Tag Archives: Movies Based on Novels

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: One is not enough.

This is an oddly structured Brazilian film that became a world-wide hit due to its explicit, edgy storyline.  It details the account of a woman named Dona Flor (Sonia Braga) whose first husband Valdomiro (Jose Wilker), was a bit on the wild side. After gambling away all of their money he dies. She becomes determined not to make the same mistake twice, so she remarries another man who is a doctor (Mauro Mendonca) and a much more responsible mate, but also stiff and boring. Problems ensue when the first husband, who she misses because he was more erotic and exciting in bed, comes back in the form of a ghost who only she can see.

The movie on a whole is well made. The characters are all likable and the theme music, which is played throughout the film, is appealing. The on location shooting is also quite distinctive. It really gives you a genuine, rare flavor of a small Brazil village and the people who inhabit them.

My main complaint with the film is that it takes the entire first hour just too illustrate her marriage with her first husband and the second hour to show her mourning and eventual remarriage. It’s not until the FINAL FIFTEEN MINUTES that the scenario the whole film is based on actually happens. When it does it is lively and funny, but the majority of the movie is surprisingly low key and melodramatic. The highly touted sex scenes are overrated. They are too brief and spread out very thinly.

Braga does well in her star making vehicle. She is able to convey both a simple, sweet nature as well as a sultry, sensual one. She has a pretty face and really does look great naked.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 22, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bruno Barreto

Studio: Embrafilme

Available: VHS, DVD (Director’s Cut)

Family Business (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Any movie that casts Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery, and Mathew Broderick as a father, son, and grandson team of robbers has me hooked before I have even seen the first frame. It was a great bit of inspired casting even if Connery was playing Hoffman’s father and in reality was only seven years older than him.  Throw in the fact that it was directed by the late, great Sidney Lumet and you should have a sure fire winner.

The story involves the grandfather Jessie (Connery) getting out of jail and trying to rekindle relations with both his son Vito (Hoffman) and grandson Adam (Broderick).  Vito wants nothing to do with his father as he has done time himself by getting mixed-up in some of his father’s old schemes and is now trying to go straight by working as a manager at a meat packing facility. However, Adam, who is going to college and has a promising career ahead of him, idolizes his grandfather and relishes the idea of pulling off a robbery himself. He has even come up with one that all three of them can do together. The robbery is unique in that they aren’t stealing from a bank, jewelry store, home of someone rich, or even a priceless artifact at a museum, but instead some important research materials at a science lab.

The crime itself is not elaborate and could have been easily pulled off with just one person. I was anticipating something a little more daring and exciting especially since Jessie and Vito were career criminals. It also takes too long to get to it. The first fifty minutes are spent with them endlessly arguing and rehashing the same old points.

The second part is a little more interesting as it deals with Adam getting caught while the other two are able to get away and all the dilemmas that they then face. Even here the drama becomes strained and talky.  The ending fizzles and leaves no emotional impact.  I saw a lot of similarities with this film and Sidney Lumet’s last film that he did before he died, which was Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.  Both of these movies deal with robberies and the consequences of family members betraying one another and yet that film was far more gripping while this one falls flat.

I thought Connery was highly engaging and would have enjoyed seeing him take over the movie. Hoffman gives a solid dramatic performance, but his character is bland.

The Adam character got on my nerves. He had been given everything in life and yet refuses to appreciate it and seems almost ungrateful to his father for working so hard to give him a better life. He acts cocky about going through with the robbery and yet when they get there he is ill-prepared and confused. I understand sometimes people become curious about those that live a different lifestyle than they do and that they don’t fully understand, but I still felt there needed to be a little more balance.  I just didn’t understand why this kid would want to throw it all away just so he could be like his career criminal grandfather.

The film gives one a good taste of New York. I liked how it showed the different neighborhoods and boroughs. Not only do we get a good feel of the Bronx, but we also see Flushing, Brooklyn, and downtown Manhattan. Most films that take place in the Big Apple seem to concentrate in only one section of it while this one tried to give a broader feel.

The indoor sets are nicely realized. Everything from the trashed halls of the prison to Vito’s modernistic, sleek apartment, to the science lab and even Jessie’s small, cramped apartment looked authentic and distinct.

I did notice a few logistical errors. One is the fact that they discuss plans of the robbery in a lot of public places, which seemed just plain careless to me especially since these were ‘professional’ thieves. One discussion takes place at a bar, another on a busy sidewalk with pedestrians going by, and the third at a funeral with mourners standing right behind them. There is also the fact that they park their car on the side of the road in front of the lab and put a sign in the windshield stating that they are out of gas and will be back in one hour. I thought this seemed dumb because a policeman could come by and do a check on the license plate to find out who the owner is. Then, the next day when the robbery is reported, they would only have to put the two together to trace the culprits. There is also a scene were Vito fires one of his employees at his plant for stealing. He punches him violently in his office that is surrounded by windows and is in full view of the other workers.  The man leaves with a broken nose and bloodied face, but the workers do not react and go on with their tasks like nothing happened, which didn’t strike me as believable.

The music score is another problem.  It has a big band, show-tune type melody and sound, which might have worked for a Broadway production, but here it seems completely out-of-sync with the mood and tone of the story.

Although competently done this thing still seems like a misfire namely because the material isn’t diverting, or interesting enough for the cast that it has. I was expecting a little more razzle-dazzle and a lot more action and excitement. I almost felt that if this same story had been approached in a comic vein it might have done better.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Verdict (1982)

verdict

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lawyer makes a comeback.

Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) is a lawyer that has hit rock bottom. He has lost his last four cases and become an alcoholic in the process. His associate Mickey (Jack Warden) hands him what appears to be an open and shut case dealing with a woman who was put into a permanent comatose state after being given the wrong type of anesthesia during the delivery of her child. Both parties are willing to settle out of court and Frank is initially happy to accept the settlement as he is hard up for funds, but after seeing the sad condition of the patient in the hospital he changes his mind.  He becomes convinced that the hospital is trying to hide something, but the other doctors and nurses that where present during the procedure are refusing to talk. He then tracks down the admitting nurse, who was the one person who refused to sign a sworn statement relieving the doctors of any wrong doing. Once he finds her it blows the case wide open.

This marked a turning point in Newman’s career. He was no longer the young, shirtless, virile hero, but now a grey haired, gravely voiced man showing the signs of aging and his roles from then on where all of older characters past their prime. Newman definitely looks tired and washed up and it is so effective that it makes the viewer feel the same way. Yet, he is still able to show the boyish side of his character by way he becomes engrossed with the pinball machine at the bar and getting excited when he achieves a high score.  Newman continues to be one of my favorite actors and his ability to act in a way that seems so effortless never ceases to amaze me. It may seem minor, but I liked when Galvin is forced to take a red-eye flight out of town in order to meet the former admitting nurse (Lindsey Crouse) who has moved to another city, he is shown to be unshaven. Too many times male characters placed in hectic scenarios in most films are clean shaven at all times even when it doesn’t make sense. Yet here Newman’s character isn’t. Being the consummate method actor who was always looking for realism I’m sure he decided to add this extra touch himself. Sometimes what separates the great ones from the average are the little things.

Director Sidney Lumet shows why he is a legend as well. The movie was shot in the late autumn, early winter in Boston. The cold climate and gray skies help accentuate Galvin’s state of mind and stage in life. I remember hearing Lumet state in an interview how he made sure that the color schemes in the entire film where of a dark, brownish color which he felt would reflect the story’s serious tone. In fact the color brown is the one quality I remember most of this film from when I first saw it years ago. I also liked the visual touch Lumet uses of having Frank taking Polaroid pictures of the victim lying motionless in her hospital bed. As the viewer watches the images of the woman on the Polaroids slowly develop it perfectly reflects Galvin’s developing empathy for her. My only quibble is that I wish that Lumet had shown a close-up of the woman so we the viewers could completely take in her sad condition as well. We are only shown the victim from a distance and even then it is never straight on, which doesn’t help us become as upset by her quandary as we should have.

Another thing I appreciated about the script, which was written by David Mamet and based on the novel by Barry Reed who was at one time a practicing attorney, is the fact that is focuses on all the behind-the-scenes tasks that a lawyer must do before the case comes to trial. Most courtroom dramas deal almost exclusively with the trial portion, but here we see how the attorneys prep their clients for questioning and cross-examination. We also take in the process of them interviewing potential jurors, researching legal issues, chasing down witnesses, and even discussing potential strategies with their clients. I found the approach here, as opposed to other legal dramas, to be more thorough, revealing, and satisfying.

The grievances that I had with the film all contain spoilers, so if you are interested in watching this movie then you may want to skip the next two paragraphs.

The first problem I had was with the Lindsay Crouse character who plays the admitting nurse whose bombshell testimony turns the tide of the case in the favor of Galvin’s client. Her scenes are certainly riveting and marked with all the classic ingredients of high drama. Her character states that the admittance sheet that she had filled out that day had been altered by the doctor and that she had the original. Yet neither the viewer nor the jury is shown the original making what she says, as compelling as it may be, seem like hearsay. The judge also orders everything that she said to be stricken from the record and not considered when the jurors come to their final decision. Yet the jurors openly ignore this order and side in Galvin’s favor anyways, which I couldn’t completely buy. I didn’t think all twelve of them would disregard the judge’s order especially when no documentation was ever shown to help verify what the witness stated.

I also did not like the Charlotte Rampling character who plays a woman that Frank meets at a bar and begins to date. She is also paid by the opposing attorney Ed Concannon (James Mason) to spy on Frank and give away all his strategies. I didn’t feel it was necessary to show this, or even bring in the character at all. We are already shown earlier that Concannon is underhanded by the way it is implied that another doctor, who was going to be the star witness for Galvin, was paid off not to testify and then just disappears. Having him go further by using Galvin’s girlfriend as a snitch seemed like over-kill. The movie strives for realism and therefore should keep extreme side-story scenarios like this out of it as I am sure it is not something that occurs every day.

The subject matter is serious and somber. On a dramatic level it is excellent and although some may find it slow and depressing others will appreciate the intelligent script and deliberate pace. It is also an unusually quiet film with long stretches with no dialogue, or music, which is a nice change of pace from most films, which feel it necessary to be loud and noisy, or risk losing the audience’s perceived short attention span.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1982

Runtime: 2Hours 9Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD (2-Disc Collectors Edition), Amazon Instant Video

The Mackintosh Man (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Infiltrating a spy ring.

Joseph Reardon (Paul Newman) is a spy that is recruited by the British Intelligence to infiltrate a secret spy ring in order to expose a traitor from inside a high ranking government office. In order to do so he must assume the identity of an Australian criminal and allow himself to be caught and imprisoned. From there he is able to escape using the help of an inside organization that arranges the escapes for high profile prisoners. He is taken to an isolated mansion at an unknown location and trained to be a part of the criminal spy ring, but he unwittingly gives out his true identity, which forces him to make a daring escape and go on the run in the middle of nowhere.

As much as I like Paul Newman I felt he seemed out of place here and really didn’t completely fit the role. For one thing he is an American, but it is never explained why a foreigner is chosen for the operation instead of a British spy. There is also the fact that his alias is that he is from Sydney, Australia, but his Aussie accent does not sound convincing and tends to go in and out.

There is also the issue of him allowing himself to be put into prison. Normally a viewer has to relate to the protagonists circumstances in order to be wrapped up into their plight, but intentionally getting thrown in the slammer seems a bit hard to fathom. This was the maximum security type of jail with extremely small cells and prisoners asking him if he would ‘like to dance’. I realize this was part of the spy operation and spies are expected to take risks, but this seemed too reckless to me. What is going to guarantee that he is ever going to get out? This is after all a top secret organization, so how is he going to be able to hold them accountable if he gets stuck there. To me it is like asking someone to jump off a cliff and telling them there is a safety net to catch them even though they can’t see one.

The script, by the prolific Walter Hill, does have a few exciting scenes although it takes a while to get going. The best ones come when he is stuck at the isolated manor. I enjoyed how he singlehandedly overpowers them and is able to escape while setting the place on fire in the process. The shot showing the mansion on fire from a distance with the black cloud of flames rising into the grey sky had an artsy flair to it and the movie’s best moment.

I thought the barren landscape that he runs through, that doesn’t even have any trees, was cool. It reminded me a lot of the classic TV-series ‘The Prisoner’. This part also includes a viscous guard dog running after him, which is reminiscent of another memorable Newman role from the film Cool Hand Luke.  Here though he is able to exact his revenge on the mutt when he submerges it under water and drowns it, which might prove upsetting to animal lovers as looks realistic and the hound appears to struggle.

The car chase is excellent and nicely captured. Most chases seem to take place on city streets in the majority of films, so it was nice to see one done on curving, gravel roads in the countryside with Reardon stuck in nothing more than a rusty, rickety old pick-up. I loved how the camera shows in a longshot the car going over a cliff and falling several feet before landing with a loud thud. No intrusive computer effects here, nor flashy explosions. Everything was authentic with no cuts, which ends up making a much stronger impact.

A shout out must also go to James Mason as the villainous Sir George Wheeler. This guy is so effective at playing bad guys, and he does it with such ease, that it is almost scary. His ability to go from refined and dignified to vindictive is what makes him so good.

What hurts the film is a wretched music score that sounds like Russian dance music that has no place in a thriller. It is loud and blaring and does not build the mood, or tension in any way. It gets so bad that it almost ends up ruining the whole movie. The climatic sequence is a letdown as well. It features no action and it ends abruptly with a whimper.

It was a great idea to pair Newman with legendary director John Huston, but this product is not one of their best efforts for either individual. It is entertaining enough to be passable, but culminates in being just your average spy thriller.

Neman and Mason would team up nine years later to play adversaries again in the film The Verdict, which will be reviewed tomorrorow.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 25, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Huston

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (The Paul Newman Collection), Amazon Instant Video

Re-Animator (1985)

re animator

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: The dead come back.

Daniel Cain (Bruce Abbott) is a student at a nearby medical college who decides to take in as a roommate a foreign student named Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs). West seems a bit anti-social and very intense about his work. He sets up a lab in Cain’s basement where he does experiments to bring back the dead by injecting them with his specially formulated serum. He starts with animals, which makes it intriguing enough for Cain to get in on it, but when they start to move onto cadavers at the school’s medical lab things spiral out of control.

Compared to most low-budget horror films of the 80’s, and I have seen many, this thing is nicely compact and well-paced. There is none of that extraneous dialogue and needlessly slow, drawn out scenes before you can get to any type of action, or horror. It grabs your attention right away with a clever, whimsical opening sequence and a musical score that although does sound similar to the one used in Psycho is still quite effective.

The gory special effects are excellent even when compared by today’s standards. Normally I have no problem watching these things no matter how high the gore factor is, but the scene where the instructor peels the skin off the head of one his cadavers during a class lecture and then cuts through the bone of the skull and takes out his brain had me feeling a bit queasy. The best part comes when Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) gets his head chopped off at the end of a shovel, which is again well-done, and then has both his body and head injected with the serum. The scenes involving the headless body walking around while carrying this talking head are creepy, hilarious, and highly effective. It is realistically enough looking during a couple of sequences that it had me sitting there wondering how they pulled it off. My only quibble in this area would be the part where West reincarnates a cat that comes back to life and turns homicidal.  It is very clear that this ‘killer cat’ is nothing more than a stuffed animal as its fur looks fake and the body is unrealistically thin.

The film is directed by first-timer Stuart Gordon whose only claim to fame before this was when he was a student at the University of Wisconsin in 1969 and he brought in an audience into an auditorium to watch a play he had written and then locked the doors so they couldn’t get out. He intentionally made the play as boring and annoying as possible just to see how long it would take them to rise from their seats and clamor to be let out. Although this was enough to get him expelled I still admire the guy’s panache. That same type of snarky humor is evident here and woven in, in a way that nicely balances the horror. My favorite scene here, and one that I remember most distinctly from when I first saw it back in the 80’s, is when Dan meets his girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton) in the school’s hallway. He starts to kiss her passionately and she feels embarrassed and tells him ‘no, no, no’ and then it quickly cuts to show them in bed where she is saying ‘yes, yes, yes’.

Another thing that differentiates this from other low-budget horror films is the fact that the lead characters are not as bland as usual. I liked the way Dan has a moral quandary and teams up with West on some of his experiments. Both Dan and Megan are better fleshed out as characters and believable. Crampton also looks gorgeous and has a good nude sequence at the end.

Kudos must also go to Robert Sampson an actor who has worked steadily since the 1950’s, but has never become a household name. He plays Dean Halsey father of Meagan and his part takes off after he is accidently killed and brought back to life with Herbert’s serum where he turns into a mumbling, crazed lunatic. This isn’t as easy to pull off as you may think and his catatonic stares are fabulous.

David Gale deserves mention as well playing the evil doctor. His pale skin and sullen face make him look like he is dead from the very beginning and he has the perfect look for a horror film. He clearly relishes his role and hams it up nicely. He started to garner a large cult following after his performance here and offers to play similar roles in other horror films began to pour in when he unexpectedly died in 1991.

The only performance I really didn’t like was that of Jeffrey Combs. I know he has pretty much become the face of the Re-Animator franchise, but this guy seemed hammy without ever being amusing, or funny with it. I didn’t like the square, metal rim glasses that he wore as they were much too typical.  An eccentric character should wear eccentric looking glasses and attire to help accentuate his off-beat personality. I also didn’t dig his accent that seemed to waver between Bavarian, German, Russian, and some weird variant in between.

If you are looking for something different this Halloween then I suggest checking this one out. It has just the right amount of ingredients to be both entertaining and scary at the same time and it can still easily hold-up with today’s jaded viewers.

My Rating 7 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stuart Gordon

Studio: Empire Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

The Bedroom Window (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: What did she see?

Terry Lambert (Steve Guttenberg) is having an affair with Sylvia (Isabelle Huppert) the wife of his boss. The two go back to his apartment one night after an office party to engage in sex. In the middle of the night Terry gets up to go to the bathroom and this is when Sylvia is awakened by a scream coming from outside the bedroom window.  She goes to the window and sees a young woman struggling with a man on the sidewalk. When Sylvia opens the window the man runs away and by the time Terry gets there everyone is gone. The next day Terry reads in the paper about a similar murder to a woman that occurred later that night just a couple of blocks down the street. He is convinced there is a connection and that he should report the incident that Sylvia saw. In order to keep the affair a secret he decides to act as the witness and simply relay whatever Sylvia told him. However, in classic Hitchcock style things quickly spiral out of control and Terry soon finds himself in deep trouble.

Overall, this film is highly entertaining from beginning to end and a terrific Hitchcock imitation that should please even his devotees. However, Guttenberg as the lead seemed, at least initially, to be a poor choice.  The guy has always seemed very bland to me and has never shown any real type of strong onscreen presence. I could not buy into the idea that this guy would be cocky and shrewd enough to have sex with his boss’s wife right under his boss’s nose as Guttenberg seems to convey a very wide-eyed persona and looks like someone who is still in puberty and speaks in a high pitched voice. I did soften my stance on this as the story progressed simply because it would take an extraordinarily naïve person to get themselves into the mess that this character does and in that regard Guttenberg fits the bill perfectly.

His two female costars outshine him badly. Huppert is excellent as usual and may very well be one of the top five actresses alive today. I loved how her character starts out as kind and supportive, but eventually devolves into being cold and conniving. Huppert of course pulls this off almost effortlessly. She also looks great naked and has a pretty good nude scene, both front and back, when she is shown looking out the window.

Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Denise the waitress that Sylvia sees getting attacked, does a fine job as well. As Terry gets more involved with the case the two start to hook-up and end up making, dare I say, a cute couple. I did not like McGovern’s overly heavy Eastern accent that sounded too Bostonian to me even though the story takes place in Baltimore.

Bald, eccentric character actor Wallace Shawn, best known for his roles in My Dinner with Andre and Vanya on 42nd Street is terrific as the defense attorney. His clever cross-examining of Terry during the courtroom scene is a classic.

Curtis Hanson’s direction and script is what really makes this thing gel. The story is based off of a novel by Anne Holden and it manages to stay plausible and believable throughout. The direction is compact without the unnecessary flamboyance that can sometimes take away from the action. The pacing is good as it grabs you right away and holds you in throughout without any slow spots. The twists are well plotted and for the most part surprising. I also thought his recreating of a bar atmosphere at both the trendy nightclub and later at a small neighborhood pub was right on target. I liked that the story took place in Baltimore because outside of John Waters that seems to be a forgotten city in most movies. Hanson uses this setting to make some nice directorial touches like having a bar called The Nevermore with a mural of Edgar Allen Poe and there is even shot of a birthday cake with icing made to look like a raven.

Kevin Williamson is set to do a remake of this film and I will be intrigued to see it. Not that this version was bad because it certainly wasn’t, but a bigger budget and a better male lead could help improve what is already a sound plot.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 16, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated R

Director: Curtis Hanson

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Semi-Tough (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Got to go pee.

            Billy Clyde Puckett (Burt Reynolds) and Marvin Tiller (Kris Kristopherson) are two players for the Miami football team who just happened to live with the daughter of the team’s owner Barbra Jane Bookman (Jill Clayburgh). Strangely enough they do not have sexual relations and despite seeming like an odd arrangement to others the three manage to get along just fine until Marvin proposes to Barbra, which starts to make Billy jealous. Billy then spends the rest of the time trying to win her over and break-up the impending marriage.

This movie, based on the novel by Dan Jenkins, has an interesting premise, but I was disappointed that it didn’t start from the beginning when the three met and started rooming together. It certainly seemed to be an unusual set-up and I wanted more background to these characters and a history and the film doesn’t give any making it incomplete. The plot itself is a bit under-developed and at times seems to have nowhere to go. To make up for it the film delves into some odd comic scenarios that have nothing to do with the characters, or story. Some of these are interesting on their own terms while the others fall flat.

One of these segments features silent film actress Lotte Lenya in her last film appearance. Today’s audiences will know her for her outstanding performance as the villainess Rosa Klebb in the James Bond classic From Russia with Love. Her she plays a massage therapist named Clara Pelf who has some really weird and painful ideas about physical therapy. The scene seems just thrown in there for its own sake and doesn’t do much for the film as a whole, but seeing Lotte banter with Burt is a lot of fun regardless.

Another and even more bizarre segment features Bert Convy as a motivational speaker who hosts a marathon 48 hour self-help seminar, but will not allow any member of the audience to get up and go to the bathroom for the first 12 hours, which seemed too implausible even for satire. However, this scene does feature the film’s best line and quite possibly one of the best lines in film history, which occurs when one of the female members of the audience gets up and states in front of everyone “I just peed in my pants and it feels great!”

The football scenes don’t gel and in fact I wouldn’t even categorize this as a sports movie, or even a football one. For one thing director Michael Ritchie and writer Walter Bernstein didn’t seem to put much thought, or research into the sport, or how teams function. This becomes obvious in the segment where the players are shown staying up late and drinking at a bar the night before a big game and even bringing women back with them to their hotel rooms without having any type of curfew. There is another scene featuring Brian Dennehy as a big, intimidating player T.J. Lambert who dangles a woman off a roof and threatens to drop her when she does not give-in to his kinky sexual demands. He does this in front of the rest of the team who laugh it off like it is no big deal and state that he does it frequently when in reality the man would probably have a lot of lawsuits on his hands, jail time, and league suspension. It also paints big players too much as a stereotype and being nothing more than dumb out-of-control morons bordering on sociopathic.

The team logos and uniforms worn by the players during the games are unimaginative. The ones worn by the players representing the Denver team in the movie look almost exactly like the Texas Longhorns and I am almost surprised that they didn’t sue.

Burt of course is highly engaging throughout. The guy has terrific comic timing and I love the way he delivers his humorous lines. It is his presence alone that really makes this movie work. My only problem with his casting was that he was forty at the time and looking just a wee bit too old for the part. His hair also resembles a toupee and I don’t know of any player in football history who smokes a long pipe, or listens to Gene Autry records. What is worse is that he plays a lot of Gene’s records and forces the viewer to have to listen to the tunes although he makes up for it a bit with his Gene Autry quotes, which are funny.

Kristopherson as an actor has never connected with me even though I love him as a singer/songwriter. In the movies I have seen him in he always seems either half-a-sleep, or stoned. His presence and delivery is too laid back for my tastes however, the part where he is shown half-naked in bed and doing a commercial for a deodorant and then uses the product to create a mock erection is great.

Clayburgh is passable as the female lead, but I didn’t like her southern accent.  Robert Preston, who plays her father and the team owner, is okay, but his role is rather meaningless. The scene showing him crawling around on his office floor is stupid and pointless.

For some reason, despite certain flaws and an overall superficial treatment I still enjoyed this movie and found it entertaining. This is a great example of a 70’s romance with all the expected elements and clichés nicely put in place. It is also a chance to see Ron Silver in an early role as the team’s kicker who has no lines of dialogue, but ends up being a scene stealer anyways.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD (Widescreen Edition)

North Dallas Forty (1979)

north dallas forty

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Ugly side of football.

From the very first frame this film grabs your attention. We see football wide receiver Phil Elliot (Nick Nolte) sleeping in his bed with blood spewing out of his nose and soaking his pillow in red. He wakes up and ambles his way to the bathroom looking like a man of 80 instead of 30. We come to realize that his nose is broken and he sleeps with tissue stuffed up his nostril to keep it from bleeding worse than it really does. We soon learn that this is all part of the business. A player is expected not only to play with pain, but live with it as well. Watching Nolte deal with this is so convincing that it will make you feel like you’re having the same symptoms and bring back vivid memories of any physical discomfort that you once had. It gets so bad that when he is making love to his girlfriend he is having to tell her to switch positions, or not touch certain parts of his body because even sex ends up being too painful. When you read about how many players suffer from lifelong injuries from their playing days you feel almost insulted at how other sports movies seem to gloss over it like it is no big deal when it really isn’t.

The movie is based on the best-selling novel by Peter Gent, who once played wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. Although fictionalized to a certain extent one can’t help but see the ugly truth seeping through. Many of the characters closely resemble star Cowboy players from that era including the Mac Davis character Seth Maxwell who has the same personality as real-life quarterback Don Meredith.  There is also B.A. Strother (G.D. Spradlin) who resembles legendary coach Tom Landry. Like Landry he seems devoutly religious and even quotes scripture, but he also is very cold, calculating, and psychologically manipulative.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film and found it riveting from beginning to end. If only all films could be this revealing and honest. The ‘feel good sports movie’ can be nice, but it is becoming too much of a cliché. Most players that get into the business don’t win Superbowls, or championships. They becomes used and abused by a relentless system until their only goal is simple survival and trying not to be cut. Of course I have never played football, but I don’t think the viewer really has to, to appreciate the dead-on truth that is displayed here. Simply being out in the ‘real world’ and working in corporate America should be enough for just about anyone to connect to what the characters here go through.

The dialogue is exceptional and endlessly quotable. Every scene and conversation dissects another ugly side of the business. Some of it is expected, but other parts become rather startling particularly the way players are pushed to play with injuries in order to ‘help the team’ even if there is a strong possibility that it could cause serious and permanent harm.  Some may say things have gotten better, or worse since this was made, but I can’t help but feel that if anything it pretty much the same in a lot of ways, which is why I still maintain that this film is quite possibly the best sports movie ever made.

You also gotta love Charles Durning as the assistant coach constantly carrying with him a bottle of Maalox and looking like the one doing most of the coaching and disciplining while coach Strother stands at a calculated distance. The scene where Durning screams at the players during a team prayer giving in the locker room by a priest is the film’s single most funniest moment. Bo Svenson has one of his best roles playing the very large and intimidating player who goes from being obnoxious and even frightening at parties to looking dumb, confused, and even scared during the games. The only actor I wasn’t impressed with was John Matusek, who was a real-life pro player for a while. It was nice seeing a well-built actor to compliment Svenson, but Matusek just does not have the ability to deliver his lines with any dramatic impact and the fiery tirade that gives Durning at the end fails to be as strong as it should’ve been.

The only other problem I had with this film is the scenes involving the actual game itself. It doesn’t in any way resemble a pro game. The field is small and looks like it was shot at a high school. The crowd is darkened out, looking like there were no spectators at all. I also didn’t like the way director Ted Kotcheff incorporated dramatic music during certain key segments. It came off as heavy-handed and unnecessary. Of course the team’s uniforms and logos look tacky and although this is a little distracting you can’t blame this on the filmmakers as the NFL refused to endorse the film because of its frank nature.

This film hasn’t mellowed at all with age and I was surprised how potent it still is. I would recommend this to anyone, sports fan, or not, who wants to see the game from a different perspective by a player who was there.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 3, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Paper Lion (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Scrawny guy plays quarterback.

            Lighthearted adaptation of George Plimpton’s best-selling novel detailing his account of playing for the Detroit Lions football team as a back-up quarterback despite having no real experience.  Alan Alda plays Plimpton and the movie’s main focus is during the team’s training camp and his shock at just how hard and rigorous being a pro-quarterback really is.

The film’s most amusing moments come during the many weeks of practice when Plimpton finds that even throwing a pass is difficult because the defenders are so quick that they are in his face and have him on the ground before he is even able to react. Even taking a hand-off from his center proves to be a difficult process as it jams his thumb. Director Alex March does a fine job of giving the viewer a feeling of Plimpton’s experience by having the defenders come barreling towards the camera until you feel like you’ve been tackled yourself.

What makes the story interesting is the fact that despite being an intellectual man from Harvard Plimpton still ends up having the same competitive spirit as the rest of the players. He becomes determined to prove himself by memorizing the playbook and practicing until he is able to function decently in the position. He even finds himself getting into a potential fist-fight with another man at a bar when the man makes a disparaging remark about the team.  Although the players quickly realize that he is not a legitimate athlete and try to scare him away they become impressed enough with his perseverance and fiery spirit to eventually be willing to play for him, which is a nice touch.

The cast is loaded with actual players and coaches incluing: John Gordy, Mike Lucci, Alex Karras, Sugar Ray Robinson, Roger Brown, Frank Gifford and the then head coach Joe Schmidt. All of them are given a lot of screen time and a surprising amount of lines. Despite what one may think they do an exceptionally good job. They are likable and believable especially coach Schmidt. In fact it is their presence that really helps make the movie succeed and gives the viewer the impression that they are experiencing the NFL as it is, or at least as it was at that time. There is even a segment featuring legendary coach Vince Lombardi, which is special.

Probably the only character that I felt wasn’t necessary was Lauren Hutton as Plimpton’s super-hot model girlfriend.  Now, I have never read the book, so I am not sure if Plimpton had an attractive girlfriend in real-life, or not, but the character here seemed to be put in for eye candy and added little if anything to the story.

The footage shown of an actual exhibition game that the Lions play against the St Louis Cardinals at the old Busch Stadium is vivid. So many times film of this nature will borrow footage from another source and then incorporate it in, but the grainy film stock always makes this evident and distracting and here that wasn’t the case. The camera gets right down on the field with the players and you see the plays and hits up close. You even hear the trash talk and a bit of cursing although they do edit some of that out.

The film’s drawback is that it is too serene for its own good. There is never any dramatic tension, or conflict. The pace and music is so easy going that at times it seems ready to put you to sleep. The film had the backing of the league, which I felt ended up compromising it. Some of the harsher ugly elements of football boot camp were clearly glossed over. I would have wanted something a little bit meatier, even if it had been for a only a few brief scenes. The film hasn’t particularly aged well. The ‘big’ players of yesteryear look rather puny by today’s standards. The game and conditioning has evolved a lot and I felt this story should be revisited in the modern day setting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 23, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Alex March

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, Netflix streaming

Black Sunday (1977)

(In celebration of the Superbowl coming to Indianapolis, which is also the headquarters to Scopophilia, movies about football, or ones that have football as their theme, will be reviewed all this week and through Superbowl Sunday.)

By Richard Winters

My Rating:  6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blimp wrecks the Superbowl

            Based on the Thomas Harris novel this film involves a female terrorist named Dahlia (Marthe Keller) working for a group called Black September. She plans on killing thousands of people at the Superbowl with the help of a blimp captain named Michael Lander (Bruce Dern), who is also a disgruntled Vietnam vet. As they are putting their plan into place their compound is attacked by an Israeli anti-terrorist group headed by Major David Kabakov (Robert Shaw). He decides not to kill Dahlia when he has the chance, but they confiscate all of their materials including a tape recording by Dahlia talking about a massive terrorist attack planned on U.S. soil in the near future.  Kabakov gives this information to the F.B.I. and they go on the offensive trying to track down what their operation is, as the details are vague, before they can pull it off.

Overall, as a spy thriller, the film is pretty good. I had to chuckle a little at the fact that the government takes the vague threats seriously and acts so swiftly based simply on an obscure tape recording when in real-life our government was warned long before the 9-11 attacks that a terrorist plot was being planned, but did nothing because they didn’t think it was possible. It would be nice to think that the government could one day act as semi-efficiently as it does in films.

There are indeed some memorable moments. One includes Kabakov shoving his gun down the throat of a suspect (Michael V. Gazzo) and giving him a very terse ultimatum ‘Blink for yes; die for no’. There is also an exciting well-choreographed shoot-out chase that starts out in a hotel lobby, goes through the streets and alley ways of the city, and ends up on the ocean beach. Another twisted moment is when Dahlia and Michael go to an isolated hanger in the Mojave Desert to try out a gadget that can supposedly shoot thousands of bullets in a single shot. The image of seeing all the tiny holes created on the wall of the shed from the bullets is cool enough that I was willing to overlook the fact that the wooden beams that crisscrossed the same wall were untouched. This scene also has a good bit of black humor when one of the employees of the hanger, who thinks the machine is a camera, and stands in front of it smiling only to have hundreds of bullets go slicing through him.

Shaw is excellent in the lead although it took me awhile to adjust to him in that type of role simply because he has played so many dark characters so well that it was hard to see him as a good guy. I liked that the character is human and admits to his mistakes, namely to the fact that he doesn’t kill Dahlia when he first has the chance. He also professes doubts about himself and his career, which adds to his multi-dimension. He tends to lean towards rogue tactics when forced, which helped reflect the brutal nature of the business that he was in. Certain lines that the character says are made memorable by Shaw’s dialect and tone that probably no other actor in the part could have done quite as well. I was also amazed at the incredible run he does during the game when he races down several flights of stairs and across the entire football field, which almost becomes a highlight in itself. I know the actor suffered from a weak heart and ended up dying from a heart attack just a year after this film came out, but I was almost surprised that he didn’t fall over from one right there.

Keller is great as the female adversary. Her American acting career never really took off, but that still doesn’t mean that she isn’t a strong actress. Her expression when she is caught in the shower with a gun pointing at her is priceless. I liked how initially she is portrayed as the ‘sane’ one in relation to the Dern character, but by the end it becomes quite clear that she is probably more evil and crazier than he could ever be. Her fight with Michael inside his house when they fear that their intricate plot may be falling apart is definitely her finest stuff.

Dern of course is an exceptional actor whose unique style and odd intensity make him a joy to watch even if the script is poor.  He is certainly well cast here, but I wished he was given more screen time and latitude as I don’t think his talents where given quite enough justice. His best moment maybe the long rant he has during one of his counseling sessions at the V.A. Medical center.

The film’s weakest point is what should’ve been its strongest, which is the segment involving the blimp barreling into the stadium. The set-up is perfect and consists of the some dazzling aerial photography and good up close footage of the football game. However, the actual blimp attack is highly compromised.  For one thing the edits are quick making it hard to follow. A much smaller blimp was used in the long shots and in the scenes where the spectators are running scared onto the field director Frankenheimer put the front end of the blimp onto a crane, which looks tacky and obvious. The blimp’s explosion is fake and when it was all over I felt disappointed. The film’s promotional items, including the film poster as seen above, promised this spectacular event, but then doesn’t come through. It almost makes one feel cheated and ruins the movie’s other good points.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1977

Runtime: 2Hours 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Frankenheimer

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video