18 Days of Paranoia #4: The Falcon and the Snowman (dir by John Schlesinger)


The 1985 film, The Falcon and the Snowman, tells the story of two friends.  They’re both wealthy.  They’re both a little bit lost, with one of them dropping out the seminary and the other becoming a drug dealer who is successful enough to have a lot of money but inept enough to still be treated like a joke by all of other dealers.

Chris Boyce (Timothy Hutton) is the son of a former FBI agent (Pat Hingle).  He has a tense relationship with his father.  It’s obvious that the two have never really been sure how to talk to each other.  While his father is sure of both himself and his country, Chris is far more sensitive and quick to question.  While his father plays golf and attends outdoor barbecues, Chris becomes an expert in the sport of falconry and spends a lot of time obsessing about the state of the the world.  While his father defends Richard Nixon during the Watergate investigation, Chris sees it as evidence that America is a sick and corrupt country.  Because his father doesn’t want Chris sitting around the house all day, he pulls some strings to get Chris a job working at the “Black Vault,” where Chris will basically have the ability to learn about all sorts of classified stuff.

Daulton Lee (Sean Penn) was Chris’s best friend in school.  Daulton’s entire life revolves around cocaine.  He both sells and uses it.  He’s managed to make a lot of money but his addiction has also left him an erratic mess.  Daulton’s father wants to kick him out of the house.  Daulton’s mother continually babies him.  Chris and Daulton may seem like an odd pair of friends but they’re both wealthy, directionless, and have a difficult time relating to their fathers.  It somehow seems inevitable that these two would end up as partners.

Chris Boyce and Daulton Lee, together …. THEY SOLVE CRIMES!

No, actually, they don’t.  Instead, they end up betraying their country.  (Boooo!  Hiss!  This guy’s a commie, traitor to our nation!)  After Chris discovers that the CIA has been interfering in the elections of America’s allies (in this case, Australia), he decides to give information to the Russians.  Since Daulton already has experience smuggling drugs over the southern border, Boyce asks Lee to contact the KGB the next time that he’s in Mexico.  Despite being a neurotic and paranoid mess, Lee manages to do just that.

Of course, as Chris soon comes to discover, betraying your country while working with a greedy drug addict is not as easy as it seems.  While Chris wants to eventually get out of the treason game, marry his girlfriend (Lori Singer), and finish up college, Daulton wants to be James Bond.  The Russians, meanwhile, soon grow tired of having to deal with Lee and start pressuring Chris to deal with them directly….

And it all goes even further downhill from there.

Based on a true story, The Falcon and the Snowman tells the story of how two seemingly very different young men managed to basically ruin their lives.  Boyce’s naive idealism and Lee’s drug-fueled greed briefly makes them a powerful duo but they both quickly discover that betraying your country isn’t as a simple as they assumed.  For one thing, once you’ve done it once, it’s impossible to go back to your normal life.  As played by Hutton and Penn, Chris and Daulton are two very interesting characters.  Boyce is full of righteous indignation and sees himself as being a hero but the film hints that he’s mostly just pissed off at his Dad for never understanding him or caring that much about falconry.  Daulton, meanwhile, is a lunatic but he seems to be aware that he’s a lunatic and that makes his oddly likable.  At times, it seems like even he can’t believe that Chris was stupid enough to depend on him.  The film provides a convincing portrait of two men who, because of several impulsive decisions, find themselves in over their heads with no possibility of escape.

The Falcon and the Snowman is an entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking time capsule of a different age.  If the film took place in 2020, Daulton would be hanging out with the Kardashians and Chris would probably be too busy working for the Warren campaign to spy for America’s enemies.  If only the two of them had been born a few decades later, all of this could have been of avoided.

Previous Entries In The 18 Days of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Privates Files Of J. Edgar Hoover

Panic in Echo Park (1977, directed by John Llewellyn Moxey)


Dr. Michael Stoner (Dorian Harewood) is a young, black doctor who works in a hospital located in a poverty-stricken Los Angeles neighborhood that has a high crime rate.  Stoner’s got the education and the talent to be working in an upscale hospital and making a lot of money but it’s more important to Stoner that he give something back to the community.  Stoner is a doctor who cares and he has no hesitation letting everyone know it.  When he meets a wealthy plastic surgeon at a party, he tells him that he should come down to Stoner’s hospital and try his hand at fixing up bullet holes.  The plastic surgeon doesn’t react well to the suggestion.

Stoner is convinced that there’s an epidemic breaking out in the Echo Park neighborhood but he can’t get anyone to listen to him.  No one cares about what happens in Echo Park.  When Stoner deduces that the illness is being caused by dirty tap water, he still can’t get anyone to listen to him.  He yells at people at parties and everyone ignores him.  He goes to the press and the media refuses to cover the story.  The corporate weasels who are responsible for poisoning the water don’t care about anything other than money.  Stoner talks about his problems to a young man who is in a coma and he gets no response.

Finally, Stoner is forced to enlist the help of a group of local teenagers who are making a documentary about life in their neighborhood.  Dr. Stoner may not always be polite but he gets results.

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, Panic In Echo Park is a made-for-TV movie and much like Where Have All The People Gone? (which was also directed by Moxey), it seems like it was probably envisioned as being a pilot for a weekly series.  Watching the film, it’s easy to imagine Dr. Stoner getting mad on a weekly basis.  Like most made-for-TV movies, it’s predictable and the characters are all either too obviously good or too obviously evil.  However, Dorian Harewood (who is probably best known for getting shot over and over again in Full Metal Jacket) gives a good performance as Dr. Stoner.  He doesn’t get to do much other than yell at people but Harewood does it well.  Today, a story involving people getting sick from dirty tap water does not seem far fetched (do they have clean water in Flint, yet?) and the scenes where Dr. Stoner orders people to be put into “quarantine” feel disturbingly like the evening news.

Catching-Up With Two Courtroom Dramas: Suspect and 12 Angry Men


As a part of my continuing effort to get caught up with reviewing all of the movies that I’ve seen this year, here’s two courtroom dramas that I recently caught on This TV.

  • Suspect
  • Released in 1987
  • Directed by Peter Yates
  • Starring Cher, Dennis Quaid, Liam Neeson, John Mahoney, Joe Mantegna, Philip Bosco, Fred Melamed, Bernie McInerney, Bill Cobbs, Richard Gant, Jim Walton, Michael Beach, Ralph Cosham, Djanet Sears 

Suspect is a hilariously dumb movie.  How dumb is it?  Let me count the ways.

First off, Cher plays a highly successful if rather stressed public defender.  And don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that Cher is a bad actress or anything.  She’s actually pretty good when she’s playing Cher.  But, in this movie, she’s playing someone who managed to graduate from law school and pass the DC bar.

Secondly, Cher is assigned to defend a homeless man when he’s accused of murdering a clerk who works for the Justice Department.  The homeless man is deaf and mute, which isn’t funny.  What is funny is when he gets a shave and a shower and he’s magically revealed to be a rather handsome and fresh-faced Liam Neeson.  Liam doesn’t give a bad performance in the role.  In fact, he probably gives the best performance in the film.  But still, it’s hard to escape the fact that he’s Liam Neeson and he basically looks like he just arrived for a weekend at Cannes.

Third, during the trial, one of the jurors (Dennis Quaid) decides to investigate the case on his own.  Cher even helps him do it, which is the type of thing that would get a real-life attorney disbarred.  However, I guess Cher thinks that it’s worth the risk.  I guess that’s the power of Dennis Quaid’s smile.

Fourth, the prosecuting attorney is played by Joe Mantegna and he gives such a good performance that you find yourself hoping that he wins the case.

Fifth, while it’s true that real-life attorneys are rarely as slick or well-dressed as they are portrayed in the movies, one would think that Cher would at least take off her leather jacket before cross-examining a witness.

Sixth, it’s not a spoiler to tell you that the homeless man is innocent.  We know he’s innocent from the minute that we see he’s Liam Neeson.  Liam only kills who people deserve it.  The real murderer is revealed at the end of the film and it turns out to be the last person you would suspect, mostly because we haven’t been given any reason to suspect him.  The ending is less of a twist and more an extended middle finger to any viewer actually trying to solve the damn mystery.

I usually enjoy a good courtroom drama but bad courtroom dramas put me to sleep.  Guess which one Suspect was.

 

  • 12 Angry Men
  • Released 1997
  • Directed by John Frankenheimer
  • Starring Courtney B. Vance, Ossie Davis, George C. Scott, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Dorian Harewood, James Gandolfini, Tony Danza, Jack Lemmon, Hume Cronyn, Mykelti Williamson, Edward James Olmos, William Petersen, Mary McDonnell, Tyrees Allen, Douglas Spain

The 12 Angry Men are back!

Well, no, not actually.  This is a remake of the classic 1957 film and it was produced for Showtime.  It’s updated in that not all of the jurors are white and bigoted Juror #10 (Mykelti Williamson) is now a member of the Nation of Islam.  Otherwise, it’s the same script, with Juror #8 (Jack Lemmon) trying to convince the other jurors not to send a young man to Death Row while Juror #3 (George C. Scott) deals with his family issues.

I really wanted to like this production, as it had a strong cast and a strong director and it was a remake of one of my favorite films.  Unfortunately, the remake just didn’t work for me.  As good an actor as Jack Lemmon was, he just didn’t project the same moral authority as Henry Fonda did the original.  If Fonda seemed to be the voice of truth and integrity, Lemmon just came across like an old man who had too much time on his hands.  Without Fonda’s moral certitude, 12 Angry Men simply becomes a story about how 12 men acquitted a boy of murder because they assumed that a woman would be too vain to wear her glasses to court.  The brilliance of the original is that it keeps you from dwelling on the fact that the accused was probably guilty.  The remake, however, feels like almost an argument for abandoning the jury system.

A Movie A Day #343: Looker (1981, directed by Michael Crichton)


Someone is murdering models and trying to frame Larry Roberts (Albert Finney), a plastic surgeon.  Larry suspects that the actual murderer is somehow involved with the Digital Matrix research firm, a shadowy organization that is headed by James Coburn and Leigh Taylor Young.  Digital Matrix has developed a new technique where they digitally scan a model’s body and then generate a 3-D duplicate that can be used in commercials and on film.  The real-life models stand to make a fortune from the royalties, assuming that they are physically perfect and they do not end up getting murdered immediately after being scanned.  Larry’s girlfriend, Cindy (Susan Dey), is just the latest model to have been scanned and now Larry suspects that she might be targeted for death as well.

When I was growing up, Looker was one of those movies that always seemed to be on HBO.  I don’t know why this box office bomb was so popular on cable but I do remember seeing it several times.  I guarantee you that anyone who has ever came across this movie on HBO in the 80s and 90s will remember it.  They might not remember the title but they will remember that the bad guys used light guns that would cause people to briefly go into a catatonic state.  Everyone who has ever seen this movie remembers the model standing frozen in the doorway of her apartment.

As for the movie itself, the guns are cool and so is the scene where Susan Dey gets scanned but otherwise, Looker is not very good.  Michael Crichton later said that he had conflicts with Warner Bros during the editing of Looker and, as a result, there were some important scenes that did not make it into the final cut.  For instance, it is never really explained why the models are being killed.  Albert Finney was in one of his periodic career slumps when he starred as Larry and he looks uncomfortable going through the motions of being an action star.  Two years after Looker came out, Finney’s career would be reinvigorated when he received an Oscar nomination for The Dresser and three years later, he would give his career best performance in Under the Volcano.

As it typical of Michael Crichton’s work, Looker was ahead of its time in predicting the use of CGI in media but otherwise, it’s nothing special.  If you want to see a good Crichton-directed film, stick with Westworld and The Great Train Robbery.

A Movie A Day #204: Tank (1984, directed by Marvin Chomsky)


If you had just moved to a small town in Georgia and your teenage son was framed for marijuana possession and sentenced to years of hard labor, what would you do?

Would you hire a good lawyer and file appeal after appeal?

Would you go to the media and let them know that the corrupt sheriff and his evil deputy are running a prostitution ring and the only reason your son is in prison is because you dared to call them out on their corruption?

Or would you get in a World War II-era Sherman tank and drive it across Georgia, becoming a folk hero in the process?

If you are Sgt. Zack Carey (James Garner), you take the third option.  Sgt. Carey is only a few months from retirement but he is willing to throw that all away to break his son (C. Thomas Howell) out of prison and expose the truth about Sheriff Buelton (G.D. Spradlin) and Deputy Euclid Baker (James Cromwell, playing a redneck).  Helping Sgt. Carey out are a prostitute (Jenilee Harrison), Carey’s wife (Shirley Jones), and the citizens of Georgia, who lines the road to cheer the tank as it heads for the Georgia/Kentucky border.  It’s just like the O.J. Bronco chase, with James Garner in the role of A.C. Cowlings.

The main thing that Tank has going for it is that tank.  Who has not fantasized about driving across the country in a tank and blowing up police cars along the way?  James Garner is cool, too, even if he is playing a role that would be better suited for someone like Burt Reynolds.  Tank really is Smoky and the Bandit with a tank in the place of that trans am.  Personally, I would rather have the trans am but Tank is still entertaining.  Dumb but entertaining.

One final note, a piece of political trivia: According to the end credits, the governor of Georgia was played by Wallace Willkinson.  At first, I assumed this was the same Wallace Wilkinson who later served as governor of Kentucky.  It’ not.  It turns out that two men shared the same name.  It’s just a coincidence that one played a governor while the other actually became a governor.

A Movie A Day #157: Pacific Heights (1990, directed by John Schlesinger)


Michael Keaton is the tenant from Hell in Pacific Heights.

In San Francisco, Patty (Melanie Griffith) and Drake (Matthew Modine) have just bought an old and expensive house that they can not really afford.  In order to keep from going broke, they rent out two downstairs apartments.  One apartment is rented by a nice Japanese couple.  The other apartment is rented by Carter Hayes (Michael Keaton).  Carter convinces Patty and Drake not to check his credit by promising to pay the 6 months rent up front.  The money, he tells them, is coming via wire transfer.

The money never arrives but Carter does.  Once he moves into the apartment, Carter changes the locks so that no one but him can get in.  At all hours of the day and night, he can be heard hammering and drilling inside the apartment.  Even worse, he releases cockroaches throughout the building.  When Drake demands that Carter leave, the police back up Carter.  After goading Drake into attacking him, Carter gets a restraining order.  Drake is kicked out of his home, leaving Patty alone with their dangerous tenant.

Pacific Heights is the ultimate upper middle class nightmare: Buy a house that you can not really afford and then end up with a tenant who trashes the place to such an extent that the property value goes down.  As a thriller, Pacific Heights would be better if Drake and Patty weren’t so unlikable.  (When this movie was first made, people like Patty and Drake were known as yuppies.)  Much like Drake’s house, the entire movie is stolen by Michael Keaton’s performance as Carter Hayes.  Carter was not an easy role to play because not only did he have to be so convincingly charming that it was believable that he could rent an apartment just by promising a wire payment but he also had to be so crazy that no one would doubt that he would deliberately infest a house with cockroaches.  Michael Keaton has not played many bad guys in his career but his performance as Carter Hayes knocked it out of the park.

One final note: Keep an eye out for former Hitchcock muse (and Melanie Griffith’s mother) Tippi Hedren, playing another one of Carter’s potential victims.  Her cameo here is better than her cameo in In The Cold of the Night.