Tag Archives: Peter Weller

Firstborn (1984)

first born 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Mom’s shitty new boyfriend.

Wendy (Teri Garr) is a divorced mother living with her two teenaged sons Jake (Christopher Collet) and Brian (Corey Haim in his film debut). She begins to feel lonely and insecure when her ex Alan (Richard Brandon) finds another woman and gets remarried. On the rebound she latches onto Sam (Peter Weller) a drifter who can’t seem to hold down a job and deals drugs on the side. He moves in and begins an antagonistic relationship with older son Jake that spirals out-of-control and turns the once peaceful household into a war zone.

I liked the realism particularly the way the anger and animosity come to a head slowly. The characters and dialogue are believable and the film portrays teenagers far more accurately than most other ‘80s flicks. The violent confrontation at the end is exciting, but in some ways I found the way Jake locks horns with his equally bullying English teacher Mr.  Rader (James Harper) as being just as compelling if not more.

On the negative end the plot is by-the-numbers and does not offer any twist or interesting added angle. The characters don’t grow or change and the film lacks a much needed denouncement where we could’ve seen how the ordeal helped them evolve as a family.

Garr is perfectly cast as a vulnerable character and the idea of a lonely divorcee finding someone on the rebound while conveniently ignoring the red flags until it is too late happens quite a lot. Collet is tolerable, but gets out shined by his younger costars including Sarah Jessica Parker as his girlfriend and Robert Downey Jr. as his school chum as well as Haim who clearly display more on-camera charisma and show why they all ended up with the longer, more memorable careers.

corey haim

sarah jessica 2

Weller is convincing as the heavy, but the film is one-dimensional and fails to offer any insight. If you want to catch this simply to see the young stars before they were famous then it will be a fun flick despite the subject matter, but overall it’s nothing special and has an atrocious music score.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 26, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated: PG-13

Director: Michael Apted

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

adventures of buckaro banzai 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: This thing is weird.

Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) is part-time rock band singer who has invented a mechanism that he calls the oscillation overthruster that allows him to travel through rocks and other solid matter. He is somehow able to do this by tapping into the realms of the 8th dimension, but upon doing so he also attracts the attention of some aliens lead by Lord John Whorfin (Jon Lithgow) who wants to steal the device and use it for their own nefarious needs. Buckaroo, who is able to recognize these aliens who otherwise look human to everyone else after being zapped by some electronic component through a telephone receiver by a group of other aliens, gets a group of fellow geeks together to help fight the evil Whorfin and his men before it is too late.

In a lot of ways this film is a refreshing change-of-pace and it is not surprising that it has attained such a strong cult following. Most films with such an offbeat concept end up selling out and becoming quite formulaic and conventional with only a few odd elements thrown in for good measure, but this movie is completely weird in all facets and truly lives up to its campy over-the-top title. I loved the off-the-wall banter, ridiculously silly, but still quite entertaining special effects and characters that are uniformly warped. The comic book look is great and the story gets increasingly more absurd as it goes along. You have to tune out your logic and conventional movie mode to get into this and enjoy it, but the humor and chuckles are there if you let it.

Unfortunately the pace as well as the beginning become a bit too off. I found things to be completely confusing at the start that I really couldn’t understand what was going on for the whole first half-hour. The film seemed to jump from one outlandish scene and character to the next without any cohesion and the result was quite off-putting. It wasn’t until about 45 minutes in that I was able to finally get into the groove with it, but more of a background to the characters and a set-up would have helped greatly. There are still enough memorably unique moments to make it worth it including my favorite the Banzai Team March, which was filmed at the Sepulveda Dam in the San Fernando Valley and shown over the closing credits.

Weller is in fine form in the lead and seems much more at ease with this role than he was in Robocop where he came off as being miscast. Lithgow is a hoot as an over-the-top villain speaking with a heavy Russian/German accent. I also enjoyed Matt Clark as the Secretary of Defense who acts as if he is above all rules of protocol until finally being put into his place by a little kid with a rifle.

The closing credits listed a follow-up title that was supposedly going to be a sequel that unfortunately was never made due to the film’s production company going out of business, which is a shame as this thing had strong potential of becoming a major franchise. W.D. Richter who has an impressive screenwriting resume does well in his directorial debut and it’s an equal shame that he only helmed one other movie at this point as he shows potential to being uniquely talented in that position.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 10, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 43Minutes

Rated PG

Director: W.D. Richter

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Shoot the Moon (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: A look at divorce.

After fifteen years the marriage between George and Faith Dunlap (Albert Finney, Diane Keaton) finally dissolves. He has been carrying on an affair with another woman (Karen Allen) and so he is forced to move out of their house and away from their four daughters. Sherry (Dana Hill) the oldest is angry at him and refuses to speak or even spend time with him when he has custody of the children, which starts to create major friction. Faith begins a relationship with Frank (Peter Heller) a handyman who has come over to build a tennis court in their backyard and when George finds out about this his simmering temper eventually boils over in an uncontrolled and frightening way.

If there is one thing you take away from this film it is in the luscious photography of the San Francisco bay area. The large, isolated two-story house looks almost like a dream location and was specifically built for the picture and filmed in Nicasio, California. The scenes showing George writing at his typewriter next to a window exposing crashing waves of the ocean and well as his pondering things in a small rowboat all alone in a still lake have the same dream-like quality and an ambience that allows for a rush to the senses.

The film also has an interesting music score because there is no composer credited for it even though it has pieces of simple piano interludes played throughout, which effectively reflects the mood of the film and characters and proves once again that less truly is more.

The family life scenes are on-target with everything from the perpetually chaotic atmosphere of four kids running around with endless energy to the always cluttered rooms and the mother seen picking up their discarded toys and clothes. The children are portrayed as being realistically perceptive and ask some pointed questions and not as naïve as most adults may like to believe. Hill is a real standout and her final meeting with her father late at night on a dock beside a lake is touching. Although she was 18 at the time because of her severe diabetes that stunted her growth she looks very much like the 13-year-old that she was portraying.

There are some memorable scenes including the amusing moments inside and outside a courtroom as well as Faith and George having a shouting match inside a fancy restaurant that ends up involving another couple sitting next to them. George’s angry tirade at the end in which he destroys the brand new tennis court with his car is exhilarating.

The only liability is with Finney himself. Normally he is a superior actor, but he is miscast here. For one thing there was too much of an age difference between him and Keaton and at times he almost looks more like her father. Weller who plays her boyfriend seems much more like her type and he would have been a better choice as the husband. Finney’s character borders on being unlikable and comes off at times as being a prick of the highest order. His blowups at Faith for seeing another man and at Sherry for not talking to him seem unreasonable especially since he started it all by having an affair. I did like the part though were he helps Timmy the young son of his new girlfriend late at night when he gets sick and the comment that his new girlfriend makes to him when he comes back to bed with her is a gem.

The film gives a great overall look at the emotional side of divorce, but it fails to dig any deeper.  We gain no real insight to these characters or what caused the marriage to go bad in the first place, which ultimately makes this otherwise slick production rather shallow and placid.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1982

Runtime: 2Hour 4Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan Parker

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD, YouTube 

Robocop (1987)

robocop 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cop becomes a robot.

In Detroit of the near future the city has become overrun with criminals and an underfunded city government is forced to allow a large corporation by the name of OCP to help run its police force. The company is headed by Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) and their chairman (Dan O’Herlihy) who are constantly looking for new and more sophisticated crime fighting weapons and come up with the idea of creating a half human half robot type cyborg using the body parts of a recently deceased officer named Alex J. Murphy (Peter Weller). Initially it’s a great success, but the robot starts to have memories of Alex’s past and becomes fixated with hunting down the scumbags who killed him while avoiding Jones and his men who want to destroy the robot so Jones’s own invention the ED-209 can replace him.

When compared to other big-budgeted studio action flicks this one far and away outshines them all. Director Paul Verhoeven seemed to be given an amazing amount of freedom to create a film with a distinct vision that manages to be both exciting and multi-dimensional. The final shootout at an abandoned steel mill has a particularly nihilistic look and feel more common in European films. The jabs of satirical humor also make this much more enjoyable and entertaining than the run-of-the-mill actioner. My favorite bits included the commercial advertising the family board game call ‘Nukem’ and the outrageous demands of a gunman holding up the mayor’s office as well as the overnight gas station attendant working on geometry problems.

The action is quite good and the film manages to attain a fluid level that allows the graphic violence to work in tandem with the offbeat touches while not being jarring or disjointed. The special effects were decent although the ED-209 robot looks too much like one of those Ray Harryhausen stop-action creations that was clearly a miniaturized model blown up to giant proportions by optical effects. The result is a bit cheesy by today’s standards although the part where the machine is chasing Robocop and slips down a flight of stairs and then lays on its backside while flailing its legs in the air like a wailing child is quite possibly the film’s best moment.

There is also a rather prolonged torture segment where a criminal gang led by Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) traps Murphy in a steel mill and proceeds to shoot off his arm and hand while laughing at him as he screams in pain. Despite its unsettling nature I liked that this scene was put in as too many times Hollywood takes on dark themed stories, but then makes them tasteful and mainstream. This scene breaks that mold while truly reflecting the vile nature of the people and the world that they live in. It allows vicious characters to be nasty without it having to be implied and shocks the viewer a bit out of their comfort zone, which a true nihilistic movie should do.

The only problem that I had with the scene is that after taunting Murphy and blowing off his limbs they end up shooting him in the head and effectively making him brain dead, which makes the scenes later on where he remembers his past and is even aware of the people who are turning him into a robot seem unrealistic. A better idea would have been to have the men just walk away laughing while allowing Murphy to remain conscious , which would have worked better with their already vindictive nature as shooting him in the head given the circumstances seemed too ‘humane’ like they were putting him out of his misery. It also would have kept his brain functioning and allowed the later segments to be more believable.

Star Weller is so covered up with the massive suit that he has to wear that he becomes transparent and making the bad guys much more colorful and memorable. The character needed more of a backstory and a few distinctive personality traits. I also felt that the history between his character and Officer Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) should have been more than just one day on the job.

Miguel Ferrer captures the caricature of the young, upwardly mobile do-whatever-it-takes-to-get-ahead 80’s yuppie persona so well that he was one unlikable character I wished had stayed on for the entire duration. Smith who has become so well known in more benign roles in his later career really scores as a particularly vile bad guy.

My only real complaint is that the visuals were not all that futuristic looking. The police station resembled the one on the old ‘Barney Miller’ TV-show and the police cars looked very much like 80’s models. The remake of the film, which is set to be released today, may do a better job of creating more modernistic visuals.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: July 17, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Studio: Orion Pictures Corporation

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