Tag Archives: paul dooley

Death Wish (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Architect becomes a vigilante.

In connection with the Eli Roth/Bruce Willis reboot that is set to be released to theaters this Friday I thought now would be a good time to go back and take a look at the original. The story centers on Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) who works as an architect and lives a comfortable life with his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) and adult daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan). One day while he is at work his New York apartment gets invaded by three thugs (Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Logan, Gregory Rozakis) who kill his wife and rape his daughter. Paul becomes outraged that the police can’t seem to make any headway on the case and decides to take matters into his own hands by becoming a self-styled vigilante shooting random thugs on the street late at night, which in turn has him becoming a cult hero to the many residents of the crime ridden city.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Brian Garfield. Garfield was inspired to write the story after his car got vandalized. He initially fantasized about tracking down the criminals and killing them before eventually speculating what would happen if someone actually went through with these feelings and decided to take the law into their own hands. The main difference between the novel and film is that in the book the vigilantism becomes more of the problem while in the movie it’s considered the solution.

Many critics at the time gave the film unfavorable reviews as they felt it advocated violence, but I found the movie to have a certain uplifting quality. While the message is certainly simplistic and one-sided it still nicely conveys the idea that ordinary citizens can make a difference and it is up to us, the American public, to foster change and not to simply leave it up to someone else. The film doesn’t completely promote violence as the solution either as there is one scene where an old lady (Helen Martin) scares off her attacker simply by using her hat pin.

The problem that I had with it was why does Bronson constantly get harassed by these thugs in the first place? Whether he is at a restaurant or on the subway the bad guys constantly hone in on him for no apparent reason even when there’s plenty of other people around. In the book it made more sense because the title character would intentionally set traps for the thugs like abandoning his car and putting an ‘out of gas’ sign on it, so the criminals would try to rob the vehicle and then when they did he’d shoot them. Of course this would make the character’s motives more questionable, which the film wanted to avoid, but in the process it becomes less believable.

While this has become Bronson’s signature role it still would’ve worked better had a less brawny actor played the part. In the book the character is a meek accountant and someone like Jack Lemmon, who was originally considered for the role, would’ve been a more authentic fit. Bronson’s image is so entrenched as a ‘tough guy’ that his presence here seems like just another of his action themed vehicles. Chuck should’ve also not known how to use a gun right away either and maybe even been initially clumsy with it as it would’ve made the character arch from peaceful novice to sharp shooting vigilante stronger.

I liked Michael Winner’s directing particularly the way he shot the interiors of the apartments and his grimy portrayal of the urban New York setting that perfectly played-up the city’s crime ridden paranoia at the time. This is also a great chance to see some young performers before they were famous including Christopher Guest as a patrolman. I also found it amusing that Paul Dooley and Vincent Gardenia share a brief scene together as they both went on to play the dad character in Breaking Away. Dooley portrayed him in the movie version while Gardenia played the part in the short live TV-series.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Paramount

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

HealtH (1980)

health 4

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Altman’s take on politics.

Normally I’m a big proponent of the European and independent filmmaking system that allows the director to have complete creative control over their projects, which in Hollywood doesn’t always occur and many times the studios will meddle with the film until it becomes nothing like what the director had originally envisioned. However, this film is a great example of what can happen on the opposite end when a director and his ego are allowed too much leeway until their movies become self-indulgent exercises that appeals to no one except themselves and a few of their most ardent followers.

During the ‘70s director Robert Altman had achieved such heightened celebrity that 20th Century Fox studio head Alan Ladd Jr. gave him the green light on virtually any project or idea he wished to pursue. Ladd was such a big fan of Altman’s stuff that he didn’t even care if the film made money or not, which they usually didn’t. It was during this period that Altman was able to achieve some of his most bizarre onscreen creations like Brewster McCloud, which was brilliantly quirky, while others like this one petered out before they even began.

Here Altman was clearly borrowing from his own well particularly with the way he captured running conversations going on at the same time between different people that 10 years earlier had come off as being fresh and inventive, but by this time was now derivative and distracting. The film’s parade of eccentric characters is not interesting or relatable and Altman’s stab at political satire is too soft and unfocused with no connection at all to the political scene of today.

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The threadbare plot, which deals with two political candidates played by Glenda Jackson and Lauren Bacall who compete for the presidency of a Florida health food convention, has too much dialogue and not enough action. It manages to be mildly amusing for the first 30 minutes, but then like with a tire suffering from a slow leak it starts to fizzle until it culminates with a dull and pointless conclusion.

It’s almost worth a look just to see Carol Burnett playing a more subdued type of character than she usually does although the part where she becomes ‘shocked’ at the rumor that her favorite candidate had a sex change operation now seems quite dated. Dick Cavett is also engaging playing himself and trying to corral all the nuttiness around him, but it’s Paul Dooley, who is also credited with co-writing the screenplay, that is the real scene stealer playing an independent candidate willing to do anything for attention.

I’m a big fan of Altman’s work, but I found this one to be slow going, uneventful and sloppy. The film’s concept could’ve used a lot more fleshing out as the whole thing plays like it was simply a lark done by a director that was coasting too much on his past successes while not throwing anything new into the mix.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 12, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None at this time.

Sixteen Candles (1984)

sixteen candles

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He has her panties

The 80’s may eventually become known as decade of the teen movie. There were so many and 98% of them were crude, moronic, and forgettable. However this disarming film, a product of John Hughes, is a winner. It’s a simple story that manages to bring out the universal truths of that age in a seamless manner. Its best asset is its ability to show how all those things that are considered insignificant to others is a big deal to teens. The film may be best suited for adults who can look back on that period with a mature perspective and a wry sense of wit as well as nostalgic to those who were adolescents when the film came out.

The film stands out from the rest in other ways too. First is the fact that the majority of the cast actually look the age they are playing and resemble the physical awkwardness. Other teen movies always seem to have pretty models and chiseled faced guys who look older than they should. The kids here also don’t have that annoying smugness. The filmmakers approach it with the idea that behind all that crudeness it is still an innocent time. It’s also nice to see parents and teens getting along and not constantly at odds. The late night talk between Ringwald and her father (Paul Dooley) is quite touching.

The film has some really funny moments. The destruction of a nice suburban home during a wild teen party is fun. Hall’s ‘official’ unveiling of Ringwald’s panties to a group of awed freshman is also memorable.

Ringwald is perfect in the starring role as she was sixteen at the time and seems to embody the character. You hardly see the acting. Hall was also a good choice as the male geek. He certainly has the scrawny physique of a typical freshman as well as the outrageous persona that he creates to help compensate for it. It is also interesting that at times he shows some mature sensibilities, which is a good example of how adolescence can be a mixture of different traits. The adult cast is great as well especially the veteran character actors who play the grandparents.

This film borders on being a minor classic even though there are a few drawbacks. One is the ending sequence where Ringwald’s older sister, who is also the bride, starts to behave erratically, which becomes comic overkill. The picture worked better when it stuck with Ringwald and her high school experiences exclusively. The film also has a few too many neat wrap-ups. The worst being when the hottest girl in the senior class falls in love with Hall, which was too much of a stretch. The music score gets heavy-handed at times especially when it’s used to accentuate a comic moment. There are also a few too many unnecessary sound effects.

John and Joan Cusack can be seen in small roles with John looking very young. Jami Gertz can be seen quickly as a drunken party guest. Also Blanche Baker, who plays Ringwald’s older sister, is the real life daughter of actress Carroll Baker.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 4, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated: PG

Director: John Hughes

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video