Tag Archives: Review

Just Between Friends (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends share same guy.

Holly (Mary Tyler Moore) and Sandy (Christine Lahti) become friends while attending an aerobics class. Holly then invites Sandy over to her home for dinner unaware that Sandy is having an affair with her husband Chip (Ted Danson). Sandy is equally unaware that the man she is seeing is her new best friend’s mate. After the awkward experience is over Sandy decides to call off her relationship with Chip only to have him die unexpectedly a little bit later. Sandy then tries to help Holly get back on her feet, but without ever confiding with her that she was at one time ‘the other woman’. When Holly is cleaning out her husband’s office she comes across incriminating photographs of Sandy and Chip together and decides to angrily confront her with it.

One of the biggest drawbacks to the film is the casting of Moore in the lead. She’s an actress I’ve always liked, but here she is too old for the part. She was already pushing 50 at the time and Danson, who was 11 years younger, comes off more like an older son than a husband. In fact the opening shot has an extreme close-up of her where you can clearly see the age lines etched on her face making her later conversation where she asks her hubby if they should have another child seem utterly absurd. The intended idea of showing how completely opposite Holly and Sandy are seems more like a generation gap than contrasting personalities and watching Moore in an exercise outfit is genuinely disturbing as she is too thin and her ribs jut right through her shirt.

Lahti’s character is crass and snarky and not at all likable. The idea that she would know nothing about the personal life of the man she was seeing isn’t believable. Now I’ve never been involved in an affair, but I would think if someone is really into someone else, even if it is as the other woman, they’d want to know as much about him as they could including having some knowledge about who he was married to instead of being completely in the dark with what they were up against.

The affair angle gets introduced too suddenly and then right away she gets invited over to Holly’s for dinner and the awkwardness ensues, which isn’t half as funny or compelling as it could’ve been. The film should’ve shown how the affair began as well as to why Chip was unhappy with Holly, which never gets thoroughly explained, and then had the dinner scene played out later on when the viewer was more engrossed with the situation and characters.

There is also a lot of embarrassing comedy that gets mixed into the already cringy drama and only helps to unnecessarily prolong the scenes. The satirical jabs at the on-air news talent are particularly poor as it exaggerates how dumb they are in a film that is supposedly trying to be realistic otherwise. I don’t exactly know what writer/director Allan Burns has against newscasters, but both he and James L. Brooks produced the ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’, which portrayed Ted Baxter, the newscaster on that series, as being a complete imbecile and here the news anchors are shown in much the same way, but by this time it comes off like an old, overplayed joke.

Having Danson die in the middle was a big mistake as his character was the only thing that brought in any interesting dramatic tension and the film flat lines the rest of the way without him. Allan Burns had some success producing TV-series despite the dubious distinction of having created ‘My Mother the Car’, but clearly making movies was beyond his capabilities and it’s no surprise that he never directed another film after this one.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Allan Burns

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Carey Treatment (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Pathologist solves mystery.

Based on an early Michael Crichton novel, the story centers around Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn), who starts a new job as a pathologist at a local Boston hospital and soon finds himself embroiled in a mystery when his good friend Dr. David Tao (James Hong) gets accused of performing an illegal abortion on the daughter of the hospital’s chief surgeon (Dan O’Herlihy), which later kills her. Carey is not convinced that his friend performed the procedure and sets out to prove his innocence when the police are of no help.

This film was noted for its behind-the-scenes turmoil including accusations from director Blake Edwards that he was belittled by the film’s producer William Belasco in front of the crew and told that he would never work in Hollywood again and afterwards having the film edited without his permission. Edwards later sued and his experiences working on this project became the basis for his 1980’s film S.O.B., which savagely satirized the movie making business and the people who ran it.

The plot isn’t bad and attempts are made to give the viewer an authentic feel of the medical profession. One of the better moments is when the doctors perform an autopsy on the victim although I wished they would’ve shown more of the actual corpse on the examining table instead of cutting away from it in an attempt to be ‘tasteful’ as I felt the procedure and what the men discussed during it to be genuinely educational.

Having a hip doctor suddenly turn into an amateur sleuth is the film’s biggest drawback. Coburn plays the part well, but a guy who’s never investigated a case before wouldn’t be so seasoned with the way he handles suspects and tackles clues. He comes off too much like a professional detective who’s spent years in the business and not just a regular person who stumbles into the situation without knowing what he’s doing. The slick way that he solves the case and gets the necessary information is impressive, but not believable. Most people would’ve simply hired a private detective to investigate it and not spent hours away from their job trying to do it themselves, or if they take on the task they would most assuredly have make some mistakes, which this guy never does.

The mystery has enough intriguing elements to remain engaging, but the ultimate reveal is dull and makes one feel like they sat through a big buildup to nothing.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 29, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Blake Edwards

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, Youtube

Circle of Power (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Weekend retreat becomes brutal.

Executives of a company spend a weekend at a hotel where they’re a part of a large group awareness training that will better prepare them to achieve their full potential in both their business and personal lives. The encounter group is headed by Bianca Ray (Yvette Mimieux) who implements disturbing activities for the participants to go through that become increasingly more abusive and degrading.

This film is based off of the non-fiction novel ‘The Pit: A Group Encounter Defiled’ by Gene Church which documented a 1972 four day encounter group of top executives from the Holiday Magic company and many of the outrageous activities they were required to go through all under the cloak of learning to ‘bring out their inner dynamic’. Many of the activities that the characters in the film are forced to perform are similar to the ones depicted in the book, but amped up for the sake of drama. Some definitely get disturbing including having one participant, played by Walter Olkewicz, forced to strip naked in front of the group and then told to stand on a chair while the others mock his overweight body before having him locked into a cage and feed scraps of food that he must eat up directly from the floor.

Unfortunately the shock value gets muted by having characters that are too cardboard.  The viewer ultimately has no emotional bond to any of them and therefore the increasingly degrading circumstances that they go through achieve no profound impact. It also happens much too quickly as right from the start they are asked to do crazy things. I have no doubt that these encounter groups can sometimes go too far and there have been documented evidence of some even resulting in deaths, but it occurs gradually. A level of trust needs to be achieved to the point that the participants let down their guard and then the darker and twisted stuff gets introduced instead of just having it from the beginning like it gets played here, before any of the people have been psychologically ‘neutered’.

There is also no background given, or at least not a sufficient one, to the people who run the encounter group who are portrayed in a very one dimensional, creepy way that quickly becomes boring.  The issues of how did they decided to get into this line of work and what makes them so brazen to think they can get people to do these outrageous acts and get away with it is never addressed.

The ending is limp. What happens to the employees once they return to work is never captured nor the fate of the people running the retreat and whether they were ever sued or arrested. The idea is an intriguing one and there’s a potential for a really interesting movie to be had, but the plot needed more context and the characters to be better fleshed out.

Alternate Titles: Brainwash, Mystique, Naked Weekend

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 19, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bobby Roth

Studio: Ambassador Film Distributors

Available: VHS

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating:  4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who can he trust?

Joe Turner (Robert Redford) works at a New York City CIA office, which fronts itself as a literary agency for historical books. One day Joe decides to sneak out the back way in order to grab some food at a local deli. While he is away a team of assassins headed by Joubert (Max Von Sydow) enter the place and kills everyone inside. Turner, who goes under the code name Condor, returns to find his co-workers dead and no idea who did it, or why. He contacts the CIA headquarters, which is run by Higgins (Cliff Robertson), but soon decides he can’t really trust them and attempts to somehow find a way to survive on his own without returning to his apartment, as he is afraid the killers may be there. Through sheer desperation he kidnaps a woman (Faye Dunaway) at gunpoint and forces his way into her apartment where he hopes he will be able to buy himself enough time until he can figure out what is going on.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘Six Days of the Condor’ by James Grady, has an intriguing set-up, but ultimately gets ruined by having a protagonist become too skillful and shrewd at everything until he ceases to be just a regular guy on the run. For instance he is able to get into a telephone switchboard center much too easily and then uses the skills he had apparently learned as an Army Signals Corps technician to trace a call and find the whereabouts of the bad guy, but this is something a regular person couldn’t do and thus the tension is lost because it’s no longer just an everyman trying to survive, but instead a super-smart individual with convenient knowledge for every situation.

The script has too many situations where the bad guys make unbelievable dumb decisions as well making it seem that the odds really aren’t as stacked against our hero as it initially seems. For instance there is a scene where Redford invades the home of the CIA Deputy Director (Addison Powell) who is supposedly the man behind-the-scenes who had ordered the hit. Redford sits in a downstairs office of the home and plays music very loudly from a stereo until it awakens the CIA Director and he comes down to investigate, but wouldn’t you think someone who works in a secret organization would know enough not to walk into a trap as he does here, but instead call the police if he heard a noise downstairs, or if he does come down at least do it while also holding a gun? Also, as a CIA director living in a mansion he should certainly have his home rigged with a security system, but Redford is to be able to get inside without a sweat even though we are never shown how. Also, why does Sydow the hit man not shoot Redford when he is alone with him in an elevator, which would be a perfect opportunity instead of waiting and trying to do it later at long distance when the two are outside and Redford is in a middle of a crowd and much harder to target?

The film’s lowest point though comes with Redford’s relationship with Dunaway. Only a woman with severe mental problems would magically ‘fall-in-love’ with a stranger in less than 24-hours after he accosts her with a gun and forces his way into her apartment. Even if one would argue that it’s the Stockholm syndrome it’s highly unlikely it would occur so quickly.  There’s even a stylized love making scene that seems too similar to the sex scene in another Dunaway film The Thomas Crown Affair. Besides with all the stress that Redford’s character was going through I’d think he’d be unable to perform in bed, or concerned that she was simply leading him on in order to put him in a vulnerable position, so she could take advantage of it and escape.

Von Sydow’s character, who’s willing to switch allegiances almost instantaneously depending on who’s paying him, is the only truly unique thing about this otherwise shallow thriller. Director Sydney Pollack, who appears briefly as a passerby on a sidewalk, does give the material the slick treatment and captures New York City nicely. There is also a well-choreographed fight scene inside Dunaway’s apartment, but the unsatisfying, limp ending leaves open too many unresolved issues.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 24, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Paramount

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

Halls of Anger (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: High school student integration.

Quincy Davis (Calvin Lockhart) is a respected educator who’s asked to transfer to a predominantly black school where it will be his duty to welcome in white students into the mix. Things do not go smoothly and Davis finds himself at the center of many heated confrontations as the black students resent the new white kids and try to make life miserable for them hoping that they will eventually give up and leave.

The film starts out interestingly enough and I found myself caught up in the plight of these students, both black and white, and wondering how they were eventually going to learn to get along. So many films from that period dealt with the opposite angle by examining the difficulties of black kids integrating into a white school making this reverse perspective a refreshing change of pace by showing how racism and hate can come from both ends.

Unfortunately not a lot happens. The film’s poster conveys the idea of rioting in the halls and physical altercations, but those things prove to be quite mild. There is one brief segment where a group of black girls gang up on a white woman (Patricia Stich) inside a locker room and strip off her clothes in an effort to see if she is ‘blonde all over’, but that is about it.

In fact the only interesting aspect to the film was the behind-the-scenes discord and how the filmmakers didn’t really practice what they preached onscreen. According to an August 1970 Life magazine article the black extras where paid only $13.20 a day while the whites got $29.15. The dressing rooms were segregated and director Paul Bogart proved indifferent towards the black performer’s concerns by refusing to hear out any of their complaints with regards to the script.

The only point to watching the movie is to see young stars-to-be in some early roles. I especially got a kick out of Rob Reiner with a full head of hair and no mustache and seeing Ed Asner as a Phy Ed. teacher who tries very ineffectually to break up a fight. Jeff Bridges is also on tap as one of the white students and he should’ve been made the star as his performance is quite effective and it would’ve been a stronger film had he been given the most screen time.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 29, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 36 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Paul Bogart

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video

No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer enjoys taunting police.

Christopher Gill (Rod Steiger) is a Broadway theater owner suffering from a mother complex who vents his anger by strangling older women at random. He uses a variety of disguises to get into their homes and then when they let down their guard he kills them while leaving a lipstick drawing of lady’s lips on their foreheads as his ‘signature’. Detective Brummell (George Segal), who still lives at home with his overly protective mother (Eileen Heckart), is assigned to the case and quickly forms a communication channel with Christopher who displays a strong narcissistic trait by becoming quite upset if his crimes aren’t given the front page attention that he feels they deserve.

The film is based on William Goldman’s first novel of the same name and inspired by an article he read involving the Boston Strangler. However, in the book version there were two stranglers on the loose and both competing with each other to see who could top the other with their outrageous crimes while in the movie we’re given only one.  To an extent the film works pretty well and has an almost Avant garde flair to it as director Jack Smight gives his actors great latitude to improvise their lines while also allowing the scenes to become more extended than in a regular production.

Steiger’s strong presence gets put onto full display and the wide variety of accents that he uses is impressive. He manages to successfully create a multi-faceted caricature, which keeps it intriguing, but eventually he becomes too self-indulgent with it and in desperate need of a director with some backbone to yell ‘cut’ and reel him in a little.

Originally he was offered the role as the detective, but chose the strangler part instead forcing the part to be enlarged. Segal though holds his own and does so by not competing directly with Steiger’s overacting, but instead pulls back by creating this humble, passive character that’s just trying to do his job, which helps make the contrasting acting styles work and the film more interesting.

The film though fails to ever be effectively compelling. Most thrillers tend to have a quick pace particularly near the end in order to heighten the tension, but the scenes here remain overly long right up to the end. The side story regarding Segal’s budding romance with Lee Remick doesn’t help nor does Heckart’s Jewish mother portrayal, which comes off as a tired caricature. Had these things been put in only as brief bits of comic relief then it might’ve worked better, but with the way it’s done here it takes away from the main story until the viewer loses focus and ends up not caring whether the bad guy gets caught or not.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 20, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

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

Hands of Steel (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s made of steel.

Paco (Daniel Greene) is a man who gets injured in an accident and then rebuilt as a cyborg in an operation financed by evil industrialist Francis Turner (John Saxon). Paco is then programmed to assassinate the head of a competing faction, but at the last second he is unable to do it, due to still harboring a conscience from his human side. He then hides out at a desolate Arizona hotel/bar run by the attractive Linda (Janet Agren) who he soon forms a bond with, but Turner and his men track Paco down and are determined to enact revenge for his disobedience.

The storyline could best be described as a variation to the Six Million Dollar Man. In that one a man was rebuilt to help the secret service on missions for ‘good’ while here the protagonist is programmed to carry out evil tasks, but refuses. It all might’ve been more interesting had it not been produced by an Italian film company where all the speaking voices are dubbed, which gives it an amateurish quality.

The isolated desert location only helps to make an already visually boring film even more so and the place certainly gets a lot of customers for being stuck literally in the middle-of-nowhere. The action is passable, but relies heavily on arm wrestling matches (yes you read that right) that are not exciting at all.

The plot features many logical loopholes that make little sense if you start thinking about it. For instance the cyborg gets shot at in close range, but he does not get injured or killed, but you would think the metal, circuitry or the skin surrounding it would still be affected or damaged. Later on when the bad guys are chasing him down in the desert by shooting at him from a helicopter the cyborg ducks out of the way from the bullets as if he fears getting hit by them, but why since we’ve seen earlier that they have no effect?

Greene’s performance is incredibly one-note and one of the main reasons the film is so boring. John Saxon is the only recognizable face in the cast although there is also George Eastman who played one of the killers in Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs and appears as a similar type of baddie here. However, that film was way better than this one and more worth your time to watch.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 29, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sergio Martino

Studio: Almi Pictures

Available: VHS

Mind Trap (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Avenging her father’s murder.

Shana (Martha Kincare) is an actress who stars in low budget action flicks. Her father works at a secret lab where they do experiments in areas of holograms and mind control, which elicits the attention of dangerous foreign agents who want to use these experiments for their own nefarious gain. They end up killing not only Shana’s father, but her sister and mother too and forcing Shana to pledge a vendetta on all those who murdered them while using what she has learned from being in action films to take them down.

Even though this is nothing more than a mindless actioner it does manage to have a few unique scenes, which is the film’s only saving grace. The opening one features a woman getting attacked while inside a trailer home that is set onto a moving truck. The bit featuring a room equipped with the old clapper light switch in which simply clapping one’s hands will force the lights to turn on or off and then having a ‘battle’ where one person claps for them to go on and another immediately claps to have them shut off, which continues on for a couple of minutes, is amusing.

Another segment has a woman (Jacquie Banan) getting gang raped by the bad guy, but then Shana mocks the man’s ability to ‘get-it-up’ and makes him so self-conscious that he is unable to achieve an erection and thus unable to complete the intended assault.

Overall though the film is flat and forgettable and the star Martha Kincare, who depending on the camera angle resembles a young Justine Bateman, is not believable at all. Just because one may perform in action movies does not mean that person knows the first thing about handling a real gun or taking on real-life secret agents, which makes the already flimsy plot completely absurd.

Dan Haggerty and Lyle Waggoner are given top billing, but seen only briefly while playing characters that have little to do with the main story. Maureen LaVette, who portrays the Russian agent, but was born in Iowa puts on such an over-the-top Russian accent that it becomes annoying and enough to force some viewers to watch the film with the sound turned down, which really wouldn’t be a problem since the banal dialogue sucks anyways.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Eames Demetrious

Studio: AMI Video

Available: VHS

Irreconcilable Differences (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girl divorces her parents.

Nine-year-old Casey (Drew Barrymore) has decided she’s had enough of her parents (Shelley Long, Ryan O’Neal) and wants to get a divorce from them by using the emancipation law, which states that a minor can be freed of their parents if it is found that they have not meet their legal or equitable duty. Her mother and father fight this in court, but in the process are forced to expose all their skeletons including the awkward way they first meet, their affairs and eventual disdain for the other.

What surprised me most is O’Neal’s presence. His career has become so tarnished by his own real-life accusations of poor parenting that I would’ve thought this material would hit too close-to-home and he’d avoid it, but at the time this was considered a career resuscitator for him even though it ended up being only a brief one. His performance is actually quite funny making this his best work since What’s Up Doc?

I was equally impressed with Long who plays completely against type. Normally she’s best as snotty, prissy types, but here she reveals a much more vulnerable side and does quite well. At one point I even felt some genuine sympathy for her, which is something I’ve never felt at any other time with any of the other parts that she has played.

Sharon Stone, who gets listed in the opening credits as being ‘introduced’ even though she had already had a part in another theatrical feature Deadly Blessing that came out three years earlier, lends strong support. The way her character transitions from a wide-eyed free-spirit to bitchy Hollywood diva is quite entertaining and she looks great especially when topless. However, the bit where she exposes her excessively hairy armpits is gross and kind of tainted my image of her the rest of the way.

The script, which is based loosely on the relationship between Peter Bogdanovich and his wife Polly Platt with the Sharon Stone character representing Cybill Shephard who became the other woman, is sharp and filled with a lot of Hollywood in-jokes. The two funniest bits are the conversations between the guests at a chic Hollywood party as well as a glimpse of O’Neal’s disastrous attempt to direct a big budget rip-off of Gone With the Wind by trying to turn it into a musical.

The film though spends too much time on the parents while almost forgetting about Barrymore who’s only seen sporadically. The story also takes too long to play out with a final reconciliation segment that is overdone and sappy and helps to lose the wonderfully cynical tone that the film had earlier.

The only truly interesting aspect about the film is that Barrymore later used this same emancipation law to divorce herself from her real parents when she turned 15 and stated in interviews that she did it based off of the idea that she got from doing this movie.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Charles Shyer

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD