression, which is that of nervousness. If he dares to try to expand his limited acting abilities away from these two things it comes off as unconvincing. Hs character like all the rest have no appeal as they never grow or evolve and seem put in simply as props to help carry the transparent tale.

I did like Thelen who plays the part of a spacey, free-spirited woman quite well, but even here it ends up getting clichéd. The other male characters have no distinguishable qualities and she sleeps around with them like they are toys on her own personal roulette wheel. Wasson’s character was her exact opposite and the two share no real chemistry making their eventual romance come off as being quite forced.

The film also contains some campy over-the-top dramatic elements that are unintentionally laughable and ridiculous. One takes place during a wedding party where while in front of hundreds of guests the bride’s father goes inexplicably crazy and shoots his daughter, then groom and eventually himself. Later on during a performance art show one of Thelen’s friends, in an apparent drugged stupor, accidently puts her foot on the accelerator while sitting in a car that’s parked inside a building, which sends it crashing through the wall and spiraling several stories to the ground.

The one aspect that I did like is that it didn’t resort to the Forrest Gump formula where the main characters get involved directly into all the famous historical events of the era, but instead view them from afar, which is more realistic. However, the film doesn’t show enough ‘60s nostalgia and half the time you forget the setting is even in that time period.

I admire the ambitious concept, but it takes on too much and would’ve been better had the script been more focused and less sprawling. Nothing here is compelling or memorable and the viewer is left with a genuinely flat feeling when it is over.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Penn

Studio: Filmways Pictures

Available: DVD

S.O.B. (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife goes topless.

Movie producer Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) is suffering from what they call in Hollywood as Standard Operating Bullshit. His recent film, a family oriented musical that starred his wife Sally (Julie Andrews) and was titled ‘Night Wind’ is a box office flop. Now no one wants to work with him and the studio tries to reedit the film in an attempt to ‘save it’. All of which sends Felix on verge of suicide until he gets the idea of turning the movie into a soft core porn flick and having  Sally bare her breasts in it.

The film is loosely based on experiences that writer/director Blake Edwards had along with his real-life wife actress Julie Andrews during the early ‘70s when their project Darling Lilli did not do well financially and his next several films after that met with lots of studio interference before he was finally able to rebound by resurrecting the Pink Panther franchise.

The satirical jabs are obvious but amusing and the real problems come more with the shallow/jaded characters. Even the wholesome Sally comes off as cold with her rather ambivalent reaction to her husband’s depression/suicide attempt. There is also a running gag dealing with a man (Herb Tanney) who has heart attack at the beach while jogging and his loyal dog stays by his side even though no one else pays attention to it, which starts out as darkly amusing, but eventually gets cruelly overplayed.

Mulligan makes a flat impression as the star to the point of being almost transparent. For the first half he doesn’t say a single word while behaving in an overly exaggerated despondent way. When he finally snaps out of this he then eagerly tries to sell-out on his own film vision simply so it can make a buck, which makes him no better than the rest of the scummy Hollywood elites that he is supposedly trying to fight. Andrews is boring too and her brief topless scene comes off as exploitive and ill-advised.

The best bits come from its supporting cast. Robert Preston as the perpetually inebriated doctor has a few great lines and Robert Webber does well as a very nervous, high-strung press agent. Loretta Swit is hilarious as a bitchy, cantankerous gossip columnist who gets cooped up in a hospital after an accident and an almost unrecognizable Larry Storch hams it up under heavy make-up as a spiritual guru. There is also Robert Vaughn wearing high heels and women’s clothing.

I enjoyed the film within a film approach and the tawdry dream-like sequence scene, but the story suffers from adding in too much slapstick including a drawn-out car chase that seems suited for a completely different type of movie. For mild comedy it is okay, but as satire it fails to make any strong or impactful statement.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: Paramount

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

The Killing of Angel Street (1981)

killing of angel street

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their homes get demolished.

Jessica (Elizabeth Alexander) is a quiet woman who suddenly finds herself embroiled in a heated battle between homeowners and developers who want to build beachfront property on their land and tearing down their homes in the process. Jessica’s father (Alexander Archdale) is one of the homeowners whose place will be destroyed if the developers have their way. Since she has no experience in fighting these matters she employs the assistance of local union leader Elliot (John Hargreaves) to help her in her fight and the two quickly start-up a relationship, but just as they feel they are making some headway Jessica begins to get harassed by complete strangers who break into her home and threaten her life unless she agrees to back-off.

This film is based on the same real-life incident that was also the inspiration for Heatwave, which came out a year after this one. What I found so interesting is how both films took the same incident, but managed to veer into two very diametrically opposite directions with it. Heatwave viewed the situation from all different perspectives including that of the antagonist while this one only looks at the viewpoint of the lead character and uses the premise as a catalyst to what surmounts to being a basic thriller.

While I felt Heatwave was the superior film I did feel this movie was better at creating an emotional impact with the viewer. You get to know the residents better here and are more sympathetic to their cause as well as witnessing the human side and its impact. The shots of houses getting torn down is especially strong as well as the shot near the end where you see the crumbling skeletons of the buildings all in a row and looking like remnants of some sort of war zone.

The film suffers from the weak presence of its lead actress whose performance comes off as being much too rehearsed and lacks any type of spontaneity. Hargreaves, who became one of Australia’s best known lead actors, is wasted in a benign supporting role and is not seen very much. Archdale practically steals it in a touching portrait of an old man clinging to the only thing he has left, but the pronounced bags under his eyes almost becomes a distraction.

The film’s final 20 minutes are the best. This is where Jessica finds herself kidnapped and hung upside down over the side of a tall building, which is quite intense, as well as a myriad of almost surreal events where she runs into evil people and ugly situations wherever she turns including that of a humiliating and unnecessary full body search while inside the seemingly safe confines of a police station.

The story though veers way off from what actually happened making this an almost fictional account and barely related to the real Juanita Nielsen whose true-life story inspired this one. The real event had far more interesting twists and I’m not sure why neither film chose to stick to the facts and it almost begs for a talented filmmaker to come in and create a film that examines the events and people as it actually occurred.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Donald Crombie

Studio: Forest Hill Films

Available: VHS

Who Killed Mary Whats’ername? (1971)

who killed mary 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who killed the prostitute?

Mickey (Red Buttons) is a retired diabetic boxer who is appalled to learn that a prostitute was killed in her apartment and no one seems to care. He decides to do the investigation himself and even moves in to her old place. He inquiries about her amongst the locals and begins to get a few leads including that of a young filmmaker named Alex (Sam Waterson) who may have inadvertently filmed her leaving with her eventual killer. Soon Mickey’s grown daughter Della (Alice Playten) and Val (Conrad Bain), a man he meets at a bar, are helping him in his quest, but the things they learn only reinforce how unpleasant and dangerous a hooker’s life can be.

I commend the attempt at taking a gritty look at a seedy lifestyle and its open-minded approach to the women who are in it, but the film’s poor execution makes the whole thing come off as quite amateurish and even laughable. Why a man in his 50’s would become so obsessed with finding the killer of a woman he has never known and only reads about in a newspaper is quite hard to fathom. There are probably hundreds of prostitutes that share similarly sad fates, so why get so revved up about this one? The fact that he is able to get his grown daughter and another man he meets randomly at a bar to help him investigate seems equally unbelievable and the way they are conveniently able to find clues and connect-the-dots before solving the case comes off as too easy.

The action sequences, especially the opening one in which we see the prostitute getting killed, are poorly staged and filled with chopping editing that makes it hard-to-follow and phony looking. When the 50-year-old Buttons takes on a gang of young bikers, which are led by Earl Hindman who later became famous for playing the neighbor on ‘Home Improvement’ whose face was always obscured by a fence, it becomes downright silly. Sure the Buttons character has a background in boxing, but that still doesn’t mean he can take on four guys who are twice his size and the sound effects used for the punches are overdone and cartoon-like.

A similar issue occurs when Buttons saves a prostitute from an abusive pimp while Alex films it. The first time this occurs it is mildly diverting, but then when he saves another one, who is being beaten up by some of the old ladies in the neighborhood, it becomes redundant and corny.

The resolution, in which the killer turns out to be someone no one suspected, is flat and forgettable. It is also poorly thought out as he admits to the Buttons character that he killed the two women because he didn’t want any potential witnesses, but then doesn’t bother to kill Buttons or at least make sure he is dead even after he divulges his secret to him. The killer then just casually walks away without ever allowing the viewer to know if he was caught and charged with the crimes.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Ernest Pintoff

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: None at this time.

The Visitor (1979)

visitor 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her daughter is evil.

Dark forces from another dimension conspire to use an 8-year-old girl named Katy (Paige Conner) as their centerpiece in creating an evil empire on earth. Dr. Walker (Mel Ferrer), while working under the cover of being a noted surgeon, heads the secret organization. He instructs local millionaire Raymond Armstead (Lance Henriksen) who made a pact with the group years earlier in order to receive his fortune, that he must impregnate his girlfriend Barbara (Joanne Nail) again, so that she can give birth to an evil son to complement their already wicked daughter Katy and allow the two to eventually reproduce a new offspring. Barbara though, who does not know of Raymond’s secret pact and feels leery of her child already, is unwilling to have another one, which forces him to use unethical ways to get her to change her mind.

This Italian production, which was filmed in Atlanta, Georgia, has gotten a bad rap from the critics and there have been several different cuts issued with some making more sense than others. For the most part it’s a mixed bag with lots of story loopholes and an ill-advised music score that seems better suited for an NFL highlight reel. The movie also defies any genre and jumps between several, but ultimate fails at all of them.

However, if taken as a cheesy over-the-top production then it’s not half-bad. The camera work, editing, special effects and sets are to a degree impressive. The scene where Glenn Ford’s character is driving down a busy highway only to have his eyes pecked out by an evil hawk, which creates a major road accident that culminates with the car tumbling onto a softball field is quite exciting. Katy’s cat-and-mouse foot chase with the John Huston character through the Atlanta streets and some abandoned buildings is also well done as is her ice skating foray in which she single-handedly takes out a group of much older and bigger boys by sending them flying through the windows of some nearby shops and restaurants.

Conner’s bad girl performance with her angelic face making a perfect contrast to her otherwise dark personality is great. Nail as her mother is equally beautiful and creates enough sympathy from the viewer to make the torment that she goes through unsettling to watch. Shelley Winters, in a rare turn playing a normal, likable character, is also excellent as the family’s housekeeper

The male cast though is wasted including Franco Nero who appears briefly only at the beginning and very end. John Huston and Glenn Ford were too old for their respective parts and casting younger actors in their roles would’ve made more sense, but seeing director Sam Peckinpah in a brief acting bit is fun.

The ending can’t quite equal the audaciousness of the rest of it, but there is enough weird, wacky, one-of-a-kind shit here to keep anyone especially those with an affinity for the bizarre entertained and amused.

visitor 3

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 22, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Giulio Paradisi

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Wise Guys (1986)

wise guys

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding from the mob.

This review contains some Spoilers!

Harry and Moe (Danny DeVito, Joe Piscopo) work as errand boys for a Newark, New Jersey mob run by Castelo (Dan Hedaya). They are tired of doing all the odd, dangerous jobs that no one else wants to and long to one day break away and open up their own restaurant, but lack the required capital. Then one day they are assigned to go to the track to bet on a certain horse, but Harry is convinced that another one will win, so they place all $250,000 dollars on that one only to lose. Now they must go on the run searching for Harry’s Uncle Mike who they hope can replenish them with the lost money before the mob’s henchman The Fixer (Captain Lou Albano) catches up with them to dispense their punishment.

Director Brian De Palma returns to his comical roots of Hi Mom! and Greetings, but unfortunately this film lacks the creativity and originality of those and instead comes off as just another tired, generic 80’s comedy. The attempted twists are not interesting or surprising. Having them lose on a ‘sure thing’ after they initially start gloating when it looks like their horse would win is comedy writing 101. The Sting-like ending is equally contrived and something I figured out long before it gets revealed. Again, you simply have to know the rules of a Hollywood comedy, which states every ending must be a ‘feel good’ one, so if a main character suddenly dies you automatically know there’s got to be some sort of catch to it such as is the case here.

The motivations of the characters are loopy. For one thing going back to their boss while putting up only a mild resistance after they’ve lost the money for what will most definitely be punishment and torture seems dumber than dumb even for these dimwits. The idea that they would both stay loyal to one another even during torture is not believable. Yes it may sound noble, but realistically especially when their families were being threatened it would have to be expected that at least one of them would crack and betray the other. Then the boss has them assigned to kill the other one and for a while they both secretly consider it, but this doesn’t make sense either because if they are going to remain so loyal to the other during torture then shouldn’t it be expected that they would immediately tell each other that they’ve been pegged to kill the other and then come up with some alternative plan to get out of it?

The destruction of Fixer’s convertible becomes another logical blunder. Yes, they both despise him and the chance at destroying his prized possession would seem tempting to anyone in their shoes, but they also need his car to get away and go places, so destroying it until it is literally inoperable becomes really stupid.

DeVito is great at playing arrogant, sarcastic jerks, but as a sympathetic good guy he is benign and out-of-place. I also didn’t care for wrestler-turned-actor Albano’s presence as his character is too one-dimensionally crude and obnoxious and the part where he is shown lying on his back with his big fat belly exposed is just plain gross to look at.

There have been some great gangster movies throughout cinema history, but they all tend to be ones that take the genre seriously and when they try to give it a comical spin it comes off as lame like this one. The part where Harry’s grandmother (Mimi Cecchini) reveals a million dollar bills that she has ‘stuffed under her mattress’ and the way all of Castelo’s henchmen eagerly light up his cigarette every time he puts one in his mouth, which happens twice with the second time being the gem, are the only two mildly amusing moments in this otherwise flat comedy.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 18, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (1971)

who is harry kellerman 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Paranoid songwriter self-destructs.

Georgie Soloway (Dustin Hoffman) is a successful songwriter who has written dozens of chart topping songs for different bands and yet feels alone and guilt ridden. He lives in his swanky Manhattan penthouse feeling paranoid after a man by the name of Harry Kellerman starts calling his friends and saying malicious things about him, which risks jeopardizing his career and reputation. He tells his problems to his psychiatrist (Jack Warden) while also searching for Kellerman, but makes no headway.

Story-wise the film is a misfire as Herb Gardner’s script has no discernable plot and a main character that doesn’t grow or evolve. Even if taken as a collection of vignettes it doesn’t work and it becomes more like a pointless one-man soliloquy instead. The final revelation of the mysterious Kellerman is not all that surprising or worth sitting through. Why the filmmakers thought viewers would be interested in watching a man essentially self-destruct for two hours is a mystery and it is as boring as it sounds. Besides it is hard for the average person to feel sorry for someone who seems to have it all and loaded with money and thus makes the character’s problems and issues seem quite minute and his perpetual whining overly monotonous.

The only thing that saves it is Ulu Grosbard’s creative direction. I enjoyed some of the surreal elements particularly those done during his sessions with his psychiatrist as well as a scene showing Georgie running through a long lighted tunnel that seems to have no end. The final segment done on a single-jet airplane is captivating especially as it flies through the clouds and watching two skiers’ glide through the snow from a bird’s-eye perspective has an equally mesmerizing effect. I also loved the way the film captures the New York skyline during a visual taken from the plane as it swoops over the city and a scene done in the early morning hours in downtown Manhattan without seemingly a single car driving on the street gives off a strangely unique feeling.

Barbara Harris, who doesn’t come on until the second half, is a scene stealer as an insecure actress who bombs at her audition, but then refuses to leave the stage. It was good enough to get her nominated for the Academy Award that year, but she lost out to Cloris Leachman and as much as I love Cloris Barb really should have won it as she is the one thing the enlivens this otherwise flat film and had her character been in it more this would have been a far better movie. David Burns, who died from a sudden heart attack while performing in a play three months before this film’s release, is touching as Georgie’s father.

Grosbard and Hoffman teamed up again seven years later for Straight Time, which is far superior and more worth your time to watch.

who is harry kellerman 3

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ulu Grosbard

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

The Trip to Bountiful (1985)

the trip to bountiful 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old lady goes home.

Carrie Watts (Geraldine Page) is an elderly woman living inside a cramped apartment with her grown son Ludie (John Heard) and his wife Jessie Mae (Carline Glynn) in Houston, Texas during the 1940’s. Carrie dreams of one day returning to her childhood home in the small town of Bountiful and ‘escaping’ from Jessie Mae who is overbearing and treats her like a child, but she lacks the transportation or funds. She secretly hides her government checks with the hopes of saving enough to take a train. When she finally makes it to the train station she finds there is no longer any stops to her old town, which is now essentially abandoned, but with the help of the local sheriff (Richard Bradford) he takes her there while Ludie and Jessie follow close behind determined to drag her back with them.

Peter Masterson’s directorial debut shows a great appreciation for Horton Foote’s script as it manages to stay true to the period and tone. I especially liked the part where Carrie describes the quietness of her childhood home while the camera slowly pans the yard and allows the viewer to essentially experience what she is talking about. The recreation of the ‘40s is on-target making you feel like you are living there yourself. Having some tunes of the era playing on a phonograph in the background is a great touch and it’s nice to hear a soundtrack that isn’t from the preverbal classic rock period.

Page shines in her Academy Award winning performance. She has played evil characters with such a relish for most of her career that it is nice seeing her portray a sweet old lady for once and do it so well. Her presence adds to every scene she is in and helps make them more interesting particularly with her conversation on the train with Thelma (Rebecca De Mornay) and the way she holds up everyone in line at the train station specifically two men standing behind her who in real life where her twin sons. She also manages to cry effectively with tears actually coming out of her eyes as opposed to De Mornay whose tearless attempts at it where so pathetic it seemed almost embarrassing.

Carlin is quite good in the snippy adversarial role and I was surprised she didn’t at least get a nomination for her efforts. Heard is solid as a sort of mediator and De Mornay is perfect for the part simply because her fresh youthful face makes a great contrast to Page’s worn one.

The on-location shooting adds a lot of flavor and helps to make this superior over its original stage version. The story itself is slow moving, but a wonderful character study on aging that at times manages to be dryly humorous, honest and sad, but never maudlin.

the trip to bountiful 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 20, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Masterson

Studio: Island Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD