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Interesting Insight into the True Life Charlie Starkweather Case
Slow paced episode dealing with a killer (Phillips) who gets involved with a lonely and shy librarian (Smith).
In some ways this episode has its moments especially with regards to the theme. The characters resemble the true life Charlie Starkweather affair where a shy teenage girl fell in love with a spree killer in 1950's Nebraska. It offers some good insights as to why an otherwise 'nice' girl would be attracted to a 'bad' boy. It shows how the woman is so lonely and bored with her existence that she reaches out to this otherwise dangerous man because she finds him 'sick and helpless' and someone who she can 'save' with her love as well as finding him a much needed diversion to her stagnate life. The role of the killer also is created with some insight as he shown as someone with a very low self-esteem, lack of direction, and full of bitterness and self-loathing. This is a lot different and more in depth portrayal of a killer than what you usually see in most other movies and TV shows.
However in the end the show becomes very talky and in need of a lot more action and plot twists. The best part comes at the very beginning where the killer is driving a motorboat out on the lake and swings it around at such a reckless speed that it knocks the other occupants off the boat where they then drown. However even this has some problems. One of which is the fact that it is never explained why he did this. Was he just some psychotic who did it for fun? Or did he have some past grievance with this couple and did it for revenge? None of this is explained, but probably should have been. Of course with the incredibly annoying way that the couple is seen singing an already incredibly annoying song as the show opens one could probably not blame the killer for knocking them off the boat as anyone might consider it.
This episode does feature both Phillips and Smith giving some fine performances. Both had appeared in earlier episodes, but seem to give their best work here. This episode also features the rare scene where someone else besides Tod ends up driving the Corvette. It occurs when Tod hands the wheel over to Phillips who promptly drives the car along the crashing waves of the ocean and skims the water over the car, which is kind of cool to watch.
Grade: C +
Great On Location Shooting of Chicago
Buz comes to the aid of a very shy co-worker who has been talking to a female operator for years over the phone, but doesn't have enough confidence to meet her in person.
This story unfolds nicely and has four distinct acts to it, which flows well and keeps the viewer involved. However in the end it seems like just a carbon copy of MARTY as well as full of a lot of stereotypes and clichés. The main asset of this episode is the fantastic on location shooting of Chicago. There are some great shots of the skyline, as well as Wabash Avenue, and even the Marina Towers under construction. There are also some nice scenes shot on the roof of the Tribune Tower and at Buckingham Fountain.
Actor Sorrell Booke gets a good early role as the shy and hopelessly self-conscious co-worker. He plays the part well enough that the viewer has sympathy for him without it going overboard and becoming pathetic. Buz is showcased quite well here and this maybe some of his best stuff from the entire series.
Unimaginative Direction Sinks this Episode
This episode takes a look at the people who inhabit small towns focusing on those who are bored with it and looking to 'escape' while also looking at those who come back to it because the corrupt and fast lifestyles of big city ways isn't for them.The main character of this story is a young man (Horne) who got humiliated by an elaborate practical joke while he was away in the army and how his inability to get over this effects him and all those he comes into contact with. Unfortunately this is where the episode begins to fall apart.
One of the problems is that he decides to invite the woman who was a part of the practical joke (played by his then real life wife Wilcox) back to his hometown so he can prop her up in front of all the townspeople and expose her for what she really is. However it is just not real plausible why this woman, or anyone for that matter, would be so gullible as to agree to take a long ride in on a bus from a completely different area simply to be used as bait for what is a very obvious set-up.
The second problem is actor Horne himself. He seems to be a good actor, but not for this part. He is supposed to be portraying a 'country bumpkin', but his face seems too expressive and he is way too articulate and well spoken.
The direction in this episode is also poor, which makes for the third problem. It was filmed in historic Savannah, Georgia and yet we don't see hardly anything of the city. Most of the action is confined to a very dingy, windowless bar that has no atmosphere or ambiance about it. The camera also stays locked on Horne too much as he tells everybody about the details of the joke, which seems to take almost twenty minutes for him to do. The use of flashbacks could have made this segment much more interesting.
This is one of the series weaker episodes.
Grade: C +
This episode is made more interesting by its main character than by the actual story. It pertains to a self-centered middle-aged man who jilts his bride on their wedding night by faking his own suicide. He then hops on a bus and stops off at a small southern town where he tricks everybody into thinking he is an artist researching the origins of folk music, which he only does in order to get closer to a young beauty that he is attracted to. Of course the 'hicks' finally catch on to the fact that he is using them and this leads to several uneasy confrontations.
The part of the cad, who is given a very pretentious sounding name of Julian Roeback, is brilliantly played by actor Richard Basehart. He was pretty much known as an average actor at best, but his performance here is a real stand out and possibly the pinnacle of his career. The character is quite believable. Half time you want to see him get punched in the face, but he ends up being strangely engaging no matter what he does.
The only problems with the story are some of the actions by Tod (Buz was again off due to the illness by actor Maharis). Tod sees right through the Roeback character and yet is always defending him so he won't get beat up. In fact Tod ends up taking a beating twice that should have gone to Roeback. What is worse is that Tod goes the next day and forgives the men who beat him up and continues to work alongside them like somehow he deserved it, which doesn't make any sense at all.
An interesting scene involves Tod and Roeback walking alongside a dirt road while holding a conversation. A dragonfly then appears and lands on the back of actor Basehart's neck while he is talking and then flies right into actor Milner's face. Both actors duck out of the way of the fly, but still manage to say their lines without missing a beat.
Overall this is a good episode, but the 'double' ending is a bit disappointing.
Route 66: Love Is a Skinny Kid (1962)
This episode has a really terrific and intriguing set-up. It deals with a woman (Weld) who gets off of a bus wearing a dreadful mask that she refuses to take off and thus sends the small Texas town into a complete frenzy.
This episode stands out with some good and memorable imagery. The mask is one, which is incredibly macabre and creepy looking. The other is a scene where the Weld character burns a doll on a stake on the front lawn of her parent's house.
This is also one episode that makes terrific use of its location and nicely interweaves it into the story. A real good example of this is the sound of the wind blowing off the flat and desolate Texas plains as the Weld character talks with a woman who now lives in the house that she once grew up in.
The story touches on some good issues, namely going back to conquer one's childhood demons as well as the need to satisfy ones need for vengeance as well as learning to forgive and move on. The plot though has enough complex and shocking story lines to it that fifty minutes just does not do it justice. This is the kind of story that deserved a two part episode and could easily have been made into a feature length film or hardcover novel.
Burt Reynolds appears briefly as a punk who harasses Weld and then ends up in a fist fight with Buz. Weld is a great actress, but here after she takes off her mask, she doesn't seem quite as compelling. It is really Cloris Leachman who steals the show as the heartless and cold mother, especially at the end.
This episode also features a great line of dialogue. The town's newspaper editor advises Weld that she will have to take off the mask because it will frighten too many people. Weld then points to all the townspeople standing outside and replies "I'll take off my mask when you have them take off theirs."
Martin Sheen Like You've Never Seen Him Before
This is a very intense story dealing with a social worker (Kanen), who is also a former childhood mentor to Buz, who falls to his death after playing a dare game with a local youth gang leader (Sheen). Buz then takes it on himself to find answers as well as justice.
This episode marks the acting debut of Martin Sheen who looks so young and different from what you are used to you almost have to look twice to make sure that it is him. He has a bowl haircut here and looks very, very boyish almost like he was fifteen even though he was actually twenty-one at the time. He has a laugh like the Riddler's and plays his menacing role pretty well. James Caan (billed here as 'Jimmy Caan') also makes his debut. The two play an 'ultimate' dare game at the end that is fairly well handled.
Yet the real star of this episode is the fantastic direction by the then up and coming Elliot Silverstein. The nice panoramic views of 1960's Philadelphia is breathtaking. The shooting of the scenes on top of an abandoned building rooftop are thrilling and well choreographed. The editing is crisp and there are some real nice dramatic camera angles. There are also a few scenes shot inside the abandoned building and the rundown interior really helps give the gritty subject matter an authentic feel.
The only problem with this episode is that a middle aged and educated social worker should not be allowing himself to be duped into a stupid and dangerous dare game by some sixteen year old punk. There is also a scene where Tod gets literally pummeled by everyone of the gang members and somehow comes out of it with only a bruise on his cheek when normally it would put anyone else into a coma or worse. It also would have been a little more compelling and satisfying had Buz been the one to take on the Sheen character during the show's climactic dare sequence instead of the Caan character.
Route 66: The Stone Guest (1963)
A Very Somber Account of Two Lost Souls Searching for Answers
This is a very somber episode (even for ROUTE 66 standards) detailing a lonely spinster of 41 (marvelously played by Jo Van Fleet) who in a impulsive moment hooks up with a married man and father who has a penchant for fooling around. Together they sneak into a mine shaft and then become involved in a cave in. The rest of the story involves their attempts to get out as well as the rest of the town's efforts to free them.
Although the issues that are brought up are overwhelmingly sad they are still very real and done in a honest way. It is interesting how the two lead characters seem quite the opposite at first, but are eventually exposed to be a lot alike. Namely two very lost souls searching for answers, but finding only more confusion in the process. This is also one of the earliest story lines anywhere that touches on the difficulties of the returning veteran to civilian life and the overall statement that is made is surprisingly tolerant and sophisticated.
Christopher Votos as the young son of the man who is trapped in the cave is a real stand out here as he creates a great deal of empathy with the viewer. His insistence at continuing to stand up and love his father even though the man is seriously flawed is quite touching.
A Good Examination of Marriage and Middle Age
A leisurely paced episode that manages to be nicely serene while still bringing up some rather brutal life issues namely that of marriage and middle age. O'Connor plays a man who feels that his wife is too controlling and there relationship has lost the romance that it once had during their courtship. He goes off to find himself and ends up at a all male retreat where the conversations that he has with the other men about their marriages are right on target and nicely introspective. This episode ends up making a lot of good comments about the difficulties of communicating in a marriage as well as the need for independence versus companionship and how two people can still love one another and still need time away from each other.
However the best scene comes at the very end where the usually well mannered Tod commits a major act of rebellion that is quite memorable. It is also interesting to see Anne Helm playing Tod's love interest and the daughter of the O'Connor character. She appeared in an earlier series episode entitle 'The Clover Thorn' playing a wild sexpot named 'Sweet Thing', but here effectively plays a character that is completely the opposite.
The only negative with this episode is the scene where the O'Connor character shows a group of investors a new computer invention that he has made. The sound effects that are used for the computer are overly cartoonish and very distracting. It puts what is otherwise a fine drama piece into the level of a sitcom and almost ruins the message in the process.
A Few Good Men (1992)
A Generally Compelling and Intelligent Courtroom Drama
THE PLOT: A naval lawyer (Cruise) defends two marines accused of killing a fellow soldier on orders from an unwritten edict called 'code red'.
THE POSITIVE: Cruise is terrific here. His energy and charisma completely propels the film from beginning to end. His ad-libbed impersonation of Nicholson is completely unexpected and funny. Demi Moore is also really good and she works well off of Cruise. It is really nice to see a male and female characters working together without it having to slip into a sexual relationship. The buildup to the eventual trial confrontation between Cruise and Nicholson is generally riveting and compelling.
THE NEGATIVE: Although Cruise gives a great performance his character at times seems too irreverent especially when he mocks the marines he is defending for their regimented and formal soldier like behavior even though the Cruise character is supposedly from the navy and therefore would have had many of the same regimented disciplines instilled into him as well. The Nicholson character also has some flaws. He is a man that prides himself on discipline and yet spews out some very crude statements to a lady officer that just doesn't seem realistic. It is also hard to believe that such a veteran officer would allow himself to have such a complete meltdown in court and then be so utterly oblivious to its consequences. The final little 'spat' that he has with the Cruise character seems much too contrived and 'Hollywoodish'. Also the scene at the beginning were Nicholson gives out the crucial order that becomes the crux to the whole story should have been cut out entirely and only revealed at the end, which would have then given the plot more intrigue and tension. There is also a scene where the Moore character takes Cruise out on 'a date', which should also have been cut since it doesn't propel the story at all nor the characters.
THE LOWDOWN: This is a generally good and compelling court room drama that is intelligently written and executed. It is hurt slightly by some obvious Hollywood contrivances and a Nicholson character that seems more like a caricature than a real person.
THE RATING: 7 out of 10.
The Hired Hand (1971)
Has an Evocative Style that Really Draws You In
THE PLOT: A cowboy (Fonda) decides to go back and work for the wife that he left several years before.
THE POSITIVE: The cinematography and camera work is outstanding as well as the editing. There are a few angles and shots here that I haven't seen done anywhere else. The soundtrack is also excellent and helps create a real nice moody feel to a presentation that has a very good gritty and realistic look. The shootouts and especially the death scenes stand out the most and raise this up a few notches from the standard western. Verna Bloom is a great choice for the hard living and vanquished wife. Her plain face and weathered complexion looks like something one would realistically find in that environment and time period.
THE NEGATIVE: The impressive camera work and elaborate presentation belie the fact that the story really isn't much. The plot is very thin and filled with a lot of elements that you can find in any western. The characters needed to be fleshed out a lot more and the pace is too leisurely. It is great to see eccentric character actor Severn Darden cast as the bad guy, but he needed to be given a lot more screen time.
THE LOWDOWN: The production as a whole is excellent with a nice evocative style that draws you in and really holds your attention. Unfortunately the story is too routine and not profound enough to allow the movie to stand out anymore than it does.
THE RATING: 6 out of 10.
Solid, Introspective Look at Society and Justice
This is a solid story that keeps you engaged despite the fact that it has very little action. It involves Tod going to work in a small town of Hernando, Mississippi for a famous author and then dealing with the sensational trial that ensues when the author's otherwise peaceful and quiet daughter suddenly resorts to murder. Nothing is quite what it seems and everything is bubbling just beneath the surface. When the bombshell finally does hit it changes everything and makes an interesting point about society and how it interprets and dispenses justice.
The only real fall-backs to this episode are the fact that it was filmed in winter instead of summer, which never looks completely right when it is done in the deep south. The steamy, hot weather and look could of helped accentuate the steamy subject matter. This episode also features a couple of side stories. One involves Tod's rocky relationship with an older woman reporter (Blaine) who comes to town to cover the trial. The other centers on the tensions created on a rural couple when the wife starts showing signs of interest with a visiting male reporter. Both these scenarios have potential and could of been interesting in their own right had they been played out more.
In the end the most memorable parts of this episode have nothing to do with the story itself. One is the glimpse of a sign in a barber shop window that advertises haircuts for only seventy-five cents! The other has to do with some surprisingly unchivalrously where a couple's car breaks down late at night on a lonely road and it is the husband who has his wife go walking for help while he stays in the car! This episode also gives one the nice chance to see a rare appearance of James Leo O'Herlihy as one of the reporters covering the trial. He later ended up writing the novel 'Midnight Cowboy' that was later made into the Academy Award winning film of the same title.
Route 66: Effigy in Snow (1961)
One of TV's very First Stories About a Serial Killer
Interesting early look at a serial killer before it was trendy. The story centers on a man at a isolated ski resort who kills women who remind him of his mother. The best sequence comes at the beginning where the killer (Marlowe) disguised with a ski mask, skies down a long, lonely slope and kills a woman who has fallen and hurt herself. The scene looks like something straight out of a modern day slasher flick and it is pretty creepy especially with the use of music and the fact that it cuts a way to show it from the killer's viewpoint.
Actor Scott Marlowe plays the part of the psycho in an interesting way. Instead of portraying the character as cold ,calculating, and evil he is instead shown as a very vulnerable and fragile man who is more a victim of his obsessions and compulsions than anything else.
The script does get a little too talky at points and Buz and Tod are seen too little and needed to be a little more involved. The eventual explanation for the reasons to the killer's psychotic behavior seem a little too simplistic also. Still the positives outweigh the negatives.
Route 66: An Absence of Tears (1961)
An Interesting take on Justice Versus Vengeance
A blind woman becomes intent on killing the men who murdered her husband and uses the unsuspecting Buz and Tod as pawns in the process. This is a very thought provoking episode as it analyzes the thin line that there is between victim and perpetrator, justice and vengeance, as well as sympathy versus disdain. Tod and Buz are also forced to confront their All-American motives here as they find that sometimes being generous and helpful does not always lead to the desired results. The eventual showdown is filled with drama and irony.Hyer, as the blind woman, plays a great character. She overcomes her obvious disabilities with a steely determination that literally reaches out from the TV screen and slaps you across the face.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
Funny Despite the Unnecessary Gore
THE PLOT: A very proficient police officer finds himself being relocated to a small English village that he has no interest going to. Here he finds the citizens to be endearingly quirky and the police force incompetently run. He also runs into a rash of grizzly murders committed by a strange hooded figure that looks almost like the grim reaper.
THE POSITIVE: The first hour of the film is fun and filled with a lot of dry British wit. The townspeople are amusing with all of their quirks and idiosyncrasies. It is also fun to see the main character (Pegg) who is so very rigid with his philosophy and approach to police work relate to these townspeople who have no problem bending the rules a little when it is convenient. His friendship with his police partner, who is the complete opposite of him, is nice as is there banter. You can tell there is a genuine bonding between the two actors. The massive shootout at the end, which involves just about the whole town, is outrageously hilarious. It is great to see old British pros given some nice juicy character bits including Whitelaw, Woodward, and most of all Dalton who does indeed still 'have it'.
THE NEGATIVE: The murders are extremely gory and seem more on par with an 80's slasher film. The production seems still locked into the formula of their earlier project SHAWN OF THE DEAD were gore and violence seemingly have to be infused into the story to make it funny even though it really isn't necessary. The second half takes a wildly over the top twist that blows everything out of proportion and loses much of its charm. The pace moves too quickly and doesn't allow the viewer any time to even catch their breath. The film also features one of those modern day 'double' endings that is both needless and pointless.
THE LOWDOWN: The humor has a nice mix to it so all ages should find it funny. Some of the action is crazy enough and over the top enough to stay with you afterwards.
THE RATING: 6 out of 10.
In the Valley of Elah (2007)
The Explosive Subject Matter is Given Too Much of the Genteel Treatment
THE PLOT: This is a story based on actual events about a father's obsession at finding out why his son was murdered by his own army buddies upon his return from duty in Iraq in 2003.
THE POSITIVE: The father character (Jones) is played and written quite sincerely. He is a fellow veteran who makes his bed everyday (even when staying at a hotel), says grace before every meal, and even washes his dinner dishes while staying at a guests house. The film paints the war veteran in a respectful and good light and doesn't assault the viewer with any of the clichés or dramatic trappings of a typical Hollywood movie.
THE NEGATIVE: The story is based on actual events and I was familiar with the case as I had seen the report on '48 Hours Mystery', however The 48 Hours report was much more compelling. The film gives this rather harsh and explosive subject matter too much of the genteel treatment. It focuses too much on the Jones character instead of what really happened. It seems to lose its momentum as the story progresses and the case unravels instead of becoming more gripping like it should. In the news report the fellow soldiers had much more distinct and complex personalities, but here they come off as nothing more than talking heads. Also the report came up with a completely different explanation as to why this murder occurred that this film doesn't even touch on. Theron as the Police Chief is annoying. She's been good in other films, but here she is just not the right fit. She plays one of those tough talking, hard living gals that still manages to have a petite figure, model's face, and a perfect complexion. The part where the Jones character accidentally knocks her flat to the ground with one small blow is downright hilarious. Sarandon's casting as the victim's mother seems pretty presumptuous especially when taken to light her very vocal criticism of the war in real life. Her attempts at a Tennessee accent are affected and difficult on the ears.
THE LOWDOWN: The film gives its subject matter a very sincere treatment, but misses the mark in the process. It doesn't effectively explore all the theories in the case and the gripping, explosive subject matter has a lot of dramatic lulls that it shouldn't.
THE RATING: 5 out of 10.
Allen at His Peak
THE PLOT: This is a very loose adaptation by Woody Allen of the famous sex manual written by David Reuben, but given a comic spin like only Allen can do.
THE POSITIVE: This was made when Allen was at his absolute peak. Nearly everything is funny and original. Some of the jokes are outrageously over the edge even for today. Some of the highlights include Gene Wilder's incredibly long reaction shot after a Shepherd informs him that he has fallen in love with one of the sheep from his flock. Another highlight includes Allen trying to fight off a giant 'monster breast' by using a Crucifix and a giant bra. Cross dresser Lou Jacobi getting caught in a women's dress while visiting a friend's house is another classic as well as 'What's My Perversion' a very brilliant and inspired send up of 'What's My Line'. Of course the best may be, should I say, the climactic sequence involving the control room of the inside of a man's brain as he goes through ejaculation.
THE NEGATIVE: The second segment entitled 'Why some Women can't have orgasms' is a misfire. The joke of having Allen and Lasser talk in only Italian with no subtitles wears pretty thin pretty quickly. The only pluses from this segment involve seeing Allen in a pair of trendy glasses as well as watching an electric dildo catch on fire.
THE LOWDOWN: This may very well be Allen's best comedy. Just about everything works and it is all laugh out loud funny. Even the few things that don't are still creative enough to get kudos.
THE RATING: 9 out of 10.
Keeping Mum (2005)
THE PLOT: A seriously dysfunctional family that seems ready to fall apart at the seams is magically healed by an eccentric maid (Smith) with a strange penchant for murder.
THE POSITIVE: Trying to mix dark humor and murder with religious undertones is fun and deserves some points. This is droll British wit at its finest and it manages to stay on an even keel the whole way without getting excessive like with so many other movies of today. Smith plays her part with a flair and shows no signs of slowing down. Atkinson is good also as the reverend and Father and plays a slightly more realistic character than he usually does. Even Swayze is fun despite the fact that his character is annoying. Mention also must go to Liz Smith who almost steals the whole show as the snooping, elderly next door neighbor.
THE NEGATIVE: The mother character (played by Thomas) is just too cynical and 'normal' to be amusing or interesting. The daughter is equally boring. She starts out as the clichéd rebellious and oversexed teenager with wild boyfriends and then somehow halfway through metamorphosis into an innocuous family girl. The writers don't seem to know how to effectively end it and the Maggie Smith character deserved a far more pronounced send off.
THE LOWDOWN: Fans of Maggie Smith as well as droll British humor should love it. Has a few flaws, but Smith presence is good enough to carry it.
THE RATING: 6 out of 10.
Into the Wild (2007)
A Film That Gets You Excited About Life
THE PLOT: True story about a young man named Christopher McCandless who graduates from college and then decides he has no interest in falling into society's trappings. After giving his life savings to charity and then, literally, burning the rest he drives west where he lives off the land and meets a lot of really cool people. Eventually he makes it to Alaska where he feeds off of wild berries and lives out of an abandoned bus.
THE POSITIVE: The film is incredibly fluid and engrossing. Despite its length it never becomes tedious and remains completely compelling throughout. It does a very good job of getting you to appreciate and understand McCandles who otherwise may seem extremely eccentric and weird. You really get inside his head and feel for him especially in the very moving finale. The people he meets along the way are very cool and engaging. It is nice that the film captures a hippie subculture that exists today and not just portrayed as a movement from a bygone era. Vince Vaughan is very good in a role that is a little unusual for him. It would have been even better had they fleshed his character out a little bit more. Hal Holbrook is nothing short of phenomenal. This role makes for a perfect book end to his great career. Watching him climb up the side of a very steep hill at his advanced his age is inspiring. If there was ever a performance screaming for a Oscar it is this one and it is a crime that he didn't get it. It is also nice that the film was shot on location at all the different spots where McCandless went as well as seeing a picture of the real McCandless at the very end.
THE NEGATIVE: Jena Malone as the film's narrator doesn't work. She has a voice that sounds like someone that just got out of high school and yet she ends up postulating on some very profound and philosophical thoughts that just doesn't seem convincing. It is good to see Hurt still working, but his small part as the perplexed father is pretty thankless. The scene where he flies into a rage at his wife seems more laughable than dramatic.
THE LOWDOWN: This is a film that will make you feel good and excited about life and the people in it. It gets high marks in every conceivable category.
THE RATING: 9 out of 10.
Needs More Action and Disaster
THE PLOT: A man (Bottoms) threatens to blow up roller coasters at major American amusement parks unless he is given 1 million dollars. The film then examines the chief investigator's (Segal) attempts at finding the extortionist as well as the very elaborate cat and mouse game that the two play with each other.
THE NEGATIVE: The film's pacing is poor. It opens with the extortionist blowing up a roller coaster and Segal coming to investigate. Then all of a sudden the film cuts to a very uninspired ten minute segment involving Segal's family life before it finally gets back to the investigation. Outside of seeing a young Helen Hunt as his daughter, the family scenes offer nothing and should have been scraped completely. Despite having 'disaster epic' written all over it the filmmaker's unwisely decided to make this more of an 'intellectual thriller' with very little action of special effects. The only real action/special effects comes at the beginning when Bottoms blows up a coaster and everyone on it comes crashing down. However it all looks far too sanitized and fake and it is far too obvious that it is dummies inside of the coaster cars and not real people. As the villain Bottoms has got to be one of the dullest you will ever see. Absolutely nothing about him is interesting and there is no back story given as to why he is doing this or how he manages to be so very clever. Fonda is wasted in a ridiculously small and insignificant role and one wonders why he would have even taken it.
THE POSITIVE: It's the good guys that are definitely more interesting here. Segal plays his part with a nice 'everyman' quality that makes him easily relatable. It is nice to see him living in an apartment that is reasonably sloppy. It is also fun to watch him ride a roller coaster. While everyone else is screaming and stretching their arms into the air he just sits right in the front car looking bored. Widmark is equally as good and possibly at his most gruff and abrasive. The sparing relationship that he has with Segal is entertaining. The intricate cat and mouse game that Segal plays with Bottoms isn't too bad either. There are a few impressive shots where the camera is mounted on the front roller coaster car and then is glided along the tracks at high speeds giving the viewer of a very realistic feeling of actually being on a roller coaster.
THE LOWDOWN: This film just does not live up to expectations. It is sorely in need of more special effects, more action, more suspense, and just plain more disaster. The bad guy needs to be more interesting and a much bigger role for Fonda. Some feel he may be one of the great actors of all time so if you got him use him.
THE RATING: 5 out of 10.
Has Some Good Creepy Elements, But Goes Nowhere With It
THE PLOT: A boy starts to believe his 'perfect' and wholesome parents may actually be psychotic murderers.
THE POSITIVE: Unlike some of the other silly B-horror films from the 80's era this one doesn't just play it for laughs. There are some genuinely creepy undertones here including a scene where the boy imagines himself falling into a giant pool of blood. The killings are also all done in slow motion, which is pretty cool. The movie also does a good job of keeping the viewer guessing as to whether the parents are really killers or it is all just a part of the boy's already overactive imagination. Sandy Dennis is given a supporting role that is much to undistinguished for a actress of her caliber and yet she is still able to make the most of it. She has a real nice stylishly short and curly haircut and she looks probably better here than she ever did. It is almost hard to fathom that just three years later she would be dead and this would be her second to last movie. This film also does a real good job of photographing food. If you watch this on an empty stomach you most likely will end up getting really hungry.
THE NEGATIVE: The kid is the one who actually ends up being creepier than any of the adults. He has real big gloomy looking eyes, he blurts out strange things, and mumbles his lines which sometimes makes him hard to understand. There are certain elements that could have been played up a little bit more, but the most infuriating thing about this whole film is the fact that it never makes it clear whether the parents really were killers or it was just made up.
THE LOWDOWN: This film has a little bit more going for it than most B-horror films from the 80's and it does manage to keep you guessing. However the nebulous ending pretty much kills it. The child actor playing the part of the kid is not a very good performer and at times even becomes annoying.
THE RATING: 5 out of 10.
Route 66: I'm Here to Kill a King (1964)
Milner Plays a Bad Guy
This episode did not air during the series original run due to its similarity to the then recent Kennedy assassination and was eventually broadcast 4 months later. It involves a killer with an almost identical resemblance to Todd who is hired to assassinate a visiting Arabian King while he tours Niagra Falls.
One of the best aspects of this series was the fact that, by and large, the characters and story lines dealt with very real and universal issues yet this episode seems to throw all that out the window. The problem is the fact the killer looks EXACTLY like Todd with absolutely no distinguishable differences. Some other series have dealt with someone looking similar to one of the series cast, but they usually have SOMETHING that is slightly different about them whether it is a different hairstyle, mustache, glasses, or accent. This guy even sounds exactly like Todd as Linc talks to him on the phone and doesn't in the least sense that anything is wrong. This is just not realistic at all. Yes people can sometimes resemble someone else, but there are usually always some differences even small ones, there HAS to be. The episode is simply using this scenario to create a broad metaphor about what separates us and turns some to the dark side, but even this doesn't get tackled as deeply as it should. Overall this episode works too much off of one gimmick and never goes any further. It also resembles the film THE PARALLAX VIEW, which as a story is much better.
For what it is worth Milner seems to do a pretty good job in the bad guy role and this may be his best performance of the entire series. It is also fun to see Louise in a small role as well as Loggia dressed up to look like he is of Arabian descent and speaking in an accent.
Cry Uncle (1971)
Surprisingly Explicit and Still Outrageous
THE PLOT: A down and out private eye (Garfield) becomes embroiled in a complex case involving murder, intrigue, and a lot of sex.
THE POSITIVE: This is one drive-in flick that definitely does not skimp on the sex. There is a lot of it and it is very explicit and done in some outlandish ways. One features a couple having sex during the national anthem, while another shows Garfield having sex with a prostitute while in front of a picture of Christ, yet the most notorious one involves Garfield having sex with a dead body while ragtime music plays in the background. Garfield, in the lead, is quite amusing as he seems to be always running his mouth off about something. Sorvino also has a funny cameo as a policeman plagued with a terrible case of smoker's cough.
THE NEGATIVE: Although she delivers her lines well Le Roux, in the female lead role, is not real sexy. Her face resembles that of Cruella De Vil's in the cartoon version of 101 DALMATIONS and her body is very flat making her nude scenes unexciting. She also doesn't seem too young either. Certain camera angles make her look like a youthful 30 while others give the impression that she is pushing 45. There are also enough nude shots of overweight and out of shape Garfield to make just about anyone sick. The film is also unable to sustain its nice slam bang funny pace that it has at the beginning with the second half being not as outrageous or inspired.
THE LOWDOWN: For fans of low-grade, T & A, drive-in fare this one pretty much hits the target and makes the most of its low budget, underground roots.
THE RATING: 5 out of 10.
The Teacher (1974)
Dull and Untitillating
THE PLOT: An 18 year old virgin (North) is seduced by his teacher (Tompkins) while fighting off a weird stalker (James).
THE NEGATIVE: This film is excruciatingly dull and is loaded with too much meandering dialog and scenes that go nowhere. The story itself is too simple and offers no surprises or interesting twists. It has no business taking up ninety-eight minutes of time to get where it is going. The sex scenes are not titillating at all and their confrontations with the psychotic James are uninspired. There is also a syrupy sweet theme music that is absolutely awful and it gets played over and over again during the whole movie.
THE POSITIVE: Seeing TV's Dennis the Menace all grown up and in a promiscuous role is fun for a few seconds as well as seeing Gena Rowlands and John Cassavetes mother's in a brief cameo during a restaurant scene.
THE LOWDOWN: This movie needed a lot more sex, scares, and humor to make it even halfway entertaining. This is basically just a one note story that takes way too long to play out.
THE RATING: 1 out of 10.
Route 66: The Thin White Line (1961)
Tod's Drug Trip
Tod mistakenly drinks a beer that is laced with a hallucinogenic drug that sends him into a near psychotic state and running out into the night streets of Philadelphia. Yet it is Buz that seems almost as volatile as he threatens to beat up the perpetrators as well as anyone else that doesn't answer, to his liking, as to Tod's whereabouts.
Some consider this one of the better episodes of the series, but it doesn't completely hold up. One of the problems is the fact that there aren't more special effects showing Tod's state of mind and the ones that are shown aren't all that exceptional. It would have also been better had he gone through some more recognizable parts of the city instead of just dimly lighted side streets and back alleys.
Tod's trip to a neighborhood bar becomes the most interesting sequence of the episode as he goes from hostile psycho to a carefree spirit and then back again almost instantaneously. Al Lewis is good in the role of a bartender who can't quite decide if he finds Tod amusing or someone that he should throw out. Sylvia Miles also has a nice part playing the role of a woman who takes Tod home with her. She is then made out to look like a witch during one of Tod's hallucinating episodes although in Miles's case no type of special make-up was needed. In the end the most notable aspect about this episode is simply seeing Milner, who is normally a very stiff and one dimensional actor, playing a more demanding and unique part.
This Sporting Life (1963)
Brilliantly Directed and Edited
THE PLOT: A man decides to better himself by joining the rugby league where he hopes not only to distinguish himself and better his financial situation, but also to impress the woman he is desperately trying to attract.
THE POSITIVE: From a purely cinematic level this film is brilliant. The black and white photography as well as the editing are all excellent. The pace is perfect with each scene being significant and revealing and building nicely upon the other. The rugby sequences are gritty and realistic and the narrative structure jumps interestingly back and forth between the present and the past. Harris is terrific in the lead and at times he looks, acts, and even sounds exactly like Marlon Brando. His scenes with Roberts and his frustrations at being in love with a woman that cannot return his affections are almost as riveting as the rugby scenes. Overall it ends up being a fabulously profound piece of viewing as it details a man's struggles at striving to get ahead in society only to find that his life is just as empty.
THE NEGATIVE: The only drawback is the film's length. Some of the scenes could have been shortened just a little while still conveying the same message and having the same impact.
THE LOWDOWN: For fans of intelligent cinema this is for them. The film at first may seem to be a bit of a relic of it's time period, but the characters and story are universal and timeless. Overall it's a flawless effort.
THE RATING: 8 out of 10.