Category Archives: Thrillers/Suspense

Midnight Lace (1960)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Somebody is stalking her.

Kit Preston (Doris Day) is an American who has just recently married Anthony (Rex Harrison) and moved with him to London. Shortly after her move she begins receiving phone calls from a man who speaks in a strange sounding voice and who threatens her bodily harm. When she goes to the police about it they’re not helpful and soon both her husband and friends begin to question her sanity and whether she is simply making the whole thing up.

The film is based on the stage play ‘Mathilda Shouted Fire’ by Janet Green and for the most part is well-done. I enjoyed the glossiness of it particularly the sumptuous interior design of the large home they lived in. So many times movies with this type of theme are given the low budget treatment, so it’s nice to have one done more on the highbrow level.

The pace is slow and there’s way more talking than action, but I still found myself intrigued. The voice of the stalker though could’ve been done better. I guess it’s nice not having it conform to the stereotype of a madman by having his voice deep and menacing, but this guy sounds like a cartoon character and it’s unintentionally funny. The set-up could’ve also been improved as it starts out right away with her being threatened by him in a park that seems a bit surreal and confusing since we know nothing about this character and a previous backstory would’ve helped.

The villain’s ultimate identity may surprise some, but the film tries so hard to throw in these red herrings to make you think it’s all these other people that a truly savvy viewer will start to consider the one that seems to be the least likely. The plot logistics aren’t particularly well thought out either, but this is clearly not something you’re expected to think about too hard anyways.

The film’s main selling point is Day who’s tremendous. This was a big stretch for her, but she comes away in impressive fashion. She vowed afterwards that she would never do another thriller because it was too emotionally draining and I felt emotional drained just watching her. What I liked is that instead of screaming when she panics she breaks out into a teary-eyed wail that makes her seem quite helpless, but still endearing. She stated that during the filming of these scenes she would think back to the real-life abuse that she suffered from her first husband, which makes her emotions genuine and raw and manages to strongly connect with the audience.

My only quibble and this was probably more the fault of the screenwriter than hers, is when her husband is struggling to fight off the bad guy and all she does is stand there and whimper. This was most likely a product of the era where women were expected to be more ‘dainty’ and not get involved in physical altercations, but when a guy is trying all he can to save his life and hers he might appreciate her offering him some assistance.

There’s another scene where she gets stuck in an elevator that is a bit botched too because in her attempt to sound like a hysterical women she comes off more like a gal having a weird orgasm, but overall she’s great. It might even be her best performance as she far outshines Harrison who looks too old to be her husband and wasn’t a good fit at all.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 13, 1960

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: David Miller

Studio: Universal Pictures

Available: DVD

Capricorn One (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mars landing is fake.

Due to finding out about having a faulty life support system James Kelloway (Hal Holbrook), who heads the NASA mars mission, decides to have the three astronauts (James Brolin, Sam Waterston, O. J. Simpson) removed from inside the rocket just before it is ready to blast off. He then allows the rocket to take off leaving everyone on the ground with the mistaken impression that the astronauts are still inside. The astronauts later walk onto a soundstage that is made to replicate the mars surface where they pretend to be walking on the planet live on television. As the rocket stays on mars the three astronauts remain trapped inside the NASA space center unable to let even their families in on their secret, but when the rocket returns to earth it gets accidently destroyed. Since the three men are still thought to be inside and since the government wouldn’t want to whole world to know it was a hoax the men are forced to make a daring escape across the hot desert in order to avoid being killed.

The script was originally written in 1969 and was an attempt by director Peter Hyams to take advantage of the moon landing conspiracy that was going on at the time, but no studio was willing to take it on, so it took 9 years and a change of planets before it finally got the green light. I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories as I think a lot of them are too dependent on a great many people working together and being able to keep a secret in order for them to be pulled off. Since it’s hard for just two people to pull off a crime such as a murder without one eventually turning on the other, or breaking down under pressure, then it’s even harder to believe hundreds could keep quiet it in order to successfully pull off the so-called moon landing hoax, or that at some later time one of them wouldn’t have divulged the secret to a family member, friend, or even anonymously to the press.

In either case it’s an entertaining movie for the most part although the first hour is spotty and it only really gets gripping during second-half. To some degree I thought it would’ve been more interesting had the focus been on the people setting up the ruse and working to make the soundstage look like mars than on the astronauts. It also might’ve been more impactful to the viewer had they been given the idea that the landing was real and only when the men are seen walking on the mars surface does the camera pull back to show that it was all fake instead of revealing the conspiracy right from the start.

The problem that I had though was with Elliot Gould’s character. Don’t get me wrong I liked the way he plays the part as a sort-of disheveled, loser hero who strikes out with the ladies, but the fact that the government is on him so quickly and trying to kill him before he has even written one single report about the mars landing makes little sense. Later on he gets bailed out of jail by his boss, played by David Doyle, who openly admits to hating Gould and immediately fires him the second he pays his bail, but why spend company money on someone you don’t like and don’t want working for you?

Spoiler Alert!

The ending features a well photographed aerial chase through the skies that is very exciting, but the wrap-up in which James Brolin, who is the last surviving astronaut that manages to escape the deadly clutches of the government and appears to shock of everyone at his own funeral seems to ruin the premise. For conspiracy theories to hold their mystique there needs to be the idea that the bad guys were able to get away with it and that it is actually possible to successfully kill off all the possible leaks and manage to hold the rest to strict secrecy. By having someone survive only proves the point that I made earlier and thus makes all those other conspiracy theories that permeate modern culture seem dubious as well because mostly likely the same result would’ve ultimately happened with those that happened with this one.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 2, 1978

Runtime: 2 Hours 3 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Hyams

Studio: Warner Brothers

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

What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Religious lady goes crazy.

Adelle (Debbie Reynolds) and Helen (Shelley Winters) are two mothers whose sons commit a gruesome murder. Once the two men are convicted the women decide to move across the country, change their names and open up a dance studio. Adelle meets a handsome bachelor (Dennis Weaver) who is full of money, but Helen’s fortunes don’t improve. Instead she wallows in depression while receiving threatening phone calls, which gets her paranoid that someone is out to get them. She tries to seek solace through her religion, but eventually the stress becomes too much and her psychic begins to crack.

The screenplay was written by Henry Farrell famous for penning the novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which later became a big screen success. Unlike that one this was written directly for the screen and misses the textured richness of a backstory specifically how the two women first met or how their friendship blossomed.

On the visual level it starts out well and I enjoyed the use of old news reel footage to help introduce the story, but after that it goes into a lull with long, talky takes that fail to generate much excitement. The recreation of the 1930’s setting looks cheap and stagy and the film lacks a cinematic flair to help compliment it’s campy storyline. Originally director Curtis Harrington had implemented visual effects to be used in the transitions between the scenes, which would’ve helped immensely, but the producer hated them and forced them to be taken out.

On the acting end I felt Reynolds was rather boring and stuck playing a character that isn’t very interesting, which made me surprised that she put up $800,000 of her own money just to get it produced. The showy role is clearly Helen’s and Winters plays the part quite well and becomes the film’s main attraction. Usually she would take-on flamboyant-type characters, but this one required her to be more subdued and repressed and she is able to do it magnificently, which only proves what a gifted and versatile performer she was.

There are a few edgy but brief bits including the shot of a dead body that has been run over by a farm plow, which has some pretty good bloody effects. However, the shot showing a close-up of the women’s body who was the victim of the two sons isn’t effective because it supposedly gets posted in a newspaper as a lead in to the article about the crime, but no mainstream publication either then or now would print such a gruesome picture of a victim.

There were also several provocative scenes that got excised in an effort to the attain the GP rating, which included a shot of Winters kissing Reynolds on the lips as well as a murder scene that was originally intended to be much more drawn out than what it ends up being. The film’s final shot though is still well done and probably the only thing that makes sitting through this worth it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 30, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Curtis Harrington

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD

Looker (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Models can be replaced.

Dr. Larry Roberts (Albert Finney) who is a plastic surgeon finds himself embroiled in a mystery when three of his past patients turn up dead. He soon becomes a prime suspect when he is caught inside the apartment of one of them just after they were killed, which forces him to become his own detective in order to clear his name. He learns that all three of them were linked to an advertising agency run by John Reston (James Coburn) and Jennifer Long (Leigh Taylor-Young) who scan the model’s body in order to use a 3D generated computer image of them in their commercials.

The concept is intriguing, but the execution gets horribly botched. It’s like a screenplay that’s still in the early draft stage with a plethora of poorly thought out story lines that leave open a wide range of loopholes, unanswered questions and inconsistencies.

For one there is the fact that Dr. Roberts gets caught in the apartment of the latest victim just after she was pushed over her balcony and yet the police only question him for a couple of minutes and then let him go. In reality he would be brought into the station for hours of interrogation especially since there were already clues implicating him at the death scene of the victim before this one and if they did possibly let him go after all that they would most likely be tailing him quite closely, which they don’t do here.

When he enters the ad agency he secretly steals one of their access cards, which they become aware of and should be no big deal because they could simply disable it electronically and yet they don’t and he is able to use it later on to get inside. There is also no explanation for what happens to his many patients while he goes wildly cavorting around chasing after nebulous clues that should really be done by the police. Also, the scene where Roberts gets beaten up in the lab by a guard, which sends him crashing against a hard wall several times and even going through a glass window would be enough to break several bones with any other person and not something that could simply be shaken off like here.

Why such a highly regarded actor such as Finney would feel the need to accept something this pedestrian is a mystery. Her services at the time were in high demand so why not pick a project that offered a wide acting range or interesting character instead? Coburn as the villain is equally wasted and barely has any screen time at all.  Susan Dey comes off best and should’ve been given the lead as she is not only beautiful, both with and without her clothes, but quite likable and the only character in the film that seems discernably human.

There is one cool scene involving a victim falling onto the hood of a car that shatters all of its windows before the body then bounces off onto the ground, which gets done in slow-motion, which is cool, but everything else is boring and unimaginative. However, the L.O.O.K.E.R. gun that is able to put people into a trance is worth mentioning and I liked actor Tim Rossovich’s glazed over expression every time he gets put into one, which makes his appearance here quite memorable despite the fact that he utters no line of dialogue.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 30, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Firestarter (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Girl has fire power.

Andrew (David Keith) and Victoria (Heather Locklear) are two struggling college students who in an attempt to make some extra money decide to take part in medical study where they receive injections of a drug that give them telepathic abilities. They later get married and have a child named Charlene (Drew Barrymore) who has the same type of abilities except hers allows her to start fires using only her mind. Now a secret governmental agency known as The Shop seeks to kidnap Charlene so they can use her abilities for their own nefarious means, which sends Charlene and her father on a cross-country run to try and escape the agency’s clutches.

If there is one thing that really stands out in this movie and makes it worth the watch it’s Drew’s performance. She was only 8 at the time, but has a presence and acting awareness that was well beyond her years and she easily upstages her more seasoned co-stars. Her character isn’t completely fleshed-out and I’ll agree with Roger Ebert in his review that she was created more like a “plot gimmick”, than anything, but Drew still makes it engaging nonetheless. My only real complaint with her character is why, when she does get apprehended by the governmental agency, that she doesn’t she just use her fire ability to burn down the door of the room that she is trapped in to escape?

George C. Scott is an equally interesting as the bad guy even though he ends up being trapped into the same type of contrived character with motivations, particularly his reasons for befriending the girl, that seem quite nebulous and even illogical. However, his presence lends an added edge and I loved his ponytail as well as the contact lens put into his left eye that gives him an android-type appearance.

The rest of the cast though does not fare as well. Art Carney and Louise Fletcher, two Academy Award winners, get stuck in a small, almost insignificant roles as a father and daughter farm family who temporarily takes in Andrew and Charlene when they are on the run, which is okay, but the idea that this same couple would later happily take in Charlene again after they had witnessed her frightening ability first-hand and the burning deaths of several people that she helped create is ridiculous. In reality they would’ve seen her as some sort of ‘freak’ to be wary of and scared that she might do the same thing to them one day and thus want nothing to do with and certainly not welcomed back into their home.

As for the plot it’s okay, but it takes quite a while to get going and only becomes moderately gripping during the second-half. The script is based of course on a Stephen King novel and the scenes showing Charlene setting various people and things on fire seemed too much like an offshoot to King’s more famous Carrie character and thus the originality is lost. There’s also just so much objects/people being set on fire one can watch before it starts getting redundant, which makes the climactic finish boring, lame and even laughable.

I also wasn’t sure how Charlene was able to stop bullets from hitting her. This subject gets discussed in a thread on IMDb with some posters surmising that it was apparently a ‘heat shield’ that she was able to create through her pyrokinesis. However, if that was the case then it should’ve gotten explained earlier otherwise it comes off looking like the filmmakers were just making up the rules as they went whenever it was convenient for them.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The China Syndrome (1979)

china-syndrome

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: He senses the vibration.

Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda) is a television news reporter who along with Richard (Michael Douglas) her cameraman gets a chance to go inside a nuclear power plant and film its operations. While inside they witness the plant going through an emergency shutdown when the coolant to one of the nuclear reactors becomes dangerously low. Richard secretly films the nervous reactions of the men in the control room during the incident and wants to broadcast the footage on the news, but the station managers refuse for fear they might get sued. Later Kimberly comes into contact with Jack (Jack Lemmon) who is a shift supervisor at the plant and he informs her that the welds on the pumps are compromised and could lead to a core meltdown at some point. Richard, Kimberly and Jack then conspire to somehow get this information out to the public before it is too late while also avoiding those who wish to silence them.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this film is the way it remains completely realistic throughout and never once compromises anything simply for the sake of cheap drama. The behind-the-scenes politics of an on air news show is quite fascinating particularly how it is decided what constitutes ‘news’ and what doesn’t as well as the staff’s pecking-order and how an individual reporter has limited say on what topics they can actually report on.

The inside of the power plant is impressive particularly the scene where Jack goes inside the massive pump room to investigate a leak. The control room looks quite authentic and the film’s final twenty-five minutes take place solely inside of it, which makes for a gripping climax.

The film also has the distinction of having no musical soundtrack. Other than a song by Stephan Bishop which is played at the beginning there is no other music to be heard and quite frankly I didn’t miss it at all. The sound of the power plant’s emergency alarm going off is all that is needed to create tension and having the closing credits scroll to a deadening silence leaves a powerful impact. Apparently a score was composed by Michael Small, but it was rejected and rightly so as I listened to some of it and it had way too much of a disco sound and didn’t fit the theme at all.

The stars are excellent, but I was surprised how Fonda’s part gets increasingly pared down as the movie progresses. Douglas steals it away from her during an angry confrontation with his superiors, but ultimately Lemmon is the real star even though it deceptively doesn’t start out that way. The supporting cast is equally good including Wilford Brimley as a loyal, but quiet employee, Scott Brady as the cantankerous plant manager and Richard Herd as the steely and conniving owner.

As for the merits of the film’s message it’s hard to say. What was once a hot/trendy topic during the ‘70s and ‘80s now seems long forgotten. However, the script still brings up many good points no matter what one’s political leanings are and it’s great to watch a film that can be intelligent and entertaining at the same time without ever going overboard on either end.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 16, 1979

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Bridges

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region 0), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

House on Straw Hill (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10      

4-Word Review: Writer battles his secretary.

Paul (Udo Kier) is a writer who had success with his first novel and now working on his much anticipated second one. To help him get the manuscript done faster he hires a secretary (Linda Hayden) who comes to his isolated, countryside home to type it up, but the two don’t get along. Soon Paul becomes convinced that she is out to kill him and he just may be right.

This pseudo horror film has an enticing visual style.  I liked the close-up shots of the typewriter keys banging on the paper as well as the giant wheat field surrounding the home, which to a degree helps create an interesting atmosphere, but writer/director James Kenelm Clarke goes back to these things too often eventually making the film one-dimensional and monotonous.

The film is also loaded with a lot of explicit sex. If this were a porno then that would be great, but for an intended horror film it goes off the mark completely. We really don’t need to see Linda constantly masturbating. Having Paul find a dildo in her suitcase as he does would’ve been enough. Linda’s ultimate seduction of Paul’s girlfriend (Fiona Richmond) in a provocative lesbian sequence is completely pointless to the story and clearly just done to grab the crowd that’s into watching mindless sleaze.

The characters come off as weird, half-human caricatures whose motivations and actions are confusing. Both Paul and Linda needed to be better fleshed out for the viewer to have any compelling reason to care what happens to either one of them. The scene where Linda masturbates in the wheat field and is then attacked and raped by some locals only for her to turn-the-tables on them and kill them is particularly stupid because she is somehow able to immediately compose herself afterwards and come back to the house and act like it never happened when with anyone else it would’ve been an emotionally traumatic experience that would’ve taken months maybe even years to get over if even then.

The film’s twist ending is particularly weak and the film should’ve used flashbacks and other subtle clues to help the viewer figure it out for themselves the reasons for Linda’s motivations instead of having it all explained to them by her at the end. I also didn’t like the title as it is too reminiscent to Straw Dogs, which also took place in a remote home in the English countryside and dealt with a rape by some of the local thugs. This might’ve been intentional, but it was a big mistake because it just reminds the viewer of that movie, which was far better.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Trauma, Expose

Released: March 15, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Rated X

Director: James Kenelm Clarke

Studio: Norfolk International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Alone in the Dark (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Psychopaths escape from hospital.

Dan Potter (Dwight Schulz) is a new doctor hired at a local mental hospital to oversee some of their more violent psychopaths. Unfortunately before he has any time to implement his new therapy techniques there is power failure, which allows three of the most dangerous ones (Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Erland van Lidth) to escape. They immediately track down the doctor at his residence and lurk outside while the frightened family stays trapped in their home and forced to somehow fight them off.

The story is dull and has a plot where you know exactly where it’s going right from the start. There are no unexpected twists and the gore is almost non-existent. The scares are sparse and not effective with several scenes that come off as unintentionally funny.

There is also never any explanation to what causes the power failure and the idea that it would last for two consecutive nights without some sort of major weather event being the factor is highly unlikely. The fact that the patients are housed inside an institution with electrical monitors and the people who ran the place had no backup plan implemented or considered if the power would ever go out is dumb and most likely an emergency generator would’ve been installed years earlier for just such a scenario, which would then make this whole stupid plot nonexistent from the get-go.

Landau gives a good performance, which makes this dumb thing slightly worth catching although overall the psycho characters are too cardboard and generic to be frightening. Hiring B-actors on the downside of their careers and who were most likely willing to accept any mindless dreck that was handed to them simply so they could keep the cash flowing in, was not a good idea as they approach the material in too much of a hammy way.

I actually came away liking Schulz’s performance best and was impressed how his character here was so much different from his most famous one in ‘The A-Team’ TV-show. It was also fun seeing Van Lidth, who is best remembered as Grossberger from Stir Crazy, with a full head of hair.

The film has only two scenes that are worth catching and even then it really isn’t much. However, I did like the part where the three crazies enter a sporting goods store during the blackout that is being raided by all the ‘sane’ people who act way more fringe than the actual lunatics. The scene where Palance attends a punk rock concert where the band The Sick Fucks is playing is pretty good too even though the atmosphere inside doesn’t effectively reflect a real mosh pit scene.

The overall scenario though dealing with these very clichéd psyhcos ominously lurking outside a home occupied by an equally clichéd All-American family that respond to everything with perpetual looks of fear is not interesting or intense. It also comes off as being too stagey and theatrical and might’ve worked better had it taken more of a modern day hand-held camera/ cinema vertite approach.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jack Sholder

Studio: New Line Cinema

Available: DVD

WarGames (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen hacks government computer.

David (Matthew Broderick) is a teenager who’s a whiz with computers and even able to dial up his school’s machine and change his grades without anyone noticing. One day he unknowingly hacks into a military computer where he and his girlfriend Jennifer (Ally Sheedy) begin to play a game of global nuclear war while unaware that everyone at NORAD the military base is seeing the game as it’s being played  and thinking that it is the real thing.

The film does a great job of showing the nuclear missiles up close while still in their silos and ready to fire, which gives the viewer a frightening awareness of just how real the potential is. The NORAD command center, which is quite impressive, was built specifically for the film at a cost of one million and is apparently even more elaborate than the real one.

David’s hacking talents do seem a bit farfetched, but if you’re able to suspend your disbelief a little then it’s a pretty cool and suspenseful flick. Some of my favorite scenes in this area are when he is able to escape from an electronically locked room as well as the way he gets a dial tone from a receiver at a pay phone despite not having any money.

Broderick’s character is in many ways identical to the one that he played in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at least with his technological smarts, but here he thankfully doesn’t have that annoying smugness as his initial cockiness realistically wilts quickly away the minute he realizes that he’s gotten in-over-his-head. I did however find it hard to believe that such a bright kid could get an ‘F’ on his biology exam. His character is described as being an ‘underachiever’, which is fine, but there’s a big difference between being that and being a complete flunky.

Ally Sheedy is fantastic and in many ways outshines Broderick, but it’s hard to figure that she would suddenly jump into her car, without being asked, and drive all the way from Seattle to Colorado on a whim after she gets a strange call from David. The fact that her character states that it took her only 3 hours to get there is a complete crock as according to Mapquest the distance between Seattle and Grand Junction is 1,122 miles with an estimated drive time of 18 hours and 9 minutes.

Dabney Coleman is good in support as McKittrick and nobody can exude nervous energy quite like he does. Yet I was disappointed that he isn’t seen more. As much as I love Barry Corbin I felt his general character was clichéd and boring and I wished they had simply combined that character with McKittrick’s and then given the part solely to Coleman to play.

There were also a few scenes that I felt should’ve been extended especially the opening scene where we see two members of the missile combat crew ordered to turn the key to launch a missile strike. One of them, played by John Spencer, panics and becomes reluctant to turn the key while the other one holds a gun and insists that he must. It turns out this was only a surprise drill, but it cuts away before we see what happens and we only learn about this later while it would’ve been more satisfying to have seen the complete scenario played out visually.

I would’ve also liked to have seen when the government agents storm David’s house and search his bedroom simply to witness his parent’s (William Bogert, Susan Davis) reactions. The film spends time introducing them and they are rather amusing, so it would’ve been interesting to get their take on the situation as it unfolded.

I also felt the way David and Jennifer find Falken (John Wood), the man who invented the military computer that David plays the nuclear game with, was too easy. I realize David gets Falken’s address from the computer, but it’s still a remote island that David has never been to, so how he is able to come upon the home so quickly without a map is questionable. I also thought Falken was too congenial with them as this was a scientist in hiding with top secret military information and no way of knowing if these two were spies or not, which makes inviting them into his house and opening up to them the way he does seem quite reckless.

The ending though is excellent and I liked how these kids didn’t have that teen ‘attitude’ nor is there any of that generation gap crap either. Instead everyone, young and old, works together to solve a mutual problem, which is what I liked about this movie the most.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 3, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John Badham

Studio: MGM/UA

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

Mad Max (1979)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mad max 2

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 12, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated R

Director: George Miller

Studio: Roadshow Film Distributors

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