Tag Archives: Martin Sheen

The Believers (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cult requires child sacrifice.

After the death of his wife (Janet-Laine Green) Cal (Martin Sheen) decides to move with his young son Chris (Harley Cross) from Minneapolis to New York City where he gets a job as a police psychologist. It is there that her councils officer Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits) who worked undercover to infiltrate a cult that performed child sacrifices and is now paranoid that these same cult members are after him when it’s really Cal’s son that they want.

On the directing end I found this to be mildly engrossing and I enjoyed the way John Schlesinger vividly captured both surburbia as well as the inner city. Working into the false sense of security that the suburbanites have making them believe that they’re ‘immune’ to what goes on in the poorer areas, but here it shows how evil can seep into even the most affluent of areas and revealing just how vulnerable everyone is.

However, if you focus solely on the script, which is based on the Nicholas Conde novel ‘The Religion’, then there are a myriad amount of problems. The biggest one being the opening sequence that features the mother getting electrocuted in a freakish accident, which doesn’t really have all that much to do with the rest of the story. Some may argue that this was the catalyst to get Cal and Chris to move from Minneapolis to New York where the real meat of the plot begins, but why not just have them already in New York to begin with?

Having Helen Shaver enter in as Cal’s love interest is equally pointless. Their relationship happens too quickly and comes off as forced while Chris’ dismay at having a new mother figure in his life seems like an issue for an entirely different type of movie. I admit having a tumor grow on her face that eventually spawns spiders is my favorite part of the movie, but why not just have this occur to the mother instead of killing her off so quickly at the beginning?

Richard Masur’ character, who appears during the first act only to then disappear until the end is problematic as well. A good script has important characters appear throughout the story and not just vanishing until you’ve completely forgotten about them, which I did, and then conveniently reappearing and suddenly becoming an integral part of the plot.

Cal’s character arc is too extreme too. He’s portrayed as being a rationalist who does not believe in superstition, but then later on is shown taking part in a ritual requiring him to squeeze out blood of a decapitated chicken, which is too Jekyll and Hyde-like. Sure people can sometimes change their opinions on things, but not so quickly or so severely. Portraying him as initially being superstitious, instead of so adamantly against it, might’ve made this scene a little less jarring.

There are only an estimated 22,000 people who practice the Santeria religion in the United States, which has a population of 327 million, so the odds that a person such as Cal would come into contact with not only a police officer that dealt with the religion, but also relatives is astronomically low and hurts the plausibility. It’s equally hard to believe that a large group of educated, upwardly mobile yuppies would get caught up into a cult that required child sacrifice and that they would all be able to keep it a secret without any of them getting a guilty conscience and going to the police. This is a religion that’s prevalent in the Spanish-speaking parts of the Caribbean, so why a large group of white people would suddenly get so into it is never explained.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist at the end in which Helen Shaver’s character creates a shrine to the spirits composed of dead animals inside her barn makes no sense as there is never any hint earlier that she had a propensity for the ritual, so why all of sudden did she start embracing it? I’m not an animal expert either, but I don’t think a dog would behave so aggressively as he’s shown doing by jumping up and down and barking loudly at the barn door where the shrine of the dead animal is. I would think for him to act that way it would have to be the smell of a live creature and he’d know the difference, but again that’s just speculation.

End of Spoiler Alert!

A lot of these problems could’ve been avoided had the producers went with their original idea of portraying it as a satanic religion feeding off the hysteria of the satanic ritual abuse that was a prevalent headline catching conspiracy theory during the 80’s. Having some outcast teens and desperate poor people immersing themselves in a fringe ritual because they had nowhere else to turn would’ve made a heck of a lot more sense than a bunch of yuppies gleefully standing around and watching the killing of someone else’s child simply because they felt it would give them ‘good luck’ in their quest up the corporate ladder.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 10, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Schlesinger

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

No Drums, No Bugles (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living in a cave.

Ashby Gatrell (Martin Sheen) is a conscientious objector. When the Civil War begins he wants nothing to do with it, so he escapes into the West Virginia wilderness where he hides out inside a cave for the 4 years that it goes on. He talks to no one during this time, which becomes a strain on him mentally and emotionally.

The one cast member concept is interesting, but few films have succeeded using it. Even Castaway doesn’t really count because the Tom Hanks character is only stuck by himself during the first two acts, but then comes home at the end to interact with others, but here it’s all just Sheen and if it weren’t for his brilliant performance it wouldn’t have worked.

What I liked most is that it shows how isolation can have its benefits. Watching the scenes where Sheen runs uninhibited through the endless fields with no one else around almost like he were a playful child brought out just how freeing being alone can sometimes be and something that other films dealing with the same subject never effectively tackle instead it gets portrayed as being a complete negative, which it isn’t.

I was also impressed at how the film captures all four seasons. I felt that this was needed, but presumed with its low budget that it wouldn’t be and was willing to forgive it for that reason and yet to my surprise it gets shown anyways. What’s even more amazing is that they have the camera stay focused on a certain natural setting for instance a grove of trees and then merge the summer season slowly into the winter one, so you see how these exact same trees and area looks during both times of the year, which I found to be really cool!

On the negative end there are segments where the character overhears conversations from other people as he hides nearby and listens in. The conversations though sound stilted like they were spliced in later after they had been recorded inside a sound studio and not the natural surroundings. We also never see the faces of these other characters as they speak, or very few of them, with the camera instead focusing only on their lower body making them seem unintentionally dehumanized.

The film should’ve started out with the war not yet begun and Sheen still in his family man role, which would’ve created a vivid character arch that is otherwise lacking. The brief scene where he does go back to his home late at night doesn’t work since he never speaks to any one there and we are given no real understanding of what he was like before he became a nomad.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is confusing as it shows the war ending and he goes back into his town, but finds no one there almost like they’d been kidnapped by some alien being or something. He finally hears some people singing inside a church, but the film never has him going inside, so the viewer doesn’t experiences his readjustment, or whether he was ever accepted back into the community at all, which makes the story incomplete. Too much time is spent on the wilderness scenes when that should’ve only been a part of the plot with the other stages of his life being examined as well.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 23, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated G

Director: Clyde Ware

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: VHS

The Subject Was Roses (1968)

subject was roses

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: This homecoming isn’t happy.

Tim (Martin Sheen) arrives home from the war to find that things aren’t going well with his parents John and Nettie (Jack Albertson, Patricia Neal). Their aloofness towards each other slowly becomes more apparent and seems to come to a head when Tim decides to buy his mother a bouquet of roses and his dad pretends it was his idea. When Nettie realizes it wasn’t John who bought them she leaves the house and doesn’t return, which causes John to panic and try to find her.

This movie has a compelling quality to it and is the old-fashioned type of drama that they don’t seem to make anymore. The characters are real and believable and will probably remind one of their own parents, or even themselves and their marriages. The dialogue has a great conversational style and the viewer feels like they are eavesdropping onto an actual household. The action happens slowly, but deliberately and is devoid of any neat and tidy wrap-ups.

However, the film is also a bit frustrating. We are never explicitly shown what it is that is troubling Nettie so terribly. We are given some definite hints of things bubbling just underneath the surface, but there is nothing that completely comes out into the open. The viewer becomes primed for some great revelation, but when it doesn’t come and the characters end up remaining in the same situation as when it began it makes the whole thing seem pointless.

Neal is outstanding and the main catalyst for why this works. This was her first film after she had suffered several near fatal strokes in 1965. Although she does very well one can still see some subtle effects of it like the way she walks and her speech being just a little bit slower, but in context with the role it makes her seem older than she really is and therefore better for her role. I was surprised at how physically demanding the part was including having her dance rigorously around the living room with Sheen as well as having to aggressively fight off Albertson’s unwanted advances. Her sad and pained facial expressions leave the most lasting impressions.

Although it was Neal who I felt should’ve won the Oscar it was actually Albertson who did. His performance, which he recreated from the Broadway play that also netted him the Tony, is solid especially for doing a character that at times is off-putting. He does get the film’s best line “The humping that I am getting isn’t worth the humping that I am getting.”

The story takes place in the 1940’s and is basically a loose autobiographical story of Frank D. Gilroy who wrote both the award winning play and screen version. For the most part it succeeds with its retro look, but the music by Judy Collins doesn’t fit. Personally, I love Collins as a vocalist, but her raw, moody folk music sound seems out of place for a 40’s setting and takes the viewer out of the story in the process.

Transferring a story done for the stage to the big screen is never easy, but director Ulu Grosbard manages to make it cinematic. None of it was done on a soundstage, but instead the apartment was built inside a warehouse in the same Bronx neighborhood where Gilroy grew up and painstaking detail was done to give it an authentic lived-in look. The scenes done at their lakeside cabin is also effective as it captures the blossoming spring time landscape and gives a nice soothing feeling. You also get to witness Sheen skipping stones across the lake several times something that I could never get the hang of myself.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ulu Grosbard

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive)