Tag Archives: Malcolm McDowell

Blue Thunder (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A technologically advanced helicopter.

Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) is a LAPD officer still suffering from flashbacks from his time in Vietnam while working now as part of the air patrol division where he mans a helicopter at night and gives assistance to the cops on the ground.  Due to his expertise he is given the chance to helm the first advanced helicopter called Blue Thunder, which has abilities to fight crime like no other machine before it. As he tests out the new product with his partner Richard (Daniel Stern) he overhears a conversation, through using the machines built-in microphones that can pick up voices from inside buildings, talking about using Blue Thunder for nefarious means. Frank records the conversation and then gets hounded by the bad guys who are led by his lifelong rival from his army days F.E. Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell). To escape their clutches Frank boards the helicopter and flies all over the city of L.A. while waiting for his wife Kate (Candy Clark) to get the incriminating tape to a TV-station where it will be broadcast for the public to hear, but Cochrane, who is an expert pilot as well, gets into another helicopter and tries to shoot Blue Thunder down.

The script was written by the prolific Dan O’Bannon who also wrote the scripts for Alien and Total Recall. He got the idea for this one while living in L.A. and constantly having a police helicopters routinely fly over his neighborhood at night. The original script was darker in tone and portrayed Frank as a psychotic who steals the helicopter and terrorizes the city until he is finally shot down, but that idea got nixed and like with most big-budgeted Hollywood projects got toned down to help appeal to a wider audience.

Personally I would’ve found the original idea more interesting as it also contained political overtones that get completely washed over here. The story here is pretty generic with one-dimensional villains and situations simply thrown in to create cheap conflict and nothing more.

What impressed me though was the modern visual style and effects. It hardly seems like a mid-80s movie at all let alone one that was actually filmed in late ’79 and early ’80. The overriding sentiment has a trendy feel and the cinematography is vivid and colorful. The helicopter action is the film’s biggest selling point and no matter how dippy the story gets the exciting aerial footage more than makes up for it. I loved the way director John Badham captures all sides of Los Angeles from its glitzy skyline to its more grimy and rundown working class areas. It’s also nice to have a REAL helicopter REALLY flying in the air over the city instead of computer generated effects, which makes many of today’s movies look fake and cheapens them while still keeping many of the ‘80s action flicks superior.

Scheider has never been a leading man that I’ve found particularly impressive as his presence seems transparent. However here his laid-back demeanor nicely contrasts with McDowell’s hyper one and makes the bad guy seem even more vindictive. Stern is engaging as Scheider’s partner and it’s too bad this wasn’t made into a buddy movie with Stern’s character staying on for the whole time. Clark is also enjoyable particularly with the wild look that she elicits with her eyes and the car chase that she has with the cops in an abandoned lot of a drive-In theater.

This also sadly marks Warren Oates last project. It was filmed in 1980 and he did a few other films after this one, but this was released last. Oates is one of the most distinctive character actors to ever grace the screen and even in a bland supporting role like the one here he still finds a way to enliven it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 13, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Badham

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

O Lucky Man! (1973)

o lucky man

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A young man’s journey.

Mick (Malcolm McDowell) is a wide-eyed young man entering into the adult world and full of Horatio Alger-like illusions of working real hard and becoming insanely rich while doing it. His first job is as a coffee salesman where he is told that ‘the-sky’s-the-limit’ in regards to his earning potential, so with the carrot-on-the-string firmly in place he dives into it, but ultimately finds little to show for it. He then meets up with a rich tycoon ( Ralph Richardson) and essentially becomes the man’s lapdog assistant only to learn that this doesn’t work either. After spending time in jail he comes back out into the world as a ‘reformed’ man extoling on the idealistic virtues of humbleness only to again meet with aversion and failure.

The film, which is based on an original idea by McDowell, is essentially a broad look at society’s many socio-economic class levels and how easy it is to fall down it, but hard to move up. Some consider Glengarry Glen Ross to be the bleakest indictment on the sales profession, but having worked in the business when I was like the character here first getting out into the working world I can say that this one is even more searing and accurate.

On a wider scope the film successfully works as a critical statement on capitalism, which due to the purveying political climate of the day most American audiences are just now ready to catch up to. Mick’s journey is more his eventual disillusionment as he slowly realizes that being a ‘go-getter’ and having a ‘good attitude’ isn’t going to be enough as the system is rigged so that the individual is more likely to lose than win and can’t really function otherwise. His efforts then become exploited while helping to make someone else richer as he tolls in the bottom rung doing lateral moves into areas that have potential promise, but only produce the same results.

Although the character’s perpetual delusions of grandeur become a bit annoying McDowell plays the part well. The intent was for him to play against type from the one that he did just previously in A Clockwork Orange by portraying someone who is clean-cut, respectful and obedient, but with all the transitions that the character goes through and at one point even having him strapped to a chair in much the same way that he was in the Kubrick film it eventually comes off more like a continuation of that part than a completely different one.

The fun of watching the film is seeing the supporting cast playing dual roles. Arthur Lowe is great especially in the part where he gets put into heavy black make-up to play the leader of a fictitious foreign nation. Rachel Roberts is good too with the erotic scene where she transfers coffee from her mouth into McDowell’s and then later as a poor woman who commits suicide, which has a foreboding quality to it since Roberts ended up doing the same thing five years later in real-life.

Fans of Helen Mirren will enjoy seeing her when she was much younger and playing the part of a rebellious daughter. I also liked the way Alan Price and his band fits into the film. They do the movie’s soundtrack, which is quite good, but instead of having their music played over the action the movie cuts away and captures them doing their renditions inside a sound studio, which in any other case would be considered distracting, but here helps accentuate the film’s  already cerebral tone. It’s also amusing how the band ends up becoming a part of the story as the McDowell character almost gets hit by their van, which allows the opportunity for Price to say the film’s best line “Are we suing you, or are you suing us?”

The film is full of many surreal and original moments and is so consistently inventive that you hardly notice its three hour runtime. However, to me the best part about it is the way it attacks and criticizes the status quo, which is something that no Hollywood movie ever does.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 26, 1973

Runtime: 2Hours 58Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lindsay Anderson

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Get Crazy (1983)

Capture 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Save the Saturn Theater.

Stagehand Neil (Daniel Stern) who works for concert promoter Max Wolfe (Allen Garfield) has his hands full trying to put together a New Year’s Eve bash to welcome in 1983. First he must deal with a persnickety fire marshal (Robert Picardo), an arrogant rock star (Malcolm McDowell) and raucous, stoned fans who will stop at nothing to get into the event even if they haven’t paid. He also must try to stop Colin Beverly (Ed Begley Jr.) who wants to blow up the theater and replace it with a high rise business building. They’ve even planted a bomb in the place that is set to go off when the clock strikes midnight unless Neil can somehow get to it first.

The film is directed by Allan Arkush who also did the cult hit Rock ‘N’ Roll High School and it has similar cartoonish, slam-bang paced gags as well as featuring some of the same actors including Paul Bartel who appears here as a Dr. wearing a blood splattered white coat and Mary Woronov. It also makes a playful reference to that film by having one of the characters (Stacey Nelkin) wearing a Ramones T-shirt. I ended up preferring this movie to that one as the humor has more of a satirical edge.

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It’s all loosely based on Arkush’s experiences working at the Fillmore East Rock Palace between the years of 1968 to 1971. He initially wanted to make it more of a realistic, subtle comedy, but was only able to get it funded when he agreed to turn into an Airplane-like formula, but it still succeeds anyway. In fact one of the things I really liked about this film is it gives the viewer despite its exaggerated nature a good composite of what things are like for someone who would work at one of these places and the audience seems genuinely raucous and very much like what you would find at a wild rock party of that era.

Stern is likable in the lead and Miles Chapin is engaging as his would-be nemesis. Begley is a bit boring as the villain in a type of role that doesn’t take advantage of his talents, but singer Lou Reed as a songwriter going through a creative bloc who uses bits of random conversations that he hears as ‘inspiration’ for his lyrics is quite funny. The true scene stealer though is McDowell who sings two knock-out songs that are better than the ones done by the rock bands.

Although it was made and takes place during the 80’s  it still seems much more like a 70’s movie especially with the free-basing drug use, which had become out-of-style during the ‘just say no’ decade as well as unprotected sex between strangers. However, McDowell’s conversation with his talking penis while inside a dingy bathroom more than makes up for any of the film’s other shortcomings. I also got a kick out of the poster of him that features giant roaming eyes and a moving tongue.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 5, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Allan Arkush

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: VHS

Class of 1999 (1990)

class of 1999 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The teachers are robots.

The year is 1999 and American high schools are running rampant with drugs and gang warfare. In an attempt to try to regain some control administrators have hired on a company run by Dr. Bob Forrest (Stacy Keach) who has created teachers who look human, but are actually robots capable of exerting extreme punishment on those students who get out-of-line. A Seattle high school is chosen as a venue to test these robots out with Miles Langford (Malcolm McDowell) being the only human instructor made aware of these other teacher’s identities. At first things go well and civil behavior from the unruly teens is attained, but then the teachers get out-of-control where even their creators are unable to rein them in, so it is up to some rebel teen students lead by Cody (Cody Culp) to fight them off and stop them.

This is a sort-of sequel to writer/director Mark L. Lester’s earlier Class of 1984 and in many ways on a low budget scale it’s alright. I watched this film with my Cinema Terrible group here in Austin where we get together each month to watch two really bad movies. Usually everyone spends the time making fun at what they are watching, but this film surprisingly kept them quiet and captivated, which no one had initially expected. Lester has directed 33 of these types of films since 1971 and he knows how to deliver. His product certainly isn’t on an Academy Award winning level, but for those looking for some cheap non-think entertainment with a fast pace and decent effects then this ain’t too bad.

The best element of the film is John P. Ryan, Pam Grier and Patrick Kilpatrick as the three teacher robots. Ryan especially owns the screen during all of his scenes and the part where he takes some difficult students one-by-one over his knee and gives them a nice long, hard spanking is without question the best moment of the whole movie. Grier though is good too and during the climatic sequence she runs around essentially topless with her chest ripped open and her computer parts exposed, which I found to be well done. McDowell is the only one of the familiar names who is wasted and apparently only worked 2 days on the production.

The film’s biggest issue is that it has no sense of humor despite its over-the-top campy premise. The teen cast show minimal acting ability and their characters come off like walking, talking clichés. In a lot of ways this film would have been better had the evil teacher robots been portrayed as ‘the good guys’ and instead of being annihilated at the end by the students they were the ones who eradicated all of the mouthy, crude and disrespectful teens, which some would consider to be much more of a ‘happy ending’.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1990

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: Vestron Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube