Tag Archives: Susan Sarandon

The Great Smokey Roadblock (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old man keeps truckin’.

John Howard (Henry Fonda) is an aging truck driver laid up in a hospital while his rig is repossessed. Feeling that his life may soon be ending he decides to escape from the hospital, take back his rig, which he has named Eleanor after the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and go for one last cross-country run. He picks up a spiritual hitch-hiker (Robert Englund) as well as a group of prostitutes who hide in the truck in an effort to escape the law, but the authorities are onto John’s plans and try to stop him before he can complete his trip.

If there is one reason to watch this otherwise flat and forgettable flick it is for the performance of Fonda, who despite his ailing health still had what it took and easily commands the screen from his other co-stars. In fact Fonda creates such a strong presence that many of the ‘colorful’ supporting characters could’ve been scrapped completely as the most enjoyable moments come with Fonda conversing with Englund who has a diametrically different personality and perspective, as the two drive down the highway.

Eileen Brennan lends good support in a rare dramatic role and it’s fun seeing Susan Sarandon, who also co-produced, playing a minor part as one of the prostitutes. She looks so young here and it was hard to believe that only a decade later she would have aged so much that she would be playing a prostitute again in Bull Durham albeit a much more mature one.

Dub Taylor is enjoyable as a crazy, hick, which he has done many, many times before and it should’ve gotten old by now, but he always exudes so much energy in his parts that its highly diverting anyways. However, the efforts by Austin Pendleton, John Byner, and Valerie Curtain aren’t as entertaining and the motivations of their characters so unclear that it would’ve been better had they not been in it at all.

The only action comes when John takes his truck and crashes it through a police barrier, which gets shown in slow-motion. Whether a truck would’ve actually been able to plow through several police cars and not cause any injuries or fatalities and no significant damage to the rig itself is highly dubious and only helps to prove how trite and whimsical this whole thing is.

There are moments when the film seems to be straining for something deeper, but it never gets there. There are so many other, far better road movies out there that this one doesn’t even deserve an honorable mention. Writer/director John Leone is clearly working over-his-head here and it’s no surprise that this was his only feature in a movie that amounts to being a passable time waster at best and nothing more.

Alternate Titles: The Last of the Cowboys, The Goodbye Run

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 7, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 44 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Leone

Studio: American Cinema Releasing

Available: DVD

Checkered Flag or Crash (1977)

checkered flag 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drivers race off-road.

Walkaway Madden (Joe Don Baker) is a lifelong racer who has just broken up with his racing partner of many years and is now going solo, or at least he thinks he is until reporter C.C. Wainwright (Susan Sarandon) arrives and tells him that the company who sponsors his car has hired her to cover the race for their newspaper and thus she’ll be riding along with him. Walkaway isn’t too happy about this as he has very old-fashioned, sexist ideas about a ‘woman’s place’, but begrudgingly accepts it as he has no other choice. Together the two take part in a grueling off-road race that is organized by Bo Cochran (Larry Hagman) and takes them through some of the most treacherous terrain of the Philippines.

The movie might’ve been more exciting had the racing footage been better captured. Instead we get treated to choppy shots of random car wipeouts and flashing, poorly focused images of vehicles buzzing through various locales while shown in a grainy film stock. The editing is so quick that it’s hard to follow what is going on and the only time it is ever impressive is when the camera gets tied to the front of the vehicle and we see firsthand just how bumpy and fast a ride like that must be, but this shot unfortunately is only brief.

There is little or no backstory to any of the racers and therefore no emotionally compelling reason to cheer for any of them. There is also too many of them and all are generic, transparent characters, so when you see someone wipeout it’s hard to remember which one it is, or even care. I did kind of like Daina House as a woman with beautiful model-like features who dresses in all black and just as tough as any of the guys, but her character isn’t shown or played-up enough.

The best thing about the film is the presence of Sarandon who lends a necessary grounded anchor to the silliness that surrounds her. Hagman is terrific as the hyper race promoter and every scene he is in is far more entertaining than any of the racing footage. Baker isn’t bad either. He certainly isn’t any A-list actor, but a very competent B one, who seems at ease in both comedy and action parts.

The film shifts clumsily between being silly and gritty and would’ve done better had it stuck to a more consistent tone. It’s also cheap and amateurish with a terrible, country tinged title tune that gets played throughout. The only reason it gets 2 points is simply for the performances of its three leads.

checkered flag 1

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 3, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Alan Gibson

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)

great waldo pepper 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Flying the unfriendly skies.

Waldo Pepper (Robert Redford) makes a living traveling the Midwest during the 1920’s and giving rides on his biplane to the eager public of the small towns that he goes through as well as doing airplane stunts at aerial shows. He misses his years during WWI when he was a fighter pilot trying to take on the German flying ace Ernest Kessler (Bo Brundin). Later when Pepper is grounded and can no longer fly legally he gets a job as a stunt man in Hollywood. It is there that he meets Kessler who is now working as a consultant on a movie about his flying days and the two agree to relive their war battle by having a duel to the death in the skies.

The aerial footage is the film’s greatest asset and it is amazing particularly since the actors did all their own stunt work and without any type of protection. When we see actor Bo Svenson walk out onto the wing of the plane while in midair and even fall through it it’s all real and it makes you hold your breath. The scene where Redford flies his plane underneath another one in an attempt to save Susan Sarandon who has walked out onto the wing and then unable to come back is equally nerve-wracking.

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The film’s biggest fault and probably the reason why this big budgeted picture became an unexpected box office flop is because its unable to retain the breezy fun loving atmosphere of Redford’s and Hill’s two earlier collaborations. The film starts out amusingly enough, but then becomes quite serious when it features two deaths. The first one is good because it is completely unexpected and hits home the fact that stunt flying can have a dangerous side, but then the film has another death occur just 10 minutes later and it’s far more gruesome and drawn out while sucking all the lightheartedness out, which it’s never able to recover from.

I’ve never been overly impressed with Redford as an actor. Sure he’s great looking and competent at times, but he always has too much of a laid back persona and unable to ever show any intensity even though he did manage to grow on me more as the film progressed. The supporting cast of Svenson, Philip Bruns and a young Susan Sarandon fare better and help keep the film afloat.

The third act where Waldo meets his idol only to find that the man isn’t quite as successful or exciting when he is on the ground as he was in the air is where the film gels as it makes some strong points about our culture’s need for hero worship and their climactic aerial duel is both thrilling and amusing.

great waldo pepper 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 13, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 47Minutes

Rated PG

Director: George Roy Hill

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Compromising Positions (1985)

compromising positions

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who murdered the dentist?

Bruce Fleckstein (Joe Mantegna) is a successful dentist who puts new meaning to the term ‘bedside manner’ as he flirts with all of his female patients and has affairs with many of them. When he turns up murdered it becomes a question of which of the many suspects did it, which intrigues housewife Judith (Susan Sarandon) and propels her to start her own independent investigation much to the consternation of her husband Bob (Edward Herrmann) who thinks it’s too dangerous. As the clues accumulate so do the advances of police detective David (Raul Julia) that she is working with, which quickly puts her marriage into jeopardy.

The film was produced and directed by Frank Perry who made many influential films during the 60’s and 70’s with his screenwriter wife Eleanor, but after their divorce the quality of his films diminished considerably. The last two that he made were in collaboration with Susan Isaacs with this one based on her novel of the same name. To an extent it works as the mystery angle is realistic enough to be interesting and the dark humor keeps it mildly entertaining.

Sarandon’s presence helps a lot and without her it wouldn’t have worked. Julia plays against type and it’s fun seeing him in more of a subdued type of role. The real scene stealer though is Judith Ivey who has some funny sarcastic lines and should’ve been seen more.

I also really liked how Sarandon’s character remains faithful to her husband despite her conflicts with him and the many advances that she gets from the police detective. Too many Hollywood pictures give the impression that marriage should be one long blissful union and the minute one partner isn’t completely receptive to the needs of the other then that entitles the other to cheat on them. Herrmann’s character is a borderline jerk, but he has legitimate reasons for why he feels the way he does and the movie refreshingly even gives him a moment to vent and explain them. I also thought that Julia’s character comes onto Sarandon much too quickly and the way he barrages into her bedroom while making aggressive advances seemed almost creepy.

The story does have a dated quality. Fleckstein is found to be distributing and printing porn, the kind with consenting adults and not kids, which the film portrays as being a ‘shocking revelation’ even though these days with the proliferation of it all over the net it is nothing but an afterthought to most. I also thought the idea that this guy would have BDSM sex with a lot of married women and even take explicit pictures of them, but still turn around and throw them some lines that he ‘loved’ them and they would all fall for it was ridiculous and unfairly portrayed women as being too easily manipulated and unsophisticated.

The resolution is limp and the film lacks anything that would help make it distinctive or memorable. The humor gets lost by the second half and the Ivey character should’ve been given more screen time and possibly even used as Sarandon’s investigative partner as her caustic take on things are the best thing about it.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 30, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Frank Perry

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS

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

Bull Durham (1988)

bull durham

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Catcher mentors a rookie.

Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is a veteran of the minor league baseball system and is brought in to the Durham Bulls to help mentor Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) a rookie pitcher with a ‘million dollar arm, but a five-cent brain’. Crash teaches Nuke all about the finer points of the game as well as learning to show discipline and control both on and off the field. Annie (Susan Sarandon) is a local fan who each year does some ‘mentoring’ of her own with one of the players by taking them in and having a torrid sexual relationship with them. This year she chooses Nuke much to the consternation of Crash who would like her for his own.

The film is loosely based on the experiences writer/director Ron Shelton had while being a minor league player during the late 60’s.  Keeping the focus solely on the minor league level and never analyzing the majors was to me a big strength. Too many times Hollywood sports movies try to capture that ‘championship season’ or ‘miracle victory’ while forgetting that there are hundreds if not thousands of players who never get to that point, but still have interesting stories to share. The minor league theme puts the game back to its grass roots level where it should be while evoking a wonderful feeling of modern day Americana.

The film makes the viewer feel that they are right down on the field with the players and they gain special insights into the game that they would never have just watching it in the stands on or TV. The thoughts that go through a hitters head as he stands at the plate are interesting as are the interplay between catcher and pitcher. The meeting at the mound scene where the players get together during a game to discuss what wedding gift to get another player who is about to be married is hilarious as is the segment where Crash teaches Nuke all the sports clichés to give when being interviewed by the media.

Robbins is terrific in what I still consider one of the best performances of his career. The character could have been annoying if there weren’t so many young men out there like that. The composite of the young, brash, cocky hot shot who thinks he knows everything, but actually knows very little is so perfectly done that just about anybody will be able to identify with somebody they know or have known who is just like it.

Costner on the other hand is a bit too detached and his performance comes off very much like the restrained way he dances during the closing credits. The character also seems like a flaming alcoholic as he is seen drinking in just about every other scene, but his ongoing exchanges with Robbins are great and the main ingredient that holds the film together.

Throwing in a sex angle was to me a turnoff as personally I never like to mix the two. The Millie (Jenny Robertson) character that is shown and known to sleep with a lot of the players seemed to me to be idiotic especially since this takes place in the 80’s, which was at the height of the AIDS scare.

Sarandon is okay although the part was originally intended for Kay Lenz who I think I would have preferred. The line where her character states that she would never sleep with a player who hit under 250 unless he had a lot of RBI’s and was a great glove man up the middle is classic and the scene near the end where her and Crash make love in a bathtub while surrounded by a throng of lighted candles is on a visual level a highlight.

I loved the bluesy music score as well as the shrine to Thurmon Munson seen at the end. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite sports movie, but the characters are richly textured and the dialogue instantly quotable, which makes it a winner anyways.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ron Shelton

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

King of the Gypsies (1978)

king of the gypsies

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Daddy is a psycho

Dave (Eric Roberts) is the rebellious son of Groffo (Jud Hirsch) who no longer wants to be a part of the gypsy clan that he was raised in and instead a part of the American dream. However, when Dave’s grandfather Zharko (Sterling Hayden) lies dying in his hospital bed he gives the coveted medallion to Dave making him the new king of the gypsies. This sends Groffo into a jealous rage and orders two men to go out and kill Dave who now must elude them while trying to get his life together and help get his younger sister Tita (Brooke Shields) out of the clan as well.

Although far from being a complete success the film does manage to have a few unique and even memorable moments. The best is when a young Dave is used as a decoy in an attempt to rob a jewelry store. His mother Rose (Susan Sarandon) pretends to be a customer looking over some diamonds. When Dave creates a ruckus she tries to calm him down by having him drink a glass of water while also having him swallow a diamond that she has discreetly lifted from the display table. They are then able to walk out of the store when the merchants are unable to prove that they stole it only to have Rose later retrieve the jewel when Dave poops it out. Having Groffo put a 10-year-old Dave behind a wheel of a car and drive it down a busy Brooklyn Street is about as nerve-wracking as any car chase I’ve seen. The scene where Groffo tries to physically force Dave to have sex with his own mother is also incredibly startling.

However, despite these few interesting moments the film overall never really gels. The first half showing how the gypsy people live seems a bit clichéd and the way they openly cheat other people in order to make a living makes them unlikable and uninteresting. The only time it ever gets half way compelling is when it shows Dave struggling to survive on the mean streets of New York after he runs away from his psychotic father. Unfortunately this gets ruined when it constantly brings his family and past coming back to haunt him. The cat and mouse game that he plays with his father is not original and Hirsch makes for a very boring villain. He is unable to convey a menacing quality and thus there is never any real tension. The violin soundtrack compliments the gypsy tradition, but eventually becomes annoying.

Roberts is solid in his film debut. His voice-over narration coupled with his raw delivery is effective. Had the film focused solely on him and left out the silly gypsy sub-plot it would have worked much better.

Sarandon gives it some energy and she has the most effective accent. Shields is pretty much wasted and appears in only a handful of scenes. The biggest irony here is that the two played a mother and daughter before in Pretty Baby, which came out just 7 months before this one.

Hayden really seems to be having fun as the bombastic self-proclaimed King Gypsy. Watching him feud at the beginning with Michael V. Gazzo who plays the head of another gypsy clan is somewhat diverting. It is also interesting to see Shelly Winters in a part that has less than three speaking lines. This woman never seemed to ever want to shut up both on-screen and in interviews, so seeing her in a part that allows for so little dialogue is quite a novelty, but she still succeeds with it particularly in the part where she grieves over her dead family members.

It is fun to see a young Danielle Brisebois as well as Matthew Labyoreaux who later went on to play Albert in ‘Little House on the Prairie’. Annie Potts is good in a brief part and Patti LuPone makes her film debut in an uncredited bit.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 20, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated R

Director: Frank Pierson

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video