Tag Archives: Natalie Wood

Brainstorm (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: They corrupt his invention.

Michael (Christopher Walken) heads a team of researchers who’ve been able to create an invention that allows the sensations from one person’s mind to be recorded onto tape and then transferred to someone else’s. Michael and his team see this as a profitable enterprise, but become uneasy when the government, who want to use it for military purposes, tries to intervene and take over. When Michael attempts to stop them he is fired, which forces him to take extreme measures to destroy the plant before the machine can be made.

This is to date the last feature film to be directed by special effects guru Douglas Trumbull and on a visual level it’s an inspiring ride particularly during the first half. I was also impressed with how the technology that the researchers used in the film didn’t have that dated quality to it like so many other films from that era,  which proves what a keen eye for detail Trumbull had as everything at least on the visual side looks believable and helps keep the film interesting.

Unfortunately the story, which was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who had intended to direct the film himself years earlier before the financial backing pulled out, is quite contrived and the complete opposite from the state-of-the-art effects. The plot goes off into too many different directions and the pace lumbers along too slowly. The side-story involving Michael’s reconciliation with his wife Karen (Natalie Wood) makes the thing seem more like a romance and should’ve been discarded while the main story suffers from having two different screenwriters, Robert Stitzel, Philip Frank Messina, working off of an idea that was not their own and results in an unfocused final product.

Spoiler Alert!

The climatic sequence, in which Michael and Karen are able to destroy the plant remotely through the phone lines, is too far-fetched. Destroying the plant doesn’t really stop the government from moving forward with their plans anyways as they could simply rebuild the factory and come up with a tighter security system to alleviate the loophole that Michael used so he wouldn’t be able to do it again.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The concept of an invention that would allow someone to essentially read another person’s mind doesn’t really jive as the film portrays the thoughts and memories that people have to be quite linear when in reality it’s more fragmented. Sometimes people can have several conflicting thoughts and emotions going on at the same time making it virtually impossible for another person to decipher the barrage of flashing images that they would encounter from someone else.

The film’s biggest notoriety though is the fact that it was Natalie Wood’s last movie project and while most of her principle scenes where already completed before her untimely death the few that remained were shot using her younger sister as a stand-in. Wood’s presence though and her character are completely transparent and she could’ve been written out of it and nothing would’ve been lost. Louise Fletcher, who plays a bitchy, chain smoking research scientist, gets a far more plum role and ends up being the film’s scene stealer especially with her prolonged death scene. I also got a kick out of Joe Dorsey, who plays this graying middle-aged man who locks himself inside his basement and then uses the device to watch himself having sex with a hot blonde babe over and over again until he becomes completely shut off from the rest of his family and illustrates to a degree an interesting precursor to the porn addiction phenomenon.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Douglas Trumbull

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon video, YouTube

Meteor (1979)

meteor

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Save earth from rock.

Inspired by the ‘Project Icarus’ report done by MIT students during the spring of 1967 the film surmises what would happen and what defenses might be used should a gigantic asteroid come barreling towards earth. Here the meteor is described as being 5-miles wide with an impact that could prove catastrophic and turn the earth’s climate back into the next ice age. Dr. Paul Bradly (Sean Connery) is brought in to advise since he is the one that created an orbiting nuclear missile space station specifically for this reason, but its firepower will not be enough and they must rely on the help from their Russian counterparts, who have a similar missile station in space, in order to get the job done.

The story and characters are quite bland with little to no effort made to enrich the drama with any side-stories or issues. The viewer is teased with a potential romance between Paul and Russian interpreter Tatiana (Natalie Wood), but it goes nowhere. The constant cutaways showing the meteor zooming through space actually lessens the tension because as it gets dwarfed amongst the immensity of the universe, which makes the rock look rather small and therefore it doesn’t seem all that impressive.

The special effects are tacky although the scene where a smaller asteroid fragment hits New York City has a shot of the World Trade Center collapsing in much the same way that it did on 9-11, which is eerily prophetic. The mud slide in the subway tunnel does have merit and the actors do at times seems genuinely overcome by it, but everything else borders on being unintentionally funny. The only thing that really impressed me was the amount of extras they were able to attain including participants in a ski race that seemed to border on the tens of thousands.

The cast is made up of old Hollywood has-beens who careers peaked long ago and all seemed better suited for a guest shot on ‘The Love Boat’. None of them were under 40 and therefore younger filmgoers of the day where disconnected from it although Brian Keith is a scene stealer as the Russian scientist and speaks fluent Russian rather amazingly given the fact that he did not know the language and was only doing it phonetically. I also got a kick out of Martin Landau as a hot-headed general who has the perfect eyes for a glazed over expression of a dead man, which the viewer gets treated to briefly.

Several special effects teams were reportedly fired during the course of production simply because they could not provide adequate enough effects on the limited budget, but it seems dumb to produce a film that hinges on spectacular effects if that is something that can’t be provided, which ultimately is why this did so poorly at the box office.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 19, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ronald Neame

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Peeper (1976)

peeper-4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for client’s daughter.

Leslie C. Tucker (Michael Caine) is a British private eye working in L.A. who gets hired on by an eccentric client named Anglich (Michael Constantine) to find his long lost daughter that was born 24 years ago and now resides he believes somewhere in Hollywood. Tucker tries following the skimpy clues and this leads him to a beautiful woman named Ellen (Natalie Wood) who he believes just may be that daughter and not even know it, but the closer he gets to some answers the more questions he has to tackle as well as being chased by a pair of hoods (Timothy Carey, Don Calfa) who are out to stop him.

This film is based on a novel by Keith Laumer with a screenplay written by W.D. Richter and directed by Peter Hyams. With such talented people involved you’d think this would’ve been a winner, but it bombed at the box office and I’m not completely sure why. The ingredients are there, but the oversaturation of private eye parodies during the ‘70s could’ve gotten this one lost in the shuffle.

The film though is filled with snappy dialogue and some highly amusing voice-over narration by the Tucker character. There are also unique scenes including a car chase that takes place amidst a major traffic jam and a cool foot chase sequence down a long, winding spiral staircase. I also loved the scene where Tucker is trapped in a car with an angry dog outside only for him to miraculously turn-the-tables on the animal where he gets outside while the dog ends up stuck in the vehicle. The best moment though is at the beginning when actor Guy Marks does his impersonation of Humphrey Bogart while standing in a dark alley and reciting the opening credits instead of having them shown on screen.

As much as I love Michael Caine I found him to be wrong for this role. If you’re going to do a light parody of old school private eye films then you have to cast someone in the lead that would reflect to some degree Bogart. It certainly doesn’t have to be an impersonator, but someone that is from Brooklyn and has a New York mentality as opposed to a transplanted Englishman with a British accent.

Wood is equally miscast. This was her first theatrical feature in 7 years and she turned down a role in The Towering Inferno to do this one and I’m not sure why. The part is rather small and offers little range in either acting or character development and with everything else that goes on in the story she ends up getting forgotten though it does have a foreboding quality in that the final segment involves her on a boat and near water.

The mystery itself ends up being the worst thing. It’s too intricate and filled with so many rapidly paced twists that it becomes almost impossible to follow. The action is enough to keep it interesting, but as a compelling plot it fails. I also wasn’t too crazy about the title. The working title was ‘Fat Chance’, which I didn’t like either, but peeper is slang for a private eye who takes a lot of photographs, which this detective doesn’t do at all.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: January 6, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Hyams

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)

love-with-3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He gets her pregnant.

Rocky (Steve McQueen) is a bachelor enjoying his single lifestyle by having one-night-stands with a wide assortment of women while happily avoiding the responsibilities of marriage. Then he meets up with Angie (Natalie Wood) a woman he had sex with months earlier and who now finds herself pregnant. She comes to Rocky hoping that he can help her find a doctor to perform an abortion. Rocky at first barely even remembers her, but then agrees to help her and even offers to pay for half of the costs. Yet as things progress Rocky finds himself beginning to care for Angie and even considers the one thing he thought he’d never do, which is marriage.

The script, by the prolific Arnold Schulman, is certainly edgy for its time and seemed almost groundbreaking and I was surprised it didn’t elicit more controversy especially since it was released to theaters on Christmas day.  The film works for the most part though I was frustrated that we are never shown Rocky’s and Angie’s first meeting. It gets talked about slightly, but there really needed to be a flashback showing how it all came about especially since Angie didn’t seem like the type of woman who would go to bed with a guy so quickly.

Wood gives an outstanding performance and manages to dominate the film even when she’s with McQueen, which was no easy feat. I did find it hard to believe that such a beautiful woman would be stuck having to accept a pudgy, klutzy loser like Anthony (played by Tom Bosley in his film debut) as her only possible suitor. She had told no one else about her pregnancy, so I would think many eligible bachelors would be beating down her door to get at her. The fact that Rocky doesn’t immediately remember her is also absurd. Sure, he may have slept with a lot of women, but nobody no matter how many other sex partners they’ve had would ever forget a gorgeous face like Wood’s.

McQueen’s role almost seems comical especially with his character’s hot-and-cold dealings with Angie and his inability to ever communicate with her effectively. My one caveat was his constant wheezing after climbing several flights of stairs. I realize this was to represent his need to give up cigarettes and in turn the other ‘bad habits’ of his lifestyle, but it got annoying and even distracting to hear.

As a drama/romance it’s okay, but would’ve been better had it been filmed in color. The segments are too drawn out and quite talky, which made me believe that this was originally a stage play, but to my shock it wasn’t even though it probably would’ve fared better there. I was also disappointed at the lack of a suitable wrap-up for Bosley’s character who came off like a major schmuck at first, but then he grows on you as the film progresses.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 0), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

This Property is Condemned (1966)

this property

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mother pimps her daughter.

Owen Legate (Robert Redford) arrives in the small town of Dodson, Mississippi in the 1930’s to carry out an unpleasant task. He’s been assigned by his employer to layoff many of the railway workers in the area due to the economic depression. Many in town are not pleased with his presence and want him to go while even threatening him with violence. Alva (Natalie Wood) is the only one who takes a liking to him despite the fact that he consistently gives her the-cold-shoulder in return. She’s been forced by her mother (Kate Reid) to ‘entertain’ the male guests that stay at their boarding house and Owen wants none of it as he finds her dreamy, child-like personality to be off-putting and even an illness. Yet the longer he stays the more entranced with her he becomes, but he wonders if he’ll ever be able to get her away from the clutches of her domineering Mother.

This film was considered by critics at the time to be ‘trash’ and that was most likely due to its provocative subject matter that was clearly years-ahead-of-its-time, but with a script written by Francis Ford Coppola and Fred Coe, produced by John Houseman and directed by Sydney Pollack in a story based on a Tennessee Williams play couldn’t be all that bad and this clearly isn’t and in fact it’s excellent and should be considered a classic instead. The recreation of The Deep South from the ‘30s is spot-on and the on-location shooting done in the small town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi lends some terrific atmosphere. The dialogue is sharp and the well-paced script leads to emotionally charged scenes of high drama.

Redford’s cool and detached persona is put to great use and I liked seeing a scenario where it’s the girl chasing after the guy for a change. Mary Badham is equally good in her first film after doing To Kill a Mockingbird, but here she is much more attractive with long hair and sans the Tomboy look. There is also solid support from both Charles Bronson and a baby-faced Robert Blake who just three years later reteamed with Redford in Tell Them Willie Boy is Here.

Wood gives an excellent performance as well, but I had a hard time understanding her character as her perpetual flights of fancy didn’t make much sense. The script seems to say that this is her ‘defense’ and escape from her harsh life, but any woman whose been forced into prostitution by her mother and pawed at by literally every man who comes along would most likely become hardened and bitter and learn to distrust and dislike any man who came near her.

Kate Reid as the mother also posed some initial problems as she looks too young for the part and in reality was only 8 years older than Wood who played her daughter. However, there is a birthday celebration where she is given a cake full of candles to blow out, but she refuses as she feels that 43 is getting ‘too old’, which made me realize that back then people had kids earlier even before they were 18 and therefore her still youthful look by our standards could be forgiven and even understood.

The final half is where this thing really comes together and includes a great confrontational moment between a drunken Wood, who really did get drunk in order to get into the scene, as well as her picturesque journey to New Orleans. Like in most movies the odds of her suddenly bumping into Owen after a couple of short days in the city seemed pretty slim, but I could forgive it as the rest of the film is so strong that any minor flaw with it is hardly worth discussing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 3, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

splendor in the grass 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Learning to move on.

The year is 1928 and Wilma (Natalie Wood) is a high school girl living in a small Kansas town and madly in love with Bud (Warren Beatty). The two share a strong even obsessive relationship and Bud wants to marry her, but his domineering father (Pat Hingle) wants him to wait and go to college for 4 years first. Because Wilma is a ‘nice girl’ he cannot have intimate relations with her before marriage, so in order to alleviate his sexual tensions his father advises that he have sex with a ‘loose woman’ and thus has a fling with Juanita (Jan Norris) who is also one of Wilma’s classmates. When Wilma finds out about this she is devastated and it sends her into a mental breakdown and eventually committed to a psychiatric hospital.

Despite being set in a bygone period the film is hardly dated at all. The characters are real and going through much of the same dilemmas people today have including dealing with parents who push their children to go into fields of study that they aren’t interested in. The film is amazingly frank for its era and director Elia Kazan wisely pulls back by having long takes which allows his eclectic cast to propel the film forward with their performances alone.

Although the setting is Kansas it unfortunately wasn’t filmed there and thus fails to capture the majestic beauty of the plains like Picnic did which was based on another William Inge story. The intention was to shoot it there, but due to a drought it was instead done in northern New York near the Catskills, which has a far different climate and topography. The only exterior shot of the town is that of Wilma’s house, which doesn’t allow the viewer to get any idea of the town’s layout or atmosphere.

All around there are some great performances, but Hingle is a standout in what is quite possibly the best role of his career as he owns every scene that he is in. The only unfortunate thing is that it is never explained what caused the character’s very obvious limp.

Barbara Loden who later went on to marry Kazan in real-life is a scene-stealer as well playing Hingle’s rebellious, flapper daughter Ginny. Her meltdown at a New Year’s Eve party is memorable, but the character then disappears midway through and is never seen again. There is an eventual brief explanation of her whereabouts, but I felt a scene with her at the end was definitely needed.

Wood looks quite possibly at her most beautiful here both with long hair during the first half and then with a short cut during the second part. Beatty makes an outstanding film debut. Usually he is best playing detached characters, but here he plays an emotional one and does it surprisingly well.

The film features a high amount of first time performances from actors who all look very, very young. Phyllis Diller can be seen briefly as a nightclub comedienne. Ivor Francis makes his film debut as Wood’s psychiatrist and Sandy Dennis can be spotted as Wood’s classmate while Martine Bartlett makes her debut as an exasperated English teacher. There is also Zohra Lampert as a waitress explaining to Beatty what pizza is while he tells her about Kansas and you can very briefly spot Eugene Roche and even Godfrey Cambridge.

The film makes some great statements about learning to adjust to life’s twists and turns and living in situations that are not the most fulfilling. Inge, who based many of these characters on people he knew growing up, shows a keen understanding for human nature and his script won a much deserved Oscar.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 10, 1961

Runtime: 2Hours 4Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Elia Kazan

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)

bob and ted and carol and alice 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: 60’s style mate swapping.

Bob and Carol Saunders (Robert Culp, Natalie Wood) attend a group therapy session at a remote cabin location. There they encounter other couples who learn to become open with their feelings and sexuality. When they return home they find that their friends Ted and Alice (Elliot Gould, Dyan Cannon) are too repressed and need to open up more with their true selves. At first the other couple is reluctant, but after spending more time with Bob and Carol and adjusting to their new way of thinking, which includes allowing their spouse to have sex with other partners they slowly come around and eventually all four have sex together.

Paul Mazursky makes a splendid directorial debut. During the late sixties most filmmakers were trying to reflect the times by making movies that featured quick edits, zany plots, and surreal elements, but Mazursky slows it all down keeping the humor on a subtle level and making great use of silence. The envelope pushing subject matter is handled in refreshingly non-judgmental way. Some films from the era would take on some of the more racy topics of the day, but still feel the need to put in a ‘moral center’, but fortunately here that is not the case. Mazursky shows a respect for his adult audience by keeping the entire thing on an uncompromised sophisticated level. When I first saw the film over 20 years ago I felt it was too talky, but upon second viewing that opinion has mellowed and I now find the long takes gives it a nice improvisational feel.

One of the best moments of the film is the very beginning where we see an aerial shot of the remote cabin where the group encounter takes place as well as the open nudity by the participants and Bob and Carol driving up through the scenic locale on a curving road. Quincy Jones’s booming orchestral score adds to the already striking ambience. The scenes from the encounter group is handled almost in a documentary style analyzing not so much what it talked about, but instead on the different emotional reactions that the members have throughout it. The scene where Bob admits to Carol that he had an affair and instead of being angered by it she accepts it, which turns them on enough that they end up making love on their bathroom floor is funny as is the opposite reaction that Ted and Alice have when Carol tells them the ‘good news’.  I also found Alice’s therapy session to be fascinating namely because it seemed quite authentic and was done by an actual licensed psychiatrist (Donald F. Muhich) who at the time was Mazursky real life therapist.

Wood gives a strong and amazing performance in one of her best and unfairly neglected roles. Having seen interviews that she gave I was aware that she was raised in a sheltered environment, so it is interesting seeing her in a part of a liberated woman embracing the new modern morality. The wild look in her eyes sizzles from the screen and she looks awesome in a bikini a well.

Cannon is good as Wood’s polar opposite a woman who is reluctant to let go of the values of her more repressed era and yet still curious about trying. Having the character evolve as the film progresses makes it  interesting.

The two male leads are okay, but the underpants that Gould wears during the final scene where they undress are overly big to the point of almost looking like adult diapers.

The only real complaint that I have with the film is that the famous scene where the four characters all go to bed together doesn’t happen until the very end, which could prove frustrating to some viewers since that scene is the film’s most famous and one that was used for its promotion. I had no problem with the film showing the various events that led up to it happening as it was essential and intelligently done, but it does not show what happens to the characters after they do it. I felt a better structure for the film would have been to have the scene where they go to bed together happen right away at the beginning and then spend the rest of the film cutting back and forth showing what lead up to it as well as scenes showing how the characters went on with their lives and how they dealt with each other afterwards.

This is a great film because it shows the 60’s experience from a middle-aged person’s perspective and the confusion that it created. People observing the new free love generation from the outside looking  in still straddled with the more repressive values of the past and unsure about how or even if they should jump in.

bob and ted and carol and alice

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated M (Later changed to R)

Director: Paul Mazursky

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video