Blue Thunder (1983, directed by John Badham)


Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) is a Vietnam vet-turned-cop who pilots a police helicopter for the LAPD.  Every night, he and his partner, Richard Lymangood (Daniel Stern) fly over Los Angeles, helping to keep the peace and peeping on anyone undressing in a high-rise apartment.

Murphy is selected to serve as the test pilot for what is described as being the world’s most advanced military helicopter, Blue Thunder.  Blue Thunder is so advanced that the pilot can control the gun turrets just by turning his head and it’s also been supplied with the latest state of the art surveillance equipment.  The pilot of a Blue Thunder can literally spy on anyone while listening to and recording their conversations.  With the Olympics coming up, the city of Los Angeles wants to test out the Blue Thunder as a way to control the crowds and prevent crime during the Games.

Murphy may be impressed by the helicopter but he has his reservations about the program.  He immediately sees that Blue Thunder could be a dangerous tool in the wrong hands.  Those wrong hands would belong to Col. Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell), who was Blue Thunder’s first pilot and also Murphy’s commanding officer during Vietnam.  Murphy is still haunted by the atrocities that he saw committed by Cochrane during the war.

When it turns out that Murphy was right to be suspicious of Cochrane’s intentions, the movie turns into an exciting aerial chase above Los Angeles, with Murphy in Blue Thunder, trying to outrun F-16s, heat-seeking missiles, and eventually Cochrane, who enters the chase in a Blue Thunder of his own.

I’m always surprised that Blue Thunder doesn’t have a bigger following than it does.  It’s an action classic, with a gritty performance from Roy Scheider, a villainous performance from Malcolm McDowell, and comedic relief from the always reliable Daniel Stern.  Even Warren Oates is in the movie, playing Murphy’s LAPD commander!  The script actually does have something relevant to say about the militarization of America’s police forces (and it feels downright prophetic today) and the chase scenes are all the more exciting because they were filmed in the era before CGI and have an authenticity to them that is missing from most modern action films.

Blue Thunder is a perfect example of the “don’t do this really cool thing” style of action film.  The Blue Thunder helicopter is described as being a danger to everyone in the country and the movie even ends with a note saying that real-life Blue Thunders are currently being designed.  But I don’t think anyone who has ever watched this film has thought, “I hope they stopped making those helicopters.”  Instead, this movie makes you want to have a Blue Thunder of your very own.  They’re so cool, who wouldn’t want to fly one of those things?

Film Review: The Panic In The Needle Park (dir by Jerry Schatzberg)


The 1971 The Panic in Needle Park tells the story of two young lover in New York City.

Helen (Kitty Winn) is an innocent runaway from Indiana who, when we first meet her, has just had a back alley abortion.  Her boyfriend, Marco (Raul Julia), doesn’t seem to be too concerned about her or anyone else for that matter.  Instead, it’s Marco’s dealer, Bobby (Al Pacino), who checks in on Helen and who visits her when she eventually ends up in the hospital.  It’s also Bobby who gives her a place to stay after she gets out of the hospital.

Bobby is a small-time dealer.  He’s not book smart but he knows how to survive on the streets and it’s hard not to be charmed by him.  He literally never stop talking.  As he explains it to Helen, he’s been in jail 8 times but he’s not a bad guy.  His brother, Hank (Richard Bright, who also co-starred with Pacino in The Godfather films), is a burglar and he legitimately is a bad guy but he and Bobby seem to have a close relationship.  Bobby also swears that he’s not a drug addict.  He just occasionally indulges.  It doesn’t take long to discover that Bobby isn’t being completely honest with either Helen or himself.

Together, Bobby and Helen ….

Well, they don’t solve crimes.  In fact, they really don’t do much of anything.  That’s kind of the problem with movies about drug addicts.  For the most part, drug addicts are boring people and there’s only so many times that you can watch someone shoot up before you lose interest.  Heroin may make the addicts feel alive but, with a few notable exception (Trainspotting comes to mind), it’s always been a bit of a cinematic dead end.  The film takes a documentary approach to Bobby and Helen’s descent into addiction and it’s not exactly the most thrilling thing to watch.

Bobby and Helen live in an area of New York that’s known as needle park, largely due to the fact that it’s full of addicts.  It’s a place where people sit on street corners and nod off and where everyone’s life is apparently fueled by petty crime.  An unlikable narcotics detective (Alan Vint) occasionally walks through the area and tries to talk everyone into betraying everyone else.  It turns out that being a drug addict is not like being in the mafia.  Everyone expects you to betray everyone else.

As I said, it’s a bit of a drag to watch but you do end up caring about Bobby and Helen.  They come across as being two essentially decent people who have gotten caught up in a terrible situation.  Even when they piss you off, you still feel badly for them because you know that they’ve surrendered control of their lives to their addictions.  It helps that they’re played by two very appealing actors.  This was only Al Pacino’s second film and his first starring role but he commands the screen like a junkie James Cagney.  Meanwhile, making her film debut, Kitty Winn gives a sympathetic and likable performance as Helen.  You watch Winn’s vulnerably sincere performance and you understand why Helen would have looked for safety with undeserving losers like Marco and Bobby and, as a result, you don’t hold it against her that she seems to be addicted not just to heroin but also to falling for the wrong men.  Helen does a lot of stupid things but you keep hoping that she’ll somehow manage to survive living in needle park.

Pacino, of course, followed-up The Panic In Needle Park with The Godfather.  As for Kitty Win, she won best actress at Cannes but the role didn’t lead to the stardom that it probably should have.  Her best-known role remains playing the nanny in The Exorcist.

Insomnia File #42: Revenge (dir by Tony Scott)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Earlier today, If you were having trouble getting to sleep around one in the morning, you could have turned over to TCM and watched the 1990 action film, Revenge.

Revenge is an almost absurdly masculine film about two men who are in love with the same woman and who, as a result, end up trying to kill each other and a lot of other people.

Jay Cochran (Kevin Costner) is a U.S. Navy aviator who, when we first see him, is doing the whole Top Gun thing of flying in a fast jet and making jokes while his navigator worries about dying.  Interestingly enough, Top Gun and Revenge were both directed by Tony Scott so perhaps this opening scene was meant to be a self-reference.  Well, regardless of intent, it’s a scene that goes on forever.  This is Jay’s last flight, as he’s due to retire.  We go through an extended retirement party, where everyone has a beer and Jay gives one of those bullshit sentimental speeches that men always give in films like this.

Jay has been invited to estate of Tibbey (Anthony Quinn), who is a Mexican gangster.  Tibbey and Jay are apparently old friends, though it’s never quite explained how the youngish Jay knows the not-very-youngish Tibbey.  Tibbey is one of those gangster who is incapable of doing anything without first talking about what an amazing journey it’s been, going from poverty to becoming one of the most powerful men in Mexico.

Tibbey apparently wants to play tennis with Jay and take him hunting.  Jay decides that he’d rather have an affair with Tibbey’s much younger wife, Miryea (Madeleine Stowe).  Miryea is upset that Tibbey doesn’t want to have children because he feels that pregnancy would ruin her body.  When Tibbey finds out about the affair, he sends Miryea to a brothel and Jay to the middle of the desert.  That’s Tibbey’s revenge!

Except, of course, Jay doesn’t die because he’s Kevin Costner and if he died, the movie would end too quickly.  So, Jay fights his way back from the desert, intent on not only finding Miryea but getting his own revenge on Tibbey!

(It’s hard to take a bad guy named Tibbey seriously, even if he is played by Anthony Quinn.)

Revenge goes on for way too long and neither Tibbey nor Jay are really sympathetic enough to be compelling characters.  You never really believe in Tibbey and Jay’s friendship, so the whole betrayal and revenge aspect of the film just falls flat.  On the plus side, youngish Kevin Costner is not half as annoying as cranky old man Costner.  Anthony Quinn was one of the actors who was considered for the role of Don Corleone in The Godfather and, watching him here, you can kind of see him in the role.  He would have been a bit of a crude Corleone but Quinn had an undeniably powerful and magnetic screen presence.  In Revenge, Quinn chews up and spits out all of the scenery and is not subtle at all but it’s entertaining to watch him because he’s Anthony Quinn.

Anyway, Revenge ends with a tragedy, as these things often do.  Anthony Quinn never says, “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” and that, to me, is a true missed opportunity.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure
  40. The Spanish Prisoner
  41. Elektra