Tag Archives: Vilmos Zsigmond

Winter Kills (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Who assassinated his brother?

19 years after United States President Timothy Kegan is assassinated and an independent investigation concluded that it was the act of a lone gunman, his younger brother Nick (Jeff Bridges) gets a deathbed confession from a man (Joe Spinell) insisting he was the real killer hired by a secret underground organization. Nick goes to his rich father (John Huston) with the news and then decides to do an investigation of his own, but becomes entangled inside a web of lies and deceit that drives him further away from the truth instead of closer.

The film is based on the novel by Richard Condon and in many ways is a stunning filmmaking debut for director William Richert. The cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond is richly textured with a colorful variety of backdrops, sets and atmosphere making it visually soar while the surreal tone helps give it an added edge.

Unfortunately the film suffered from many behind-the-scenes issues including running out of funding and forcing the cast and crew to put the production on hold while they went overseas to shoot The American Success Company in Germany and then used the proceeds from that one to finish this one. The final result is a fragmented narrative that at times gets too rushed. The story was significantly paired down from the novel, which leaves open a lot of loose ends and it should probably be remade as a miniseries.

The story is also permeated with a lot of dark humor which only makes the viewer even more confused. Some of it is genuinely funny, but it’s unclear what it’s trying to satirize. Certain absurd situations and oddball characters get thrown in for seemingly no reason and takes away from the otherwise compelling storyline while leaving the viewer baffled as to what the point of it was supposed to be and could easily explain why it bombed so badly at the box office during its initial run.

The casting is interesting. Jeff Bridges usually gets stuck in bland, transparent roles and that’s no different here, but he’s surrounded by so many eccentrics that his otherwise vanilla delivery seems refreshing and distinct. Huston is the real star in a bravura performance that steals the film and makes it memorable. There’s also a lot of recognizable supporting players that are on only briefly and if you blink you’ll miss them. This includes an uncredited appearance by Elizabeth Taylor who comes on near the end and has no lines of dialogue, but does clearly mouth the words ‘son-of-a-bitch’.

If you are looking for something that is offbeat, but still intriguing then this is well worth the effort. If it weren’t for its misguided humor this thing could’ve really had an impact although it does reveal its cards too soon and I was able to guess the twist ending long before it actually happened, but as a whole it has its moments and a potential cult following or sure.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: William Richert

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Cinderella Liberty (1973)

cinderella-liberty-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sailor falls for prostitute.

John Baggs (James Caan) is a sailor who checks into a Seattle, Washington naval base medical facility for a check-up and while there has his files lost and is unable to receive pay or new orders until they are found. While the navy tries to find them they give him a ‘Cinderella Liberty’ pass, which allows him to come and go from the base as long as he returns before curfew. During his excursions into the city he meets up with Maggie (Marsha Mason) a prostitute and goes back to her place for sex. It is there that he meets her biracial son Doug (Kirk Calloway). Despite the tremendous odds John finds himself falling-in-love with Maggie while trying earnestly to make a better life for Doug.

This is one of those films I enjoyed quite a bit the first time I saw it, but could not get into it as much the second time around, which is a shame as it does have a lot of good things going for it. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and the way he captures the seedier side of the city is one of the film’s chief assets particularly the vivid look at Maggie’s squalor of an apartment that no studio could possible recreate quite as effectively. Trying to mix romance with gritty reality while getting away from the soft focus and idealized view of love, which permeated a lot of romance films of the ‘70s is a noble and interesting effort. I also really enjoyed John Williams’s ragtime sounding score and the bouncy opening tune sung by Paul Williams.

The performances are excellent. For Caan this may be the best performance of his career and the role that most effectively works into his acting style. Mason is equally good and deserved her Oscar nomination alone through the strained facial expressions that she shows during the delivery of her child. The supporting cast is great too and includes Dabney Coleman, who wears a wig, as Caan’s crass, blunt superior and Eli Wallach as an old timer in the naval system who seems genuinely shell shocked at the prospect of having to survive as a civilian.

The film’s main fault is that I just could never buy into the idea of why John would ever want to get into the situation that he does. There might be some cases out there where a prostitute and one of her customers do fall for each other and start a relationship, but I would think they’re few and far between and usually doesn’t last. If anything it couldn’t be as extremely bad of a situation as it is here where the woman is a complete emotional mess living in squalor with a delinquent son and pregnant with another.

Several characters throughout the film keep asking John why he would want to get involved in something like this and his answer of ‘because it makes me feel good’ is not sufficient. A good relationship needs a healthy dose of give-and-take, but here John is doing all the giving. There isn’t much to love with the Maggie character anyways as she is extraordinarily irresponsible as a parent and at one point even abandons her son with not much more than a second thought.

Had the film emphasized John’s bonding with Doug and made this the focal point then I could see him wanting to have some limited involvement with the mother in order to help the kid, but the romance angle in this situation given the circumstances bordered on the insane and prevented me as a viewer from fully getting into it.

cinderella-liberty-2

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark Rydell

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Sweet Revenge (1976)

sweet revenge

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pretty lady steals cars.

Despite squatting in an abandoned house, having no job, no money and virtually no life Vurrla (Stockard Channing) becomes obsessed with getting herself a brand new Dino Ferrari. She knows how to steal cars, so she decides to steal a Porsche, resell it to unsuspecting buyers and then a few days later steal the same car back and resell it again and continue this process until she has secured enough to pay for the Ferrari. The plan works smoothly, but public defender Le Clerq (Sam Waterston) has been following her and determined that she turn herself in before she gets herself into even deeper trouble.

As I watched this movie I found myself quite perplexed as to how Leonard Maltin in his Movie Guide could’ve given this thing a ‘bomb’ rating. This is certainly not a four-star flick, but it’s far from being bad one either. The plot moves along at a nice breezy pace with an engaging combination of drama, action and humor. The characters are believable and interact with each other in interesting ways. The on-location shooting of Seattle, which was done by renowned cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond who died just this past New Year’s, is quite vivid and focuses on some of the city’s lesser known neighborhoods, which should be fun for those from the area as it is sure to bring back a flood of memories.

Channing is dynamic and especially enjoyable when she puts on different wigs and a variety of accents as she tries to sell the cars to different people and I wished these segments were played up more. Waterston’s character is much more controlled and practical making the two play off each other in revealing ways. Franklyn Ajaye lends great support as Vurrla’s streetwise friend and Richard Daughty is amusing as Vurrla’s dimwitted cohort and I was surprised that he seemingly disappeared off the face of the planet and never did a thing after this. This also marks the acting debut of Daryl Anderson who appears briefly getting out of his car and going inside only to have Vurrla sneak up and steal it a few minutes later.

On the negative side the film could’ve used a little more action. There is one car chase that occurs near the end, which turns inexplicably tragic and hurts the film’s otherwise lighthearted tone. The ending is frustratingly vague and outside of watching a Ferrari burn into a cinder offers no finality to the character’s eventual fate. There is also a segment where Channing and Daughty go shopping at a grocery store and for a brief couple of seconds the scene is shown through the lens of a black-and-white security camera making the viewer believe that the two are being monitored and will soon be arrested since they are shop lifting, but nothing ever happens, so why insert that shot if it serves no purpose?

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 16, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerry Schatzberg

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)

Images (1972)

images

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Demons of the mind.

This is the missing link for any Robert Altman fan or detractor as this is different from any of his other films and completely original from beginning to end. Not only was it way ahead of its time, but proves that he is deftly skilled at handling any directorial task or material.

The story involves a tormented and emotionally fragile woman named Cathryn (Susannah York) who starts to see strange visions. These visions seem so real that she can no longer tell if they are all just inside her head and decides the only way to get rid of them is to mentally ‘kill’ them, but this in turn only leads to further complications.

What really makes this a unique film is that you get inside this woman’s head and actually start to understand her logic and experience her torment. The film also makes terrific use of silence and uses it to accentuate the isolation that the character feels. The setting has a sort of surreal quality and the location of the house is impressively remote.

York has a knack for playing victimized and vulnerable women. In many ways her role here seems like an extension of her character from The Killing of Sister George. Although she makes you sympathetic to her predicament her screams are too screechy and fail to attain the shrillness that would create the startling effect that the filmmakers desired.

The real star may actually be Vilmos Zsigmond and his cinematography. His framing and composition is not only flawless, but breathtaking. He makes the wintertime Irish countryside look like a whole different world and the stillness of the lake that is shown seems almost unreal.

There are a few too many obvious and clichéd shots of mirrors and puzzles and it could also gone much further with its unusual premise. Still this is a unique and entertaining movie that should keep you guessing all the way to the end. The pace is slow, but deliberate with a payoff that is worth it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD