Tag Archives: Entertainment

Fear is the Key (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has secret motives.

Based on the 1961 novel by Alistair MacLean the story centers around John Talbot (Barry Newman) who finds himself inside a small town courtroom standing trial for the murder of a policeman that he did not commit. He manages to escape while kidnapping a woman named Sarah (Suzy Kendall) who he takes as his hostage. He evades the authorities only to ultimately end up inside the home of Sarah’s father (Ray McAnally) where another man named Vyland (John Vernon) hires him to operate a submarine that will salvage a cargo of diamonds housed inside an underwater plane wreck.

I never read the novel, but to me the whole thing comes off in a haphazard style where the twists aren’t interesting at all and only help to make the plot even more confusing and unfocused. The car chase sequence is genuinely well done to the point that it had me riveted and quite impressed with how it was shot and looking like one of the more realistic chases I’ve seen amongst the many that are already out there. Unfortunately to go from what initially seems to be a fugitive-on-the-run-flick to an underwater espionage, sci-fi thriller is not intriguing, but jarring instead and comes off like two entirely different movies crammed together with only the thinnest of plot threads to hold it together.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest disappointment though is when at the film’s midway point John confides to Sarah that everything that we’ve seen before has been staged and none of it was real. For that to happen though would’ve taken many different people working together to pull it off and it’s never explained how he was able to do that. For instance who gave John the blank bullets to shoot at the police officer to escape from the courtroom and why did the policeman agree to pretend he was shot if he really wasn’t and what was in it for him to get in on John’s elaborate scheme? None of this gets explained and only helps to make it even more absurd and ludicrous until you can’t take any of it seriously.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Newman is not strong enough actor for the part and conveys a rather transparent presence when he should’ve had the exact opposite effect. His appearance here is too similar to the one he just gotten done doing in Vanishing Point including driving around in a similar type of car making this film seem like an extension of that one. It also comes-off like typecasting and makes viewers think this is the only type of role he can play, which could explain why his leading man career pretty much tanked after this.

The film’s only interesting aspect is the appearance of Ben Kingsley in his film debut, which was his only movie role during the 70’s as he didn’t appear in another one until 10 years later when he starred in Gandhi. Here he plays one of Vyland’s henchmen who figures prominently in the climactic finish where they must fight for air after the oxygen in the sub gets turned off, which isn’t bad.

This is also a rare production that was financed by a British studio, but filmed on-location in the US. The result captures America through a European perspective, which makes the entire thing a bit off-kilter from the very beginning.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 26, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Tuchner

Studio: Anglo-EMI

Available: DVD (Region 2), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Formula (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nazis create synthetic fuel.

While investigating the murder of his former police mentor, Lt. Barney Caine (George C. Scott) stumbles upon a an underworld of drug money and illicit funds that connect back to a petroleum company run by Adam Steiffel (Marlon Brando). He later learns that it has to do with a synthetic fuel invented by the Nazis during World War II that could be created from coal instead of oil, which if unleashed would unbalance the world markets and those that know about it are now being silenced permanently.

MGM offered to make the movie before Steve Shagan had even completed the novel of which is is based figuring that the topic of synthetic fuel would grab audiences since it conformed to the issue of the energy crisis that was making headlines during that era. Unfortunately the story works better in novel form because as a movie it amounts to nothing more than scene after scene of talking heads with no visual style or cinematic quality to it and the only interesting images, which include watching a frog swim across a chlorine filled pool and alligators munching on their lunch, has nothing to do with the actual plot at all.

Scott’s character is equally dull. He’s seen at the start leaving a movie theater with his son (Ike Eisenmann), which I guess is a cheap attempt to ‘humanize’ the character, but then he’s never seen with him again. He’s also initially straddled with a police partner (Calvin Jung) and their relationship gets off to a rocky start, which I thought would offer some secondary drama, but then he disappears too leaving him only with Marthe Keller, who replaced Dominique Sanda who Scott disliked because of her French accent, who acts as a potential love interest that is both stale and unneeded.

The film’s only entertaining aspect is Brando who manages to steal every scene he’s in by playing up the comic angle. He demanded complete control over how his character dressed and in the process sported a goofy comb-over and a hearing aid, which gives the guy a quirky charm. He also mostly ad-libbed his lines and refused to learn the ones in the script, which helps enliven the otherwise staid drama with some nice offbeat touches that I wished had been played-up more and it’s a shame that he wasn’t made the star as he’s the only thing that saves it.

The plot does have some intriguing qualities to it, but Shagan who also acted as the film’s producer, gives away all the secrets too early. Instead of waiting until the very end to find out what the code name Genesis stands for we’re told the answer at the halfway mark making the second half seem pointless and petering itself out with one of the dullest, most anti-climactic finales ever filmed.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD

Manhattan (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Writer has relationship issues.

Isaac (Woody Allen) is an unemployed TV writer who’s currently dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) a 17-year-old girl, but he feels guilty about this and thinks it’s only a matter of time before she moves on to someone else that is more her age. In the meantime he begins seeing Mary (Diane Keaton) who is the mistress to his best friend Yale (Michael Murphy). Eventually Isaac falls for Mary, but she then goes back to Yale forcing Isaac to beg Tracy to come back to him even as she’s prepares to go off to London to study acting.

Although this film became a critical darling I agree more with Allen himself who considers this to be the least favorite out of all of the movies he’s directed. The much ballyhooed black-and-white cinematography is a detriment especially when it shows the fireworks going off above the skyline, which if done in color would’ve been vibrant, but here it’s less than thrilling. The film also doesn’t give you much of a feel for the city since all it does is give brief shots of the skyscrapers and never any of its eclectic neighborhoods, shops, street life, or people. Looking at various photos of the city in Wikipedia gives one a far better visual taste of Manhattan then this film ever does and the George Gershwin score has unfortunately lost its uniqueness since United Airlines used it for many years for its ad campaign and I kept thinking of that the whole time it gets played here.

Allen’s trip with Keaton to a planetarium is interesting visually and their facial expressions during a visit to a concert is amusing, but otherwise the storyline dealing with their budding romance is boring and predictable. It’s fun to see, and a testament to Keaton’s great acting ability,  her playing a completely different type of person than the one she did just two years earlier in Annie Hall, but the character itself is off-putting and not someone most men would want to warm-up to. Maybe it’s the way she thinks that just because she’s from Philadelphia that makes her or anyone else from there morally superior, which I realize is meant to be amusing, but I didn’t find it that way mainly because I know people in real-life who are actually like that.

Allen’s visits with his ex-wife, played by Meryl Streep doesn’t jive either because I could not believe that they were ever compatible enough to ever have gotten married in the first place.  It’s also weird that her new partner Connie (Karen Ludwig) remains so civil and calm when in Allen’s presence since he apparently tried at one time to run her over with a car, which to me would make her not want to be anywhere near him, or even allow him into her home.

Allen’s relationship with Hemingway is the film’s only interesting aspect. Some of course may consider this to be controversial due to the wide age differences between the two although technically in the state of New York the age of consent is 17, so in the eyes of the law it was legal even though the characters themselves amusingly don’t seem aware of this. What I liked though was that Hemingway, despite being so young, comes off as the mature one in the relationship and when they’re shown walking side-by-side she is actually taller, which I found to be the funniest part of the whole movie. She also does a very convincing cry, which isn’t easy.

Unfortunately the relationship also leaves open a plethora of questions that the movie never bothers to answer. For instance where are her parents and what do they think of her living with a 42-year-old man? What do her friends think of Allen and what exactly does she see in this scrawny, whiny little man to fall-in-love with him anyways?

Supposedly her character is based on actress Stacey Nelkin who had a on-going relationship with Allen for 8 years starting when she was 16, but that made more sense because she was a young would-be starlet who most likely was mesmerized by Allen as a well-established director and who she probably saw as being her ticket to possibly breaking into the business, but here Isaac is an unemployed nobody yammering incessantly about things like Ingmar Bergman, which is something most teens can’t get into, so again I ask what does this Hemingway character see in this guy that would make her want to move in with him?

I’ve been a fan of many of Allen’s other films especially his comedies from the early 70’s and some of his dramas too, but this one left me cold. I felt that way when I first saw it over 20 years ago and nothing changed upon the second viewing as it seems to be cramming in three diametrically different storylines giving it kind of a jumbled narrative instead of just focusing on one.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 18, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Butterflies are Free (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blind man digs blonde.

Don (Edward Albert) lives alone in a studio apartment as a blind composer trying desperately to break into the music scene while his mother (Eileen Heckart) wants him to move back home with her, but he resists. In comes free-spirited new neighbor Jill (Goldie Hawn) who has a hard time remaining in long-term relationships. The two quickly hit-if-off, but when Don pushes for a commitment she begins to back away.

The film manages to retain the charm of the hit Broadway play that it is based on and this is mainly due to the fact that that Leonard Gershe, who wrote the play also did the screenplay and Milton Katelas, who directed the Broadway version also does the film, but the claustrophobic setting becomes a detriment. To some degree I liked the apartment’s layout, which was shot on-location in an actual apartment building that still stands today at 1355 Grant Avenue in San Francisco, but the gray decaying walls and overall grimy interiors become depressing to look at and having almost all the action take place in it makes the film visually boring.

Changing the story’s setting from New York to San Francisco though is a major plus. The bit done over the opening credits showing the hippie subculture of the area gives off a great vibe and helps to explain Jill’s very free-spirited ways that may not make much sense to viewers living in today’s world. Seeing a man staring at her from the neighboring apartment may scare most women today and have the guy considered a ‘creep’, but Jill instead sees it as a ‘turn-on’ and even playfully flashes him, which is something that back then, in a more trusting, experimental, and ‘anything goes’ culture might have been even predicted and this goes along with her hopping into bed with Don on the first day she’s met him without even a second thought.

The scenes showing the couple walking down the city sidewalks has an eclectic energy because regular people were used in the background instead of paid extras, which helps to create an  authentic feel. All shapes and sizes of the subculture folks that made up the city’s neighborhoods get captured including one guy seen walking around with what looks to be a headcast. More scenes should’ve been done outdoors as it’s the one thing that gives the film an added ambiance and the fact that there aren’t enough of them causes an unintended static quality.

Albert, who is the son of actor Eddie Albert, is pretty good, but I was surprised why the introducing label gets listed next to his name in the opening credits as if this were his first film when just 7 years earlier he appeared prominently in The Fool Killer with Anthony Perkins. Hawn is solid too in a part tailored made for her persona and she also looks great running around in her skimpy underwear, but Blythe Danner who played the role in the stage version, might’ve given the character a more earthy quality.

My favorite person though was Heckart who adds some much needed drama with her presence and the film drags when she’s not in it. She is portrayed as being a heavy, but instead I found her to be completely relateable with her worries about her handicapped son living alone and something I would think most any other parent would also have. The fact that she starts out as controlling only to eventually let go and allow her son to finally spread-his-wings at a most critical time is the film’s best moment and deservedly helped her net an Oscar.

Unfortunately there are some dumb parts to the story as well. The first is the fact that it all takes place over a two day period, which makes Don’s emotional devastation at finding out that Jill plans to move in with some other guy seem too severe since he didn’t even know she existed just 48 hours earlier. Jill’s willingness to get involved in the personal affairs of Don and his mother and at one point even lectures the mother on her parental failings seem almost over-the-top since she technically barely even knows the woman. All this would’ve made more sense had the  relationship been going on for several months before either the mother or rival boyfriend arrived.

The segment where Jill tells Don that she’s moving in with her newfound boyfriend, which she knows will hurt him, and then goes back to her apartment to pack while Don has it out with his mother is problematic too since it was made clear earlier that the walls between the two apartments were paper thin. Therefore you’d expect that Jill would’ve overheard the conversation between the two and yet the film makes it seem like she hadn’t.

Spoiler Alert!

Having Jill reject her boyfriend and comeback to Don was a bit hard-to-swallow as most people don’t change their lifelong behaviors so quickly especially for someone they’ve just met, but fortunately the film doesn’t overdo it by having her rush back into his arms, but instead just shows them sitting down on the floor and talking. To me this signified a long lasting friendship as opposed to a romance, which in these types of circumstances is better and ultimately helps to make the movie, despite some of the grievances described above, a winner.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 6, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Milton Katselas

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Daisy Miller (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She’s a real tease.

While studying in turn-of-the-century Switzerland Frederick (Barry Brown) comes upon the beautiful Daisy Miller (Cybill Shepherd) who’s touring Europe along with her nervous and talkative mother (Cloris Leachman) and precocious younger brother Randolph (James McMurty). Frederick is smitten with her beauty, but unable to handle her free-thinking ways. Nonetheless he follows her around Europe where he continually becomes confounded with whether she likes him or not, or whether he’ll ever be able to convey his true feelings towards her.

This film, which is based on a short story by Henry James, was originally conceived by Peter Bogdanovich as being a vehicle for both him and his then girlfriend Shepherd to star in with Peter playing the part of Frederick and Orson Welles directing it. Peter had become mesmerized with Cybill while directing her in The Last Picture Show and left his then wife and children to move in with her in a situation that was later satirized in Irreconcilable DifferencesFortunately Welles realized that Peter’s obsession with making Cybill a big screen star had sapped him from all common sense and bowed out of the film project considering the material to be weak and lightweight, which it is, but this only then helped to convince the determined Peter to direct it himself.

The result isn’t as bad as I had initially presumed and in a lot ways it’s strangely engaging and certainly  far better than At Long Last Love another Bogdanovich/Shepherd concoction that was rejected by both audiences and critics alike. This one though takes advantage of Cybill’s conniving, flirtatious nature, which is something I feel she’s been doing her whole life and therefore makes this character a reflection of who she truly is. Leonard Maltin described her performance as “hollow”, which I agree as we only see one side to her personality, but when she plays that one side as well as she does then it becomes entertaining nonetheless.

Brown is excellent too and far better in the role than Peter ever would’ve been as Brown manages to retain the necessary modicum of self-respect even as he chases her around like a lovesick mope. Instead of this becoming off-putting we sympathize with his internal quandary and this then helps to propel the story forward even as it seems to be going nowhere.

The film’s other big asset is its on-location shooting. Some viewers have described the period costumes and set-pieces as being great, but for me this was only so-so. What I really liked though was the scene done inside the Coliseum at night under the moonlight, which gives off both a surreal and creepy feeling and adds an extra ambiance making me wish the segment had been extended as well as adding a trip to Rome on my own personal bucket list.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest failing though comes at the end where Daisy catches malaria and promptly dies, but we never see her sick and only gets told this after she’s already dead. Having a scene showing her ill and vulnerable as opposed to always being free-spirited and in control would’ve helped give the character an added dimension especially if it had been done with Frederick at her bedside.

The idea that if Frederick had just been less ‘stiff’ towards her that the relationship might’ve blossomed is ridiculous as I think this was the type of woman who enjoyed manipulating men and even if she got married to one she’d continually toy with them until she got bored and moved on to the next. Having her die isn’t ‘sad’ as the film suggests, but instead a happy one for Frederick as now he’s ultimately out of her grip and able to free himself to find someone who would really care for him.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 22, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Unfaithfully Yours (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Conductor suspects wife’s infidelity.

Claude Eastman (Dudley Moore) is a famous orchestra conductor who’s married to Daniella (Nastassja Kinski). While he is on vacation his friend Norman (Albert Brooks) hires a detective (Richard B. Shull) to keep an eye on her and he mistakenly thinks that she’s cheating on Claude with Maximillan (Armand Assante). When Claude finds this out he comes up with a crafty plot to kill her and frame it on Maximillian, but once he tries to put the plan into action everything goes awry.

This is a remake of the film with the same title that was released in 1948 and starred Rex Harrison. That film was quite funny especially the second-half, but it wasn’t perfect and this one makes several changes to the original script that I felt actually improved it. One of the changes is that while Claude is conducting the orchestra he comes up with the plan of how he wants to kill her, but in the original it was three different ideas while here it is only one. Some viewers have complained about this, but the truth is that the other two ideas weren’t very funny or interesting, so whittling it down to only one works better.

I also felt that it was dumb at how in the original Harrison had no interest in reading the report that the private eye hands him and at one point even tries to set it on fire, but I would think any reasonable person, even if they wanted to believe that their partner wouldn’t cheat on them, would still be curious enough to want to take a look at it. In this version Moore initially resists but eventually his curiosity gets the better of him, which is how I think 99 % of other people would act if in the same situation, which therefore makes Moore’s attempts at retrieving the report after initially discarding it all the more comical.

The actual murder plan though is better handled in the first one, where if done exactly right was rather ingenious and even believable. Here though the idea that Moore comes up with has a lot of glaring holes in it right from the start including the fact that he attempts to record his wife’s laughter/screams while inside a restaurant, but the noise of the other customers would conceivably drown out the wife’s voice. The recorder is also placed too far away from where the wife is sitting making whatever noise it does pick-up from her come off as quite muffled and distant.

I felt that Harrison’s acting in the original was what really made it work, but Moore does just as good here particularly in the animated way he conducts, which is a laugh onto itself. However, the scene where he mistakenly drinks some coke that is laced with crushed tranquilizer pills, which presumably should’ve knocked him out completely, but instead it makes him behave in a slightly drunken state is too reminiscent to the alcoholic character that he played in Arthur and therefore should not have been done here due to the comparison.

Although it doesn’t quite hold-up and loses steam by the end it’s still an entertaining ride. If you’re more into classic Hollywood films, or you want to watch and compare both, then I’d say the black-and-white original is just as good as both films had me laughing-out-loud at several points and both deserve a 7 out of 10.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Redneck (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Robbers accidentally kidnap kid.

Memphis (Telly Savalas) and Mosquito (Franco Nero) are two crooks who try to pull off a jewelry store heist, but end up nabbing much less than they wanted. During their getaway attempt the car being driven by their driver Maria (Ely Galleani) crashes forcing them to stop another car and physically removing its driver (Beatrice Clary) out of the vehicle. Yet as they drive off inside the stolen car they are unaware of a 12-year-old child (Mark Lester) hidden in the backseat who ends up stymieing all of their plans.

This was yet another ill-fated film project that Lester took on after the tremendous success of Oliver! that was supposedly done to help make him a solid big-screen star, but instead turned his career to literal ashes by 1977, which pushed him out of the acting altogether and into a career in sports medicine. The film starts out okay with some excellent action that’s vividly done and had it kept up its fast-pace throughout it might’ve done better.

Unfortunately whenever the story slows done it gets boring real fast. Part of the problem is there is no backstory given to any of its characters. Everything starts out very abruptly going right into the robbery and subsequent getaway, which is fine, but at some point we need to learn more about these people; what makes them tick and gives them distinction, which never happens. It’s hard to get caught up in the action or tension when everyone, including Lester, comes off as blah and transparent. The film’s original Italian title was Senza Ragione, which translates into ‘with no reason’ and that’s exactly what you get here: sadistic, mindless calamity that serves no purpose.

Lester’s presence isn’t interesting and he barely even has much dialogue. He’s too much of a passive victim that doesn’t fight back enough while his bonding with Nero happens too quickly. His  eventual downward spiral, where he goes from innocent child to a nutcase that craves violence is also too quick and does not seem genuine. The part where he tries to escape from the crooks and is chased through an empty field is jarring because playful, cartoon-like music gets played over it making it seem almost like a slapstick comedy even though the rest of the film is approached like a thriller with a pounding soundtrack, which makes the production come-off like it has a split-personality.

The film is also somewhat controversial because Lester, who was only 13 at the time of filming,  for no apparent reason strips naked although the viewer only sees him from behind, but it’s still a bizarre moment nonetheless. However, to me what was more shocking was having him watch an adult couple making love in the backseat of a car.

Savalas is certainly a lot of fun and can make the most of any low grade picture, but even here his campiness gets a bit overdone including his incessant whistling. The ending, in which the characters go from a summer climate to a winter one in seemingly a matter of a day is quite confusing. To some extent I liked the snowy landscape and howling wind, which created a surreal effect, but having a movie change seasons so drastically and without any explanation is a true sign of really bad filmmaking.

Alternate Title: Senza Ragione

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: January 26, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Silvio Narizzano

Studio: Crawford Productions

Available: VHS

Bronco Billy (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rich lady and cowboy.

Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood) is an aging modern-day cowboy who runs a traveling wild west show that is no longer attracting customers and making it hard for him to pay his employees. While at a gas station he meets Antoinette (Sondra Locke) a rich heiress with a haughty attitude who has just gotten dumped by her husband (Geoffrey Lewis) who also absconded with all of her money. Billy decides to hire her onto his show despite the fact that her presence causes animosity amongst the rest of his crew.

After Locke’s recent death, one person on Twitter, I don’t remember who, stated that this was the ‘greatest movie ever made’ and I’m not sure if he was joking or not, but if he wasn’t then I adamantly must disagree.  The film does start out okay and even has a certain charm to it, but the story and situations get too exaggerated until it’s impossible to take any of it seriously while also being too hokey to find funny.

The biggest logic gaps occur during the story thread dealing with Lewis being convinced to lie to the authorities that he killed Locke even though he really didn’t, so that he can get his share of her inheritance once he gets out. He’s told that if he pleads insanity that he will be ‘guaranteed’ to be released in only 3 years, but when in the history of the world has this ever happened and who would ever be dumb enough to believe it?  And that staying at a mental hospital is ‘no big deal’ and almost like a ‘resort’, which describes no mental hospital that I’ve ever head of.  There’s also no attempt by the police, or at least none is ever shown, to investigate the case to make sure Locke really has been murdered and try and retrieve her body.

The proverbial barroom brawl segment (must every western-themed film have this?) that occurs in the middle is as cliched and silly as it sounds and puts the whole rest of the film on a very cartoonish level. What’s even dumber is that during the brawl Locke goes outside to the parking lot where she gets accosted by two men, but just before they’re able to assault her Eastwood and his buddies magically appear to save her, but how could they have no known that she was in trouble when just a minute before they were shown taking part in the wild ruckus inside?

Locke’s rich-bitch personality is too much of a caricature and quickly becomes irritating to the point that when she eventually does soften, which takes awhile, it still doesn’t help. Having her able to shoot a pistol just as well as Billy seems out of character and never sufficiently explained. It would’ve been funnier had her dainty, cushy lifestyle been challenged more by throwing her into a rugged experience that she wasn’t used to, which doesn’t get played-up half as much as it could’ve or should’ve.

Eastwood’s character isn’t likable either. I would hate working for somebody that couldn’t pay me fore several months straight nor not allowing his employees to ad-lib any of their lines that he writes for them during the western skits that they put on even though people work better in their jobs when their allowed to have creativity and leeway in what they do and how they do it.

Why he would immediately fall head-over-heels for this woman is a mystery as Locke is only average in the looks department and her arrogant attitude is such an extreme turn-off that just about any guy would quickly dump her and never look back instead of continually pursuing her like Billy pretty much does here. Having them consummate their relationship should’ve only occurred at the very end while displaying much more of their personality clashes, which gets underplayed.

The scene where Billy and his gang try to hold-up a train is really funny and I enjoyed the inspired casting of having Woodrow Parfrey, who usually plays weirdo types, being cast as the head of the mental hospital, but other than that I felt the film was too predictable. You know where it’s headed right from the start and the theme of the old-fashioned, rugged individualist fighting more modern-day sensibilities has been done in so many other Eastwood films that here it becomes redundant.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Release: June 11, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 56 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Clint Eastwood

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

River’s Edge (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teens ambivalent to murder.

A high school clique must deal with conflicting issues when one of their members (Daniel Roebuck) murders his girlfriend (Danyi Deats) and leaves her nude corpse along the riverbed where he then proudly shows it off to anyone who wants to see it. Some of them consider going to the police while others like Layne (Crispin Glover) thinks they should simply bury the body and cover-up for John’s deeds since he’s their friend.

While I liked the film’s atmosphere and the strong drama I didn’t care for the preachy tone. This is most evident in the scenes with Jim Metzler playing a teacher who’s a baby boomer and brags about how great his generation is compared to today’s teens and even at one point wags his finger at them over their apathy, but never once answers why they’ve become that way. Every generation likes to feel that they’re superior to the one that comes after it and the film seems to want to align itself with that point-of-view; that the kids today just don’t seem to ‘get-it’, but what’s caused that? Is it just some ‘bad DNA’ or instead a crumbling societal structure and if so then the adults are partially to blame for it, which is a complex area that the film seems reluctant to go to.

The fact that there isn’t any real insight to the cause and it doesn’t even analyze the family life of all its characters is a bit frustrating. It does show the chaotic, broken home life to one of them, which could be construed as part of the problem, but then later this gets negated when the teen from that household is the one who ultimately goes to the police.

Keanu Reeves character is a further detraction as he becomes too much of the conventional hero. Watching him literally shake from guilt while sitting in a classroom gives away all the tension as it makes it clear he will eventually go to the police and it would’ve been more intriguing had this instead been kept a mystery. Initially we’re supposed to be ‘shocked’ that the teens don’t immediately run to the police upon discovering the body, but then having him later get accused of the crime once he does go only helps to make those that didn’t seem the wiser.

Dennis Hopper’s character is a problem too. He’s great actor who plays the part brilliantly even though it seems too similar, at least initially, to the one he played in Blue Velvet almost to the point of it being typecasting. Having the guy start out as this weird, overly eccentric, mentally unstable loner who goes around in public with his sex doll only to then turn around and become a moral authority to ‘the crazy kids of today’ is just too much of a weird clash.

Crispin Glover, with his androgenic looks and wild, hybrid VW that he drives around in, is the film’s true star and many might even say that he IS the movie. His warped idea of friendship, loyalty, and ‘honor’ is amusing and even engaging and in a offbeat way brings a sense of innocence to an otherwise jaded climate. The plot would’ve worked better had it made him the centerpiece by turning it into a black comedy where he becomes the anti-hero by trying to save his friend from getting into trouble, which ultimately would’ve hit home the same message that the drama does anyways.

Despite having its plot start from the middle and work into a nebulous finish, it’s still a gripping and groundbreaking film and something I found myself quite caught up in. I just wished it hadn’t felt the need to envelope it with a social message, but instead allowed the situation play out naturally with an ambiguous tone, which would’ve then forced the viewer to ponder the ramifications of it by themselves instead of trying to do it for them.

Although the film never mentions it this it is actually based, or at least inspired by a true incident that occurred in Milpitas, California when 14 year-old Marcy Renee Conrad was murdered by 16 year-old Anthony Broussard on November 3, 1981. After dumping the dead body into a ravine Broussard then showed it off to 10 of his friends who didn’t do anything about it until finally 2 of them decided to go to the police. However, there are some major differences from the real case to the one portrayed here. In the actual incident Marcy was also raped and Broussard was African American and his ultimate fate was much different than what happens to the killer in the movie.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 39 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tim Hunter

Studio: Island Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Promises in the Dark (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Caring for cancer patient.

Elizabeth ‘Buffy’ (Kathleen Beller) is a 17-year-old high school senior who breaks her leg while kicking a soccer ball. Alexandra (Marsha Mason) is the attending physician who feels that a beak of that magnitude should not have occurred simply by kicking a ball, so after doing more x-rays they find a cancerous tumor, which necessitates having the leg amputated. While Buffy recovers from that further tests reveal that the cancer has spread and this causes Alexandra to lose her cold, defensive exterior as she tries to comfort Buffy through the remaining time that she has.

This film nicely keeps everything at an earnest level and avoids jazzing things up for dramatic purposes, which is refreshing. The acting from Ned Beatty as Buffy’s father and Susan Clark as the mother is outstanding with Clark’s character being particularly interesting especially when she doesn’t run to her sick daughter’s aid when she hears her cry for help, but instead remains frozen at the bottom of the stairs, which was something I wanted to have explored more.

Mason’s excellent dramatic talents seemed ripe for this type of material, but strangely she doesn’t come-off as well as I would’ve expected. I liked that she is portrayed as being strong and in control and the fact that she just happens to be female, in a time when doctors was still a male dominated profession,  and it’s never used against her is great, but the character’s arch, in which she learns to open-up more after her divorce, is not half as compelling as Buffy’s struggles, which should’ve made her the main character while the Dr. role thrown in as a minor secondary one.

Alexandra’s romantic relationship with another Dr., played by Michael Brandon, wasn’t necessary either. To some degree I liked how the film keeps this at a realistic level, by having the relationship full of a lot of ups-and-downs as opposed to having their eyes magically lock on each other and then in the next shot showing them in bed together like a lot of other movies do, but supposedly the element of this story was Alexandra’s friendship with Buffy and that in many ways becomes secondary to the romance.

Beller is the best thing as her sensitive portrayal connects strongly with the viewer making what she goes through quite upsetting. Having to watch a likable person learn to adjust to life with only one leg, which she does quite commendably, is one thing, but having her then go through more cancer treatments until she is left a virtual vegetable is just too much to bear and it makes the second hour downright tortuous to have to sit through.

Spoiler Alert!

Some may argue that having Buffy die was just keeping things real, but then why throw in a whole secondary story-line that doesn’t get introduced until the third act, which has a Karen Ann Quinlan-like quality to it as it deals with Buffy being kept alive long after her brain activity has ceased and Alexandra’s fight with Buffy’s parents to have the machine shut off. The fact that Alexandra eventually succeeds in turning it off only brings up more questions like did this get her into trouble with her job/reputation, or sued in court by Buffy’s parents? None of this gets answered or even touched on, but should’ve and in essence seems like a plot for a whole other movie.

Films from the 70’s were notorious for having sad endings, which in many ways made them more sincere. Yet this movie is so unrelentingly with it that I failed to see how anyone could enjoy it. Certainly it’s not something you’d ever want to watch more than once, or one that you’d ever want to invite a friend or date to as it would put a damper to any evening. This may be too maudlin for even fans of tearjerkers, which are the only people that could possibly like it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 2, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerome Hellman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video