February 14th, 2013

TIME RIDER: THE ADVENTURE OF LYLE SWANN (1982) **

Michael Nesmith and his Elephant Parts cohort, William (Harry and the Hendersons) Dear reteamed for this sci-fi western comedy mishmash. Fred Ward stars as a hotshot motorcycle rider named Lyle Swann. He takes his new bike out for a spin in the desert where he winds up on a scientific testing ground and gets zapped back in time to the year 1877. Peter Coyote plays a villainous cowboy who wants to get his hands on the motorcycle.

I’ve wanted to see this movie for quite a while, but now that I’ve seen it, I’m afraid there’s not a whole lot to it. Although Dear and Nesmith dip their toes in various genres, the film as a whole never really gels. Most times, Time Rider feels like a first draft of a potentially great movie that’s in desperate need of punching up. There’s a distinct three act structure, but there’s hardly any laughs. And while the action is for the most part decent; the ending is a huge letdown.

The opening scenes are pretty promising. However once Swann heads into the Old West, the movie never quite lives up to its premise. I also found it a bit weird that Swann never realizes he’s in the Old West until the very end. I mean how can Lyle Swann be on an “adventure” if he doesn’t realize he’s on one?

The performances are solid across the board. Peter Coyote makes for a slimy villain and Belinda (Robocop 2) Bauer plays a sexy mamacita. But as much as I love Fred Ward, he really needed better material to work with.

Although I’m generally opposed to remakes, I have to say that Time Rider: The Adventure of Lyle Swann would be a good candidate to be remade. I like the IDEA of this movie, yet it never fires on all cylinders or properly explores its premise to the fullest. The music (also by Nesmith), is excellent though, so if they do remake it, I hope they keep the score.

AKA: Timerider.

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) ***

The Philadelphia Story is a movie I probably would not have ever seen had it not played at our local theater, The Clayton on their “Classic Movie Monday”. I’m not much for the screwball comedies from the ‘30s and ‘40s, but this one was a pretty good one. It’s got all the rapid-fire dialogue and playful banter you’d expect from the genre, but since it’s Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart doing the bantering, it’s hard not to like.

Kate plays this high society dame who’s about to marry John (Bulldog Drummond) Howard. Cary Grant is her jealous ex-husband who plans to ruin their nuptials by bringing along a tabloid reporter (Stewart) to cover the wedding. But when Hepburn gets drunk at a party and has a tryst with Stewart in the swimming pool, it threatens her impending marriage.

This flick begins with one of the most hilarious displays of domestic violence ever witnessed on the silver screen. Grant gets mad at Kate and face palms her to the ground. Some people will be pretty surprised by this, but in Cary’s defense, she DID break his golf clubs over her knee first. You can say or do whatever you want to a man, but one thing you don’t do is mess with his golf clubs.

The Philadelphia Story was based on a hit play and it often has a stagy feel to it. The film also suffers from some rushed line readings as some of the cast breathlessly try to recite their dialogue. And it probably runs on a bit too long and features one or two extraneous characters. But whenever Hepburn, Grant, Stewart, and Howard are engaged in their increasingly complicated love rectangle, The Philadelphia Story is quite entertaining.

For more information on The Clayton Theatre, check out their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Clayton-Theatre/195172553830307

GUYANA TRAGEDY: THE STORY OF JIM JONES (1980) *** ½

Jim Jones is a fascinating figure; at least to me anyway. I mean what kind of a guy can call himself a “man of God” and then fleece his flock of all their worldly possessions, whisk them off to the middle of nowhere, and then make theme drink a batch of cyanide-laced Kool-Aid? The Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones is an insightful, horrifying, and riveting look at the man behind the monster.

The film was a two part CBS mini-series. The first half features Jim Jones (Powers Boothe) in his commune in Guyana flashing back to his early days. As a child, he presides over pet funerals and says grace for a really long time. As a young man, he gets married and lands a gig presiding over a failing church. Jones integrates the church to guarantee more members, which causes controversy in the small town. He gets fired and makes his own church, and amasses a loyal flock. Soon, Jones resorts to scamming his churchgoers and uses bullying and eventually brainwashing tactics to keep them in line.

The second part is less effective, especially when it’s dealing with the plight of Jones’ followers. Randy Quaid and Meg Foster play high-ranking members in the cult who turn on Jones and try to get their son out of Guyana. And LeVar Burton is a cult member who is beaten for falling asleep during a sermon. But the tension quickly heats up once a Congressman (Ned Beatty) goes to Jonestown to investigate, which ultimately sets the table for the mass suicide.

I liked the first half better because we see how Jones becomes a monster. He starts out with good intentions as we see him integrating churches and movie theaters. He might’ve even been a civil rights leader if he hadn’t gone crazy. They also do a good job at showing Jones’ hypocrisy. In one scene he openly invites gays into his church. (We also see him engaged in homosexual affairs.) But later on, Jones casts out a member for allegedly being gay just so he could steal his wife away. I will say the ending of the second part that dramatizes the mass suicide is pretty strong stuff. Forget the fact that this is a Made for TV movie; this is a really potent scene.

Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones almost has the feeling of a ‘70s disaster movie. It’s got an all-star line-up facing an unavoidable tragedy where you know they’re gonna die. And like most disaster movies, it’s too long and gets bogged down in sections. Honestly, it probably could’ve been just a Movie of the Week. As a two-parter, there’s a bit too much filler.

But I’ve got to give director William A. (Get Christy Love) Graham credit for the look of the film. The muddy, scratched, and jumpy print gives the flick a documentary feel, which makes the final scenes even more effective. And the depiction of drug use and homosexuality is pretty shocking (for the time) for a network TV movie.

The real reason Guyana Tragedy works is Powers Boothe’s performance. He’s electrifying in this. He plays Jones as almost a rock star. Boothe is particularly suave in the scenes where he beds his congregation (both men and women). Boothe is so charismatic that you never question why anyone would drink the Kool-Aid.

Screenwriter Ernest Tidyman also wrote Shaft and The French Connection.

AKA: The Mad Messiah.