Category Archives: Sci-Fi

The Black Hole (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Area of gravitational acceleration.

On their return trip to earth a crew of 5-people (Robert Forster, Yvette Mimieux, Joseph Bottoms, Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine) on board the USS Palomino spot a large spaceship and are baffled at its ability to withstand the gravitational force of the nearby black hole. They decide to investigate the ship and find that it is being run by Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell) who has been for the past 20 years the sole human survivor after the rest of the crew supposedly returned to earth, the members of the Palomino though are suspicious about this explanation since the robed android drones seem to strangely have human-like qualities. They become further alarmed when they learn that Reinhardt plans on taking the ship through the black hole, which they feel will lead to a sure death to all those on board.

For the most part the special effects look awesome  and one gets a true feeling of the vastness of space in this one with Reinhardt’s ship getting captured in a way that makes it look large and impressive. Even the interiors give off a sort-of mansion-like feel and that the characters are inside of a large scale vessel with many rooms as opposed to simply being sets on a soundstage.

Unfortunately the script lacks imagination and becomes just another formulaic madman in space scenario that offers no new twists to the genre. The tone is extremely downbeat and despite being produced by Disney doesn’t seem to be something aimed for kids at all. The story is also devoid of action and when there finally is some it’s short and fleeting and comes off like a second-rate laser shoot-out.

The characters don’t show enough contrasting personalities either and are too old. Usually pre-teens relate better to movies with performers around their same age range, but here everyone is middle-aged and in Borgnine’s case even well past that. Bottoms is the youngest and should’ve carried the film, but his acting is so transparent you end up wishing it he hadn’t even been in it at all.

It’s also a bit ridiculous that Mimieux could communicate with the ship’s robot via ESP even though mental telepathy cannot be substantiated by the scientific community and therefore should not be introduced into a sci-fi flick that is supposedly trying to taken seriously.  I did enjoy Perkins in his part, but he should not have been the one to turn around one of the drones and unmask them to expose a shriveled face underneath, which for trivia purposes was the film’s director Gary Nelson, since it will remind viewers too much of a similar reveal scene near the end of Psycho of which he famously starred in.

Schell as the resident nutcase is a complete bore in a performance that is so pathetically cliched that it borders on camp. He reminded me of James Mason’s character from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, which was also produced by Disney and should’ve been enough to have Mason invited back to play the part here as he would’ve been far more interesting.

The robots outshine the humans in this one particularly Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens, who strangely go uncredited, as the voices of the  ‘good guy’ droids. However, the army of villainous androids that try to stop the crew from escaping walk too stiffly almost like mimes playing into the cliche of how people perceive robots to move, but by the year 2132, which is when this story takes place, you’d think technology would’ve improved enough to have created androids that would’ve had more fluid-like motions. They are also a bit too easy to pick-off almost like sitting ducks in a shooting gallery, which saps the shoot-outs segments of any tension.

The ending though is the biggest disappointment as it never clearly explains what happens to the crew when the go through the black hole. There’s a lot of heavy-handed imagery including a cool hell-like visual, but nothing conclusive, which makes the whole thing just one big buildup to nothing.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gary Nelson

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Simon (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: College professor becomes brainwashed.

An underground group of scientists who enjoy playing elaborate pranks decide to brainwash a college professor named Simon Mendelssohn (Alan Arkin) into believing that he is an alien from another planet. After he is successfully brainwashed he then escapes from the institution and gets in with a religious cult who have a transmitter that can block the TV airwaves and allow him the ability to be seen by the entire nation where he tries to reform American culture while also becoming a celebrity sensation.

This extremely odd comical satire  seems out of place for a studio backed film and more in tune with a independent project as it’s unclear what specific type of audience the filmmakers were hoping to attract as mainstream viewers will most likely find the humor off-putting. One could describe it as being ahead-of-its-time, but the banal potshots at such overused targets as TV and American consumerism makes it seem more dated instead.

The movie would’ve worked better had it remained focused on one intended target and then ravaged the hell out of it instead of soft jabs at various safe targets, which makes its overall message muddled and unclear. There are some funny bits including watching Austin Pendleton, who is the head of the research group, making love to a giant telephone receiver, whose voice is supplied by Louise Lasser. It’s also funny having a brainwashed person such as Simon trying to brainwash others via the airwaves, which could’ve been really hilarious had they gone farther with this idea.

There’s signs that writer/director Marshall Brickman hadn’t fully thought through the quirky story idea to begin with. For instance why would this underground group of scientists allow a video crew in to film what they are doing as the members are seen at the beginning talking directly to the camera and answering questions by some unseen interviewer. Wouldn’t this allow their secret to get out and get them into trouble? The army that takes over the institute is too incompetent as Simon and his girlfriend Lisa (Judy Graubart) are able to escape from it too easily and their inability to locate Simon’s rogue TV transmitter even after days of searching is rather pathetic. I realize this is meant to be ‘funny’, but even a comedy should have some tension to it to make it more interesting and the army’s extreme buffoonery isn’t humorous at all, but just plain dumb instead.

Arkin is the one thing that saves it. His unusual acting style makes him hard to cast, but here he really delivers especially during the segment where he plays out the evolution of man, but without using any dialogue although it might’ve been funnier and more of an interesting contrast had his character not been so kooky to begin with, but instead some stuffy intellectual only to become zany once he was brainwashed.

Judy Graubart makes for a good anchor as the one normal person in the whole movie. She was best known for her work on the children’s TV-show ‘The Electric Company’ and this was her live-action film debut, which should’ve lead to a long line of film appearances, but instead she only had brief bits in two other movies and that was it.

There are signs of a great movie trying to break out and the overall concept has brilliant potential, but this is the type of film where you’ve got to go full-throttle and Brickman seems either unable or too timid to do that making what could’ve been sharp satire into a transparent, benign mess that offers only a few chuckles, but not much else.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Marshall Brickman

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Shaker Run (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Transporting a deadly virus.

Judd (Cliff Robertson) is an aging stunt driver who along with his young protege Casey (Leif Garret) is finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. With barely any money on hand they decide to take up an offer from a mysterious woman (Lisa Harrow) who asks them to carry inside the trunk of their car a large container with a secret substance across New Zealand for undisclosed reasons. The desperate Judd reluctantly agrees only to later find that inside the container is a deadly virus sought after by the military who will stop at nothing to get their hands on it.

The wide-eyed plot mixes the genre of a cross-country road chase with that of an end-of-the-world sci-fi flick and the result is as cheesy as it sounds. It’s also hampered by cheap production values that makes it look more on par with a TV-movie than a theatrical one.

I didn’t care for the cold climate setting either. Filmed in July of 1984, which would be wintertime for the southern hemisphere, the New Zealand landscape looks quite bleak and brown with occasional pockets of snow and the  characters are all bundled up in heavy jackets. A good road movie should elicit inside the viewer the feeling of wanting to get out onto the open highway instead of longing to stay inside by a fireplace like it does here.

Robertson manages to add some life to the otherwise sterile material, which is nice to see as his film career nosedived in 1977 when he accused Columbia studio head David Begelman of forgery and was blacklisted as a result. When he was finally offered film roles again they were of the thankless supporting kind although here he gets the star treatment and it’s great seeing a guy in his 60’s handling the action as opposed to a young 20-something hunk like in most other films.

Leif Garrett, the androgynous teen hunk from the 70’s is adequate as his loyal young side-kick and has grown to be more filled-out and masculine looking. However, the remaining cast members are dull and this includes Shane Briant in a boring caricature of a cold, calculating villain as well Harrow who tags along with the two men on their drive, but comes-off more like unnecessary dead-weight.

Spoiler Alert!

The more the chase goes on the more contrived it gets and there’s an uneasy balance between realistic crashes to slapstick comedy. The resolution, in which Harrow ties a chain dangling from an overhead helicopter piloted by the CIA onto Robertson’s car so that they are whisked into the air while the evil government agents that had been chasing them drive off over a cliff, is not satisfying because the film made clear earlier that the CIA was just as deceitful as the other bad guys and couldn’t be trusted. Yet it never bothers to explain what ultimately happens to the virus, or whether it got into the right-hands and was destroyed.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Bruce Morrison

Studio: Mirage Films

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Dark Star (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Four guys in space.

Dark Star is a scout ship used to destroy planets in the galaxy that are considered unstable. Its crew consists of four men: Pingback (Dan O’Bannon) who keeps a pet alien resembling a beach ball in the back storage room, Talby (Dre Pahlich) who spends all his time sitting alone in the ship’s observation deck, Boiler (Cal Kuniholm) who enjoys playing around with the ship’s emergency laser rifle, and Doolittle (Brian Narelle) who spends his time dreaming about being able to water surf again. The men have all spent 20 years on the ship and its begun to take a toll on their mental state as well as the ship’s mechanical framework, which ultimately challenges their survival.

This started as a student project while director John Carpenter and O’Bannon were attending USC’s film school back in 1970 and it was met with such enthusiasm that they decided to lengthen it into a feature film. Although critics at the time loved it the public didn’t, which caused the film to be shown to virtually empty theaters only to finally find a second life on the DVD market where it has now achieved a strong cult following.

Despite being an obvious parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey it doesn’t just play it up for cheap laughs, which why it works. Too many times parodies overplay the comedy elements by using an Airplane-like structure that is just one slapstick gag after another. Here there’s an actual story with character’s motivations that make sense given their circumstances and coming off more like a quirky observation of the psychological effects of space isolation instead of just a cheesy comedy.

The special effects are impressive especially given its limited budget. Sure some of it is tacky including having the ship’s console board made up of ice cube trays turned upside down, or space suits made of muffin tins and helmets worn by the crew that were actually designed for children. Yet there’s a share of cool moments too like the flashing lights used to represent a meteor storm in space or a scene involving a former commander (John Carpenter) kept in cryogenic suspension and even a nerve-wracking moment inside an empty elevator shaft.

The most memorable segment involves an alien that resembles a beach ball with little feet. Initially this looks absurd and makes the film seem too silly, but when the alien manages to escape from its holding cell and begins creating havoc on the ship it starts to seem, as surprising as this may sound, creepy and gives the film a certain chilling edge that was later used as the basis for Alien.

There are enough original moments here for it to be appreciated by just about any sci-fi fan with a funnybone. The fact that the story focuses on the crew’s mental deterioration and the ship’s eroding structure is not all that far off from reality either. Many other big budget sci-fi flicks, in their quest to bombard the viewer with the latest overblown special effects, usually ignore the psychological angle of being trapped on a spaceship for long periods of time would have, which thus gives this movie, as campy as it ultimately is, a certain insightful edge.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 30, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated G

Director: John Carpenter

Studio: Jack H. Harris Enterprises

Available: DVD

The Cat from Outer Space (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cat alien seeks assistance.

Jake (voice of Ronnie Schell) is an alien who closely resembles a cat that lands his disabled spaceship on earth and is unable to get help from his mothership to return back to his planet. Using his powerful collar that allows him to speak telepathically he seeks the assistance of Frank Wilson (Ken Berry) a lab assistant who seems smart enough to understand Jake’s dilemma. Before they can do anything though the army comes in and takes the spaceship and stores it inside a warehouse under tight security forcing Frank and the cat to break into the building in order to retrieve the ship and get the cat back to his planet.

I admit that when I was 9-years-old I watched this movie and came away thinking it as ‘pretty cool’ and for a kid I suppose this could still seem passable, but for any discerning adult it’s nothing more than mumbo-jumbo sci-fi. The biggest issue is the collar, which allows the cat way too much power.  He, or anyone else touching it, can do virtually anything even flying through the air or moving other objects through mind control. The thing is so powerful that you hardly feel that the cat is in any type of real danger, which hurts any potential tension. The plot has one caveat, which is if the collar is ever taken off of the cat then he is helpless. Yet this rarely occurs and when it does he, or somebody else, is able to retrieve it quickly making this plot-point a mute issue. The collar even allows him to fly a disabled plane making me wonder why then he couldn’t just use it to do the same thing to his disabled spaceship.

Spoiler Alert!

The film is different from other Disney films of that era in that it doesn’t end with a climactic car chase, but instead has a hair-rising finish in the air with Berry standing on top of an airplane wing trying to rescue his girlfriend Sandy Duncan who is trapped on a helicopter that has no pilot. The stunt work for this is quite impressive and exciting, but I kept wondering how long a helicopter could go in the air without a pilot before it would spin out-of-control and crash. Of course this finally does occur once Duncan is conveniently rescued, but I kind of felt in reality it would’ve happened much sooner.

The film’s final scene involves the cat getting sworn in as a United States citizen, which is pretty loopy since he’s still allowed to go around wearing his collar, but how could the government trust anyone with that since it would virtually allow them to do just about anything? And wouldn’t it attract foreign powers looking to steal if for their own nefarious means making the film’s ending seem more like just a beginning to a far more complex subplot.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The cast is unusual for a typical Disney film too in that there’s not a single child or teen present even though it’s a movie aimed for kids. Instead it has Berry who is so utterly benign he becomes offensive in his inoffensiveness. McLean Stevenson as his sports betting pal is fun and Harry Morgan is quite amusing playing another one of his blustery overly-authoritative characters. Schell, who speaks for the cat, gets a small role as one of the members of the army, but has his voice dubbed. James Hampton, who appeared with Berry in the TV-show ‘F-Troop’, can be spotted in a small role as well.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 9, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Running Man (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: A deadly game show.

The year is 2019 and the United States has turned into a militarized police state. In an effort to keep people’s minds off of their bleak existence the government broadcasts game shows in which the contestants are convicted felons who fight for their lives against well-trained and well-equipped assassins called ‘stalkers’. When Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) gets convicted of a crime he didn’t commit he is put onto one of these shows called ‘The Running Man’ as a contestant, which is hosted by Damion Killian (Richard Dawson). They then try everything they can to kill Ben, but to their surprise Ben proves to be far more resilient than they ever expected.

The film is based on a novel of the same name written by Stephen King under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman. However, the novel is far different than the movie, which had the main character traveling to different towns in the northeast while here the game show action gets confined to a dark, dingy studio. The main character was also thin and meek-looking, which would’ve been more interesting had he been that way in the movie as it would’ve made him seem even more like an underdog.

The film’s comic book look is fun for a while and the shots showing the audiences stunned reactions as Ben continually takes down these supposedly unbeatable stalkers is funny. It also makes some good points regarding media manipulation and the hypnotic power of television although it’s too generalized and could’ve gone further with it.

The casting though is particularly good including Ricard Dawson as the egotistical game show host. He did some acting during the ‘60s, but was mainly known for his work as a panelist on ‘Match Game’ and hosting ‘Family Feud’ and yet here he falls into his role with complete ease and easily steals the film. It’s also fun seeing Jesse Ventura, who later became the governor of Minnesota wearing a tacky looking wig. Former football player Jim Brown gets one of the best roles of his film career as a stalker whose punk hairdo resembles that of a skunks and Barbara Lux is amusing as an old lady who swears liberally.

While the dark humor is engaging the story does get quite derivative. Watching Ben defeat the stalkers one-by-one becomes mechanical and redundant. The film also fails to display any type of futuristic vision as the characters use phones that are still connected by a cord, have computers with big, clunky keyboards, and watch TVs that are still of the boxy variety.

Spoiler Alert!

The most disappointing element though is the ending, which differs greatly from the one in the book and is far too neat and tidy. The idea that one determined individual can single-handedly take down a deeply corrupt system is the stuff of romanticized fiction. Having the brain-washed masses suddenly become ‘de-converted’ by showing them actual news coverage wouldn’t really work. If people have been feed a lie for so long they’re not necessarily going to know what the truth is when it hits them and may actually just consider it to be a ‘lie’. Throwing in a ‘feel-good’ ending diminishes the dystopian theme and dark humor that came before it making the film nothing more than a marketing gimmick with no real bite.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 13, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Michael Glaser

Studio: Tri-Star Pictures

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

Saturn 3 (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Space couple battles robot.

Mentally unhinged Captain Benson (Harvey Keitel) arrives on a space station that is located on Saturn’s 3rd moon along with a robot named Hector that has brain tissue made up of human fetuses. On the space station resides Adam (Kirk Douglas) and Alex (Farrah Fawcett) who are a couple researching on how to grow plants without soil. Captain Benson is assigned to assemble the robot, which will supposedly help the couple in their research, but instead it goes on a rampage killing Benson and then threatening to do the same to the other two.

The film was the brainchild of award winning set designer John Barry best known for his production design in the movies Star Wars and A Clockwork Orange. Unfortunately most of his work was done inside an office and his ability to actually direct actors was limited leading to constant conflicts between he and star Douglas, which eventually forced the film’s producer Stanley Donen to step in and takeover. Barry then left to work on The Empire Strikes Back only to collapse suddenly and die just a few months later from meningitis at the young age of 43 while never seeing the completed version of his original vision.

The sets are dazzling and clearly the film’s best element. In fact one could watch the movie for its visual quality alone with no sound and be better entertained. The robot is amazing too because he comes off looking like a genuine mechanical concoction and not just some stunt guy in a body suit. The thing doesn’t even have a head, but simply a protruding wire coming out the top with two lights on the end of it representing its eyes. Watching him being put together is mesmerizing as he looks very much like modern robots seen today at science shows making the film, at least in this area, seem astutely ahead-of-its-time.

The story though comes-off like an afterthought. Never once did I feel any tension even as the robot chases the couple all around. The characters are bland and the cast needed to be larger as the production lacks energy or liveliness. The dark, isolated space station is gloomy and depressing, which eventually crosses over to the film as a whole.

This was supposed to be a sci-fi/horror hybrid in the realm of Alien, but unlike that movie this one lacks any shocks or scares. There were two scenes that were filmed but later deleted one involved a dream sequence where Adam and Alex kill Benson while another had the robot ripping apart Benson’s dead body. These scenes sounded like they had exact edginess that the film lacked and it’s a head-scratcher why they were cut. When you’re trying to attract the same audience of another sci-fi flick that had its share of gore then you need to go for the gusto and not hold back.

The casting is cockeyed. Why is a 65-year-old codger banging a hot 30-year-old? Not only does it look like a father/daughter thing but even more like a grandfather/granddaughter situation. Kirk’s a fine actor, but not for this and his son Michael would’ve been a far better choice especially since there’s no chemistry between the two stars anyways.

Farrah’s acting skills have improved slightly from her first two films, but she still comes off as transparent and in-over-her-head, hired solely for her looks and nothing else.  Male viewers will enjoy her brief topless scene, but most likely no one, male or female, will be excited about seeing Kirk’s bare wrinkled old ass, which you’ll unfortunately also get a glimpse of.

I was most perplexed by the fact that Keitel’s voice was dubbed over by actor Roy Dotrice apparently because Donen didn’t like Keitel’s Brooklyn accent, but why hire the guy in the first place if you don’t like the way he speaks? The dubbing is obvious from the moment he utters his first word and will be a definite distraction to Keitel fans.

Ultimately the film becomes victim to what happens to a lot of big budget sci-fi productions where too much emphasis is put into one element while almost no thought is given to anything else. The result is a flimsy entry into the sci-fi genre that barely deserves any attention at all.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: February 15, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Rated R

Director Stanley Donen (John Barry uncredited)

Studio: ITC Films

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Lobster Man from Mars (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen makes bad movie.

J.P. Shelldrake (Tony Curtis) is a desperate Hollywood producer looking for a film that will be guaranteed to bomb at the box office so he can use it as a tax write-off to help him pay off his back taxes. He thinks he’s found the potential answer when he receives a film directed by a young novice Stevie Horowitz (Dean Jacobsen) entitled ‘Lobster Man from Mars’, which comprises to be a tacky send-up to cheesy ’50s sci-fi flicks, but the film surprisingly does well sending the desperate Shelldrake even further into a hole.

The film is the so-called brainchild of Stanley Sheff and Bob Greenberg who in 1977 were offered $50,000 by a studio to write a script in the vein of a low budget ‘50s movie, but the two decided instead to make it a movie-within-a-movie and use it as an excuse to poke fun at all the clichés many of those films had. Unfortunately once they completed the script the studio pulled out of the deal forcing them to spend the next 10 years looking for another studio to fund their project. Finally in 1987 they were able to secure financial backing and then just two days before filming was to commence Greenberg died in a car accident and thus never got to see the script he worked so hard on come to fruition and this film ended up being dedicated to his memory.

However, what may sound funny and clever in concept does not always reflect what ultimately comes out on the screen. The film relies too heavily on lame, corny humor as well as broad caricatures to propel it. Cheesy B-movies and Hollywood studio bigwigs are easy targets that have been satirized many times before and this parody fails to supply any new spin to it.

The benign, blank personality of the young filmmaker is completely wrong. I went to film school during the ‘80’s and met first-hand some ‘up-and-coming’ young directors to-be and they behaved nothing like the dull kid here. They always had a pretentious attitude about them like they were the next Kubrick or Spielberg in waiting. They would never have made a corny ‘50s styled flick as that would’ve been considered ‘unhip’ and instead they would’ve tried to emulate the latest trendy hit like Dune or Rambo or maybe even a gory slasher movie.

Bad movies are fun when the filmmakers were trying to make something serious, or ‘profound’ only to have it end up being unintentionally humorous yet this kid’s movie has obvious gags in it like he was trying to make something campy, which then kind of loses the whole point. I also kept wondering how the kid managed to find so many different actors to play the parts and how he was able to fund it.

Things would’ve been funnier had everything been filmed in his own house or backyard while they tried to poorly disguise it as being someplace else. All the parts should’ve been played by his high school friends or family members some of whom would be forced to double-up and play two or maybe even three different parts. The film should’ve also of had a third running storyline dealing with the behind-the-scenes calamity of how the silly movie got made in the first place. I’ve worked on several low budget 48-Hour projects and believe me the stuff that goes on behind the camera on those amateur productions is far more interesting than what you end up seeing on screen.

The ‘innovative’ movie-within-a-movie concept fails to work because it doesn’t cut back to the film producer screening the movie enough. Instead we’re forced to watch 15 to 20 minutes of the cheesy flick only to see the producer’s reaction for a brief half-minute and then back to the cheesy flick until it seems like that’s all there is and the secondary storyline becomes an afterthought.

The ‘twist’ where the kid’s movie inexplicably becomes a giant moneymaking hit is nothing more than a plot rip-off from the far superior and funnier The Producers and it doesn’t really make sense. First there’s no way the American public, as dumb as their movie tastes can sometimes be, would flock to see this kid’s awful flick to the tune of it becoming the highest grossing movie of all time. Even if it did make that much money wouldn’t it then mean that the producer would have enough money to pay off his back taxes and thus stay out of jail?

If you want to watch something genuinely funny then check-out an actual B-movie from the ‘50’s that was trying to be serious, but ended up not being instead of this thing that tries to be intentionally lame until it becomes just plain too lame. You’ll be far more entertained I guarantee it.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Release: January 29, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Stanley Sheff

Studio: Electric Pictures

Available: DVD

Electric Dreams (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: His computer becomes jealous.

Miles (Lenny Von Dohlen) is a young architect seeking to get his life more organized, so he buys a personal computer (voice of Bud Cort) and sets it up in his apartment. A beautiful young cellist named Madeline (Virginia Madsen) moves in next door to him and practices her cello each day while at home. Miles’s computer, which goes by the name of Edgar, overhears her playing and falls in love with the sound and her in the process. When Miles becomes attracted to her the jealous computer tries everything it can to thwart their relationship.

I enjoyed the imaginative visual style implemented by Steve Barron in directorial debut. In fact it’s the film’s only selling point as the bland script offers little that is funny or interesting and drags on at a snail’s pace with hardly anything actually happening.

Sometimes it’s fun watching films from a bygone era and seeing how much technology has changed, but this thing gets so fanciful with it that it becomes illogical instead. Clearly the filmmakers had no understanding at how a computer actually works as this machine is able to do things that no normal PC could. For instance it’s able to make the knob on Miles’ door turn hot, so he can’t leave his apartment. It’s also able to connect to the servers of Miles’s credit card company even though this is before the advent of the internet and somehow shut off his credit. There’s also a scene where Miles pours champagne on the computer’s keyboard, which doesn’t permanently disable it even though we all know that in reality it would’ve.

It takes too long for the computer to become evil and then when it does it ends pretty quickly. The machine lacks a distinctive look and should’ve been made more ‘evil’ appearing, which would’ve helped coincide with the film’s otherwise flashy visual look. Bud Cort’s voice talents go to waste as it gets electronically altered until it’s unrecognizable and therefore could’ve been anyone’s.

Madsen is good, but the story is geared too much towards the preteens. The trite, overly innocuous script needed more bite, or an added edge to make it interesting to adults who will most assuredly be bored.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 20, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Steve Barron

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Region 2 and 0)

The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suburban housewife gets smaller.

Pat Kramer (Lily Tomlin) is a housewife/mother raising two rambunctious kids (Shelby Balik, Justin Dana) while married to Vance (Charles Grodin) who works in advertising. After being exposed to some products from her husband’s company she begins to shrink until she becomes so small that she is forced to move into a dollhouse and drink out of thimble since a regular glass would be too big for her to hold.

The film is a modern remake of Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man and as much as I loved the original this version takes the storyline in a completely different direction, which for a while proves interesting. Director Joel Schumacher comes up with some wild color schemes and the knowing satire makes great points in its observations on modern suburbia as well as American consumerism. Screenwriter Jane Wagner manages to employ some well thought out scenarios and the special effects aren’t bad either.

Unfortunately by the second-half becomes muddled with scenarios that are no longer funny, but genuinely horrifying and sad instead. The satirical edge gets lost and replaced with an over-the-top mad-scientist-trying-to-conquer-the world angle that becomes cheesy.  I was also confused with how Pat was able to continue to find clothes to fit her especially after she gets smaller than even a toy doll. The film seemed to touch on every other possible problem, so they should’ve had at the very least had a throwaway scene analyzing this one.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending gets too cute for its own good as Pat shrinks to nothing and then has what’s left of the small outfit she was wearing fall into a puddle of spilled chemicals, which somehow makes her big again. This however ruins the poignancy that had been created from showing clips of bells being rung around the world from different countries in remembrance of Pat, which had a certain profound message that no matter how small you are you can still have an impact. Instead of giving the film some substance it goes for a last-second gimmick that cements it as being an empty-headed comedy and nothing more.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Tomlin’s performance is excellent as she creates empathy for her character, which helps make the story more engrossing as you genuinely build concern and sympathy for Pat’s welfare. Noted make-up specialist Rick Baker garnered a cult following for his convincing performance of an ape, although the shot of the animal giving some people in an elevator the finger is pushing it. The movie though as a whole works only in spurts with a message and tone that is too unfocused and inconsistent to be completely effective.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 30, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD-R (Universal Vault Series), Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube