Tag Archives: Ronee Blakley

The Baltimore Bullet (1980)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pool hustlers travel country.

Nick (James Coburn) is an aging pool hustler who’s best days are behind him. Many years earlier he took a young 15-year-old boy named Billie Joe (Bruce Boxleitner) under his tutelage and taught him the tricks-of-the-trade. Now as a man Billie is able to play the game as well as Nick. The two travel the countryside attending pool halls where they hustle patsies for money. Nick though holds a grudge because a ways back he lost a crucial match to The Deacon (Omar Sharif) another hustler whose just been released from jail. Nick wants a rematch, but The Deacon doesn’t think he’s worthy of his time. Nick though got’s a scheme that will get him to change his mind by playing in a nationally televised pool tournament that The Deacon plans to attend.

For a film that has never had an official US DVD release and was only shown sporadically on late night TV I was surprised at how engaging it is. Screenwriters John Brascia and Robert Vincent O’Neill have written a highly amiable script that features funny vignettes and amusing banter. The focus isn’t on the game of pool, which seems almost like a side-light, but more on the scraps they get into along the way. The two also come into contact with those trying to cheat them and this culminates in an almost surreal like confrontation, that comes around the middle mark, inside a house of mirrors at a carnival side show.

The film also has a segment that seemed prolific in movies that came out during the late 70’s and early 80’s which features what would be considered sexual assault now. The scene has Nick betting Billie Joe that the breasts on a waitress at a cafe that they’re in is silicone and not natural. Billie then proceeds to go into the kitchen to feel-her-up without her consent. While what he does is not shown we do hear her scream and drop her tray of dishes before he walks back out with a broad smile on his face, which back in the day was just considered ‘light comedy’.

Coburn is a great actor, but looks horribly aged. He was only 60, but could’ve easily passed-off as 70 or 75 making his fight scenes look inauthentic as I don’t believe in his elderly condition he would’ve been able to hold his own. Boxleitner is dull and seems only able to display a broad ‘good-ole-boy’ smile and not much else. A more dynamic actor, or one maybe more Coburn’s age, could’ve made the buddy angle better.

I found Sharif to be too soft spoken and he approaches his part in a weird way. For instance when he’s playing a senator at poker he displays moments of outward nervousness, but if he’s truly a cocky, confident player that wouldn’t have been the case. Ronee Blakely is weak as well proving that her appearance in Nashville was her only good performance though her singing is nice and she’ll remind one a lot of Shelley Duvall with her looks. Jack O’Halloran, the former boxer who’s best known for playing Non the henchmen to the evil Zod in the Superman movies, is very funny as Max an inept hit man.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending unfortunately gets convoluted. Having the game broadcast and featuring live play-by-play and commenting by pool legend Willie Musconi is cool, but I wanted to see the ultimate match between Nick and Billie Joe to prove which one was truly better. The script teases this idea, but then adds in too many other unnecessary ingredients like having Nick be pressured to dump the game while there’s also a robbery happening and then eventually the place is raided by the feds. By the time it gets to The Deacon taking-on Nick it’s anti-climactic especially since no one else is around (it should’ve been televised on TV for all to witness). Having it focus more on the game and the strategies, which it starts to do slightly near the end, would’ve given it more substance and what little they do talk about I found to be genuinely interesting.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Ellis Miller

Studio: AVCO Embassy Entertainment

Available: DVD (Reg 2 Import)

The Driver (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A professional getaway driver.

Ryan O’Neal plays a man who makes a living as a getaway driver for crooks leaving the scene of a crime. His driving skills are superior and in the criminal underworld his services are in high demand. Bruce Dern plays a police detective obsessed with catching this elusive driver. He makes a deal with a couple of bad guys (Joseph Walsh, Rudy Ramos) to hire this driver for their next robbery and then set him up for a police trap. The Driver is initially reluctant to work with the two, but eventually joins them only to ultimately look for help from a beautiful French woman known as the Player (Isabelle Adjani) to get him out of his jam.

I’ve never been much of an O’Neal fan, but here his lack of acting depth makes the movie more intriguing. The part was originally intended for Steve McQueen who would’ve given the role the stereotypically gritty treatment, but O’Neal has more of a boyish male model demeanor which makes you question whether he is tough enough, or brazen enough to handle the driving demands, so seeing him flourish when you’re not quite expecting it gives the character an interesting edge. I also liked the fact that at times even he conveys nervous facial expressions as he takes the vehicle through dangerous turns, which helps show even the ‘cool guys’ are human.

Dern easily steals the picture as he continues to find entertaining ways to give unique and memorable touches to all the characters that he plays. The dialogue that his character utters conforms yet again to his patented delivery. For instance he accuses his partner (Matt Clark) of possibly being a ‘fruitter’. In the past men of the gay persuasion were sometimes called ‘fruits’, but never a ‘fruitter’ which is a word he totally makes-up and would be considered inane and silly if said by anyone else, but when said with Dern’s patented delivery it makes the character seem even more unhinged and threatening instead. In fact Dern’s conversations with Clark are some of the movie’s best moments.

Although Adjani’s screen time is limited and I still enjoyed her presence and the fact that she doesn’t show any of the typical female vulnerability, but instead seems more stoic than any of the men makes her stand out from other female characters of that era. It’s also fun seeing her facial expression turned to an almost catatonic state during the film’s high octane final chase sequence.  Ronee Blakely doesn’t fare quite as well as she says her lines in too much of a monotone fashion though the ironic way that her character meets her demise does deserves a few points.

The chases are exciting particularly the opening one, which is done at night and the one done inside a car garage in which O’Neal intentionally destroys the car that he is driving in an attempt to teach the two other occupants that he is with a lesson. The cat-and-mouse scenario inside an abandoned warehouse that makes up the bulk of the film’s final chase is slick as well, but I felt there needed to be at least one more chase added as the film gets talky in-between and away from the action, which is what people that come to these type of films genres expect especially with the title that it has.

Writer/director Walter Hill shows a keen eye for detail and manages to capture everything, even an abandoned parking garage with a stylish allure. The script is smart and sophisticated with the character’s expressing themselves by using only the most minimum of words possible. The plot has a unique quality, but still manages to stay believable and why this thing failed at the box office and was chastised by the critics at the time is hard to understand, but it’s gained a strong cult following since and deserves more attention for being years ahead-of-its-time.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 28, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Walter Hill

Studio: 20th Century Fox

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

Welcome Home, Soldier Boys (1971)

welcome home soldier boys

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: War veterans destroy town.

Four Green Berets (Joe Don Baker, Allan Vint, Elliot Street, Paul Koslo) return home from a stint in Vietnam. Initially they stop off at the home of one of the men’s parents, but find that none of them are ready to settle down, get a job, and play ‘within-the-rules’, so they set out on a cross country road trip, but when their car breaks down they end up paying more than they should for the repairs by an unscrupulous mechanic (Timothy Scott). This along with dealing with a society that does not seem to appreciate what they did for their country gets them angry. When they arrive in a small town ironically called Hope their simmering frustrations boil over. Using their army ammunition they go on a rampage destroying the town and everyone in it causing the National Guard to come in to try and stop them and creating for them a war zone all over again.

For a low budget 70’s flick this isn’t too bad. Richard Compton’s direction is slick, nicely photographed and paced well enough to retain a passing interest. The music, which features songs written and sung by actress/singer Ronee Blakely is okay and to a degree fits the mood. The script by Gordon Trueblood has believable dialogue and doesn’t seem intent on being purely exploitive.

Unfortunately the film fails to show much insight into the personality or experience of being a veteran. No flashbacks or discussions about it. In many ways these characters could simply have been regular, non-descript young men from any background who were not yet ready to enter into the adult world and take on adult responsibilities, which in the end is what makes this whole thing rather generic and its ‘statement’ more self-important than it really is.

Baker does quite well in the lead and although he sometimes gets a bad rap for his acting I’ve come to feel that it is unfair. The way his character here is so diametrically opposite from the one that he played in Walking Tall just two years later proves without a doubt that he is a talented thespian if given the right material.

Jennifer Billingsley though is wasted in a thankless role as a prostitute who rides with them for a little ways before getting thrown out of the vehicle at high speeds. Leonard Maltin incorrectly states in his book that her character is gang raped, which isn’t too true. She has consensual sex with one of the men, but then gets kicked out when she demands $500 for her services instead of $100 that they were willing to pay her.

The violent, climatic ending is the film’s most notorious claim to fame, but it takes too long to get there, lasts for only a couple of minutes and then ends too abruptly. It’s also absurd and outrageous to believe that these men would end up killing innocent people simply as a way to vent their anger at being cheated by a car mechanic. After all if everyone responded the same way when a car mechanic overcharged them then there would be no small towns left anywhere.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 10, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Compton

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD-R (20th Century Fox Cinema Archives)

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

nightmare on elm street

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Freddy’s in their dreams.

Teenager Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) starts having nightmares about a strange man (Robert Englund) with burned skin, a green and red sweater and wearing a glove with sharp finger-like blades. She finds out that her friends are having the same type of dream and that this man is a former child murderer named Fred Krueger who is reaching out from his grave to attack them.

This movie has been parodied and imitated so much over the years that one forgets what an original idea this was. Writer/director Wes Craven uses stark, shadowy lighting and a distinctive music score to build a great horror atmosphere. The name Freddy Krueger, which he named after a childhood bully of his, is inspired. The scene where he appears in a dark alley as a midget with extremely long arms is a creepy image and possibly the scariest moment in the film. The pace is good and the scenarios imaginative making this well above average when compared to a typical 80’s slasher film and a definite classic.

The special effects are also quite creative and although not completely successful still a lot of fun to watch.  I loved the whole bathtub scene as well as the segment where Glen (Johnny Depp) gets sucked inside his bed, which creates a big hole in his mattress where a giant flow of blood comes gushing out of it and covers the entire ceiling and walls of his room. It may not make complete sense, but cool to look at nonetheless. The part where Tina (Amanda Wyss) gets pushed up the wall and ceiling of her room by an invisible force while being slashed is quite scary to watch despite the fact that when a close-up is shown of her skin getting cut it looks more like it is made a of clay and her bloodied body on the floor appears like it where drenched with a bucket of red paint.

heather 2

Langenkamp is fantastic in the lead and I would nominate her as the all-time best heroine of a slasher film. Her face is beautiful, but also quite expressive and she seems to show genuine emotion and far exceeds the typical cardboard scream queen. Her presence and not that of the villainous Freddy, whose screen time here is more limited than you think, is what carries the film. There is also a fun in-joke when she looks in a mirror and states “God, I look like I am 20”, which is funny since despite playing a teen character she really was 20 at the time of the shooting.  (I realize on the DVD commentary she states that she was 18 or 19, but the truth is she was born July 17, 1964 and this was filmed between June and July of 1984, so she was either 20 or very, very close.)

It’s great seeing Johnny Depp in his film debut. He still looks boyish at 50, but here looks like he is barely 10 years old. It is amusing seeing him play a sort-of doofus and he also gets a good line when after hearing Tina and her boyfriend having sex in the other room states “Reality sucks”.

amanda wyss

I also enjoyed Wyss for her amazing piercing blue eyes, but having her willingly go to bed with Rod (Jsu Garcia) an obnoxious, crass, Fonzi wannabe makes her character seem kind of stupid.

John Saxon is competent as Nancy’s father who also works as the town’s police chief, but I couldn’t say the same for Ronee Blakley as the mother. She was unforgettable with her brilliant performance in Nashville, but seemed to be miscast in every film that she did afterwards and it should probably be no surprise that she hasn’t been in any film since 1990. I also didn’t care for her sprayed-on tan look either.

Despite being an enjoyable film there are a few logical inconsistencies that I feel should be addressed. One is that I would argue it is virtually impossible for someone to know that they are in a dream when they are dreaming even though the characters here do. It should also have been better explained how the Freddy character is able to come out of the dream and into real-life, which gets confusing.  The part where Nancy states that she hasn’t slept in seven nights, but doesn’t show any physical or psychological signs of it are too much of a stretch.  Also, I had to chuckle at the part where Nancy comes home to find that her mother has had bars placed on all the windows of the home for added security, but then doesn’t bother to lock the front door as Nancy is able to walk inside without having to use a key.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 16, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R

Director: Wes Craven

Studio: New Line Cinema

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