Tag Archives: Review

Lovers and Other Strangers (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Marriage: Pros and Cons.

Mike and Susan (Michael Brandon, Bonnie Bedelia), who have been living together for a year and a half, have decided to get married, but as the wedding draws near Mike begins to have second thoughts. Meanwhile Susan’s parents, Hal and Bernice ( Gig Young, Cloris Leachman) have issues of their own as Hal is having an affair with Kathy (Anne Jackson) who is Bernice’s sister. Their other daughter, Wilma (Anne Meara), who is already married, but starting to regret it since her husband (Harry Guardino) seems more interested in watching old movies on TV than having sex. Mike’s parents, Frank and Bea (Richard S. Castellano, Beatrice Arthur) also have problems as they try to convince Mike’s older brother Richie (Joseph Hindy) to stay married to Joan (Diane Keaton) even though they’ve grown incompatible. Then there’s wedding usher Jerry (Bob Dishy) who spends his time trying to ‘score’ with nervous, nebbish bridesmaid Brenda (Marian Hailey) who can’t seem to decide whether she’s into Jerry or not.

While the film, which was based on the hit Broadway play of the same name written by real-life couple Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor, who adapted it to the screen, was a major success at the box office and received high critical praise it does in retrospect come-off like just another episode of ‘Love American Style’ or even ‘The Love Boat’. There are certainly some funny lines of dialogue and interesting insights at how the younger generations view marriage differently from the older one, but besides the very brief wedding scene, we never see the cast come together and interact as a whole making the movie and characters seem more like a collection of non-related vignettes than a cohesive story. It’s also quite talky with no action to speak of, so unless you’re really into conversational comedy you may get bored.

Mike and Sue, who act as the main characters, get overshadowed by the supporting players and become almost like an after thought the more the movie progresses. The opening sequence with them in bed together and contemplating marriage, which at the time was meant for shock effect since it was still considered taboo to have sex before marriage, will be lost on today’s audiences where living together is now by far the norm. I also found it hard to believe that they’d be able to fool both sets of parents for a whole year by pretending they were rooming with same sex roommates, Sue told her parents she had a roommate named ‘Phyllis’ and Mike told his folks he lived with ‘Nick’, but after awhile I’d think the parents would get suspicious especially when they’d never meet or speak to these other roommates even after a year’s time.

The segment where Mike tells Sue he doesn’t want to get married because he still likes hitting-on other women and then proceeds to pinch the ass of some lady on the street, all while in front of Sue, won’t go over to well with today’s viewers and for that matter shouldn’t have gone over well with Sue either even though she takes it all in stride like it’s no big deal while most other wives/girlfriends would’ve been highly upset. Having Mike inform Sue that he she has ‘fat arms’ could really upset a lot of women as many can be insecure about their bodies and dwell on these types of comments for a long time and not take it so casually like Sue does here. I thought she should’ve brought it back up later, out-of-the-blue in a non-related scene with something like ‘do you really think my arm’s are fat?’, which could’ve been funny.

There’s problems with the casting too especially Anne Meara playing Cloris Leachman’s daughter even though in reality she was only three years younger than her and looked it. I was also baffled why Meara’s real-life husband and longtime comic partner Jerry Stiller, who does appear very briefly in a minor role, wasn’t cast as her husband here. Harry Guardino does a fine job in the hubby role, but Stiller and Meara had a special chemistry and that would’ve shined through with the two onscreen. I also felt that Anne Jackson and Cloris should’ve switched roles. Having the very dynamic Cloris stymied in a boring bit of a clueless housewife was a waste of her immense talents and she would’ve been better able to display the anxiety of Anne’s character in a funnier way.

Bea Arthur and Diane Keaton, who both make their film debuts here, are quite good as is Richard S. Castellano whose repeated line of “So what’s the story’ became a popular catchphrase though the numerous close-ups of his face does make his fat bottom lip too pronounced. Marian Hailey, who left the acting profession in the 80’s and became children’s book author who now goes by Marian Hailey-Moss, is excellent too and perfectly conveys the persona of a single woman who is quite intelligent and well read, but also painfully insecure and indecisive. My favorite though is Gig Young as a philandering husband who tries to make everyone happy, but ultimately fails. This was his last great performance before alcoholism killed his career and his conversation with Jackson at end as they sit in two adjoining toilet stalls in a public bathroom is the film’s funniest moment though the house that his character owns, which is supposed to nestled in the rich swanky suburbs looks like a shambles, at the least exterior, as it’s painted with a watery white color that has spots where it completely exposes the red brick underneath looking like a rundown place that has been poorly maintained, which I don’t think was the intention.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Cy Howard

Studio: Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

A Hero Ain’t Nothing but a Sandwich (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Getting hooked on heroin.

Benjie (Larry B. Scott) is an African American teen living with his single mother (Cicely Tyson), her boyfriend Butler (Paul Winfield) and her mother (Helen Martin) in a rundown area of Los Angeles. Benjie harbors a low self-esteem at being abandoned by his biological father years earlier and has not adjusted to Butler acting as his surrogate father and the two have many fights. To deal with his alienation he gets into drugs after befriending a local dealer named Tiger (Kevin Hooks). At first he dabbles in marijuana and likes the high it gives him, so he tries heroin, which eventually gets him hooked and it starts a downward spiral. His family tries to help him as best they can, but when he gets suspended from school they feel they have no other choice but to send him to a drug rehabilitation hospital where they hope he’ll recover.

While there were some critics, as evidenced by the film poster above, that did like the film there were also others at the time that labeled it as ‘preachy’ and coming off more like an after school special than a movie. Despite being based on the novel of the same name, which had been highly praised, and with a screenplay written by Alice Childress, who had also been the author of the book, I still came into it a bit leery wondering if the negative reviews had merit and I’d be spending the 2-hours bored, but I came away impressed with how captivating and sincere it overall was.

A lot of the credit goes to Scott, who although was 15 when it was filmed, but effectively looks only 13 like his character, which makes the scenes where he shoots-up all the more shocking. Winfield is also excellent playing someone who’s bitter about life due to a failed music career and reluctant to take on a fatherly role particularly when the kid lashes out at him at seemingly every turn. Glynn Turman is solid too as Benjie’s African studies teacher as well as David Groh, better know as Joe in the TV-series ‘Rhoda’, playing the only white teacher in an all-black school who feels like an outsider himself. Helen Martin though steals it as the elderly grandmother who gets violently mugged by two kids on the street at the beginning and then later on does a provocative dance for the family in remembrance to her days as a young dance hall girl.

What I did have a problem with were the scenes inside the drug rehabilitation clinic that get shown through a series of black-and-white photographs. I don’t mind directors throwing in artistic elements into the narrative, but when the film had been working as a straight forward drama for the entire first hour then it kind of needs to stay that way and suddenly changing the approach becomes distracting. I’m not sure why these hospital scenes get glossed over the way they do, but it makes the viewer feel more distant from the character and what he’s going through.

Winfield’s bonding with the kid ends-up being problematic as well. I didn’t have an issue with it at the start as I kind of liked seeing this guy, who clearly had no blueprint on parenting, being forced into a situation that he really didn’t ask for, or know how to navigate. However, he becomes a little too emotionally bonded with Benjie by the end that just didn’t seem genuine. After all this really wasn’t his biological child and he hadn’t even married the mother, so to take on all of this extra responsibility, that should’ve been the mother’s, didn’t seen realistic. Tyson needed to play a stronger role here having her stand side-by-side with Winfield as they help her son through the withdrawal process. Having her instead getting written-off as this kook who’s into voodoo and at one point strips her teenage son naked and throws him into a bathtub filled with potions that she feels will ‘cure’ him and eventually jumps into the tub with him is a definite cringe moment, particularly by today’s standards, and a low point in a movie that otherwise is adequately done most of the way.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 3, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ralph Nelson

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Tubi, Plex

Careful, He Might Hear You (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Custody battle between sisters.

When his mother dies just a few days after his birth PS (Nicholas Gledhill) moves in with his Aunt Lila (Robyn Nevin) and Uncle George (Peter Whitford). There he has a happy childhood growing up in a working-class neighborhood. Then Lila’s wealthy sister Vanessa (Wendy Hughes) arrives stating she wants custody of the child on weekdays since she has more money and because PS’s absentee father (John Hargreaves) named her as co-guardian. PS doesn’t like going to Vanessa’s as she’s much more rigid and authoritarian forcing him to go to a private school filled with snotty kids and doing other things like taking piano lessons, which he doesn’t like. Vanessa also suffers from a fear of thunderstorms while Lila and George are unemployed making it hard for the judge to decide who the better guardian should be once the battle goes to court.

The film is based on the 1963 novel of the same name written by Sumner Locke Elliot who in turn based it on events of his own life after his mother died just one day after his birth. The film succeeds mainly from the sincere performance of its child star who is quite cute, at times maybe a little too cute, but then surprises the viewer in one completely unexpected moment of nastiness near the end. I also liked the way director Carl Schultz frames of the point-of-view shots where we see things from the child’s height making the adults appear foreboding and like he’s being swallowed up into their world, which is pretty much what happens.

While the film is billed as being this big court battle between two women it really comes-off like a character study of Vanessa, who gets much more screen time and a more of in-depth personality. This is good because Nevin’s character is a bit too basic and offers no real surprises though she does have an unexpected asthma attack while testifying in court, which I felt was a bit over-the-top since this was something that should’ve been introduced earlier if it was going to come into play during a pivotal moment. Hughes though is excellent. She had been only in supporting roles up to this point, mainly that of youthful girlfriend types to the main character, but here she successfully carries the film in an atypical part of a frigid woman.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s crowning achievement though is the way it takes a character, in this case Vanessa, who you really don’t like for most of the movie, and then turns her into someone you sympathize with and even feel sorry for by the end. A lot of movies don’t do this, especially the Hollywood ones where the good guys and bad guys must work within a rigid formula, so it’s refreshing seeing a film do something differently and it really works. I found myself thinking about this one long after it was over and feeling emotionally conflicted by it and it’s all because of Hughes’ ability to create a three dimensional person that doesn’t fit into any stereotype even though you initially think she can be. A highly recommended film for those who understand how difficult it can be to deal and communicate effectively with children and how one’s best efforts can sometimes backfire badly.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 22, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Schultz

Studio: Hoyts Distribution

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Continental Divide (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reporter falls for naturalist.

Ernie Souchack (John Belushi) is a newspaper reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times who routinely covers the criminal activity of the local mob, but when his reporting gets a little too close to the action the mob boss (Val Avery) has Ernie beaten-up by a couple of corrupt cops. Howard (Allen Garfield), Ernie’s editor, decides to send him to Colorado for his own protection where he’s assigned to do an interview with the eccentric outdoor enthusiast Nell (Blair Brown). Nell, who spends her days researching eagles, lives alone in a tiny cabin high-up in the Rockies and normally does not take a liking to any reporters. Ernie though moves into her place for 2-weeks and while their initial reactions to one another is frosty they eventually end-up in a romantic relationship.

Hard to imagine that Lawrence Kasdan, who has written and directed so many great movies in his career (Body Heat, The Big Chill), was the screenwriter for this one, but this clearly isn’t his best work. The story is obvious and the set-up too forced. Nothing is worse than watching a movie where you know exactly how it’s going to end right from the start. Part of the problem is that Brown’s character is not played-up enough and she’s nowhere near as feisty as she billed as being. I found it unnerving too that she’d let a strange man burst into her cabin out of nowhere and sleep inside her place in the same room with her without any real protection to stop him from getting frisky if he wanted to. That wooden stick she used wasn’t going to help her especially if he attacked her while she was asleep. For all she knew this guy could’ve been an escaped killer, so what was going to prevent him from assaulting her in the middle of the night?

The main issue though is that these two had absolutely nothing in common, so the odds that a relationship could ever actually form between them is virtually nil. I know that there’s that age-old adage ‘opposites attract’, but there still needs to be a few things that the two have in common, despite the other differences, for that to work. The story’s logic is that spending 2-weeks with someone will be enough to create that romantic feeling, but if that were the case then every teen would automatically fall for their fellow campers each year during summer camp.

I could understand from Belshi’s perspective how Brown would attract him sexually, but what this tubby, out-shape, smoker offered her to make her go so ga-ga over him, I didn’t see. A far more believable romantic partner for her was Max Birnbaum (Tony Ganios) who is a muscular former NFL player who dropped out of society and lived as a hermit in the wilderness. The two share a couple of trysts, but then he conveniently disappears even though he gave the story some potential dramatic conflict and should’ve stayed.

Some people like this movie because it gives you a chance to see Belushi in a wider acting range, but he’s not very funny and doesn’t have anything to say that is either witty or clever. Having the second half of the film shift back to Chicago where Brown comes to visit might’ve been interesting had her character been better defined and we could see her difficulties in adjusting, but since her eccentricities never gets played-up enough these scenes add little.

Spoiler Alert!

I’ll agree with Leonard Maltin in his review where he stated that Kasdan clearly couldn’t come up with a finish and that’s the truth. Having the two go through a quickie, makeshift wedding only to then return to their separate ways and continue to live far apart made no sense and didn’t really ‘resolve’ anything. What’s the use of getting married if you’re never going to see the other person? The script needed more fleshing-out and seems like a broad outline in desperate need of character development and a more creative scenario.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Release: September 18, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Apted

Studio: Universal Pictures

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

Newsfront (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life of a cameraman.

The story centers on the men and women who worked to bring Australian film audiences the latest footage of news events of the day during post World War II. It focuses on those working for a company called Cinetone, which is run by A. G. Marwood (Don Crosby), who’s a demanding boss who expects perfection in the product that he sends out as well as footage that is brought in. The movie also looks at the private lives of the crew including Len (Bill Hunter) whose brother Frank (Gerard Kennedy) works for a competitor as well as the advent of TV news, which eventually put the weekly news reels out of business since they could show the events live as they happened.

The film is unusual in that the first 15 minutes are in black-and-white looking much like the newsreel footage that is shown during the opening credits only to shift suddenly into color. It then goes back and forth between color and black-and-white at roughly 30-minute intervals where for a couple minutes the scene shifts to black-and-white for no apparent reason that I could find and then eventually back to color. I’m not sure what the significance of this was, but it’s a bit distracting and doesn’t help get the viewer into the story, but if anything drives them a bit away.

The plot is different too as it’s made up of small personal dramas versus one big one. I didn’t necessarily have a problem with this, but I did feel the conflicts should’ve been more tied to the newsreel profession, which the majority of it isn’t. For instance the story thread dealing with Len’s opposition to having an amendment added to the constitution barring affiliation with the communist party, which goes against the sentiments of the rest of the town, has nothing intrinsically to do with his camerawork and therefore didn’t seem necessary to the story. There’s also scenes dealing with his failing marriage and love affair with co-worker Amy (Wendy Hughes), which again could happen in any work place and seemed rather pedestrian.

There’s also other threads that I thought should’ve been played-out more. Len’s conflict with his assistant Chris (Chris Haywood) over his reluctance to get married to his girlfriend after he finds out she’s pregnant had potential for strong dramatic moments and it would’ve been interesting seeing them continue to work together despite the underlying tensions, but like with a lot of things in this movie, it gets briefly introduced and then quickly resolved. The same thing happens when Len is forced to work with a new assistant after Chris dies unexpectedly. It’s obvious during the short scene of the two in a car that there’s a big generational difference between them, which piqued my interest seeing if they could forge a working relationship despite these issues, but the film never goes back to it, which I found frustrating.

Overall it manages to be compelling nonetheless and much of it could be credited to actual newsreel footage that gets shown throughout. The violent ones that get shown at the start I found particularly riveting including the one where a race car careen out of control and drives right into the spectators, where it clearly injuries and kills many. I was almost hoping for a backstory to that one, but none is given yet it skillfully illustrates how vivid some of the newsreel footage was even after all of these years, which is the best point that the movie makes. I just wished the scenarios dealt more with the work aspect. In a lot of ways my favorite character was A.G. as I enjoyed the way he fretted about every little detail, was a classic chain smoker, and seemed married to his job. It’s a shame he didn’t stay on the whole way through as he was the type of obsessive guy you could’ve really built a movie around.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 29, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Phillip Noyce

Studio: Roadshow Shows

Available: DVD, Tubi

Under the Rainbow (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drunk dwarfs vandalize hotel.

In 1938 an audition is held at the Culver Hotel in Hollywood for Little People to play the part of Munchkins for the upcoming movie The Wizard of Oz. Studio assistant Annie (Carrie Fisher) is put in charge of casting 150 dwarfs for the part. Meanwhile German secret agent Otto (Billy Barty), who is also a dwarf, has been sent by Hitler to California to seek out a Japanese spy who will supply him with top secret maps of American defense systems. Also coming to the hotel is secret service agent Bruce (Chevy Chase) who has been assigned to protect an Austrian Royal Duke (Joseph Maher) and his wife (Eve Arden) from assassination and when all these different forces come together in the same place massive calamity ensues especially as the dwarfs get drunk and proceed to tear the place up.

Director Steve Rash and screenwriter Fred Bauer gained a lot of critical success with The Buddy Holly Story and it got them a contract with Orion Pictures where they signed on to direct a movie that would star Chevy Chase. Inspired by a long-running rumor that dealt with dwarfs getting drunk and rowdy while auditioning for the Munchkin roles at the Culver Hotel, where this film was actually shot, and they decided this would make a funny idea for their next project. The concept might’ve worked had they centered it around the dwarfs, but instead they’re treated as secondary players with no discernable personalities, who behave more like children instead of adults with a physical growth handicap.

Throwing in Chase was a bad idea. He had just signed a three picture deal with the studio, so was obligated to take the part when it was given, but he has later described this as ‘one of the worst movies ever made’ and in interviews, most notably on ‘The Tonight Show’, so has Carrie Fisher. I didn’t understand why the three different story threads were needed as it dilutes the plot, but apparently director Rash didn’t think people would come to see a movie that starred dwarfs, so Chase was added in to compel audiences to the theater, but he’s aloof and not funny and looking genuinely uncomfortable the whole way through.

The spy/espionage angle needed to be thrown out and instead everything centered around Fisher and her struggles in maintaining order throughout the audition. The dwarfs needed more of a dramatic presence too with some serious undertones put in showing the challenges of being a small person, which would’ve given the movie some depth that is otherwise missing. I did enjoy Billy Barty, but everything else is a shambles, which justifiably caused it to do poorly with both the critics and box office.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steve Rash

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Lookin’ to Get Out (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding out in Vegas.

Alex (Jon Voight) is a high stakes gambler in debt for $10,000. Joey and Harry (Allen Keller, Jude Farese) work with the syndicate and when they come around to collect their debt from Alex he escapes out of the city with his pal Jerry Feldmen (Burt Young) where they go to Las Vegas in hopes of recouping the money by playing blackjack. Alex employs the services of Smitty (Bert Remsen), an expert card counter, to help him at the dealer table, but just as he and Jerry think they’ve got their situation solved Joey and Harry reappear and chase the two through the hotel demanding that the debt be repaid immediately.

The script was written by Al Schwartz who based it on some of his own life experiences as he struggled to make it in the entertainment world. While working as the business manager to singer/songwriter Chip Taylor he showed him the script to get his opinion and Chip suggested that Al send it to Jon Voight, Chip’s brother, and when Jon read it he purportedly ‘fell in love with it’ within the first 30 pages. The story is a bit different as the situations itself aren’t necessarily funny, but instead it relies on the desperate nature of the characters and the way they interact with each other for its humor.

It was filmed at the MGM Grand Hotel, which at 6,852 rooms is the largest single hotel in the United States and third largest in the world. The ambience of the place is well captured and reminded me of the atmosphere of a lot of casinos I’ve stayed at where everyone is looking to ‘get lucky’ while in the process living very much on the edge. Having the plot that place over only a two-day period nicely reflects how gamblers live for the moment without any concern for either the past or future. It’s all just about the risk and excitement of beating the odds, which on that level, the film captures admirably well.

The acting helps, particularly from Voight who gives a souped-up rendition of his more famous Joe Buck character from Midnight Cowboy, playing a clueless schmuck who believes he can con his way out of anything and it’s also great seeing him share a scene with his real-life daughter Angelina Jolie, who at age 4 makes her film debut, appearing briefly as Alex’s daughter near the end and to date has been the only project that the two have done together. Young is also quite good as his more sensible friend and to an extent that he becomes the person the audience connects with. Remsen has a few key moments too playing a character that initially seems insignificant to the story, but slowly begins to have a much more meaningful presence by the end. As a buddy formula it works, but throwing in Ann-Margaret as Alex’s former girlfriend who comes back into his life, doesn’t gel and she should’ve been left out.

The foot chase where Alex and Jerry try to outrun Joey and Harry by dashing throughout the hotel is the film’s single best moment and I was impressed with how unlike other movie chases scenes there were no jump cuts and you can visually follow the action even as it shifts between different rooms. The other segments though get overly drawn-out. While his trademark was a slower, more subtle pace, which worked in his previous movies, director Hal Ashby would’ve been wise to have paired this one down. The plot isn’t intricate enough to justify the long runtime and a 90-minute version would’ve been ideal. The original theatrical cut was 105 minutes, which had issues too, but the longer director’s edition isn’t perfect either and in this instance less definitely would’ve been more.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 8, 1982

Runtime: 2 Hours (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Hal Ashby

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

You Can’t Hurry Love (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: From Ohio to L.A.

Eddie (David Packer) is tired of living in the Midwest and after a failed relationship decides to pack his bags and head out west looking for new opportunities. He moves in with his cousin Skip (Scott McGinnis) who already lives in Los Angeles, in order to check-out the scene, but finds everyone to be weird and wacky. He goes on several job interviews, but none of them hire him. He meets pretty Peggy (Bridget Fonda) who works at a video dating service and makes a video of his own, but his attempts to be somebody he really isn’t backfires at every turn. Can Eddie find true love and happiness and will anyone who watches this movie really care if he does or doesn’t?

One of the main problems is Packer, who strangely enough went on to star in another movie, The Runnin’ Kind, just a year later that had almost the exact same storyline. Quite frankly I was surprised he got any part at all as he came into this already with baggage, which stemmed from what occurred on October 30, 1982. On that night he was at the home of actress Dominique Dunne rehearsing a scene for the upcoming TV-miniseries ‘V’ when her ex-boyfriend John Thomas Sweeney came over and preceded to attack and kill her. Some felt that Packer should’ve/could’ve intervened and had he done so she might still be alive today. While I’ll refrain from passing judgement in that area I will say that his acting here is one of the worst I’ve ever seen in a mainstream Hollywood production. His eyes have a glazed over appearance and his face a shit-eating grin. His vocal delivery is quite monotone like someone who’s high and only half there. Fonda on the other hand (this essentially constitutes as her film debut since the 4 films she did previously were either animated, shorts, or non-speaking parts) is quite engaging despite her part being just as poorly written as his, but her superior acting ability shines through while Packer’s drags it down.

The script by Richard Martini tries too hard to recreate the surreal atmosphere from After Hours, but the cultish vibe from that one doesn’t click here. That one starred Griffin Dunne, (who was ironically Dominique’s real-life brother) who was better able to create a believable character that the viewer could identify with and emotionally connect to while Packer is a transparent guy you wish would just go away. It also overly plays-up the flaky stereotype of those living on the west coast. I resided in L.A. or 6 months and I can attest that some of the people out there are a bit eccentric, but they’re not all that way and the film should’ve brought in a few normal ones for balance.

Cameo appearances by famous actors do help a little. Charles Grodin is amusing as the blue collar-like father of one of Packer’s potential dates, who gives Packer, before they proceed on their date, some very brash and straightforward advice. Kristy McNichol is engaging too as a punk girl who harbors a man-hating streak. The funniest of them all though is Lu Leonard as the director of the video dating service that Packer joins who helps coach him on how to present himself to his potential dates. In fact the video dating aspect, of which I admit I was a part of back in the 90’s, is kind of funny and the movie should’ve centered everything around the inner-workings of a dating service franchise, which would’ve been far more interesting and insightful.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: January 20, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Martini

Studio: Lightning Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Chain Reaction (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nuclear leak contaminates water.

A nuclear waste site in rural Australia becomes affected by an earthquake, which causes a leak that could contaminate the ground water for hundreds of miles. Heinrich (Ross Thompson), an engineer at the facility who was contaminated by the accident and has only 3-days to live, feels it’s his duty to warn others about what happened, but the company wants the matter to kept a secret. Heinrich manages to escape from the lab, but gets into an accident during a rainstorm on a lonely country road. It is here that he’s rescued by Larry (Steve Bisley) and his wife Carmel (Arna Maria Winchester) who live nearby and take him to their isolated home. Since Carmel has a nursing background she tries to take care of Heinrich at their house even though he now suffers from amnesia and cannot remember anything past 1957. The company though has already sent out a search party looking for him and proceed to terrorize all three once they find them.

The film is a slickly shot sci-fi epic that in many ways seems similar to Mad Maxand in fact both films shared many of the same crew members and this even has a cameo by Mel Gibson who appears briefly as a bearded auto mechanic. The camera captures things in a vivid way and the sharp editing keeps the story moving at a fast pace.

While the plot gets smartly handled and I did find the two main characters to be a bit out-of-place particularly Larry whose outfits and hairstyle look almost campy. The two also don’t have an every day quality about them. Thrillers like these are more exciting when the hero is just a regular person with no special skills and yet still forced to beat insurmountable odds, which is unlike Larry who has expert driving skills and owns a trendy sports car with a souped-up engine.

The way the couple rescue the victim, who they don’t know, by taking him back to their place instead of to a hospital was odd too. Carmel has nursing experience, but not the medicines or equipment that you’d find in a medical facility. They also seem unusually trusting by allowing the man to sleep in one of their bedrooms while they sleep in an adjacent one, but don’t bother to lock their door with the wife lying openly nude for the stranger to just walk-in and attack, or gawk at since there’s a window in the hallway to the room, without any restraint.

The film is noted for its car chases, but they only make up a small fraction of the runtime. One occurs for a few minutes during the second act and then there’s another one at the very end. Both are quite exciting and had me sitting on the edge of my seat with the camera showing things from the driver’s point-of-view and many times through the cracked glass of the windshield making you feel like you’re in the car as it happens. However, I was disappointed that they’re weren’t more of them and both chases take place on the same road and essentially go through the same stunts both times.

Spoiler Alert!

The wrap-up is a bit too quick. For such a nifty, well designed and well crafter set-up I was expecting things to get played-out further. There is though the irony of having a helicopter appear with a news crew that captures the chase when it’s over with the idea that now that the news media is on top of it the truth will get out and everything will be resolved. This though is a far cry from the way things are here in this day-and-age where the media is not trusted by many and having them report on something, even a big story such as this, could only make things worse instead of better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ian Barry

Studio: Palm Beach Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 0)

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971)

gang1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Challenging a crime boss.

Kid Sally (Jerry Orbach), who works within a crime family where he’s in charge of a small group of crooks, becomes increasingly frustrated at what he feels is a lack of respect that he gets from mobster boss Baccala (Lionel Stander). When Kid is put in charge of supervising a bicycle race that does not go over well he gets demoted, which convinces him to take down Baccala and become the mob boss himself, but the men under him prove inept at every turn. Each time they try to kill-off Baccala the only ones who die are Kid Sally’s guys.

The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Jimmy Breslin and inspired by real-life mobster Joe Gallo who was also the inspiration for Crazy Joe that starred Peter Boyle. However, the Boyle film approached the material in a serious way and tried to keep things more closely tied-in with the actual events while this thing veers-off from what really happened and instead simply uses the situation as a springboard for a lot of zany, comical antics.

One of the main problems is the casting of Orbach who looks nothing like the real Gallo, Boyle was not a perfect match for him either, but he was at least in the same ballpark while Orbach appears too old and without any signs of the mental health issues that had afflicted Gallo who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in his youth. There are also too many characters to keep track of and Orbach half the time is barely even seen becoming more like a supporting player in his own movie.

The film does have a few amusing moments including the gang’s attempts to bring in a lion, which they use to blackmail the client’s of their opposition. Van Fleet is also quite funny as Kid’s mother who looks and walks like she’s ready to die from old age, but speaks as if she’s a young tough guy. The location shooting isn’t bad either and seeing the entire group of men crammed into Joe’s mother’s apartment as they partake in their weekly spaghetti dinner brings the Italian ambience to a nice head, but director James Goldstone approaches the material in a haphazard fashion and it’s edited in a way that makes it seem more like a collection of vignettes than a story.

The only interesting element is seeing Robert De Niro, complete with long hair, as this young con who comes to New York straight from Italy. He speaks with an authentic accent, which he acquired by going to Italy for a week and recording the people around him and then playing back their voices while he rehearsed. He even prepared for his role as a thief by stealing 2 shirts from a Macy’s department store requiring producer Irwin Winkler to intervene in order to keep him out of jail. Leigh Taylor-Young is excellent as his love interest and her performance as the Kid’s younger more idealistic sister has an organic quality and a far cry from the psycho role that she played in The Big Bounce just 2 years earlier. The romance between her and De Niro and their attempts to forge a relationship while living in a cramped, rundown apartment is kind of touching and had the film focused on these two it would’ve worked better.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated: PG

Director: James Goldstone

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube