Tag Archives: Paul Sorvino

That Championship Season (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their reunion turns sour.

On the 25th anniversary of when they won the state high school basketball championship four members of the team get together with their coach (Robert Mitchum) to celebrate. George (Bruce Dern) who made the winning shot is now the town’s mayor and up for reelection. James (Stacy Keach) is a high school principal while his younger brother Tom (Martin Sheen) has become a vagabond alcoholic. Phil (Paul Sorvino) is the most successful of the group even though his business methods aren’t always ethical. It’s his revelation that he has had an affair with George’s wife that sends the gathering into a freefall where long dormant secrets from all the members slowly come to the surface.

The film was written and directed by Jason Miller, best known for playing Father Karras in The Exorcist, and the play version, which he also wrote won him the Pulitzer Prize. Despite the rave reviews of the play I was genuinely shocked how lifeless and boring the film is. It takes 35 minutes before any real conflict is introduced and once it does it’s all very contrived. The opening half-hour is nice as it was filmed on-location in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which was Miller’s hometown, but the second half is done completely inside one home, which makes it very stagey. Flashback sequences were done to help make it more cinematic, but unwisely cut by the film’s producer.

The plot thread dealing with Sorvino’s character having an affair with Dern’s wife seemed so utterly contrived that I literally had to roll my eyes when it gets brought up. It’s almost like they had to throw in something to keep it interesting so why not just make it the oldest, most clichéd soap opera-like thing they could think of. What’s worse is we never see this woman in question despite her being the catalyst for all the drama nor any explanation of where she is or what she is doing.

The acting is good for the most part, which is the only reason I’m giving this thing even 2 points, but at times the performers have trouble rising above the melodramatic material including the scene where Keach tries to put on a cry while describing his mistreatment by his father, which sounds very fake and unintentionally laughable.

Sorvino walks around with jet black hair except for a big white patch on the back of his head, which is distracting and gets shown a lot, but never mentioned by any of the other characters. I’ve never seen anyone with that condition, except for someone who intentionally highlighted it like that and even so I don’t think that was the case here. The producers should’ve had that spot dyed black like the rest of his hair to avoid the distraction, or had one of the other characters joke about it in passing, so the viewer didn’t have to keep wondering why they are the only ones seeing it and nobody else was.

The final scene where the men listen to a tape of when their team scored the winning shot, which brings tears to their eyes, is the only segment that rings true and hits home how high school for some people can be the highlights of their whole lives and everything afterwards is all downhill. The rest of the movie though is an exercise in boredom and filled with sterile characters dealing with generic issues.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jason Miller

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD

A Fine Mess (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: They buy a piano.

Spence (Ted Danson) works as an actor and during a break in shooting, which is being done at a local horse track, decides to take a rest in a nearby horse stall. While he is there he overhears a conversation between two men (Stuart Margolin, Richard Mulligan) in the next stall discussing how they are going to inject a horse with a drug that will cause him to run faster and therefore make him a ‘sure thing’ in the his next scheduled race. Spence decides to use this information to bet on the horse and make a killing at the track with the help of his friend Dennis (Howie Mandel), but the bad guys realize that they’ve been found out and try to nab Spence and Dennis before they are able to place the bet. Spence and Dennis try to hide from their pursuers by attending an auction where they inadvertently purchase a piano, which they must later deliver to a rich customer (Maria Conchita Alonso) who is dating a mobster (Paul Sorvino).

I was genuinely shocked at how limp and threadbare this script was and how it routinely resorted to some of the most empty-headed humor I’ve ever seen. Much of it consists of long and extended chase sequences that aren’t particularly exciting or imaginative and rely on gags that we’ve all seen a million times before.

The casting is also off. Margolin can be a great character actor, but not in this type of role and Mulligan’s dumb guy routine and facial muggings is to me the epitome of lame. Danson doesn’t seem particularly adept at physical humor and shows no real chemistry with his co-star. Sorvino, who walks around with a limp, gets a few chuckles, but believe it or not I came away liking Mandel the best and actually found him to my surprise to be the most normal person in the movie.

The intention was to make this a completely improvisational exercise, which would give the actors free rein to come up with lines and scenarios as they went while relying on the broadest of story blue prints as their foundation, but the studio wanted more of an actual script and forced director Blake Edwards, who later disowned this project, to approach the thing in a more conventional way. The result is a mish-mash of nonsense that doesn’t go anywhere and makes the viewer feel like they’ve done nothing but waste their time in watching it.

All could’ve been forgiven had they at least played up the piano moving bit, which is what I was fully expecting. The inspiration was to make this a remake of the classic Laurel and Hardy short The Music Box with a scene, like in that one, where the two stars must somehow move an upright piano up a long flight of stairs. However, instead of showing this it cuts away to the next scene where the two have somehow without any moving experience gotten the piano up the stairs with apparently no hassle, but what’s the use of introducing a potentially funny comic bit if you’re not going to take advantage of it?

I still came away somewhat impressed with the way that it managed on a very placid level to at least hold my interest. I suppose in this era where scripts with a plethora of winding twists tend to be the norm one could almost deem this a ‘refreshing’ change-of-pace in its simplicity. Those that set their entertainment bar very low may enjoy it more.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Cruising (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cop infiltrates gay underground.

A serial killer is attacking gay men who frequent New York’s S&M bars and young cop Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is chosen to go undercover as a gay and infiltrate these ‘leather clubs’ in order to bring out the killer. However, the job requirements demand that he must be completely isolated from the rest of the force and not carry a gun, which eventually causes a strain on his personal life particularly in his relationship with his girlfriend Nancy (Karen Allen).

The film, which is loosely based on actual events that occurred during the late 70’s and captured in Gerald Walker’s novel of the same name, was considered quite controversial at the time of its production. Protestors who felt the film accentuated the gay stereotype tried to create loud noises during filming and even shine reflective lights on the actors in an attempt to mess up the scenes. In retrospect it is hard to imagine that director William Friedkin is in anyway homophobic as just ten years earlier he did the brilliant adaptation of The Boys in the Band, which remains to this day one of the better films dealing with gay issues. The story certainly does wallow in ugly elements, but also makes the point to describe this as an extreme subculture and  not reflective of the gay lifestyle as a whole, which in my opinion made the film seem more enlightening to New York’s gay underground of a bygone era and less propaganda as its critics ascertained.

To some degree I liked the explicit uncompromising approach, but after a while it became one-dimensional and predictable. The scenes of the killings are unnecessarily prolonged and some of the segments showing large groups of men having sex at a bar come off as overly-stylized and looking reminiscent of a homoerotic scene from a Fassbinder film.

Friedkin does manage to add a few unique touches including having a well-built black man wearing nothing but a jock strap enter the room during police interrogations and violently slap suspects who he felt weren’t telling the truth, which according to one of the film’s advisors was an actual technique used by police at the time.  The way the movie captures the monotony and frustrations of investigating a complex case such as this and leaving open that there may have been more than one killer is also well done and helps elevate this a bit from the usual formulaic cop thriller.

Pacino gives a gutsy performance including one scene showing him tied up in bed naked during some kinky S&M play, but the character’s motivations are confusing particularly the way he so quickly accepts this difficult assignment that most others would be very reluctant to do. The fact that his experiences ends up affecting him psychologically isn’t compelling since that becomes a foregone conclusion right from the start.

Paul Sorvino is perfect as the police captain. His gray hair dye was a little overdone, but his limp was great. Allen has a good moment at the end when she tries on Pacino’s leather hat and coat that he brought home with him and Joe Spinell makes the most of his small role as a corrupt cop who harasses gays only to end up patronizing gay bars on his off hours. You can also spot Powers Boothe in an early role as a hankie salesman and Ed O’Neil as a police detective.

The idea of exposing the dark side of police life is no longer original or interesting and the film’s shock value has lessened through the years and thus failing to leave any type of lasting impression or message.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Friedkin

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video