Tag Archives: Stacy Keach

That Championship Season (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their reunion turns sour.

On the 25th anniversary of when they won the state high school basketball championship four members of the team get together with their coach (Robert Mitchum) to celebrate. George (Bruce Dern) who made the winning shot is now the town’s mayor and up for reelection. James (Stacy Keach) is a high school principal while his younger brother Tom (Martin Sheen) has become a vagabond alcoholic. Phil (Paul Sorvino) is the most successful of the group even though his business methods aren’t always ethical. It’s his revelation that he has had an affair with George’s wife that sends the gathering into a freefall where long dormant secrets from all the members slowly come to the surface.

The film was written and directed by Jason Miller, best known for playing Father Karras in The Exorcist, and the play version, which he also wrote won him the Pulitzer Prize. Despite the rave reviews of the play I was genuinely shocked how lifeless and boring the film is. It takes 35 minutes before any real conflict is introduced and once it does it’s all very contrived. The opening half-hour is nice as it was filmed on-location in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which was Miller’s hometown, but the second half is done completely inside one home, which makes it very stagey. Flashback sequences were done to help make it more cinematic, but unwisely cut by the film’s producer.

The plot thread dealing with Sorvino’s character having an affair with Dern’s wife seemed so utterly contrived that I literally had to roll my eyes when it gets brought up. It’s almost like they had to throw in something to keep it interesting so why not just make it the oldest, most clichéd soap opera-like thing they could think of. What’s worse is we never see this woman in question despite her being the catalyst for all the drama nor any explanation of where she is or what she is doing.

The acting is good for the most part, which is the only reason I’m giving this thing even 2 points, but at times the performers have trouble rising above the melodramatic material including the scene where Keach tries to put on a cry while describing his mistreatment by his father, which sounds very fake and unintentionally laughable.

Sorvino walks around with jet black hair except for a big white patch on the back of his head, which is distracting and gets shown a lot, but never mentioned by any of the other characters. I’ve never seen anyone with that condition, except for someone who intentionally highlighted it like that and even so I don’t think that was the case here. The producers should’ve had that spot dyed black like the rest of his hair to avoid the distraction, or had one of the other characters joke about it in passing, so the viewer didn’t have to keep wondering why they are the only ones seeing it and nobody else was.

The final scene where the men listen to a tape of when their team scored the winning shot, which brings tears to their eyes, is the only segment that rings true and hits home how high school for some people can be the highlights of their whole lives and everything afterwards is all downhill. The rest of the movie though is an exercise in boredom and filled with sterile characters dealing with generic issues.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jason Miller

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)

life of judge 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He rules the town.

Roy Bean (Paul Newman) rides into a lonely western town that is being ruled by a group of violent vagrants that attack and rob him as he enters their saloon and then they tie him to an end of a wagon and drag his body through the dusty desert landscape. Fortunately for him he manages to survive the ordeal and gets his revenge by returning to the saloon and killing off the others. After which he appoints himself as the judge who oversees all issues of law and order in the vicinity, which quietly begins to prosper under his leadership.

Although based on an actual historical figure the script by John Milius goes wildly off-the-mark that has no bearing to anything that actually occurred and ends up becoming highly fanciful in the process. There are certainly some amusing bits here and there, but the tone is too whimsical and loses any semblance of grittiness until it doesn’t seem like a western at all. The story also lacks a plot and the overall theme that is way too similar to The Ballad of Cable Hogue, which was directed by Sam Peckinpah and came out just two years before this one.

During my trip this summer I traveled to Langtry, Texas where the real Judge Roy Bean lived and where most of this movie was filmed.  I was surprised to find how interesting the true events of his life were and how the movie would’ve been much more fascinating had it just stuck to what really happened instead of making it all up. In real-life Bean entered the town in the spring of 1882 where he opened up a saloon and soon was appointed the Justice of the Peace by the state since the next nearest court was 200 miles away. The jurors for the cases that he heard were made up of his own bar patrons who were required to buy drinks in between court hearings. No one was sent to jail since he did not own a cell and all those accused were simply fined in the amount of cash that they had on them at the time.

I also found it was amusing at how different the performers looked in comparison to their real-life counterparts. Newman shows some resemblance to the actual man, but Victoria Principal, who plays Bean’s Mexican bride Maria Elena, clearly looks far sexier than the real one did.

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Overall, the film is passable for those wanting nothing more than an evening of light entertainment. The scene where Bean travels to San Antonio so as to meet Lily Langtry (Ava Gardner) a stage actress who he adores his quite good as it takes the character, who had by then achieved almost a mythical quality, and turned him back into being quite mortal when he fights through the city crowds and becomes nothing more than just another-face-in-the-crowd to the people there.

I also enjoyed seeing the town grow into a big oil boom city although in reality this never happened and the place as of today only has a population of 18 people. Stacy Keach’s cameo where he wears heavy make-up to resemble an albino renegade who rides into town and challenges Bean to a gunfight is quite amusing, but it’s probably Principal’s performance in her film debut that ends up becoming the film’s most enduring quality.

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(The actual saloon where Judge Bean tried heard his cases, which still stands today.)

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released:  December 18, 1972

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Huston

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Class of 1999 (1990)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The teachers are robots.

The year is 1999 and American high schools are running rampant with drugs and gang warfare. In an attempt to try to regain some control administrators have hired on a company run by Dr. Bob Forrest (Stacy Keach) who has created teachers who look human, but are actually robots capable of exerting extreme punishment on those students who get out-of-line. A Seattle high school is chosen as a venue to test these robots out with Miles Langford (Malcolm McDowell) being the only human instructor made aware of these other teacher’s identities. At first things go well and civil behavior from the unruly teens is attained, but then the teachers get out-of-control where even their creators are unable to rein them in, so it is up to some rebel teen students lead by Cody (Cody Culp) to fight them off and stop them.

This is a sort-of sequel to writer/director Mark L. Lester’s earlier Class of 1984 and in many ways on a low budget scale it’s alright. I watched this film with my Cinema Terrible group here in Austin where we get together each month to watch two really bad movies. Usually everyone spends the time making fun at what they are watching, but this film surprisingly kept them quiet and captivated, which no one had initially expected. Lester has directed 33 of these types of films since 1971 and he knows how to deliver. His product certainly isn’t on an Academy Award winning level, but for those looking for some cheap non-think entertainment with a fast pace and decent effects then this ain’t too bad.

The best element of the film is John P. Ryan, Pam Grier and Patrick Kilpatrick as the three teacher robots. Ryan especially owns the screen during all of his scenes and the part where he takes some difficult students one-by-one over his knee and gives them a nice long, hard spanking is without question the best moment of the whole movie. Grier though is good too and during the climatic sequence she runs around essentially topless with her chest ripped open and her computer parts exposed, which I found to be well done. McDowell is the only one of the familiar names who is wasted and apparently only worked 2 days on the production.

The film’s biggest issue is that it has no sense of humor despite its over-the-top campy premise. The teen cast show minimal acting ability and their characters come off like walking, talking clichés. In a lot of ways this film would have been better had the evil teacher robots been portrayed as ‘the good guys’ and instead of being annihilated at the end by the students they were the ones who eradicated all of the mouthy, crude and disrespectful teens, which some would consider to be much more of a ‘happy ending’.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1990

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: Vestron Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Brewster McCloud (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Flying in the Astrodome.

Brewster McCloud (Bud Cort) is a young man who lives and hides inside the giant Astrodome in Houston, Texas. He dreams of one day flying like a bird and secretly works on building a contraption that will help him do it while being aided by a mysterious guardian angel named Louise (Sally Kellerman). Meanwhile strangulations start occurring all over the city and the police become convinced that Brewster may have something to do with it. As he gets ready to ‘spread his wings’ and fly for the first time the police surround the place and try to arrest him.

This film is reportedly director Robert Altman’s favorite out of all the ones that he did and it is easy to see why. The quirky, offbeat script by Doran William Cannon nicely compliments Altman’s free-form, cerebral style. The film works on many different levels with every shot and scene being unique and a kind of story in itself. The dream-like quality is nicely balanced with harsh realities creating an interesting theme that touches a wide array of senses. Although this film is never mentioned in relation to car chases the one that is has is exciting and well photographed without any of the jump cuts that you normally see.

The city of Houston gets captured well and I liked the fact that Altman stayed away from the downtown and instead focused more on the neighborhoods and city streets. The filming of the inside of the Astrodome is the most impressive and the building becomes like a third character. It may seem hard to believe now, but at one time it was considered ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ and was the very first dome stadium in existence. Watching Cort fly around on the makeshift wings he creates gives off an exhilarating feeling especially with the way Altman captures it against the backdrop of the stadium’s ceiling filled with skylights. The best shot in my opinion though is the bird’s-eye view of seeing Kellerman walking the entire length of the field and out the exit.

The broad and amusing characterizations are fun and Altman gives his actors wide range to create them. Some of the best ones are Stacy Keach who is unrecognizable under heavy make-up as an elderly, cantankerous and greedy landlord who goes reeling down the city streets in nothing but a wheel chair. Bert Remsen is good as a corrupt and racist policeman who even beats and berates his own family. Michael Murphy is interesting as a narcissist, hotshot detective who ends up killing himself and Rene Auberjonois as the lecturer who slowly turns into a giant bird as the film progresses. There is even the aging Margaret Hamilton who says a few curse words and dies while wearing her ruby red slippers.

The film is one-of-a-kind and perfect fare for those looking for something offbeat and diverting. The kooky opening and ending title sequences alone make it worth it. My only real complaint would be the fact that supposedly a bird is committing all these strangulations, but we never see how. All the viewers see is the victims getting bird poop on them and nothing more. I realize this might have been technically difficult to film or visualize, but for such an otherwise creative movie this seems like a bit of a cop-out.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: December 5, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD

End of the Road (1970)

end of the road

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Too weird for words.

A bizarre adaptation of John Barth’s already bizarre novel detailing the story of a man (Stacy Keach) who goes into a catatonic state at a train station and is then sent to a strange mental hospital run by a weirdo named Doctor D (James Earl Jones). After he is considered to be ‘cured’ he takes a job as a college professor and proceeds to have an affair with the wife (Dorothy Tristan) of one of his colleagues (Harris Yulin).

It has been noted that author Barth disliked this film version of his novel and it is easy to see why. It gives only a basic outline of the story while leaving out all of the deeper meanings. It also tried to tie the story to the chaos and rebellion of the 60’s even though the book was written in 1955. The final result is a confusing mess that never comes together. The characters behave strangely and with no understanding to their motivations it becomes impossible to relate to them or anything else that goes on. Most viewers, especially those that are not familiar with the book, will easily become confused after the first five minutes if not sooner.

On the positive end the filmmaking style is refreshingly audacious in a way that is rarely seen anymore. Everything is thrown out there no matter how outrageous with little regard to mainstream acceptance. The kinetic imagery and music has a certain hypnotic effect that keeps you connected to it even if you don’t understand what is going on. The film culminates with a very intense, grizzly, and tasteless abortion sequence that will not be soon forgotten by anyone who sees it. Jones gives one of the most bizarre and over-the-top performances that you will ever see anywhere and anyone who is a fan of his or has an interest in acting MUST see him in this film.

It’s a misfired experiment that manages to be enough of a period artifact to make it interesting as a curio. It definitely has the ability to stay with you after it is over.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated X

Director: Aram Avakian

Studio: Allie Artists Pictures

Available: DVD