Tag Archives: Hal Holbrook

Rituals (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nightmare in the woods.

Five middle-aged doctors (Hal Holbrook, Lawrence Dane, Robin Gammell, Ken James, Gary Reineke) take a trip into the Canadian wilderness in what they hope will be a fun weekend retreat, but soon bizarre things begin to occur including having all of their hiking boots stolen from them in the middle-of-the-night. It eventually becomes clear that they are being stalked by an unforeseen adversary who’s intent on playing mind games with them while slowly picking them off one-by-one.

This was Canada’s answer to Deliverance and while great effort was made to lift it above the usual mindless slasher film level it still doesn’t work and remains flat and predictable all the way through. One of the things that I really liked about Deliverance was that it was filmed on-location in the Georgia backwoods and this film takes the same approach by being shot in the dense forests of northern Ontario, but the result isn’t as satisfying. In Deliverance the location becomes like a third character while here it amounts to being just a backdrop.

The film has too much of a creepy musical score that makes it clear that it wants to mold it into a horror film and only helps to give it a formulaic feel. Deliverance was never mechanical and instead came off more like a drama that suddenly turns ugly without warning, much like life sometimes, while this thing seems more staged and rehearsed.

The cast is top-notch and puts great effort into their roles and the rigorous requirements of doing all of their own stunts. Yet the result is shallow as there’s no distinction between the characters who come off as stereotypically jaded middle-aged businessmen. Watching their personalities unravel as the grueling journey proceeds isn’t riveting since they seemed broken from the beginning and the viewer doesn’t care if any of them survive it or not.

The tension is minimal and the nemesis never gets revealed until the very end. At points I felt that having a bad-guy wasn’t needed and the story could’ve been stronger had it focused around the men getting lost in the woods through no one’s fault but their own and then their ultimate struggle with the elements. The mountain man (Michael Zenon) is much too crafty anyways and pulls off things that no normal person could making the culprit seem like a mysterious enigma that transcends the bounds of reality and makes the film too unbelievable to take seriously.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 21, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Carter

Studio: Canart Films

Available: None at this time.

Wild in the Streets (1968)

wild-in-the-streets-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rock star becomes President.

I was going to post this review the day after the election, but decided given the results that I might postpone it a few days as I didn’t want some readers who might feel a bit on edge with the outcome getting any more nervous. The film’s subject matter consists of what at the time was considered simply wild satire, but now in these crazy political times may actually hit frighteningly close to home.

The story centers around Max Frost (Christopher Jones) a rock star who has become a major teen idol to the nation’s young people. Senator Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook) is running for office and wants to campaign to lower the voting age to 18 in an attempt to garner support from young Americans, which in turn he hopes will get him into the Presidency. He asks for the assistance of Max to help him in his pursuit. Max agrees, but then promotes the idea to his fan base of lowering the voting age not to 18, but to 14. Fergus is ill-prepared for the onslaught of enthusiasm this idea has with the teens. He reluctantly agrees to compromise and pass a bill that allows this, but to his shock it gets Max elected President and not him. With Max in office things spiral recklessly out-of-control. Hippies take over the senate and pass extreme laws that send anyone over 30 into concentration camps where they are forced fed LSD.

The script by Robert Thom is unabashedly cynical, which is what I liked most about it. It takes no sides. The younger generation is exposed with just as much foibles as the older one. The film never compromises on its dark tone and the bleak scenarios get pushed to the ultimate extreme, but horrifyingly never fall all that far from the truth.

The film’s acerbic humor is refreshingly on-target. Director Barry Shear camouflages the low budget with a quick pace that emphasizes the frailties and reactions of its characters. Holbrook is superb as the idealist who gets a harsh dose of ugly reality that sends him more and more on edge. Shelley Winters is hilarious as Max’s narcissist mother who uses her son’s rise to fame as an opening for her own entrance into the spotlight. She appears sporadically throughout, but manages to own every scene that she is in when she does.

Jones is excellent in the lead and I considered him very much like James Dean both in is looks and acting method. He’s perfect for the role except in close-ups he looks middle-aged as he was already 30, which hurts the theme since anyone over 25 was considered the enemy. Diane Varsi is quite sexy as a flower child and I loved the scene of her first day in congress where she and her radical young followers send the elders in the room into a shocked free-for-all. The film also gives you a glimpse of famous child TV stars in early roles including Barry Williams, famous from playing Greg in ‘The Brady Bunch’ and Kellie Flanagan who went on the play Candice in ‘The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’.

While I was impressed with the bird’s-eye-view of the mob scenes and how many people they were able to get to be a part of the teen protesters I still felt that there should’ve been violence and raw emotion in these sequences in order to have been more effective. The ending makes its point and then gets very heavy-handed and goes on too long repeating the same statement that the audience already got the first time, but overall I really liked this film and felt that now more than ever it’s quite timely.

wild-in-the-streets-1

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 29, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Barry Shear

Studio: American Pictures International

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Fletch Lives (1989)

fletch lives

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reporter inherits a mansion.

Fletch (Chevy Chase) who writes for a Los Angeles newspaper under the byline of Jane Doe, receives to his surprise an inheritance of an old southern mansion. He immediately travels to the place while quitting his job in the process. The building is in bad shape, but he finds that he is receiving a generous offer to sell it, which makes him curious. Instead of taking the offer he does some research and finds that the property is a dumping ground for dangerous chemicals and that people are more than happy to murder him and others in order to keep them quiet about it.

The first film was based on a novel by George Macdonald, but this story was written directly for the big screen and the mystery is uninspired and obvious. Chase’s detached persona and acerbic wit gets put to a real test here. One scene has him discovering that the woman who he has just spent the night with is now dead, but he shows no shocked reaction at all making him seem almost inhuman. He then decides to smart-off to the police when they arrive to investigate even though any sane/half-way intelligent person would realize that would just get them into even more trouble, which it justifiably does here.

The character also has an unrealistically massive-sized ego especially in regards to his job and the arrogant way that he deals with his boss (Richard Libertini) acting almost like he is above the rules and can come and go whenever he pleases without having to answer to anyone. Now this behavior to some extent could be more justified if he was writing under his own name and had a large fan following, but to the readers he is just ‘Jane Doe’ and for all they know he is a woman instead of a man. In either case he could easily be replaced by another reporter writing under the same byline and no one would notice or care, which makes his entitled attitude completely out-of-line and one that should have gotten him fired long ago.

There is also no explanation to what happened to the Gail character, which was played by Dana Wheeler-Nicholson. The first film ended with the two of them supposedly falling-in-love, but in this film she has completely disappeared. Now the first installment came out 4 years earlier and a lot of relationships don’t last that long, so it’s possible that they simply broke-up and moved-on, which is fine. However, in this movie her character gets replaced by one who looks just like her (Julianne Phillips) and she falls-in-love with Fletch in much the same way making the plotline seem highly formulaic and like they are simply replacing one blue-eyed, blonde bimbo with another.

The humor is generic and juvenile although I’m ashamed to say I did find myself chuckling at some of it. The best moment is a take-off on The Song of the South that comes complete with animation and by far the film’s one and only inspired moment.

The action sequences are flat. In the first film there was an exciting car chase, which was passable, but here we get treated to a motorcycle chase that goes completely off the believability meter by having Fletch do stunts that no one with limited driving experience would try nor survive.

The supporting cast is wasted especially Hal Holbrook in a part that is completely beneath his talents. However, I did get a kick out of R. Lee Ermey. He gained a major cult following from his performance as a tough sergeant in Full Metal Jacket and gets cast here as a TV-evangelist, which I found interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Natural Enemies (1979)

natural enemies 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Man kills his family.

Paul Steward (Hal Holbrook) is a middle-aged suburban father who wakes up one morning having decided that by the end of the day he will shoot and kill his wife and three children with his hunting rifle. His rationale being that life is full of inevitable disappointments and his kids are ill prepared to face life’s harsh realities, so by killing them he will be in a sense ‘protecting’ and ‘saving’ them. The rest of the film deals with conversations he has with his friends debating on whether he should go through with it or not.

Writer/director Jeff Kanew is probably best known for having done Revenge of the Nerds and this film is probably as different from that one as you can get. It is an excellent and interesting directorial debut for the most part. It is not completely successful, but you have to give him credit for putting such challenging material onto the screen. It is based on the novel by Julius Horowitz, which was probably never intended to be made into a movie, but Kanew uses the voice-over narration to its full effectiveness and I loved the quant and remote setting of the colonial home that Paul resides in.

It is really the conversations and the ongoing philosophical debates that Paul has with various acquaintances that gives it a fascinating and intellectual subtext. I especially liked his discussion with Harry (Jose Ferrer) a concentration camp survivor as well as an unintentionally amusing one with a cab driver who complains that a 247 a month rent on a 3 bedroom apartment in Queens is ‘too expensive’ even though you would be unable to find one there that cheap today. The strongest is the one that he has with his wife Miriam (Louise Fletcher) at the end that proves to be not only revealing, but riveting.

The scene where he has sex with five prostitutes is also quite well done including having classical music played over the sex scenes, which creates an unusual erotic quality. The conversation he has with them is equally interesting, but I would’ve liked to have seen a few more verbal reactions from the women.

I’ve always considered Holbrook to be one of the finest actors around and his performance here is flawless and helps give the film its impact. Fletcher is also quite good playing the polar opposite of her Nurse Ratched character. Here she is vulnerable and fragile instead of rigid and authoritative and even has a scene inside a mental hospital as a patient. The fact that she can play such different characters so solidly proves what a brilliant actress she is.

The tone is incessantly bleak and downbeat, which could easily be a turnoff for most viewers, but doesn’t lessen the validity of many of the points that it makes. There is a strong Ingmar Bergmanesque quality to this that I really liked and this film could prove quite provocative for those looking for something that is thought provoking and outside of the mainstream.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jeff Kanew

Studio: Cinema 5 Releasing

Available: VHS