Tag Archives: Michael Murphy

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

Brewster McCloud (1970)

brewster mccloud 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Flying in the Astrodome.

Brewster McCloud (Bud Cort) is a young man who lives and hides inside the giant Astrodome in Houston, Texas. He dreams of one day flying like a bird and secretly works on building a contraption that will help him do it while being aided by a mysterious guardian angel named Louise (Sally Kellerman). Meanwhile strangulations start occurring all over the city and the police become convinced that Brewster may have something to do with it. As he gets ready to ‘spread his wings’ and fly for the first time the police surround the place and try to arrest him.

This film is reportedly director Robert Altman’s favorite out of all the ones that he did and it is easy to see why. The quirky, offbeat script by Doran William Cannon nicely compliments Altman’s free-form, cerebral style. The film works on many different levels with every shot and scene being unique and a kind of story in itself. The dream-like quality is nicely balanced with harsh realities creating an interesting theme that touches a wide array of senses. Although this film is never mentioned in relation to car chases the one that is has is exciting and well photographed without any of the jump cuts that you normally see.

The city of Houston gets captured well and I liked the fact that Altman stayed away from the downtown and instead focused more on the neighborhoods and city streets. The filming of the inside of the Astrodome is the most impressive and the building becomes like a third character. It may seem hard to believe now, but at one time it was considered ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ and was the very first dome stadium in existence. Watching Cort fly around on the makeshift wings he creates gives off an exhilarating feeling especially with the way Altman captures it against the backdrop of the stadium’s ceiling filled with skylights. The best shot in my opinion though is the bird’s-eye view of seeing Kellerman walking the entire length of the field and out the exit.

The broad and amusing characterizations are fun and Altman gives his actors wide range to create them. Some of the best ones are Stacy Keach who is unrecognizable under heavy make-up as an elderly, cantankerous and greedy landlord who goes reeling down the city streets in nothing but a wheel chair. Bert Remsen is good as a corrupt and racist policeman who even beats and berates his own family. Michael Murphy is interesting as a narcissist, hotshot detective who ends up killing himself and Rene Auberjonois as the lecturer who slowly turns into a giant bird as the film progresses. There is even the aging Margaret Hamilton who says a few curse words and dies while wearing her ruby red slippers.

The film is one-of-a-kind and perfect fare for those looking for something offbeat and diverting. The kooky opening and ending title sequences alone make it worth it. My only real complaint would be the fact that supposedly a bird is committing all these strangulations, but we never see how. All the viewers see is the victims getting bird poop on them and nothing more. I realize this might have been technically difficult to film or visualize, but for such an otherwise creative movie this seems like a bit of a cop-out.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: December 5, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD

Countdown (1967)

countdown

By Richard Winters

My Rating:  7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man lands on moon.

Lee (James Caan) and Chiz (Robert Duvall) are astronauts who are part of the Apollo 3 mission training to land on the moon. The liftoff date is still a year away when it is found that the Russians have already built a rocket ready for takeoff and plan on sending a man to the moon within the next few days. NASA decides to beat the Soviets by sending one of their men in an older style rocket and then having him live there for one year inside a shelter. Lee is chosen to go instead of Chiz much to his consternation and despite the fact that he had more training, but the project proves to be even more difficult than expected and Lee’s inexperience creates concerns that it might not succeed.

This is an unusual space drama in the fact that you see very little action that takes place in outer space or the moon. The main emphasis is on the human point-of-view both with the people directly involved with the project as well as their families and loved ones. The movie focuses on the behind-the-scenes competition and politics and in the process creates a realistic and vivid viewpoint. The story is engrossing and compelling wrapping the viewer in right away and never letting them go. Despite being over 40-years-old it doesn’t seem dated at all and I had to keep reminding myself that I was watching a 60’s movie.

Duvall is a standout as the very emotional and competitive Chiz. I enjoyed seeing the way he initially refuses to help Lee train for the mission when it is found that he was chosen instead of himself, but then reluctantly comes around and becomes both Lee’s mentor and biggest source of support. Caan’s more restrained performance is a nice contrast to Duvall’s volatile one and it is interesting to compare the work the two do here with The Godfather film that they both starred in 5 years later where they played the completely opposite characters.

Joanna Moore is also excellent as Lee’s wife Mickey who goes through a mixed bag of emotions during Lee’s tumultuous training and eventual flight. She’s the first wife of Ryan O’Neal and the mother of Tatum and Griffin who never achieved stardom due to her bouts with alcoholism and guest starred more in TV-shows than movies, but I have always found her to be impressive and unique in everything that I have seen her in. This is also a great chance to see up-and-coming actors in bit roles including Ted Knight, Mike Farrell, and Michael Murphy.

This was director Robert Altman’s first theatrical feature and he does great work here although you will not see any of his trademark ‘Altmanisisms’.  I did see it budding in certain small ways including a party scene that seemed like a real get together with people actually congregating and having lingering background conversations as the camera moves through the crowd versus the conventional way where the main characters stand directly in front of the camera and then only shows stand-ins in the background who are out-of-focus and moving their mouths, but not really saying anything. I also liked that when they are counting down for liftoff it gets paused when a technical issue is found.  This reminded me of the many times when I would watch on television in the 80’s the countdown for the Space Shuttle liftoff and how it would get paused in a similar way sometimes with just a few seconds to go because of certain similar glitches. Most films fail to show this, so it was nice to see it here.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1967

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)