Saturday, May 5, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge - DAY 7 - TWO MINUTE WARNING (1976)

- Rated R for strong violence, a bit of strong language and brief nudity.
- Starring Charlton Heston, John Cassavetes, Martin Balsam, Beau Bridges, Jack Klugman, Gena Rowlands
- Written by Edward Hume (based on the novel by George LaFountaine
- Directed by Larry Peerce
- Running time: 1hr 55min

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!)

A sniper goes into a football stadium and sits at top of the scoreboard as he plans on shooting a bunch of people during the big game.  But when will he strike?  There isn't much plot here, so the writers stuff the movie with lots of mini-subplots.  We have a family led by Beau Bridges, who has lost his job recently.  Gena Rowlands and her husband flew all the way from Baltimore to L.A. to see this game but end up arguing about their relationship status.  Jack Klugman is a gambler who is so far in debt that if his team doesn't win, he'll be knocked off.  And a criminally underused Walter Pigeon plays an elderly pickpocket.

Once the TV crew spots the sniper, they call the authorities.  Charlton Heston is the local police chief and with owner of the stadium, Martin Balsam, they try to find a way to detain him peacefully without spreading panic through the crowd.  When they decide they can't take care of it on their own, a Swat team comes in led by John Cassavetes.  This builds up until the thrilling finale.  Or that's the intention anyways.

Yes!  It's a 70's thriller.  Sorry!  I'm a sucker for them.  It sets the mood right away with a great score by Charles Fox during the opening titles.  Then right after that, the first scene is a POV shot of the sniper killing someone from his hotel room.  It looks great.  Love the lenses they used in this, giving the movie lots of character.  Then the movie introduces us to all of it's characters, which makes it more like a disaster movie than a full-on thriller.  I didn't mind most of the characters.  Even though it's cliched, there's something comforting in these stereotypical people, probably because the actors are veterans.

I liked Beau Bridges, Klugman, Rowlands, Balsam, and especially Cassavetes as the SWAT team captain who just wants to kill this bastard and go home.  I was surprised by how little screentime Heston actually has.  His character isn't all that great and Heston seems to be sleepwalking through the part, but thankfully Larry Peerce's direction and pacing make you forget about how pointless his role is.  In fact, I think that it should have just been Cassavetes the whole time instead of Heston.  He was awesome!

The writing is typical disaster fare, but again, sometimes it's comforting.  Metaphorically, I don't WANT to eat Steak all the time.  Sometimes I want a White Castle burger.  Well, that's what this is.  A White Castle burger.  And it's a good one.  I liked the way the movie starts off slowly, then begins to build tension and continues to build it until it explodes.  And when the sniper actually starts shooting people, it's shockingly violent, which is what I want out of a 70's thriller.  There's something about these genre films from this time period that draws me in.  They all have this certain look which appeals to me.  It's the zoom shots, great use of the widescreen frame, shadowy lighting, and a gritty score.

Moviegoers that are used to modern filmmaking and the flashy quick cutting may have a tough time finding things to like here.  Also, people that hate the disaster movie formula won't find much to like here as well.  But I found it to be a fun and gritty piece of junk food filmmaking.

*** (out of ****)

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