Tag Archives: Paul Newman

Pocket Money (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Herding cattle for money.

Jim Kane (Paul Newman) is a not-too-bright modern-day cowboy living in Arizona that is broke and without a job. In desperation he takes an offer from a shady businessman named Bill Garrett (Strother Martin) who promises Jim a lot of money to buy a certain breed of cattle in Mexico and then bring them up to the US. Jim has his suspicions about the deal, but decides he has no choice but to take it. He elicits the help of his longtime pal Leonard (Lee Marving) another down-on-his-luck loser. Together they find the cattle and herd them to the states despite a lot of obstacles along the way, but when they return Bill and his cronies are nowhere in sight forcing Jim to seek him out and right the injustice.

Many people have complained about the film’s slow pace and the script, which was written by Terrence Malick and based off of a novel by J.P.S. Brown, has a lackadaisical quality, but to some extent I really didn’t mind it. Too many Hollywood movies are compelled to rush right into the plot while leaving atmosphere and characterizations behind, but here Laszlo Kovacs cinematography brings the rustic western locations to life. I had traveled just recently to a small town in Mexico earlier in the year and this film captures the same ambience that I saw including all the feral dogs running around, the old rundown buildings that make up the town center, as well as the pot-holed filled roads. It was almost like I can gone there a second straight time.

Newman is brilliant in a rare comedic turn. His character is dopey, but in a funny, lovable way where you laugh at his ineptness one minute and cheer him on the next. Marvin is good too and the banter the between them as well as their contrasting approaches to things help keep things interesting. Reports where that the two did not get along and Marvin even admitted as much in interviews stating that Newman ‘finessed’ him during their scenes and when you get two big name actors with heavy egos this sometimes happens, but they were at least professional enough not to let their animosity show through on the screen. Both Wayne Rogers and Strother Martin, who co-starred with Newman just 5 years earlier in the classic Cool Hand Luke lend great support and in Martin’s case should’ve been seen more.

Spoiler Alert!

My biggest beef comes with the ending, which is a complete letdown. The intention was to show the life of two aimless men who are going nowhere, which is fine, but there still needs to be a payoff at the end. Instead when Newman and Martin finally confront Rogers and Martin in a hotel room, after searching everywhere for them, nothing happens. They never get their money, or revenge, or anything. Even losers can have a random moment of small victory, which is what I felt was needed here, and to have nothing of substance occur makes the viewer feel like the joke was on them and sitting through this, despite the marvelous production values, becomes sadly a big waste of time.

End of Spoiler Alert!

This was another case of where Leonard Maltin’s review, or whoever wrote it for him, is off from what you end up seeing. He commends the performance by Jean Peters, who plays Newman’s ex-wife, like it’s something special when in reality it’s just a throw-away-bit that lasts for a couple of minutes and isn’t too memorable. He also comments on Marvin’s car, which he states is ‘the damnedest thing you’ll ever see’ even though despite a few multi-colored panels I didn’t see what was so unusual about it. The craziest car I’ve ever seen in a movie is the one the two teens drive in Robert Altman’s 1985 flick O.C. and Stiggs, but again watch both movies for yourself and then decide, but I believe most would end up agreeing with me.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video

Sometimes a Great Notion (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Never give a inch.

The Stampers are a proud logging family who’ve run their business out of the small Oregon town of Wakonda for years, but now find that may be in jeopardy when the local union strikes against a large lumber conglomerate. The Stampers, headed by their stubborn, bull-headed father (Henry Fonda) refuse to go along with the other loggers and continue to run their business. The rest of the townspeople consider them to be traitors and get their revenge by burning their equipment and doing whatever they can to make their business fail, but despite all the obstacles and setbacks the Stampers prove to be a resilient bunch.

The story is based on the Ken Kesey novel and while the book spawned many accolades the movie pretty much fizzled and today is only remembered as being the first film ever shown on HBO when it began broadcasting on November 8, 1972. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its share of good points as I really did enjoy the vivid way it captures the logging business showing first-hand what it takes to cut down the large trees and move the timber. Everything is captured with an in-your-face style that makes you feel like you’re right there working alongside the others and all the stages of tree cutting are explored including the many potentially dangerous accidents that can occur within the blink-of-an-eye.

The film also features a few memorable scenes including a bird’s-eye view of a large barge of logs being tugged down the river, which is an impressive sight. There’s also the infamous drowning scene unique because I’m not quite sure how they were able to pull it off without the actor drowning.

The characters though are quite boring, don’t display any type of arc and instead convey a very one-dimensional cantankerous attitude all the way through, which isn’t fun. Lee Remick is the only one who shows a softer, more introspective side, but she’s not in it enough. The scene involving her in bed with Michael Sarrazin, who plays the younger brother to Paul Newman, could’ve given things a much needed spark and should not have been left on the cutting room floor.

Fonda though is an exception. I’m always amazed at how in his later years he had to take small roles in films that weren’t always A-list material, but would still steal the film away from the leading actors anyways and his answer as to why the family continues to work while clearly causing tension with the rest of the town is a gem.

The plot though gets presented in a sporadic way. So much attention gets put into the aesthetics that the story becomes largely forgotten and only trickles through at certain intervals. The perspective is a bit odd for a Hollywood film too especially for that time period where the idea was always a David vs. Goliath formula that would take it to the establishment and yet here instead of punching up it punches down. As a viewer I felt sympathy for the townspeople and their need to create a strong union to make life better for themselves, so watching this family arrogantly ignore their needs and forge on with their business seemed to be me selfish and not something that was noble or interesting.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s final shot, which features Newman tying his dead father’s severed arm on top of his tugboat, with the hand of the arm giving the finger to the town’s people on shore, is quite ghoulish. There’s no explanation for how he obtained the arm, but I’d imagine it would’ve required him digging up his father’s grave and cutting the limb off, which is pretty sick and twisted and thus loses the humorous quality that was intended and becomes just plain repulsive instead.

Alternate Title: Never Give A Inch

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Newman (Replaced Richard A. Colla)

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Universal Vault Series)

Harry & Son (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Looking for a job.

Harry (Paul Newman) is a construction worker who starts to have seizures involving headaches and blackouts that causes him to lose his job. He asks his son Howard (Robby Benson), who lives with him, to help out by finding a full-time job of his own, but Howard, who has graduated from college, seems content with his part-time car washing gig and no aspirations for anything other than one day becoming a famous writer. Harry feels Howard is not being practical and prods him to take working life more seriously or risk getting thrown out of the house.

Although this wasn’t a critical darling when it was released it still has a nice slice-of-life feel to it dealing with believable people going through some very real everyday problems, which keeps it compelling. Newman does well as a director and co-scripwriter, but his performance is one-dimensional. Normally he’s a terrific actor, and one of my favorites, but Harry remains too grouchy and bitter, almost like he’s channeling his character from Hud, and only near the end shows a different side to him, which is too late.

Benson’s scenes prove to be more interesting although as an actor he’s just as one-dimensional in the other way as he continually shows a deer-in-headlights expression all the way through like that’s the only type of emotion he can convey and it’s no wonder that his career in movies eventually faded. There is one moment though where he shows intense anger and gets in his father’s face to the point that I thought a fist-fight would break out, which would’ve been cool, but ultimately it doesn’t happen.

What I did like about his scenes was when he goes to work at a ‘real job’, which features a wonderful performance by Morgan Freeman as his supervisor, and he’s unable to keep up with the demands of  it, which perfectly illustrates how kids getting out of college can be highly educated but woefully underskilled to everyday work demands. His scenes with Ossie Davis, where he tries to steal his car as a re-possessor, are quite memorable as well.

What I didn’t like about his character was that he gets back into a relationship with a girl, played by Ellen Barkin, who had cheated on him previously by sleeping around with a lot of different guys. If a person is prone to cheat on you once they’re apt to do it again, so why put yourself through heartache a second time? She’s also carrying a baby, which is not is, in fact she isn’t sure whose it is, so why agree to take on all the bills, responsibility, and stress of a kid if you don’t actually have to?

The female roles here are not needed and tend to just make the movie longer than it needs to be. The title of the film promises to examine the relationship between a father and son, but it does not delve into it as much as it should. Having Harry’s daughter, played by Katharine Borowitz, enter into the story does nothing but add needless drama that goes nowhere. Judith Ivey’s character is not necessary either as she plays a nympho who sleeps with both father and son at different times and the two men then talk and joke about it afterwards even though in real-life I’d think most fathers and sons would feel very awkward talking about their mutual sexual conquests making this scene insincere.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s ending goes against the entire grain of the flick by having Howard receive $1,500 check after he sends out a story submission to a publisher, but most publishers like to work through an agent and I don’t think they’d blindly send out money to an unproven writer without first coming up with some sort of contract. Since the film starts with a blue collar theme that’s where it should’ve ended by having Howard adjust to jobs requiring manual labor instead of inserting the Hollywood pipe dream.

Howard’s reaction to Harry’s death is odd too. He runs into his dad’s bedroom only to find his father lying on the floor motionless and then proceeds to just sit there and cry  even though the more normal thing would be to call 9-1-1 or attempt to resuscitate him. It’s also annoying that we never find out exactly what Harry’s ailment was making it like one of those cliched, generic mystery illness that befalls movie characters for no other reason than to keep the drama going.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Newman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cops on the beat.

Murphy (Paul Newman) is a middle-aged cop working a beat in a tough Bronx neighborhood while partnered with Corelli (Ken Wahl) who is much younger. Murphy has become jaded to the corruption around him, but still feels a sense of purpose about coming forward when he witnesses a fellow cop killing an innocent bystander. Corelli, who also witnessed it, feels they should keep quiet about it, fearing the backlash they will inevitable get if they don’t, but Murphy quarrels with his conscious and considers risking his own safety and career in order to do the right thing.

While the film opened to mainly positive reviews and did quite well at the box office it was not without controversy as author Tom Walker, who had written the novel ‘Fort Apache’ which had a similar theme and storyline as this one, sued the production company claiming they had stolen many ideas from his book. However, the courts decided in the film’s favor arguing that the movie was filled with a lot of generalized stereotypes that is present in just about every cop film and therefore could not be signaled out as copyright infringement, which seemed more like a backhanded victory as it admits that a lot of what  you’ll see here is just one giant cliche.

From my perspective though I still enjoyed it especially the street scenes where the two protagonists find themselves dealing with petty crimes that makes up a lot of what real-life policemen have to deal with, as opposed to the sexy murder mysteries that cops in other police dramas get to investigate. The scene where Newman chases a suspect, but then runs out of breath and is unable to catch him nicely examines the exhausting physical nature of the job as well.

My biggest gripe has to do with a scene that comes right away, which involves a prostitute, wonderfully played by Pam Grier, who shoots and kills two unsuspecting cops sitting inside a squad car. The excuse is that these two were rookies and therefore not seasoned enough to catch the warning signs of what was going on, but I felt right away that something was off by the way the prostitute was fishing around her purse making me sense even before it happened that she was going for a gun and if I the viewer could’ve caught on to this then the two cops, whether they were new on the job or not, should’ve too.

Spoiler Alert!

I was disappointed that this storyline involving the psycho prostitute does not get fully played-out as she ends up getting killed in the middle of the film in a very random and uninteresting way, which ruins the anticipation/suspense of seeing her and Newman ultimately confront each other, which is what the viewer is primed into believing will happen.

The storyline dealing with the cop killing a defenseless man gets botched too as it occurs during the middle, but with no satisfying conclusion. We never get to see how Newman’s decision to come forward ultimately effected his life and safety.

I had problems with the sequence of events concerning Newman’s girlfriend, played by Rachel Ticotin, as well as we see her die from a lethal drug overdose, but this occurs before some gunmen take over the hospital where she worked as a nurse and held everyone hostage. It would’ve been far more suspenseful had the viewer at least thought that the girlfriend was one of the hostages instead of knowing upfront that she wasn’t, which ultimately makes this sequence less emotionally compelling.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Newman as usual gives a great performance and this marked the last role he played where his age was not a factor as his roles after this all dealt in some way with him becoming elderly. However with that said he still looks very much to be in his 50’s and he states at one point that he’s divorced with two daughters making me believe that they were most likely young adults, but instead we see a brief scene where he picks them up from school showing that they’re still young children, which given his very middle-aged appearance looked ridiculous.

Wahl is good as his young partner, but I felt his character should’ve been the one that was idealistic and wanted to go to the authorities while Newman, being older and more desensitized the one who tries to talk him out of it. Ed Asner, as the cantankerous new police chief gets wasted as does Pam Grier who’s real creepy and should’ve had both her character and motives explored much more.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 6, 1981

Runtime: 2 Hours 5 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Daniel Petrie

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Quintet (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Deadly game/frozen tundra.

During a future ice age Essex (Paul Newman) and his pregnant companion Viva (Brigitte Fossey) travel north in hopes of finding his brother Francha (Thomas Hill). They come to his apartment to find him and a group of other people playing a board game called Quintet, which has become the popular form of entertainment in an otherwise frozen, barren world. While Essex goes out to buy firewood the rest of the inhabitants in the apartment are killed by a bomb and when Essex chases the perpetrator (Craig Richard Nelson) he finds a list of five names inside the man’s pocket and realizes that the board game is now being played out in real-time with the winners killing the losers, which forces Essex to become a reluctant participant.

Although director Robert Altman had started the 70’s with the blockbuster hit M*A*S*H and followed it with Nashville his star status by the end of the decade had become severely tarnished especially after he helmed a succession of box office bombs with this film being a financial failure as well, which pretty much put the nail in the coffin for his career and hampered his ability at getting top projects afterwards, but I will at least give him credit for going outside of his comfort zone. While his past films were all dramedies this one was an interesting stab at sci-fi that if anything creates a vivid atmosphere. I particularly like the opening shot that shows nothing but snowy white and the sound of a cold hollowing wind only to slowly see the formation of two human figures walking in the far distance.

Unfortunately the other elements of the film are not as inspired. The costumes worn by the characters look like something leftover by a  Shakesperian college stage production and the board game itself played by the participants sparks no interest in the viewer because it’s never clear how it’s played. Supposedly the working rules of the game were passed out to audience members as they entered the theater, but it would’ve been nice had these same rules been explained in the movie itself.

The setting, which was filmed on-location inside  the abandoned buildings leftover from Montreal’s World Expo ’67 gives off an interesting futuristic vibe, but I was confused why despite being in the future there was no modern technology. I realized it was a new ice age, but are we to believe that all the computers and gadgets from the past generations got frozen over and the only thing left were the buildings? I also didn’t like how Altman smeared the edges of the lens with a translucent substance where only the middle part of the screen is in focus while the edges are fuzzy, which was intended to give it an ice over look, but doing this in literally every shot got to be a bit much.

Watching the characters die or wondering who will be next offers no tension at all as killing them seemed almost favorable as it put them out of their misery and away from their otherwise bleak existence. The plot needed an added angle to give it more intrigue like perhaps having a warm destination that still existed that the characters would try to get to while avoiding being killed in the process. Having it play out though the way it does with everyone locked inside this icy setting is not compelling at all. Altman proves here to be completely outside his realm while it also wastes Newman’s acting talents to the point that I was surprised why he even bothered to take the part at all. Some may wish to seek this out as a curio, but outside of its icy atmosphere there’s little else to recommend.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972)

effect of gamma rays 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: My heart is full.

Beatrice Hunsdorfer (Joanne Woodward) is a single-mother raising two girls while living in the poor side of Staten Island. She is an extremely self-centered, emotionally frail woman who’s bitter about life and alienates everyone that she meets. Ruth (Roberta Wallach) is her rebellious teenage daughter who recognizes her mother’s flawed personality and tries to distance herself from her. Matilda (Nell Potts) is the quiet, introspective daughter who takes in all the chaos while escaping by concentrating on her school science projects particularly the one involving marigolds, but as things progress Beatrice’s mental state becomes more erratic and threatens to tear their lives completely apart.

Actor Paul Newman directs on a tour-de-force level. Absolutely everything comes together while still keeping it on a subtle, visual level. The opening sequences gives the viewer a clear picture of the family’s strife and divergent personalities without ever having to go into any type of verbal backstory, which is great filmmaking at its finest. Although filmed in Bridgeport, Connecticut one still gets a good feeling of a poor inner-city neighborhood with the house that was chosen for the setting looking authentically cluttered without appearing staged. The variety of settings has a cinema verite feel while also remaining true to Paul Zindel’s script. Yet Newman’s greatest achievement is the fact that he creates a wholly unlikable main character that the viewer ends up still feeling quite sorry for and the climactic scene inside the school’s auditorium becomes emotionally wrenching.

Woodward excels in a difficult role and creates a character that becomes permanently etched in the viewer’s mind. Her brilliance comes through from the very beginning with the way she chews her gum while trying on some wigs and her never ending stream of caustic remarks runs the gamut of being rude and insensitive to darkly humorous. Although she was nominated for best actress with the Golden Globes and won the award at the Cannes for her work here she really should have been given the Academy Award as well.

Wallach, who is the daughter of Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, is terrific in her film debut and has some memorable moments not only when she has a seizure, but also later when she plays a caricature of her mother for a school play. Potts, who is Newman’s and Woodward’s daughter, is quite good too especially with her stunning clear blue eyes and facial expressions.

Judith Lowry, who made a name for herself in her later years playing cantankerous old ladies, is outstanding as an old woman who rents a room from Beatrice. Although she frustratingly never says a word her moments are still unforgettable especially with the way Newman focuses on her wrinkled face and toothless mouth as she sips drinks or even hobbles her way to the bathroom.

Zindel’s story was originally a stage play and in fact Carolyn Coates who is cast as Mrs. McKay here played the Beatrice role in one of the stage versions. Most teenagers from the 70’s and 80’s will recognize Paul Zindel’s name as the author of ‘Pigman’, which was required reading in many high schools during that era. Yet I liked this story, which is based loosely on his experiences while growing up, even better and it’s a real shock that it has never been released on an American DVD as it definitely should be!

effect of gama rays 1

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 20, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Newman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD (Region 2)

WUSA (1970)

wusa

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Liberal working for conservatives.

A drifter (Paul Newman) travels to Louisiana and gets a job as a DJ at an ultra-conservative radio station. Despite being a professed liberal he decides to go along with the right-wing rhetoric because he has grown apathetic with things and now just wants to ‘blend-in’.

The idea has a lot of potential, but it is never able to take off. Part of the problem is that instead of trying to play it like satire in the Network vein it instead approaches it with pinpoint seriousness and saturates the viewer with a gloom and doom message. The long and winding stream of social complexities makes the viewer, as with the main character, grow apathetic. The ‘powerful’ statements are redundant and too engulfed with the politics of its day to give anything that is broadly insightful.

It is easy to see why this is probably Newman’s most forgettable film. There is nothing unique or even slightly diverting about it and it meanders badly with no action whatsoever. The ‘exciting’ mob scene at the end looks staged and unconvincing.

The film has leanings as a character study, but even they are weak. Newman’s angry loner role is simply a less intense version of his Hud character. Joanne Woodward as the prostitute with a ‘heart of gold’ is clichéd and dull. Anthony Perkins is the only one that comes off as interesting, but it’s not enough to save it.

This is a truly limp and lifeless picture and I would be amazed if there was anyone out there who would like it.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 19, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray 

Absence of Malice (1981)

abscence of malice 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not fit to print.

Megan Carter (Sally Field) is a go-getter newspaper reporter who implicates innocent liquor wholesaler Mike Gallagher (Paul Newman) simply to get a big story. However, Mike proves to be quite clever and resourceful and spins a subtle, but effective line of revenge and eventually is able to expose the irresponsibility of the media.

The drama here is strong. The issues are relevant and the story is well structured. The points are hit home in a no-nonsense way while revealing how newspaper operations work and how easily they can abuse their power to the extent that it is almost horrifying.

Yet the film seems to defeat its own purpose by wrapping everything up in a much too tidy way. It is almost like saying yes we have a very serious and potentially dangerous issue here, but it can be easily contained and resolved so don’t worry about it.  Also, Mike is just a little too resourceful and slick and it becomes almost like wish-fulfillment at seeing the way he sticks it to the corrupt corporate fat-cats. An ordinary person would be destroyed by an untrue story printed about them and unable to find the money or resources to fight back and the film would have been much more hard-hitting had it taken this route instead.

I also wasn’t too crazy about the musical score. Not that the music sounded bad, but it was too upbeat while a downbeat score would have fit the mood better.

Newman has always been one of my favorite actors, but I felt he wasn’t a perfect fit here. His performance is too low-key and he doesn’t display enough anger or rage that one would expect.

Field is also miscast. Her features are too child-like and a taller woman with a few lines on her worn face would have worked better as it would have helped create the jaded persona of a character who had been is the business long enough to know what she was doing was wrong, but didn’t care.

Having Mike form a sexual relationship with Megan seemed particularly ridiculous on several levels. For one thing the graying Newman looked so much older than Field that it almost appeared like child molestation. Also, the chances of someone forming a relationship with a reporter who has just libeled him seem slim to none.

It’s the supporting cast that comes off better. John Harkins is completely on-target as the jaded corporate lawyer who toys the ethical line like it is some sort of game. Bob Balaban is memorable as a hot-shot young executive with a very interesting way of playing with rubber bands and chewing gum. Melinda Dillon is also outstanding in one of her best roles as a very emotionally fragile woman.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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