Tag Archives: Review

I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daughter reunited with father.

Libby Tucker (Dinah Manoff) is a 19-year-old who decides one day she wants to go off to Hollywood to be an actress. While still living in New York she manages to take a bus to Denver and then hitch-hikes the rest of the way. Libby’s father, Herb (Walter Matthau) is a successful screenwriter living in Hollywood and she hopes to use his connections to get her big break, but unbeknownst to her Herb is at a low point in his career. He hasn’t been able to churn out any scripts lately and avoids making pitches to producers altogether. He lives in a ramshackle place with his on-again-off-again girlfriend Steffy (Annn-Margaret), but overall he’s lost his confidence and can’t seem to find it. He also hasn’t seen Libby in 16 years after he left her mother when she was only 3 years old. Libby realizes their first meeting will be awkward especially since he doesn’t even know she’s coming, but she hopes to make a bond with him as she feels it’s the one thing emotionally that’s missing in her life.

The film is based on the Broadway play of the same name written by Neil Simon that first premiered in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theater with Tony Curtis playing Herb, Joyce Van Patten as Steffy and Manhoff in the role of Libby. While the play received so-so reviews the feedback for the film was overall negative with Siskel and Ebert even selecting it as one of the worst movies of 1982.

One of the biggest problems is Libby who seems too naive for her age. Being a 6-year-old with wide-eyed dreams of becoming a movie star is one thing, but Libby is 19, a legal adult, with absolutely no experience in acting, a thick Brooklyn accent, and less than stellar looks and yet somehow expects to make it big almost overnight. Dreamers are okay, but they still have to have at least one foot in reality and this gal acts like she’s from a different planet. She also uses a flash camera and tries to take pictures into the dark night through the window of her bus, which any halfwit will tell you won’t turn out, and yet she’s gleefully unaware of this making it seem like she just popped out of the womb yesterday and lacking not even a smidgen of common sense.

Herb is another problem. He literally abandoned the family over a decade ago and has made no attempt to communicate with the kids since then. Most adult children who’ve been through that have no interest in meeting the absentee parent who was never around. If they do it’s only to learn a little about them, but not necessarily expecting them to be a part of their lives, or to have an emotional bonding and yet Libby does expect this, which again just makes her too goofy to be believable.

I was confused why Herb would even want Libby back in his life. This was a man who presumably could’ve cared less what she was doing for the past 16 years and yet now after she moves-in he becomes a nervous parent worrying when she stays out too late, but if he didn’t worry about her staying out late before when she was in New York then why now? I’d think if a father hasn’t seen his children in that long a time then they just don’t care and don’t want to be bothered. In reality this ‘reunion’, where only one member wants it to happen, should’ve been a far colder experience. Having the dad then turn his bachelor life upside down to accommodate her seemed forced and didn’t help to explain why Herb behaved the way he did for the past decade and a half, if at heart, he really was just a caring, swell guy.

Ann-Margaret is good playing the one character that seemed half-way relatable and helps balance things, but she’s not in it enough. The script has Simon’s sharp dialogue, which helps, but the plot is built on such a superficial foundation, and written by someone who clearly never experienced child abandonment himself nor cared to do any research on it and was simply using it as an excuse to create cheap, sentimental drama, that it’s hard to take seriously, or find compelling in any meaningful way.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 26 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Peter Sellers’ last movie.

Fu Manchu (Peter Sellers) is a 168-year-old man, who on his birthday must drink a elixir vitae in order to remain youthful and alive. When one of his servants (Burt Kwouk) brings in the formula his shirt sleeve catches fire from all of Fu’s birthday candles and it causes the servant to use the elixir to put the flames on his sleeve out. This forces Fu to have his henchmen go on a international crime spree to find the necessary ingredients to create a new youthful formula for him to drink. After one of Fu’s men steals a diamond in an exhibit it catches the attention of Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Roger Avery (David Tomlinson) who then calls in two F.B.I. agents (Sid Caesar, Steve Franken) to help him on the case. They also visit the aging Nyland Smith (Peter Sellers) who is a former adversary to Fu and knows his traits well, but Nyland has become senile and eccentric. They also use the services of Alice (Helen Mirren) an undercover police detective who masquerades as the Queen, which they feel Fu’s men will try to kidnap, but when Alice gets kidnapped she falls-in-love with Fu and agrees to help him in his crimes.

This marked Peter Sellers last film and for all purposes it may well be the worst one he was in. He was just coming off high praise for his performance in the critically acclaimed Being There, but instead of using his career resurgence to find more highbrow fare he instead reverted back to his old ways of campy comedy. During the early 70’s, when he was in a lot of duds, his excuse was that he was doing it only for the money, but in this case I’m not sure of his reasoning. In any event it’s a train wreck from the first frame to the last.

Initially he was going to team-up with director Richard Quine as the two had worked together two years earlier in The Prisoner of Zenda, but they had a falling-out before production even began. Piers Haggard was then brought in to take Quine’s place, but he became horrified to learn that Sellers had taken it upon himself to rewrite the script turning it from a plot driven story into a cheap gag-a-minute stuff that didn’t seem to go anywhere. Haggard, despite Sellers objections, tried to turn the screenplay back to what it was, or at least in Haggard’s words, ‘give it something that resembled a beginning-middle-and-end’, but his attempts were futile and the whole thing becomes one, long misguided farce that goes nowhere and lacks any interesting elements.

A lot of the humor is lame and includes Nyland having falling-in-love with his lawn mower, which he takes with him everywhere even when he’s inside people’s homes. One segment has him ‘mowing’ the carpet of the inspector’s office, which is kind of funny, but then it cuts to a long shot where we see no damage to the carpet, so what’s the point of doing the gag if there’s no visual payoff? The bit where Nyland turns his country home into a flying machine had potential, but the abysmal special effects ruin it.

Helen Mirren almost saves it with her excellent performance and I enjoyed David Tomlinson in his last film, who shows more energy than the rest of the cast. Sellers though seems tired and worn-out and his acting lacks the required energy. In some ways he looks quite healthy here including showing a nice tan when he’s in the Nyland role, but this actually hurts the characterization as Nyland is supposed to be old and elderly, but despite his gray hair he really doesn’t look it. Peter’s two good moments comes when he’s in the Fu role and breathing heavily as he watches Helen strip, the bit at the end where he becomes a rock star is impressive and he seems to be singing in a completely different voice. If it was dubbed then it takes away from it, but if he was using his real voice then he deserves credit as it certainly didn’t sound like any of the other accents he had ever used in his career.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Piers Haggard (Peter Sellers uncredited)

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Coma (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who’s killing the patients?

Susan Wheeler (Genevieve Bujold) is a Dr. working as a surgeon at Boston Memorial Hospital, who learns that her best friend Nancy (Lois Chiles) fell into a coma at the hospital while having routine surgery. Susan is convinced that there must be an answer to what went wrong as Nancy was young and had no underlying health conditions. While reviewing the hospital records she finds that a high number of other patients at the hospital ended up having the same fate and all were of a similar age and body type as Nancy. Susan also notices that the patients had surgery in the same operating room and once they became comatose their bodies where shipped off to a remote facility known as The Jefferson Institute.  Susan’s boyfriend Mark (Michael Douglas), who also works at the hospital, tries to convince her it’s all a coincidence, but the more Susan investigates the more determined she is to uncover the truth even if it means putting her job and even her life on the line.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Robin Cook. Cook, a physician, decided to dabble in writing on his off-hours and in 1973 got his first novel, ‘The Year of the Intern’, published but it was a financial failure. While that book had been more of a drama he came to realize that thrillers was the genre that had the most commercial success. He studied how, in his words, ‘the reader was manipulated by the writer’, in the thriller novels that he had enjoyed and then listed these techniques on index cards and made sure to use them in ‘Coma’, which lead to that book being a best-seller. Michael Crichton, who had met Cook while he was working on a post doctorate at La Jolla’s Salk Institute, agreed to sign on as the director where he hoped to create a film that would delve into people’s fear of hospitals the way Jaws had connected to people’s phobias about sharks and swimming.

The result is a nice compact thriller that moves along at a brisk pace and takes advantage of both the director’s and author’s medical background to help keep the scenario both realistic and enlightening to the inner-workings of a hospital. There’s a couple of cool foot chase scenes with one occurring between Bujold and actor Lance LeGault inside the hospital while another happens at the ominous looking Jefferson Institute with both being quite intense.

Bujold, despite being different than the protagonist in the novel, who was described as blonde and 23 while Bujold is brunette and 35 at the time of filming, was still a perfect casting choice. I loved her French Canadian accent, which gives her character distinction, but she does appear at times to have reddish nose and cheeks making her seem like she had a rash or cold. What I didn’t like was that the feminist angle of the character, which had been so prominent in the novel, gets played-down here. In the book Susan did not know Nancy and simply took on the case through her own personal initiative to prove herself in an otherwise ‘man’s world’, which was more compelling than the pedestrian way here where she investigates the case simply because she’s heartbroken over the loss of a friend.

It also didn’t make sense to me why she was the only one upset over the deaths of these patients. The patients most likely had family and friends, so why weren’t any of them demanding answers to what happened? We live in a sue-happy culture and medical malpractices are the most prevalent lawsuits out there making me believe this racket wouldn’t have been able to survive too long as lawyers and private investigators, who would’ve been hired by the grieved family members, would’ve been on the case demanding answers from the hospital long before Susan ever even got involved.

The Susan character has the same issues as James Coburn’s did in The Carey Treatment where we have a medical professional with no background in investigating suddenly showing amazing instinct on-the-spot that you’d only expect from a seasoned detective. Having a group of people, like the grieved relatives, working together to solve the case would’ve had more interesting banter and camaraderie, which is missing here. While seeing an individual take down a mighty criminal system is emotionally gratifying it usually takes a strong team of people working in tandem to accomplish that.

Spoiler Alert!

I did find the film’s climax where Susan goes under the knife and risks being another comatose victim, to be quite suspenseful, but I found it strange why this woman, who had done all the legwork to uncover the crime, would then just hand-it-over to the creepy hospital administrator, played by Richard Widmark, to finish the job instead of her going to the police with her findings. The Widmark character displayed a lot of red flags from the start, which is obvious to the viewer, so why is Susan, who had been so super savvy the rest of the time, so dumb at the end and trust a creep like him to do the right thing?

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 6, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: MGM

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

Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Prostitute on the weekend.

Jenny (Wendy Hughes) is an elementary catholic school teacher during the week, but on weekends she’s a prostitute riding a train that travels across the Australian countryside. She picks up lonely men that she meets at the train’s bar and takes them to her cabin for sex, but makes sure they’ve left by 3 AM. While she’s friendly and conversational with them during the night by the next day she virtually ignores them. She does this to help pay for her handicapped brother’s needs and for many years she’s able to juggle these dual lifestyles without much of a hitch. Then she meets a suave businessman (Colin Fields) who gets her involved in an assassination plot that not only disrupts her routine, but sends her precariously close to losing her freedoms.

Director Bob Ellis said the idea for the film was inspired by a long train ride that he took with actor Denny Lawrence and the two wrote the script during the duration of their trip. In order to get the needed funding it was contingent that Wendy Hughes be cast in the lead, which Ellis felt was wrong for the part, but eventually agreed to simply to get the film made. Ultimately though he and the film’s producer, Ross Dimsey, had a different vision for the story and Dimsey greatly trimmed the final cut turning what Ellis felt was one of the best scripts he had ever written into something he would later disown. The full director’s cut had been stored at his residence and he was hoping to eventually release it to the public, but it got destroyed during a house fire.

The version definitely has issues with the biggest one being the slow, plodding pace. I was also disappointed that it starts with Jenny already a seasoned hooker as I would’ve been more interested in seeing how she came up with the idea and seen the awkward moments she most assuredly would’ve gone through when she first jumped in and did it. The fact that she had no ‘Plan-B’ for the potential times when a male client might get aggressive, or not promptly leave at the agreed to time, was a weak point for me. There’s one scene where one of her johns follows her out of the train and won’t leave her alone, but she calls out to a nearby security officer to get him away from her, but if she’s a seasoned sex worker she should have another line of self-defense to use, like a gun or something, to take out if things got out-of-control and no one else was around to help her and the fact that she doesn’t have this makes it seem like she’s not as streetwise as we’re supposed to believe.

Having Jenny suddenly let down her guard and fall for one of her johns (Colin Friels) didn’t make much sense either. After years of being defensive around her clients why now get all emotional about this one who comes-off just as sleazy and aggressive and just as potentially dangerous? The assassination subplot doesn’t get introduced until 60-minutes in and the way she’s able to off the target by simply scratching the guy lightly on his back with a fingernail dipped in poison seemed much too easy.

I did like the juxtaposition of a catholic school teacher being a prostitute, but the film doesn’t explore this contradiction enough. You’d think after having done this for a long time her superiors might catch-on, or have it filter back to them, which could’ve created more conflict and added tension to a story that for the most part is too leisurely paced to hold one’s sustained attention.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 10, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Ellis

Studio: Filmpac Distribution

Available: dvdlady.com

The Great Santini (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Warrior without a war.

Bull Meachum (Robert Duvall) is a Lieutenant Colonel pilot in the marines, who enjoys much camaraderie and respect amongst his colleagues, who affectionately call him ‘The Great Santini’.  However, his home-life is a different story as Bull treats his family the same way he does those under him in the service. His wife Lil (Blythe Danner) has learned to adjust to it, but his oldest son Ben (Michael O’Keefe), who is ready to turn 18, rebels and this causes much friction between the two, which eventually boils over to the rest of the children just as the family gets ready to move into a new residence in the deep south.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Pat Conroy, who in-turn based it on his real-life relationship with his strict, militant father Donald Conroy who gave himself the nickname from a magician that he had seen as a child. While the two had a rocky relationship, much like the son and father do in the movie, the film did help the two mend some fences and his father would routinely accompany his son on book signings and they were even in attendance on the set as the movie was being shot.

While the book was well received I felt that the movie came off disjointed and had a wide-array of tonal issues. The scenes with Santini in the military are quite funny, in a raucous sort of way, but when it shifts to focus on the family life it becomes more of a hackneyed drama. There’s also a long-drawn out segment dealing with a stuttering black man named Toomer (Stan Shaw) and his late-night confrontation with a white racist (played by David Keith in his film debut) that gets quite ugly and doesn’t have either Duvall or O’Keefe in the scene and seems like something for a completely different movie. Maybe in the book, which I have not read, this all came together better, but here it’s like a movie searching desperately for its center and never finding it.

Both Duvall and O’Keefe are excellent and both got nominated for the Academy Award for their efforts, but Danner as the wife is badly miscast. For one thing she looks too young for be O’Keefe’s mother and she speaks in a weird accent where it seems like she’s trying to affect a southern dialect, but it doesn’t sound authentic and wavers throughout. I also didn’t understand why her character married Santini as the two had little in common and for the most part seems to resent his bullish behavior much like the rest of the kids do. Why does she stick with him and what did she see in him to have her fall in love with him in the first place as these things just aren’t clear at all.

Lisa Jane Persky, who also makes her film debut as the oldest daughter Mary Anne, is an odd-piece of casting as well. Her performance is okay, but she certainly does not come-off like a child dominated by a supposedly abusive, controlling parent as she routinely teases and mocks Santini right to his face and at one point the teasing gets so bad it chases him away, which hurts the film’s credibility as it makes him seem far less of a tyrant and making O’Keefe’s dealings with him seem overrated. After all if a teen girl can get the old guy to run from her why can’t he do the same?

On the technical end the movie is okay and it’s fun seeing Julie Ann Haddock, best known for playing Cindy in the first season of ‘Facts of Life’ TV-Show, playing Santini’s younger daughter Karen. Unfortunately the film is too much of a mish-mash. Has some good moments here-and-there, but overall fails to deliver any type of sustained emotional impact.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lewis John Carlino

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Caddyshack II (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: A very bad sequel.

Kate (Jessica Lundy) is looking to fit-in with fashionable society by becoming friends with snooty Miffy (Chynna Phillips) whose parents (Robert Stack, Dina Merrill) run the affluent Bushwood Gold Club. Miffy tries to get Kate and Kate’s father Jack (Jackie Mason) to join the club. Kate, wanting to move-up the social ladder, convinces her father to send in an application and since Jack is financially well-off he’s quickly accepted. However, once Jack arrives his oafish personality and gaudy attire make him a turn-off to the other members. Miffy’s parents also don’t like him since he wants to build low income housing in their ritzy neighborhood. Jack is soon kicked-out of the club and told never to return, which causes Jack to buy the course and turn it into an amusement park and the only way Miffy’s family can win it back is if they challenge him to a golf game.

This is another sequel that had no business being made since the original had a perfect ending and no need for any continuation. Harold Ramis, who directed the first one and gets onscreen credit for co-writing this script, was not interested in making it, but eventually decided to dive in at the insistence of Rodney Dangerfield, who had figured prominently in the first film and wanted to take part in another one. Unfortunately Rodney became displeased with the quality of the scripts that were sent to him and eventually bowed out, which caused Ramis to leave the project as well. Bill Murray didn’t want to recreate his role and neither did Michael O’Keefe, while Ted Knight had already passed away leaving only Chevy Chase to return unless you count the gopher who figures more prominently here. Chase, who later regretted being in this, is the only funny thing about it, and seems for the most part to be ad-libbing his lines as it went along.

The biggest problem is that many of the performers add nothing to the story. This is especially true for Dyan Cannon, who at 50 looks great and would be considered these days as a ‘MILF’, but her character serves no other function other than to fall in love with Mason and appears only sporadically. Jonathan Silverman, who fills-in for the role played in the original by Michael O’Keefe, is barely seen and could’ve easily been cut-out. The normally reliable Dan Akroyd, who plays the part that Bill Murray would’ve, is wasted while speaking in a high-pitched voice that is more annoying than funny.

What I found most irritating is the presence of Robert Stack, who is stiff and pale and looking like an old guy with too much plastic surgery. Ted Knight, who played the role in the original at least had a colorful way of conveying his lines, but Stack speaks his lines like an over-rehearsed robot, which makes his presence quickly forgettable. I was also dismayed that he took over the antagonist role from Dina Merrill, as it initially seemed like she’d be the one to be Jackie Mason’s nemesis, which is a shame as a strong, powerful, yet ruthless woman going up against a putzy guy like Mason could’ve brought out some interesting dynamics that gets lost when it’s just between two aging men.

I was also confused why Randy Quaid is in this as he plays Mason’s obnoxious lawyer, but says things that Mason’s character could’ve easily said himself. I suppose in an attempt to make Mason more likable the writer’s decided to give the more edgy lines to Quaid, but the result is throwing in another character that really isn’t necessary. Apparently had Dangerfield agreed to be in it then his friend Sam Kinison would’ve played this role, who would’ve been better.

The film also fails to recreate the day-in-the-life feel of a country club, which is what had made the first one so engaging. In fact there are a lot of scenes that don’t even take place at the golf club. I also couldn’t stand how Mason renovated the place into a tacky miniature gold-like course, which seemed like a desecration and made me actually want Robert Stack to win the final match, so that he, even as much of a jerk that he and his wife were, could’ve turned the place back into a sensible looking golf course that it should’ve been.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Allan Arkush

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Hulu, Amazon Video, YouTube

Caddyshack (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blow-up the gopher.

Trying to work his way through college, Danny (Michael O’Keefe) gets a job as a caddie at an exclusive golf course. He becomes friends with Ty (Chevy Chase) who is the son of the club’s co-founder. He also begins caddying for Judge Smails (Ted Knight) in hopes to get on his good side since the Judge is also in charge of the caddie scholarship program, which Danny hopes to win in order to help pay for his education. The Judge and Danny form a hot-and-cold relationship with the Judge usually more annoyed with Danny than not though he does warm-up to him after the Judge accidentally hits an elderly woman with a golf club that he recklessly threw, but gets off-the-hook for taking the responsibility when Danny comes forward and takes the blame. The man though that really causes the Judge’s ire is Al (Rodney Dangerfield) a wealthy real-estate tycoon, who begins golfing at the club and constantly makes fun of the judge at every turn. Al considers the judge to be an uptight elitist snob, while the judge sees Al as being uncouth and lacking in social graces. The two men ultimately square off in a high stakes golf match just as the club’s dim-witted groundskeeper Carl (Bill Murray) rigs the course up with tons of dynamite in an attempt to get rid of a pesky gopher that’s been destroying the grounds.

This was another film that upon its initial release, like with The Shining and  Blade Runnerwas given a lukewarm response by the critics, but has since then become a classic by the vast portion of the movie going public. Part of the reason this one didn’t gel well with the critics is because of what was considered ‘sloppy’ comedy that had very little story and relied too heavily on gags to keep it going. The script, written by Brian Doyle-Murray, brother of Bill, and Douglas Keeney, was supposed to emphasize the caddy’s more and be a coming-of-age comedy, but the producers, much to the writer’s dismay,  decided to throw-in more colorful characters including a gopher who chews up the course and constantly avoids capture, which was an idea that co-writer Douglas Kenney really hated. The result made the story come-off as being too loosely structured and more concerned with creating comical bits than making any type of statement.

I admit when I first saw this movie over 20-some odd years ago that’s how I came away feeling too, but this time I approached it more as a day-in-the-life saga between society’s have-and-have-nots with the caddies portraying the working class while the course’s nouveau riche clientele made up the establishment. When taken in this vein the film works really well and I especially liked the way the Danny and the Judge’s relationship evolves throughout with the judge ultimately much more dependent on Danny than you might’ve originally thought possible.

Of course it’s the comedy that makes it all come together and there’s truly some side-splitting moments including the infamous Babe Ruth candy bar in the pool bit that was the one thing about the movie that I had remembered when I first saw over 2-decades ago and now upon viewing it a second time had me rolling over in laughter even more especially when you realize that it apparently is based on a real-life incident that occurred to writer Doyle-Murray while he worked at a golf club in Winnetka, Illinois. I also really enjoyed the moment where we see Bill Murray’s incredibly makeshift living quarters inside the course’s utility shed that features a reunion between he and fellow SNL alum Chevy Chase. The two had gotten into a well publicized fist-fight behind-the-scenes while working on that show a couple years before, but both managed to work together in this scene, which had been written-in at the last minute by director Harold Ramis for exactly that purpose, without a hitch.

Rodney Dangerfield’s star-making turn as the crass, but wealthy patron is a riot too and I particularly enjoyed his over-sized, multi-purpose golf bag and his nervous fidgeting especially his twitchy legs when he stands, which was all genuine and anxiety driven. Knight quite good too in a perfect caricature of a pompous jerk though he reportedly was vocally upset during the production at the excessive partying and hijinks that went on amongst the rest of the cast members, including a lot of drug use, which he felt was unprofessional. I even liked Cindy Morgan as the Judge’s niece and resident ‘hot babe’ who despite being a blonde was fortunately not portrayed in the stereotype of being dumb, but instead as savvy and observant. Followed 8 years later by a sequel, which will be reviewed next.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 25, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harold Ramis

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

The Last Detail (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Seaman escorted to prison.

Billy Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and Richard Mulhall (Otis Young) are two navy lifers assigned the task of escorting an 18 year-old seamen named Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) to prison. Meadows had been caught lifting $40 from a charity fund run by a wife of a senior officer. In return he got court-martialed and given an 8-year sentence in the brig. Buddusky and Mulhall feel the sentence is too harsh and immediately take a liking to the soft-spoken young man who despite his tall height seems harmless and mile-mannered. During the trip, which is expected to take a week, the two men decide to show Meadows a ‘good time’ by taking him on many side-trips including a whorehouse where the young virgin has sex with a prostitute (Carol Kane). As the time grows near for them to turn their prisoner over to the authorities they start to feel reluctant about doing so, but the fear of being kicked out of the navy and losing all of their pay and benefits keeps them grounded in their responsibility even as Meadows tries several times to escape.

It may seem amazing to believe now, but this film, which has won over almost universal appeal both from the critics and film viewers almost didn’t get made due to the fear from the studio that the word ‘fuck’ was spoken in it too many times. Screenwriter Robert Towne, who adapted the story from the novel of the same name by Daryl Poniscan, was pressured to take most of the uses of the profanity out of the script and in fact production was delayed while both sides had a ‘stand-off’ about it with Towne insisting that “this is the way people talk when they’re powerless to act; they bitch.” Eventually the script got green-lit with all the ‘fucks’ intact, which at the time was a record 65 of them. In retrospect I’m glad Towne held his ground as without the F-word being used, or some silly lesser profanity substituted in, would’ve given the film a dated feel when being watched by today’s standards where the word is said hundreds of times on social media and sometimes even in commercials where it’s only slightly bleeped-out. This is a problem when watching other films from the late 60’s and early 70’s where goofy slang gets thrown in to compensate for the lack of the F-word, which in turn hurts the film’s grittiness and edge, which thankfully got avoided here.

The story was a problem too as many studio execs considered it too ‘non-eventful’ to make for an interesting movie, but this is the whole reason why the movie is so special as it doesn’t try to throw in the cheap antics other Hollywood films might to make it ‘more entertaining’. The film remains low-key and fully believable throughout and may remind others, as it did me, of one’s own coming-of-age experiences when they were 18 and hanging out with others who were older and more worldly-wise. Cinematographer Michael Chapman, who appears briefly as a cab driver, insistence at using natural lighting only also helps heighten the realism.

The story takes many amusing side turns that manages to be both poignant and funny including a brawl that the three have with a group of marines inside a Grand Central Station restroom, though I did wish some of the other segments had been strung out a bit more. One is when the three men attend a group encounter, which features Gilda Radner in her film debut, to a bunch of chanting Buddhists. I felt it was weird that the men just stood in the background and didn’t assimilate with the group during the meeting and begin chanting alongside the others, which would’ve been funny. The scene inside the hotel room where Buddusky can’t get his roll-out cot to fold-out right and forcing him to sleep in a uncomfortable position should’ve been played-out more too. Are we to believe that he slept that way the whole night?

Of course it’s the acting that makes this movie so special. While I never pictured Nicholson with his over-the-top persona as being someone who would be a part of the regimented culture such as the navy I ended up loving him in it and felt this was the performance he should’ve won the Oscar for. I especially got a kick out of the way he would get all fidgety when outside in the cold, which I don’t think was acting at all as it was filmed on-location in the Northeast during the very late autumn/early winter and I believe he was really freezing as he was saying his lines.

While his character is not as flashy, Otis Young is every bit as excellent as it takes a good straight-man, which is what he essentially is, to make for a good funny man. The part was originally meant for Rupert Crouse, who unfortunately got diagnosed with cancer just as the production began forcing the producers to bring in Young as a last minute replacement, but he manages to deliver particularly in the scene on the train where he loudly castigates Buddusky for his misbehavior. Quaid is quite good too even though he goes against the physical characteristics of the character, who in the novel was described as being ‘a helpless little guy’, but director Hal Ashby, who can be seen briefly during a barroom scene, choose to cast against type by bringing in a tall, hefty fellow who looked like he could defend himself if he had to, but is just too sheltered to know how.

The ending is the one segment where I wished it had been a little more emotionally upbeat. It’s still a big improvement over the one in the book where Buddusky dies, which fortunately doesn’t happen here, but it still isn’t too memorable either. The film though overall does a good job of conveying the underlining theme of how the navy men where just as imprisoned as Meadows, at least psychologically, and unable to consider life outside of the navy box that they had spent their entire lives in and where thus locked-in more so than Meadows, whose sentence in jail would only last 8-years versus a lifetime like with Buddusky and Mulhall.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 12, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Hal Ashby

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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

The Domino Principle (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hired for secret mission.

Roy Tucker (Gene Hackman) is in prison for the murder of his wife’s first husband, but gets approached by Tagge (Richard Widmark), who works for a secret organization and who offers to get both Roy and his cellmate Spiventa (Mickey Rooney) out of jail where they can have their freedom again, but with one hitch; he must carry out a mysterious mission that they themselves don’t yet know the details to yet. Roy is suspicious of the group’s intent, but longs to see his wife Ellie (Candace Bergen), so he agrees to go along with it. After getting out of prison through an elaborate escape plan that the secret group hatches Roy is then able to travel to Costa Rica using a passport that the group made for him. It is there that he spends a relaxing week with Ellie, but then Tagge and his men (Eli Wallach, Edward Albert) return and remind him of his commitment, which turns out to being the assassination of an important political figure. Once Roy realizes this he tries to back out, but soon realizes that he jeopardizes the life of his wife, who the group insists they will kidnap an kill, if he does.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Adam Kennedy, who also wrote the screenplay and at one time was an actor before eventually turning to writing. While the novel got great reviews the movie didn’t with many critics panning it including Leonard Maltin, who described it as a ‘muddled thriller’. Both Hackman and Bergen, in later interviews, have called it ‘terrible’ and even director Stanley Kramer wrote in his memoirs that he’d like to disown it. Much of the problem could be blamed on the different runtimes with a heavily edited 88-minute cut being completely confusing, but this version that I saw, which ran a full 101 minutes, I found to be captivating, at least through the first 90-minutes.

The real problem I had stemmed around Hackman, who gives a one-dimensional performance. There is one moment where he assaults the Edward Albert character after he refuses to let him see his wife, which I felt was justified and entertaining to watch, but he remains surly too much of the time and it would’ve been nice to have seen some other emotions seep through, if even for a few random moments. Bergin is totally miscast as the middle-aged wife and even wears a brunette wig in an effort to make herself seem older. She stated in interviews that she took the part so she could play an ‘ordinary person for once’ instead of a beautiful, glamourous person like she usually did, but I didn’t understand why she was even offered the role as there were plenty of actresses more Hackman’s age that would’ve been a better fit.

Spoiler Alert!

While I did enjoy the movie for the most part especially its scenic location shooting including one scene that takes place directly underneath the Golden Gate Bridge I did find the twist ending to be extremely dumb. This includes having Roy deciding not to shoot the intended victim by intentionally aiming his shots short in order to miss his human target only to find that his former cellmate Spiventa was also hired for the same mission, but without Roy knowing, and he kills the person while shooting at him from a different angle. The problem is that the viewer thinks Spiventa is already dead as we see him get shot by the mysterious group while underneath the bridge. Why Spiventa would fake his own death, or not tell Roy that he was in on the plan since the two had been quite close, is ever explained. It also doesn’t make sense why Roy would decide at the last second to pull back his shots and not kill the person he was assigned to assassinate. Sure, for moral reasons he probably felt bad about it, but he knew that his wife would be killed if he didn’t follow through, so how he was expecting to save the life of his target while also somehow keeping his wife alive after the group finds out Roy didn’t do what he was supposed to?

The final shot shows Roy, with gun in hand, walking along a beach, apparently intent on hunting down whoever was the behind-the-scenes man from the group who was giving out all the orders, which we the viewer never see. Keeping some elements of the organization a mystery is fine, but what annoyed me is that we see a rifle pointed right at Roy as he walks the beach, but then the film ends without us ever knowing if Roy got shot first, or if he survived to kill the head of the group. Some sort of resolution in this area should’ve been shown and leaving it so wide-open is not intriguing and instead quite frustrating.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 23, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Stanley Kramer

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Shout Factory TV, Tubi, YouTube

Little Miss Marker (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid used for collateral.

Sorrowful Jones (Walter Matthau) is a no-nonsense bookie running a gambling operation during the 30’s. When one of his clients named Carter (Andrew Rubin) cannot pay back his $10 debt he puts up his 6-year-old daughter (Sara Stimson), who is simply known as ‘the Kid’, as collateral. Sorrowful tells his assistant named Regret (Bob Newhart) to look after her, but Regret does not like kids, so he drops the young girl off at Sorrowful’s doorstep one night and then promptly leaves forcing Sorrowful to begrudgingly become her surrogate father figure. Eventually the two grow fond of each other and become inseparable, as does Amanda (Julie Andrews) who’s the girlfriend to a crime boss named Blackie (Tony Curtis). Blackie does not like that Sorrowful is showing an interest in Amanda, or her in him and  proceeds to try and throw a monkey-wrench into their potential affair while also coercing Sorrowful to partner with him in a fixed horse race.

This film was the fourth remake of the story that originally came out in 1934 and starred Adolphe Menjou as Sorrowful and Shirley Temple as the Kid. In 1949 it got remade with Bob Hope playing Sorrowful and Mary Jane Saunders as the child. Then is 1962 a variation of the story was was done called 40 Pounds of Trouble that was shot on-location in Disneyland and starred Tony Curtis in the Sorrowful role, though the character name was changed to Steve, and Claire Wilcox portraying the child, whose name in the film was Penny. While I have not seen any of those versions I still came away feeling this one had to be the weakest. A lot of the problem is that the script relies too heavily on the cuteness factor of the child, who is certainly adorable, but has no discernable personality. It’s also hard to imagine that a child who has just been abandoned by her father, and had also gone through the trauma of the death of her mother, would be so well-behaved and in reality would probably be showing some serious adjustment issues.

I’m not sure why Matthau, who also produced, thought this project would be a good idea, but appearing in it did not bolster his career. Didn’t he ever hear of the old adage never share the screen with animals or cute kids as they’ll just steal away all the attention? It’s not like Stimson, whose only movie role this was and who now works as a pediatrician in Arizona,  didn’t have to do anything special for that to happen as her big blue eyes are enough to capture the heartstrings of just about any viewer. I also had a hard time understanding his character particularly the fact that he was this brash, tough talking bookie yet doesn’t carry a gun nor have any fighting skills as proven by the fistfight he attempts to have with Curtis where even though Curtis was shorter Matthau he’s is still frightened of him and constantly backing away whenever Curtis got in his face. You’d think a streetwise person would have some ability to defend himself if needed and not just slink away the second someone else, particularly one who was smaller, suddenly got aggressive.

Bob Newhart gets completely wasted in a role that’s so small and insignificant I’m surprised why he even took it. I also didn’t think this was the right movie for Julie Andrews either. Sure, she has an engaging quality, but for a woman dating a crime boss she seemed way too pure and innocent almost like she was completely oblivious to his underhanded nature. In reality the people one hangs out with will inevitably rub off on that person and a more realistic portrayal would’ve had her being a bit corrupt, which would’ve actually been more interesting as it would’ve created a two-dimensional character who was cold and conniving most of the time, but then when the kid comes along a softer side gets exposed.

In contrast both Curtis and Brian Dennehy, who plays his henchmen, are a delight and needed more screen time. It’s interesting too seeing Lee Grant appear near the end playing a judge and almost unrecognizable in a gray wig, but the story as a whole flounders chiefly because, outside of the scenes showing a fixed horserace, there’s no action at all, which makes it absurd to call this a ‘family movie’. If I, as an adult, was bored I can only imagine a kid being even more so. In fact I’d say this movie really wasn’t made for kids at all, but instead little old ladies who enjoy cutesy kids the way they like cutesy puppy dogs and want children only shown as being adorable even though kids, like with everyone else, can have their bad side, which conveniently gets left out here.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Walter Bernstein

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray