Category Archives: Spy/Espionage

Real Men (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: CIA negotiates with aliens.

Insurance agent Bob Wilson (John Ritter) gets reluctantly recruited into becoming a CIA agent by another agent named Nick (James Belushi). Nick needs Bob because he looks very similar to an agent named Pillbox (Ritter) who was killed in the line of duty while going through a practice run of delivering a glass of water to some outer space aliens. The aliens had agreed to help the human race when the humans accidentally spilled a deadly chemical into the ocean that’s expected to destroy all life on earth in 5 years. The aliens give the earthlings two choices either the package that will help them clean up the toxic spill, or the other package, which is a deadly weapon that will destroy the planet. The only thing the aliens want in return is a glass of water delivered directly to them by Pillbox, but agents from other countries as well as rogue CIA members don’t want this deal to go through as they’d rather get their hands on the deadly weapon, so they kill Pillbox and now it’s up to Bob to make the water/package trade-off in Pillbox’s place, but Bob thinks Nick is crazy and doesn’t believe the story he’s telling him. Bob is also very timid and hates confrontations, so it’s up to Nick to give him the needed confidence while also stopping him from running away, which he does routinely.

Extremely odd mix of weird humor and sci-fi works for the first half before taking a completely downward spiral by the third. The script was written by Dennis Feldman, who spent years as a still photographer before deciding to try his hand at script writing after his brother Randy sold a couple of his own scripts that were made into movies. Dennis’ first one was Just One of the Guys and then his second was Golden Child, which sold for $330,000 and he was also given the opportunity to direct, but he declined the directing option feeling he wasn’t ready only to regret it when the director who ultimate was hired, Michael Ritchie, changed his story in ways he didn’t like. When the opportunity to direct came again he made sure to choose it.

Much like an indie flick the quirkiness is strong, but engaging. The humor is centered on the way it twists the logic around, so nothing works the way you’d expect while also playfully poking fun at tropes used in other spy genre movies. Ritter is terrific playing against type. Usually he’s the center of the comedy, but here he responds to the zaniness around him with perpetually nervous, shocked expressions. Belushi, with his glib responses and stoic nature where no matter how dire the situation he remains completely calm and collected, is funny as well and the two make a unique pair.

Unfortunately during the second half the chemistry gets ruined when Ritter’s character has this extreme arch where he goes from timid to overly confident. His confident side isn’t as funny and the way he’s able to beat-up anybody with just one punch gets highly exaggerated. I was okay with it occurring once or twice, but at some point his brazenness should catch-up with him. The movie acts like confidence is all you need to find success, but it can also backfire by putting one in situations that gets them way over-their-heads and for balance the story should’ve had this ultimately occur. You’d also think Ritter’s hand would be hurting, or even broken with the way he is constantly punching everybody. Belushi’s diversion into dating a BDSM queen bogs the pace down and takes away from the main action. The wrap-up offers no pay-off and the film despite its bright start fizzles.

Like with most 80’s movies it’s always fun seeing how things have changed as well as stayed the same. Humor-wise there’s a moment where at the time it was considered innocuous, but by today’s standards would be deemed offensive. It occurs when Belushi takes Ritter home to meet his parents where it’s revealed that his father (played by Dyanne Thorne of Ilsa movie fame) has had an operation to become a woman. This is spun as being ‘comically freakish’, but in today’s gender fluid culture would be portrayed differently. The element that remains the same is the portrayal of Russia, which at the time was considered the enemy and rival of the US and now even after the fall of communism and the supposed ending of the cold war, it’s still the same arch rival.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Dennis Feldman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Killer Elite (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Betrayed by a friend.

Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) are two longtime friends and hit men working for a private agency affiliated with the CIA to carry-out covert missions. During their latest assignment Mike is shocked to see George turn on him by shooting him in the knee and elbow. While Mike is able to survive the incident he is forced to go through a long and painful rehabilitation and due to the injuries is no longer considered employable as a hit man. Mike though refuses to concede and goes through martial arts training were he learns to use a cane both for protection and offensive action. He assembles his old team while vowing to get revenge on George, but fails to realize that there’s someone else behind the scenes who’s pulling-the-strings and far more dangerous.

By the mid-70’s director Sam Peckinpah had achieved a strong following of admirers with his ground breaking action films that took violence and the way it was portrayed in films to a whole new level. While he had his share of critics his movies did well at the box office, which should’ve been enough to get him any assignment he wanted, but his notoriously cantankerous behavior on the set and alcoholism made him virtually unemployable. Mike Medavoy, the head of United Artists, decided to give him a reprieve by hiring him on to direct his next project, but it was under strict conditions that allowed the studio to have final say over all aspects, which in turn made Peckinpah’s presence virtually null and void. The film lacks the edginess of his other more well known pictures. The action really never gets going and much of it was intentionally toned down in order to get a PG-rating. The tension is also lacking and great majority of it is quite boring. There’s even brief moments of humor, which only undermines the story and makes it even more of a misfire.

I liked the casting of Caan, who has disowned the film, which he gives a 0 out of 10, and Duvall, this marked their 5th film together, but the script doesn’t play-up their relationship enough. I was hoping for more of a psychological angle like why would a loyal friend suddenly turn on his partner, which doesn’t really get examined. Duvall has much less screen time and there’s no ultimate confrontation between the two, which with a story like this should’ve been a must. The drama also shifts in the third act to Caan taking on Arthur Hill, who plays a undercover double-agent, which isn’t as interesting or impactful.

Caan’s shooting gets badly botched. I will give Peckinpah credit as the surgery scenes including the removal of the bullet is quite graphic, but how Caan is able to find help after he is shot is never shown. The assault occurs in a remote location, so technically he could’ve died without anyone knowing, so how he was able to find his way out and get the attention of a medical staff needed to be played-out and not just glossed-over like it is.

The introduction of Ninja warriors was another mistake. This was courtesy of Stirling Silliphant who had been hired to rewrite the script and wanted this element put-in since he and his girlfriend Tiana Alexander had studied martial arts under Bruce Lee and felt this would offer some excitement. The result is campy though a one critic, Pauline Kael, like it as she considered it a ‘self-aware satire’ though I was groaning more than laughing.

Some felt that Peckinpah had sold-out and this movie really made it seem like he had. Nothing gels or is inspired though I will at least credit him with the building explosion at the beginning, which was an actual implosion of an old fire house that he became aware was going to happen and quickly revised the shooting schedule, so he’d be able to capture it from across the street and then use it in the film, which does help though everything after it falls flat.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 17, 1975

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Tubi, Amazon Video, YouTube

Telefon (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spies hypnotized to kill.

Grigori (Charles Bronson) is a KGB agent ordered to investigate a rash of terrorist activities being done inside the US. All of the crimes are being committed by Russian sleeper agents who are hypnotized to carry-out acts via a call on a telephone where they are read a line from a Robert Frost poem, which  triggers them to act upon preordained instructions. The calls are made by a rogue agent named Nickolai Dalchimsky (Donald Pleasence) and it’s up to Grigori to stop him before it becomes an international incident. While in the US Grigori works with lady agent named Barbara (Lee Remick), who Grigori thinks is on his side, but she’s a double-agent ordered to kill Grigori once the mission is completed.

While Leonard Maltin in his review describes the plot, which is based on the novel of the same name by Walter Wager, as being ‘ingenious’ many others felt it was far-fetched. There actually has been one case in the history of crime, which occurred on March 29, 1951 in Copenhagen,  Denmark, where a man by the name of Palle Hardrup was apparently hypnotized by Schouw Nielsen to carry-out a bank robbery and this lead to two people getting killed. Both men were later convicted and the story was made into a 2018 movie called Murderous Trance. Since then though there has been no other cases on record of this type of thing occurring and many experts in the hypnotic field insist that it couldn’t making what transpires here highly speculative at best.

The issue of Grigori having a photographic memory and able to memorize the names and personal details of all the sleeper agents is questionable too. Many researchers say that this type of phenomenon is only temporary and cannot be retained over a long period. There are others that say the photographic memory is a myth altogether and like with the hypnosis angle, forces the viewer to complete shut off their skeptical side right from the get-go in order to have even a chance of enjoying the movie at all.

The only interesting aspect is Lee Remick and Bronson learning to deal with each other’s contrasting personalities, which makes great use of Chuck’s gruff and brash manner, but I felt Remick as an agent wasn’t believable. When she’s ordered to kill one of the sleeper agents inside a hospital by injecting him with a drug she gets quite nervous, but if she’s killed before, then I’d think it would be like second-nature to her and she’d be cool and calm under pressure. I also felt the film should’ve showed her fully carrying-out the killing instead of cutting away without ever seeing the actual injection.

I didn’t get why she would’ve fallen in love with Bronson as the two had nothing in common and really didn’t get along. The film seems to act off the theory that putting a man and woman together will automatically elicit romance and sexual tensions, but members of the opposite sex work together on jobs sometimes for many years where sex and romance never occurs, so having these two end up getting the hots for each other seemed forced and mechanical. Also, the fact that Remick is a double-agent and Bronson becomes aware of this would make me believe that he, being a professional spy, would never trust her enough to let down his guard to expose his softer side to begin with.

I was disappointed too that several scenes are supposed to take place in Texas, including the city of Houston, and yet ultimately all of  these get shot in either California, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco, which was the same one used in High Anxiety, or on a studio sound stage. Yet there are plenty of other scenes that were shot on-location like New Mexico , Montana, and even Finland, so if they could make it to those places then why not to Texas too?

The climactic sequence, which takes place in a backwoods bar and features a humorous performance by Helen Page Camp, as the wife of the bar owner, gets wrapped-up in too tidy of a way and doesn’t take full advantage of Pleasence, who has been very creepy in his other villainous roles, but here doesn’t make much of an impression. While the film is entertaining on a non-think level it compares poorly to other movies in the spy genre and certainly does not come close to matching many of the better ones.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Don Siegel

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive)

Die Laughing (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cabbie accused of murder.

Pinsky (Robby Benson) works as a San Francisco cab driver during the day, but aspires to being a professional singer and attends numerous auditions, but to no avail. One day he picks up a passenger who gets shot and killed while in his cab and Pinsky is mistakenly tabbed as being the killer. Feeling he has no other options he takes the briefcase that the victim was carrying and hides out at his girlfriend Amy’s (Linda Grovenor) apartment. Inside the box they find a live monkey who has apparently memorized the secret formula for turning atomic waste into the plutonium bomb and it’s now their job to keep him away from Mueller (Bud Cort) and his cohorts who want to kidnap the monkey and use what he knows for nefarious purposes.

The film starts out with some potential as it uses Benson’s wide-eyed, deer-in-headlights persona to good comical use, at least initially. Unfortunately by the second half it pivots too much the other way and the minor laughs at the beginning get completely lost when he suddenly becomes this seasoned spy who can quickly think on his feet and outsmart the bad guys at every turn.

Again, this is just an ordinary Joe whose main drive is to make it into the music business, so why get so emotionally invested in a spy case that does nothing but get him deeper and deeper into a dangerous situation? Why not just give the bad guys what they want, hope it appeases them enough that they’ll set you free and then go to the authorities, who are much better positioned to handle this situation, and let them do the rest?

I also thought it was ridiculous that when the couple are tied up and thrown into some dark backroom that they do not respond to the predicament, like any normal person would, with fear and panic, but instead use the moment to become romantic! The fact that they manage to untie each other by biting down on the thick ropes that bind them is absurd as the only thing that would accomplish is a lot of broken-off teeth.

Benson’s musical interludes are a bore and he ends up singing the same damn song three different times. He also performs at a concert when just a little while earlier he was being surrounded by spies ready to push him off of a ship, which would be such a traumatic experience for most people that it’s doubtful he’d be able to emotional calm down enough to focus on singing, or do anything for a long time afterwards.

The story also suffers from having too many villains, Cort is the main one, but he’s seen only intermittently while a bunch of others busily chase Benson around until it becomes dizzying trying to keep track of them all. The plot itself is overblown, relies heavily on worn-out spy genre cliches making it come off like a cheesy parody of James Bond that will cause many viewers to be rolling-their-eyes almost immediately at the campy, strained gags.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 23, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jeff Werner

Studio: Orion Pictures

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

Spies Like Us (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Losers inadvertently become decoys.

Austin (Dan Aykroyd) and Emmett (Chevy Chase) are two bumbling government agents who get hired by the department of defense to carry out a secret mission inside the Soviet Union. In reality, and unbeknownst to them, they are decoys used to call attention away from the actual agents who were sent to seize a ballistic missile launcher yet things don’t work out as planned. Instead of the decoys getting killed off it’s the actual agents forcing Austin and Emmett to carry out the rest of the plan that the others couldn’t.

A lot of the problem with this film is that it no longer has that National Lampoon’s edge, which when it started out was all about satire and parody and making fun of the establishment. Yet this film has no message, or point of view. Had it had more of a focus like ridiculing the government, war, politics, or even the spy genre then it might of been more meaningful, but instead all we get are a barrage of generic gags and no real story.

The humor mainly falls flat with the writers making up the rules as they go, so there’s no tension or intrigue. For instance the two disguise themselves as Dr’s and are forced to perform an appendectomy on a patient even though they know nothing about medical surgery and yet just as Aykroyd is ready to make the incision the patient for no explicable reason dies, which gets them two off-the-hook, but is really more of a cop-out by the writers. Why not force the characters to earn their way out of their predicament by requiring them to come up with some clever escape instead of conveniently throwing in an act of God that doesn’t really make any sense?

Today’s audiences will find the scene where Chase grabs Donna Dixon’s breasts, a woman who he has just met and without asking permission, quite offensive. She doesn’t respond in shock or anger either and is portrayed as apparently being ‘too stupid’ to know what’s going on, I don’t know about you, but if someone touched one of my body parts I’d feel it. In real-life Dixon is Aykroyd’s wife, and Aykroyd was also one of the scriptwriters, and I thought it was crazy that a guy would come-up with a gag that would allow his co-star to squeeze his wife’s breasts, he actually ends up squeezing both of them, simply for the sake of trying to get a cheap laugh from the audience.

Aykroyd and Chase are an odd pairing as well. Chase has such a glib, sarcastic personality that it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to be his friend to begin with. Aykroyd’s super smart persona in which he’s an expert on virtually everything is boring and has been played-out before. Supposedly this was meant to be a take-off on the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby road movies and Hope even has a cameo here and despite his advancing age he’s still funnier than either Akroyd or Chase and should’ve been made the star instead of them.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s original ending had a nuclear bomb blowing up the planet and if they had kept that in then I’d at least give them some credit for being daring and original. Of course after test audiences disliked this (surprise, surprise) the filmmakers ultimately chickened-out and went for a ‘happy ending’ where Aykroyd devises a way (because of course he knows EVERYTHING) to divert the bomb’s route so it explodes in space instead of on earth, but wouldn’t the radioactive fallout of the explosion still rain back down and affect the population anyways?

End of the Spoiler Alert!

The opening bit where an agent is locked inside a cramped closet because he’s not authorized to view the information inside the briefcase that is chained to his wrist I did find amusing although the film could’ve played this up more by having everyone, after they’ve reviewed the information, leave the room with the guy still stuck in the closet and begging to be let out. I also loved the top secret spy headquarters built underneath an abandoned drive-in movie theater. Director John Landis also continues his trend of casting other movie directors in minor roles, but since they’re only seen briefly other viewers may not find this element to be all that interesting.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 6, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Landis

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

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

Gotcha! (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Spy game turns real.

Jonathan (Anthony Edwards) enjoys playing the make-believe spy game of Gotcha on his college campus by shooting his fellow students with paint darts of which he is quite good at. For a vacation he goes to Paris, France and meets Sasha (Linda Fiorentino) who is a real-life spy transporting undercover documents from behind the iron curtain. She gets Jonathan to travel with her to East Berlin where he reluctantly finds himself caught-up in the spy action and having bad guys shoot at him with bullets instead of paint balls.

The film has its engaging moments, but the plot gets played-out in a haphazard way. The beginning comes off too much like just another banal coming-of-age comedy with guys using all sorts of corny lines to get women to go to bed with them and a lot inane dialogue and comedy bits are used to help string it along.

Things do improve once he meets up with Fiorentino who puts on an effective foreign accent and adds much needed chemistry. The vivid on-location shooting avoids the well known landmarks and instead focuses more on the hotels and restaurants, which makes the viewer feel like they’re traveling alongside the characters.  Jonathan’s transition from cocky college student to scared kid in way over-his-head is interesting too, but something that I wished had been played up more.

Edwards’ performance helps the viewer remain sympathetic to his quandary despite the fact that it was his own naivety that got him into his jam. I didn’t like his hairstyle though, which to me looked more like a wig and, since he’s shown to be openly bald in his later years, it probably was. He was also older than his character and looking very much like the 23 years of age that he was, which is what Fiorentino guesses when she first meets him and not like 18, which is what his character supposedly is making the opening conversation that the two have unintentionally ironic.

The third act in which Jonathan returns to the states, but the Russian spies continue to chase after him, is when this thing really goes south. It would’ve worked better, and been more believable, had the entire spy scenario remained in Europe instead culminating on the same college campus where it began making the intended irony too forced and too cute for its own good.

There were times when I did get caught-up in the intrigue, but film ruins the tension by always answering it with a comical twist that makes it come-off as too gimmicky. There’s also no explanation as to what was on the film role that Jonathan and Sasha were trying to smuggle out and the Russians were so eager to get back, which makes the plot transparent instead of exciting.

The one moment though that I really did like and even found quite memorable is when a caged tiger is brought into a classroom to show the veterinarian students how to shoot a sick animal with a sleep dart. The animal seems to be in very real pain and with genuine moans of discomfort and the part where he gets hit with the dart forces him to leap up in his cage in a very startled manner. I’m not sure how they were able to pull off getting a legitimately hurt tiger into the scene, but it’s the one segment where the movie isn’t silly and it’s too bad the rest of the script couldn’t have fallen in-line with that same type of approach.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Jeff Kanew

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD

Cloak & Dagger (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid witnesses a murder.

Davy (Henry Thomas) is an imaginative 11-year-old who spends his days immersed in the fantasy world of an espionage game called Cloak & Dagger and its rugged hero Jack Flack (Dabney Coleman). His home life spent with his dad (also played by Coleman) isn’t as exciting and he uses his escape into the game as his way of coping with a father who is too busy to have any time for him. One day he inadvertently witnesses a murder and just before the victim dies he hands Davy a video game cartridge telling him that there is top secret information on it. Now Davy finds himself in a very real game of life and death forcing him to depend on the advice of his fantasy hero and help from his dad to save him from the bad guys.

Tom Holland’s script is based on the short story ‘The Boy Cried Murder’, which was first made into a movie in 1949 The Window that starred Bobby Driscoll. This version is definitely aimed for the kids, but manages to be engaging enough to keep an adult’s attention, which is what makes it fun. Director Richard Franklin, a noted Hitchcock disciple, manages to infuse humor with the suspense and uses a variety of locations to keep the action interesting.

Thomas is excellent as the kid, but I felt his character seemed a bit too even-keeled about things. I would think a kid would be traumatized at witnessing a murder and unable to cope, but Davy takes things in much too matter- of-fact way only to become overwhelmed by the reality of the situation much later when I felt it should’ve occurred right from the start.

Christina Nigra is cute as Davy’s young friend Kim, but she looks to be barely 6 years-old. Her lines are amusing, but she conveys them in a way that has no inflection like she is simply mouthing stuff that she has memorized. The dashingly handsome Michael Murphy makes for an effective bad guy and elderly real-life couple Jeannette Nolan and John McIntire get flashy roles in the twilight of their careers. You can also spot Louie Anderson in a brief bit as a cab driver.

Dabney Coleman’s presence is the only thing that doesn’t work. He’s a gifted comic character actor, but only engaging when he plays a sleazy slimeball and never as a good guy. Here he is downright boring and already in his 50’s making him a bit too old for either the father or superhero. I don’t think they are too many kids who would imagine their own fathers in the role of an idolized comic book-like hero anyways. Most of the time it would be someone who is brawny and glamorous. In either case the film would’ve worked better and made more sense had the father and hero role been played by two completely different actors.

For me though the best part of the movie is simply its on-location shooting done in San Antonio. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t film a scene at the Tower of the Americas, but the other tourist sites are included featuring a fun chase sequence at the River Walk, the Sunken Gardens and even the Alamo. In the case of the Alamo they were allowed to film the exteriors there, but the interiors were recreated on a soundstage, but having been in the actual Alamo I couldn’t tell the difference, which is impressive.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 13, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Franklin

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Fantastic Voyage (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Inside the human body.

When a Soviet scientist (Jean Del Val), who has sought asylum in the US and has crucial top secret information to give to the government, is shot in an attempted assassination, which leaves him comatose, it is up to a team of five American agents (Arthur Kennedy, William Redfield, Raquel Welch, Donald Pleasance, Stephen Boyd) to go inside his body through miniaturization and remove the blood clot on his brain with the help of a laser. The miniaturizing process is a new invention that only lasts sixty minutes before the person, or object that has been made smaller will begin to regrow. The participants must work fast, but there is an added problem as one of them is also secretly a spy who is intent on undermining the mission.

The film is hailed as a classic by many and this is mainly due to its special effects, which even in this day and age aren’t bad. The question of what gets represented here is what it would really look like if a person were put into an actual body is hard to tell, but the effects are exciting even though the characters were simply matted in front of a green screen to create the psychedelic looking background.  Yet I was still impressed as it gives off a sort-of surreal vision that made me feel like I had been transported to some foreign world along with the cast.

The script though unlike the effects is about as amateurish as you can get and if the action hadn’t been so meticulously designed this might’ve been considered a movie more suited to a camp film festival. For one thing it moves too fast particularly at the beginning. There needed to be more of a backstory about how this miniaturization process had been invented, how long it had been put to use, whether it was safe to use and who was the first to try it and had that person had any after effects none of which gets explained and is simply glossed over.

The characters are also overly obedient and willing to take on any assignment with little if any objection no matter what the potential danger. The Stephen Boyd character gets driven to the science lab and then when told that he’ll be shrunk to the size of a fingertip he puts up very little argument even though anyone else would be frightened about the prospect. Having one of the other characters call home to loved ones, or refuse to go on it would’ve helped make them seem less one-dimensional and robotic.

The crew’s conversations are boring and done in too much of a rhythmic way. Anytime an unforeseen problem arises one of them almost immediately comes up with a solution to it. We learn nothing about these people as the journey progresses nor care all that much about them. In fact the only interesting verbal exchanges that do occur are between Edmund O’Brien’s character and Arthur O’Connell’s who are inside the lab and monitoring the proceedings.

I do not have enough background in the science arena to know how authentic any of this is, but Isaac Asimov who was hired to write the novelization to the movie, stated that the script was full of ‘plot holes’. The one thing that did stand out to me was the part where the crew members are inside the patient’s inner ear and all the doctors inside the lab are forced to stand perfectly still and not make any noise as the sound vibrations could prove dangerous. However, it’s virtually impossible for there to be no noise at all. Even if someone tries to be perfectly quiet other noises that are less conspicuous would become more prominent like breathing, heartbeats, or other background sounds. In either event there would still be sound waves going through the patient’s ear long before one of the nurses accidently drops a medical utensil on the floor like they do here.

For popcorn entertainment it’s not too bad. In fact my favorite part was watching the process of how the crew gets miniaturized, which is actually pretty cool, but this is one of those films were you clearly can’t think about it too hard or it will ruin your enjoyment.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 24, 1966

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Richard Fleischer

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Russian Roulette (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Trying to stop assassination.

When a Soviet leader decides to visit Vancouver the Russian Embassy puts the Canadian authorities on alert about Rudolf Henke (Val Avery) who moved to Canada many years back, but is reported to still hold grudges about the Soviet Union and could be a sniper threat. Timothy Shaver (George Segal) is then secretly hired to kidnap Henke while the Soviet leader is in town and then let him go once that leader has left. However, when Shaver gets to Henke’s apartment he finds out that he has already been abducted by somebody else, which leads him to believe that he is being made a pawn to an even bigger conspiracy and that he may become their next victim.

The story is based on the novel ‘Kosygin is Coming’ by Tom Ardies and the first 45 minutes of this are actually quite diverting. Director Lou Lombardo gave his actors the freedom to ad-lib and he instills some quirky humor, which made me believe this was going to be a new wave-like actioner that deftly mixes in the offbeat perspective with a story that had an intriguing mystery angle.

Unfortunately the second half devolves into cheesy action flick with all the usual formulaic trappings. The biggest problem is introducing the Russian bad guys who speak in inauthentic, corny accents that made them become like caricatures that lessens the tension instead of heightening it. The film would’ve been better served had it not shown the villains at all until the very end and kept things solely focused on Segal as he tries desperately to figure out what is going on while being chased by a mysterious group of people whose motives are unclear.

There are a couple of stupid moments as well.  One of them occurs when Segal and his girlfriend played by Cristina Rains return home. She immediately runs into the bathroom to take a pee, but then just as quickly comes back out wearing a strange expression. Segal then walks in to see a dead body of a murdered stranger sitting on the toilet. I know this may make me sound like a sexist to some, but the truth is women have a tendency to scream when they are startled and sometimes for a lot less than an unexpected sight of a corpse in their bathroom, so having her not instinctually scream here (hell even I would’ve probably let out a shrill yell at that point) is dumb.

Another part has Segal and Rains handcuffed and sitting in a backseat of a car that is being driven by one of the Russian bad guys. Segal, in an apparent attempt to escape, kicks the Russian guy in the back of his head, which sends the car reeling off the road and overturning into a ditch. However, this to me seemed dangerous because what guarantees that Segal and Rains wouldn’t be injured when that occurs. As it turns out the driver ends up conveniently dying in the crash, but miraculously the couple get out of the badly banged up car without even a single scratch, which is beating astronomical odds!

Segal wasn’t the best choice for the role. He spent the 70’s decade playing mostly in light comedies and romances, which he is more adept at, but presumably took the part to help stretch his acting resume and avoid being typecast. It doesn’t fully work and there were other actors who would’ve been better able to reflect the film’s gritty tone although watching Segal do mostly his own stunt work as he climbed out to the top of the roof of The Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver does deserve kudos.

The supporting cast proves to be more interesting. I enjoyed seeing Louise Fletcher in her second movie after coming out of a 10-year hiatus. She has only a small role here, but she makes an impression nonetheless and it’s interesting seeing her play a person with such a sunny disposition when later that same year she portrayed the dour Nurse Ratched, which only proves what a talented actress she really is.

Val Avery is equally good in a part that has no lines of dialogue, by his own insistence, but still ends up being a scene stealer not only at the end when he stumbles into a scared crowd while wearing a bomb, but also in an earlier scene where he plays a cruel trick on a group of children playing roller blade hockey in the street.

Unfortunately the rest of the movie doesn’t have enough of a payoff. The action gets overplayed and the blaring music takes away the sophisticated feel and puts it more on the level of a bubblegum TV-show. Some good potential gets marred by an indecisive director who reportedly was suffering from drug addiction at the time and the effects show.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lou Lombardo

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD