Tag Archives: Richard Winters

Wild Beasts (1984)

wild beasts 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Animals attack innocent people.

The water of a major metropolitan area becomes contaminated from all the garbage littered along the beaches. The animals of a local zoo drink it and soon go on a rampage. When the zoo’s security system fails the animals get out and start to attack the local citizens. Animal expert Laura Schwartz (Lorraine De Selle) and zookeeper Rupert (John Aldrich) work together to stop the carnage by tracking the animals down and corralling them back to safety.

The film was directed by Franco Prosperi who along with Gualtiero Jacopetti where noted for their quasi shockumentaries of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s that emphasized a lot of violence and nudity and this production works along the same vein. In fact it’s the graphic gore and a camera that lingers on the carnage that helps the film stand out from the rest of the tacky, low budget horror films from the ‘80’s. However, the film also shows a lot of animal cruelty including a mother tiger going into violent convulsions after being put to sleep and rats screaming in pain after being set on fire.

The attacks themselves become quite mechanical and monotonous. The main characters are wooden and seen only in brief intervals, so the viewer never becomes emotionally attached to anyone on screen, which seriously lowers the tension. The film actually only becomes interesting at the end when some children staying at a school drink the water and then become violent towards the adults, which has a nice creepy quality to it and the movie would’ve been better had it chosen this story thread over the other one.

The idea that showing all these discarded heroin needles along the beach and implying that this would be enough to contaminate the city’s water supply is lame and the film’s ‘important’ message about pollution is silly as well. There is also no explanation why none of the adults go crazy like the animals and some of the children do as they would presumably be drinking the same water. The opening sequence shows shots of Seattle where this story supposedly takes place, but the rest of the film was clearly shot in a European city. The production suffers from being convoluted and overblown and lacking any singular vision, which is due in large part to being financed by backers from several different countries.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Franco Prosperi

Studio: Shumba International Corporation

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)

Light Blast (1985)

light blast 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Erik Estrada saves Frisco.

A crazed scientist (Ennio Girolami) has created a laser gun that can melt people on contact. He uses it to kill a couple and then threatens to do the same to the entire city of San Francisco unless the mayor can come up with $10 million dollars. Rugged, renegade cop Ronn Warren (Erik Estrada) is assigned to track the culprit down and that he does while careening down the city streets in a race car.

The only interesting aspect about this movie is that it stars Estrada the one time big TV star from his heyday on the ‘CHiPs’ TV-series. I never cared much for that show and the only thing that I’ve seen him in where I enjoyed him was in the reality series ‘The Surreal Life’ where I found him to be humble and laid back, which I suppose happens to one when they have a long line of movies like these to their credit. I remember in the late 70’s he was considered an up-and-coming star and was known to have big ego fits on the set, which eventually lead to his co-star Larry Wilcox quitting. Then once the series ended he was trapped doing low grade stuff like this, which makes me wonder; can you really call it a ‘movie career’ if no one has seen the movies that you’ve done?

Overall if you approach this with decidedly low expectations then this film, which was produced by an Italian production company, but still filmed on-location in Frisco, is okay. Watching the laser melt people is entertaining as a sort-of cheap version of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The action is choreographed well enough to be mildly exciting and the budget isn’t so low that it makes everything look cheap. Estrada’s manning of a race car down the city streets at the end is fun, but highly improbable that he would be able to drive into oncoming traffic and not be hit or be able to find a car that was being stored inside a truck that would conveniently have its keys in the ignition and fully tanked up with gas.

The film’s biggest transgression is that it’s too predictable. It’s like they’ve stolen every other formulaic element from every other cop movie and then crammed it into this one. Estrada is dull and the actor playing the bad guy is equally bland making this at best a passable time waster.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 13, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 26Minutes

Rated R

Director: Enzo G. Castellari

Studio: Overseas FilmGroup

Available: DVD

In God We Tru$t (1980)

IN GOD WE TRUST, Marty Feldman, 1980, (c) Universal

IN GOD WE TRUST, Marty Feldman, 1980, (c) Universal

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Monk travels to L.A.

With his monastery in desperate need of money Brother Ambrose (Marty Feldman) is sent out into the secular world for the first time in order to find donations to help keep the place solvent. Unfortunately he travels to southern California where the wild and jaded lifestyles of the people come as a shock to him. He meets Mary (Louise Lasser) a hooker who takes him into her home and the two eventually fall in love, but he also comes into contact with the nefarious Armageddon T. Thunderbird (Andy Kaufman) a televangelist who wants to exploit the naïve Ambrose for his own gain.

Feldman with his famous buggy eyes is a delight and the fact that he did all of his own stunts, some of which were dangerous including having him dragged down a busy city behind a truck while clutching a rope and standing on a skateboard does indeed deserve credit for bravery, but his character is too annoyingly naïve. A full grown man is going to know about sex regardless if he is a monk or not and he is certainly going to know what female breast are. By having the character so incredibly out-of-touch with the jaded world makes him seem inhuman and like an alien from another planet, which isn’t funny even on a farcical level and an insult to anyone who has chosen a spiritual or more isolated lifestyle.

This pretty much explains the problem with the whole film as the satire is too broad. Poking fun at corrupt street preachers and televangelists is nothing new and thus this thing becomes derivative and one-dimensional from the very beginning. The movie also shifts awkwardly from silly slapstick to parody with running gags that become tiring and certain other bits that seem better suited for a kiddie flick.

There is very little that is genuinely funny although seeing two street preachers ram their vehicles into each other in a sort-of pissing match is amusing as is Peter Boyle’s ventriloquist act using a dummy made to look like Moses. The final scene with Richard Pryor as a computerized version of God and Feldman’s attempts to convert him to Christianity isn’t bad either.

The real scene stealer though is Kaufman who with a bouffant blonde wig plays the perfect caricature of a greedy preacher and I loved his meltdown during one of his religious broadcasts. I also got a kick out of his sink, which has one faucet for cold another for hot and then a third for holy water.

The casting of Lasser as a prostitute was great because she doesn’t fit the caricature of an 80’s Hollywood hooker and has more of the realistic and less flattering looks of an actual streetwalker. However, the film is a grab bag of hit-or-miss jokes many of which fall flat and with a runtime that is much too long for such slight material.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Marty Feldman

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS

A Jolly Bad Fellow (1964)

jolly bad fellow 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He poisons his enemies.

Professor Kerris Bowles-Ottery (Leo McKern) is a college professor working in the university’s science lab where he conducts experiments on mice. One day he accidently comes upon a poison that kills the mice, but only after sending them into a brief euphoric state, which he then decides to use on his enemies. Only a little bit of it is needed to work, so he is able to use all sorts of methods to get them to ingest it including putting it into their drinks, as well as the cigarettes they smoke, and even dabbing a bit of it on a tip of a pencil, which one of the character’s routinely likes to lick before he begins writing with it. Things go quite smoothly until his wife Clarinda (Maxine Audley) leaves him, which upsets him enough that he become careless and eventually culminates with ironic results.

The film’s chief asset is McKern’s presence whose acerbic delivery and facial expressions perfectly captures a stuffy, pompous curmudgeon in highly humorous fashion. He nails every scene that he is in, but his best moment comes at the very end when he hops into his car and begins driving at high speeds throughout the English countryside while giving off a loud, long maniacal laugh.

The plot is thick with satire, but doesn’t go far enough with it. Just when it seems to be catching its stride it bogs down with an affair that McKern has with a much young woman (Janet Munro) that didn’t make a lot of sense. I could see why he’d be into her, but no so much why she would have the hots for him although the fact that he does seem to truly love his wife even when he fools around on her and becomes upset when she decides to leave him was excellent irony.

The funniest element is when he poisons his enemies and rivals many of whom are as pompous and stuck-up as he is. Watching these refined, stuffy people suddenly act silly and child-like is quite amusing, but again the film stops short of packing the punch as these scenes should’ve been more extended, which is the one thing that makes this potentially hilarious film not half as funny as it could’ve been.

jolly bad fellow 1

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Alternate Title: They All Died Laughing

Released: March 15, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Don Chaffey

Studio: British Lion Film Corporation

Available: DVD

Hot Pursuit (1987)

hot pursuit 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He misses the plane.

Danny (John Cusack) attends a private school and when he flunks his chemistry test he’s not allowed to leave with his girlfriend’s family on their trip to the Caribbean. Then his professor inexplicably gives him a reprieve, which allows him to go anyways, but he misses the plane and is forced to play catch-up. First he meets up with some locals, but when their jeep gets submerged in water he takes up with a captain (Robert Loggia) who strands him out at sea. Meanwhile his girlfriend and her family have problems of their own when they inadvertently come into contact with drug smugglers.

The film is poor from the get-go and wastes Cusack’s appeal with material that lacks any imagination. The basic premise is derivative and the characters are one-dimensional. The plot plods along too slowly and the various hijinks that Danny finds himself in aren’t funny at all. The natives that he first meets up with are a bit on the creepy side and Loggia’s captain character is an over-the-top caricature that adds little.

The film’s biggest problem is its severe shift in tone. It starts out as an escapist comedy, which would’ve been alright had it actually been funny, but then ends up turning into a thriller when the family gets kidnapped by drug kingpins and it’s up to Cusack to get them out. Had it tried to keep some humor going during the tension it might’ve worked, but instead it gets unnecessarily serious and implausible with characters that are so poorly fleshed-out that the viewer really doesn’t care what happens to them making the climatic sequence boring and prolonged.

Cusack is good as always and I kind of liked him with his long hair look, but the character tends to be a bit too clean-cut. A young Ben Stiller appears here in his film debut and seeing him play against type as a leering, cocky bad guy is the only interesting thing about this movie and makes it somewhat worth catching.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 8, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Steven Lisberger

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Devil and Max Devlin (1981)

devil and max devlin

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Working for the devil.

Max (Elliot Gould) works for a slumlord and does whatever he can to make life miserable for the tenants who rent from him. After getting run over by a bus while trying to chase down a delinquent tenant he finds himself in hell and face-to-face with the devil (Bill Cosby) who gives him a deal that will allow him to get out of dealing with ‘Level 4’, which is supposedly one of the harsher penalties for hell dwellers. The deal consists of Max getting three people to sign over their souls at which point Max’s will be freed, but as Max gets to know the people including that of 10-year-old Toby (Adam Rich) whose mother Penny (Susan Anspach) he is interested in marrying he becomes reluctant to follow through with it.

This movie was part of Disney’s effort to break away from the kiddie-like slapstick of their 70’s films and become edgier and more ‘hip’. This film along with The Black Hole, Condorman, and Tron where all produced to attract an older teen audience and gain a trendier appeal, but it pretty much failed and this movie was the worst of them. Part of the problem is that the main character is a man in his 40’s, which kids and teens cannot relate to. Most films need to have a protagonist the same age as its intended audience in order to build that connection and this one doesn’t. It’s also very slow with little or no action. I found myself completely bored with it during the second hour and I can only imagine what a 10 or even 13-year-old must have felt. The humor is minimal and not funny. It also lacks any type of ‘coolness’ with a plot that isn’t any more sophisticated than the formulaic stuff it had already been churning out, which at least was engaging on a mindless level, which this one isn’t.

I liked the scenes shown from hell, but that is about it. The script, which was written by Mary Rodgers who had earlier success with Freak Friday seems unable to understand things from a teen’s perspective while being quite predictable in the process. Also, the reasons for Max going to hell, which include cheating on a test in the 4th grade and stealing candy from a store as a child seem awfully trite. If hell truly does exist and minor stuff like that is enough to get people sent there then the majority of us will be going and heaven will be a very empty place.

Gould does surprisingly well, but I still felt he was miscast. Cosby is wasted and barely even used although the scene near the end where he appears in devilish makeup is effective and creepy. Anspach is equally wasted and Ronnie Schell who plays as an aggressive talent agent wearing some very loud suits is seen much too briefly.

This one is a definite pass even for Disney fans. It’s too edgy and scary for little kids, not hip enough for teens while being too watered down for adults.

devil and max devlin2

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 6, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steven Hilliard Stern

Studio: Buena Vista Productions

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Wise Guys (1986)

wise guys

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding from the mob.

This review contains some Spoilers!

Harry and Moe (Danny DeVito, Joe Piscopo) work as errand boys for a Newark, New Jersey mob run by Castelo (Dan Hedaya). They are tired of doing all the odd, dangerous jobs that no one else wants to and long to one day break away and open up their own restaurant, but lack the required capital. Then one day they are assigned to go to the track to bet on a certain horse, but Harry is convinced that another one will win, so they place all $250,000 dollars on that one only to lose. Now they must go on the run searching for Harry’s Uncle Mike who they hope can replenish them with the lost money before the mob’s henchman The Fixer (Captain Lou Albano) catches up with them to dispense their punishment.

Director Brian De Palma returns to his comical roots of Hi Mom! and Greetings, but unfortunately this film lacks the creativity and originality of those and instead comes off as just another tired, generic 80’s comedy. The attempted twists are not interesting or surprising. Having them lose on a ‘sure thing’ after they initially start gloating when it looks like their horse would win is comedy writing 101. The Sting-like ending is equally contrived and something I figured out long before it gets revealed. Again, you simply have to know the rules of a Hollywood comedy, which states every ending must be a ‘feel good’ one, so if a main character suddenly dies you automatically know there’s got to be some sort of catch to it such as is the case here.

The motivations of the characters are loopy. For one thing going back to their boss while putting up only a mild resistance after they’ve lost the money for what will most definitely be punishment and torture seems dumber than dumb even for these dimwits. The idea that they would both stay loyal to one another even during torture is not believable. Yes it may sound noble, but realistically especially when their families were being threatened it would have to be expected that at least one of them would crack and betray the other. Then the boss has them assigned to kill the other one and for a while they both secretly consider it, but this doesn’t make sense either because if they are going to remain so loyal to the other during torture then shouldn’t it be expected that they would immediately tell each other that they’ve been pegged to kill the other and then come up with some alternative plan to get out of it?

The destruction of Fixer’s convertible becomes another logical blunder. Yes, they both despise him and the chance at destroying his prized possession would seem tempting to anyone in their shoes, but they also need his car to get away and go places, so destroying it until it is literally inoperable becomes really stupid.

DeVito is great at playing arrogant, sarcastic jerks, but as a sympathetic good guy he is benign and out-of-place. I also didn’t care for wrestler-turned-actor Albano’s presence as his character is too one-dimensionally crude and obnoxious and the part where he is shown lying on his back with his big fat belly exposed is just plain gross to look at.

There have been some great gangster movies throughout cinema history, but they all tend to be ones that take the genre seriously and when they try to give it a comical spin it comes off as lame like this one. The part where Harry’s grandmother (Mimi Cecchini) reveals a million dollar bills that she has ‘stuffed under her mattress’ and the way all of Castelo’s henchmen eagerly light up his cigarette every time he puts one in his mouth, which happens twice with the second time being the gem, are the only two mildly amusing moments in this otherwise flat comedy.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 18, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Scream for Help (1984)

scream for help 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her Stepfather plots murder.

Christie (Rachael Kelly) is a teen convinced that her new stepfather (Paul Fox) is out to kill her mother (Marie Masters). The problem is that no one believes her. Eventually she is able to take a picture of him having sex with another woman, which is enough to get her mother to throw him out of their house, but then he returns with two of his cohorts and traps Christie and her mother in the basement were they plan to kill them and make it look like a robbery.

This film, which was written by Tom Holland, might have been better received had it not been put into the hands of sub-par director Michael Winner. Winner who is probably best known for his close association to Charles Bronson of which he directed 7 films with him and then later when his film career waned became a famous restaurant critic, shows no feeling for the material and directs with such a sloppy style that it almost seemed like he was intentionally trying to make a bad movie. The sweeping orchestral score would have been better suited for a romance or epic adventure and is completely out of place here. The dialogue is corny and the overall acting by the supporting cast is wooden. The pace is awkward and at times becomes unintentionally funny.

However, the second half improves greatly particularly when the two find themselves trapped in the cellar and must use their ingenuity to get out. The twists are clever and unpredictable and the atmosphere becomes genuinely taut and exciting. The musical score also improves becoming much more intense and darker. I actually started to get really into it and afterwards felt like I had watched two different movies with the second part being good enough to overshadow its otherwise many flaws.

Brooks as the bad guy has a male model face, but his performance is as generic as the film’s title and it would have been better had a veteran character actor been cast in the part instead. The mother character with the way she refuses to believe the obvious until it is much too late seems unreasonably and annoyingly stupid. I did though like Kelly in the lead. Not only is she cute, but her acting is good enough to compel the viewer to keep watching when they otherwise might have turned it off and I was surprised to see that this was her only film as she showed enough promise to have had a solid career.

Filmed on-location in New Rochelle, New York this is the type of low budget flick that proves how a good script can sometimes overcome other production inadequacies. Had it been better directed this could have been a snappy thriller and it’s a shame that Hitchcock disciple Richard Franklin who was the original choice as director hadn’t helmed it although a film school dropout or even your local garbage man could have done a better job than Winner or certainly no worse.

scream for help 1

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 16, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Winner

Studio: Lorimar

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)

Loving Couples (1980)

loving couples

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everybody is fooling around.

The marriage between Evelyn and Walter (Shirley MacLaine, James Coburn) has grown stale. When dashing womanizer Greg (Stephen Collins) sets his sights on Evelyn and makes a play for her she is all too happy to take him up on it. Then Greg’s girlfriend Stephanie (Susan Sarandon) finds out about the affair and tries to put a stop to it by informing Walter only to find that they have a special chemistry and soon they are in a relationship as well, but the more time the couples spend with their new mates the more they end up longing for their old ones.

The flat, unoriginal script was written by famed TV-show writer Martin Donovan and is not worthy for even a second-rate sitcom. Outside of a brief amusing segment where Walter demonstrates to Stephanie how to perform brain surgery by using a hamburger bun as a patient’s cranium there is nothing much that is funny. The plot itself is dull and placid and becomes increasingly more boring as it goes along.

The Greg character and how the women respond to him is a big issue. His methods at seduction could easily get him charged with harassment or stalking these days, but he is also an obvious player and yet Shirley MacLaine’s character still gets into a relationship with him despite the fact that she is old enough to know better and then ends up stung and shocked when he starts fooling around with another woman even though anyone else with half-a-brain could have easily predicted it.

Stephanie’s attempts to somehow ‘win him back’ when she finds out that he is cheating on her is equally absurd since by her own admission he has already done it several times before with other woman, so why waste time trying to stop this latest fling when he’ll most likely start it up with another woman regardless?

The film lacks any quarreling, which could have spiced things up. Instead when they find out about their partner’s transgressions the conversations are civil to a sterile degree, which is not only uninteresting, but unrealistic. Let’s face it all couples fight and if you can’t get into a shouting match with your spouse when you find out they’ve been cheating then when can you?

Coburn manages to be engaging despite the weak material, but his curly silver haired mop-top looks better suited for a male gigolo than an otherwise staid and conservative middle-aged doctor. Helena Carroll has a few witty lines as the couple’s maid and she should’ve been given more screen time, but it was actually Sarandon that I liked the best as she plays a shy, slightly naïve character that was unusual for her.

This is quite similar to A Change of Seasons, which came out later that same year and also starred MacLaine and although that film was certainly no classic it is still far superior to this one.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 24, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jack Smight

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

A Change of Seasons (1980)

a change of seasons 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everybody has a fling.

Adam (Anthony Hopkins) a middle-aged college professor who starts having an affair with a beautiful young student of his named Lindsey (Bo Derek). When his wife Karyn (Shirley MacLaine) finds out about it she decides to get her revenge by having an affair of her own with a handyman named Pete (Michael Brandon). All four decided to take a ski trip together while staying in the same house with each spouse sleeping with their new found lover. Despite a few hiccups things go surprisingly well until their college-aged daughter Kasey (Mary Beth Hurt) shows up who is none too thrilled with her parent’s new arrangement. Then Lindsey’s father (Edward Winter) appears who, after initially being shocked at the tawdry set-up, eventually adjusts and then makes a play for Karyn as well.

Although the film’s trailer and poster makes this thing look like a madcap farce it really isn’t and despite a comical set-up veers surprisingly towards the dramatic most of the way. To some extent it kind of works and I enjoyed some of the dialogue that tries to dig a bit deeper than most of the other mid-life crisis films as it analyzes why otherwise happily married men would jeopardize their union by having a mindless fling and somehow expecting to successfully juggle both relationships. However, it would have worked much better had it stayed with the comical route. Some of the funny scenarios don’t get played out enough and with such goofy characters and situations it’s hard to take it seriously even when it wants to culminating in an uneven mix of a movie that never quite hits its stride.

There are also certain scenes that don’t make much sense in either the comical or dramatic vein. One involves Adam admitting to Karyn about his affair and instead of her becoming enraged and either throwing him out or leaving they spend the rest of the night calmly discussing it and even going to bed together, which seemed highly unlikely to occur in real-life. The way Karyn hooks-up with Pete is equally stupid as he waltzes into her house unannounced and starts making himself some coffee and breakfeast. When Karyn comes downstairs to find this stranger in her home she doesn’t panic and call the police like a normal person would, but instead after a very brief conversation invites him upstairs for sex.

a change of seasons 3

Hopkins gives and excellent performance and the main reason the film stays afloat and is passable to watch. The way his character is forced to face his own contradictions and flaws is good and the scene where he catches Karyn with Pete is well acted on his part and makes the segment more interesting than it otherwise would have been. Winter is great as well and gives the best performance of his career where his initial shock at discovering their living arrangement is genuinely funny.

The only weak link of the cast is Derek. Yes, she certainly looks great naked and the opening sequence featuring her and Hopkins in the hot tub is okay on the erotic level, but her acting is overall quite poor and her monotone delivery eventually becomes annoying.

Overall the theme is too derivative from many other films that have tackled the same subject making this one hardly worth the effort to seek out. In fact MacLaine starred in another film that very same year entitled Loving Couples that has pretty much the exact same storyline and that one will be reviewed next week.

a change of seasons 2

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Lang

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD