Tag Archives: Entertainment

Class of 1984 (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teacher battles teen gang.

Andrew Norris (Perry King) is the new teacher at Lincoln High, which is an inner-city school prone to a lot of violence and drugs. He’s been hired to teach a music class while replacing another teacher who left suddenly. Almost immediately he’s at odds with Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) the leader of a school gang that constantly disrupts his class. He eventually is able to kick him out, but Peter continues to harass Norris in the off-hours where they vandalize his car and attack his wife (Merrie Lynn Ross). Norris eventually decides he’s had enough especially after the principal (David Gardner) and even the police detective (Al Waxman) show him little support, so he takes matter into his own hands by violently confronting Peter and refusing to back down.

The film, which was directed by Mark L. Lester, who as a B-movie director has done some compact, quality stuff, has definite shades to Teacherswhich came out 2 years later, but with the same type of theme. This one though is harder edged, which makes it a bit better though it’s still weaker than Unman, Wittering, and Zigowhich it also has some similarities to, but without the intriguing mystery element. Lester has stated that he wanted to make an updated version of Blackboard Jungle, but with a grittier feel and while it may have succeeded in that respect it still comes-off as needing an updating. The school gangs dress in an over-the-top way and at times it’s hard to tell whether this wants to be taken seriously, or intended as camp. As violent as it sometimes gets it still doesn’t touch on school shootings, which was unheard of at the time, but would make a modern day high school movie that would deal with that subject more violent and scarier and making this stuff, as edgy as it tries to be, seem tame by comparison.

The ratio of black and white students doesn’t mesh. This was supposed to be an inner city school, so you’d think there would be more students of color than white, but instead it’s 98% white with only 1 or 2 black kids per class.  Norris’ roomy home in the plush suburbs seemed too nice for someone working off of a teacher’s salary, so unless his wife had a high income job, which is never confirmed, then the home he lives in wouldn’t be realistic. The reason for Stegman becoming a gang leader doesn’t make sense either. Normally kids get involved in gangs due to being stuck in poverty, but Stegman lives in the suburbs where gang life is quite rare. If he was from an abusive family then it might justify, but his mother (Linda Sorensen) takes his side on everything, so again his motivation for joining a gang isn’t believable and in a lot of ways quite absurd.

I did enjoy King n the lead. He’s played some creepy parts quite effectively in the past, so I wasn’t sure if he could pull-off a good-guy role, but he does it quite admirably. Roddy McDowall is great too in the last film he appeared in with brown hair as after this he began sporting an all gray look. The scene where he teaches a class while holding all the students at gunpoint is by far the best moment. It’s fun too seeing Michael J. Fox (billed without the ‘J’) as a high school student even though he was already 21 at the time of filming. He looks more pudgy and has a bowl haircut though ultimately other than getting stabbed doesn’t have much to do. The weakest link is Van Patten who’s not scuzzy enough to give the role the nastiness that it needed.

The table saw death deserves kudos and the gas fire one isn’t bad either. Having he teachers turn-the-tables on the students and violently fight back gives the movie a novel edge though I wished that King and McDowall had teamed-up together to take on the kids instead of doing it individually. The story though doesn’t get interesting until the violent third act. The theme has also been tackled many times before and this one doesn’t add anything unique to the mix and for the most part is painfully predictable.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: United Film Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Pluto, Tubi, Freevee, Amazon Video

Junior Bonner (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: An aging bull rider.

Junior (Steve McQueen) is a rodeo star whose better days are behind him. As he enters his 40’s, he needs to find other ways to make a living and returns to his boyhood home of Prescott, Arizona where the rest of his family including his father Ace (Robert Preston), his mother Elvira (Ida Lupino), and brother Curly (Joe Don Baker) reside. When he gets there he finds that his father’s home is being bulldozed by his brother’s company in order to make way for a track of newer homes. Junior decides that the only way to make ends meet for both himself and his father is to win the prize money by riding the ornery bull Sunshine during the rodeo competition. He had attempted to ride Sunshine at another rodeo, but was quickly bucked-off and injured, but this time he feels it will be different and convinces the rodeo owner Buck Roan (Ben Johnson) to give him one last shot.

This film is different from any other Sam Peckinpah movie you’ll see and many viewers/critics at the time didn’t know what to make of it. Peckinpah was known and even stigmatized for his violent movies including The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs, which were deemed, especially the latter one, quite controversial and to an extent even glorifying violence. To help find a balance he decided to do something opposite from those by making a movie that was laid-back and didn’t feature any fighting except for one moment during a bar fight, which is done with a delightfully comic flair where everyone in the place gets punched except for Junior who goes off to a corner to makes-out with Charmagne (Barbara Leigh) even though he was the catalyst for why it began in the first place.

Unfortunately audiences and critics could not adjust to the extreme change in tone. They came to the theater expecting, based on Peckinpah’s reputation, bloody shoot-outs and got none and the end result is it doing quite poorly at the box recouping only $2.8 million from the original $3.2 million budget, which poisoned Peckinpah’s career as he was now deemed a financial risk and seriously affected the choice of projects he could do afterwards and how much control he’d have over them. Even normally friendly critics like Roger Ebert, who had been a fan of the director’s earlier works, bailed on this one calling it a “flat-out disappointment” and describing the material as being “terribly thin”. Another critic, Gary Arnold, described it as a film that “drifts across the screen and fades from your mind an instant later” and that there was “no compelling reason to see or remember it.”

I’ll admit the way it starts out had me a baffled. The story doesn’t go anywhere even after 30-minutes in and McQueen, normally this energetic, rugged action hero, looks like he’s in his 60’s and appearing perpetually tired. I started wondering whether this was just footage caught from a closed circuit camera that examined the slow way of life of small towns.

Things though do improve by the second act. The rodeo riding is captured in a vivid way making you feel like you’re riding the bull itself. Peckinpah’s uses his patented slow motion, but this time in a humorous vein like when Junior and Ace go riding away from a 4th of July parade and through the backyards of some houses where they inadvertently get caught up in some clothes lines. There’s even a couple of touching moments like Junior’s conversation with his father at a train station as well as Ace’s reconciliation with his wife. I was impressed with Joe Don Baker’s performance as well. I know some film-goers have mocked his acting in other movies, but I believe if given the right material he can be quite good though he wasn’t the director’s first choice as it was originally intended for Gene Hackman, but when his salary demands proved too high it was given to Baker much to Peckinpah’s regret as the two had many arguments during the production, which almost came to blows and only prevented when McQueen would get in the middle and calm both sides down.

For a modern day western this is one of the better ones and precipitated a boon of rodeo style movies  during the early 70’s. While its initial reception was not kind its been viewed in a better light today and even revered as being one of Peckinpah’s better works.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 20, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Stigma (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Venereal disease on island.

Calvin (Phillip Michael Thomas) is a doctor recently released from prison who gets a job assisting Dr. Thor (David E. Durston) at his island clinic. When Calvin gets there he’s given a cold greeting by the islanders who do not like a man of color, nor does the town’s racist sheriff (Peter Clune). When he arrives at the clinic he finds that the doctor has already passed-away as well as a tape he left behind warning of an epidemic on the island, but not saying specifically what it is. While staying at the clinic he’s met late one night by Jeremy (William Magerman) an old man residing at the nearby lighthouse. He complains about being in a great deal of pain and upon further testing is found to have syphilis. Calvin tries to go on a crusade to warn the others while also searching for who else may have it, which ultimately leads him to the sheriff’s rebellious daughter D.D. (Josie Johnson).

It’s always interesting seeing how low budget films from a bygone era before the advent of computerized special effects could succeed or fail on the merit of story alone. This one, which was done by David E. Durston who had previously directed the cult-hit I Drink Your Blood just a year earlier, manages to for the most part, blemishes and all, to hold it together. The difficulties though of filming on a shoestring is still widely apparent especially at the beginning where there’s a lot of shaking camera movement and jump cuts. Where Calvin goes to hitch a ride is particularly amusing. Since they didn’t have money to get a permit, or hold-up traffic on a legitimate highway, the scene had to be done on an isolated dirt road that looked like it hadn’t been traveled on in 10 years and normally Calvin would’ve had to have stood there that long with his thumb out before he ever saw a car and yet here this non-descript road gets quite busy by using the film’s crew members driving by with their own vehicles in order to give it a well-trafficked look.

This is also one of those films were the genre is unclear. Some have listed it as a horror film while others label it a drama, or even a comedy. My guess is that it was intended as a drama with some side comedy thrown-in as ill-advised ‘comic relief’. The story though never gets tense enough to need a lighthearted moment and the funny bits are eye-rolling making the production seem even more amateurish than it already is. There’s also a surprisingly graphic moment where pictures of actual syphilis patients are shown including close-ups of their sores and deformed noses, which some could find genuinely stomach-churning.

Thomas is best known for his co-starring role in the 80’s cop drama ‘Miami Vice’, but I found him far more engaging here. Magerman is memorable playing a mute with no teeth, who never says a word, but does have an amusing giggle. Johnson is certainly beautiful, which makes up for her lack of acting, but Clune as the villainous sheriff is all-wrong. He may have looked the part of an aging bigot, but he never gives the role the necessary energy or panache. Lawrence Tierny was original choice for the part, but due this drinking problems was eventually passed over, which was ashame.

In recent years this film has gained notoriety due to it being directed by David E. Durston (1921-2010) and some movie podcasts connecting him to the mysterious deaths of both Diane Linkletter (Art Linkletter’s daughter) and actress Carol Wayne. Durston was with Diane the night she jumped to her death from her apartment window in 1969, which authorities deemed a suicide though some wondered if Durston may have pushed her out. Durston was also dating Carol Wayne in 1985 when the two had an argument while vacationing in Mexico and she left their hotel room only to be found drowned in a lake later on. Further research though has concluded that the man in question in both of these events was Edward Dale Durston, a Los Angeles car salesman born in 1942, and no connection with the film director.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David E. Durston

Studio: Cinerama Releasing

Available: DVD-R (Code Red)

Real Men (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: CIA negotiates with aliens.

Insurance agent Bob Wilson (John Ritter) gets reluctantly recruited into becoming a CIA agent by another agent named Nick (James Belushi). Nick needs Bob because he looks very similar to an agent named Pillbox (Ritter) who was killed in the line of duty while going through a practice run of delivering a glass of water to some outer space aliens. The aliens had agreed to help the human race when the humans accidentally spilled a deadly chemical into the ocean that’s expected to destroy all life on earth in 5 years. The aliens give the earthlings two choices either the package that will help them clean up the toxic spill, or the other package, which is a deadly weapon that will destroy the planet. The only thing the aliens want in return is a glass of water delivered directly to them by Pillbox, but agents from other countries as well as rogue CIA members don’t want this deal to go through as they’d rather get their hands on the deadly weapon, so they kill Pillbox and now it’s up to Bob to make the water/package trade-off in Pillbox’s place, but Bob thinks Nick is crazy and doesn’t believe the story he’s telling him. Bob is also very timid and hates confrontations, so it’s up to Nick to give him the needed confidence while also stopping him from running away, which he does routinely.

Extremely odd mix of weird humor and sci-fi works for the first half before taking a completely downward spiral by the third. The script was written by Dennis Feldman, who spent years as a still photographer before deciding to try his hand at script writing after his brother Randy sold a couple of his own scripts that were made into movies. Dennis’ first one was Just One of the Guys and then his second was Golden Child, which sold for $330,000 and he was also given the opportunity to direct, but he declined the directing option feeling he wasn’t ready only to regret it when the director who ultimate was hired, Michael Ritchie, changed his story in ways he didn’t like. When the opportunity to direct came again he made sure to choose it.

Much like an indie flick the quirkiness is strong, but engaging. The humor is centered on the way it twists the logic around, so nothing works the way you’d expect while also playfully poking fun at tropes used in other spy genre movies. Ritter is terrific playing against type. Usually he’s the center of the comedy, but here he responds to the zaniness around him with perpetually nervous, shocked expressions. Belushi, with his glib responses and stoic nature where no matter how dire the situation he remains completely calm and collected, is funny as well and the two make a unique pair.

Unfortunately during the second half the chemistry gets ruined when Ritter’s character has this extreme arch where he goes from timid to overly confident. His confident side isn’t as funny and the way he’s able to beat-up anybody with just one punch gets highly exaggerated. I was okay with it occurring once or twice, but at some point his brazenness should catch-up with him. The movie acts like confidence is all you need to find success, but it can also backfire by putting one in situations that gets them way over-their-heads and for balance the story should’ve had this ultimately occur. You’d also think Ritter’s hand would be hurting, or even broken with the way he is constantly punching everybody. Belushi’s diversion into dating a BDSM queen bogs the pace down and takes away from the main action. The wrap-up offers no pay-off and the film despite its bright start fizzles.

Like with most 80’s movies it’s always fun seeing how things have changed as well as stayed the same. Humor-wise there’s a moment where at the time it was considered innocuous, but by today’s standards would be deemed offensive. It occurs when Belushi takes Ritter home to meet his parents where it’s revealed that his father (played by Dyanne Thorne of Ilsa movie fame) has had an operation to become a woman. This is spun as being ‘comically freakish’, but in today’s gender fluid culture would be portrayed differently. The element that remains the same is the portrayal of Russia, which at the time was considered the enemy and rival of the US and now even after the fall of communism and the supposed ending of the cold war, it’s still the same arch rival.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Dennis Feldman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Brutes (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two men accost woman.

Werner (Klaus Lowitsch) and Michael (Arthur Brauss) are two friends from work who enjoy spending their weekends ‘cruising-for-chicks’. Their modus operandi is picking up prostitutes, or women at bars, and bringing them to one of their apartments where they either ‘share’ the woman, or partake in a threesome. One weekend they go go-cart racing and set their sights on attractive, young Alice (Helga Anders). They invite her into their car telling her that they want to take her for a swim at an isolated gravel pit. Once there Werner sexually assaults her. The next morning she threatens to go to the police, but the men talk her out of it only for the two to become adversaries when Michael wants to have sex with Alice, which Werner won’t allow.

While Savage Weekend is considered the very first slasher movie this film, which was shot in 1968, could be deemed the first rape/revenge movie. Like with that other film it was produced long before the ‘rules’ of the genre were established, so it takes many unique forays some of which are interesting and other ones aren’t.

It was the third of three films that actor-turned-director Roger Fritz directed with his wife Anders as the star. Anders was a model before she got int acting and he used her pretty looks for stories where her characters would engage in provocative lifestyles like group sex, or incest. This was the last in a trilogy meant to show the dark side of sexually liberated activities, but it doesn’t start to get interesting until they arrive at the gravel pit, which is more than 30-minutes in.

The two men are one dimensional and a turn-off. From the very first frame to the last they’re leering predators-at-large even in the presence of Michael’s mother. Had there been one random moment where they showed some surprising sensitivity towards something, or didn’t act in a predictable stalker way it might’ve had potential, but watching creeps behaving like non-stop creeps becomes boring and redundant.

The scenes at the gravel pit fare better simply because it’s atmospheric and the location becomes like a third character. There’s a few tense moments and the rape scene is surprisingly more graphic than I expected. The physical fight between the two is well choreographed and genuinely bloody though Michael gets hit on the head so much I thought he would’ve suffered serious head trauma and never able to get back-up like he does.

The three characters shift from being the victim at one point and the aggressor the next, which is intriguing. Michael’s long speech detailing the potentially degrading process that a female rape victim goes through when she decides to file a police report is on-target and ground-breaking since these same issues weren’t brought to the forefront until 1972 with the TV-Movies Cry Rape starring Andrea Marcovicci and two years later in A Case of Rape with Elizabeth Montgomery.

Spoiler Alert!

Ultimately though the ending stinks. The mod quality is cool especially its alternative soundtrack, but the scenario writes itself into a hole that it can’t get out of. Having the three go back to their normal lives and acting like what occurred was just a dark diversion, or even a lark with no long term ramifications doesn’t click. We needed to see how this experience changed them, which isn’t addressed and thus makes the whole concept placid and forgettable.

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Alternative Title: Cry Rape

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 19, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roger Fritz

Studio: Roger Fritz Film Productions

Available: DVD-R (German with English Subtitles) (j4hi.com)

A Small Town in Texas (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chased by crooked sheriff.

Poke (Timothy Bottoms) returns to his hometown in Texas after serving a 5-year sentence for marijuana procession. He finds that his girlfriend Mary Lee (Susan George), during the time he was away, has gotten into a relationship with the sheriff Duke (Bo Hopkins) who was also the man who convicted Poke that got him sent away. Poke begins harassing Duke for messing around with Mary Lee and follows him to a political event where Duke is in charge of guarding Jesus Mendez (Santos Reyes) who’s running for congress. It is here that he witnesses an assassin shooting Mendez and then watches Duke kill the shooter and take an envelope out of the killer’s pocket and put it in the trash. Poke retrieves the envelope and finds $25,000 inside. When Duke comes back to get the envelope and sees it’s gone he puts out an APB to have Poke arrested, which leads to an all-out car chase.

I couldn’t help but wonder if this was one of the career outputs that screenwriter William Norton considered ‘stupid’ as he was noted to having told his nurse on his deathbed that she ‘wasn’t dumb enough’ to have known any of the movies he had written. It’s not like it’s bad, but it isn’t particularly exciting either and takes 50-minutes before the first car chase gets going. Laying the ground work for the story is too leisurely. Instead of having Poke and Duke discuss how he had convicted him years earlier the drug bust should’ve been played-out right at the start to at least have given it a little more action.

The chases are impressive once they get going and at one point I literally winced as a car crashed into another and made me feel like I was actually in the vehicle and feeling the impact. Another has a police vehicle bursting into flames and a cop getting out screaming while flames shoot out his back, which was surprising since they must’ve blocked off the entire town center (filmed in Lockhart, Texas) to do it and most likely took an entire day to do, so there clearly was no compromising on the quality of the stunt work just because it was shot on-location versus in a closed studio lot. You also get to see a car crash through a giant block of ice, which marked a cinema first.

Bottoms though is weak creating a transparent character with no interesting arch, or personality and doesn’t even seem to be from Texas as unlike the others he has no Texan accent. Susan George at least conveyed an authentic sounding accent while masking her British one, so her presence gets strong points. Hopkins lends some interesting nuance as the bad guy and the sheriff wasn’t played-up as being an aging authoritarian, small-minded hick like in other films from this genre. Sure he was later found to be corrupt, but more like a cog in a bigger game instead of the center of it.

Spoiler Alert!

Story-wise there’s a lot of unanswered questions like why was Mendoza shot, which is later revealed to have been orchestrated by C.J. Barry (Morgan Woodward) a rich rancher who initially seemed very much behind Mendoza’s campaign, so why the double-cross? Why also would they think it would be a good idea to openly kill one of the men working for them? Who’s going to want to do a hit for them in the future if word gets out that the organization will use you as cover? Since this was a candidate for a major political party it was hard to believe that the investigation would be left solely to the small town sheriff to pursue as I’d be pretty sure federal agents would get called in.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 2, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jack Starrett

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection)

The Track (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hunters chase down woman.

Helen (Mimsy Farmer) is an American who has traveled to rural France in order to teach at a local university. At the train station she meets Philippe (Jean-Luc Bideau) who agrees to take her to the isolated cottage where she is to stay. Along the way they come into contact with Philippe’s boisterous friends who drive them off the road. The men are going out for a wild pig hunt and a few of them particularly Paul (Philippe Leotard) shows a sexual interest in her, but Philippe assures her that they’re ‘harmless’. While Helen moves in to her new place the men go off on their hunt, but when she walks outside to check-out a nearby barn she again comes into contact with Paul along with his brother Albert (Jean-Pierre Marielle) and Chamond (Michel Robin). Paul uses the opportunity to rape her while Albert holds her down and Chamond acts as the lookout. As they are about to leave Helen shoots and critically injures Paul with Chamond’s gun, which he had inadvertently set down, before she goes on the run deep inside the forest. The rest of the group tries tracking her down in an attempt to negotiate some sort of deal, so she won’t go to the authorities, or silence her permanently if she still insists that she will.

Some have labeled this the French version of Straw Dogs, but I consider it much more like Deliverance. In that film you had middle-aged suburbanite males wanting to prove their ‘macho manhood’ by roughing it in the wilderness for a weekend only to find that they weren’t quite as prepared for the harsh elements as they thought. This film works in kind of the same way. The men go hunting to get in touch with their rugged side, but when forced to face tough issues, like helping a woman in distress, they succumb to group pressure and prove ultimately to be wimpy.

Unlike other films in the rape/revenge genre the main character here is shown the least. Farmer does well during the rape segment and screams and fights in a way that elicits genuine horror, but otherwise her facial expressions and mannerisms are quite one-dimensional though I was impressed with the way she did her own stunt work and forced to navigate her way through some difficult and inhospitable terrain.

The main focus is on the male characters who are fascinating and multi-faceted. The most interesting aspect is how they start-out seeming benign and domesticated only to slowly unravel into a aggressively threatening group. The segment where they kill a pig and the animal struggles after being shot will make some animal activists uncomfortable, but like with Jean Renoirs’ Rules of the Game, which had a hunting segment even more graphic than here, it does effectively illustrate that if people are willing to kill an animal for sport; how thin is the line for them to cross-over to a person?

The lack of a soundtrack is a plus. Many thrillers will have a pounding score and sometimes it works to accentuate the tension, but here the natural sounds particularly Helen’s heavy breathing as she runs through the underbrush is far more effective. There’s also no forewarning of what’s going to happen nor buildup. Everything occurs out of nowhere. Most victims who survive a crime will say the same thing that things were peaceful and normal one minute and then all hell broke loose the next.

Spoiler Alert!

The only two things I might’ve done differently had I directed was not showing the rape. As rape scenes go this one is rather mild, but my feeling was it would’ve been creepier had the viewer been in the dark about what occurred as were initially the other men. They’re told the story that the gun went off accidentally and the woman ran in a panic only for them to slowly learn the dark details later on. Having the viewer come to this realization along with the other men would’ve added an extra layer to the story versus it being spelled out.

While the ending is effectively unsettling I still wanted a denouement showing how the strains of this experience changed them, which would’ve added insight. Overall though it’s a brilliant especially for the way it reveals how some of the men considered themselves more ethical than the others only to end up being no better. Everyone likes to feel that they, or their friends, would do the right thing when put in a stressful situation and ‘be the hero’, but this movie expertly examines how that might not always be the case.

Alternate Title: La Traque

Released: May 14, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Serge Leroy

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (French with English Subtitles) (dvdlady.com, jfhi.com)

Loose Shoes (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lame parody of movies.

In 1967 an improv group, which Chevy Chase was an early member, began that called themselves Channel One, who performed improvisational skits making fun of current events and TV-shows. Instead of doing them on stage in front of audience they filmed it and then played them on three different TV screens at a theater in Greenwich Village. When these proved successful the collection of filmed skits were then toured around the country at college campuses and got a favorable reaction, so the producer decided to turn it into a feature length film. At the time this was considered a novelty as the movie, which was called The Groove Tube, would have no plot and just be a collection of skits, but it proved popular enough that it gave others the same idea. From this came Tunnelvision, American Raspberry, and probably the most famous one Kentucky Fried Movie. 

In 1977 Ira Miller, who had worked with Mel Brooks on his projects and was a member of Second City during the 60’s, became inspired to do his own version of this. He financed it using most of his own money. The concept was for it to be a parody of recent movies and structured similar to movie previews one would see at theaters before the main feature would begin. The working title was Coming Attractions and to keep costs low he cast young, unknown talent like Bill Murray, who agreed to work for a small fee in order to get the exposure, or B-actors that he knew who as a favor would work at below scale for a day in order to help him out. Initially it got such a bad reaction from test audiences that it was shelved for several years, but then after Meatballs was released, which made Murray a star, it was re-released under its new title in order to capitalize on his fame.

The film suffers from production values that are so cheap I’ve seen high school projects that were done better and it doesn’t help that the DVD issue looks like it was copied straight off of a VHS tape. Both IMDb and Wikipedia list the original runtime as 84 minutes, which is incorrect as it was actually 74 minutes, but the DVD version only goes 69 minutes and cuts out several segments including ‘Jewish Star Wars’, which is alright as even with the abbreviated runtime it still felt like it was never going to end and adding in the stuff that was edited out would’ve just prolonged the agony. It would’ve helped had there been some consistent characters like a family going to the theater to see a feature and becoming increasingly annoyed at the ongoing previews. After each skit it could’ve cutback to their reaction, which would’ve given it some minimal structure and focus that otherwise is sorely lacking.

Some of the segments had potential like the ‘Invasion of the Penis Snatchers’, but Miller approaches the material too much like a gag writer where he’s more interested in the punchline instead of playing out a funny scenario. The skit that has Jaye P. Morgan doing a send-up of Nurse Ratched needed to be extended as she could’ve done it hilariously. The segment that spoofs the Woody Allen film Play it Again Sam isn’t exactly funny, but David Landsburg’s impression of Allen is so spot-on that it’s entertaining nonetheless. Murray’s segment where he plays a prisoner on death row is okay and you even get to see him at one point with his head shaved. I also liked the bit with Susan Tyrrell as a woman stuck in the boonies only here the hicks are open-minded and even features a virtually unrecognizable Ed Lauter as a free-spirited, cocaine sniffing, redneck sheriff.

The best moment ‘Dark Town After Dark’ comes at the very end and features a send-up of a Cab Calloway dance number with the song ‘Loose Shoes’ being sung. The lyrics of which came from a comment made by President Gerald Ford’s Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz. He was on a plane flight to California with entertainers Sonny Bono and Pat Boone. Boone asked him why republicans weren’t able to attract more blacks. He responded by making a comment that forced him to resign once it got out: “I’ll tell you what coloreds want. It’s three things: first, a tight pussy, second, loose shoes, and third, a warm place to shit.”

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 1, 1978 as Coming Attractions. Re-released August 1, 1980 as Loose Shoes

Runtime: 1 Hour 14 Minutes (Original Cut). 1 Hour 9 Minutes (DVD Version).

Rated R

Director: Ira Miller

Studio: Cinema Finance Associates

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Secret Admirer (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Anonymous letter creates confusion.

Michael (C. Thomas Howell) is a teen secretly infatuated with Deborah (Kelly Preston), who’s considered the hottest babe in school. He wants to date her, but is too shy to approach her. He then receives an unsigned letter in his locker from someone stating that they’re in-love with him. Michael is convinced that it’s from Deborah. His friend Toni (Lori Laughlin) convinces him to write a letter to her, but his attempts to write something romantic prove futile, so Toni decides to do it for him, but still make it seem like it came from him. Once Deborah reads the letter she falls instantly in-love and the two go out on a date, but meanwhile Michael’s mother Connie (Dee Wallace) reads the letter and thinks it’s been written to her husband George (Cliff De Young) and that he’s been fooling around behind-her-back. George also reads the letter, but thinks it’s from Elizabeth (Leigh Taylor-Young) who’s teaching a evening class that George is taking and is also Deborah’s mother. George uses the opportunity to make a pass at her and the two agree to go out on a date while Connie gets with Lou (Fred Ward), Elizabeth’s husband and Deborah’s father, in an attempt to stop it, but find that they too have more in common than they thought and begin to contemplate an affair of their own.

An unusual and offbeat 80’s teen sex comedy that fares a bit better than most of the others. The dialogues between the teens seems more realistic and they aren’t extremes caricatures like what you usually get in this tired genre. I was even surprised that they at one point have a discussion of the film Doctor Zhivago and even know the actor’s names who are in it even though it was an old film even back then. There’s a segment where Michael and Deborah attempt to have sex and it turns into a painful and awkward experience for both, which I liked, because too many times these types of movies would portray sex, even if it was the first time for both partners, as being an exhilarating, fun time, which it isn’t always. The parents aren’t portrayed as being ‘out-of-it’ or overly authoritarian like in other teen comedies and cutting back-and-forth between the adult escapades and the teens is at least initially a refreshingly original concept.

The performances are engaging even Howell does well here particularly at the end when he tries frantically to chase down Toni. The adults though are a bit more engaging despite De Young looking too boyish to be playing the part of a father of a 17-year-old. Wallace and Ward are the scene-stealers especially Dee and the way she breaks-out crying when she gets really upset and Ward’s overly-protective father persona is funny too and the film should’ve just been centered around them.

Spoiler Alert!

The jumping back and forth though between the adults and the teens starts to seem like two different movies with the parent’s storyline being the better one. I didn’t like the way it got wrapped-up with the couples going back to their former spouses like everything was back to normal even though there seemed to be clear issues in both marriages for them to so easily consider affairs when they thought there was a chance. It would’ve worked better and even been more believable had it ended the other way where the couples swapped partners and thus became more compatible.

I didn’t understand why Michael saw Toni only as a friend, even tough she was clearly into him. I considered Toni to being better looking than Deborah, or at least certainly in the same league, so unless Michael had a fetish for blondes over brunettes it didn’t makes much sense why he’s so tirelessly chase after Deborah when he already had a good thing with Toni. For it to believable Toni needed to be less beautiful, even plain looking, then it would be understandable why Michael would overlook her, but eventually see her in a romantic way once he realized all the nice things she did for him. It would’ve also have sent a good message that a female didn’t have to be cover girl quality, which both Laughlin and Preston were, and could still be able to find love.

End of Spoiler Alert!

While this film sat for several decades in virtual obscurity it finally came to prominence in 2016 when it was part of a controversy dealing with the Puerto Rico movie Vasos De Paper, which was written and directed by Eduardo Ortiz. That film was a virtual scene-for-scene remake of this one despite the director insisting that it wasn’t. When the evidence became too much Ortiz finally broke down during a radio interview and admitted that he had ‘done a very bad thing’ and stole the idea without giving proper credit to the original writer and director. The cast of that film were unaware of this one and had no idea they were taking part in a plagiarized script. Once they did they apologized for their involvement and the movie was pulled from the theaters.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 14, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Greenwalt

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Heavenly Kid (1985)

heavenly3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Angel helps out geek.

During the early 60’s Bobby (Lewis Smith) dies in a fiery car crash after the vehicle he was driving goes over a cliff during a game of chicken that he was playing with Joe (Mark Metcalf). His spirit gets sent to purgatory otherwise known as ‘Mid-town’ where he meets Rafferty (Richard Mulligan) who tells him that to get to ‘Uptown’ (Heaven) he’d have to go back down to earth in angel form to help out a human in need. He gets assigned to Lenny (Jason Gedrick) a geeky teen who’s trying in vain to hit on high school hottie Sharon (Anne Sawyer), but to no avail. Bobby is put in charge to teach Lenny how to be ‘cool’ and be able to pick-up chicks, but in the process he learns that Lenny’s dad is Joe, the guy who he raced against before he died, and Lenny’s mother is Emily (Jane Kaczmarek), Bobby’s former girlfriend who he still has strong feelings for.

The movie starts-off with an ill-advised car race that looks like it was ripped straight-out of Rebel Without a Cause. What’s worse is they tack-on this blaring song by Joe Fiore ‘Over the Edge’ that gets played during the crash, which takes away from the drama of the imagery instead of enhancing it. Bobby’s trip to the heavenly way station, which he does via a subway, has comic potential and Richard Mulligan is certainly quite funny, but I didn’t get why there would be a cafeteria, or why they’d eat food. Again, even if they appear in human form they’re still technically spirits as their human body remains on earth after death and decomposes, so why would spirits need to eat and does this mean they’d still have the same digestive system where they poop out what was eaten?

While Gedrick gives a much better performance than his co-star I still felt he was too good looking for the role. A true geek should be scrawny, or overweight, and have bad acne. If he had suffered from those things than his attempted transformation to a ‘cool’ dude would’ve been funnier.

I also thought it was ridiculous that he already had this beautiful woman named Melissa (Nancy Valen) who was really into him, and I think most guys would actually agree better looking than the plastic barbie that he was after. If this doofus is too dumb to realize on his own the good thing that he already has and instead callously takes her for granted simply because he feels the other one is better looking, after all the only reason he’s ‘in-love’ with Sharon is because she’s ‘hot’ then he shouldn’t get ‘help’ from an angel and justifiably deserves to be a lonely loser. I also felt that Melissa should’ve been more geeky since she was into another geek and having her be so pretty didn’t make much sense as other guys would be hitting-on her and since Lenny was not picking-up on her clear signals she would easily move on with somebody else and not hold-out so long, or feel the need to, for Lenny to finally see-the-light.

Spoiler Alert!

The rehabbed car in which Bobby takes what is literally an a rusty, empty shell of an old vehicle and through his heavenly magic turns it into a retro sports car I had problems with. For one thing since it was built on Bobby’s magical powers I would think Bobby would need to be present for it to run instead of Lenny being able to drive it by himself. Also, where did this key come from that Lenny uses to put in the ignition to start the car? This was literally just an old car frame when it was spotted and it’d be doubtful there would be any key in it and if there was it’d be as rusted as the rest of it. If you want to argue that this key was also a part of Bobby’s divine magic then there needs to be a scene with him creating it using his powers and then handing it to Lenny because it comes-off as big logic loophole otherwise.

The shot where Joe wakes-up to see Emily floating up the stairs by herself doesn’t work either. The idea is that human’s can’t see Bobby, who’s the one carrying Emily up the stairs, because he’s an angel, but if a person is being carried their ascension would have more of a jostled appearance instead of looking like they’re riding up an escalator like it does here.

The big reveal, in which it’s found that Lenny is actually Bobby’s son, is problematic since Bobby’s car crash occurs during the early 60’s (1960-63) and the present day for the story is October, 1984, which is when it was filmed. A senior in high school would’ve been born in 1967, or at the very earliest late 1966, so unless Emily was carrying Lenny around in her womb for 3 full years before he finally came out this whole concept just doesn’t work.

The thing that I really couldn’t stand was Bobby who’s a walking-talking cliche. Smith plays the part in a one-dimensional way and he looked too old for a teenager and was in fact 28 when it was shot. His generic advice on how to pick-up women is simplistic to say the least and if he really believes just feeding a woman lines about ‘how nice her hair looks’ is enough to get her to go out with him, or any other guy, then maybe he’s the one that needs the teaching and wisdom instead of dispensing it.

I also couldn’t understand why Lenny’s situation was so ‘dire’ that he needed heavenly intervention. There’s lots of kids who get bullied in school and can’t get a date that don’t have guardian angels come down to help them out, so what makes Lenny so special? Even if you factor in that Bobby is Lenny’s dead father it still doesn’t work because there’s lots of kids out there whose parents die when they’re young who don’t come back to help them as angels, so the questions still remains; what makes Lenny so special and is he deserving of this ‘help’? There’s millions of people out there who are homeless and victims of horrible crimes and abuse, which is who Bobby should’ve been assigned to, not a dopey kid who’s living a comfortable suburban existence and whose only ‘pressing issue’ is that he can’t make it with a stuck-up superficial babe who’s way out of league anyways.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 26, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Cary Medoway

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray