Tag Archives: Ted Kotcheff

Switching Channels (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reporter shields convicted killer.

Christy Colleran (Kathleen Turner) is a dedicated news reporter working at a satellite news network who decides to take a much needed vacation. On her trip she meets the dashing and very rich Blane Bingham (Christopher Reeve). The two hit-it-off and decide to get married, but when she informs her ex-husband John (Burt Reynolds), who just so happens to also be here employer, he does everything he can to prevent the marriage from happening. Part of his scheme is to get her so involved in covering the impending execution of Ike Roscoe (Henry Gibson) that she won’t have time for Blaine, but when the execution goes awry and allows Ike to escape Christy agrees to shield him from the authorities.

The story is based off of the very famous Broadway play ‘The Front Page’ that was first performed in 1928 and has been remade into a cinematic film (not including the TV-movie versions) three different times before this one. The first was in 1931 and the second in 1942 with His Girl Friday starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, which was probably the best version, and then in 1974 director Billy Wilder took a stab at the story that starred Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

Why it was felt that this story needed to be done again is a mystery as this version is by far the weakest and hardly funny at all. The premise itself is solid, but structured in a way that makes it come off as an unfocused mess. It starts out as this sort of romantic love triangle scenario then jarringly shifts into the execution until it seems like two entirely different movies crammed into one. None of the original dialogue from the play was retained making the attempted banter here benign and uninteresting.

Although it’s been a while since I’ve seen the three other versions, which I found to be highly entertaining and funny, but this one is dizzying and confusing instead. As I remember the other versions kept the focus solely on the three leads and had them remain in the same setting with the action basically coming to them. Here it gets diluted with the characters prancing around to too many different places with their presence getting minimized by gargantuan, overly colorful sets that swallow up both the actors and story.

Reeve is excellent in what I consider his best role outside of Superman. Reynolds though looks uncomfortable in an ensemble-type comedy structure and he shares absolutely no chemistry with Turner with behind-the-scene reports saying that the two couldn’t get along at all. It’s almost like they cast the parts based solely on the name recognition of the stars over whether they were truly right for the parts.

Turner had already lost her youthful appeal here that had made her so sexy in Body Heat that had just been done 7 years earlier.  She comes off as more middle-aged and frumpy and not at all the type of woman two guys would fight over. I admire her attempts at expanding her acting range by taking a stab at frantic comedy, but her constant breathless delivery becomes tiresome and redundant.

The entire production gets overblown. Director Ted Kotcheff’s attempts to make the story more cinematic ends up draining it of the amusing subtle nuances that made it so special when it was done onstage. Switching channels is indeed an appropriate title for this because if it were shown on TV I would be pressing the remote to a different station.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Release: March 4, 1988

Runtime: 1hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He eats too much.

Max (Robert Morley) is a famous food critic who writes an article for the food magazine The Epicurist titled ‘The World’s Most Fabulous Meal’, which described four dishes cooked by four of the world’s top chefs. The problem is those chefs are now turning up dead. Natasha (Jacqueline Bisset) was the chef famous for creating the dessert called the bombe, which was also written about in that same article. Since the other chefs have already been murdered Natasha fears she may be next, so she works with the police to find the killer while also being a suspect since she was with each victim just before they died.

The film is based on the novel ‘Someone is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe’ by husband and wife writers Nan and Ivan Lyons, which came out two years earlier and had more erotic overtones while also detailing the specific recipes of each gourmet dish described in the story. Ted Kotchef’s excellent direction focuses strongly on the food element and each exotic meal is nicely captured and crafted by an actual cuisine chef named Paul Bocuse. Not only do you see the cast eating the stuff, especially Morley’s character, but preparing it as well including a detailed, drawn out segment showing Natasha creating her world famous desert.

The on-location shooting, done in three different European countries, is vivid and the dialogue is quite amusing. The denouncement is interesting because you think for sure it’s one person only to genuinely get surprised when it turns out to be someone completely unexpected. The plot though is too leisurely paced and the side-story dealing with Natasha’s ex-husband (George Segal) trying to rekindle their relationship is unnecessary and could’ve been cut, which would’ve helped shorten the runtime, which is overlong for such otherwise trite material.

Morley is a scene-stealer with everything he utters being hilarious. Bisset is great too and should’ve received top-billing as she’s seen the most while Segal’s presence comes off as downright intrusive. It was nice having a beautiful woman in a lead that was not sexualized and it would’ve made the film a bit ahead-of-its-time had she carried it alone, which she easily could’ve without Segal as a sort of male sidekick.

For light entertainment it’s enjoyable, but I was surprised at seeing how things have changed as there are several throwaway bits that at the time I’m sure were considered innocuous but would be deemed quite controversial by today’s standards. One scene has Bisset speaking with an Italian chef (Stefano Satta Flores) who openly pinches her twice on the rear without her permission. She protests it the first time, but he boldly does it again later and she lets it go, continues to casually talk to him and even agrees to meet him later for dinner. The film seems to play the whole thing off as a ‘boy-will-be-boys’ scenario coupled with the Italian male stereotype that this is simply ‘a part of their nature’.

In another part she refers to a French chef (Jean-Pierre Cassel) as a ‘fag’ and she visits a processing plant where thousands of chickens are housed in tight little cages and barely able to even move which doesn’t seem to bother her at all. I’m sure these scenes back in 1978 went completely over-the-heads of the viewers and most likely were quickly forgotten even though now these same moments would most likely elicit outrage, protest and headlines.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)

Wake in Fright (1971)

wake in fright 3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: The middle of nowhere.

To an extent this is a one of kind film that is handled in such a raw and unpretentious way that it is like no other film you have ever seen before. The opening shot alone is amazing. You see a birdseye view of an isolated schoolhouse in the outback where our main character teaches. The camera then turns at a full circle and you see that there is absolutely nothing for miles in any direction. The desolation is mind boggling and it’s isolation at its purest.

Not only does this very inspired shot get its point across, but it also becomes the essence of what the film is about by trying to get you to understand the ruggedness of its characters by immersing you into their environment. It’s an uncompromising film full of startling images.

The story deals with a British schoolteacher John Grant (Gary Bond) who, through a loss in gambling, becomes trapped in the isolated outback town of Bundanyabba. He is cultured and educated and his sensibilities can’t mesh with the raw simplistic elements of the people in it.

It’s a highly intriguing viewpoint that not only captures man’s ever daunting task at dealing with nature, but also the overall reality of his existence and even himself. It makes you feel you are right there experiencing the same onslaught with him. There are also some interesting low key scenes proving that one of the biggest hurdles one must fight when in these places is actually just the boredom.

I do have to warn readers that the film has a very prolonged brutally explicit kangaroo hunting scene that features the actual killing of the animals. It even shows the men physically beating up on some wounded kangaroo’s and then viciously slashing their throats in a mocking fashion. Although I do feel that these scenes leave the viewer with the intended strong, raw impact and I like the lighting during the nighttime hunt that allows for a surreal element I still admit this may be a very difficult watch for some and may turn them off from viewing the film altogether. Apparently there were quite a few people that walked out of the film during this scene when it was shown at the Cannes, so be prepared.

Star Bond is excellent. You can relate to his anger and defiance at being somewhere he doesn’t want to be as well as feeling his desperation, exhaustion, and eventual surrender.

For many years this film sat in almost virtual obscurity, but after an exhaustive worldwide search a print of the film was finally found in the back of a Pittsburgh warehouse in a canister with a ‘to be destroyed’ label on it. Fortunately the print was saved and the restoration process is fantastic with colors that are bright and vivid. Director Ted Kotcheff captures the region in all of its rustic, desolate glory including the incredible crystal blue sky.

Reportedly many Aussies dislike the film as they feel it creates a negative stereotype. However, I don’t see it that way. I love the county and people and consider this more of a portrait of what happens when people are stuck in an isolated environment, which technically could be anywhere.

wake in fright 2

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Alternate Title: Outback

Released: October 13, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD (Region 1 & 2) Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video