Category Archives: Political Thrillers

Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train (1987)

warmnights

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Prostitute on the weekend.

Jenny (Wendy Hughes) is an elementary catholic school teacher during the week, but on weekends she’s a prostitute riding a train that travels across the Australian countryside. She picks up lonely men that she meets at the train’s bar and takes them to her cabin for sex, but makes sure they’ve left by 3 AM. While she’s friendly and conversational with them during the night by the next day she virtually ignores them. She does this to help pay for her handicapped brother’s needs and for many years she’s able to juggle these dual lifestyles without much of a hitch. Then she meets a suave businessman (Colin Fields) who gets her involved in an assassination plot that not only disrupts her routine, but sends her precariously close to losing her freedoms.

Director Bob Ellis said the idea for the film was inspired by a long train ride that he took with actor Denny Lawrence and the two wrote the script during the duration of their trip. In order to get the needed funding it was contingent that Wendy Hughes be cast in the lead, which Ellis felt was wrong for the part, but eventually agreed to simply to get the film made. Ultimately though he and the film’s producer, Ross Dimsey, had a different vision for the story and Dimsey greatly trimmed the final cut turning what Ellis felt was one of the best scripts he had ever written into something he would later disown. The full director’s cut had been stored at his residence and he was hoping to eventually release it to the public, but it got destroyed during a house fire.

The version definitely has issues with the biggest one being the slow, plodding pace. I was also disappointed that it starts with Jenny already a seasoned hooker as I would’ve been more interested in seeing how she came up with the idea and seen the awkward moments she most assuredly would’ve gone through when she first jumped in and did it. The fact that she had no ‘Plan-B’ for the potential times when a male client might get aggressive, or not promptly leave at the agreed to time, was a weak point for me. There’s one scene where one of her johns follows her out of the train and won’t leave her alone, but she calls out to a nearby security officer to get him away from her, but if she’s a seasoned sex worker she should have another line of self-defense to use, like a gun or something, to take out if things got out-of-control and no one else was around to help her and the fact that she doesn’t have this makes it seem like she’s not as streetwise as we’re supposed to believe.

Having Jenny suddenly let down her guard and fall for one of her johns (Colin Friels) didn’t make much sense either. After years of being defensive around her clients why now get all emotional about this one who comes-off just as sleazy and aggressive and just as potentially dangerous? The assassination subplot doesn’t get introduced until 60-minutes in and the way she’s able to off the target by simply scratching the guy lightly on his back with a fingernail dipped in poison seemed much too easy.

I did like the juxtaposition of a catholic school teacher being a prostitute, but the film doesn’t explore this contradiction enough. You’d think after having done this for a long time her superiors might catch-on, or have it filter back to them, which could’ve created more conflict and added tension to a story that for the most part is too leisurely paced to hold one’s sustained attention.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 10, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bob Ellis

Studio: Filmpac Distribution

Available: dvdlady.com

The Last Metro (1980)

lastmetro1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding from the Nazis.

Bernard (Gerard Depardieu) is a young actor, who’s also a member of the French Resistance, living in occupied Paris during World War II. He gets a part as the leading man in a play at a playhouse run by Marion (Catherine Denueve) who has taken over the business since her husband Lucas (Heinz Bennent), who was Jewish, and supposedly fled the country when the Nazis took over, but in reality is hiding-out inside the cellar. Bernard and Marion don’t get along at first, but slowly form a bond when they find a mutual enemy in the form of theater critic Daxiat (Jean-Louis Richard) who is an anti-Semite that writes a nasty review about their play, accusing it of being pro-Jewish, in an effort to close the place down, so that he can take it over.

The film, which was writer/director Francois Truffaut’s most successful movie financially and one of the highest grossing French Films ever, remains sufficiently compelling despite very little that actually happens. One of the elements though that I found intriguing was the behind-the-scenes segments revealing all the work that gets put into a play before its opening night premiere . I especially liked Nadine (Sabine Haudepin) as a young actress who tirelessly goes from one acting gig to another, sometimes multiple ones on the same day, in order to help her career and get established.

Revealing right away, or pretty much by the end of the first act, that the husband has never left the country like everyone presumes, was a mistake that lessened the intrigue. For one thing the place he is hiding in, which is the cellar of the theater, is not too creative and even has a back door leading out to the alley way, which made me feel that anyone could’ve caught on to his whereabouts a lot sooner especially as Marion sometimes leaves her visits with him by going out the back entrance. Any passer-by/snitch could see her doing this and wonder what the door lead to, or called the Nazi authorities to have them investigate. It’s also not clear how, in seemingly a few minutes time, Marion is able to hide Lucas and his bed/personal belongings, from the Gestapo when they eventually insist on checking-out the basement.

Marion’s interactions with her husband is not particularly compelling and yet these scenes take up the majority of the runtime during the second act while Depardieu, who is excellent, barely gets seen at all. Then during the third act Marion and Bernard suddenly get really into each other, but the interactions between the two needed to be shown more for this to be organic to the viewer and in fact should’ve been more the focus of the film than Lucas. Had I been the director I would’ve kept Lucas’ whereabouts a secret until near the end when Bernard finally becomes aware of it and used the mystery of whether Marion knew more about it than she lets on as part of the intrigue.

The ending is a bit of a disappointment. The tone of the film works as a drama, but then suddenly shifts with about 10 minutes to go into a quirky comedy, which doesn’t work. The story threads get wrapped up in too tidy of way leaving the dynamics of Marion’s relationship with Bernard and Lucas’ response to it wide-open. After 2 hours and 10 minutes the character arcs should’ve been better defined and since they aren’t it makes the viewer feel like the movie doesn’t really go anywhere, or lead to anything insightful, which is a shame as it’s a nice looking, period authentic production otherwise.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 17, 1980

Runtime: 2 Hours 11 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Francois Truffaut

Studio: Gaumont

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Conformist (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to fit-in.

Marcello (Jean Louis Trintignant) is living in Italy during WWII and a member of the fascist secret police. He longs to be a part of acceptable society and partaking in the conventions of what he believes is a normal life including settling down and getting married even if it’s to a woman Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli) that he doesn’t really love. He gets ordered to assassinate Quadri (Enzo Tarascio) who was one of his professors back in college, but who has now been deemed an anti-fascist by the government.  Marcello uses the guise of his honeymoon as an excuse to travel with Giulia to Paris in order to carry out his mission. However, once there he begins to have feelings for the professor’s wife Anna (Dominique Sanda) and becomes unable to carry out the assignment despite being aware that Anna is only using him to get to Giulia, which is who she truly desires.

This film became a benchmark in Bernardo Bertullici’s career and was his first box office success that allowed him the ability to go on and direct even bigger  classics such as The Last Tango in Paris and 1900.  While the visuals are impressively stylistic I do agree with many critics that too much emphasis is placed on the sets, that gives it an almost over-the-top kitschy feel, while drowning out the story, which is handled in a more subtle way, in the process. The plot is still captivating, but a good movie should have a nice balance and as critic Gene Siskel stated in his review it’s more of a ‘show than a story’ and reviewer Keven Thomas labeled it a ‘bravura style Fellini’, which I consider to be a very accurate description.

The story is based on the 1951 novel of the same name by Alberto Moravia, but apparently Bertolucci had never read it when he pitched the idea to Paramount and managed to wow the studio execs into loving the idea simply by relying on the the description of the story giving to him by his then-girlfriend who had read it. When he finally did read it he did so while writing it into a screenplay at the same time.

There are many differences though between the source novel and the film with the movie leaving out a lot of Marcello’s childhood backstory that I felt was needed. The book examines Marcello’s penchant for killing lizards and even the neighbor’s cat as well as his witnessing his father’s abusing of his mother and the vandalization of a family photograph, which the film doesn’t touch on. The book also gets into more detail about why Marcello is tormented by his classmates where in the film we see Marcello being harassed, but it’s never made clear why.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending gets changed too. In the book Marcello has an interesting philosophical debate with Lino, a chauffer who sexually abused him as a child, but this conversation is left out of the movie. Marcello also, along with his wife and child, gets gunned down while driving in their car, but surprisingly the movie doesn’t have this part either. You would think that they would since action makes for a good visual, and I’m not sure for the reason why it was left out/revised except that Bertolucci may have feared it would be too similar to the finale in Bonnie and Clyde and didn’t want to seem like he was replicating that one.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall despite these deviations I still found it impactful particularly the ambush scene on a lonely road, which was the one thing that I remembered about the movie after having not seen in for several decades. The strong performances help too especially Trintignant’s brooding portrayal though being French born he spoke his lines phonetically without knowing what they meant and then later had them dubbed by Sergio Graziani in post production. The two lead actresses are splendid too and although the parts were originally offered to the more famous Brigitte Bardot and Anouk Aimee I felt it came off better with the then unknowns particularly Sandrelli who’s energetic and almost child-like at the beginning only to behave like jaded, middle-aged woman by the conclusion.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 1, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 53 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Little Drummer Girl (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Actress infiltrates terrorist organization.

Charlie (Diane Keaton) is a stage actress with pro-Palestinian leanings who’s living in Israel. After a Palestinian bomber kills a Israeli diplomat and his family she gets recruited by a pro-Israeli spy organization to pretend to be the bomber’s brother’s girlfriend. At first she resists, but eventually she puts her acting skills to work until she gets deeper and deeper into the quagmire and begins to question what she really stands for.

The story, which is based on the novel of the same name by John Le Carre, who appears briefly in the film as a police chief, has a lot of exciting moments and a few unexpected ones. For the most part I found the plot intriguing and the twists and turns to be interesting although if the viewer doesn’t pay close attention they could easily become lost.

Klaus Kinski’s performance makes it worth seeing. He suffered from mental illness in his personal life and due to that as well as his unique facial features usually stymied him in roles of madmen, or troubled individuals, but here he plays someone who is actually normal and does a convincing job of it. His presence definitely enlivens the proceedings to the point that he should’ve been the sole face of the Israeli organization and not crowded out by a throng of assistant players who are not interesting and become clutter to both the story and visuals.

Keaton is great here too and one of the main reasons that the film remains as interesting as it does. Her emotional confusion comes off as sincere and the fish-out-of-water concept where she gets thrown into a world that she is not used to and must use her wits and acting talent to get by is at first riveting.

Unfortunately the second half goes too far to the extreme where Charlie no longer resembles the same person that we met at the beginning. Some may argue that this is her character arch, but she still needs to have a consistent foundation and not morph into something completely different with no roots to what she was before. She starts out as someone only going along with the charade because she’s forced into it. She’s very clumsy at first, but then by the second half is able to put a gun together while blindfolded and seamlessly detonate a bomb without a sweat like a seasoned spy with years of experience.

She’s given an opportunity to get out and yet she decides to proceed even as things get more dangerous, which makes little sense since she didn’t conform at all with the political sentiments of the organization that recruited her. Any regular person would have a mental/emotional breakdown at seeing someone killed before their very eyes, or required to go to bed with a stranger that she barely knew, and the fact that she doesn’t reveals how the filmmakers had a very poor grasp on the character.

All of this could’ve been avoided had they modeled her after the one in the book. For the film the producers decided to portray Charlie as being similar to Vanessa Redgrave, but in the book the character was inspired after Janet Lee Stevens who was an American journalist, human rights activist, and Arabic literature scholar who traveled to the Middle East as an interpreter and had no connection to acting. Having the film focus on a young activist whose extreme idealism ends up getting her in-over-her-head would’ve been more compelling and believable. Throwing in the acting angle just doesn’t work and ends up becoming its biggest liability.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 19, 1984

Runtime: 2 Hours 10 Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Roy Hill

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

Voyage of the Damned (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: This ship goes nowhere.

Based on the true story of the ill-fated voyage of 937 Jewish refugees who left the port of Hamburg, Germany in 1939 on the ocean liner St.Louis, which was supposed to arrive in Havana, Cuba where they hoped to start a new life free of the rising antisemitism that had plagued them in Europe. However, when the ship reaches Cuba they are not allowed to dock and when the ship’s Captain (Max Von Sydow) tries to take them to the US and Canada they are refused entry as well forcing them to return to Germany.

Given the high production values and riveting story-line I was expecting it to be far more compelling than it ends up being. It’s not like Stuart Rosenberg’s direction is poor either because it isn’t, but it never gains any dramatic traction and the more it goes on the more boring it gets. This is definitely one instance where cutting the runtime would’ve been advantageous. I know we live in an era where the ‘director’s cut’ is considered the gold standard, but sometimes there’s good reasons for why studios edit it and usually it’s because some of the footage just isn’t necessary. I watched the 158 version, but the theatrical cut was trimmed to 134 minutes and after watching this one I can only presume that version would’ve been an improvement and if anything could’ve gained a better pace, which is something that is seriously lacking here.

There also too many characters and it’s hard to keep track of all them or get emotionally invested in their quandary especially when by-and-large their all suffering from the same dilemma. The time span between when they show a character to when they return is so long that by the time you see them again you’ve pretty much forgotten all about them.

The large cast is full big names and familiar faces and a few of them do a terrific job. I felt Von Sydow’s performance as the beleaguered but stoic captain was right on-target and I also enjoyed Orson Welles as the glib Cuban politician. Kudos also should go to Lee Grant, who ended up getting nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar here, for her one shocking scene where she cuts her hair down to its scalp, but overall most of the talent gets wasted. This includes Denholm Elliot and Jose Ferrer who appear onscreen for only a few minutes and Katherine Ross who has only two scenes that come near the end, but still managed to somehow get a Golden Globe nomination for her efforts anyways.

Spoiler Alert!

The film ends on a supposed happy note when the ship’s captain informs the passengers that Belgium and France will accept them, but then the denouncement states that 600 of them ended up dying anyways during the German Occupation making the viewer feel much like the passengers that they’ve just spent almost 3-hours going in circles. Maybe that’s the point, but as an insightful drama it fails. I was almost hoping that the Captain would’ve gone through with his plan to have the ship crash off the shore of England and allowing the passengers to disembark as a safety precaution, but still trying to make it look like it was an accident and not intentional. Although this would’ve swayed from what really happened it could’ve been an interesting thing to see and brought some genuine action into the mix, which was otherwise missing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1976

Runtime: 2 Hours 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

A Dry White Season (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He fights social injustice.

The story centers on South African schoolteacher Ben (Donald Sutherland) who has led a peaceful law abiding suburban existence and has no idea about the social injustices around him. One day his black gardener (Winston Ntshona) comes to him complaining about how his son was beaten by police simply for attending a peaceful rally. Ben initially dismisses the claims and insists the son must’ve done something wrong, but when he investigates the issue further he finds some startling revelations about how far the authorities are willing to go to stop dissent and when Ben decides to challenge the police on this his life and security get put on the line.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Andre Brink and directed by Euzhan Palcy who became the first Black woman to direct a film that was produced by a major Hollywood studio. For the most part the film is polished and well made and at the beginning emotionally effective as we see first hand the brutal treatment of the protesters by the police. I also liked how it shows both sides of the issue by having Ben’s wife Susan (Janet Suzman) admit that apartheid is wrong, but too afraid for its abolishment as she fears it might put the whites at too much of a disadvantage.

Unfortunately somewhere along the way it starts to lose steam and ends on a whimper that is nowhere near the emotional level that it began with. Part of the problem is that it suffers from a weak main character. Sutherland plays the part well, but it’s hard to understand how someone could live well into his middle age years and still have such extreme naivety to what was going on in the country that he resided in. He’s also dependent on those around him to do most of the legwork and you have to question what difference does our hero’s actions ultimately make anyways since apartheid continued on for many years after this film’s setting, which is 1976.

All of this could’ve been resolved had Marlon Brando’s character been made the protagonist. Brando came out of retirement to take on the supporting role and agreed to do it at union scale, which was far below his usual salary demands. His presence adds zest to the proceedings as a lawyer who is quite attuned to the corrupt system, but decides to give it a fiery court battle anyways and it’s a shame that he’s only in it for a brief period and then just completely disappears during the second half.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending differs a bit from the book and was added in by director Palcy, which has a black cab driver Zakes Mokae taking the law into his own hands and shooting the Jurgen Prochnow character, who plays a policemen, after he intentionally ran Sutherland over with his car. Palcy did this to show how even decent people can be pushed to violence, which I agree with, but she seems to feel the need to justify this by having a flashback ‘replay’ of all the previous events that drove Mokae to pull the trigger, which comes off as heavy-handed. If we’ve watched the movie then we already know what happened and don’t suddenly need a ‘refresher course’.

End of Spoiler Alert!

As a drama it’s an adequately compelling, but there’s other movies on the same subject and I can’t say this one stands out from those. I was also disappointed to find that the book from which this is based was fictional as I initially thought it was a true story since it takes place in a very specific year. I’m not saying some of what goes on here didn’t happen in a broad sense, but having it centered on verifiable events gives it more relevance and makes it seem more like telling a story as opposed to just making a political statement.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 20, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Euzhan Palcy

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Formula (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nazis create synthetic fuel.

While investigating the murder of his former police mentor, Lt. Barney Caine (George C. Scott) stumbles upon a an underworld of drug money and illicit funds that connect back to a petroleum company run by Adam Steiffel (Marlon Brando). He later learns that it has to do with a synthetic fuel invented by the Nazis during World War II that could be created from coal instead of oil, which if unleashed would unbalance the world markets and those that know about it are now being silenced permanently.

MGM offered to make the movie before Steve Shagan had even completed the novel of which is is based figuring that the topic of synthetic fuel would grab audiences since it conformed to the issue of the energy crisis that was making headlines during that era. Unfortunately the story works better in novel form because as a movie it amounts to nothing more than scene after scene of talking heads with no visual style or cinematic quality to it and the only interesting images, which include watching a frog swim across a chlorine filled pool and alligators munching on their lunch, has nothing to do with the actual plot at all.

Scott’s character is equally dull. He’s seen at the start leaving a movie theater with his son (Ike Eisenmann), which I guess is a cheap attempt to ‘humanize’ the character, but then he’s never seen with him again. He’s also initially straddled with a police partner (Calvin Jung) and their relationship gets off to a rocky start, which I thought would offer some secondary drama, but then he disappears too leaving him only with Marthe Keller, who replaced Dominique Sanda who Scott disliked because of her French accent, who acts as a potential love interest that is both stale and unneeded.

The film’s only entertaining aspect is Brando who manages to steal every scene he’s in by playing up the comic angle. He demanded complete control over how his character dressed and in the process sported a goofy comb-over and a hearing aid, which gives the guy a quirky charm. He also mostly ad-libbed his lines and refused to learn the ones in the script, which helps enliven the otherwise staid drama with some nice offbeat touches that I wished had been played-up more and it’s a shame that he wasn’t made the star as he’s the only thing that saves it.

The plot does have some intriguing qualities to it, but Shagan who also acted as the film’s producer, gives away all the secrets too early. Instead of waiting until the very end to find out what the code name Genesis stands for we’re told the answer at the halfway mark making the second half seem pointless and petering itself out with one of the dullest, most anti-climactic finales ever filmed.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 57 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John G. Avildsen

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD

Cuba (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cuba during the revolution.

Robert Dapes (Sean Connery) is a British mercenary who travels to Cuba to train the army to resist the approaching forces of the revolution lead by Fidel Castro. While there he becomes reacquainted with Alexandra (Brooke Adams) his former lover who has 15 when he first knew her, but is now 30 and married to Juan (Chris Sarandon) who owns a rum and cigar factory that he inherited from his family, but run by Alexandra.

The film from a purely visual standpoint is a masterpiece with David Watkin’s cinematography giving a very vivid feel to the ambiance of the period by capturing not only the slums of the region, but the affluence as well. Despite being filmed in Spain it still manages to create an interesting Cuban atmosphere that has an intoxicating quality that makes it entertaining to watch even though the story especially during the first half doesn’t go anywhere.

The romantic angle really wasn’t needed. The idea was to create a Casablanca scenario, but it comes off as forced and cliched. The chemistry between Adams and Connery isn’t there and she appears far too young for him. She states that she is 30, but doesn’t even look that old and the fact that he was apparently having sex with her when she was 15, although the Connery character states that he thought she had been 17, is still something that won’t go over well with today’s audiences.

Connery doesn’t seem to be the best type of actor for this part either. For one thing the character should’ve been American as the Cuban revolution was more of a direct threat to the US than England. He also doesn’t have too much to do and his patented rugged brashness is missing. His characters usually take control of things, but here he’s passive and almost like he’s under a spell from the constant hot-and-cold act that Adam’s gives  him that eventually makes him come-off as benign and ineffectual. Jack Weston as a befuddled American businessman is much more engaging and would’ve made a better lead as he gives the thing some balance with needed light humor.

I also thought both Adams and Sarandon could’ve given more effort to create an authentic Cuban accent. Both are made to look Cuban, but they don’t sound like one. Adams seems to at times convey an accent while Sarandon makes no attempts to have one at all.

On the technical end  it works and is an impressive dramatic effort for director Richard Lester who was better known for slapstick comedies, but it misses the potential of a being a sprawling epic, which is where it should’ve gone. Constricting the whole thing to just two characters with Weston tagging along for momentary comic relief does not do the production justice. Instead it should’ve branched out into several different, interweaving story-lines that analyzed the unique perspectives and situations of the various people involved, which would’ve given the viewer a more robust viewpoint of this important moment in history.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1979

Runtime: 2 Hours 2 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Lester

Studio: United Artists

Romero (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Priest battles the oppression.

Based on the life of Oscar Amulfo Romero (Raul Julia) the film centers on his ascent to Archbishop of San Salvador during the political turmoil of 1977. It was presumed that Romero who had traditionally always been reserved and apolitical would act as a nice balance between the authoritative military regime and the congregation, but as the oppressive authorities welded more of a dogmatic style and killed anyone who spoke out against it, Romero became the symbol of the resistance sending him into a perilous position where his livelihood and life came into serious doubt.

On the technical end this film does quite well and noted Australian director John Duigan creates a vivid atmosphere of the time period. Many scenes are quite disturbing and even gut-wrenching as we see the faces of men, woman, and children shot and killed in cold-blood. The part where Romero sits inside the squalor of a prison cell while hearing the moans of someone being tortured in the next one and unable to do anything about it except cry out was for me the most unsettling. The outdoor scenery has a scorched earth look, which nicely reflected the mood and mind-set of most of the people living there and every shot showing a military tank passing by got me jittery. Sometimes nothing would occur, but just seeing a tank was enough to make me nervous and to that end the film does its job as I’m sure that was the same feeling those that lived through the ordeal also felt.

Although Julia does not resemble the actual Archbishop who was in his 60’s at the time and looked much older than Julia who despite the dyed gray hair still appeared to be in his 40’s, his all-around performance is quite exemplary. Throughout his career he had played many flamboyant parts, so seeing him effectively portray a buttoned-down persona was quite interesting and a testament to his acting skill.

Spoiler Alert!

The only issue that I had was that on the emotional level it fails. Since it was produced by the Catholic church I presumed that we’re supposed to feel ‘inspired’ when it’s over and yet I walked away from it feeling anything but. I kept waiting for a Gandhi-like moment where we would see first-hand how all of his struggles finally came to fruition and how one person can truly move mountains and make a difference and yet that never happens. Instead he gets murdered while conducting a religious service and the war he sought to end continued to rage on for another decade killing an additional 60,000 to 90,000 more people.

Yes, there were indeed moments where Romero displayed amazing courage, but every time he revealed his bravery it just made his situation even worse. If the idea was to motivate the viewer to go out and be a hero it doesn’t work. If anything it unintentionally seems to state that laying low and keeping your mouth shut in the face of adversity is a good thing because at least you’ll remain alive and if you do choose to fight, it will only lead to death and nothing substantial to show for it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Release: August 25, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: John Duigan

Studio: Four Square

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Star Chamber (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Judges form vigilante group.

Idealistic young judge Steven Hardin (Michael Douglas) is sickened by the fact that so many known criminals are able to avoid jail time through legal technicalities. His friend and fellow judge Ben (Hal Holbrook) tells him of a secret underground group consisting of nine judges who have a hit-man sent out to kill the criminals who were otherwise able to get off through legal loopholes by the regular courts. Steven initially likes the idea and even sits in as one of the judges, but then he tries to stop a hit when it is later determined that the criminals set for vigilante execution were actually innocent, but finds to his horror that once the ball is set in motion there is no way it can be stopped.

The film is nicely directed by Peter Hyams who makes great use of mood lighting particularly in the scenes showing the nine judge tribunal as well as Steven’s visit to an abandoned warehouse. There is also a terrific foot chase at the beginning that is as exciting and intense as any car chase out there and it reminded me of a similar foot chase done in Busting, which was also helmed by Hyams.

The story by Roderick Taylor is an intriguing one, but it takes too long to get to the second act. The whole first hour is spent dwelling on Steven’s quandary of letting known criminals off-the-hook, which becomes quite derivative and could’ve easily been addressed in only 5 minutes. The story would’ve worked better had it started with Steven already involved in the underground organization and then through a brief flashback shown how he came to be there.

The scenes involving the vigilante tribunal are good, but I ended up having a lot of questions that never got answered or even touched on. For instance only one assassin (Keith Buckley) carries out all of the hits, but who is this guy and how did he come to work for them? Who’s the middle-man who gives him the assignments and how much does he know about the organization and what happens if he gets caught and starts talking to the police? How widespread is this movement and does it cover cases from the entire nation or only a certain area and are there other organizations like this one in other parts of the country and around the world?

I liked the wrinkle that gets thrown in, in which two criminals (Don Calfa, Joe Regalbuto) who Steven thinks are deserving of punishment, but later found to be innocent. Too many times Hollywood films dealing with this theme portray it in too much of a one-dimensional way that fails to bring out how vigilantism can sometimes be just as dangerous as the criminals it hopes to punish. Unfortunately the film fails to tackle the full complexity of the issue and instead just barely touches the surface.

The film also avoids making any clear statement or taking any position, which makes the whole thing come off as quite transparent when it’s over. The ending has no conclusion and leaves everything wide-open, which is a real cop-out. The concept is a good, but it needs to be redone by people who are willing to delve deeper as the effort here is too shallow to be considered satisfying.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 5, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Hyams

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray