Tag Archives: James Caan

Kiss Me Goodbye (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her dead husband returns.

Three years after the death of her husband Jolly (James Caan) Kay (Sally Field) decides to move back into the house where her husband met his untimely fate when he fell down the home’s marble staircase. As she and her mother (Claire Trevor) get the home prepared for the arrival of her fiance Rupert (Jeff Bridges) she suddenly sees the vision of Jolly’s ghost in front of her. Only she can see, or hear it, which causes a great deal of confusion to those around her who all think she’s gone completely crazy.

The film is a loose remake of the Brazilian hit Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, which in itself was based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Jorge Amado although this one does not have the erotic edge that made that film so famous. The comedy takes too long to get going, is a bit heavy-handed at times, and puts no new interesting spin on the ghost theme making it seem like just another modern updating of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

The introduction of the ghost should’ve occurred after the couple was already married instead of before as it offers both Rupert and Kay too much of an easy out and the stakes needed to be higher. Kay still seemed very much in love with Jolly as she had a complete shrine of him in one of their rooms, so it would seem once the ghost of him arrived she’d have second thoughts of going through with the marriage even though that’s not what happens. As for Rupert it would’ve made more sense had he just walked out of the situation altogether since all the red-flags where there even before the ghost came about that she wasn’t completely over her first marriage and unable to give Rupert the full attention that he  wanted.

The cast is game for the most part although I felt Bridges looked much too boyish here almost like he was still in high school. Caan though is quite engaging and the one element that holds it all together even though he apparently disliked doing it. It’s also great seeing Claire Trevor in her first film appearance in 15 years and the outfits and hats that she wears look quite chic. Paul Dooley has a good funny bit at the end playing a former priest who tries to exorcise the ghost out of the home, which he mistakenly thinks possesses Kay’s dog (Shakespeare).

Much to my surprise I ended up laughing much more than I thought I would. Two of my favorite moments occurs when Rupert and Kay go traveling to a country lodge and stop off at a cafe where Rupert pretends to have a conversation with the ghost much to the confusion of a young boy (Barret Oliver) sitting at the table next to him. The fight that the two have later on while at the lodge, which causes the break-up of another couple (Alan Haufrect, Maryedith Burrell), who start to take sides, is quite good too.

Spoiler Alert!

I was laughing so hard at points I was ready to give this a 7 or 8 rating, but then it gets ruined by the stupid ending. The idea that the ghost would agree to just leave and never come back again was too convenient. Why would he have bothered to come back to this life at all, if he was going to be gotten rid of so easily?

Having Rupert slip down the same staircase that took Jolly’s life looks cheesy and unintentional funny. Jolly’s death was cheesy enough, but to do it a second time with someone else was dumb and what’s worse is that Rupert, even when he smashes his head onto the hard ground, comes back to life with no injuries. Why even have this scene at all if there was no point to it?

A better ending would’ve had Rupert killed the same way as Jolly and then come back as a ghost just like Jolly and then Kay could’ve enjoyed the two men at the same time. Possibly even have the menage a trois that had been tapped into in the first film, but nixed here because it was deemed American audiences would’ve been too prudish to accept.

I also thought it was a bit unbelievable that Jolly had all these affairs behind Kay’s back while he was alive and she seemed to have no clue it was going on. Most married people usually have a sense something isn’t right even if they can’t prove it. Having Kay’s friend Emily (Dorothy Fielding) admit to fooling around with Jolly and Kay not be bothered by it and just go on being friends with her didn’t jibe with me either.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Freebie and the Bean (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Protecting a state’s witness.

Detective Sergeant Dan Delgado (Alan Arkin) is ‘Bean’ while Detective Sergeant Tim Walker (James Caan) is known as ‘Freebie’. Together they are two San Francisco cops investigating a well-known racketeer named Red Meyers (Jack Kruschen). Just when they think they have enough evidence to bring him in they find that there’s a hit-man ready to kill him and it is now their job to keep the cantankerous Meyers alive until they can bring in a key witness to testify against him, which proves difficult.

The script was written by Floyd Mutrix who shopped it around to many studios before finally selling it to Warner Brothers because he felt he could trust then Studio Boss Richard Zanuck to keep the story in tact only to have the script go through massive rewrites once it was handed over to Richard Rush to direct. The story was originally conceived as being in the serious vein, but during rehearsals it was found that Caan and Arkin had a good comic chemistry together, so the dialogue took on more of a humorous take.

In many ways I liked the comic spin. This was in the age of Dirty Harry and The French Connection where cops had taken too much of a serious tone, so having something making fun of the trend is refreshing. The story itself remains gritty, which culminates in this odd dynamic where you find yourself laughing one minute and then cringing the next. My only complaint is that it seemed like Freebie and Bean where getting away with too much, the destruction of police property and reckless driving was one thing, but the way they would freely rough-up suspects under their care was another. Their ethical boundaries were so loose that real-life cops in the same situation would most certainly end up  getting reprimanded, at least hopefully.

The stunt work is worth catching as the car chases create a true adrenaline rush. The best one starts inside a dentist’s office, then goes out onto the streets where Caan, or at least his stunt double, rides a motorbike over the roofs of several cars in his pursuit of the bad guys, then proceeds to go through an outdoor art exhibit only to culminate inside the kitchen of a ritzy restaurant.

The supporting cast includes Loretta Swit as the wife of the crime boss who initially seems to have a very insignificant role, but it eventually works into being an integral part by the end. I also enjoyed Christopher Morley, who is a well-known female impersonator best remembered for playing Sally Armitage a character that was known as a woman who eventually came out as a man on the daytime soap opera ‘General Hospital’ that later inspired the movie Tootsie.  Here he plays a transvestite that Freebie meets briefly early on. Due to his small body frame Freebie initially considers him a ‘lightweight’ only to get the shock of his life when later on Morley proves to be far more able to defend himself than Freebie could’ve ever imagined in a unique fight sequence that I wished had been extended.

The casting that I had an issue was with Arkin and Valerie Harper as his wife. Usually these are great actors, but here they play Hispanic characters even though both were actually Jewish. Hearing Harper speak in a fake Spanish accent is quite annoying and the scene where the two bicker at each other would’ve had far better energy had it been played by actual Hispanics.

Spoiler Alert!

The part where Bean gets shot is problematic too. Normally I don’t mind having some reality seep into a story,  but here Bean being put out of commission is all wrong. The two had done everything together up to this point, so it cheats the viewer and the film’s chemistry with him missing during the climactic fight. Having him then miraculously recover after he’s taken away in the ambulance and pronounced dead makes the whole scenario ridiculous and implausible.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1974

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Rush

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Rain People (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Needing to find herself.

Natalie (Shirley Knight) wakes up one day and decides to simply get in her car and drive off with no particular destination in mind. She has just found out that she is pregnant and not sure if she can or wants to handle the responsibilities that come with it. She leaves a note to her husband (Robert Modica) telling him she needs time away from him to think things through. During her travels she meets Jimmy (James Caan), otherwise known as ‘Killer’, he was a former football player straddled with a brain injury that has now left him mentally handicapped. She also meets Gordon (Robert Duvall) a traffic cop who pulls her over for a speeding ticket. The two eventually start to date, but the more Natalie tries to find herself the more lost she becomes.

The film was for the most part considered an ‘experimental’ one as the subject matter was years ahead of its time. While many road pictures of the day like Easy Rider took the male perspective this one dared to tap into the feminist viewpoint, which up to that point hadn’t been explored as much if at all. I enjoyed how the film questions the whole wife/mother idea, once considered ‘the ultimate destination’ for any woman, but here brings out the complex issues that come with it and how not every woman may want to be trapped by it, or even find contentment in that situation.

What’s even more interesting is that Natalie never really seems to go anywhere. Yes, she does get in a car and starts driving and passes by many picturesque places of rural America along the way, but trying to escape the clutches that she feels holds her back never goes away. Everyone she meets, including Gordon who’s stuck raising a young daughter (Marya Zimmet) that he wasn’t totally prepared for, seem to be in the same predicament as her making it feel like the further she drives away the closer she gets to where she started.

Francis Ford Coppola makes wonderful use of the rain and there are many shots of it particularly in the first half as we see it creating puddles on the road and even streaming down the car windows in close-up. The cloudy, murky weather acted as a nice motif to Natalie’s inner emotional state and the confusion that she was going through. The film’s promotional poster seen above is excellent too and brings out the moodiness of the movie with one perfect shot although seeing the couple kissing in the backdrop is a bit misleading as that’s one thing you definitely don’t see here despite Natalie’s efforts to try and find it. The two people should’ve, in order to be consistent with the theme of the film it was promoting, been seen standing side-by-side instead of hugging.

I also really loved Coppola’s use of flashbacks here, which gets sprinkled in throughout. I liked the scenes showing the couple in happier times during their wedding as it illustrates how relationships that go bad or don’t work out still had their good moments even if they were brief. The flashbacks dealing with Duvall trying to save his family from a burning house are quite revealing too as what he describes verbally through voice-over is quite different from what we see.

Leonard Maltin, in his review of the film, called the script ‘weak’, which I completely disagree with. Yes, not a lot happens, the random situations that Natalie goes through perfectly reflect what could happen to anyone on a trip, which I liked because the plausibility here is never compromised. She ends her journey feeling as lost as she did when she started, but I felt that was the whole point, so in my opinion the script is strong.

George Lucas, who worked as an aide on this production, filmed a 32-minute documentary of this movie as it was being made called Filmmaker, which is accessible on YouTube although the sound quality is poor. This film has several revealing moments including conflicts that director Coppola had with Knight, but what I found most interesting is that when the crew traveled down to Chattanooga they all cut their hair and shaved their beards,which included Coppola himself, as they felt the locales wouldn’t work with them unless they appeared clean-cut. Seeing Coppola with a rare non-beard look alone makes this short film vignette worth catching.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 27, 1968

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Slither (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for embezzled money.

Dick Kanipsia (James Caan) is a former car thief who has just been released from jail and is now trying to go straight. While in prison he started up a friendship with Harry Moss (Richard B. Shull) and decides to go to his rural home for a visit. It is there that Harry suddenly gets shot by a mysterious gunmen, but just before he dies he informs Dick about a secret stash of stolen money that can only be retrieved by contacting his former partners in crime: Barry Faneka (Peter Boyle) and Vincent Palmer (Allen Garfield). Dick then goes on a road trip trying to find these two men while also coming into contact with a lot of oddball characters and situations along the way.

When I first saw this film over 20 years ago I really loved it and was impressed with W.D. Richter’s offbeat script that relies heavily on quirky scenarios and dryly humorous non sequiturs to help propel it. A theme he later polished to perfection in his most famous film the cult hit The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension While I still enjoy the engaging set-up I’ve found that during subsequent viewings the unsatisfying ending ruins everything else that comes before it and ultimately hurts the movie as a whole, but first lets go over what I did like.

The chase element that gets incorporated into the story is cool and has a strong connection to the one in Duel. The idea of having these large black vans driven by a person we cannot see constantly chasing after our protagonist no matter where he goes is intriguing and helps create an interesting mystery angle. The unique design of the vans, which was a 1973 Dodge Rectrans Discover 25R,  featured no front doors, which coupled with its all-black exterior gives them a very threatening presence that is almost creepier than the truck used in Duel.

Caan’s detached persona helps separate him from all the nuttiness around him and makes him likable in the process. Boyle is amusing as his eventual cohort and Louise Lasser is surprisingly restrained as Boyle’s wife. You also get to see  film director Paul Thomas Anderson’s real-life mother, Edwina Gough, in a small role during a scene at a bingo tournament.

The only character though that I didn’t care for was Sally Kellerman’s who plays this semi-crazy lady that proceeds to just slow-up the pace of the film with every scene that she’s in. I admit the part where she robs a diner at gunpoint is kind of fun, but I’ve never been a fan of her breathless delivery and didn’t feel there was any need for her reappearing after her character was pretty much dropped from the story and forgotten and there’s never any explanation for how she was able to successfully track Caan down after he abandoned her.

Laszlo Kovac’s cinematography is good although it would’ve been nice had this been a genuine road movie where our main character would’ve been required to travel to highly varied settings/landscapes  in his quest to find the hidden money. I realize this would’ve upped the budget, but having to constantly stare at the dry, brown landscape of Stockton, California, where the majority of the shooting took place, is kind of depressing.

As I stated earlier it’s the ending that hurts the film more than anything. To sit through what is otherwise a creative plot only to find that it all just leads to nothing is a big letdown. I know that during the 70’s it was trendy to have anti-climactic movie finishes, but here there needed to be more of a payoff . Movies should also have the main character change in some way from what they were at the beginning, which doesn’t occur. Caan just quietly walks away from the chaos around him like everything he’s just went through was nothing more than a blip on his life’s radar and ultimately that’s the way the movie becomes with the viewer as well. Goofy enough to hold your attention, but never memorable enough to stay with you.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Howard Zieff

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), YouTube

Rabbit, Run (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s maladjusted to adulthood.

Harry (James Caan) was a basketball star in high school and nicknamed Rabbit because of his speed. Now he’s a middle-aged man working a thankless job and stuck in a loveless marriage with an alcoholic wife (Carrie Snodgress). One day he decides to just jump into his car and drive away from all of it. He meets his former coach (Jack Albertson) who hooks him up with a prostitute (Anjanette Comer) and the two begin a makeshift relationship, but that doesn’t work out either. Rabbit then decides to return to his wife just as she’s ready to deliver their second child only to ultimately have tragedy strike.

Although the film was not as well received by the critics as the John Updike novel that it’s based upon was I still cam away liking it. There are indeed some lulls but director Jack Smight nicely incorporates the on-location shooting of Reading, Pennsylvania where Updike was born into the story, which gives it a distinctive visual flair. The scene where Rabbit walks into his gray, dingy old apartment only to see his wife slouched on the sofa with a liquor bottle would make anyone want to get up and run out of there and visually you get a sense of what Rabbit is feeling and therefore you don’t totally blame him for doing what he does even as irresponsible as it is.

Caan gives a great performance in a part he was born to play and I was impressed with his long distance running that occurs both at the beginning of the film and the end. However, if would have been nice to have had some flashbacks showing the character in better times. It’s one thing to talk about the character’s success on the basketball court and it’s another to actually see it. It would’ve also helped explain his weird rendezvous with his coach as the old man tells him, much to Rabbit’s shock, that the most important thing in life is ‘tits and pussy’. I think the reason for this, without having actually read the book, is that as a teen the coach acted as a role model and put up a moral facade for his players, but now as both are adults he sees the more jaded side of the guy, but without the benefit of a flashback this point gets lost.

The characters are nicely multi-dimensional, which makes watching them interact fascinating. I enjoyed Arthur Hill as a minister who tries to redeem Rabbit only to admit that he has fantasized about doing the exact same thing that Rabbit did although his wife, played by Melodie Johnson, is too young and dresses too provocatively to ever be taken seriously as being an actual pastor’s wife.

Spoiler Alert!

Smight captures the book’s shocking elements nicely including the baby drowning scene in the bathtub where the viewer sees it from the infant’s underwater point-of-view. However, the moment where Comer gets pressured to ‘go down’ on Caan in an effort to perform fellatio with him, which she apparently did with some of her other customers, has clearly lost its edge since it’s a more mainstream sexual practice between couples now than it was back then although the pounding music that gets played over this sequence as they ‘debate’ whether to do it or not is good.

The ending though I found disappointing as it’s too similar to the one in Adam at 6 AM, which came out around the same time and had the film’s star Michael Douglas driving away from his obligations in a car while here Caan does the same, but only on his feet yet one can’t run away from things their whole lives. I was hoping to see how he changed during the different stages of his life, which this film doesn’t show. Updike wrote three follow-up novels to this story ‘Rabbit Redux’, ‘Rabbit is Rich’, and ‘Rabbit at Rest’, and I hope that they can remake this film while adding elements of those stories into it, which will create a fuller composite to the Rabbit character and his life, which this film lacks.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 10, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), YouTube

Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two vaudevillians rob bank.

Harry and Walter (James Caan, Elliot Gould) are two down-on-their-luck marginally talented comedians living in the 1920’s who go to jail when they’re caught trying to rob their audience members during a tacky onstage ‘psychic’ stunt that goes horribly wrong. While in the slammer they meet up with Adam Worth (Michael Caine) a rich man from society’s upper crust who enjoys robbing banks just for the thrill of it. They come upon the blue print for his next proposed heist and take a picture of it and then after they escape from jail challenge Adam on who will be able to rob the bank first.

This is one of those 70’s movies that I found to be refreshingly original and quite funny, but when it was released it was met with harsh reviews and was a bomb at the box office. After some bad test audience reactions it was heavily cut much to director Mark Rydell’s dismay who felt a lot of the better jokes went missing although producer Tony Bill and star Caan blame Rydell for the film’s failure and insist that much of the humor in the original script was never even filmed or used.

I can’t explain why the film didn’t do well as I personally found as bank heist movies go this one to be quite  unique. So many bank robbing films from that era, and even today, paint the scheme in a one-dimensional way by portraying the robbers, who we are usually supposed to sympathize with, as a modern-day Robin Hood, while the cops and those out to stop them are represented as being the greedy,oppressive establishment, but this film takes things a step further, which is what I found interesting. The competition aspect gives it an extra.,likable edge and really made me want to root for Harry and Walter and their gang of losers who take on the arrogant Caine and his snotty buddies. Instead of the viewer just being intrigued at how they’re able to pull of the robbery as is the case with most heist films we are much more emotionally invested with its outcome.

Caan and Gould are what Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman should’ve been in Ishtar. These guys are definite losers, but still appealing and comical at the same time. Caan has never been known for his comedy and he has referred to this movie as ‘Harry and Walter Go to the Toilet’, which is a shame because he shows nice energy here and is able to keep Gould in check by not allowing him to drone on and steal the spotlight as he can sometimes do when left alone or with a less capable co-star.

If the film fails at all it’s by entering in too many supporting players. The title mentions only Harry and Walter and they should’ve pulled off the heist alone with maybe only Keaton tagging along for balance. As it is though a whole massive group gets in on it to the point that the two leads have little to do. While the group is busily trying to figure out how to open the safe Harry and Walter are on stage trying to extend a stage play  The film still works pretty well despite this issue, but technically the two men should be at the center of the action and in a lot of ways they really aren’t and in fact become almost like supporting players by the end.

The film also goes on too long with the denouncement being far more extended than it should, but it’s still a fun, breezy watch that reflects the gilded age flavor well and uses leftover sets from Hello Dolly to enhance the scenery perfectly.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 17, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Chapter Two (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to start over.

George (James Caan) is a famous author who has just lost his first wife. His brother Leo (Joseph Bologna) gives him the phone number to Jennie (Marsha Mason) who has recently gone through a divorce. After an initially awkward first encounter the two form an attachment and quickly decide to get married. Then on their honeymoon the memories of George’s recently deceased wife comes back to haunt him, which jeopardizes his new marriage.

The film, which is based on the hit Broadway play that ran for 857 performances and was written by Neil Simon, is largely inspired by the events of his own life as he lost his first wife, Joan Baim, on July 17, 1973 and then quickly married actress Marsha Mason on October 25th of that same year. Mason is essentially playing herself and her performance here is one of the movie’s stronger points.

An aspect of the film though that I found even more interesting is the fact that it reteams Mason and Caan just 6 years after they had starred in Cinderella Liberty. The romantic angle here though is much more realistic as both people are on a more equal footing as a relationship cannot work if one person is too severely dependent on the other. I also enjoyed seeing how Mason, a highly underrated actress, could effectively play both an emotionally weak person as she did in the 1973 film and a very strong one as she does here. My only quibble is that her character is again portrayed as being an actress just like she was in The Goodbye Girl, but there she was wracked with anxiety and struggling financially as most artists do while here she seemed too financially secure and more like a woman working in the corporate business world.

The film has a nice breezy pace and the romance is allowed to blossom naturally without ever feeling forced, which along with the excellent on-location shooting I really liked. The problem though comes with the fact that the leads are quite bland when compared to their supporting counterparts, which are played by Bologna and Valerie Harper. Bologna seems to steal any film he is in and he really should be given more starring vehicles. Harper is equally strong and nothing like her more famous Rhoda Morgenstern persona. Their characters have engaging flaws and the banter between them is far more comical. The film shifts uneasily between scenes featuring Caan/Mason to those with Bologna/Harper until it seems like two completely different movies going in opposite directions.

Having Caan’s character go from being really crazy about Mason to suddenly and quite literally overnight becoming aloof towards her is too severe and comes off like he is afflicted with a Jekyll and Hyde disorder. Likewise Mason is too forgiving with it when most people would simply get a quickie divorce since they had known each other for only 10 days. Yet even with all of these weaknesses I still found it a soothing and easy-to-take movie that should please romance aficionados everywhere.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1979

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Moore

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD (Sony Choice Collection)

Alien Nation (1988)

alien-nation-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Newcomers integrate into society.

Sam ‘George’ Francisco (Mandy Patinkin) is an alien who along with 300,000 of his kind land on earth near the Mojave desert in the year 1988 and become known as newcomers. After initially being quarantined they are let out in 1991 and become a part of everyday society. Matt Sykes (James Caan) is a cop whose partner is killed during a shootout with some criminal newcomers. George and Matt then team up to investigate the crime as well as a similar one that seems to be linked to Warren Harcourt (Terence Stamp) a successful newcomer businessman. Matt initially does not trust George and even shows an open bias towards him, but eventually the two form a bond.

The concept is unique in that unlike most sci-fi films the actual spaceship landing becomes only a minor part of the story and just briefly touched on in film’s first couple of minutes before quickly moving into the main theme of seeing how the humans and aliens learn to coincide. The idea of using this to then further examine racism and bigotry may have been a noble one, but it ends up not getting played up as much as I thought it would. The fact that the aliens have assimilated into society as quickly as they do (only 3 years) makes it seem like even if there is resistance to it by some it’s of a small level and for the most part the aliens have it pretty good.

There’s also a myriad of questions that never get addressed. Why exactly were these aliens sent here and will more come along later? Which planet are they from and if they were conditioned to be efficient workers who are highly adaptable then why are there so many seen on street corners and apart of gang that do no work at all. Nothing from their culture is retained and outside of their strange appearance that looks like burn victims with skin grafts there is not all that much difference between them and their human counterparts. They even end up bleeding red blood when they get shot.

The film’s most interesting part is George’s and Matt’s relationship, which starts out rocky, but slowly evolves and even at one point has a humorous moment where Matt tells George a ‘really funny’ joke that George, much to Matt’s frustration, can’t seem to appreciate. Both Caan and Patinkin give excellent performances as the characters go through a wide array of emotions with George seeming at times to be more human-like.

The criminal investigation and mystery dealing with a drug called Jabroka I didn’t find to be as compelling and the final showdown between Matt and Harcourt was to me a yawner. The alien angle comes off more like a thinly disguised attempt to make what amounts to being just another formulaic cop action pic seem unique and ‘profound’ when it really isn’t.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Graham Baker

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Cinderella Liberty (1973)

cinderella-liberty-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sailor falls for prostitute.

John Baggs (James Caan) is a sailor who checks into a Seattle, Washington naval base medical facility for a check-up and while there has his files lost and is unable to receive pay or new orders until they are found. While the navy tries to find them they give him a ‘Cinderella Liberty’ pass, which allows him to come and go from the base as long as he returns before curfew. During his excursions into the city he meets up with Maggie (Marsha Mason) a prostitute and goes back to her place for sex. It is there that he meets her biracial son Doug (Kirk Calloway). Despite the tremendous odds John finds himself falling-in-love with Maggie while trying earnestly to make a better life for Doug.

This is one of those films I enjoyed quite a bit the first time I saw it, but could not get into it as much the second time around, which is a shame as it does have a lot of good things going for it. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and the way he captures the seedier side of the city is one of the film’s chief assets particularly the vivid look at Maggie’s squalor of an apartment that no studio could possible recreate quite as effectively. Trying to mix romance with gritty reality while getting away from the soft focus and idealized view of love, which permeated a lot of romance films of the ‘70s is a noble and interesting effort. I also really enjoyed John Williams’s ragtime sounding score and the bouncy opening tune sung by Paul Williams.

The performances are excellent. For Caan this may be the best performance of his career and the role that most effectively works into his acting style. Mason is equally good and deserved her Oscar nomination alone through the strained facial expressions that she shows during the delivery of her child. The supporting cast is great too and includes Dabney Coleman, who wears a wig, as Caan’s crass, blunt superior and Eli Wallach as an old timer in the naval system who seems genuinely shell shocked at the prospect of having to survive as a civilian.

The film’s main fault is that I just could never buy into the idea of why John would ever want to get into the situation that he does. There might be some cases out there where a prostitute and one of her customers do fall for each other and start a relationship, but I would think they’re few and far between and usually doesn’t last. If anything it couldn’t be as extremely bad of a situation as it is here where the woman is a complete emotional mess living in squalor with a delinquent son and pregnant with another.

Several characters throughout the film keep asking John why he would want to get involved in something like this and his answer of ‘because it makes me feel good’ is not sufficient. A good relationship needs a healthy dose of give-and-take, but here John is doing all the giving. There isn’t much to love with the Maggie character anyways as she is extraordinarily irresponsible as a parent and at one point even abandons her son with not much more than a second thought.

Had the film emphasized John’s bonding with Doug and made this the focal point then I could see him wanting to have some limited involvement with the mother in order to help the kid, but the romance angle in this situation given the circumstances bordered on the insane and prevented me as a viewer from fully getting into it.

cinderella-liberty-2

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Rollerball (1975)

rollerball1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: This game gets nasty.

In the not so distant future where no governments or countries exist and corporations control everything a new type of game becomes the rage. It features two teams on roller blades skating around a circular rink while fighting over a silver hand sized ball, which they use to throw into an electronic type of basket and score points. The game features little officiating and can usually cause injury or even death to the players, but one man named Jonathan E. (James Caan) has risen to the top and become a superstar in the sport. Bartholomew (John Houseman) who is the head of the conglomeration doesn’t like this because the idea of the games is to thwart individuality and not promote it. They push Jonathan to retire, but he refuses forcing the games to become even more violent as their way to get rid of him one way or the other, but the more they try to take him down the more he fights back.

The thing I really liked about William Harrison’s script, which is based on a short story of his called ‘Roller Ball Murder’ is how amazingly prophetic it is. Corporations and their rich lobbyists are pulling the strings of the government officials already making them seem as mere puppets and modern day suburbia much like in the movie is really only a tranquilizer  with its comfy lifestyle used to lull everyone into overlooking the many concessions that come with it. The violent games for both the players and fans acts as an escape from their otherwise sterile existence as the outcomes are the only things not already preordained by the corporations and thus giving the players a small sense of control over something.

Unfortunately the film’s set design is not as intuitive as its story and lacks imagination and even seems quite dated. There are no personal computers and the ones that do get shown are quite archaic looking. I have not seen the 2002 version, but this reason alone justifies a remake although the scene where the party guests go outside to play with a ray gun is a keeper.

The game itself isn’t all that interesting and to me came off as a glorified version of roller derby. I thought it should’ve been more graphic and bloody and the film pulls back when it should instead capture the true brutally of the sport. It does get a little more violent as it goes on and I did enjoy the surreal quality of the film’s climatic game where players from both sides end up either killed or severely injured. The segment showing the men preparing for a game by having the Caan character giving pointers to the new players on some of the strategy that is needed helped convey the idea that the sport had a certain technique to it and not simply rollerblading around a rink.

Caan is adequate in the lead, but is upstaged by John Beck as his playing partner as well as Shane Rimmer who plays his coach. It’s great to see John Houseman in his second feature film after his Academy Award winning performance in The Paper Chase, but his close-ups where ill-advised as it made me notice all of his nose hairs and director Norman Jewison should’ve either avoided framing his face from that angle or giving the elderly actor a pair of tweezers to pull them out.

The ending is unsatisfying as it leaves everything on a vague note. We see the fans cheering Jonathan’s moxie, but there is no indication as whether he was able to ultimately stage a revolt, or whether the corporate heads found some other way to get rid of him. In either case I wanted more of a conclusion and the fact that there isn’t any makes it feel like a great concept that wasn’t fully realized.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 25, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Rated R

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video