Tag Archives: Review

Journey Through Rosebud (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Draft dodger visits reservation.

Danny (Kristoffer Tabori) travels to a South Dakota Indian reservation as he tries to escape the draft and troubles at home. He meets up with Frank (Robert Forster) who is an Indian living there and who has issues of his own, which is mainly his alcoholism and that at the age of 32 he still lives with his mother in a ramshackle home with no prospects at a secure, good paying job. Danny learns first-hand of the struggles of the modern-day Indian while also take part in some of their rituals and customs.

The film’s best element is the performance by Forster who goes outside his comfort zone by playing a Native American and doing it with conviction. Normally he’s entertaining as a brash-talking tough guys, but here his character is much more restrained and in one sad moment even falls to the ground and begins crawling around in a drunken state while those around him look on with contempt and disdain that is gut-wrenching to see while also exposing his courage as a performer by putting himself in such a pathetic looking state that not all actors would be willing to do even if the script called for it.

Tabori is equally enjoyable and in the few films that I’ve seen him in I’ve become convinced that he was a potentially strong leading man who never quite got his fair shot. His thin frame and youthful age belie a strong inner presence that helps to make his dynamic between Frank and himself potentially interesting, but the film neglects to follow through with it enough.

As for the action there is unfortunately not enough of it. The only time something does occur is when a group of Indians go on private land to rustle and kill cattle, which includes a very grisly shot of them slashing the animal’s throat that may make many viewers uncomfortable. Otherwise it flatlines from the first frame to the last and almost comes off like a minor league educational film dealing with the issues of reservation life than a movie with an actual story. In fact it’s so slow that I started to feel a group of amateurs with good intentions, but limited ability made it, but instead it was directed and written by a couple of Hollywood veterans who should’ve known how to better pace a story, so why that wasn’t done here I don’t know.

The film received a very limited release with the explanation that the studio didn’t think they could find the right target audience for it, but I think it was more to the fact that they knew it was boring and no one, even those that connected with the theme, would want to sit through it. The film is more like some small day trip excursion where someone visits a small no-name town, takes part in benign events there and then leaves without any of it having much impact on them, which is exactly how the viewer feels after watching the movie.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 2, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Tom Gries

Studio: GSF

Available: None at this time.

Summer School (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: No vacation this summer.

Freddy Shoop (Mark Harmon) is not happy about having to teach remedial English to nine students during the summer break. He was about to fly off to Hawaii with his girlfriend, but then got picked at the last minute to teach the class when Mr. Dearadorian (Carl Reiner) who normally teaches it wins the lottery and decides to quit his job. At first Freddy lets the kids goof around and even takes them on a few field trips, but when his tenure gets threatened unless all the kids pass the test he decides he better take it seriously and make deals with the kids to do the same.

The biggest surprise here was finding that Mark Harmon could actually be funny. He was the son of a former Heisman Trophy winner and a quarterback himself at UCLA during the 70’s who I always felt had the doors open for him in the acting biz simply because of his chiseled good looks and nothing more. I remember first watching him in the 80’s TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’ and finding him to be quite boring there and yet here he shows a whole new side of himself and in a lot of ways is the most engaging thing about the movie.

The film also manages to avoid the pitfalls of other 80’s comedies by not aiming for the gross out, sophomoric humor that permeated so many other teen films from that decade. Everything here is surprisingly restrained and in a lot ways this helps to make it funnier because it keeps things at a more realistic level. It’s also great to see a teen film that doesn’t deal with the generation gap or portray the adults as being overly stuffy, or out-of-it as Harmon comes off as being just as cool as the students.

While the film does have its share of amusing moment, with the driving lesson that Harmon gives to one of his students (Kelly Jo Minter) being the funniest, there are a lot of potential comic ideas that it never follows through on, which limits it from being as funny as it could’ve been. It also never bothers to explain where Harmon’s car keys were as one of the students took them on the first day forcing Harmon to go looking for them, but never shows how he found them, or where they were hidden.

The character of Chainsaw (Dean Cameron) I felt was a bit on the lame side. For one thing he looks too old for a high school student and was in fact already 24 when he played the part, but what annoyed me more was his obsession with the movie The Texas Chainsaw MassacreNow don’t get me wrong it’s a great movie, but it’s also very well known and obvious. It’s not all that gory either and it was the gore factor that supposedly his character like the most. If the kid was a true horror fan then he’d be aware of the obscure horror movies that the others wouldn’t be and if gore was truly his thing then the Italian giallo films would be more likely something that he’d obsess over.

The film’s feel-good ending in which Harmon is able to reach and inspire each student in some way hurts the film by not portraying the teaching profession in a realistic way. There will always be those students that a teacher will not be able to reach no matter how hard they try, which is one of the more frustrating aspects about the job, but the film never bothers to tackle this issue. Some may argue that this would’ve hurt the otherwise lighthearted tone, but good movies are able to sneak in serious side-issues and still make it work and the fact that this one doesn’t makes it glossy and forgettable.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Grasshopper (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Runaway becomes  a showgirl.

Christine (Jacqueline Bisset) is a 19-year-old who’s bored with her life living in rural British Columbia and decides one morning to run away from home and meet up with her fiance Eddie (Tim O’Kelly). He gets her a job as a bank teller, but she finds this boring too, so she runs away from him and moves in with a Vegas comedian (Corbett Monica) who gets her work as a showgirl, but Christine’s inability to ever settle down and her impulsiveness leads her to spiral downhill until she’s eventually forced into prostitution.

Initially I was leery about this one as it was directed by Jerry Paris an actor-turned-director who mainly directed episodes from TV-shows as well as the infamous sequels to the Police Academy franchise and for awhile this thing did not look much better than those, but just when I thought it would be nothing more than a sanitized TV sitcom-like foray into the runaway scene it improved. The second-half has some genuinely gritty moments and the behind-the-scenes look of the showgirl lifestyle is well handled and realistic.

Bisset is excellent and her performance pretty much makes the movie, but she’s not completely right for the part either. For one thing she doesn’t look anything like 19 and was in fact 25 when she did this. She also wears too much make-up. I had no problem with this when she became a showgirl as it’s expected, but initially she should’ve had more of a plain look, which would’ve made her transition into the jaded world more visually striking.

On the flip-side I enjoyed her character and found it refreshing that she wasn’t portrayed as being so completely innocent, but in many ways her own worst enemy. The scenes where she goes out on the Vegas runway with her teeth painted black shocking some in the audience as well as handing a bank customer a note pretending that the place is being robbed reveals some intriguing self-destructive tendencies. It also makes her seem very much like a grasshopper, which was a far better title than ‘The Passing of Evil” that was used for the Mark McShane novel that the film is based on.

Jim Brown, who traditionally plays intimidating characters comes off as surprisingly gentile and sympathetic one here and the inter-racial marriage that he has with Bisset was way ahead-of-its-time. Ramon Bieri gets a great role in his film debut as a rich, arrogant tough who always expects to get his way and watching him chow down on his food is memorable. This also marks the film debut of Ed Flanders, who wears a wig here and looks far older than he did in the ‘St. Elsewhere’ TV-show that he starred in 12 years later.

The ending in which Bisset talks a airplane pilot (William Callaway) into writing ‘Fuck It’ in the sky, is funny, but the film’s overall impact is light. Adding in scenes of Bisset’s home-life growing up and during more innocent times might’ve made her transition stronger, but overall despite a few good moments it never quite comes together as a fluid whole.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 27, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jerry Paris

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube

Resurrection (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: She can heal people.

Edna (Ellen Burstyn) manages to survive a car crash and briefly finds herself in the afterlife, but ends up coming back to this world along with an amazing power to heal sick people with the simple touch of her hands. This makes her a celebrity in the small Kansas community that she lives, but others question her ability and wonder, especially since she refuses to acknowledge religion, if it may have a satanic origin. Her newfound boyfriend Cal (Sam Shephard) thinks she may be the second coming and becomes determined to get her to admit this even if it’s through violent means.

The story is loosely based on the life of Rosalyn Bruyere a self-described clairvoyant and medical intuitive who also acted as a consultant to the film. Although initially conceived as a thriller the script by Lewis John Carlino instead takes a more spiritual route, which I found refreshing. I also enjoyed the way director Daniel Petrie captures the vast Texas landscape, which despite the setting being in Kansas, was fully shot inside the Lone Star state.

The scenes of the afterlife are interestingly captured, but I found it baffling why Edna would just write this off as being ‘weird dreams’ and not connect it to any religious connotations. Having these visions then get ‘interpreted’ by her Grandmother (Eva Le Gallienne) seemed heavy-handed as even if a person was not religious themselves they would still be able to connect-the-dots on their own without it having to be explained.

The healing scenes work off of a murky logic. Edna is told after the accident that she is paralyzed from the waist down due to a blood clot in her spine and yet after she learns of her healing ability she places her hands on her legs to help her walk again, but if the root cause of the issue is actually in the back shouldn’t that be where she places her hands instead? The scene where a woman (Madeline Sherwood) who suffers from 2 degenerative vertebrates in her back, but is able to stand-up  after she sees Edna doesn’t make sense either. Standing with missing vertebrae is liking walking without a knee or cartilage. It’s just not scientifically possible, so unless Edna’s healing can cause bone mass to grow where they isn’t any then I’m not sure how they her powers actually work.

I thought it was a bit loopy too that when Shepherd’s character gets injured in a bar fight his buddies take him to Edna’s isolated farmhouse miles away for her to stop the bleeding, but this is when Edna’s healing ability had not been fully established, before this she had only stopped the nose bleed of a young girl, which some might consider simply a fluke, so the most rational thing would’ve been to take him to a nearby hospital instead. The scene would’ve worked better had Edna been in the bar when Shepherd got injured and then jumped in to heal him after he got stabbed.

I didn’t feel Shepherd’s character had the right chemistry to make Edna want to have a relationship with him either. His beady-eyed stare made him look creepy and his father (Richard Hamilton) had accused Edna of being satanic, so why would she want anything to do with that family? He also came off too much like a nondescript redneck like all the other rednecks that made up that small town. Edna was clearly an outsider, so for her to be attracted to someone I would think that person would need to be an outsider as well.

I could never understand why Edna was so resistant to religion, or so completely confident that her powers weren’t heavenly sent. I got that her Christian zealot father (Roberts Blossom) may have turned her off from religion altogether and she didn’t want to deal with the pressures of being considered Christ-like, which is understandable, but I’m not sure Burstyn was the right choice to effectively pull off that type of character. I love Ellen and think she’s a great actress, but she’s also a very spiritual woman in real-life and it pretty much gets conveyed in her performance here whether that was the intention or not. An actress that displayed more of a cynical, snarky attitude, only to have her outlook change once these powers took hold would’ve created a more interesting and dramatic arch.

The third act has Edna going to Los Angeles where her powers are tested by researchers, but these scenes don’t have any satisfying conclusion to them, which I found frustrating. However, the scene that Edna has with her dying father I felt were strong and the best moment of the whole film.

The spiritual element gets left open to interpretation depending on one’s own perspective, which is good. It also has a really great, and to some degree, surprise ending, but I didn’t like the freeze-frame shots taken from the film shown over the closing credits, which cheapens it as this is typically something done on TV-shows and not movies.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Daniel Petrie

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD

Summer Rental (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Family vacations in Florida.

Jack (John Candy) is an over-worked air traffic controller who’s given a 5-week vacation to rest up. He decides to take his family down to Florida, but things prove to be even more chaotic there. First they move into the wrong rental property and then Jack has a confrontation with local sailing champion Al Pellet (Richard Crenna) who is a longtime resident that openly disdains the renters who visit during the summer. When Pellet gets ownership of the property that Jack is renting and threatens to throw Jack’s family out Jack decides to challenge him to a sailboat race even though his experience in sailing is limited.

Initially this movie comes off as a welcome change of pace from the typical 80’s comedy that usually dwelt too heavily in crude jokes and adolescent humor. Outside of one segment where a neighbor lady wants John to touch her breasts, which the viewer doesn’t see, to see how much he likes her new implants there’s no sexual innuendos at all, which is genuinely surprising since most 80’s comedies, even the tamer ones, seemed to feel the need to throw at least a few in. I even like the kids here. In most films they’re played-up in too cutesy of a way, or they’re obnoxious brats, but here the balance is just right.

The story though goes nowhere. The original idea was based on a vacation experience that producer Bernie Brillstein had in Southern California where he was a father of 5 children that rented a beach home that had two elderly sisters and a mentally challenged son as his neighbors on one side and a group of gay men on the other side, but none of these elements appear in the movie, which for the most part is uneventful.

Candy’s confrontations with Crenna, whose portrayal of a snobby, rich man is too broad of a caricature, are forced and not funny. Their climactic sailing race doesn’t work either. Sailing can certainly be a relaxing excursion, but watching it as a sporting event is not exciting. It also has Candy and his crew dumping out the contents of a freezer and eventually the entire freezer itself into the lake in an effort to get their boat to sail faster, but this is also obvious water pollution and not something a protagonist in a film should be doing.

Candy gives an appealing performance as usual and Rip Torn is fun as an aging ship captain although having him walk around with an actual hook for a hand is a bit much.  Some may even enjoy seeing Joey Lawrence when he was still a cute kid, but the plot, much like stagnant water, just sits there and the pace is too breezy making the material hardly worthy of a feature length production.

There’s also a glaring logic loophole that involves Candy and his family staying at what they think is their rental property only to be awoken in the middle of the night by the homeowners and told they were at the wrong place, but how were the keys that they were given able to open the locks on the doors if it was not the right home? They also were able to retrieve the keys from the mailbox of the place, which is where they were told they’d find them, but if that wasn’t the right house then the keys should not have been there.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 9, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Police Chief kills prostitute.

Dottore (Gian Maria Volante) is the police chief in the homicide division of his department. He is by all measures a man above suspicion and decides to one day put this to the test by killing his mistress (Florinda Bolkan) who was also a prostitute. To make the challenge even more interesting he plants obvious clues, which should lead to his indictment, but they don’t. Instead the police inspectors come up with a maddening array of warped reasons why the police chief is not the killer even when the evidence clearly points to the fact that he is.

This film, which won the Academy Award for best foreign film of 1970, touches on an issue rarely seen in American cop movies outside of maybe The Fugitive, where the police get a tunnel vision on who they think the suspect is, in this case the woman’s gay husband, and tune-out all other potential angles in their zeal to ‘get their guy’.  This is something that happens in real-life cases much more often than people realize where inspectors, in an effort to get the case solved and move-on, will make the evidence fit their own preconceived narrative instead of vice-versa.

The story also analyzes how having a rigid protocol system can be dangerous. What on the surface may seem ‘orderly’ can underneath be covering up all sorts of corruption. Everyone is so afraid of keeping their jobs and saving the reputation of the police department that all sorts of corrupt acts are allowed to pass through unhindered as everyone becomes ingrained with the yes-man mentality. Even having some of the most cutting edge police technology in the world doesn’t help if it falls victim to human overseers whose subjectivity only allows them to see what they want to see.

Gian Maria Volante, who in real-life was known as a left wing radical and was arrested many times during the 70’s by police for taking part in political demonstrations, is excellent as the reactionary authority figure. His piercing stare is more than enough to own every scene that he is in and ironically he played just three years earlier in the film We Still Kill the Old Way  done by the same director, a character is on the opposite end who fought corruption to get to the truth over a murder.

Elio Petri’s direction is nothing short of excellent and had his life not been cut short by cancer he most assuredly would’ve gone on to become one of the greats of Italian cinema. Ennio Morricone’s distinctive score is terrific too. Normally I tend to prefer as little music in films as possible, but the soundtrack here helps accentuate the film’s stylish presentation and gives it a real attitude and should’ve been played-up even more including over the film’s opening credits, which are strangely silent.

The film’s only defect is the fact that since we already know who’s committed the crime there’s not a lot of tension. It might’ve worked better had the police chief not been the main character and the perpetrator of the crime remained a mystery until later on. One of the lead investigators could’ve been made the protagonist who follows the evidence, which eventually leads to the police chief, but then he finds stiff resistance to his findings from the department, which could’ve been more impactful, but the film still has its share of strong scenes including its surreal-like ending.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: February 12, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Elio Petri

Studio: Euro International Film

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube

Oh, God! (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: An atheist meets God.

Jerry Landers (John Denver) is a married man with two kids (Moosie Drier, Rachel Longaker) who works as an assistant manager at a local grocery store. He doesn’t consider himself to be religious nor does he attend church (he most likely could be called an atheist, but I assume that term was considered ‘too toxic’ of a label to put on a protagonist that mainstream audiences of the day were expected to like, so he’s just given the much softer description of being a non-believer.) One day he receives a letter in the mail stating that God would like to interview him at a certain location, but Jerry considers this to be a practical joke and throws it away, but when the letter keeps popping up at the most unlikely places he finally decides to take it seriously. He goes to the location and meets God (George Burns) who at first he does not see, but only hears, but eventually the almighty takes the form of an old man. He tells Jerry to spread the word that he exists, which Jerry does only to have it all snowball against him when everyone thinks he’s crazy and even his own family becomes embarrassed to be seen with him.

The film is based on the 1971 Avery Corman novel of the same name though the book had more of a satirical tone and the protagonist was a journalist. The film though manages to retain the same jaded sensibilities of the modern-day public, which is what makes it so amusing and for the most part quite on-target. Denver, who was known more as a singer and did very little acting both before or after this, is quite good here, but only if you can get past his bowl haircut. Burns is excellent as well and I always felt this is the performance he should’ve won the Academy Award for instead of the one in The Sunshine Boys as it easily became his signature role.

The script though by Larry Gelbart is full of incongruities. For instance the God here claims to be a non-interventionist who sets the process in motion and then lets things happen without getting involved. Everyone is given free will and he doesn’t intervene to stop suffering or ‘bad things’ from occurring because that would upset the ‘natural balance’, but then turns around and admits that he had a hand in such superficial things as helping the 1969 New York Mets win the pennant. He is also forced to become a ‘side show magician’ by performing what amounts to being magic acts, like doing a tacky card trick in front of a judge, in order to prove to Jerry and others that he really is the almighty. Yet he then becomes shocked to find that Jerry’s simple word-of-mouth as well as having Jerry pass out God’s ‘calling card’, which is nothing more than a white card with the word God on it, as not being enough to somehow convince others of the same thing.

There’s also a weird conversation, which I found loopy even as a child, where God tries to prove a point by explaining to Jerry that people only dream in black-and-white, which apparently was an accepted belief a long time ago. This idea has later been found to be incorrect, which is good as I’ve always dreamed in color, but it’s still off-kilter to have this supposedly all-knowing God argue a talking point from a debunked myth.

The performances by the supporting cast help  and in fact I consider this to be Teri Garr’s best role as I found her character arch to be more interesting than Denver’s. The aging Ralph Bellamy is good as an aggressive defense attorney and I also like Barnard Hughes as the overwhelmed judge. William Daniels is amusing as Denver’s snippy boss and a type of authoritative character he’d put to perfection years later in the TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’. Paul Sorvino gets a few laughs too in a send-up of an over-the-top TV evangelist.

The only one that I had a problem with was Donald Pleasance who gets fourth billing, but only 2 lines of dialogue. With such a versatile talent as his you don’t want to waste it by giving him such a small role and unless a lot of his work here ended up on the cutting room floor I’m genuinely surprised why he even took it.

The film is mildly entertaining, but ultimately quite benign and nowhere near as ‘profound’ as some considered it. Nonetheless it was a big hit and even knocked Star Wars out of the top spot for 1-week. It also spawned 2 sequels as well as a TV-movie called ‘Human Feelings’ where Nancy Walker plays a female God set to destroy Las Vegas with a flood unless Billy Crystal, who plays an angel, can find 6 virtuous people that live there.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Commando (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father rescues kidnapped daughter.

John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a retired colonel from the U.S. special forces who is now living the peaceful, quiet life with his young daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano) in a secluded mountainside home. Then when day he gets visited by his former superior (James Olson) who advises him that the other members of his former unit have all been killed off. Before he has a chance to react a group of mercenaries converge on his home and kidnap his daughter. John tries to stop it, but can’t and is eventually drugged where both he and Jenny are taken to a secret location where they meet Arius (Dan Hedaya) the group’s leader. He tells John that he can have his daughter back once he carries out an assignment to assassinate the President of a South American country known as Val Verde. As John is being taken onto the airplane to carry out the plan he fights back by overpowering his captors and he then goes on a mad dash to retrieve his daughter before it is too late while using the assistance of Cindy (Rae Dawn Chong) an off-duty flight attendant that he meets along the way.

The one good thing about a Mark L. Lester directed film such as this is that it moves fast, so you get reluctantly caught up into the action before you realize just how dumb and threadbare the story and characterizations really are. For the first 45-minutes it kind of works with the best stunt coming with Arnie escaping out the cargo bay exit door of the airplane and out onto the landing wheel of the aircraft before jumping into some swamp land just before the plane takes off.

Unfortunately this ends up being the film’s only highlight as everything that comes after it gets overdone to the point that it almost starts to seem like a farce and might’ve worked better had it been played up as being one. Watching Arnie fight off a bunch of security guards while inside a mall by having them all fall down like bowling pins with one blow of his fist looks too much like something used in a slapstick comedy. The scene where he tears a phone booth from a wall and lifts it high over his head is ridiculous as no matter how strong a guy is lifting something up like that will certainly destroy or injure a person’s back.

This brings to light the film’s other issue, which is the fact that Arnie never ever gets injured, or if he does he miraculously recovers from it in a matter of seconds. Watching him shoot down all these mercenaries like they were a part of a video arcade game while hundreds of bullets go whizzing by his head, but never  actually hitting him is when I got totally tuned off from it as it ceased to be believable and I was constantly glancing at my watch every two minutes just praying that the whole stupid thing would quickly end.

Chong, who is an actress that is usually able to convey a strong personality came off here as one of the most annoying elements in the movie. The fact that she would so quickly jump into helping Arnie find his daughter even though she had just met him and jeopardizing her own life and career along the way didn’t make much sense. The scene where she is able to fire a rocket launcher despite having no experience was another head-scratcher. She states that she had simply ‘read the directions’ on how to use it, but how would she have had time to read anything when every waking second is spent with them chasing after the bad guys.

Milano, who is probably better known these days for her political activism instead of her acting, gives a flat and forgettable performance. Hedaya is equally blah as the villain although I’ll give him credit for effectively looking and sounding Latino despite being Jewish in real-life. The biggest disappointment though is Vernon Wells who plays Arnie’s muscular nemesis and tries taking him on one-on-one at the end, but when compared to Arnie’s massive physique Wells looks pretty puny and an actor should’ve been cast that would’ve looked more like Arnie’s physical equal in order to come off more like a legitimate threat.

A director’s cut of this film is also available, which adds in a few more scenes and has a minute longer runtime than the studio version, but to me that’s just one more minute of your life wasted watching this dumb thing that you’ll never get back.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 4, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

…tick…tick…tick (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: New sheriff faces racism.

Citizens of a small southern town get on edge when the current sheriff (George Kennedy) gets voted out and replaced by a black man (Jim Brown).  As the new sheriff Jim faces stiff resistance even from fellow members of the black community, but he forges on. When the son of a rich white man from a neighboring town runs over and kills a young white girl while he was driving drunk, Jim has him put into jail, but the young man’s father demands that he be released and when Jim refuses it creates the beginning of a potential race riot that forces the white citizens of the town to make a hard choice; do they continue with their racist behavior, or join the black sheriff in defending their town from corrupt outsiders?

The film starts out on the cheesy side by showing up close an egg frying on a sidewalk. The problem is that I tried this last year in Austin, Texas when the temp was 110 (actual temp and not a heat index figure), but I couldn’t get it to work even though I did it on asphalt and in direct sunlight. Some say that the egg has to be put in a frying pan and then have the pan put on the cement and maybe so, but that’s not how the film shows it and what’s worse is that it looks like the egg is already in a fried state even before it hits the pavement.

It’s also annoying that despite having the Deep South as the setting it was actually filmed in Colusa, California where the topography looks much different. I also had to wonder why everyone is constantly glazed over in sweat even when they were in bed at night and only small, little fans to cool them. The story’s time period is the present day (1970) and air conditioners were invented in 1902, so why the hell doesn’t anyone in this hot southern town own and use one?

The soundtrack features loud, poorly sung songs that not only get played over the opening and closing credits, but during a lot of the film as well, which gives the entire production a very B-level movie feel. I also got tired of hearing the sound of a clock ticking in the background that permeates just about every scene during the first 30 minutes and becomes heavy-handed and annoying.

The only thing that saves it is Jim Brown who’s really good here and looks better and younger without his trademark mustache. Kennedy on the other hand doesn’t seem up to the challenge with many of his scenes, particularly the one were he accosts a young man who was harassing him, coming off as unintentionally funny.

It’s sort-of fun seeing Frederic March playing a goofy mayor as well as Mills Watson, in his film debut, playing a racist deputy a decade before playing his most famous role as the bungling deputy Perkins in the ‘Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo’ TV-show.  I also liked how Clifton James and Anthony James (no relation) who had both played racist southern types in other films get roles here where they’re more level headed and help suppress the racist behavior of others instead of stoking it.

The film gets marginally better as it goes along and the ending is okay even a bit unique for this type of genre, but overall it’s just a cheap imitation of In the Heat of Night, which was much better. The only really surprising thing about the movie is that it received a G-rating despite having the N-word spoken throughout by several of the characters.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 9, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated G

Director: Ralph Nelson

Studio: MGM

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

The Electric Horseman (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Aging cowboy steals horse.

Sonny (Robert Redford) used to be a championship rodeo star, but those days are long behind him. Now he works as a spokesmodel for a cereal company and his next gig has him in Las Vegas where he’s set to ride a horse on stage while he wears a string of flashing lights. Sonny though has become disillusioned with the business as well as upset to find that the horse has been drugged, which propels him to ride off with it while the authorities and an aggressive TV reporter (Jane Fonda) are hot on his tail.

The story can best be described as a lightly comical variation of Lonely are the Bravebut without any of the strong dramatic impact. The biggest problem is that it reveals its cards too quickly making it too obvious what Sonny is planning to do, so when he finally does y abscond with the horse it’s not surprising or even interesting. I was intrigued at how he would get it out of the casino and past security, but the movie cheats this by cutting from him inside the casino one second to showing him outside on the street in the next frame, which takes away from potential action and excitement of having him fight his way out.

The chase inside a small town where Sonny and his horse outrun a mob of police cars and cops on motorbikes is fun, but it ends up being the only exciting moment in the film. Everything else gets toned down too much where even the bad guy, played by John Saxon, is boring because all he does is sit in a office while getting reports from others as to Sonny’s whereabouts instead of having him actively chase after the renegade cowboy himself, which would’ve heightened the tension.

Fonda’s character comes off like an unwanted house guest who tries to take over the place even when they weren’t invited. Her character is too abrasive and while everyone else is laid-back she comes of as being quite aggressive and otherwise out-of-place with the tone of the movie. Valerie Perrine, who has a much smaller part as Sonny’s ex-wife, does a far better job here and is more in step with the unglamorous, rugged western theme. Had she been the one to chase after Sonny then the romantic side-story that develops would’ve been cute and engaging, but having Fonda become the love interest just makes the whole thing seem forced.

Had the action and humor been  more jacked-up than it might’ve been a winner as Redford himself is quite good. I was a bit surprised too because I initially didn’t think this was the right fit for his talents, but his subtle country accent and brash attitude is fun and Willie Nelson, in his film debut, is quite good in support. Unfortunately the plot never catches its stride and in fact the more it goes on the boring it gets.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1979

Runtime: 2 Hours 1 Minute

Rated PG

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Universal Pictures

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