Tag Archives: Entertainment

Ruthless People (1986)

Ruthless People Movie Poster (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife gets kidnapped.

Sam (Danny DeVito) wants to kill his shrewish wife Barbara (Bette Midler) so he can get her inheritance, but is unable to when she is kidnapped by a young couple (Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater) who demand ransom. Sam decides not to pay it, but mistakenly tells his lover (Anita Morris) about his plans and she with the help of her secret boyfriend Earl (Bill Pullman) scheme to use this information to extort him, but then a neighborhood psycho known as The Bedroom Killer (J.E. Freeman) throws everything into chaos by threatening to kill all of them.

The script was written by Dale Launer who at the time was a struggling salesman at a sound appliance store much like Judge Reinhold’s character in the movie, but like with many scripts written by first-timers there’s too many characters and a plot-heavy scenario that throws in one irony after another until it gets convoluted. Too much emphasis is placed on the concept and not enough on the characters with an end result that has no point to it other than just being very crass and over-the-top.

Everyone onscreen is simply a flimsy caricature used to propel the elaborate plot along and nothing more. The only one that is likable is Helen Slater whose nervous wide-eyed gaze makes her presence memorable. The film though would’ve worked better had it focused solely on the contrasting couples as well as having Reinhold and Slater shown working together more instead of Reinhold taking over and pushing Slater off to the side until she becomes almost forgotten.

DeVito is enjoyable, but Midler is annoying especially with her exaggerated facial expressions.  I also didn’t buy into the idea that this woman who is otherwise quite cynical and sarcastic would be naïve enough to believe that her husband still loved her and supposedly ‘worshipped the ground’ that she walked on even when he really didn’t. After living with somebody for 15 years, which is how long their marriage apparently was, you get a pretty clear view of your partner’s flaws no matter how hard they try to camouflage it. Even the most wide-eyed of people would’ve been at the very least suspicious that he might have ulterior motives as there’s always red flags and the fact that this lady was completely oblivious to them only proves how poorly fleshed-out the characters here are.

Spoiler Alert!

The story is overloaded with loopholes too. For instance Anita Morris and her lover Bill Pullman decide to play the tape of what they think is Sam murdering his wife on a VCR inside a TV-equipment store where all the other customers can see it, but why play something publicly that could potentially get them into a lot of trouble? If Pullman was able to afford a video camera, as he was the one who recorded the incident to begin with, then why couldn’t he also afford his own VCR?

It also takes too long for the police to suspect that Sam may have something to do with his wife’s disappearance even though in reality the spouse is always the prime suspect from the get-go. Having 8 police cars openly tailing Reinhold in hopes that he will lead them to his hideout is pretty stupid too. The idea is to not allow the suspect to be aware that you’re following him because otherwise he will just lead the police on a wild-goose-chase, which is exactly what he does here and any savvy veteran cop would’ve predicted that. I realize the filmmakers thought it would be ‘funny’ visually seeing all these police cars chasing the suspect, but it’s instead nonsensical. Every movie needs to have at least one person who is grounded and sensible even if everyone else is kooky. Having everyone behaving foolishly makes the story inane and unbelievable.

Reinhold’s ability to escape from his submerged vehicle after he drives it into a lake is equally questionable. Putting on a breathing apparatus underwater as he apparently does would be quite difficult if not impossible and how exactly was he able to make it seem like it was the Bedroom Killer (who was killed earlier in the film) as the driver of the getaway vehicle instead of himself? For that to happen the killer would’ve had to have been sitting in the driver’s seat where Reinhold was previously. Are we to believe that Reinhold had the dead killer’s body in the trunk of his car and while underwater somehow able to get the corpse from the trunk into the driver’s seat before the police got to it? The logistics of this is dubious, which is why having a scene done underwater showing him going through all of this should’ve been inserted in, but unfortunately isn’t.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall despite a few chuckles it’s a superficial mess and nowhere near the acerbic, dark satire that it likes to think it is. I disliked the gaudy Memphis style furniture used in DeVito’s home as well, which gives the production too much of a campy look.  Billy Joel’s ‘Modern Woman’, which gets played over the closing credits, seems to have nothing to do with the main theme and completely out of place. I also couldn’t stand the dresses that Helen Slater’s character designs. The movie acts like she has ‘talent’ and Midler really likes wearing them even though it looks like something you’d put on a clown and nothing I’d ever want to be seen in and I’d feel sorry for anyone who did wear them.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 27, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Directors: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Don is Dead (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two Mafia leaders feud.

After the death of his mob boss father, Frank (Robert Forster) finds himself embroiled in the middle of a feud between two rival crime families. Don Angelo (Anthony Quinn) comes to Frank’s aid and agrees to take over the family business and then once he dies everything will go to Frank. Luigi (Charles Cioffi) and his greedy lover Marie (Jo Anne Meredith) are not happy with this arrangement and in an attempt to weaken the alliance they arrange for Don to meet up with Frank’s girlfriend Ruby (Angel Tompkins) while Frank is away in Rome on business. The two immediately hit-it-off and begin a hot-and-heavy affair. When Frank returns and finds out about this he flies into a rage by first beating his girlfriend and then swearing further vengeance onto Don. Don in turn puts out a hit on Frank, which escalates an endless bloody mob war.

During the early ‘70s with the success of The Godfather studios were churning out mob themed films about as fast as they could be produced. Many of them were vastly inferior to Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, but this one may be the worst. The biggest problem is the nauseating violence that takes up the entire second-half. In The Godfather the killings had a lyrical quality that became a cinematic achievement and indelible on the viewer’s memory, but here the shootings are quite mechanical. Instead of being shocking they’re monotonous and impede the film from becoming anything more than just a cheap, uninspired Hollywood rip-off.

The film also lacks a likable character, which creates no emotional bond from the viewer to anyone onscreen nor any concern for who gets shot and who doesn’t. Tony (Frederic Forrest) is the only one with any type of arch as he wants out of the business at the start, but by the end is a hardened crime boss, which is too similar to Al Pacino’s quandary in The Godfather and only further cements this as being a poor man’s version of that one.

Forster is good despite displaying a rather affected accent. Quinn is also okay, but his character has little to do particularly by the second-half when he becomes almost comatose after suffering a stroke. What annoyed me most though was that there was never any final confrontation between the two. The whole thing revolved around a misunderstanding that they had, so a meeting at the end between them seemed almost mandatory, but it doesn’t occur making an already flawed film even more unsatisfying.

Marvin Albert, who was famous for writing the Tony Rome detective novels, penned this script, which is based off of his own novel, but the results are slight. The conflicts between the characters are not riveting and everyone comes off as being quite stupid for allowing themselves to be so easily mislead making the bloodshed that results from it even more grotesque. Maybe that’s the film’s point, but there have been so many better movies on this same subject that there really was no need for this one and whatever message it attempts to convey dies with the rest of the carnage on the screen.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 14, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

9 1/2 Weeks (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A sexually charged relationship.

Elizabeth (Kim Basinger), a curator at a New York art gallery and recently divorced, meets John (Mickey Rorke) one day while shopping at a seafood place. Elizabeth is turned-on by John’s mysterious aura and they commence into having a torrid sexual affair that turns kinky, but eventually she becomes burnt-out by it and finds that besides the sex there is very little that they have in common.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Ingeborg Day under the pseudonym of Elizabeth MacNeil, which in turn was based on actual events that occurred to her when she was kept a virtual prisoner in her lover’s home for a period of two and a half months. The movie tones down the prisoner aspect and concentrates more on the erotic one, but the result is a confusing story that meanders without saying much of anything. The film was shelved for over two years because it kept getting bad responses from test audiences and constantly sent back to the studio for re-editing. When it was finally released it bombed badly at the box office.

The sexual aspect is tame and in these jaded times may even be considered laughable. The kink relies mainly on the use of blind folds and food items with the sex done from a feminine viewpoint that might arouse women, but unlikely to do the same for a man. The sexual games, as tepid as they are, get portrayed as being empowering to Elizabeth and something that allows her to release her ‘inner freak’, but I kept wondering what was John supposed to be getting out of all of this while she cavorts around naked or sucks provocatively on various food items. Maybe he was a voyeur that simply enjoyed watching and if so then it should’ve been made clearer because he comes off as nothing more than a transparent bystander otherwise.

We learn nothing about Elizabeth as the film progresses and her constantly giggly, screechy behavior makes her seem more like an immature schoolgirl and not a sophisticated, educated Manhattanite in her mid-30’s. She’s also too passive and easily manipulated without any reason given for why this is. Basinger’s performance is dull with a stunt double used during most of the sex scenes. Margaret Whitton who plays her best friend would’ve been far better in Basinger’s role because at least she shows some spunk and seemed genuinely human while Basinger is more like a zombie.

For a film with such strong erotic overtones there is surprisingly very little of it to see. The sex scenes show up in bits and pieces and then last for only a few minutes. In-between there’s long meandering segments that has nothing to do with the central theme and isn’t particularly interesting. The most memorable moment involves a conversation between Rourke and a bedding saleswoman (Justine Johnston) and even here things get botched because in one shot Rourke inadvertently knocks a vase off of a back shelf when he hops onto a bed in a showroom and then in the very next shot that same vase has magically gotten placed back.

I enjoyed the way director Adrian Lyne frames his shots as well as his color compositions and the provocative concept has a tantalizing quality, but Lyne seems confused about exactly what kind of message he wants to make with it and I think he was hoping that it would somehow manifest itself as the film progressed, but it never does. Bitter Moon, a film that came out 6 years later and had roughly the same idea, is far more impactful and worth your time in seeking out.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 21, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Adrian Lyne

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Dark Star (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Four guys in space.

Dark Star is a scout ship used to destroy planets in the galaxy that are considered unstable. Its crew consists of four men: Pingback (Dan O’Bannon) who keeps a pet alien resembling a beach ball in the back storage room, Talby (Dre Pahlich) who spends all his time sitting alone in the ship’s observation deck, Boiler (Cal Kuniholm) who enjoys playing around with the ship’s emergency laser rifle, and Doolittle (Brian Narelle) who spends his time dreaming about being able to water surf again. The men have all spent 20 years on the ship and its begun to take a toll on their mental state as well as the ship’s mechanical framework, which ultimately challenges their survival.

This started as a student project while director John Carpenter and O’Bannon were attending USC’s film school back in 1970 and it was met with such enthusiasm that they decided to lengthen it into a feature film. Although critics at the time loved it the public didn’t, which caused the film to be shown to virtually empty theaters only to finally find a second life on the DVD market where it has now achieved a strong cult following.

Despite being an obvious parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey it doesn’t just play it up for cheap laughs, which why it works. Too many times parodies overplay the comedy elements by using an Airplane-like structure that is just one slapstick gag after another. Here there’s an actual story with character’s motivations that make sense given their circumstances and coming off more like a quirky observation of the psychological effects of space isolation instead of just a cheesy comedy.

The special effects are impressive especially given its limited budget. Sure some of it is tacky including having the ship’s console board made up of ice cube trays turned upside down, or space suits made of muffin tins and helmets worn by the crew that were actually designed for children. Yet there’s a share of cool moments too like the flashing lights used to represent a meteor storm in space or a scene involving a former commander (John Carpenter) kept in cryogenic suspension and even a nerve-wracking moment inside an empty elevator shaft.

The most memorable segment involves an alien that resembles a beach ball with little feet. Initially this looks absurd and makes the film seem too silly, but when the alien manages to escape from its holding cell and begins creating havoc on the ship it starts to seem, as surprising as this may sound, creepy and gives the film a certain chilling edge that was later used as the basis for Alien.

There are enough original moments here for it to be appreciated by just about any sci-fi fan with a funnybone. The fact that the story focuses on the crew’s mental deterioration and the ship’s eroding structure is not all that far off from reality either. Many other big budget sci-fi flicks, in their quest to bombard the viewer with the latest overblown special effects, usually ignore the psychological angle of being trapped on a spaceship for long periods of time would have, which thus gives this movie, as campy as it ultimately is, a certain insightful edge.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 30, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated G

Director: John Carpenter

Studio: Jack H. Harris Enterprises

Available: DVD

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bored housewife seeks excitement.

Roberta (Roseanna Arquette) is a suburban housewife who’s bored with her life and looking for diversion. She gets hooked on reading the singles ads in her local newspaper and becomes especially intrigued by a couple, Jim (Robert Joy) and Susan (Madonna) who communicate with each other solely through the ads. When they advertise that they want to meet each other at a certain location Roberta decides to go undercover to that locale, so she can spot what they look like. Through various mishaps she becomes mistaken as being Susan and even starts a relationship with Jim’s best friend Dez (Aiden Quinn), but Roberta’s husband Gary (Mark Blum) begins searching for her and in the process forms a friendship with Susan.

The motivation for this plot is just too kooky to be believed. Okay, so Roberta is bored with her life, fine, but why get so intrigued by messages from some couple that she has never seen? If there was some guy sending messages directly to her through the ads as a sort of secret admirer I could understand or maybe if she had seen Susan in passing and became attracted to her through some latent lesbian feelings I could go with that too, but the way it’s done here is wonky. If a person is bored with their lives then they can join a social group, start a new hobby, or have an affair with their mailman, but stalking a couple that they have never met or seen is pretty damn far down the list if even on it. The fact that her husband was aware of her obsession of looking at these ads and wasn’t worried is pretty absurd too. I know the guy is portrayed as being clueless, but that’s being just a little too clueless.

Casting Madonna as Susan doesn’t help. Sure she was a big pop superstar at the time, but that still doesn’t mean she could act. Her presence fails to have the intended spark as she plays basically just a caricature of her rock ‘n’ roll image with a character that is poorly defined, lacks any distinctive qualities and could easily describe any of the hundreds of punk vagabonds that roamed the streets of New York.

Arquette fairs better and is genuinely appealing to watch, but she is too young for the role. She was 26 at the time, but could easily come off as being just 20. Why would such a young woman become bored with her life so soon as she looked to have just gotten married and living a generally plush suburban existence? It would’ve made more sense casting an actress who was in her 40’s and spent years toiling away as a housewife to an aloof husband and found Susan to symbolize her latent youthful rebellion, which would’ve been funnier especially seeing a middle-aged woman trying to dress and act like a punk instead of a young woman who wasn’t all that far removed from the punk scene age anyways.

The story does have some funny, insightful moments, but they tend to be fleeting and the scenario could’ve and should’ve been played-up much more. The leisurely pace is unusual for a Hollywood movie making it seem almost like a European one instead. It also gives off a nice vibe of Manhattan’s East Village giving the viewer a true feeling of the underground club scene there and very similar in feel to Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, which also starred Arquette.

The film has strong satirical potential, but seems reluctant to fully go for the jugular and ends up being quite mild. I liked that fact that the character finds her suburban existence unfulfilling, which goes against the capitalist 80’s view of suburbia being the ultimate source of happiness and success, but that’s as edgy as this movie gets. Writer/director Susan Siedelman’s first feature Smithereens was far more caustic despite having a very similar theme. Perhaps with this being a studio film she felt that she had to tone things down, but this only helps to make the film feel flat and uneventful.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 29, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Susan Seidelman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Black Eye (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Find the walking cane.

An old walking cane with a distinctive silver handle that had been used as a prop in many old Hollywood movies is stolen by a prostitute named Vera (Nancy Fisher) after it is laid on top of a casket of deceased actor at his funeral. Later Vera is murdered inside her apartment by a man named Chess (Frank Ashmore) who retrieves the cane, but not before coming into a violent confrontation with Shep (Fred Williamson) a black private eye who lives across the hall from her. Chess manages to escape, but Shep decides to track him down in an effort to find out why everyone is after the cane and what secret it might hold.

The film is an okay blend of action and mystery that tends to show its cards to soon. The revelation for why the cane is so much in demand is quite predictable and makes the viewer feel like they wasted an hour and a half of their time watching a pedestrian plot that leads nowhere. Director Jack Arnold dresses the story up by inserting offbeat scenes and eccentric characters that only adds a mild diversion to the proceedings, but still culminates with a flat finish.

Former pro football player Fred Williamson who played for the Kansas City Chiefs during the ‘60s is the best thing about the movie. Other athletes who turned to film acting after their sports careers were over were not as adept in front of the camera. Jim Brown for instance was great on the gridiron, but lacked an ability to play anything more than a hardened tough guy whose facial expression never changed. Williamson has more of an appeal because he doesn’t take himself or his role too seriously while also showing an ability to play either comedy or drama.

His female co-stars though are wasted and really didn’t need to be in it at all. Theresa Graves looks beautiful, but her character has no integral link to the story the lesbian angle dealing with the relationship that she has with her white girlfriend (played by Rosemary Forsyth) seems to be thrown in simply to give the film a certain perceived ‘kinky’ edge. Forsyth for her part has her voice dubbed and for what reason I don’t know, but it’s distracting and unnecessary.

88 year-old Cyril Delevanti, in his final film appearance, is quite amusing as an elderly man who’ll stop at nothing to get his cane back, but character actor Richard Anderson is a detriment. He plays a father who hires Shep to find his missing runaway daughter (Susan Arnold). At the end Williamson and Anderson get into a fistfight with Anderson doing his own stunts, which looks fake. A shot capturing him lowering his foot towards the camera in a dramatic attempt to show him stomping on Williamson (with the camera working as being Williamson’s P.O.V.) doesn’t work because it is clear that he is restraining his foot so it doesn’t actually hit the camera and break it. If you’re going to do a shot from this angel then have the foot actually pounce onto the camera even if it means damaging it because that would make it appear more authentic, or otherwise don’t do it at all.

For those that enjoy blaxploitation flicks from the ‘70s you may give this one, which is based on the novel ‘Murder on the Wild Side’ by Jeff Jacks, a slightly higher rating than I did. Some of the action is good especially a scene where Williamson escapes out of a immobile elevator and shimmies his way down the elevator shaft, but overall there’s nothing else about it that is distinctive to raise it above all the other black action films that are out there.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 17, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jack Arnold

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video

Hairspray (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Integrate the dance show.

Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake) and her best friend Penny Pingleton (Leslie Ann Powers) audition for ‘The Corny Collins Show’ a local teen dance contest. Penny isn’t able to make the cut, but Tracy is much to the infuriation of the snotty Amber (Colleen Fitzpatrick) who was the show’s reigning dance queen. The rivalry between the two heats up even more when Tracy tries to integrate the show with black performers which incites Amber’s racist parents (Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry) to resort to desperate and violent means in order to keep the show segregated.

This was the movie where John Waters became a legitimate filmmaker who could use his craft to create a story instead of making a movie that was simply a foray into crude humor. When he first broke into the underground scene his films such as Mondo Trasho, Pink Flamingoes, and Female Trouble where refreshingly trashy and daring to show things other movies wouldn’t. The stark frankness and complete disregard of who it offended were both hilarious and groundbreaking, but by the time it got to 1981’s Polyester the formula had gotten stale and hearing campy characters shout incessantly at each other was becoming derivative while also exposing Waters as possibly being just a one-dimensional talent who was sadly losing his edge.

This film though was a complete change-of-pace with each shot and scene a loving tribute to his days growing up in Baltimore during the 50’s and early 60’s. The film has a lot of dance numbers that normally could bog the pace down, but here I got into the energy of it and it helped me to feel even more like I had been transported into a different time period. The musical soundtrack is filled with a lot of lesser known songs which most viewers will have never heard of and thus helping the film’s soundtrack avoid sounding like just another generic playlist from an oldies radio station.

Divine’s presence is much less crucial to the story’s plotline than in Waters’ past films. Sadly by this time his/her appearance was looking even more like just some fat guy wearing wig and no longer coming off in any way as being an overweight woman even though in the past films it was at times hard to tell. His physique looked so out of shape here that it should be no surprise that he died of a sudden heart attack just three weeks after the film’s release. In fact as the mother he really isn’t funny or engaging at all and only in a brief few scenes where he plays the station’s cantankerous owner Arvin Hodgepile does he show actual energy and gets a few laughs.

The original idea was to have Divine play both the roles of the mother and daughter, but fortunately that got nixed and Ricki Lake was brought in. She has a genuine, honest presence about her that creates instant empathy and it’s nice having a film showing an overweight person where her body type did not impede her from achieving her goals nor work as a detriment at keeping her down.

The supporting cast is eclectic, but unfortunately most are wasted particularly Jerry Stiller and Sonny Bono as the two fathers. Debbie Harry is great with her increasingly outrageous beehive hairdos, which become the most memorable and imaginative thing about the film. Lesser known actress Joanne Havrilla is quite funny as Penny’s racist mother especially the scene where she panics when trapped in a black neighborhood. John Waters himself gets some good comic bits playing Penny’s quack psychiatrist and Pia Zadora is engaging as a pot smoking beatnik.

The film is full of comical highlights that playfully runs the gamut between subtle, over-the-top and crude that somehow works to form a cohesive whole culminating in a very funny ‘race riot’ at the end. If the film has any fault it is in the fact that it treats racism in a little too much of a trivial way like it is just some silly thing that can be easily fixed instead of the serious and deep-rooted issue that it really is.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 16, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Waters

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Back to School (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rodney goes to college.

Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) is a successful businessman who runs a national chain of clothing stores despite having never attained a degree. Now his son Jason (Keith Gordon) is attending a university, but he feels like dropping out. Thornton though doesn’t want to let him, so he decides to attend college with him in order to inspire him to remain in school.

The film would’ve been far more interesting had Rodney been poor and struggling to better himself by finally going back to school, which is much more relatable since many adults do this all the time. Making him already wealthy saps the potential drama and reality right out of the story making it more like a game that he is playing with no real consequence. He doesn’t even take any of his studying seriously, so the idea that he is at least broadening his intellect fails here too. The side-story dealing with him being a world class diver is equally ridiculous as this out-of-shape, beer guzzling, 65-year-old man looks like someone who would barely be able to run half a block before dropping dead of a heart attack let alone achieving any sort of complex dive that no one else could do.

Casting Adrienne Barbeau as his shrewish wife was a mistake as she lacks comic ability making the barbs that she trades with him unfunny and what’s a young and beautiful woman doing married to a homely dope like Rodney anyways? Okay, so Rodney’s character here has money and that’s why she married him, but that plays completely against his stand-up persona where he portrayed himself as being this loser that got no respect. The wife should’ve been a female version of Rodney looks-wise while also a nag and thus heightening the stakes for the character to go back to school and succeed. Having him later fall in love with his beautiful English professor played by Sally Kellerman makes even less sense as the two had intellectually nothing in common.

Keith Gordon is boring as Rodney’s son and having the story go off on a tangent dealing with his romance with a pretty coed (Terry Farrell) is derivative and should’ve been avoided as the film is only amusing when Rodney is in it and dull otherwise. Gordon also looks nothing like Rodney and it’s confusing why exactly he’s not ‘fitting-in’. Casting some fat, bulging eyed guy to play a young version of Rodney would’ve been funnier while also making his social ostracism more understandable.

Burt Young’s character adds to the already weird quasi-surreal atmosphere by playing Rodney’s chauffer who despite being out-of-shape, short and middle-aged just like Rodney he somehow also possess super human strength and able to beat-up and even intimidate much younger, more muscular guys. It was like there was no motivation at all by the writers to actually tell a story that made sense and they were simply throwing in any gag that they thought up and hoping some would stick.

Robert Downey Jr. as an eccentric socialist student was the only supporting character I liked, but he is not in it enough. The script should’ve had him rooming with Rodney and examining how these two very different personalities could get along while getting rid of the son character completely. Then we might’ve had a character driven comedy that was worth watching. The film though as it gets done here is too transparent and despite being filmed on-location at the University of Wisconsin in Madison poorly reflects the actual college experience and will remind no one that has attended college of what college life is really like.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 13, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Alan Metter

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Almost Summer (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: A high school election.

Bobby DeVito (Bruno Kirby) schemes to get even when Christine (Lee Purcell) is able to get high school hunk Grant (Robert Resnick) knocked out of the race for class president and thus allowing her to run unopposed. For revenge Bobby decides to nominate a shy new kid Darryl (John Friedrich) as her challenger. Darryl is initially unsure about taking on the challenge, but eventually gets into it only to eventually drop-out himself when he realizes Bobby has used some underhanded tricks in order to help him win.

The script is too simplistic and better suited as a ‘life lesson’ film that teachers show to kids in grade school. The action gets too locked into the students and the high school scene instead of broadening the situation out to include the school’s faculty like it did in Alexander Payne’s Election, which was far superior because it took the central scenario and connected it not only the foibles of teens, but adults as well. In fact very few adults get seen here making it seem like they were sucked away to some distant cosmos and the teens were left to run everything.

The film is refreshing to some extent because unlike most other teen flicks there’s no crude humor or sexual innuendos and the kids behave like young adults in the making instead of delayed adolescents, which is nice. However, the story is so boringly basic and told in such a straight-forward manner that after a while I actually wanted a sex joke or two to pop-in simply to have given the thing some life.

The situation needed to be played-up a lot more. Lee Purcell, who portrays a teen here only to ironically portray the mother of one just five years later in Valley Girl, is dull, but only because the part is painfully underwritten. The character is not mean enough for the viewer to really hate her. She is also too easily broken as evidenced by the scene where she breaks down into tears because she arrives at a debate with her hair still wet.

The Darryl character is equally benign. At first he comes off like a truly awkward teen, which could’ve been fun seeing this dopey geek upend a beauty queen at her own game, but the guy slides into the noble hero role too quickly. He becomes too-good-to-be-true making him nothing more than a transparent, good-guy cliché.

Some other reviewers have commented on Didi Conn and how her goofy, supporting presence helps enliven the film. Personally I’m not a fan of the actress as her geeky looks and squeaky voice gets on my nerves, but when a film is as bland as this one I suppose she does help it, which just prove how really bad it is. I also thought ‘Almost Summer’ was a weird title as everything that goes on here happens during the school year. A better title would’ve been ‘Almost Over’ because the whole time I was watching it I kept asking ‘Is this thing almost over?’

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Released: September 22, 1978

Rated PG

Director: Martin Davidson

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

Agatha (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Agatha Christie runs away.

Despondent over her husband’s affair famous British novelist Agatha Christie (Vanessa Redgrave) decides to go away for a while to collect her thoughts. She then gets into a car accident while on the road and having her car disabled she first takes a train and then a cab to the Old Swain Hotel where she registers there under an assumed name. The police find her disabled car and fear that Agatha may have drowned in a nearby lake, been kidnapped, murdered by her husband Archie (Timothy Dalton) or committed suicide. A nationwide search begins that encompasses thousands of volunteers that scour the nearby countryside for clues. Meanwhile American reporter Wally Stanton (Dustin Hoffman), working off of  a tip from Agatha’s secretary, decides to check into the same hotel and begins following Agatha around where he keeps notes on everything she does while also falling in love with her in the process.

The film is loosely based on Agatha Christie’s real-life 11-day disappearance that occurred in 1926. No explanation was ever given for the reason nor was it even mentioned in her autobiography. Had there been some actual research about what might’ve transpired during those 11-days then this would be worth a look, but, as the film plainly states at the beginning, it is simply an ‘imaginary solution to an authentic mystery’, so then what’s the point?

Most likely it was nothing more than a woman looking to escape to some quiet location for a short respite that unfortunately due to the press getting wind of it, spiraled quickly out-of-control. The film’s low point comes in the side-story dealing with Agatha’s attempts to kill herself through a jolt of electricity from sitting in a Bergonic chair, but is saved at the last second by Wally who grabs her from the chair just as she’s shocked. Yet as he lays her limp body on the floor he doesn’t perform CPR, but instead shouts at her to ‘breath’ several times and despite no scientific study proving that this ‘technique’ can actually work she still miraculously begins breathing again anyways.

I have never read a biography on Christie, so I have no idea what her real personality was like, but the film portrays her as being a complete wallflower lacking any type of confidence and so painfully shy it’s pathetic. The character is so transparent it’s almost like she’s not even there. Hoffman’s character was completely made-up and the way he chain smokes reminded me too much of the character that he had played in Midnight Cowboy. His growing ‘love’ for her and the way he later expresses it is extremely forced and corny. Also, why is Hoffman given top billing when the main subject is Agatha?

Johnny Mandel’s soothing score is the best thing. I also liked the shot of the thousands of volunteers searching for her along the vast countryside, but everything else about the movie gets either under cooked or overbaked. The scene where Agatha tries to do a triple bank shot while playing pool gets badly botched. We initially see it captured from above where the entire pool table is in view. The pool ball banks off the side and rolls towards the corner pocket, but then it slows up and it becomes clear that it won’t make it to the pocket, so director Michael Apted cheats by cutting to a close-up of the ball and having it magically regain speed, which easily makes it into the corner pocket. The attempt was to ‘trick’ the viewer into believing that this was a continuation of the same shot but any halfway savvy person will realize this close-up was shot later and edited in.

The film’s poster tells us that ‘What may have happened during the next 11 days is far more suspenseful than anything she ever wrote’, but it really isn’t and in fact it’s not even close. The original intent by screenwriter Kathleen Tynan was to make this into a documentary after researching the true facts of the case, which would’ve been far better than the flimsy fanciful thing we get here.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Apted

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube