Tag Archives: Harry Dean Stanton

UFOria (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: She dreams about spaceships.

Arlene (Cindy Williams) is a lonely woman living in a small town and working at a local supermarket. One night she starts having dreams about a spaceship landing in town and taking her away. Her new boyfriend Sheldon (Fred Ward), who is a shady drifter always looking to make a quick buck, works with his brother Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), much to her consternation, to use her ‘visions’ to make money off of it by portraying her as communicating with some outer worldly messenger that’s connected to God.

This film was made in 1980, but sat on the shelf for 5 years and it’s easy to see why as it’s difficult to put it into any predefined genre. It’s certainly isn’t a sci-fi flick and in a lot of ways it really isn’t a comedy either. There are a few funny bits, but they get lost inside scenes that go on far longer than they should, which never allows the film to gain any traction or momentum.

Williams is not right for her part and fails to convey the downtrodden look of a lonely woman in a role that would’ve been better served had it been played by an actress with a more plainish, dumpy features like Kathy Bates. It’s also annoying that she has these vivid dreams, but the viewer never gets to see them. Movies are a visual medium and should take advantage of that element as much as possible by showing what’s happening instead of just having a character describe it.

Stanton isn’t right for his part either. In certain films his low-key style is perfect, but here he fails to effectively convey the animated, fiery delivery of a TV evangelist, which is a part that needed to be comically played-up much more.

Ward was the only one that I liked and he really comes into his own with a character that isn’t particularly likable, but has an interesting arch where he goes from being a cynical non-believer to eventually defending Arlene from those who mock her. He also drives his car in the most bizarre way that I’ve ever seen with his feet up on the dashboard and not on the pedals.

Spoiler Alert!

I was hoping that the ending would be a payoff for having to sit through such a slow, poorly paced film, but ultimately it falls flat just like everything else. I liked the idea of a spaceship suddenly appearing, but then the film cuts to the closing credits without examining what happened to the people, how they reacted to it, or what the aftermath was, which I found frustrating.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The small town setting filmed in Palmdale and Lancaster, California gives off just the right rustic look and prime stomping ground for fringey, eccentric people like the characters here.  While the film does have a definite cult appeal the offbeat elements get stymied inside a lethargic pace that never allows it to gel, or become captivating.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Binder

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS

Private Benjamin (1980)

private-benjamin

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: She joins the army.

Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn) is having a tough time. She is only 28, but has already been married twice. The first time was for 6 years while the second time was for only 6 hours as husband number 2 (Albert Brooks) ended up dying of a heart attack while they made love on their wedding night. Heartbroken she calls into a radio show for advice and gets hooked into joining the army by an unscrupulous recruiter (Harry Dean Stanton) who makes it sound like it would be far more pleasant than it really is. At first Judy has a hard time adjusting to the rigors of a demanding Captain (Eileen Brennan), but eventually she finds new found self-esteem and coping skills that she never would’ve attained in the civilian world.

The film starts out awkwardly and a better scenario about how she joins the army could’ve been thought-up, but once it moves into the training camp segment it gets funny. In fact I would’ve extended these scenes more as it’s the best laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. Kudos also goes out to the editing by Sheldon Kahn who creates sharp transitions that accentuates the humor.

Hawn, who was pregnant with Kate Hudson when she was offered the role and had to go through 6-weeks of basic training to prepare for the part, is excellent in a film that helped bring her career out of the doldrums. In fact I would say this is one of her best roles and I enjoyed how the character becomes more confident and independent as it goes along.

Brennan is terrific as the nemesis and I wished her conflicts with Hawn had been played-up more. The character disappears too soon and manages to return briefly, but isn’t as effective. Her brief romantic encounter with the Craig T. Nelson character should’ve been cut as I saw this woman as being frigid, or even a closet lesbian who was married to the army because that is all she had, which made the scene where Hawn puts blue dye into Brennan’s showerhead seem cruel to me. Yes, she had been mean to Hawn earlier, but that was only because she felt her army career, which again was essentially her whole life, was being threatened and the other women should’ve been more sympathetic to that.

Hal Williams is good in support as the Sargent as is Sam Wanamaker as Judy’s overly protective father. Albert Brooks though is horribly wasted as the second husband and his heart attack is much too quick and mild to be realistic. Stanton is also shamefully underused playing an army recruiter that should’ve been investigated and out of a job for the outlandish misrepresentations that he gave.

The film does go on a bit too long and includes Judy’s romance with the Armand Assante character that seems like a whole different movie, but overall it still works although this has to be the tamest R-rated movie ever. I realize this was before the PG-13 era, but it still should’ve gotten a PG as the only ‘objectionable’ elements consist of the word ‘shit’, which is said once, a simulated sex scene that is brief and done with the characters under the covers and a segment involving the girls sitting around a campfire smoking pot. In fact 9 to 5, which came out that same year and was given a PG rating, had a similar pot scene that was much more extended.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Pretty in Pink (1986)

pretty in pink

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Poor girl dates preppy.

Andie (Molly Ringwald) is a teen girl from the poor side of town who one day while working at a record store meets Blaine (Andrew McCarthy) a rich, handsome, preppy kid that she immediately takes an interest in. A few days later he asks her out much to the dismay of her geeky friend Duckie (Jon Cryer) who has a secret crush on her. Blaine’s friend Steff (James Spader) is also angered about it because he had asked Andie out earlier and been rejected and these two factors cause a strain on their relationship and forces both of them to consider ending it.

One of the problems that I had right away with the film is the fact that with the exception of Ringwald, the majority of the cast who are playing these so-called teenagers were in reality way past adolescence and looking too mature. Kate Vernon, who plays a snotty girl named Benny, actually looks older than her female instructors. McCarthy and Cryer were also in their 20’s and manage to pull it off, but Spader who was 25 at the time doesn’t. He gives a great performance nonetheless, but I kept wondering with so many star struck teens out there dying to get into the business that the producers couldn’t have gotten performers that were more at the actual age of the characters.

Ringwald is fantastic in a vehicle tailored made for her and one that she really cruises with. I particularly liked her facial expressions while she attended a frat party and the moment where she decides to go to the prom despite not having a date simply to show them that they can’t ‘break her’ is fantastic. However, I wasn’t so crazy about the inferred idea that she was dating Blaine simply because he was from a rich family and could help her escape from her otherwise poor/ humble surroundings as it toys with the concept of ‘marrying-into-wealth’ which is too old fashioned. A young lady today should feel that she can work her way up the social/economic ladder on her own and not be dependent on some guy to do it for her.

I had equally mixed feelings involving Duckie. Cryer certainly gives an engaging performance, but the character’s excessive and constant need for attention-seeking humor gets overdone and I wished it had been toned down and the character made to be a little less geeky. The part where he has an instant meltdown when he finds out that Andie is dating someone else is also too extreme as it makes him seem dangerously possessive especially since he and Andie were just friends. Later when he is rude to Blaine at a nightclub only helps to make him look even more emotionally unstable.

I had this same issue with Steff who gets aggressively angry at Blaine for dating Andie and even threatens to end their friendship because of it, which to me was a complete overreaction. Sure he might be upset about it, but in real-life I think he would’ve expressed his displeasure in more subtle ways,or even just gotten over it since he was apparently sleeping with Benny who was a lot hotter looking than Ringwald anyways. In reality people generally want to hide their hurt feelings and not respond so overtly when things don’t go their way because they are usually smart enough to realize it will just make them look like a sore loser otherwise.

The Blaine character has problems too although different from the other two. The first issue is when he is at the record store and hands Andie an album cover showing Steve Lawrence, a famous crooner from the early ‘60s and frequent guest star on the old ‘Carol Burnet Show’ and asks Andie if he’s ‘hot’ or ‘trendy’. Now, I was teenager myself during the ‘80s and was in no way ever affiliated with the ‘hip crowd’, but even I and my nerdy friends where savvy enough to know that Steve Lawrence would never be considered an idol with ‘80s teens nor humiliate ourselves by asking anyone if he was. The fact that he does ask makes him seem almost mentally ill or someone who’d been living in a cave, which would be enough for most young women not to want to date him because they would think he was ‘weird’ or strangely disconnected.

The scene that takes place in the school’s library where he sends her a message via the school’s compute and even somehow manages to upload a picture of her is also dumb. Remember this was BEFORE the internet and sending emails and communications via a computer weren’t common or likely especially when they weren’t even their own, but public ones instead. In a later conversation this gets described as a ‘computer trick’ that he knows, which I guess suffices as being screenwriter John Hughes’ feeble attempt at ‘explaining it’.

In a lot ways this seems like just a basic reworking of the formula that was already used with much better success in Sixteen Candles with Cryer playing an off-shoot of Anthony Michael Hall’s character and Harry Dean Stanton as Ringwald’s sensitive father substituting for the one played by Paul Dooley in the first film. I was also disappointed that we never even briefly get to see Andi’s mother who was divorced from her father but gets discussed quite a bit and there’s even a picture of her sitting on Andie’s bedside table, which to me should’ve been enough to justify some sort of appearance by her at some point.

I liked the scene, at least on an emotional level, where Duckie physically attacks Steff after he makes a disparaging remark about Andie, but on the logical end it’s off-kilter. For one thing Andie wasn’t aware of the remark and for Duckie to take on some guy who was clearly much bigger than him it would’ve made more sense for her to have heard it and been hurt by it in order for him to come so aggressively to her defense. A later scene that takes place at the prom where a super-hot girl turns around and out-of-nowhere shows an immediate interest in Duckie who’s just standing there seemed too dream-like and fanciful.

I never saw this film when it first came out and only reviewed it now at the suggestion of some female friends in order to commemorate the 30th anniversary of its release and I have to be honest I was expecting something a lot better especially since it has attained such a strong cult following. Maybe it’s the nostalgic value that gives it its allure, but on a purely cinematic level it’s average at best with a screenplay that only touches the surface of the teenage experience while relying too heavily on age-old and very obvious dramatic devices to help propel it.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 28, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Howard Deutch

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Mr. North (1988)

mr north 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has static electricity.

Theophilus North (Anthony Edwards) is a young man who arrives in the town of Newport Rhode Island in the 1920’s. He has little money or connections, but soon attracts attention with his ability to give off small electrical shocks to anyone he touches. Rumors abound that he can heal sick people with this power and everyone wants to meet him, but the town Dr. (David Warner) is not as impressed and accuses him of practicing medicine without a license and a court battle ensues.

The North character is quite likable. He is self-assured, but never obnoxious or overbearing and is sensitive to everyone he meets and always seems to have wise advice to give no matter what their ailment or problem. However, he starts to get to be a little ‘too good’ and it borders on being annoying. It would have been nice to have seen him with at least one flaw or transgression simply to prove that he was human. His electrical charge ability isn’t all that impressive and the way people become so in awe of it is overblown and dumb.

He also helps the Mr. Bosworth (Robert Mitchum) character who has a bladder control issue by giving him pills, which is nothing more than peppermint, but assures him it will ‘cure’ his ailment. Eventually it does suggesting that incontinence is a psychological problem, which is ridiculous as it is almost always a medical one and makes this an insult to anyone who suffers from it.

The tone is pleasing and the recreation of the period is satisfactory, but the pacing is off. Nothing at all happens during the first hour and only slightly gains traction during the end. The scene where North gets chased by a mob of people looking for him to cure them is amusing, but seems to shift this otherwise whimsical fable-like tale into an all-out farce.

The supporting cast is fun. Eccentric actress Tammy Grimes is good as Mitchum’s spoiled adult daughter who tries to make things as difficult for North as she can. Harry Dean Stanton puts on an very effective Limey accent and Lauren Bacall is interesting in a rare sympathetic role. David Warner is terrific as always as the heavy and it should have been played up even more.

The film is directed by Danny Huston who is the son of the legendary John Huston who also co-wrote the screenplay and his sister Angelica appears very briefly. Unfortunately the film is too predisposed at being one of those ‘feel-good’ movies and in the process becomes formulaic and one-dimensional. The final result is a slick, but slow moving production that is empty and forgettable.

mr north 2

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Danny Huston

Studio: The Samuel Goldwym Company

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Straight Story (1999)

straight story

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old man on lawnmower.

Richard Farnsworth plays Alvin Straight, an older man with health problems who decides to travel from Iowa to Wisconsin on a rider mower to visit his sick brother.

This film is a true achievement. For every flamboyantly bizarre film David Lynch has done he equals it here with his restraint. He truly proves himself a complete director and a sensitive one at that. He shows a deep respect for his subject and the area. Nothing is overplayed or exaggerated. It is the type of film no one thought Hollywood could do. Based on a true story they go along the same route the real Alvin took. The drama is not compromised and everything is handled in a dignified way. It propels itself on the quite eloquence of his journey and the people he meets. The soft pace is stunning especially when you realize that it is still quite captivating.

Farnsworth is perfect for the role. In many ways you feel he is Alvin Straight. He exudes so much of the same qualities of the character that you are convinced that they share some spiritual connection. His lines and little stories are both touching and powerful. Yet it is his deep expressive blue eyes that you remember the most. At any given time they can convey both his personal strength and sensitivity. Sissy Spacek is also terrific. Her portrayal of his mentally handicapped daughter is so convincing that you really can’t see the acting.

This is an emotional film and one that makes the viewer feel good without being manipulative or using any of the old conventions. The simplicity is refreshing. The only minor drawback is the meeting with his brother. Talented actor Harry Dean Stanton plays his brother yet he is only given a few lines. You wish he had more and we were able to see a more complete relationship. Even so this is still a wonderful movie.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: September 3, 1999

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated G

Director: David Lynch

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD

Deathwatch (1980)

deathwatch 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everyone watches her die.

Based on the David Compton novel this story deals with Katherine (Romy Schneider) who is living in a futuristic society where almost all diseases can be cured and death is very rare. When she is diagnosed with having a rare and incurable illness Vincent (Harry Dean Stanton) tries to get her to appear on his hit reality show ‘Deathwatch’ in which they film in documentary style a person’s slow and agonizing death, which is a huge TV hit. When Katherine tries to escape the publicity and hide from their cameras Vincent has a small camera surgically implanted into the brain of Roddy (Harvey Keitel) one of his cameramen, which then allows  Roddy to follow Katherine around and record her actions without her knowing it. The two then slowly form a relationship that culminates with tragic results.

Director Bertrand Tavernier is in top form. The movie is nicely paced and Tavernier shows a perfect grasp of the material. His use of music wonderfully accentuates the mood and tone. Filmed on-location in Scotland he captures the old buildings of the region with a stylish flair that gives the film an added personality and memorable image. Showing characters walking all alone in the seemingly abandoned streets hits home their loneliness and having the scenes done in decaying buildings and neighborhoods illustrates the decaying values and morals of the world these characters live in. The gray stormy skies brings out the pictures moodiness and the isolated shack in the middle of a vast empty field that the two hide out in captures visually the characters lost and hopeless desperation. The film becomes like an orchestral ensemble moved along by a talented conductor at the peak of his skill.

This is also a great example of using a hand-held camera sparingly and only to create a certain mood, or emotion. Too many films these days seem to have what I call ‘the shaking camera syndrome’ and it is annoying and loses the original intended effect. Here Tavernier employs it during a scene where Katherine is trying to elude the production crew and the viewer feels her frantic tension with each move that the camera makes as well as getting a great cultural feel by capturing the various street vendors along the way.

The story itself is fascinating and years ahead of its time. The issues it brings out about television, ratings, and the cutthroat ugly world of business of entertainment have never been more on-target. This film may even transcend the classic Network with its dire message and that is not easy to do. What I really liked though was the fact that the twists keep coming in layers and all of them are unexpected, but equally fascinating. The story is riveting and compelling from beginning to end.

Schneider is brilliant and beautiful as always giving another one of her impeccable performances. Her character is easily identifiable and the viewer immediately gains her sympathy. She shows an array of different emotions and traits making her a fascinating three-dimensional person. Her presence is the main ingredient that propels the film and without her none of it would have worked and her gorgeous natural smile is wonderful and manages to come on display briefly despite the ugly difficulties of her character.

Keitel is in fine form as well playing a character who finds that when one works for those who are more than willing to exploit others they themselves will eventually be exploited by them as well. Von Sydow appears near the very end and lends stature to the proceedings.

I hate to bring this up because I love the film’s visual design, but I did find it a bit odd that the story is about the hi-tech future and yet all we are shown are old buildings and other gadgets that look very much like they are from the 1980’s. The computer that Katherine works on is laughably archaic and I felt from that end they could have tried harder to create a little more of a futuristic impression. Also, the name of the network ‘NTV’ sounds a little too much like the cable network that used to show music videos.

The recent Blu-ray release from the Shout Factory is excellent and restores the film to its original runtime of 130 minutes. I highly recommend this to those who enjoy Sci-fi fare that is thought provoking and original.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: January 23, 1980

Runtime: 2Hours 10Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bertrand Tavernier

Studio: Gaumont International

Available: VHS (1Hour 57Minute Version), DVD, Blu-ray