Tag Archives: James Woods

Split Image (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their son becomes brainwashed.

Danny (Micheal O’Keefe) is a struggling athlete who’s feeling overwhelmed by the demands and pressures of college life. He meets-up with Rebecca (Karen Allen) who invites him to a weekend stay at what turns out to be a religious cult run by Kirklander (Peter Fonda). It is there that Danny becomes brainwashed into the organization and cuts off all ties with his parents (Brian Dennehy, Elizabeth Ashley) who decide they have no option but to kidnap him and then have him deprogrammed by a brash, caustic deprogrammer (James Woods) who they find to be rude but helpful

This film is very similar to Ticket to Heaven that was produced in Canada and has the same story and structure. The Canadian production though is a bit better especially with the way it examines the protagonist getting acclimated into the cult. Both films have the young man becoming brainwashed in a matter of one weekend which to me is too quick. The Canadian film though at least examines the different activities that they go through to wear him down and it gets in your face with it, so the viewer feels as exhausted as the young man when t’s over while this film glosses over that part making the transition seem too extreme. The Canadian film also detailed the character’s constant inner turmoil even after he’d been indoctrinated while here Danny behaves like a light switch that completely changes from his old self in a snap and then never looks back, which is less realistic

The B-story dealing with a romance that he has with Rebecca while in the group degrades the the story to a sappy opera level and should’ve been left out. Allen certainly is perfect for her role as her bright, beaming blue eyes gives her character that brainwashed appearance, but the extended conversations she has with Danny are strained making me believe that the scenes inside the cult should’ve been cut as they’re corny instead of compelling and focused instead  solely on the parents point-of-view at trying to get him out.

The film though does score with the deprogramming segment, which gets much more extended here. Director Ted Kotcheff uses elaborate visual effects to convey Danny’s point-of-view and unlike in Ticket to Heaven the deprogrammer doesn’t allow the family and friends to sit-in on his sessions as he feared they won’t understand his methods, which is more believable.

Ashley as the mother is great especially her meltdown near the end with Danny when he tries to physically attack her.  I had some problems though with Dennehy’s character as he seemed much too calm and laid back and even starts singing as they drive to the cult location even though most people would be nervous and then later showing him breaking down and crying as he watched an old video of Danny is too overwrought.

Woods though perfectly captures the anti-hero with his intended brashness being more amusing than offensive. The part where he plays-out a scene to the movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Spencer Tracy was I’m convinced ad-libbed and a great example of  how his acting genius gives this movie a needed edge and whose presence keeps it watchable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, Amazon Video

Against All Odds (1984)

against all odds

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for missing girlfriend.

Terry Brogan (Jeff Bridges) is an aging football player who gets cut from the team and in desperate need of cash. He reluctantly accepts a paying assignment from his friend Jake Wise (James Woods) which has him traveling to Mexico in search of Jake’s girlfriend Jessie (Rachel Ward) who just so happens to also be the daughter of the team’s owner (Jane Greer) that cut Terry from the squad. Terry manages to find Jessie rather quickly and the two promptly fall in love, which propels a string of odd events that soon has Terry embroiled in a complex criminal scheme that threatens both his life and others.

This film is a remake from the 1947 film noir classic Out of the Past, but it does not fare as well as the original. The main problem is that it requires the viewer to make some major leaps in logic and only proceeds to get more implausible as it goes along. The fact that both Jake and the team’s owner want to hire Terry to find Jessie is the biggest issue. Why would these two want to throw gobs of money at someone who has no experience in finding people or know the first thing about the process. They wouldn’t hire him to fix their car if he had no experience in that area, so why expect him to have any ability in finding a missing person. Professional private eyes have spent years tracking down people and have attained skills that a novice wouldn’t, so why not just leaf through the Yellow Pages of their local phone book and hire a private investigator with good credentials to do the job instead?

Terry also locates Jessie much too quickly. Mexico has a population of 125 million people and yet in only a couple days he miraculously spots her buying food from across the street from where he is having a drink. In equally miraculous fashion she is somehow able to, after only speaking to him briefly, figure out which hotel he is staying at and bursts into his room unannounced the next day, which is also dumb because who leaves their hotel room door unlocked especially when staying in a foreign country? Later the Alex Karras character is somehow able to find the two as they make love inside an ancient Mayan temple deep inside the remote jungles of the Yucatan, which again is highly questionable and probably even more implausible than the other two examples mentioned above.

The motivations of the characters are another issue. There’s a scene where the Swoosie Kurtz character, as a favor to Terry, goes into a dead man’s office to retrieve some important files from a safe while having a Doberman growling at her and a corrupt security guard ready to harm her at any second, but why someone would put their life on the line for somebody that they really don’t know that well is nebulous and in reality wouldn’t occur.

There is also a scene involving Jake and Terry drag racing down the busy streets of L.A. in broad daylight. Some fans of the film consider this to be quite exciting, but I found it to be unrealistic as it is hard to believe that they could get away with it without catching the eye of a traffic cop as they were doing it. Having two middle-aged men be so utterly reckless not only with their own lives but those of the other drivers is also hard to imagine and puts their most prized possessions, which is their snazzy sports cars in jeopardy of getting totaled. Going to some other less traveled place to do their off-road racing would’ve made more sense.

On the plus side Larry Carlton’s moody soundtrack is great and helps create just the right tone. I also thought Ward was a perfect choice for her role as she is quite sensual and seductive without ever overdoing it. The film also scores with its breathtaking Mexican scenery.

I liked that Greer, who starred in the original version, gets cast as Ward’s mother and although I felt Richard Widmark does quite well as the heavy I was disappointed that the role wasn’t offered to either Robert Mitchum or Kirk Douglas as they had appeared in the original as well.

The plot features many twists, which keeps it mildly interesting, but it also borders on getting convoluted and is never emotionally compelling. The ongoing love affair between the two leads ends up being annoying as well. For one thing she two-times him while also bailing on him the moment things got tough. If a person does that to someone once they will do it to them again if given the chance, so ‘losing’ her wasn’t much of a loss and makes the image of her crying for him, which gets shown over the closing credits, all the more melodramatic and over-the-top.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1984

Runtime: 2Hours 1Minute

Rated R

Director: Taylor Hackford

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD

The Visitors (1972)

visitors 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: His past comes back.

Vietnam veteran Bill (James Woods) has moved back into civilian life while enjoying the quietness of the country with his girlfriend Martha (Patricia Joyce) and her infant son. One day in the dead of winter while Bill is away shopping two of his former war buddies Tony and Mike (Chico Martinez, Steve Railsback) come by for an unexpected visit. When Bill returns he is not happy to see them and when Martha asks him why he tells her of how while in Vietnam he had witnessed the two raping a woman and later he decided to report it, which got the two men sent to prison. Now that they are out he is afraid they may be looking for revenge. Tony insists that he’s forgiven Bill for what he did, but Mike’s intentions are much more ominous especially with the way he eyes Martha. As the night wears on the tensions mount until festering over into anger and mayhem.

The story is loosely based on an actual crime that occurred in Vietnam on November 19, 1966 when five American soldiers kidnapped and gang raped a 21-year-old Vietnamese woman who they later killed. One of the soldiers, who did not take part in the crime, but did witness it, reported the incident to his superiors, which eventually got the other men convicted and imprisoned.

The incident was first made into a movie in 1970 in Michael Verhoeven’s o.k. and then 19 years later Brian De Palma did another version of it called Casualties of War, which starred Michael J. Fox. This version differs from the other two in that it only alludes to the crime, but never shows it. Instead it hypothesis on what might’ve happened had those who were convicted came back to revisit the one that had turned them in.

Story wise the film works to a degree as it reveals things in layers, which helps hold the mystery and filming the majority of it inside one lonely, isolated house gives it an effectively claustrophobic feeling, but the production values are extremely low and resembles more someone’s lost home movie than a feature film directed by a one-time Hollywood legend. The background sound is mainly made up of a howling wind noise, which helps heighten the creepiness, but then during the second half director Elia Kazan inserts music, which becomes a distraction.

The ending leaves open a wide array of unanswered questions along with a lot of murky character motivations that makes the whole thing seem pointless and ill-conceived. The only interesting element to get out of it is seeing Woods and Railsback in their respective film debuts. Railsback is especially good in a part he seems born to play and one he honed to even greater success years later in The Stunt Man.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 2, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: Elia Kazan

Studio: United Artists

Available: Amazon Instant Video

Alex & The Gypsy (1976)

alex and the gypsy

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gypsy out on bail.

Alex is a middle-aged bail bondsman who is down on life and masks his disappointments with cynicism. By chance he meets the beautiful Maritza (Genevieve Bujold) a young gypsy woman who travels the countryside reading people’s palms and futures for a living. When she is accused of trying to kill her father and thrown into jail Alex decides to post her 30,000 dollar bail in an attempt for a brief romantic fling, but she instead spends the whole time trying to escape and keeping the overly-stressed Alex constantly on guard to prevent it.

The film has a pleasantly laid-back, free-spirited style to it that at times does meander, but nicely reflects the attitude and feeling of the decade that it is in. Director John Korty wisely pulls back and doesn’t try to over-direct, but instead allows his talented cast to carry the picture by creating well-defined and relatable characters. The dialogue and conversations are full of dry, acerbic wit and just the right amount of jaded sensibilities to keep it hip and real.

Lemon is great and has grown as an actor by taking on roles that are more world-weary and edgy  and going light years from the clean-cut, all-American young man type characters that he played in the comedies from the 50’s and early 60’s where he always was naïve and in-over-his-head. Here the character is like an extension of the one he played in Save the Tiger that being a middle-aged man who has lost his faith in everything and everyone and yet still holds out for that elusive moment of magic. His side comments are amusing making this one of his funniest and most endearing performances.

Bujold is ravishing and in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen her looking better. Korty seems to know how to photograph her in just the right way by making full use of her prominent and alluring eyes. Her moments on screen give off a subtly sensual quality. Her nude scenes aren’t bad either particularly when she is lying handcuffed to a bed almost emotionless while Lemmon, who is under the covers, attempts to have sex with her.

James Woods is also terrific showing a surprising knack for comedy as Alex’s nerdy and timid assistant. Although his character has only limited screen time he skillfully manages to almost steal the film from his two more established co-stars especially in a scene in the bail office where Alex gets bribed by a mafia criminal as well as another one inside a hospital where he tries to explain to Alex why he foolishly allowed Maritza to get away.

The ending is the film’s only real letdown. It is not a particularly bad one, but it is a little too cute and doesn’t seem to mesh well with the rest of the film. It also offers no real conclusion and leaves the viewer hanging as to what ultimately became of these characters. A little more of a side-story particularly the one involving the bounty hunter (Todd Martin) might have given the film a bit more excitement and dimension.

I also wasn’t too crazy about Henry Mancini’s melodic and serene score. He’s a great composer for sure, but something with more of an acoustic or modern folk rock tinge might have fit the story’s theme and mood better.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Korty

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None at this time.

Eyewitness (1981)

eyewitness

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Janitor loves news reporter.

Daryl (William Hurt) is a nighttime janitor at a large Manhattan office building. He spends his otherwise lonely existence obsessing over a local news reporter Tony Sokolow (Sigourney Weaver) and records every news broadcast she is in and watches them each night when he gets home. Then a murder occurs in his office building and Tony covers it for her program. Daryl tries to use his inside knowledge to get closer to Tony, but is reluctant to tell her all the information he knows since he fears that it was his friend Aldo (James Woods) who committed the crime.

Hurt, who usually plays the intellectual type, does well here in the low-key role. Weaver is also excellent doing what she does best which is playing a tenacious no-nonsense woman who can take care of herself. My favorite part with her is when she is accosted by a couple of men with guns, but doesn’t scream, keeps her composure, and manages to get away.

The romantic angle is the film’s strong point. Tony’s on-camera interview with Daryl when she tries to get more information out of him, but he instead gushes about his undying love for her is funny. It is refreshing that when Daryl tells Tony about how he obsesses over her she doesn’t freak out and consider him a stalker, but instead is charmed by it. The two use each other for their own purposes, but the viewer is giving the impression that these are genuinely nice people who just have very contrasting personalities and approaches, which is what makes the budding relationship interesting. However, having them go to bed together and confirm their affections for each other seemed anti-climactic as it was more intriguing wondering if Tony really was starting to have feelings for Daryl, or just using him to get information and the film should have stayed at this level until the very end.

The mystery portion gets lost in the shuffle. The film is slow with very little tension. There are a few good action moments, but there needed to be more. The scene where Daryl almost gets crushed in a trash compactor had definite potential, but needed to be played-out longer. The part where he and Tony are attacked by a dog is very intense, but the climatic sequence where Daryl is chased by the killer through some horse stalls is certainly slick and well-shot, but it comes too late and I had already become bored and detached with it. The identity of the killer was a definite surprise, but it is also a bit preposterous and a little too convenient in the way it somehow manages to tie all the characters into it especially Tony.

Director Peter Yates does some excellent on-location shooting of New York City especially with the crowded streets and neighborhoods as well as Central Park, but the musical score is sparse and lacking. There is a pleasing jazzy score near the beginning that has a nice easy going beat to it, but then outside of a few tense moments there is nothing. This creates a film that is too quiet. Adding an urgent score could’ve helped make it more compelling, or at the very least given it more energy and personality.

There are a lot of familiar faces in supporting roles, but the majority of them are wasted. Morgan Freeman and Steven Hill as the police investigators who banter endlessly
with each other are dull and useless. Kenneth McMillan as Daryl’s handicapped father is dynamic, but pointless to the story as a whole. Christopher Plummer is always reliable, but he has done better. James Woods is good because he is a master at playing unhinged characters and I liked the casting of Irene Worth as Tony’s mother simply because she looked almost exactly like what Sigourney would end up looking when she reaches that age. This is also a great chance to see Pamela Reed in an early role as Daryl’s fiancée.

The film ends up biting off more than it can chew and the idea of mixing a cutesy romance with a murder mystery doesn’t gel and leaves a sterile effect in both areas.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 13, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Netflix streaming