Tag Archives: Richard Masur

The Believers (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cult requires child sacrifice.

After the death of his wife (Janet-Laine Green) Cal (Martin Sheen) decides to move with his young son Chris (Harley Cross) from Minneapolis to New York City where he gets a job as a police psychologist. It is there that her councils officer Tom Lopez (Jimmy Smits) who worked undercover to infiltrate a cult that performed child sacrifices and is now paranoid that these same cult members are after him when it’s really Cal’s son that they want.

On the directing end I found this to be mildly engrossing and I enjoyed the way John Schlesinger vividly captured both surburbia as well as the inner city. Working into the false sense of security that the suburbanites have making them believe that they’re ‘immune’ to what goes on in the poorer areas, but here it shows how evil can seep into even the most affluent of areas and revealing just how vulnerable everyone is.

However, if you focus solely on the script, which is based on the Nicholas Conde novel ‘The Religion’, then there are a myriad amount of problems. The biggest one being the opening sequence that features the mother getting electrocuted in a freakish accident, which doesn’t really have all that much to do with the rest of the story. Some may argue that this was the catalyst to get Cal and Chris to move from Minneapolis to New York where the real meat of the plot begins, but why not just have them already in New York to begin with?

Having Helen Shaver enter in as Cal’s love interest is equally pointless. Their relationship happens too quickly and comes off as forced while Chris’ dismay at having a new mother figure in his life seems like an issue for an entirely different type of movie. I admit having a tumor grow on her face that eventually spawns spiders is my favorite part of the movie, but why not just have this occur to the mother instead of killing her off so quickly at the beginning?

Richard Masur’ character, who appears during the first act only to then disappear until the end is problematic as well. A good script has important characters appear throughout the story and not just vanishing until you’ve completely forgotten about them, which I did, and then conveniently reappearing and suddenly becoming an integral part of the plot.

Cal’s character arc is too extreme too. He’s portrayed as being a rationalist who does not believe in superstition, but then later on is shown taking part in a ritual requiring him to squeeze out blood of a decapitated chicken, which is too Jekyll and Hyde-like. Sure people can sometimes change their opinions on things, but not so quickly or so severely. Portraying him as initially being superstitious, instead of so adamantly against it, might’ve made this scene a little less jarring.

There are only an estimated 22,000 people who practice the Santeria religion in the United States, which has a population of 327 million, so the odds that a person such as Cal would come into contact with not only a police officer that dealt with the religion, but also relatives is astronomically low and hurts the plausibility. It’s equally hard to believe that a large group of educated, upwardly mobile yuppies would get caught up into a cult that required child sacrifice and that they would all be able to keep it a secret without any of them getting a guilty conscience and going to the police. This is a religion that’s prevalent in the Spanish-speaking parts of the Caribbean, so why a large group of white people would suddenly get so into it is never explained.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist at the end in which Helen Shaver’s character creates a shrine to the spirits composed of dead animals inside her barn makes no sense as there is never any hint earlier that she had a propensity for the ritual, so why all of sudden did she start embracing it? I’m not an animal expert either, but I don’t think a dog would behave so aggressively as he’s shown doing by jumping up and down and barking loudly at the barn door where the shrine of the dead animal is. I would think for him to act that way it would have to be the smell of a live creature and he’d know the difference, but again that’s just speculation.

End of Spoiler Alert!

A lot of these problems could’ve been avoided had the producers went with their original idea of portraying it as a satanic religion feeding off the hysteria of the satanic ritual abuse that was a prevalent headline catching conspiracy theory during the 80’s. Having some outcast teens and desperate poor people immersing themselves in a fringe ritual because they had nowhere else to turn would’ve made a heck of a lot more sense than a bunch of yuppies gleefully standing around and watching the killing of someone else’s child simply because they felt it would give them ‘good luck’ in their quest up the corporate ladder.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 10, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Schlesinger

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

License to Drive (1988)

license to drive

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Driving without a license.

Les Anderson (Corey Haim) is in a jam. He has flunked the written portion of his driving exam and therefore has his license denied, but a really hot girl by the name of Mercedes Lane (Heather Graham) wants to go out with him and he needs some wheels to get there. So, after his parents (Richard Masur, Carol Kane) have fallen asleep he decides to ‘borrow’ his grandfather’s car and chaos results, which forces him to return home with the vehicle in less than pristine condition.

This film was quite controversial when it was first released as it contains a scene involving an intoxicated man (Henry Allan Miller) getting behind the wheel of Les’s car and driving it, which critics felt was ‘promoting’ drunk driving, or at the very least making light of it. To me the biggest problem with the segment is the fact that the driver gets into the car with the keys somehow in the ignition even though Les and his friends are in the back of the car using those very same keys to open up the trunk, so unless they had two sets of keys, which is never stated, it then flunks the logic test. I also thought the scene where Les tries to jump from one speeding car to another while out on the freeway was just as dangerous and more hair raising than funny.

Haim in my opinion is the best thing about the film. I know he got the reputation of being a Hollywood ‘bad boy’, but the kid does have a certain appeal. This was his second pairing with Corey Feldman, who I didn’t like as much as he came off more as a crude ‘80s teen caricature. This also marks Heather Graham’s official film debut since her uncredited appearance in Mrs. Soffel four years earlier did not have any speaking lines and here she is terrific. I also found Masur and Kane to be quite appealing as the parents who resemble real human beings and not like the grown-ups in some ‘80’s teen movies where they are portrayed as being oppressive, overbearing, out-of-touch jerks.

The humor though is only mildly amusing and how the Les character could’ve missed the answers on the test is hard to imagine as they relied on basic common sense that just about anyone could’ve answered. The film also fails to have the same whimsical quality as Adventures in Babysitting which came out around the same time and had the same adventurous night-on-the-town concept.

If you’re looking for an amiable time filler for a slow evening than this may do the trick, but overall it’s just an innocuous ‘80’s teen programmer at best.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 6, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Greg Beeman

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

The Mean Season (1985)

mean season

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer taunts newspaper reporter.

Feeling burned out from years of reporting on the local crime scene journalist Malcolm (Kurt Russell) has promised his girlfriend Christine (Mariel Hemingway) that he wants to get out of the business and move away to somewhere quiet and less hectic. Just as he’s ready to quit he gets a call from Alan Delour (Richard Jordan) the man who has been committing the recent killings that Malcolm has been covering in his newspaper. Malcolm sees this as a goldmine of information and thus delays his resignation. The two then begin a weird cat-and-mouse relationship until Malcolm becomes more of the story than the killer.

The movie starts out promisingly with a realistic look of the inner-workings of a big city newspaper. The film was shot during the overnight hours in the actual newsroom of The Miami Herald with Herald reporters used both as extras and consultants. Richard Masur makes for the perfect composite of a newsroom editor and I liked how the film shows the behind-the-scenes politics and the thin line reporters’ tow between reporting the news and becoming it.

I loved the on-location shooting done throughout Florida that helps bring out the varied topography of the state. Masur’s view out of his office window is dazzling and the climatic chase through the Everglades is exciting as is the speedboat ride in the swamps. The shot of a distant storm on the edge of an open field nicely juxtaposes the tension and dark story elements. The phrase Mean Season is actually a term used to describe a South Florida summer and gets mentioned in an early scene by a radio announcer as he is giving the weather report.

Russell is solid in the lead and it’s great and a bit unusual to see a protagonist who is not playing the nerd type wearing glasses. The segment where he jumps across a bridge as it’s going up and then watching him tumble down when he reaches the other side is well shot. Jordan makes for a good villain that manages to convey both a sinister side and a vulnerable one. Richard Bradford also deserves mention playing a tough cop that is at times quite abrasive, but also sensitive particularly in a couple of scenes where he comes into contact with scared children, which are two of the best moments in the movie.

The provocative concept has potential, but the film doesn’t go far enough with it. Instead of becoming this searing expose on journalism and the media it timidly steps back and turns into just another run-of-the-mill, by-the-numbers-thriller that becomes predictable, formulaic, and just plain boring during the second half and helps make this movie a big letdown.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Borsos

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Scavenger Hunt (1979)

scavenger hunt 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mad dash for money.

When rich toy inventor Milton Parker (Vincent Price) dies all of his relatives gather for a reading of his will hoping to get a giant share of his 200 million dollar estate. There’s his greedy sister Mildred (Cloris Leachman) along with her child-like grown son Georgie (Richard Masur) and shyster lawyer Stuart (Richard Benjamin) his servants (Cleavon Little, Roddy McDowell, James Coco, Stephanie Faracy) a dimwitted cab driver (Richard Mulligan), his nephews Kenny (Dirk Benedict) and Jeff (Willie Aames) as well as his son-in-law Henry (Tony Randall) and his four children.  At the reading they are given a list of items each having a certain point total and told that whoever can collect the most items by the end of the day will be given the inheritance. Everyone then splits off into five teams and scours the city of San Diego looking to collect everything from a fat person, to a toilet and even an ostrich.

The natural inclination would be to write this movie off as being lame right from the beginning as the characterizations are quite broad, the action very cartoonish and the humor at an almost kiddie level, but farce/slapstick is a legitimate movie genre, so lambasting it simply for being silly isn’t really fair. Yes, you will have to park your intellect at the door to enjoy this one, but I found myself laughing more than I thought and it is great mindless escapism for the whole family without ever being crude or offensive. It also has Cloris Leachman who adds to her already legendary and eclectic resume by playing another extreme character and flying with it.

The film has a few hilarious bits including the servants stealing a toilet inside the bathroom of a post hotel and then later on while in a science lab getting attacked by a ‘giant soufflé’. Benjamin’s confrontation with an angry gang of bikers led by Meat Loaf is pretty good and the wild car chase that ensues at the end isn’t bad either. The film successfully interweaves moments of cynical humor as well, which helps make it more agreeable to older teens and adults.

There are also a myriad of famous faces in bit parts that are funnier than the main cast. I loved Ruth Gordon as a tough talking old lady and Robert Morley as the lawyer heading the estate whose facial expression when Leachman hugs him is a gem. Henry Polic II appears as a motorcycle cop who comes into contact with laughing gas and then loses his uniform and there is Arnold Schwarzenegger as an overzealous fitness instructor. I also really liked Scatman Crothers who appears for a while as Mulligan’s partner and then disappears only to come back in a pivotal part at the very end and even sings over the closing credits.

The only thing that really got on my nerves was Richard Masur as the overgrown man-child named Georgie. Acting wise he does it pretty well, but there is never any explanation why a grown man would be acting so infantile. Was he mentally challenged, or just mentally ill? It is never explained, but comes off more as creepy than funny. I also didn’t like Faracy initially as the dumb French maid, but she grew on me and eventually I came to adore her especially when she tells off Coco. Randall, as a beleaguered father is pretty much wasted, but I did like Julie Ann Haddock as his oldest daughter who later went on to play Cindy Webster on the first three seasons of ‘Facts of Life’.

African American director Michael Schultz shows quite the flair for variety. He started his career doing black-themed films like the classic Cooley High and Car Wash only to turn around and direct the Bee Gees in Sergeant. Pepper’s Lonely Club Hearts Band and then this one, which is in every way diametrically different from his earlier work, but still an accomplishment for his ability to take on such varying works and genuinely be successful at them.

Filmed entirely on-location in San Diego this film can be great fun for kids of all ages even those that are over 40.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Schultz

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, YouTube