Film Review: Westworld (dir by Michael Crichton)


“Draw,” says Yul Brynner.

“Whatever,” says a tourist who has spent a lot of money to spend their vacation at the Delos amusement park.

BANG!  Down goes the tourist, as the robot revolution of 1983 begins.

Recently, TCM broadcast the 1973 science fiction thriller, Westworld.  Since I am absolutely obsessed with the more recent HBO revival, there was no way I could resist watching the original film.  It was an interesting experience.  While the film is far more simpler and straight-forward than the television series, they both essentially tell the same story.  A bunch of rich humans pay a lot of money to pretend to be either cowboys or knights or Roman citizens for a week.  Everyone has a great time until, eventually, the robots stop doing what they were supposed to do and instead, begin to fight back.

One thing that the movie and the series definitely shared is a less-than-positive view of humanity.  The movie focuses on two businessmen.  Peter (Richard Benjamin) is the nerdy one.  John (James Brolin) is the hypermasculine one.  Peter is visiting Westworld for the first time.  John is a frequent guest who loves gunning down any robots who looks at him the wrong way.  Neither one of these characters is particularly likable.  Peter starts out as a self-righteous hypocrite who ends up sleeping with a sexbot, despite being married.  John brags about how easy it is to kill the robots, mostly because the robot’s are programmed to not fight back.

Meanwhile, the human engineers who work behind-the-scenes and keep Delos running are all blandly incompetent.  When the robots start to malfunction, the engineers can only shrug and wonder why.  They’re so ineffective that, halfway through the movie, they get sealed up in their own control room, slowly suffocating to death while the park collapses around them.

As opposed to the TV series, the robots in Westworld never achieve any sort of real consciousness.  Even when they malfunction, it doesn’t lead to a true rebellion as much as it just causes them to ignore any previous directives about killing the guests.  When the Gunslinger (Yul Brynner) starts stalking Peter and John across the park, it’s not an act of ideology or, for that matter, even revenge.  It’s simply that the Gunslinger has been programmed to be a killer and this is what a killer does.

It all leads to an extended chase sequence involving the Gunslinger and Peter and, despite the fact that it doesn’t have much of a personality, it’s hard not to be on The Gunslinger’s side.  If nothing else, the Gunslinger is at least good at what it does.  Peter, on the other hand, is perhaps one of the most incompetent heroes to ever show up in a movie.  After spending the first half of the movie being smug and dealing with robots programmed not to fight back, Peter now has to try to win on an even playing field.

Westworld was the directorial debut of writer Michael Crichton.  The film’s flaws are largely the flaws that you would expect from a first-time director.  Occasionally, the pacing falters and the first half of the film sometimes moves a bit too slowly.  (There’s one saloon fight that seems to go on forever.)  During the first half of the film, there’s several scenes involving another tourist (played by Dick Van Patten) who seems like he’s going to play a major role in the film but, after the first hour, the character literally vanishes from the film.

Despite those flaws, Westworld remains an exciting mix of suspense and science fiction.  Though his actual screentime is rather limited, Yul Brynner easily dominates the entire film.  In the role of the Gunslinger, Brynner is a relentless killing machine.  What makes the character especially disturbing is that Brynner plays him without a hint of emotion or expression.  The Gunslinger gets no pleasure out of killing nor does he seek to accomplish any sort of identifiable goal.  The Gunslinger simply kills because that’s what he was programmed to do.

While I prefer the HBO series, the original Westworld is still an exciting and entertaining film, one that probably seems a lot more plausible today than when it was first released 46 years ago.  Watch it the next time your home robot gets bored.

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.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Terminal Man (dir by Mike Hodges)


Check out the poster for 1974’s The Terminal Man.

Look at it carefully.  Examine it.  Try to ignore the fact that it’s weird that George Segal was once a film star.  Yes, on the poster, Segal has been drawn to have a somewhat strange look on his face.  Ignore that.  Instead, concentrate on the words in the top left corner of the poster.

“ADULT ENTERTAINMENT!” it reads.

That’s actually quite an accurate description.  The Terminal Man is definitely a film for adults.  No, it’s not pornographic or anything like that.  Instead, it’s a movie about “grown up” concerns.  It’s a mature film.  In some ways, that’s a good thing.  In some ways, that’s a bad thing.

Taking place in the near future (and based on a novel by Michael Crichton), The Terminal Man tells the story of Harry Benson (played, of course, by George Segal).  Harry is an extremely intelligent computer programmer and he’s losing his mind.  It might be because he was in a serious car accident.  It may have even started before that.  Harry has black outs and when he wakes up, he discovers that he’s done violent things.  Even when he’s not blacked out, Harry worries that computers are going to rise up against humans and take over the world.

However, a group of scientists think that they have a way to “fix” Harry.  It’ll require a lot of brain surgery, of course.  (And, this being a film from 1973, the film goes into excruciating details as it explains what’s going to be done to Harry.)  The plan is to implant an electrode in Harry’s brain.  Whenever Harry starts to have a seizure, the electrode will shock him out of it.  The theory is that, much like Alex in A Clockwork Orange 0r Gerard Malanga in Vinyl, Harry will be rendered incapable of violence.

Of course, some people are more enthusiastic about this plan than others.  Harry’s psychiatrist (Joan Hackett) fears that implanting an electrode in Harry’s brain will just make him even more paranoid about the rise of the computers.  Other scientists worry about the ethics of using technology to modify someone’s behavior.  Whatever happens, will it be worth the price of Harry’s free will?

But, regardless of the risks, Harry goes through with the operation.

Does it work?  Well, if it worked, it would be a pretty boring movie so, of course, it doesn’t work.  (Allowing Harry’s operation to work would have been like allowing King Kong to enjoy his trip to New York.)  Harry’s brain becomes addicted to the electrical shocks and, as he starts to have more and more seizures, Harry becomes even more dangerous than he was before…

The Terminal Man is a thought-provoking but rather somber film.  On the one hand, it’s a rather slow movie.  The movie does eventually get exciting after Harry comes out of surgery but it literally takes forever to get there.  The movie seems to be really determined to convince the audience that the story it’s telling is scientifically plausible.  On the other hand, The Terminal Man does deal with very real and very important issues.  Considering how threatened society is by people who cannot be controlled, issues of behavior modification and free thought will always be relevant.

Though the film may be slow, I actually really liked The Terminal Man.  Judging from some of the other reviews that I’ve read, I may be alone in that.  It appears to be a seriously underrated film.  As directed by Mike Hodges, the film is visually stunning, emphasizing the sterility of the white-walled hospital, the gray blandness of the doctors, and the colorful vibrancy of life outside of science.  Though he initially seems miscast, George Segal gives a good and menacing performance as Harry.

The Terminal Man requires some patience but it’s worth it.

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: The Carey Treatment (dir by Blake Edwards)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  She has got over 170 movies on the DVR to watch and she’s trying to get it done before the start of the new year!  Can she get it done?  Probably not, but she’s going to try!  1972’s The Carey Treatment was recorded off of TCM on July 23rd.)

Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn) is the epitome of 1970s cool.  He’s got hair long enough to cover the top half of ears.  He’s got a fast car.  He’s got a rebellious attitude and a girlfriend (Jennifer O’Neill) who rarely questions his decisions.  Though you don’t see it in the movie, Dr. Carey probably smokes weed when he’s back at his fashionably decorated apartment.  How do I know this?  Well, he’s played by James Coburn.  Even if some of them are nearly 50 years old, you can still get a contact high from watching any movie featuring James Coburn.

Anyway, what the Hell is The Carey Treatment about?  Dr. Carey has just recently moved to Boston, where he’s taken a job at a stodgy old hospital.  The hospital’s chief doctor, J.D. Randall (Dan O’Herlihy, of Halloween III: Season of The Witch fame), might want Dr. Carey to tone down his free-livin’, free-lovin’ California ways but no one tells Peter Carey what to do.  In fact, the entire city of Boston might be too stodgy and conventional for Dr. Carey.  You see, Dr. Carey not only heals people.  He also beats up people who try to stand in his way.  Peter Carey is a doctor who cares but he’s also a doctor who can kick ass.

And he’s going to have to kick a lot of ass because Dr. Randall’s daughter has just turned up dead.  The police say that she died as the result of a botched abortion and they’ve arrested Carey’s best friend, Dr. David Tao (James Hong).  (The Carey Treatment, it should be noted, was filmed before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion.)  The Boston establishment is determined to use Dr. Tao as a scapegoat but Dr. Carey is convinced that his friend is innocent.  In fact, he doesn’t think that the death was the result of an abortion at all.  Carey sets out to solve the case … HIS WAY!

If it seems like I’m going a little bit overboard with my emphasis on the Dr. Peter Carey character, that’s because this entire movie feels more like a pilot for a weekly Dr. Carey television series as opposed to an actual feature film.  It’s easy to image that each week, James Coburn would drive from hospital to hospital, solving medical mysteries and debating social issues with stuffy members of the Boston establishment.  Henry Mancini would provide the theme music and Don Murray would guest star as Dr. Carey’s brother, a priest who encourages the young men in his parish to burn their draft cards.

It might have eventually become an interesting TV show but it falls pretty flat as a movie.  James Coburn is in nearly every scene, which would usually be a good thing.  But in The Carey Treatment, he gives an incredibly indifferent performance.  He seems to be bored by the whole thing and, as a result, Dr. Peter Carey is less a cool rebel and more of a narcissistic jerk.  The mystery itself is handled rather haphazardly.  On the positive side, Michael Blodgett gives a wonderfully creepy performance as a duplicitous masseur but otherwise, The Carey Treatment is nothing special.

If you want to see a great James Coburn film, track down The President’s Analyst.

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Jurassic World”


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“Everything old is new again.”

How many times have you heard that one? Well, in the case of the just-released (and record-setting in terms of its worldwide box office take) Jurassic World, it turns out that tired old adage is actually quite true, since director Colin Trevorrow has chosen to hew pretty closely to Steven Spielberg’s original model for this fourth installment in the previously-presumed- moribund franchise extrapolated from the works of Michael Crichton. There’s certainly nothing happening here that one could call overtly “new,” per se, but gosh — it’s been so long since Jurassic Park III  that it all just sorta feels new, ya know?

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CGI technology has come a long way since the original Jurassic Park  made its debut in 1993, as well, and that’s a big factor — maybe even the biggest factor — in this new flick’s by-popcorn-movie-standards “success,” but don’t think that means I’m damning Jurassic World with faint praise. Truth be told, we just got back from seeing it in Imax 3-D and it’s got pretty much everything you’d ever want in a brainless summer thrill ride : superb effects, likable leads, drama, suspense, tension-cutting humor, nicely despicable (sorry, does that even make sense?) villains, and mile-a-minute thrills. My wife and I both left the theater smiling and I ain’t ashamed to admit it.

My only real gripe is one that I knew I’d have going in — Jurassic World continues the morally-questionable trend established at the series’ outset of using kids placed in danger (in this case brothers Zach and Gray, played by Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins, respectively) as its primary focus/narrative crutch, with benevolent adults coming in to save the day (here represented by Chris Pratt’s  “dinosaur wrangler” character Owen, and Bryce Dallas Howard — who, goddamit, Hollywood is bound and determined to make a star out of yet! — as their hitherto- inattentive aunt Claire, who’s one of the park’s big-wigs), and I’m sorry, but if you don’t know why that scenario is inherently creepy to some of us, then you haven’t been paying much attention to the some of the uglier and more salacious rumors about Spielberg’s personal life that have been swirling around for decades now. And that I won’t repeat here. So let’s just move on, shall we?

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In any case, that solitary-but-predictable qualm aside, the fact of the matter is that Jurassic World is expertly-crafted throwaway fun. Not every movie needs to re-invent the wheel to stand out, and Trevorrow wisely has that figured from the outset here. All we want from his big-budget extravaganza is pretty much the same sort of story that had us jumping in our seats all those years ago, and to feel the same sort of “rush of excitement” that we did back then and which the two previous installments in the series just weren’t able to capture. It’s a dinosaur movie, for Christ’s sake, so just give us a shit-load of dinos on the loose and we’re gonna be happy! How hard is that to figure out?

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About the only  wrinkles to the formula here are the introduction of the new genetically-engineered “super-dinosaur” Indominus Rex, and the hare-brained scheme laid out by the villainous Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) to train Velociraptors to be — uhhmmm — super-soldiers for the US army. But rich people with more money than sense employing unscrupulous lackeys and amoral scientists have been a Jurassic staple, in one form or another, from jump, and one might even argue that really smart people doing really dumb things has always been at the heart of these flicks. That’s okay with me if the end result is admittedly disposable fare done with this much gusto, flair, and panache. There are a million and one reasons to write off Jurassic World as derivative, senseless garbage,  sure — but when you’ve got five or six bloodthirsty dinosaurs battling it out for supremacy at the end, I don’t care about any of those intellectual (or, as is more often the case, pseudo-intellectual) arguments. I’m just having a damn good time.

Jurassic World Adds To The Summer Action


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Was there ever a need for a fourth film in the Jurassic Park franchise? For years many have tried to answer that and projects to get it up and running stalled for need of a director willing to sign on to a franchise that has been passed up by the superhero action tsunami that has hit pop culture.

It is now 2015 and we’re just months away from finally seeing the fruits of over a decade’s worth of labor to bring a fourth Jurassic Park film to the big screen. While it may still have Steven Spielberg attached as executive producer there’s no Joe Johnston anywhere near this fourth film. We have Carl Trevorrow taking the director’s chair with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard taking on the lead roles.

Jurassic World is set to open it’s doors to the world on June 12, 2015 (took them long enough).

Scenes I Love: 13th Warrior


Cavatica didn’t know where I borrowed and changed the chant in the beginning of my ThunderCats post previous to this one so I decided what better way to answer his question than using one of Lisa Marie’s favorite past features in the blog. I always did enjoy her “Scenes I Love” posts since it showed that even a bad film could have a redeeming quality with that one perfect scene that redeems the rest. Or it could be a scene that just reinforces just how great the rest of the film truly is.

So, my first attempt at “Scenes I Love” happens to be from the final battle in John Mctiernan’s epic tale of an Arab chronicler becoming sword-brothers with a band of Viking warriors and their king, Buliwfy. I love this scene for the reciting of the Viking Death Prayer by the few defenders left at the end of the film. Buliwfy, the Viking king, begins the prayer to be followed by the rest then finished by Ahmed Ibn Fadlan (Antonio Banderas) just in time to stand fast against a charge of the inhuman “Eaters of the Dead” (really just a remnant tribe of neanderthals).

That prayer is very powerful and with Jerry Goldsmith’s rousing music providing a proper background it’s definitely hard for one not to pick up a sword or axe and stand fast against the incoming horde.

The original Viking Death Prayer

Lo, there do I see my Father..
Lo, there do I see my Mother
And my Sisters and my Brothers..
Lo, there do I see the line
Of my people back to the beginning..
Thay do bid me to take my place among them..
In the Halls of Valhalla,
Where the Brave may live forever.