Tag Archives: Review

Le Jouet (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A rich kid’s plaything.

Eric (Fabrice Greco), the son of Pierre (Michel Bouqet) a rich business tycoon, is used to getting his way, so when he goes to a toy store, where he’s informed he can have anything he wants, he chooses Francois (Pierre Richard). Francois is a struggling journalist looking for income and decides to go along with the outrageous proposition of being a child’s toy because of the money he’s offered, so he gets put into a crate and ‘delivered’ to the home just like a regular large ‘toy’ would. He’s then forced to amuse the child at all times and catering to any whims of fancy that he may have. While this arrangement is initially quite awkward Francois is eventually able to form a bond with the boy and the two then set out to teach the arrogant father a lesson.

The script, which was written by the prolific Francis Veber, who also directed, lends keen insights into capitalism and the corporate company structure. While Pierre seems to be the one that is being put into a degrading position and treated like a puppet, it’s actually the company yes men that surround Eric’s father and obediently do anything he demands who are the real toys and yet none of them see it.

Richard does quite well in the lead and despite being put in a humiliating situation ends up showing much more self respect than many of the other characters. Greco is equally good in this his only film appearance. Initially I thought I was going to really hate this spoiled kid, but Veber’s adept writing creates a child character who’s very savvy to the foibles of the adult world  and ends up showing a hidden motivation for why he does what he does that eventually comes out later.

The only performance that I didn’t care for was that of Bouquet. While he has an impressive acting resume and is still appearing in movies at the ripe old age of 95 having just starred in one that came out this year and working steadily in films since 1947, which makes for one of the longest career spans of any actor ever, I still felt here he wasn’t right for this part. His facial expressions are dull and one-dimensional and he’s never funny with his grey hair making him seem too old to be the father of such a young boy.

The film does get a bit heavy-handed at times making its targets too obvious, but it’s still filled with some acerbically funny moments including my favorite scene where Eric and his father walk-in on a family eating dinner and he offers them a lot of money if they agree to on-the-spot sell their home and leave, so after a brief conference the family immediately starts packing. Even with some minor blemishes it’s still far superior to its American remake, which will be reviewed tomorrow.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francis Veber

Studio: AMLF

Available: DVD (Region 2), Blu-ray (Region A/B/C), Amazon Video (Dubbed), YouTube (Dubbed)

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

The Long Goodbye (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: His cat is hungry.

One night detective Phillip Marlowe (Elliot Gould) is visited in his home by his long time pal Terry Lennox (Jim Boulton), who informs Marlowe that he’s had a fight with his wife and asks him if he can have a ride to the Mexican border, which he obliges. When he returns home he is met by two cops (Jerry Jones, John S. Davies) who bring him into the station with questions about the whereabouts of Lennox whom they insist has just killed his wife. When Marlowe refuses to divulge anything he gets put into jail only to released 3-days later when it’s reported that Lennox has killed himself. Marlowe becomes suspicious about the suicide and determined to do his own investigation while also getting involved with Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) and her alcoholic, writer husband Roger (Sterling Hayden) both of whom may hold the secret to Lennox and what really happened.

By the early 70’s only two of Raymond Chandler’s novels had yet to be filmed, this one and ‘Playback’. United Artists agreed to finance the film and commissioned Leigh Brackett, who had been the screenwriter for another Chandler novel turned into a movie 1946’s The Big Sleep, to write the screenplay for this one. Robert Altman was later approached to direct it and while he was not a fan of the Phillip Marlowe character, whom he labeled as being a ‘loser’, he agreed to take on the project due to the unexpected ending, which had not been in the novel, but that Brackett had added into the screenplay.

While Altman may have seemed an odd choice, he never even read the source novel of which the film is based, the eccentric little sidelights that he adds into the proceedings make it worth it. Some of the movies that he did towards the late 70’s became a bit too undisciplined where his films would go off on tangents with stuff that had very little to do with the main plot, but here the story is strong, so the little detours that Altman adds in helped to playfully accentuate the plot instead of drowning it out.

Some of my favorite Altmanisms included  Marlowe looking for food to feed his hungry cat, who I might add for an animal gives a spectacular performance, and how a stocker that he meets at the grocery store while searching for cat food he ends up meeting again at random at the police station. The next door female nudists, who are also into yoga and attract the attention of both the police and the bad guys who come to Marlowe’s place, are fun too.

There’s some marvelous framing by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond including capturing Roger and Eileen having an argument inside their home, which was filmed at Altman’s Malibu residence, through a glass patio door while at the same time in the reflection you see Gould walking along the beech. Later while Eileen and Marlowe are having a conversation by an open window you can see in a distance, which the other two are unaware of, Roger walking into the ocean in an attempt to kill himself.

Spoiler Alert!

The film also features what I feel is one of the most shocking and disturbing scenes that I’ve ever seen put into a movie and that’s a statement that I don’t use lightly. I’ve seen hundreds of gory horror films, but what happens here I’ve found far more unsettling. I think the reason is because it’s completely unexpected as it features the character played by film director Mark Rydell smashing a glass coke bottle onto the face of his girlfriend who just seconds earlier he had stated that he was deeply in-love with. Hearing her scream out in unending pain while cupping her hands over her face as blood spews out makes it come-off as very real. Even more amazing is that the part of the girlfriend was played by an amateur named Jo Ann Brody who never appeared in any other film and was a waitress that Altman and Brackett met when they went out to dinner while working on the script and who they asked on-the-spot if she’d like to be in their movie.

Altman admitted that he knew this violent scene, which had not been in the book, would upset some fans, but he felt it was important to bring the viewer back to the reality that these were violent characters at heart. This could also be seen as a foreshadowing to the surprise ending when Marlowe finds Lennox still alive in Mexico and then unexpectedly shoots him. In the novel Marlowe allows Lennox to walk away unharmed, but Altman liked the violent twist.

Personally I was ambivalent with the ending here and might actually have preferred the way it was done in the book. My main issue though with it is that Eileen spots Marlowe leaving the place where Lennox was just shot and since she was in a relationship with Lennox and also had strong criminal connections I’d think she’d end up, one way or another, going after Marlowe once she realized he had killed her lover causing the ending to leave open too many potentially interesting tangents that should’ve been followed through on.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

High Anxiety (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s afraid of heights.

Dr. Richard Thorndyke (Mel Brooks) is hired as the new resident psychiatrist at the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very, Nervous where he is to replace another Dr. who died under suspicious circumstances. While there he becomes aware of many odd things occurring making him believe that the people running the hospital, Dr. Charles Montague (Harvey Korman) and Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman), have a scheme going on where they take in rich patients and pretend their conditions are worse than they really are, so that they can keep the patients hospitalized for indefinite periods and thus bilk the patient’s rich families for large sums of money. Richard, together with Victoria (Madeline Kahn) who is the daughter of another patient that is being held there against his will, become determined to expose the scheme, but his adversaries use nefarious tactics to try and stop him by taking advantage of his extreme fear of heights.

Per an interview that Mel Brooks gave with NPR in 2013 he revealed that he wrote a letter to Hitchcock in 1976 telling him that he wanted to do a parody of his movies and was interested in getting his feedback. Hitch wrote back saying that they should get together in his office to go over ideas. In fact it was Hitch’s suggestion to have the scene involving the birds pooping on Brooks. When the film was completed he got his own private screening and afterwards he sent Brooks a case of expensive French wine with the note: “A small token of my pleasure, have no anxiety about this.”

Two of my favorite moments include a Psycho parody where a bellhop (played by a young and soon-to-be famous director in his own right, Barry Levinson) who stabs Brooks with a newspaper while he’s in the shower. The afore mentioned Birds parody is good too with the bird droppings made up of mayonnaise and chopped spinach, but because a helicopter was used during the segment it scared a lot of the pigeons causing real bird do-do to get mixed in with the fake stuff.

I enjoyed the bits involving a parody of the ‘gliding camera’ a technique used in many films where a camera shot begins on the outside of a building, but then somehow ‘glides through’ a wall and goes inside a place without any barrier. Here the camera shatters the glass as it tries to ‘glide through’ the window of the hospital, but Brooks almost ruins the moment by having the characters react by looking up to where the noise occurred, but then going back to their conversation, which makes no sense. If a camera operator has just crashed through a window, most people would get up from their seats and inspect the damage, which would’ve overplayed the joke, so they should’ve just had the characters not respond to the crashing noise at all. This same issue occurs at the end where the camera operators are heard talking just before they crash through a wall, but the scene would’ve played better without the banter.

The plot, as thin and goofy as it is, has some interesting moments. I especially enjoyed the segments done inside the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco and the way it takes advantage of the glass elevators there. The scene involving actor Ron Carey blowing up a picture that he took there in order to solve a crime is cool because it goes back to the old way of developing film, which will be a good education for today’s younger viewers who are more used to digital.

The performances are first-rate with Brooks in an uncharacteristic straight part though he still gets in a few zany moments including a segment where he’s a baby who falls from his high-chair. Leachman though steals it in a brilliant send-up of Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In fact it’s her contorted face with no make-up and a faint mustache that leaves a lasting impression. She has stated that she disliked doing the role, but it’s so hilarious that I wished her part had been given a wider storyline.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mel Brooks

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Smokey and the Bandit II (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Elephant in a truck.

Truck driver Cledus (Jerry Reed) becomes enticed by an offer brought to him by Big and Little Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick, Paul Williams) to haul some secret cargo from Florida to Dallas for $200,000, which later gets upped to $400,000. Cledus readily accepts, but finds that Bandit (Burt Reynolds) is in no shape to make the run as he is holed-up in a seedy hotel and drunk over his break-up to Carrie (Sally Field). Cledus solves this issue by getting the two back together and then getting Bandit back in shape. Yet when they finally get to where the cargo is stored they realize it’s an elephant that is pregnant and transporting her to another state becomes a logistical nightmare especially with Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) on their tail the whole way.

To some degree I’ll give this film credit because unlike most other sequels it doesn’t try to replicate the formula of the first. There’s definite attempts to instill different ideas into the plot that were not in the first one, which is commendable as so many other sequels come-off like just a vapid redo of what we’ve already seen. Unfortunately it goes too far with it becoming too campy and surreal for its own good.

Hauling the elephant in a truck through 4-states is particularly problematic as no mention is made about what the animal will eat on the way there. This is a big creature that will most assuredly need a lot of food and yet it’s never brought up nor anything shown about getting the elephant water while it’s stuck in the hot truck for many hours, or the massive mess it would most likely make inside the truck when it has to poop and pee.

Reynolds is the best thing about it as he keeps each scene he’s in engaging in an almost effortless way. The opening bit of him drunk in a hotel is quite amusing as is his confrontation with an unappreciative fan that comes about later on at a gas station.

Field’s presence though isn’t as interesting and she has stated in a 2016 interview that she considers this to be the worst movie that she’s ever done. I don’t mind having a sensible character present during all the absurdity, but why would she want to marry Junior (Mike Henry) the son of Sheriff Justice. It’s one thing to be slightly dim-witted, but Junior is so clueless it’s like he should be institutionalized, so why would this otherwise sensible woman want to get into a relationship with him especially if it meant dealing with a cantankerous father-in-law? It’s stupid logic like this that really kills the enjoyment of the movie quickly.

Gleason is certainly good for some laughs especially his running commentary about everything that he comes into contact with. That fact that he constantly has a cigarette in his hand even while driving I found funny too, but having a Sheriff chase around the Bandit far outside his jurisdiction gets a bit ridiculous. The scriptwriters should’ve had him become a part of the highway patrol if he was going to do that, but they don’t. His car wrecks become too cartoonish as well. Where is he finding all of these brand new police cars to drive in while the other ones get completed totaled including having one submerged with water when it falls into a river?

The film’s biggest transgression though it that there isn’t enough car chases, which is the sole reason audiences came to see this movie. There is one at the very end, but it’s done in an enclosed area and features hundreds of police cars playing a game of chicken with hundreds of trucks, which is too over-the-top and silly. The only other car chase occurs in the middle part and features Sheriff Justice chasing Bandit underneath a an old roller coaster, which by using footage of the destruction of the Greyhound Coaster being torn down in Atlanta, Georgia, they inadvertently destroy.

There’s a plethora of famous faces showing up in bit parts including Terry Bradshaw with a full head of hair, the stuttering Mel Tillis, and country music legend Brenda Lee. You can even spot Chuck Yeager the man who broke the sound barrier who is seen at a party, but with no speaking lines. However, non of these cameos are interesting or make watching this film worth it.  Even the blooper reel that gets shown over the closing credits, which became a staple of Hal Needham movies, is flat and dull.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube

Death in Venice (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man obsesses over boy.

Based on the Thomas Mann novel of the same name, the story centers around Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde) a composer in the decline of his career and suffering from ill health. To recuperate he travels to the Grand Hotel des Bains in Venice, Italy, but finds his relaxation cut short when he becomes infatuated with Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen) a 15-year-old Polish boy who’s staying with his family. Gustav can’t seem to keep his eyes or mind off of him, but never physically approaches the teen or makes any attempt to communicate with him. While his fixation grows so does the cholera epidemic that is gripping the city, which may end up taking both of their lives.

Like with most of director Luchino Visconti’s films the pace may be too slow for some viewers, but I found it to be fascinating right from the get-go. One of the aspects that really stood out is Visconti’s ability to recreate a period atmosphere. Nothing seems stilted or rehearsed. Visconti wisely pulls the camera back and allows things to happen naturally. The people in the background don’t seem like film extras at all, but real people going about there lives that Bogarde just happens to be in. It’s also really cool that it was shot at the Grand Hotel des Bains where author Mann stayed in 1911 when the real incident that the story is based on occurred.

I liked too that Gustav does not play-out is mental fantasies and remains at a comfortable distance from the boy at all times. Too many other movies give off this impression that everyone who obsesses over somebody else immediately goes after the person they’re attracted to when in reality many don’t. For some they realize things would never work out with whoever they’re attracted to as well as the legal ramifications, or because of the fear of rejection they prefer to keep it at a fantasy level. While they may still figuratively stalk the person, or observe them intently, it never goes beyond this point. In fact the ones that do aggressively go after their target are more the exception than the rule although in the movie world you’d think the opposite was true, so it’s nice to have at least one film that takes this topic in a different direction.

The fact that its based on a true story that Mann eventually fictionalized in his novel makes it all the more interesting. According to Mann’s wife Katia in a 1974 memoir she describes how her husband kept staring at a young boy he saw at the hotel whom she described at being 13 and was portrayed in the movie as being 15, but in reality was only 11. She stated that he kept gazing at the boy the whole time and always thought about him during their vacation.

The actual source of Mann’s attraction was later discovered to be Baron Wladyslaw Moes who was on vacation with his three sisters and had no idea that he was being observed. In fact Moes only became aware that he’d been the inspiration for the book when he saw the film upon its released in 1971. The biggest irony is that Moes looked nothing like the Tadzio character in the movie as evidenced by the below photo of him (blue circle) taken in 1911 the same year as when Mann spotted him.

The biggest issue that I had was seeing Tadzio making eye contact with Gustav like he’s aware that he’s being watched. Initially when I saw this in the theaters many years ago I took this eye contact thing to being a point-of-view fantasy of Gustav, but upon second viewing it seems the intention was different. Personally I don’t like this idea because at the age of 15 I don’t believe the teen would’ve been able to handle this behavior from an older man and would’ve either confronted him about it, or told someone else. Maybe if Tadzio had been older, like in his 20’s, and use to being seen as an object then maybe, but since he was so young this would’ve been all new to him and thus making him very uncomfortable very quickly and causing him to ultimately unravel.

Andresen’s performance is rather poor to boot. There were other good looking young actors who could’ve easily played the part in a more interesting way, but apparently Visconti was looking for a very specific type of look, but Andresen  appears uncomfortable throughout and has stated in interviews that his experience on the set was not a happy one. Bogarde in turn does quite well as he’s able to create a riveting performance despite having very little dialogue.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 5, 1971

Runtime: 2 Hours 10 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Luchino Visconti

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Xanadu (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Artist falls for muse.

Sonny (Michael Beck) is a struggling artist finding it impossible to make a living on his own forcing him to go back to working for Airflow records where his creative aspirations are squelched by business demands. He then starts bumping into Kira (Olivia Newton-John) and begins falling for her hard unaware that she isn’t human but instead a muse sent from another galaxy to help achieve his true artistic vision. She sets it up where he meets Danny (Gene Kelly) a former big band musician. Together he and Sonny work out a plan to turn an old empty building into a live music venue.

One of the bigger problems of this flamboyant concoction is that it doesn’t seem like hardly a movie at all as the story is threadbare and features a lot of banal dialogue and sterile characterizations between the musical numbers. The chief reason for this, at least according to Olivia on the DVD commentary, is that the script was written on the fly as the filming took place almost like something a bunch of amateurs would do. There is a rumor though that producer Joel Silver early on did lock one of the writers into a room for a couple of days and refusing to let him out until he ‘delivered’ a ‘great script’, which if that were the case then the writer should still be stuck there because that great script clearly never came about.

Fans of the movie will admit that the acting and plot are poor, but insist that the songs and set pieces make up for it, but it really doesn’t. A few of them were okay like the battle of the bands segment where at one end of the warehouse a 40’s band plays while at the end there’s a hard rock 80’s band only to eventually have them both merge. Overall though I found a lot the musical numbers to be surprisingly bland and uninspired with the best ones, which include Kelly dancing alongside Olivia and an animated segment, all getting added in after the primary filming had already completed.

Olivia is quite beautiful and I love her effervescent smile, but she’s no leading lady. Her singing is excellent, but has an actress her talent seems limited to playing only perky characters, so while this film was meant to jettison her career it instead only stifled it. Kelly, whose last film role this was, is engaging in support even though he pretty much just spends most of the time smiling and not much else.

The real surprise is seeing Beck. He had just come off his strong portrayal of Swan in the mega cult hit The Warriors and was at that point a hot commodity poised to be a Hollywood leading man for years to come, but instead pissed it all away by choosing this stinker as his follow-up. Since this thing bombed badly at the box office the subsequent offers he got were of the TV-movie and low budget variety.  I’m just not sure what he was thinking. It couldn’t have been the script that attracted him since there really wasn’t any. I can only presume he thought with Olivia on board and with the success she had with Grease that this would be a big hit like that one, so he took a calculate gamble and jumped-in, but it was clearly a big mistake.

The great actor Jack Lemmon once said only take movie roles if you’ve read the script and like it never just because you think it will be a hit because you’ll usually be proven wrong and I guess Beck had to learn that the hard way. He now makes a living solely by attending fan conventions where he signs autographs, but he never talks or promotes his appearance here just his work on The Warriors. I can only presume he’s embarrassed by it and he should be. It’s one thing to be in a lousy movie, but still give a strong performance, but his acting here is just as bad as the film and was enough to get him nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award as worst actor of 1980 though he ended up losing out to Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer. 

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Greenwald

Studio: Universal

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

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Messiah in the desert.

Based on the rock opera of the same name by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice, the story centers on the last days of Christ (Ted Neeley) and his interactions with one of his disciples named Judas (Carl Anderson).  Judas does not agree with the direction that Jesus is taking the group and the two share a falling out. The next day in Jerusalem Judas visits the Priests (Bob Bingham, Kurt Yaghjian), who have already made the decision that Jesus must die for the sake of the nation. Using money to bribe him they get Judas to reveal where Jesus will be staying. Then on the next night Judas arrives with guards who arrest Jesus where he’s then taken to the Priests home and sentenced to death.

This film is very similar to Godspell, which came out the same year and was also based off of a Broadway musical. In my opinion they should’ve combined the two into one as there’s not that much of a difference between them. Probably the biggest contrast is that one was filmed in New York City while this one was shot on-location in Beit Guvrin National Park in Israel.  While the extreme heat of the desert forced the cast to take breaks from filming every 20 minutes to hydrate it’s a definite plus cinematically since this was the location where the biblical stories took place and because few people from the US have ever been there, so the landscape holds a distinctive appeal.  Director Norman Jewison takes full advantage of the unique caves that were dug there centuries ago to create many interesting shots.

The cast of characters show a little more distinction and aren’t all dressed like free-spirited vagabonds from the early 70’s like in Godspell although they still act like hippies. Jesus in this film looks more like the accepted artist’s rendition of him as opposed to a clown, but he gets seriously overshadowed by Anderson’s flamboyant performance as Judas to the point that the whole movie would’ve been better served, and more interesting, had he been made the main character.

I enjoyed Yvonne Elliman’s ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’, which later became a chart topper, and ‘King Herod’s Song’, which gets performed with campy gusto by Josh Mostel. The film though makes the same mistake as the other one in that there’s no dialogue in-between songs it just goes from one musical number to the next, which gives it a dizzying quality. If you’re really into musicals, or its spiritual message, then you may enjoy it, but anyone looking for conventional type of storytelling will be put off from the very beginning.

I didn’t get why all the anachronisms that get thrown-in either. It starts out with everyone arriving to the scene on a bus like they’re present-day performance artists putting on a show, but then shifts into them becoming the parts that they’re playing until you can’t tell the difference. Several scenes feature army tanks and even airplanes, which were never a part of the actual time period, so why have them? If this was all done to make it ‘hip’ for modern audiences then it doesn’t work and for many will come-off as ridiculously kitschy, which it is.

The one thing it does do well (since I presume everyone, believer or non, knows the story I feel I don’t need to put a ‘Spoiler Alert’ on this one) is the crucifixion, which gets played-out in a far more intense way than in Godspell where he died on an electrical fence that lasted for less than a minute. Here it gets dark and genuinely disturbing and during the ’39 Lashes’ moment forced Neeley’s mother, who had attended the film’s world premiere, to walk out of the theater as she found it too intense.

From my vantage point it’s well produced, but shallow though Jewison did show the film to Pope Paul VI who proudly proclaimed “I believe it will bring more people around the world to Christianity than anything ever has before.” However, it was not without it’s share of controversy including from religious groups who accused it of being both blasphemous and anti-Semitic. Jewison even admitted, in response to the criticisms, that it was never meant to be anything authentic or deeply theological.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Jewison

Studio: Universal

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

Cops and Robbers (1973)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cops become the robbers.

Tom (Cliff Gorman) and Joe (Joseph Bologna) are two New York City policemen who are tired of their jobs and want to retire from the working world, but can’t because they need to support their families. They decide the only solution is to commit a heist by working with a local mob boss (John P. Ryan) to rob a Wall Street brokerage firm out of  bonds that cannot be traced. The two come up with an elaborate scheme  to pull it off during the day while the place is still open and they’re still in uniform. At first things go smoothly, but then two other cops show up forcing Tom and Joe to destroy the bonds they’ve just gotten their hands onto in order to avoid getting caught. While this helps them out of their immediate jam it still gets reported to the press that the place was robbed making the crime boss believe he has been taken advantage of and compelled to get revenge.

What stands out is how different this is from the conventional cop flick. Instead of having a loud, pounding score the music here is soft and tranquil like the breezy, warm climate of a tropical island, which is where both Tom and Joe wish they were. The cops aren’t portrayed as being authority figures either or compromised victims of a corrupt system, but just regular suburbanites trapped in a dead-end job like many people and looking for a way out.

The crime is done differently too. Usually, in most other cop flicks, once the robbery gets going you’ll see the pace speed up with fast edits, but here it gets played-out in real time, which actually makes it more intense. I enjoyed the camera cutting back and forth from showing things from Tom and Joe’s point-of-view as well as from the black-and-white monitor seen by the security guards. The authentic office atmosphere has many of the employees not even knowing a robbery is going on while the two main people who do realize what Tom and Joe are up to, well played by the elderly Shepperd Strudwick and a much younger African American actress named Ellen Holly, display odd reactions and facial expressions that doesn’t conform to the situation, but eventually gets explained by the big twist that comes later.

Gorman gives an awesome performance, which is made all the more impressive when you realize just 4 years earlier he was the highly effeminate gay character in The Boys in the Band, but here he’s a macho heterosexual. I kept waiting for him to reveal mannerisms of his past role, but instead he successfully pulls off being two diametrically different people with no connection to the other a feat not every actor, even some of the good ones, are able to do.

Bologna goes against type too. Usually he’s loud and brash, but here more quiet and nervous. In the Kino Lorber DVD bonus section he recounts a funny incident that happened to him during the production when he was forced to make a call home to his wife (actress Renee Taylor) in real-life. Since there were no such things as cellphones at the time he had to go to a nearby phone booth while still wearing the cop uniform of his character. It was there that he noticed a thug beating up a victim on the sidewalk and he shouted at the man to stop it. Since the man presumed Bologna was a cop it was enough to get him to run away, but then the other pedestrians started to harass Bologna for not chasing after the bad guy and arresting him. He tried to explain that he was just playing a policemen in a movie, but no one believed him.

The film’s final segment, which takes place in Central Park, is well choreographed and features a unique car chase.  It’s just a shame that Aram Avakian who burst onto the film scene with the provocative, ahead-of-its-time cult favorite End of the Roaddidn’t go on to direct more movies as he did only one more, 11 Harrowhouse, after this one before retiring to become the head of the film department at the State University of New York where he worked until his death in 1987. His approach here makes all the difference as he relies not on the typical cop formula action, but instead on the nuance.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Aram Avakian

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

Garbo Talks (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: A dying mother’s wish.

Gilbert Rolfe (Ron Silver) is a grown man trying to hold down a full-time job, maintaining a marriage with Lisa (Carrie Fisher), and also keeping his social activist mother Estelle (Anne Bancroft) out of trouble. He soon learns though that his mother is dying of a brain tumor and her last wish is being able to meet Greta Garbo, the elusive movie star, in person. Gilbert doesn’t know how he’ll be able to find her, but spends most of his time diligently trying, which causes problems with both his job and marriage.

For the first hour the concept of trying to mix-in fable-like storyline with the bleak realities of day-to-day living actually works. Silver deserves top credit for making what could’ve been a very bland part as a schmuck that wasn’t too interesting or funny into an engaging character that the viewer feels more and more empathetic towards as the movie progresses. The sub-storyline though dealing with the breakup of his marriage and his subsequent relationship with his co-worker Catherine Hicks, who came across as being too kooky to be believable, I didn’t find necessary.

Bancroft gives a compelling performance as well and is particularly funny in the scene where she lectures a group of male construction workers in regards to the catcalls they give to the women walking past them. I found it disappointing though that the side-story dealing with her motivating one of the nurses, played by Antonia Rey, to demand that her union give them a higher pay rate at their next bargaining session was never played-out to its full conclusion. Having her ex-husband, played by Steven Hill, arrive at the hospital for a visit, but then not hearing them get into any type of conversation I found frustrating as well. There’s also a discussion that she has with Gilbert about how the cancer treatment will cause her hair to full out, but then that never happens, so why bring up something if it doesn’t ultimately connect with the plot?

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest downfall though occurs at the end when a half-hearted attempt to use a double, played by Betty Comden, in place of the real Garbo. Apparently some efforts where made by the producers to see if Garbo would be willing to make a cameo appearance, but they were never able to make direct contact with her, so if a multi-million dollar film studio can’t adequately locate her how is some ordinary schmuck going to do it?

The way Gilbert is finally able to meet her, which ends up being at an outdoor flea market no less, is rather cheesy. He’s also only able to ‘recognize’ her from the back of her head, which is all the viewer pretty much ever gets to see too, so how would anyone know that was the right person just from that? The excuse he gives her to get her to come along with him to the hospital to see his dying mother would’ve been considered by most people in the same situation as just an excuse from a stalking fan to get her into his car, so he could kidnap her . Many celebrities must deal with obsessive fans all the time so how could anyone blame her for flatly turning him down, which is what she should’ve done and most likely would’ve occurred in reality.

Once Garbo does arrive at the hospital it’s Bancroft that does all of the talking making Garbo seem like a transparent ghost and not a real person. The film would’ve worked better had Gilbert given up on his attempts to find her and just hired an actress to pretend to be her, just like the movie itself ended up doing. This might not have satisfied everybody, but it at least it would’ve avoided becoming as hokey as it does.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video