By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Going through boot camp.
Tyrone (Stan Shaw), Billy Ray (Andrew Stevens), Alvin (James Canning), Vinnie (Michael Lembeck), and Dave (Craig Wasson) are five young men from varying backgrounds and wildly different temperaments who get drafted into the army in August of 1967. Their experiences in boot camp, which is harshly run by the demanding Sergent Loyce (R. Lee Ermey) and the equally stern Sergeant Aquilla (Santos Morales) prove challenging both physically and psychological, but the real test comes when they’re put out onto the battlefield and their personalities begin to disintegrate.
While the film acts like everything that goes on is based on fact and even includes specific dates for each event and at the end small bios of what occurred to the characters after they returned to civilian life it’s actually all fictional and based on a screenplay written by Rick Natkin in 1972 while attending a film class at Yale and then later expanded. It’s noted as being the first film in the 70’s to deal with the Vietnam War on the field of battle as well as the film debut of R. Lee Ermey playing a similar role to the more famous one that he did in Full Metal Jacket. Here though he’s thinner and while the things he says are certainly still aggressive it’s not in quite the over-the-top way as in the Stanley Kubrick film. In fact I sympathized with him here and the challenges he faced in trying to get the rag-tag group conditioned and how he supported the Tyrone character and the racism he had to deal with. Morales also plays the same type of drill sergeant and found it ironic that both men had some missing front teeth in the same areas of their mouths and wondered what the story was behind that.
Shot in the Philippines where its similar type of topography to Vietnam lends an authentic look and the viewer is given a vivid feeling for what wartime life was like where things could be calm and peaceful one moment and then bombs going off the next. While I’ve had my issues with Wasson, Stevens, and Lembeck in some of their other films where I considered their acting to be weak here their performances are solid and the transitions their characters go through during the course of the movie are compelling though without question Shaw is the standout.
While the first half shows the realities of war the second part becomes mired in the darkly comical absurdities. This was clearly inspired by the era where such films as M*A*S*H took the Korean conflict and turned it into a surreal comedy, but mixing the grittiness with moments of levity cheapens the reality. Scott Hylands’ character is particularly off-putting. He plays a captain who makes one insane blunder after another until he becomes more of a caricature. I’m sure it’s quite possible for high-ranking officials to make the occasional misjudgment, but this guy becomes clownish to the top degree making it almost farcical in the process. The climactic soccer game has the same issue where the soldiers can get out of fighting on the front line if they just agree to lose the game, but this scenario never actually occurred to any veteran I’ve ever known and it’s jarring to go from action on the battlefield to kicking a ball around like a war movie that suddenly turns into a sport’s one.
It’s still well enough directed to keep it engaging and there are some strong even profound moments despite the severe shifts in tone, but it would’ve been better had it maintained the realism from the beginning and not thrown-in stuff that would’ve been better suited for satire.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: February 8, 1978
Runtime: 2 Hours 5 Minutes
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video
Posted in 70's Movies, Black Comedy, Sports Movies, War Movies
Tagged Andrew Stevens, Craig Wasson, Entertainment, Michael Lembeck, Movies, R. Lee Ermey, Review, Rick Natkin, Santos Morales, Scott Hylands, Stan Shaw
By Richard Winters
My Rating: 0 out of 10
4-Word Review: Kid picks race winners.
Lester (Gary Coleman) is a homeless 10-year-old living inside at locker at a train station in Chicago. In order to make money he shines shoes and while he does he gets premonitions telling him who will be the winners of that day’s horse races. Frank (Michael Lembeck) is a cop in charge of juvenile delinquency. When he gets a call to have Lester removed from the train station and put into foster care he does so reluctantly until he meets Jill (Lisa Eilbacher) who he instantly falls for. Jill is an aspiring singer who looks out for Lester as best she can. She doesn’t want to let Frank take him away and Lester is deathly afraid of going outside the safe confines of the train station. Then Frank becomes aware of Lester’s ability to pick race winners and comes up with a plan that can make all three rich.
After watching Jimmy the Kid, the only other theatrical feature that starred Coleman, I didn’t think this one could possibly be worse, but I was wrong. The plot is incredibly weak, poorly thought-out, and Coleman is the least funniest thing in it. I’ll admit during the first season of ‘Different Strokes’ when he’d play the Arnold character and say his famous catchphrase ‘What you talking about, Willis?” he was cute and engaging, but here, playing a super smart kid that’s worldy-wise beyond his years, he’s a bore.
How he is able to know so much, from obscure sports records to health and science info, is not adequately explained. He doesn’t go to school and has no money to buy books and never leaves the train station in order to go to a library and this was light years before the internet, so where is he getting all this expertise from, or was this knowledge was just magically imprinted on his brain the second he popped out of the womb? How he’s able to predict the horse race winners is another issue. What cosmic force allows him to see who the winner is and why does it only work if someone else places the bet, but if he does it then it won’t?
The humor is nonexistent and I didn’t laugh once though some of it is surprisingly edgy for a ‘family friendly’ movie. One segment has him talking about artificial insemination in which Coleman describes it as ‘sex without the fun’, which is something that would be said by an individual who’s actually had sex in order to know it was ‘fun’ not a kid. There’s even a bona-fide rape joke where Maureen Stapleton’s characters expresses her fear of being sexually assaulted and Coleman politely walks away without saying anything while subtly implying that he believes she’s ‘too ugly’ for that to happen. Another scene has Lembeck talking to Eilbacher about how he ‘got her into bed’ on their first date, which again is bit too mature of a subject for 10-year-old kids, who are the intended audience.
The supporting cast of old pros helps a little particularly Norman Fell as a wimpy mayor who’s afraid of heights. I also got a kick out of C. Thomas Cunliffe, who’s only movie appearance this was, who coneys all of his lines while chomping down on a cigar. Maureen Stapleton has an endearing quality as Mary the Bag lady who comes into a lot of money after placing a bet on one of Coleman’s tips though I was a bit perplexed by a TV interview her character does in which the reporter describes her as being someone who ‘dropped out’ 12 years earlier, like a person ‘chooses’ to be homeless.
This also marks the film debut of Jami Gertz who plays ‘Big Girl’ though I admit I didn’t spot her. It was probably when I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead over the headache this annoying movie was giving me, which I did many times throughout.
My Rating: 0 out of 10
Released: March 6, 1981
Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes
Director: Lee Phillips
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Posted in 80's Movies, Comedy, Movies that take place in Chicago, Obscure Movies
Tagged Entertainment, Gary Coleman, Jami Gertz, Lisa Eilbacher, Maureen Stapleton, Michael Lembeck, Movies, Norman Fell, Review