Steven Spielberg

Duel

1971

Universal Studios

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Produced by George Eckstein

Written by Richard Matheson

Before we get into the actual review a brief history lesson: The Made-For-TV Movie is a phrase you don’t hear much these days but it was used all the time back in the 1960’s and especially during the 1970’s when ABC, CBS and NBC who at that time were The Big Three of programming got into the business of producing their own movies specifically made for a television audience and tailored for 90 minute prime time broadcast television viewing slots. Which meant that no longer did they have to rely on movies they purchased from Hollywood movie studios. Now all three networks had their own special movie night but the one that most people remember is the “ABC Movie Of The Week” which aired from 1969 to 1976 on Tuesday nights. ABC had other movies nights such as their Sunday Night Movie but those were generally theatrical features. And of course there was the long-running and classic “The 4:30 Movie” which had an opening credit that was so popular it eventually was adopted as the opening for all of ABC’s late night movies:

And then of course there’s the opening for The Tuesday Night Movies itself:

Now, yes, most of ABC’s Tuesday Movie Of The Week’s movies were forgettable, disposal entertainment.  Many TV series such as “The Six Million Dollar Man” “Alias Smith and Jones” “The Immortal” and “Starsky and Hutch” made their debut as 90 minute pilot films here. And then you had a whole truckload of movies that are still remembered and indeed have become legendary in pop entertainment culture. “The Love War” “Brian’s Song” which is still hailed today as one of the best football movies ever made and a movie that guys unashamedly admit they cry when they watch it. “A Cold Night’s Death” which is a movie that screams to be remade. “The Legend of Lizzie Borden” starring Elizabeth Montgomery. “Get Christie Love!” “Bad Ronald” “Haunts Of The Very Rich” And then there’s the movie we’re going to talk about now: DUEL, which along with “Trilogy of Terror” and “The Night Stalker” comprises The Holy Trinity of Made-For-TV horror movies.

DUEL is a Made-For-TV Movie with the most interesting history of any Made-For-TV Movie. It’s directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Richard Matheson, based on his short story originally published in Playboy. The movie was only Steven Spielberg’s second feature-length directing job and the movie proved to be such a critical success and ratings hit that Universal asked Spielberg to spend a couple of days filming additional scenes and it was then released to theaters overseas where it played to sold-out audiences. Then, amazingly, Universal released DUEL theatrically in some venues here in the United States. This was an unheard of event back in those days and Universal was rewarded with DUEL going on to make a very respectable profit in its limited U.S. theatrical run.

But it’s no surprise to me why the movie has gone on to earn the reputation it has. Next to “Trilogy of Terror” and “The Night Stalker” DUEL is probably the best known Made-For-TV Movie of all time and rightly so. It’s a white-knuckle thriller that taps into the deepest fear of any motorist on the highway. I know that for me, DUEL is a movie that represents one of my worst nightmares. A movie like “Saw” doesn’t scare me at all because there is zero chance of me being forced to play some bizarre game by a hyper-intelligent serial killer. But there’s every chance I can innocently piss off some maniac behind the wheel of a truck and without meaning to find myself engaged in a life or death battle on a highway.

David Mann (Dennis Weaver) starts out his day peacefully enough. He’s a salesman, driving on his way to an important business meeting. In a wonderful bit of characterization, during a phone conversation with his wife (Jacqueline Scott) we learn that David actively works at avoiding confrontation, a personality trait that greatly factors into what happens to him during the course of his horrifying day.

During his drive he encounters a tanker truck driving slower than the posted speed limit. David passes the truck and thinks no more of it. But after a stop at a gas station he is passed by the same truck which gets in front of him and again slows down. David again passes the truck and the truck’s driver (who we never see) appears to take umbrage with this as he first tries to trick David into a collision with another vehicle. The truck’s driver continually ups the ante of this deadly game, chasing David down the highway, trying to push his vehicle into the path of a passing freight train. As this long day goes on, David cannot escape the fact that the driver of the truck is trying to kill him and if David wants to survive he is going to have to stop running and confront his unseen enemy.

And eventually it does come down to just David and the truck driver. David cannot convince anybody he meets along the road that this man is trying to kill him. Taken from a psychological point of view, the truck represents David’s fear of confrontation that is relentlessly pursuing him, forcing him to make a stand and fight for what his important to him. In this case: his life.

But you can throw that psychological stuff out the window. Taken purely as a horror movie, DUEL delivers on every level. Dennis Weaver gives an Academy Award level performance. He’s on screen for the entire running time of the movie and he is just flat out terrific. He is never less than totally convincing as this perfectly regular guy caught up in a situation way over his head, caught up in a deadly road game with a serial killer and no idea of how he’s going to survive.

So should you see DUEL? Absolutely YES. DUEL is an absolute masterpiece of suspense on all levels. You can see echoes of Spielberg’s later work on “Jaws” in this movie and the story by Richard Matheson is so tight it hurts. I’ve provided a link below where you can watch the complete movie on YouTube. If you’ve never seen DUEL before, do yourself a favor and watch it right now. Enjoy.

Jaws

1975

Universal Studios

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Produced by David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck

Screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb

Music by John Williams

I headed into the den with a 3 liter of Coca-Cola, a bag of potato chips the size of a Dickensian urchin and a carton of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups.  My wife Patricia knows the signs well and asked me what movie I was going to watch.  “JAWS” I reply.  She shook her head slightly and said; “How many times have you seen that?”  I really couldn’t answer her.  In between its original theatrical run where I first saw it and now, I really couldn’t say.  Maybe eleven or twelve times. Probably more.  But to me it really doesn’t matter.  I don’t keep count.  JAWS is one of those movies that I can cheerfully watch over and over again.  Patricia is like most people, I think: she watches a movie once and then she really can’t be bothered to see it again.  My brain is hardwired a different way.  A movie like JAWS I can see over and over again because for me it’s so rare that elements of horror, high adventure, human conflict, drama and even comedy are married so well to a bedrock solid story and acting so natural that you forget you’re watching a movie and have an out-of-body experience that transports you to another world.  It would happen again two years later when Steven Spielberg’s boy George Lucas conquered the world with “Star Wars” but that’s another review.  Let’s get back to JAWS.

Amity Island is a summer resort town gearing up for its big Fourth of July weekend.  Amity Island residents and merchants depend on the summer tourist dollars to support them through the fall and winter so they’re not happy when the mangled body of a girl is washed up on the beach.  They’re even less happy when Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) determines that the girl was the victim of a shark attack and plans to close the beaches.  Town Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) assures the merchants and residents that everything will be fine.  Mayor Vaughn has a positively brilliant genius for self-delusion because even after a young boy is killed by the shark he still insists that there’s nothing wrong in Amity and they’re going to have a great summer.

Brody isn’t so optimistic and he enlists the help of marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) to help him catch and kill the shark.  A shark that Hooper informs both Brody and Vaughn just isn’t any shark: it’s a Great White Shark.  A fish that is the Galactus of all sharks.  Hooper says it best: “It does nothing but swim, eat and make baby Great White Sharks.” But it isn’t until the shark kills another innocent and almost gets Brody’s son that Brody can get the beaches closed and gets the authorization from Mayor Vaughn to hire professional shark killer Quint (Robert Shaw) to kill the shark.  Quint wants $10,000.  Brody says fine as long as he and Hooper can go along.  Quint reluctantly agrees and the three men set off in Quint’s boat ‘The Orca’ to track down and kill the beast.  It’s a quest that takes up the second half of the movie and it’s one of the most nail-biting quests in movie history.  It’s frightening, horrifying and even touching.

JAWS has been called a modern-day “Moby Dick” and there’s a lot of validity in that.  The three men all are obsessed with finding and killing the shark for their own reasons.   Hooper is simply crazy about sharks and has been since one almost ate him when he was a boy.  Brody feels an overwhelming sense of guilt for the death of the young boy.  Quint is a survivor of the World War II sinking of The USS Indianapolis in which a large number of men spent days in the water being attacked by packs of sharks.  The Amity Great White itself exhibits behavior that both Hooper and Quint have never seen in a Great White Shark before, giving the creature an even deeper layer of menace.  In fact, it even seems to be leading the three men further and further out to sea…

Chances are you’ve probably seen JAWS so I don’t have to tell you how great a movie it is.  JAWS works on a lot of levels during the first half of the movie.  I like the politics of how a summer resort island depends on tourist dollars and how that can make otherwise perfectly reasonable human beings turn a blind eye to the fact that they have an eating machine swimming around their island.  I like how Police Chief Brody is almost a comedic character in a lot of scenes.  Roy Scheider brings an amazing amount of humanity and warmth to the character of Brody.  He’s not a superman.  In fact he’s really not all that good a Police Chief.  But he is a good man who wants to do the right thing and he’s willing to put his ass on the line to do it and in the end that’s what really matters.  Richard Dreyfuss is outstanding as Matt Hooper and you really get the sense that the two men forge a solid friendship as they figure out what to do about this situation.  Murray Hamilton has a hard job in this movie but I admire the way he pulls it off.  I’ve discussed JAWS with so-called movie fans who say that they don’t think the movie is realistic because anybody with any common sense would have closed the beaches after the first shark attack (these are the same people who think that “Friday The 13th Part III” is a horror classic) but Hamilton’s character is one that exists in the real world and even though he makes horrendously bad choices we understand why he makes those choices even though we don’t agree with them.  It’s a much underrated performance and among the best in the movie.  In fact, the only performance that I can do without is Lorraine Gary as I don’t think she’s as good an actress as Tanya Roberts and I think Tanya Roberts is the worst actress to have ever lived.

Robert Shaw walks away with the acting honors in this one.  His Quint is a memorable character in every sense of the word in that we get the real sense that this is a character that had a life before this movie started.  Most people cite Roy Scheider’s “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” as the classic scene in JAWS but Robert Shaw had one just as good with Richard Dreyfuss that never fails to crack me up: Hooper is loading a shark cage aboard Quint’s boat…

Quint: What d’ye have there?

Hooper:  Anti-shark cage

Quint: (after a beat) Anti-shark cage.  You go in the cage?

Hooper: Yeah

Quint: Cage goes in the water?

Hooper: Yeah

Quint: Shark’s in the water?

Hooper: Yeah.

Quint then walks away singing “Spanish Ladies” in such a manner that is so well timed you can’t help but bust out laughing.  At least I can’t.  That whole scene between Shaw and Dreyfuss is a wonderfully played comedic bit that The Marx Brothers would have been jealous of.  Shaw and Dreyfuss have another great scene later on where they drunkenly compare battle scars and sing “Show Me The Way To Go Home”

I’ve gone on long enough.  Either you’ve seen JAWS and you agree with me or not.  Or maybe you haven’t seen it.  If you haven’t I strongly recommend that you do so.  It’s a movie that succeeds on the level of sheer entertainment value.  Trust me, 75% of the crap Hollywood throws on the Cineplex screens today doesn’t compare with JAWS in terms of suspense, excitement, characterization and great storytelling.  It was the movie that made Steven Spielberg a major player in Hollywood and it was the first “summer blockbuster” being the first movie to make $100 million dollars in theatrical release.   It’s also a fine example of the talent and professionalism that Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw brought to their work.   Among the many fine and outstanding roles they both played, their work in JAWS will be remembered as among their best.

124 minutes

Rated PG

BiTD Basement of Horrors!

It’s become a tradition–around Halloween, The Boys Outta Brooklyn always discuss horror films you might not have considered when planning your movie marathons for the spookiest holiday of all. And during the past seven years we’ve build up a graveyard full of spooktacular episodes focusing on the creepy and the ooky as well as the mysterious and kooky. Here’s a complete listing of the horror themed episodes of BETTER IN THE DARK. Maybe you’ve listened to some or all of ‘em of them before. But if you haven’t, here they go. Bounce on over to the BiTD Fan Page Episode Archive and get to clickin’! 

EPISODE #5: Once again with more enthusiasm than facts (although we’re getting better), Tom and Derrick spend an hour looking at George Romero’s DEAD series. From NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to LAND OF THE DEAD we examine the entire canon, including the remakes. Plus, the guys from Brooklyn tackle the eternal question of “Canada–what gives?”

EPISODE #12: What Made Haddonfield Famous–The Halloween Series
The Guys Outta Brooklyn unleash almost 90 minutes of filmic goodness. Join Thomas and Derrick as they go through the entire eight-film cycle, from the John Carpenter classic to the dumb-ass sight of Busta Rhymes kung fu-ing Michael Meyers. No film goes unmentioned or unpunished!

Episode #17: Hunting In A Black Cemetery For A Haunted Phantasm Before Dawn
Join the Boys From Brooklyn as they discuss with more enthusiasm than facts six of their favorite horror films. From the classic-but-near-forgotten PHANTASM to the insanely wrong-headed (in the positive sense) CEMETARY MAN we’re sure to turn you onto something that’s perfect for your tastes. Also, Tom and Derrick talk about the charms of both versions of THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. It’s a gruesome grab bag of cinematic chillers, so what are you waiting for?

EPISODE #43: The Sleepy Wicker Man Under The Stairs On The Descent To Hell’s Cell
Join Derrick and Tom as they discuss such underground classics as the British pagan thriller THE WICKER MAN, the African-American economic scare story THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, the very literal comedic horror tale HIGHWAY TO HELL and other treats to trick you into screaming! Plus Thomas imitates Gilbert Gottfried, the Guys discuss movies to make you claustrophobic, and we ponder the fate of Patrick Bergin.

EPISODE #59: BLACK GLOVES ARE FOR MURDER: THE GIALLO STYLINGS OF DARIO ARGENTO
The Guys Outta Brooklyn go continental as we examine a quintet of giallo films by the man who helped originate the genre, Dario Argento! From the insanely plotted but compelling TENEBRAE to the insanely plotted and craptacular TRAUMA to the clip show love letter DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK?, Tom and Derrick examine the handiwork of this seminal Italian director. Plus Tom gets an excuse to trot out another accent, how the Three Mothers trilogy is like Kill Bill and a word from our sponsor, The Argento Decapomatic! You know it’s all like a dream brought on by too much Ziti Fra Diablo, so get to clicking!

EPISODE #61: TRIUMVERATE OF PASSION AND TERROR–THE FILMS OF CLIVE BARKER
Tom and Derrick team up with Des Reddick, host of Dread Media as they discuss the unique cinematic vision of Clive Barker! Join the trio as they examine HELLRAISER, NIGHTBREED and LORD OF ILLUSION, as well as a number of other films based on the writer’s work. Plus far too many references to baboon butt, teaching our Junior Correspondent how to properly punch his dad, and how Jennifer Rubin ended up on the poster of Nightbreed! It’s a damn sight better than murdering the world, so get to clicking!

EPISODE #67: BEHIND THE DUEL OF MARY LOU, THE LITTLE GIRL WHO BURNT SATAN’S CLAW
Derrick chooses three films from the 70’s including one of Steven Spielberg’s first and a creepy guignol tale featuring a young Jodie Foster, and Tom chooses such gems as a high school ghost story and a ‘documentary’ that follows an aspiring serial killer as he plans his night of grue! It’s a six-pack of sinister ideas–plus some suggestions for a second feature to make those choices even more fun–so get to clicking!

EPISODE #72: TRANSPORTING MR. ROMERO
It started out as a simple episode examining the career of George Romero by looking at some non-zombie movies in his canon. But before it’s done, the Boys Outta Brooklyn will find themselves engaging in the first–and maybe last–edition of Better In The Dark Fight Night, featuring a selection of action movie stars…and Tom Savini. Plus Derrick tells us why Wes Craven deserves a daily kick in the ass, Tom has fun with public domain blaxploitation films, and gratuitous Kristen Bell. After all, it wouldn’t be an authentic BiTD episode without gratuitous Kristen Bell, right?

EPISODE #81: WHAT MADE SPRINGWOOD FAMOUS: THE NIGHTMARE SERIES
In an episode three years in the making, Derrick does for Freddy Krueger what Tom did for Michael Myers and examines the entire NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET ouvre, from the absolutely classic first entry through the rather…goofy end to the attempts to recreate the series in WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE and the monster rally FREDDY VS. JASON! Along the way, The Guys Outta Brooklyn discuss the importance of Robert Englund in creating this horror icon, how Wes Craven attempted to kill the franchise repeatedly, and how the films, as bad as they got never lost money. Plus…we find a connection between the series and the ultra-obscure Adam Sandler vehicle The Unsinkable Shecky Moscowitz and address a great disservice done to Curtis Mayfield. Every town has an Elm Street so get to clickin’!

EPISODE #88: DIRECTOR’S COURT–THE CASE OF ROGER CORMAN
The latest edition of Better In The Dark brings an icon of Drive-In Cinema before the docket! Tom and Derrick examine the influence American original Roger Corman had on Hollywood as both a director and a producer in a career that spans five decades. From his Poe adaptations to the long list of creative types he influenced to the series of giant animal movies that prowl the fringes of Syfy, Corman entire life is put under the microscope. Plus Tom and Derrick mourn Gary Coleman, who you should never patronize a business run by Klaus Kinski, and why a certain film should’ve been renamed MURDER HYUNDAIS! You’ve never lost money listening to us, so get to clicking!

Episode #90: WHO CAN SHANK THE STRANGE CORRUPTION OF THE GRIM PRAIRIE SAUNA (Special Guest–Des Reddick)
It’s time for this year’s iteration of a Better In The Dark tradition, as Tom and Derrick once again provide you with suggestions for Obscure Horror Films to light up your Halloween festivities. This year, however, they welcome the Patriarch of the First Family of BITD (and host of Dread Media), Des Reddick, to join in. The results are an international six pack of horror flicks ranging from the Finish period piece SAUNA to the New Zealand (pretending to be Nebraska) should’ve been a period piece STRANGE BEHAVIOR to the Spanish chiller WHO COULD KILL A CHILD. Plus zombie chickens! Tom Cruise sitting around in his underwear! The world’s most unscary home invaders! Everything goes better with monkeys, so get to clicking!

Episode #116: The Company of Beguiled Wittering Magic Shadows Must Die (Guest: Desmond Reddick)

The Boys Outta Brooklyn once more sit down with their Brother From the North, Des “Dread Media” Reddick, to discuss another six-pack of Obscure Horror Films designed to spice up your Halloween marathons! Tom, Derrick, and Des put the spotlight on werewolves and maniacs, with films set in the Old West, Feudal Japan, a fairy tale forest, and a British boarding school. Plus, oysters, monkeys, and most importantly, The Werewolf Break! You know one of us is a beast, so get to clicking!

Episode #118: Gatekeepers of Childhood Nightmares – The American Horror Host Tradition (Guest: Lord Blood Rah)

The Guys Outta Brooklyn return to their upbringing when they welcome modern-day horror movie host Lord Blood Rah to discuss the origins, history, and resurgence of the American Horror Movie Host tradition! Of course, this being a guest host episode of Better in the Dark, it soon morphs into a freewheeling discussion of the state of horror movies in general. It’s almost two hours of fun and frights in the BITD manner! Plus, the forgotten blaxploitation mummy epic, why Dr. Frankenstein always has the upper hand when other mad scientists host tea parties, and why it might be a good thing that Guillermo del Toro isn’t adapting Lovecraft. It’s time to cut up that giant ameba, so get to clicking!

Episode #129. Director’s Court – Tim Burton

The Boys Outta Brooklyn reconvene Director’s Court to pass judgement on Tim Burton. Tom and Derrick cover the man’s entire career, and try to figure out if he is still blazing new trails or relying on the same old tropes. Plus, Derrick knows the value of Johnny Depp to moviegoers, why the Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka may be a demented serial killer, and, for the first time ever, our subject may get his revenge. You know Spectre is really swell, so get to clicking!

Episode #130. The Gentleman with Blood in His Teeth – A Celebration of Christopher Lee

The Boys Outta Brooklyn raise their glasses to honor the great Christopher Lee! Join Tom and Derrick as they explain why this is one of the most remarkable actors they’ve ever discussed, and not just because of his defining horror film roles! If that’s not enough, they struggle to explain the plot of one of Lee’s weirdest films, the insane Scream and Scream Again! Plus, Tom sings heavy metal, Derrick suspects the word “Huguenots” is dirty, and writing talk. You know the world will hear from us again, so get to clicking!

Episode #138. And Soon May The Header Man Skin? With Special Guest Desmond Reddick!

Tom and Derrick once more team-up with Dread Media’s own Des Reddick to pick a bunch of horror films you may not have heard of! From the bleak coming of (twisted) age story, The Reflecting Skin, to not one but two iterations of the atmospheric psychological thriller, And Soon the Darkness, the Guys Outta Brooklyn (and Vancouver) serves up an hour and a half of conversation and movie recommendations for your Halloween festivals. Plus, the debut of Clemens’ Peelers, and the new film rating Ebola! There are too many pretty parts, so get to clicking!

The Reflecting Skin3

Super 8

2011

Paramount

Written and Directed by J.J. Abrams

Produced by Steven Spielberg and Bryan Burk

Upon hearing that J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg were going to collaborate on a movie together, my reaction was the same as million of other movies goers: handsprings and doing the funky chicken victory dance.  I figured that with these two creative powerhouses on the same movie, they’d come up with a sure-fire, can’t miss blockbuster.  Upon seeing it in the theater, I felt let-down. And even now, after having let more time pass since the last time I saw it,  SUPER 8 is even more of a let-down.  It’s not that it’s a bad movie.  Technically it’s a good movie.  But the story still doesn’t turn my crank and there are too many things that don’t work for me that stack up higher and higher, forming a wall between me and the movie.

It’s 1979 and in the Ohio town of Lillian, a group of kids are spending the summer of that year filming their own movie: a homage to George Romero zombie movies.  Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is an aspiring make-up artist who has recently lost his mother in a steel mill accident.  He’s also lost interest in working on the movie until Charles (Riley Griffiths) the writer/director of the movie talks Alice (Elle Fanning) into joining the cast.  Joe has a serious crush on Alice and his interest in the movie is reawakened.

It’s during a nighttime shoot that Joe, Charles, Alice and the other kids working on the movie are witness to a horrendous train crash.  The next day, The Air Force moves in, quarantining off the town and searching through the personal research of Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman).  Seems as if Dr. Woodward knows what the Air Force is doing in Lillian.  And it involves something that was being transported on that train.  Something that is now prowling through the town at night, snatching both the townspeople and all manner of electrical devices.

SUPER 8 is described as a homage to the Steven Spielberg movies of the 70’s and 80’s.  “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of The Third Kind” in particular.  I myself had the feeling I was watching a film made from a Stephen King screenplay written ages ago and maybe found on a shelf somewhere.  The Spielberg vibe escaped me totally as Spielberg had a way of getting totally natural performances out of his young actors.  None of these kids convinced me they were actually kids living in the late 70’s.  With the exception of Elle Fanning who is without a doubt the best actor in the movie, even beating out the adult cast.

A lot has already been said about that train crash that kicks off the story.  And indeed, it’s perhaps the most frightening train crash I’ve ever seen on film.  The problem is that it’s too much.  It would be right at home in a “Die Hard” or “Indiana Jones” movie but here it’s just ridiculous in the apocalyptic destruction that destroys an entire train station and what appears to me to be five square miles of countryside while leaving the kids untouched.  And that’s only the beginning of a lot of felgercarb we have to swallow if we’re going to buy the monster stuff.

And I guess that’s why SUPER 8 doesn’t work for me.  There’s a really wonderful coming-of-age-story that could have been told here about Joe and his friends trying to film their little movie while he comes to grips with his mother’s death and his emotional disconnection from his father (Kyle Chandler, who is so bad here he really should give back the check) all while experiencing his first romance with Alice.  The problem is the monster movie stuff Abrams insists on shoving in there.  A monster movie plot that bored me as there’s nothing special about it at all.

So should you see SUPER 8?  Let me put it this way: during the end credits, the finished zombie movie the kids have made is shown and I found that more fun and entertaining than SUPER 8.

112 minutes

PG-13

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

1978                         

Universal Pictures

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Executive Producer: Steven Spielberg

Written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis

The time is February 1964 and the world doesn’t know it yet, but an event is about to take place in New York City that will change the course of history.  Four mop-topped singers from England have formed this little band they’ve named The Beatles that will irrevocably transform the culture of the world entire forever.  After their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, nothing would ever be the same again.

Pretentious opening, huh?  I thought so too.  But I wanted to get your attention because nothing else about this review is going to be anywhere near as serious and it shouldn’t because I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND takes nothing about itself seriously.  It’s a movie made by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale who have brought us such outstanding movies like “Romancing The Stone” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” The “Back To The Future” Trilogy and one of the Ten Funniest Movies Nobody Seems To Have Ever Seen, “Used Cars”

A group of teenagers from Maplewood, New Jersey aim to break into the New York hotel where The Beatles are staying and to accomplish this come up with a harebrained scheme worthy of Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz: they’ll use a limousine to get past the police barricade since any other cars that pull up to the hotel are carefully searched.  They figure that security will assume anybody who can afford a limo has a right to be in the hotel and let it through.  The group is made up mostly of girls: Pam, who has no real interest in The Beatles since she’s planning on eloping that night and she just gets dragged along for one Last Great Adventure.  Grace has aspirations of being a photographer for LIFE and figures that an exclusive picture of The Fab Four would be her ticket in.  Rosie just wants to get close to Paul, The One True Love Of Her Life. The appropriately named Janis absolutely hates The Beatles since she’s a folk rock groupie and she’s appalled that the local record store in their town doesn’t carry any Joan Baez or Bob Dylan.

The girls are joined by greaser Tony, who sees The Beatles as a threat to his beloved Doo-Wop.  Love-stuck Larry who has the whim-whams for Grace. Along the way the gang picks up Peter, a twelve year old desperately trying to stay away from his father who wants him to get a haircut and Richard, who is such a Beatles fanatic that his proudest possession in life is a two foot plot of dirt that was stepped on by Paul.  Grace and Rosie are the ones who pull along everybody in their single-minded goal and the two of them are as determined as Gregory Peck and David Niven in “The Guns Of Navrone”.  What follows is a freewheeling movie that doesn’t try hard to work at its story.  Visual gags come fast and furious as the gang arrives in New York, promptly get separated and go off on their own strange adventures, which allows Zemeckis to jump around so that we’re never bored.  We’re always wondering what’s happening with the others and Zemeckis gives his young cast more than enough screen time.

I especially enjoyed Wendie Jo Sperber’s performance (she’s probably best known for her supporting role in the ‘Bosom Buddies’ TV show.  Her character had the hots for Peter Scolari’s character, remember?) Not only is Miss Sperber cute as a kitten, she’s a remarkably physical actress and to watch her fling herself from cars moving at 80 miles an hour and go tumbling down streets, leaping down entire flights of stairs and swinging in elevator shafts is exhausting for us to watch as I’m convinced it must have been for her to do.

When Wendie Jo Sperber passed away after a long and heroic battle with breast cancer I was really hurt to hear that sad news.  Watch her performance in this movie and especially in Steven Spielberg’s ‘1941’ and I think you’ll appreciate how much of a remarkable actress she really was.  Wendie Jo Sperber projected wit, intelligence and sexiness in all her roles.  And she did as much of her own stunts as she was allowed to do and that adds even more to her charm on screen.  She was an amazing talent that wasn’t appreciated in her own time.

She has some great moments in I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND.   I howled with laughter every time she uses the phone to try and call in to win this contest for Beatles concert tickets.  She throws handfuls of dimes at the coin slot with a manic desperation that never fails to tickle the hell outta me.  Her physicality is even more remarkable because Wendie Jo Sperber was what we call in our PC times “full-figured”.  Just so happens I love me some full-figured women and I watch anything Wendie Jo Sperber is in because she does throw herself into physical comedy with such exuberant abandon you’re afraid the poor girl is going to hurt herself.

She’s paired with Eddie Deezen for a lot of the second half of the movie and they make a good team.  Deezen was The King Of Geeks in movies of the 70’s and ‘80’s and he’s very funny here as a guy who has been living in the hotel for weeks before The Beatles even got there as part of his plan to get their autographs.  Teresa Saldana is also very good as Grace as she tries one crazy plan after another to just get one picture of The Beatles.

Nancy Allen has got a couple of strange scenes here that didn’t quite seem to match the innocent hi-jinks of the rest of the movie.  She actually makes it inside The Beatles’s suite and it’s pretty obvious that she’s having a sexual meltdown as she fondles their clothes and the dishes they ate on.  She kisses and caresses Paul’s guitar passionately in a clearly sexual fashion and passes out with it locked firmly between her legs.  And later on she has a scene with her husband-to-be that’s downright creepy as the guy talks as if he’s been getting marriage tips from multiple viewings of “Sleeping With The Enemy”.  I didn’t get those scenes and they certainly don’t match the silliness of the rest of the movie.  The only thing I can figure is that Zemeckis was attempting to show how the liberating new British sound reached something inside these small town, middle class girls who were brought up to believe that all they were expected to be in life were housewives and baby making machines and that’s it.  But that’s a little too heavy for me. I’d rather focus on the sheer exuberant fun of the movie and I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND is certainly that.   By all means this is a movie you oughta see.

104 Minutes

I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND is rated PG-13.  The language is positively sanitary and actually I think this is a PG or even a G movie when you compare it to today’s standards.  The only scene that is kinda kinky is the one with Nancy Allen when she gets inside the hotel room where The Beatles are staying.  What she does with Paul’s guitar is kinda hot so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And since it would be sacrilegious to show anything else, here’s a video of The Beatles performing the title song.  Enjoy.

War Of The Worlds

2005

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Produced by Kathleen Kennedy

Screenplay by Josh Friedman and David Koepp

Based on the novel by H.G. Wells

I think the best way that Steven Spielberg’s version of WAR OF THE WORLDS can be described is in the words of my wife Patricia, who about an hour into the movie leaned over and whispered in my ear; “This ain’t no war.”and she’s right.  I think if you go to see a movie called WAR OF THE WORLDS then you have a right to expect a war between worlds and we don’t get it in this movie.  Now, it is faithful in its way to both the 1953 version starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson as well as the original H.G. Wells novel but it’s not faithful to what we expect in a big summer blockbuster science fiction action adventure directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise.  In fact, it’s a letdown in a lot of ways.

Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) is a happy-go-lucky guy.  When we first see him, he blows off his boss who is practically begging Ray to take overtime and then we see that Ray is late to meet his ex-wife and her new husband so that Ray can take charge of his children for the weekend.  Rachel (Dakota Fanning) is a precocious child with wisdom and a vocabulary far beyond her age while Robbie (Justin Chatwin) is our typical rebellious teen who has issues with his father because Dad wasn’t there to wipe his nose every time he had a cold.  This dysfunctional family unit has their weekend together ruined when a series of bizarre lightning strikes break out all over the world, including their New Jersey backyard.  The lightning strikes act as EMP pulses, knocking out all electrical devices, including radios, TVs, cell phones and radio in the immediate area.

Ray goes with his neighbors to check out a lightning strike right in their neighborhood and a huge metal creature comes up out of the ground and starts blasting everything in sight with lethal death rays that instantly turn humans into dust.  Ray gathers up his kids and flees from his home, intending to take them to Boston where his wife is with her new husband and the grandparents.  While they’re dodging the deadly tripods, Ray and his kids fight, bicker and work through their family dysfunction issues.  The journey is a harrowing one as Ray and his kids see first hand for themselves the horror the Martian invaders are capable of.  Ray himself has to make some hard choices and do some growing up as a man and a father as he struggles to get his children and himself from New Jersey to Boston while surviving the alien invasion.

Okay, you’re saying that this sounds like a pretty good movie and in fact it is a pretty good movie on a lot of levels.  The Martian Tripods are some pretty scary suckers if you ask me.  These are The Martian Tripods I envisioned when I first read the book many, many, many moons ago as a youth and the design of them is wonderful.  The scenes of mass panic are truly terrifying, especially during a scene where Ray and his children are attacked by a fear-crazed mob who want to steal their van and in a later scene where a Martian Tripod attacks a boat Ray and his children are on along with hundreds of other refugees trying to escape.  There are some great visuals of The Martian Tripods doing their thing, vaporizing humans, destroying buildings and just generally going about the business of conquering Earth.  And Steven Spielberg again shows us that he is capable of some truly haunting images such as the one where Ray and his children flee through a forest while the rags and dust of vaporized humans are floating like snow down on them and a shocking scene of a train with all the cars on fire roaring through a station like an express going to Hell.

But there’s a lot about WAR OF THE WORLDS that just doesn’t turn my crank.  For a Steven Spielberg movie it’s not really all that exciting or thrilling or suspenseful.  And this is the guy who directed the “Indiana Jones” trilogy and “Jaws”, remember.  I never worried about the characters because they never came alive for me.  I’m looking at Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning acting and I was conscious of them being actors playing a role all throughout the movie.  And since they were virtually the only characters in the movie, I hardly figured that Spielberg would kill them off.  Tim Robbins shows up halfway through the movie as a survivalist hiding in his basement.  He’s not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, though and the Tom Cruise character has to make a difficult choice and follow through on it when his daughter’s life is in jeopardy due to the Tim Robbins’ character’s madness.  I thought it was an effective scene but one oddly lacking any real suspense or tension.

And I guess that’s my main problem with WAR OF THE WORLDS.  While I applaud Spielberg and Cruise for wanting to make an alien invasion movie told from the viewpoint of ordinary working class folk as opposed to hotshot scientific genius adventurers or go-for-broke-give-‘em-hell super soldiers it doesn’t make for exciting watching as the characters do nothing but run and hide for the whole movie.  In this post 9/11 era can an American movie watching audience be satisfied with watching foreign invaders overrun our country while Americans cower in basements?  Bad as “Independence Day” was (and it’s nothing but an unaccredited remake of WAR OF THE WORLDS itself) it at least had to good sense to have its large cast of characters determined to kick a lot of alien ass before they took a dirt nap.

And perhaps the biggest mistake that Spielberg made was keeping the original ending of H.G. Wells’ novel.  It’s kinda hard to believe that aliens who demonstrate the level of advanced technology demonstrated in this movie would be unaware of the possible dangers of exposing themselves to our viruses, germs and microorganisms.  If Spielberg was going to keep the original ending then he would have done better to have set the movie in the original time period when H.G. Wells wrote it (the 1890’s, right?) or even the 1950’s.  As it stands, it’s kinda silly that aliens who have been planning this invasion for ‘millions of years’ (direct quote from the opening narration by the wonderful voice of Morgan Freeman) are taken out in 48 hours by the common cold.  I mean, how intelligent can they really be?  And just why did the aliens wait ‘millions of years’ before invading Earth?  If they were around that long, wouldn’t it have been simpler to have just colonized our planet back then?

It also doesn’t help that there’s no real sense that the Martian Tripods are actually taking over the world.  It seems as if they’re blasting hell out of New Jersey and that’s it.  Except for one painfully brief scene where Tom Cruise encounters a news van and the crew shows him footage of The Tripods in other countries, that’s it.  I wanted to see The Martian Tripods blasting The Pyramids, The Great Wall of China, The Eiffel Tower and burning down the mollyfoggin’ Amazon rain forest and we don’t get that here.

So should you see WAR OF THE WORLDS?  I’d advise you guys to skip it unless you’re a confirmed diehard Tom Cruise and/or Steven Spielberg fan.  It’s not that it’s a bad movie.  It’s got wonderful special effects and the acting is professional and sharp.  But as a movie, it’s just not engaging and to be brutally honest, not that interesting.  I never got lost in the story or the characters and worst of all, I actually looked at the clock a couple of times during the movie to see how long I had to go until the end.  If you want a much better Cruise/Spielberg collaboration, go Netflix “Minority Report” and leave WAR OF THE WORLDS alone

116 minutes

Rated PG-13 and I believe they stretched it at that.  This may be the most PC alien invasion you’ll ever see.