Weird Science (1985)

weird science

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Geeks create hot babe.

Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) are two geeky high school buddies who can’t seem to make it with the girls, so they try to concoct one using Wyatt’s computer. The result is the creation of the voluptuous Lisa (Kelly LeBrock) who is not only super smart, but has a really bitchin’ bod as well. Soon the two boys become quite popular and even host a wild part at Wyatt’s house while his parent are away, but things eventually get out of control and the two learn a valuable lesson that being ‘cool’ isn’t everything.

Director John Hughes purportedly wrote the film’s script in a matter of  2 days and it shows as the logic is nonsensical and so poorly thought that it seems almost done on a grade school level. Normally I’d have written the whole thing as a mess, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that to an adolescent this really could make sense as it fits in perfectly with the dreamy, fantasy filled concept most boys at that age have and that is where it succeeds.

The dialogue is sharp and the gags quite clever particularly the send-up to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The barrage of weirdness creates a certain rhythm that hooks you and keeps you captivated almost like a drug trip until you simply turn off your brain and enjoy the ride for what it is.

Hall is especially dynamic particularly the part where he gets drunk and starts speaking in an accent. LeBrock makes for a terrific contrast to the boys and manages to hold-her-own while Bill Paxton scores as Wyatt’s obnoxious older brother.

Smith was the only one that I didn’t care for. His face is certainly photogenic and could be considered a heartthrob to any teen girl, but his voice is quite nasally to the point that I felt it was annoying. He also lacks Hall’s comic panache although some viewers may be impressed at how good he looks in women’s underwear.

There are some really funny scenes here with Hall’s introduction of Lisa to his parents (Britt Leach, Barbara Lang) and the nuclear missile that goes straight through Wyatt’s home being the two best, but the film ends up being straddled with a wrap-up that is too tidy and the need to preach generic ‘life lessons’ that ultimately gives it a formulaic and limited feel.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 2, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: John Hughes

Studio: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Walkabout (1971)

walkabout 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lost in the outback.

A teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (Luc Roeg, but billed as Lucien John) find themselves trapped amidst the harsh climate of the Australian outback. After spending a couple of days walking in the heat they manage to come upon a watering hole, but find to their horror that it dries up overnight. Feeling almost ready to give up they spot an aborigine (David Gulpilil in his film debut) marauding through the desert as part of his walkabout where young men are cast off into the wilderness for several months as part of their journey to manhood. He helps find them water, food and shelter, but eventually the cultural differences between the three and their inability to effectively communicate become a problem.

The legendary Nicholas Roeg makes his directorial debut here and even casts his own son, who is excellent, as the 9-year-old boy.  The way the camera captures the desert by focusing on the different types of animal life and rock formations is impressive.  I also enjoyed the editing which cuts back and forth between the desert and modern civilization while examining how each are uniquely connected and commenting on how our advanced culture has made us regress and less able to survive the savage elements that our ancestors were able to.

There are also scenes of animal cruelty as the aborigine hunts a kangaroo by first injuring him and then, as the animal gives out a whimpering cry, he spears it. Later the viewer is shown scenes involving big game hunters who mow down water buffalo for sport while graphically slitting their throats.

The film was controversial for capturing Agutter, who was only 17 at the time that this was filmed, in the nude while swimming at a watering hole. The actress felt uncomfortable doing the scene and required only the minimum of the crew to be present while it was shot. To me the scene was unnecessary as it didn’t fit the character who was prim and proper and didn’t at all come off like the type of person who would suddenly become carefree and risk being spotted by the aborigine that she really didn’t know or the ‘embarrassment’ of being seen by her younger brother. The camera stays on her naked body far longer than needed and comes off like shameless voyeurism.

I had the same issue with the scene involving researchers at a weather station that resembles footage to a soft core porn flick instead as the men ogle the only woman in their group, become overtly aroused at glimpses of her bosom and in one truly absurd moment even has one of the them sucking on her finger. I realize scientists have sex drives too, but I would think they would be able to behave in a professional capacity when on the job and not act like they hadn’t gotten laid in years and like with the swimming sequence this scene has nothing to do with the main story and could’ve been cut out completely.

The presence of the radio weakens the story as well as supposedly they’re in the middle of nowhere and miles from civilization and yet somehow are able to pick up different radio stations that come in crystal clear without any static, which would mean that they must be much closer to a city than it seems and thus hurts the desolate feeling that the film otherwise tries hard to create.

Spoiler Alert!

The film is based on a 1959 novel of the same name that was written by Donald Gordon Payne under the pseudonym of James Vance Marshall. The script though differs from the book in two major ways, one of which I liked and the other I didn’t.

The first difference involves the reason for how the two children get stranded. In the book they are victims of a plane crash, but in the film it is because their father tries to kill them, which is offbeat and sends the message that this movie will be different from any you’ve seen before, which I liked. Normally I would’ve wanted an explanation for his behavior, but by keeping it a mystery it elevates the intrigue and if anything was a far more creative explanation for their predicament than the formulaic plane crash one.

However, the way the aborigine dies is ludicrous. In the book he is stricken with the flu virus that was inadvertently passed onto him by the boy, but in the movie he ends up killing himself when the girl does not respond to his attempts at courtship, which seemed excessively rash.

Rejection is a part of the human experience and transcends all cultures. Everyone will have to deal with it at some point in their lives. If everyone killed themselves the minute they are rebuffed by someone they were attracted to then virtually no one on would make it past adolescence. The idea that a normal, healthy and otherwise happy young man with no signs of mental illness, and the film does not show him as having any so we must assume that he doesn’t, would suddenly off himself over a girl he has just met and barely knew is absurd. In reality he probably would’ve just gotten frustrated and left them stranded while going back to his own tribe where I presume he’d meet other women who he’d bond better with due to being more culturally connected and most likely would’ve found more attractive anyways.

End of Spoiler Alert!

walkabout 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Nicholas Roeg

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

The Sterile Cuckoo (1969)

sterile cuckoo 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: This relationship is doomed.

Mary Ann Adams (Liza Minnelli), who goes by the nickname of Pookie, is a complete social misfit who can’t fit-in anywhere.  As she waits at a bus stop to go off to college she meets Jerry (Wendell Burton) a shy and reserved young man who just happens to be attending the same school as she. Pookie immediately starts up a conversation with him and takes full advantage of his quiet nature to force herself into his life. The two soon begin to date, but Pookie’s inability to get along with others and her extreme insecurities make it almost impossible for the fledgling relationship to get off the ground.

This film marks the directorial debut of Alan J. Pakula and the result is nothing short of excellent. This is the type of movie that they don’t seem to make anymore where great sensitivity is taken to focus on a broken individual, but without ever making fun or demeaning them in anyway. The film’s pace is slow, but never boring and the emphasis is almost entirely on the nuances of its two leads. It also features one of the best and most memorable movie soundtracks to come out of the ‘60s.

The film is based on the novel of the same name that came out in 1965 and was written by John Nichols. It was even shot at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York where Nichols graduated in 1962. For the most part the script, by the prolific Alvin Sargent, stays quite faithful to the book with the only real big difference being that the story here encompasses only one year while in the book it was three. To me this revision was an improvement because the relationship was clearly doomed from the beginning and I couldn’t imagine it somehow lasting for three years let alone one to begin with.

Minnelli’s performance is Oscar worthy and the scene where she has a long talk on the phone with Jerry and the camera stays solely focused on her face is one the strongest moments in the movie and could only have been pulled off by a brilliant actress who somehow makes the viewer empathetic to this otherwise annoying character.

Burton, in his film debut, is equally strong and watching the two characters with such contrasting styles dealing with each other is the main catalyst that propels the story. Tim McIntire, as Jerry’s college roommate, is quite good as well playing the perfect composite of a partying college kid while also offering one of the film’s few moments of levity.

Some viewers have complained that the film lacks any wintertime shots even though the story takes place in Upstate New York where snow is inevitable and the story is supposedly spread over one full school year, but to me this is nitpicky. Clearly the film’s budget didn’t allow for shooting over an entire year and it wasn’t necessary anyways. The film captures the forestry region in such a vivid way that it almost becomes like a third character. It also in my mind made it more believable because I never felt this wacky, makeshift romance could last a full year and at best might’ve only existed for the fall semester before inevitably petering apart.

For me the only real criticism is the fact that we learn very little of about Pookie’s personal life. She mentions her relationship with her father quite a lot and we see him for a brief period at the beginning, but then that’s it even though it would’ve helped the viewer understand the character better had a backstory, or scenes involving her family life been shown.

The film is also incredibly sad to the point that it will make just about any viewer depressed after seeing it. On the technical end it’s flawless, but Pookie’s feelings of loneliness and the character’s extreme isolation eventually reaches out and sucks the viewer into it without any let up and it remains with them long after it’s over.

sterile cuckoo 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated M

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Studio: Paramount Pictures

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

National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985)

european vacation

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The Griswolds tour Europe.

After winning a trip to Europe Clark (Chevy Chase) and his family set out to see the sights. First they go to London and France and then Germany only to end up in Italy where they get involved with a couple of thieves. Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) also becomes an international porn star when stolen video of her singing naked in the shower gets shown at the local adult theaters.

Although John Hughes is credited as the co-writer he had nothing to do with the script and the majority of blame for this mess goes to Robert Klane. Klane burst onto the scene during the early ‘70’s with the brilliant Where’s Poppa that deserves to go down into the annals of all-time original comedy, but his output since then has proved to be mediocre and the uninspired humor here is no exception. The comedy in the first installment was solely focused on all the amusing elements that can occur when a family takes a trip, but here gags of any kind get thrown in with much of them being crude and pointless.

The performers who play Rusty and Audrey are poor replacements to the ones in the first film. Anthony Michael Hall was asked to reprise his role, but decided to commit to doing Weird Science instead. After he bowed out it was decided to then cast a new person in the Audrey role as well, but the presence of the teens here is not as fun. In the first film they were portrayed as being the sensible ones, which made for an amusing contrast to the more child-like Clark, but here they are straddled with the generic issues of the everyday teen, which isn’t funny or interesting and includes Audrey dealing with an eating disorder and having a nightmare where she stuffs her face full of junk food, which is gross.

There is also a potpourri of recognizable character actors who appear briefly in bit parts and include : Eric Idle, John Astin, Paul Bartel, Robbie Coltrane, Moon Unit Zappa and Victor Lanoux all of whom get wasted to the point where I was surprised they even agreed to appear unless they just really needed the money. The side-story dealing with the Griwolds and some thieves is dumb and looks to have been written in simply to pad the running time.

Chase himself has gone on record to state that he dislikes this film and it’s easy to see why. The on-location shooting is nice, but everything else falls horribly flat. In fact the only funny gag in the whole thing is when Clark gets trapped in a London roundabout and is unable to make a left turn, which forces him to drive in circles for hours, which apparently isn’t such an uncommon occurrence.

european vacation 2

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: July 26, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Amy Heckerling

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Kansas City Bomber (1972)

kansas city bomber

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life on roller derby.

Raquel Welch plays K.C. Carr a struggling mother of two who goes all-out as the star in the roller derby circuit. She plays for the Kansas City Bombers, but then gets into a grudge match with Big Bertha (Patti ‘Moo Moo’ Cavin) with the loser agreeing to leave Kansas City and never return. Through some cheating by other teammates K.C. loses, but is soon picked up by the Portland Loggers whose owner (Kevin McCarthy) is quite impressed with her and promises to make her a star. The two eventually get into a relationship, but then she gets into yet another grudge match this time with the aging Jackie (Helena Kallianiotes) and the loser agreeing to leave Portland forever.

During the ‘70s the roller derby sport was all-the-rage and several films during the period were produced on the subject including The Unholy Rollers, which was also released in 1972 and starred Claudia Jennings as well as Derby, which was a documentary on the sport and came out a year before this one. I once went to a roller derby game a few years back in Indianapolis and I found it to be inane and boring, but there were indeed some people there that seemed to really get into it. In fact if there is one thing that this film does well it is the way it captures the spectators. Seeing many of them with missing teeth and looking like they would not fare too well on a college entrance exam, but getting extremely worked-up with the action in front of them solidly hits-the-mark on the mentality that one will find when attending these events.

The action though looks horribly fake and it’s obvious that the performers are pulling their punches during the fight sequences. I initially thought this was intentional and to show how the sport is really just about acting, but the script wants to play it like it’s for real, which makes the phony staged action look all the more ridiculous.

Welch’s presence is another hindrance. She’s a beautiful looking lady, but her acting has always been suspect. She manages to convey a toughness during the game sequences, but the character is just too nice and naïve otherwise. The film makes efforts to show the hard life and dehumanizing conditions that working in the business entails and yet somehow we are expected to believe this is the one person that has managed to ‘rise above it’ when in reality it would’ve dragged her down to its level, or at least made her more world-wise. The scene where she becomes ‘shocked’ at how the players are being ‘used’ and expresses this to the Kevin McCarthy character gets a good comeback from him when he states “We’re all being used…that’s the American way. You outta know that by now!”  And the fact that she strangely doesn’t despite being supposedly a ‘seasoned’ player makes her character come off has poorly fleshed-out and hollow.

Her relationship with McCarthy is a major issue as he was 30 years older than her. The two share no chemistry and have little in common and watching this gray haired man walking hand-in-hand with a hot young chick comes off like an old fogey that’s  porking his granddaughter.

The unintentionally funny climactic finish is pathetic and features the replay of the same hokey shot done from 3 different angles. The ending also leaves open a slew of unanswered questions while wasting the talents of a young Jodie Foster who appears only briefly as Welch’s daughter. I also didn’t get why it was entitled the Kansas City Bomber as the character spends only a brief time there while the bulk of the story takes place in the Pacific Northwest.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 2, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerold Freedman

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

This Property is Condemned (1966)

this property

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mother pimps her daughter.

Owen Legate (Robert Redford) arrives in the small town of Dodson, Mississippi in the 1930’s to carry out an unpleasant task. He’s been assigned by his employer to layoff many of the railway workers in the area due to the economic depression. Many in town are not pleased with his presence and want him to go while even threatening him with violence. Alva (Natalie Wood) is the only one who takes a liking to him despite the fact that he consistently gives her the-cold-shoulder in return. She’s been forced by her mother (Kate Reid) to ‘entertain’ the male guests that stay at their boarding house and Owen wants none of it as he finds her dreamy, child-like personality to be off-putting and even an illness. Yet the longer he stays the more entranced with her he becomes, but he wonders if he’ll ever be able to get her away from the clutches of her domineering Mother.

This film was considered by critics at the time to be ‘trash’ and that was most likely due to its provocative subject matter that was clearly years-ahead-of-its-time, but with a script written by Francis Ford Coppola and Fred Coe, produced by John Houseman and directed by Sydney Pollack in a story based on a Tennessee Williams play couldn’t be all that bad and this clearly isn’t and in fact it’s excellent and should be considered a classic instead. The recreation of The Deep South from the ‘30s is spot-on and the on-location shooting done in the small town of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi lends some terrific atmosphere. The dialogue is sharp and the well-paced script leads to emotionally charged scenes of high drama.

Redford’s cool and detached persona is put to great use and I liked seeing a scenario where it’s the girl chasing after the guy for a change. Mary Badham is equally good in her first film after doing To Kill a Mockingbird, but here she is much more attractive with long hair and sans the Tomboy look. There is also solid support from both Charles Bronson and a baby-faced Robert Blake who just three years later reteamed with Redford in Tell Them Willie Boy is Here.

Wood gives an excellent performance as well, but I had a hard time understanding her character as her perpetual flights of fancy didn’t make much sense. The script seems to say that this is her ‘defense’ and escape from her harsh life, but any woman whose been forced into prostitution by her mother and pawed at by literally every man who comes along would most likely become hardened and bitter and learn to distrust and dislike any man who came near her.

Kate Reid as the mother also posed some initial problems as she looks too young for the part and in reality was only 8 years older than Wood who played her daughter. However, there is a birthday celebration where she is given a cake full of candles to blow out, but she refuses as she feels that 43 is getting ‘too old’, which made me realize that back then people had kids earlier even before they were 18 and therefore her still youthful look by our standards could be forgiven and even understood.

The final half is where this thing really comes together and includes a great confrontational moment between a drunken Wood, who really did get drunk in order to get into the scene, as well as her picturesque journey to New Orleans. Like in most movies the odds of her suddenly bumping into Owen after a couple of short days in the city seemed pretty slim, but I could forgive it as the rest of the film is so strong that any minor flaw with it is hardly worth discussing.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: August 3, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Sydney Pollack

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

vacation

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going on a trip.

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) decides to drive his family of four from Chicago to California in order to visit the world famous amusement park of Wally World. Sure they could’ve flown, but he feels that getting there is ‘half the fun’, so they pack up their station wagon while losing their luggage along the way, running out of money, getting stranded in the desert and forced to take along the crabby Aunt Edna (Imogene Coca) who makes everyone miserable.

The film is loaded with laugh-out-loud gags particularly at the beginning. I enjoyed the snapshots of touristy places that get shown over the opening credits as they look exactly like homemade pics stripped directly from somebody’s family album. Clark’s attempts to recreate their proposed trip on the computer only to have his animated station wagon eaten up by a Pacman-like monster is hilarious and imaginative. The scene showing him trying to get back into his old car after its been crushed, or falling asleep at the wheel and driving haphazardly off the road only to end up miraculously at a hotel are also quite good.

The screenplay was written by John Hughes and based on a story he wrote for the September 1979 issue of National Lampoon’s magazine. The plot nicely tackles all the problems that can occur on a typical family outing. Everything from having to visit boring in-laws to squabbling kids in the backseat get comically examined and most likely will remind everyone of their own family trips that started out fun, but turned into a nightmare.

I enjoyed seeing comic legends Eddie Bracken and Imogene Coca cast in supporting roles as well as other recognizable stars popping up for brief bits. This is also the best casting of Rusty and Audrey and watching the kids being the sensible ones while the Dad is more child-like is fun. However, their lack of appreciation for the song ‘Mockingbird’, which Chase and Beverly D’Angelo do an admirable rendition of, is outrageous even for teens and should’ve been enough to have them thrown into Lake Michigan immediately!

The script though begins to go off its hinges with the running joke involving supermodel Christie Brinkley. She plays a hot babe who seems for some strange reason to be attracted to middle-age schmuck Clark. The script was originally written to have this as Rusty’s sexual fantasy, which might’ve worked better, but as it is here it makes no sense.  The character drives so fast in her sporty red convertible that she should remain miles ahead of them and yet she is constantly repassing them almost like she’s a stalker and the odds that she would’ve coincidently been staying at the same hotel as them, out of the thousands that are out there, are astronomically slim. It all might’ve been saved, at least for the male viewers, had she gone nude, which was the original intent, but she refused. In either case it’s a boring bit that is not funny, or believable, or for that matter even sexy.

Spoiler Alert!

I also found the ending to be a letdown. The original one had Clark purchasing a BB gun and using it to invade the home owned by Wally (Eddie Bracken) after they find that his amusement park has been temporarily shut down and then forcing him and his associates to sing some songs before the SWAT team closes in. However, this ending rated poorly with test audiences so it was changed to where Clark and the family invade the park itself and force a security guard, amusingly played by John Candy, to take them on the rides while threatening him with the same type of BB gun.

Personally I disliked both endings because they are over-the-top and make little sense. There is no way that an amusement park would completely shut down for 2-weeks to make repairs especially in the middle of summer, which it is at the height of tourist season and risks too much of a loss of revenue. Certain individual rides may get shut down from time-to-time, but not the whole place. There is also never any explanation as to who is running the rides from the ground that the Griswolds and the security guard go on. Some may argue that it might be done by the black security guard, which is played by actor Frank McRae, but this is never explicitly shown or implied, so it therefore cannot be automatically assumed.

It also takes away too much from the film’s overall theme, which was making fun of less than ideal situations that occur on a lot of family vacations. Yes they do get exaggerated for comical purposes, but there was still a grain of truth to it while the ending instead borders on the surreal.

A better version would’ve been to have the family go to the park and have it open for business as expected, but then get caught up in a lot of crowds, long lines, overly priced rides and roller coasters that made them physically sick, which it did to the cast in real-life anyways.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Despite some of the script’s weaknesses this is still the funniest installment to the Griswold adventures and far better than its 4 sequels or the 2015 reboot. I also enjoyed the on-location shooting as well as the music by Lindsey Buckingham. His song ‘Holiday Road’, which gets played during the film’s opening, has become the mainstay to the franchise even I found ‘Dancing Across the U.S.A’ that gets played over the closing credits to be better.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 29, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated R

Director: Harold Ramis

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Mad Max (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Gang harasses cop’s family.

In the not so distant future where lawlessness is the norm motorbike gangs terrorize the Australian countryside and it’s up to highwayman known as the Main Force Patrol (MFP) to keep them under control. When one of the officers known as Max (Mel Gibson) kills a gang member during a high-speed chase the gang’s leader named Toecutter (Hugh Keyes-Byrne) gets his revenge by having his gang member’s destroy a small town and rape a couple. He also has the youngest member of his gang named Johnny (Tim Burns) kill Max’s partner Goose (Steve Bisley) by having his car set on fire with him still inside. After Max witnesses Goose’s charred remains he quits the force, but Toecutter and his men continue their harassment by this time setting their sights on Max’s wife (Joanne Samuel) and young child.

This film, which was produced by a generally novice crew including its director who at one time worked as a doctor inside a hospital emergency room, became a worldwide cult hit that has spawned many sequels and imitations. The intent was to create a “silent movie with sound” with the emphasis more on imagery and action than dialogue or story. For the most part it succeeds quite well in this area with some excellent car chases particularly the one at the beginning and coupled with the dry barren Australian countryside, which truly does give off a strong, desolate future-type look.

The film though lacks any backstory and one spends the greater part of the first hour asking ‘Who are these people and how exactly did they get there?’ The film can still be enjoyed without it, but comes off as poorly realized and lacking any type of depth. The narrative is also just a little too simple and obvious. When the wife decides to go off to get some ice cream when Max is at the car repair place it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that she’ll bump into the marauding gang when she gets there, which of course she does. Later, she goes for a walk in a forest, but Max doesn’t go with her, or give a gun for protection even though the gang is still on the loose, which seemed like really poor judgement.

There are also times when the film pulls away from the violence a little too soon and would have been more effective had it stayed on it for a while longer. One of these moments occurs during the rape sequence and another time is when Max visits Goose in the hospital, but instead of having the camera capture Goose’s burned face, which would’ve been much more graphic and disturbing, it instead looks at Max’s widening eyes, which is cheesy and cartoonish.

The film’s biggest issue though is the music score by Brian May, which is so loud and obnoxious and borders on being a distraction. The booming orchestral sound doesn’t jive at all with the futuristic setting and seems much better suited for a 1940’s serial instead. The images would be enough to set the tone and having the blasting music added in makes it come off as heavy-handed and amateurish.

Byrne as the gang leader is distinct looking and effectively menacing although his evilness could’ve been played up even more. Sheila Florance though is a lot of fun as the elderly, gun-toting Aunt May who single-handedly tries to take down the gang with only her and her rifle. However, it’s Gibson that steals it with his young, baby-face that makes him look like a choirboy and heightens the intrigue by having such a contrasting look to the gang members and making the viewer wonder if he really can take them down or not.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 12, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Miller

Studio: Roadshow Film Distributors

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

Demon Seed (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Computer impregnates a human.

Based on an early Dean R. Koontz novel the story centers on Susan Harris (Julie Christie) who is married to Alex (Fritz Weaver) a man who has created a giant artificially intelligent computer named Proteus (voice of Robert Vaughn) as well as installing a computer inside their own home, which does all of their household chores and is fully automated via voice command.  Things seem to be going fine until Proteus starts to question the assignments that he has been given and his unhappiness with being ‘trapped inside a box’. To remedy the situation he decides to use the computer terminal inside the Harris’s home, so that he can overtake the house through his electronic commands and then impregnate Susan to have his child and therefore experience life as a person instead of a machine.

One of the things that got on my nerves right away was the way the film immediately telegraphs where it is going and reeks with ‘70s paranoia about computers ‘overtaking the world’, which was a prevalent fear during that era as computers were just in their infancy and their ultimate place in human society still not fully understood.

The Alex character is too ambivalent towards the warning signs and comes off like the clichéd super scientist with a child-like enthusiasm about his ‘creation’ and not the slightest concern for what might happen if things go wrong and the way he becomes so quickly shocked when the computer does start to behave in a way he had not considered seems almost laughable. Real-life scientists would most assuredly have considered these issues and had safeguards already put in place and the fact that the characters here don’t just doesn’t seem believable.

When the Proteus computer takes over Susan’s home I didn’t find it frightening, but more unintentionally funny for many of the same reasons. I don’t think that I myself could ever get used to a computer running everything for me and doing whatever I said at the sound of my voice. In the back of my mind, and in any sane person’s mind for that matter, I would be worrying about it malfunctioning and the consequences that it would entail, so when things finally do go wrong I found it laughable because anyone could have clearly seen it coming from the start. In fact the only thing that saves this thing from a being a complete dud is Christie’s brilliant performance and the fact that she gets you to see her character as a real human being and someone you care for and want to see rescued.

Spoiler Alert!

The script suffers from a myriad of other logical loopholes as well. One of them is the whole basic premise of how a computer can somehow manipulate human DNA in order to get supposedly his ‘genes’ into the child, so that it fully has his own traits and even his own voice. There is also no suitable explanation for how he was able to speed-up the gestation period from the 9 months to just 28 days. I was also surprised that the husband never bothers to call his wife during that 28-day period. Yes, I realize that they had just separated, but it was a very amicable one and I would still have thought he would’ve called-in at some point simply to check-in. There is also another character played by Gerrit Graham who comes into the house and tries to shut down the computer and is killed in the process making me believe that his disappearance would’ve caused suspicion and others would’ve come looking for him. There is also the issue of her mail, which I’m sure would’ve been piling up at her front door and causing both the mail carrier and neighbors to take notice.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film is full of many colorful graphics and effects although they may no longer be considered as state-of-the-art as they once were. The idea is an intriguing one and Robert Vaughn gives the Proteus character a lot of menace with his voice, but he is still no HAL. The ending is really over-the-top, but in a wildly interesting sort of way even though it does nothing but create more questions than answers.

demon seed 3

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 8, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Donald Cammell

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)

The Killing of Angel Street (1981)

killing of angel street

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their homes get demolished.

Jessica (Elizabeth Alexander) is a quiet woman who suddenly finds herself embroiled in a heated battle between homeowners and developers who want to build beachfront property on their land and tearing down their homes in the process. Jessica’s father (Alexander Archdale) is one of the homeowners whose place will be destroyed if the developers have their way. Since she has no experience in fighting these matters she employs the assistance of local union leader Elliot (John Hargreaves) to help her in her fight and the two quickly start-up a relationship, but just as they feel they are making some headway Jessica begins to get harassed by complete strangers who break into her home and threaten her life unless she agrees to back-off.

This film is based on the same real-life incident that was also the inspiration for Heatwave, which came out a year after this one. What I found so interesting is how both films took the same incident, but managed to veer into two very diametrically opposite directions with it. Heatwave viewed the situation from all different perspectives including that of the antagonist while this one only looks at the viewpoint of the lead character and uses the premise as a catalyst to what surmounts to being a basic thriller.

While I felt Heatwave was the superior film I did feel this movie was better at creating an emotional impact with the viewer. You get to know the residents better here and are more sympathetic to their cause as well as witnessing the human side and its impact. The shots of houses getting torn down is especially strong as well as the shot near the end where you see the crumbling skeletons of the buildings all in a row and looking like remnants of some sort of war zone.

The film suffers from the weak presence of its lead actress whose performance comes off as being much too rehearsed and lacks any type of spontaneity. Hargreaves, who became one of Australia’s best known lead actors, is wasted in a benign supporting role and is not seen very much. Archdale practically steals it in a touching portrait of an old man clinging to the only thing he has left, but the pronounced bags under his eyes almost becomes a distraction.

The film’s final 20 minutes are the best. This is where Jessica finds herself kidnapped and hung upside down over the side of a tall building, which is quite intense, as well as a myriad of almost surreal events where she runs into evil people and ugly situations wherever she turns including that of a humiliating and unnecessary full body search while inside the seemingly safe confines of a police station.

The story though veers way off from what actually happened making this an almost fictional account and barely related to the real Juanita Nielsen whose true-life story inspired this one. The real event had far more interesting twists and I’m not sure why neither film chose to stick to the facts and it almost begs for a talented filmmaker to come in and create a film that examines the events and people as it actually occurred.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 1, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Donald Crombie

Studio: Forest Hill Films

Available: VHS