Tag Archives: Movies that take Place in the South

The Longest Yard (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Prisoners play football game.

            Burt Reynolds is Paul Crewe a down-on-his-luck former professional football player who was kicked out of the league due to a point shaving scandal. After going on a long car chase with police he is thrown into the Georgia State Penitentiary where the crooked warden (Eddie Albert) tries to get him to coach the prison football team. Initially he refuses, but after some ‘convincing’ he eventually agrees to play in one game that will feature the guards versus the inmates. The prisoners use this contest as a way to get back at the guards and their brutal treatment of them while the guards approach it as a way to instill their authority.

Some consider this one of the best sports movies of all-time and I would have to agree it is up there. One of the things I liked about the movie is the way it taps into the emotional aspect of not only playing the sport, but watching it. There can be deep seated psychological reasons for why a spectator, or fan, roots for one team over the other.  The prisoners that cheer on their team use the game, as fleeting as it may be, as a sort of equalization and revenge factor to the guard’s authority and corruption. Watching the scenes showing the prisoners cheering their team as they score a touchdown is almost as emotionally charging as the action itself.  Director Robert Aldrich does a great job of using the prison setting and the game as a microcosm of 70’s society and the conflict between the counter-culture and the establishment as well as the haves and have-nots.

The game is nicely choreographed.  The hits look real and the plays are shot in a bird’s eye view just like watching an actual game on TV. The action is easy to follow and it is evident that the filmmakers have a good understanding and appreciation for the sport.  Outside of the final play that is done in slow motion there is none of the fluky, theatrical stuff thrown in that you usually see in most other films of this type. I found myself getting emotionally tied into the action even though I had seen the film many times before.

The only misgiving I had was the segment where the Richard Kiel character slams an opposing player to the ground and announces “I think I broke his fucking neck.” Of course this has become one of the film’s most popular lines and is made funnier when other players and even the game announcer repeats it several more times, but when the injured player is unable to come-to even after being given smelling salts and is carted off motionless from the field it starts to seem cruel to be laughing.

Another scene that I found surprising and had almost as much impact as the climatic contest is at the very beginning when Paul is shown arguing with his girlfriend Melissa (played by Anitra Ford one of the original models on ‘The Price is Right’ game show). She calls him a whore, which has to be the first and only time in film history that a woman has called a man that, but what is even more amazing is when he violently slaps her and knocks her to the floor.  I don’t think I can remember another time where a protagonist male character has done that to a female and yet the audience is still expected to sympathize with the male, which is interesting. The ensuing car chase is one of the better ones you’ll see and the part where he drives the car into a lake while the song ‘Saturday Night Special’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd is playing on the car’s radio and gets muffled as it goes under the water is cool.

Burt is perfect for the role. I love the glib way he delivers his lines and his laid back persona. The fact that he is an anti-hero with obvious personal flaws makes him even more fun. He seems right at home in the southern setting and filming it at an actual state prison gives the film a nice gritty subtext.

The supporting cast is unique. John Steadman as Pop, one of the prison’s oldest members, is memorable and he is the only other actor with a nose big enough to rival that of Karl Malden’s. It is nice to see Richard Kiel, one of the tallest actors you will ever see, with a speaking role.  The part where he starts to cry when he gets hit in the nose is funny.  Charles Tyner is perfectly creepy as Unger and Michael Conrad is compelling in his role as Nate Scarboro. This is also a great chance to see Bernadette Peters in an early career role as the warden’s ditzy and amorous secretary Miss Toot. She wears one of the worst looking beehive hairdos you’ll ever see although there probably isn’t a beehive hairdo that looks good anyways. Former football player Joe Kapp is good as one of the evil guards.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 30, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 1Minute

Rated R: (Adult Theme, Language, Violence)

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Streaming

A Soldier’s Story (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Murder at army base.

This film is based on the off-Broadway play that won the Pulitzer Prize for best drama in 1982 and was written by Charles Fuller. Many of the performers in the play ended up reprising their roles in the film including the stars, Adolph Caesar and Howard E. Rollins, Jr. Director Norman Jewison spent many years trying to get the green light for the project and ended up being rejected by just about every studio. Finally Columbia Pictures gave the go-ahead, but only after Jewison agreed to do it for no salary and all the performers agreed to be paid at the minimum union scale.

The story is actually pretty well written and I’m surprised that so many studio heads refused it by using the excuse that it wasn’t ‘commercial enough.’ The plot involves the murder of a black army sergeant (Caesar) and the subsequent investigation by a black army captain (Rollins) brought in from Washington. The period is around the end of World War II and the setting is an all black army base in the deep South, which leads to many expected racial tensions. What sets this story apart from others of its type is the fact that the racism and underlying tensions is not just white vs. black, but also, and more prominently, black vs. black.

Caesar plays a memorable victim. He is hated by his own men due to his harsh treatment of them. When he is killed everyone is a suspect and as his men recount their dealings with him, it is easy to see why. Yet this is also no one-dimensional character. The story does a very good job of letting us understand why this man has become the way he is. The viewer can’t help but come away feeling sorry for the man and genuinely sad for the way he ended up. The suspects are equally complex, so the film easily becomes quite riveting as it goes along.

Rollins gives an outstanding performance as the head of the investigation. It’s sad that his career, and ultimately his life, was cut short by his drug addiction because he makes a solid impression here. I liked the way he remained stoic throughout despite having to deal with a myriad of different personalities and at times overt racism. Denzel Washington is also very good in a pivotal role.

There were a few things that were thrown in that I felt were not necessary and ended up hurting the film as a whole. One of them is the musical score. It has a very bouncy, ragtime sound to it that would be good if this was a comedy. However, for a drama it seems completely out of place and at times is even jarring. The film has a few musical interludes as well. A couple of them are by Patti LaBelle, who I think is a great singer, but in this film she is out-of-place. It starts to take away too much of the grittiness of the story, which should be the central theme. I also found the use of slow motion to be distracting. It occurs twice. Once during the murder scene and another time during a baseball game between the soldiers.

Overall the film succeeds enough with its story and characters that the viewer is forced to think and feel, which is always a good thing. I can’t say that the resolution was anything shocking, but it does manage to keep you guessing. However, this is one rare case where I might have actually preferred seeing the stage version.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 14, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix Streaming

Two Moon Junction (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Voyuers will like it.

            A young woman named April (Sherilynn Fenn) who is from a well-to-do Southern family and engaged to be married meets a rugged hunk named Perry (Richard Tyson) who works as a laborer at a travelling carnival and the two immediately share a strong sexual attraction.  She considers getting out of her engagement, but her controlling grandmother Belle (Louise Fletcher) puts the crooked town sheriff (Burl Ives) on Perry’s tale in order to ‘rid them of the problem’.

Normally ‘hot and steamy’ love triangles that take place in the south seem over-done, redundant, and cliché filled, but for some reason this one works to an extent. For one thing the sex scenes, especially the one at the end that takes place at the Two Moon Junction locale, is quite explicit with an abundance of nudity by actress Fenn who is pleasing in the buff. And for the lady viewers there is even a scene featuring naked male bodies, both front and back, near the beginning of the film. If that isn’t enough there is also actor Tyson who is seen ninety-eight percent of the time without his shirt.

For sex it fares pretty well and rises just enough above the tired 80’s clichés to make it seem fresh. However, the story is rather placid and fails to dig deeper than its basic storyline.  The stylish atmosphere is nice, but there needed to be more tension and action.  I wanted the Fletcher and Ives characters to be meaner. Adding some tongue and cheek humor to a genre that even back then was becoming tired would have really helped.  There are times when it seems to want to go there but then it pulls back.  Having veteran character actors like Fletcher, Ives, Herve Villechaize, and Dabbs Greer was a real nice touch, but they needed to be given more to do. In Ives case, whose last film this was, I felt he was wasted and in that regard I came away from this thing disappointed.

Tyson works surprisingly well in the male lead.  He resembles a Fabio wannabe and I would normally have found him annoying, but he displays just the right level of cockiness to stay interesting. The fact that he also shows some negative traits helps keep the character real. However, the part where he breaks into April’s parent’s large estate and then promptly starts to take a shower seemed absurd and ridiculous. And just where did he find that bathrobe that fit him so well? Or did he bring one along with him? I suppose the plumbing might not be so good at the ragtag traveling carnival he worked at, but still.

Fenn is surprisingly strong as the female lead. This was definitely a three-dimensional character and the internal struggle that she had at being attracted to a man that she knew she shouldn’t be was nicely realized. The parts where she would breakdown into bouts of sobbing after her sexual liaisons with Perry were effective and heartfelt.

Kristy McNichol was a nice sight as a bi-sexual cowgirl named Patti Jean and she looked even better when she went topless. The fact that she revealed some latent lesbian tendencies towards April seemed to me to create interesting dramatic variables, but the film fails to go with it and the character disappears, which was another disappointment.  However, Patti and April’s dance together on the barroom dance floor created some nice provocative imagery.

It also during the opening of this barroom scene that you can spot the movie’s most revealing mistake; as the camera pans across the floor you can clearly see the shadow of the camera as well as the cameraman reflecting along the shiny wooden floorboards. It is always surprising to me the fact that if I the viewer can see a mistake like that right away how come an entire production crew misses it? Or do they see it, but are too lazy to reshoot, so they hope that it will just ‘pass-by’ the viewer? Either way it is the sign of sloppy filmmaking.

This also marks the acting debut of Milla Jovovich who plays April’s younger sister Samantha.  She was only thirteen at the time, but she already had a stunning face and it is easy to see why she caught the attention of producers and photographers as a model. However, her acting ability here seemed limited and her facial expressions where undisciplined.  She also shows little awareness of the camera, or how to play to it.

The film is superficial and lacking in many ways and it fails to have the necessary edginess that would have given it cult potential, but I still found it to be passably entertaining. Voyeurs who watch it for the sex may find it a little bit better.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 29, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated R

Director: Zalman King

Studio: Lorimar

Available: VHS, DVD

Stay Hungry (1976)

 

stay hungry 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Read the book instead.

Craig Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a young southern man left alone with his butler in a big mansion when both his parents die in a car crash.  He works at a shady investment firm run by the con-man Jabo (Joe Spinnell).  They have managed to purchase all the other buildings on a block except for a workout gym. Craig is told to meet with the owner of the gym named Thor (R.G. Armstrong) and transact a purchase, so the firm can use the space to build a high-rise office complex.  However, once Craig meets with some of the people working there, including Joe Santo (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who is a body builder and uses the gym to prepare for the Mr. Universe title, as well as the pretty receptionist Mary Tate (Sally Field) he starts to have second thoughts about going through with the deal.

The film is based on the 1972 best-selling novel of the same name by Charles Gaines. There are quite a few differences between the book and the film, with the novel being much better. In the book there is no real estate firm, or potential acquisition of the building. Craig is simply bored with life and goes to a gym on a whim and uses the idea of bodybuilding as a way to find an identity. The book also features a camping trip that the group goes on and a fascinating psychedelic experience that Craig has when he takes an illicit drug that was completely cut out of the movie. The book has much richer characterizations and a profound philosophy that is devoid in the movie.

The film is poorly paced. Nothing really seems to happen and it only comes together at the end and by then it is too late.  Director Bob Rafelson tries to make the movie take on too many things. It shifts awkwardly between drama and sardonic comedy, but fails to achieve any type of cohesion, or momentum.  The flow is more like a European style of filmmaking where the story is told in a more relaxed pace and features long takes and side conversations. However, the dialogue isn’t interesting enough to carry it and the film focuses too much on the relationship between Craig and Mary, which happens too fast and doesn’t seem to have enough chemistry.

I also didn’t like how the character of Craig is portrayed. Bridges gives his usual dependable performance, but he has no southern accent even though he is from the area and everyone else speaks in a very thick one. He talks and acts much more like he is from the west coast and, like the viewer, acts as if he is some detached stranger that is just passing through with no real roots in the area, people, or customs. I think the Hollywood producers intentionally did this because they figured mainstream audiences could not relate to a southerner, who are still straddled with the unfair stigma of being hick, redneck, and racist. So the character was modified to bring broader appeal, but in the process becomes unrealistic and a bit annoying.

On the technical end it is okay although the budget looks limited. Filming on-location in Birmingham, Alabama helps, but I would have liked to have seen more of the area. There are a few unique scenes that make it somewhat enjoyable. One includes Craig stealing a painting off the wall of an office and another involves a throng of half-naked body builders spilling out onto the streets of the city and holding up traffic. There is also a very violent altercation at the end between Craig and Thor that features them battling with each other while using equipment from the gym. The action here is choreographed and edited nicely and looks genuinely real. There is also a brief moment where Field and Bridges go water skiing that was done by the actors themselves and not stunt doubles.

Schwarzenegger is appealing in what is considered his first official acting debut since in his previous two films his voice was dubbed and he had no speaking lines in the other. I liked the way the character is humanized here and shown with a different side to him including having him play the fiddle in a country band. Field is good playing a very feisty and rambunctious character. It also features her in a nude scene although it is from the back only. Woodrow Parfrey also deserves mention as Uncle Albert simply because his eccentric acting style always grabs your attention even in the smallest of roles. He also is the film’s narrator and speaks with the most authentic, best sounding Southern accent out of everyone.

R.G. Armstrong is by far and away the most memorable part of the film. He wears a hilariously awful wig throughout and is slimy in a real goofy way in every scene he is in. His best part comes when he has sex with a couple of prostitutes while on some of the workout machines. He also did, at age 60, his own nude scenes, so you have to give him credit there.

stay hungry 1

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 23, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Rafelson

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD