Reflections of the Third Eye
14 April 2013
Two-Minute Warning (1976)
Now Playing: Spirit "Family That Plays Together"
Topic: T

I actually picked this one up by accident as I was looking for Peter Bogdanovich's debut movie The Sniper, and the two movies have very similar titles when translated into our local language. That the actors didn't match up or that the year was off by 8 years apparently didn't register with me, but that's what late-night binge-shopping on the internet is all about.

As luck had it, Two-Minute Warning turned out to be highly enjoyable and I would surely have seen it sooner or later anyway. I have no memories of its original run back in 1976-77, but it clearly belongs to the genre of 'disaster movies' that were in vogue in the mid-70s, sometimes involving Mother Nature, sometimes terrorists, and sometimes both. Those familiar with John Frankenheimer's Black Sunday will recognize certain elements instantly, the most obvious being an assault taking place during a football game. However, Two-Minute Warning is the earlier of the two and holds its own ground well. I was particularly impressed with the pacing and scene transitions, and the editing received a well-earned Oscar nomination.

Director Larry Peerce is not a major Hollywood name, and at the time of this movie he was a veteran of mainly TV work, and in the later part of his career he did more TV and a number of low-profile romantic dramas for the silver screen. Though unfamiliar with his oeuvre I suspect that Two-Minute Warning may be the best thing he put his name on. It's not a 'New Hollywood' movie per se, but like Don Siegel and Sam Peckinpah there is a natural affinity with the grim realism that the new generation favored. Based on a novel the script is tightly written as it unfolds, minute by minute, the desperate hunt for a crazy sniper whose next move no one can predict. Charlton Heston is a less than ideal choice for the main part, and John Cassavetes seems overly intellectual for a SWAT team leader, but the two get a fairly enjoyable tougher-than-thou chemistry going. It's interesting to speculate what a truly progressive casting job, such as in Dog Day Afternoon, might have brought out from this movie. But this is not really an actor showpiece or a character study, but a straightforward action thriller, and should be judged as such. I do sense a bit of Don Siegel as general inspiration, and the surprisingly bleak plot twists towards the end recall the chilly moods of the first two Dirty Harry movies, as an example, as does the sniper theme and the extensive use of real, outdoor locations rather than studio sets.

The cast is wide enough to look almost like a multi-story ensemble piece, but all the cords are tied together towards the end in an effective manner. Beau Bridges appears as a blue collar family man who suspects something's wrong, while Gena Rowlands has an unexpected but funny part as an ageing Southern belle. We're also treated to TV heroes David Janssen (The Fugitive) and Jack Klugman (The Odd Couple). Martin Balsam's presence brought Pelham 1-2-3 to mind, another quality disaster movie from the time. I deserve a moderate pat on the back for spotting Robert Ginty (of early video rental B-movie classic The Exterminator fame) in a 1-line part.

As a final note in praise of the direction, Two-Minute Warning features some of the best 'crowd hysteria' scenes I have seen in a movie this old. This is a very challenging task where just one extra not giving his all as the panic ensues can ruin a whole shot. But the scenes feel very real, near-documentary at their best. 7/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 8:35 PM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:40 AM MEST
3 April 2013
Timothy Leary's Last Trip (1997)
Topic: T

The first half of this 55-minute documentary is a recap of the early/mid-1960s LSD scene, when both Timothy Leary & Ken Kesey rose to prominence. There is lots of Merry Prankster '60s archive footage, some of which I didn't immediately recognize, and which may be unique to this feature. There's also some interesting old Leary footage, the bulk of it from the circa 1974 interview also seen in Timothy Leary's Dead. Some minor errors occur in the chronology and presentation of events, the most amusing (possibly a Prank?) assigning Wavy Gravy's name to a photo of Tiny Tim!

The second half of the movie concerns Leary's last 'trip', which turns out to be two trips -- one to a Hog Farm commune get-together in 1995, with some historically important footage of Kesey and Leary hanging out together. Contemporary interviews include original Pranksters George Walker and Wavy Gravy (looking great, like an old Polynesian tribe chief), and Kesey & Leary. Interspersed throughout is an interview with Leary from a studio (or his home), which I think is unique to this movie. There's some on-stage footage with Grateful Dead type music and Pranksters in costumes, and Leary giving the event his benediction.

Leary's 'second last trip' is a meeting on Internet between himself and Kesey, shortly before he died. It's pretty amusing to see the funky connection and very old-skool Netscape browsers this many years later. Not much of importance is said, it's mainly an exchange of greetings done in accordance with a technology shift that Leary, always the futurist, understood and embraced.

The director O B Babbs (Merry Prankster legend Ken Babbs' son) appears as a narrator here and there, and does a good job; and his handsome male-model looks are no drawback. There's a certain student film feel to this, but those familiar with what's been coming out of the revived Prankster nexus in Oregon will recognize and enjoy the home-made charm. Sentimentality is present, and may have been given a boost by the passing away of Jerry Garcia around this time, but considering who we are dealing with, there's certainly room for, and a need for, documentation.

Like Timothy Leary's Dead this movie has some specific, minor flaws, but combining these two fan-oriented DVD features you get a terrific view of Leary, the modern (post-1960) history of LSD, and a substantial dose of the equally important Merry Pranksters. A certain interest in the subject and personages is required, which I have no lack of. For those demanding a more refined cinematic coverage of some of the same topics, the more recent Magic Trip documentary should be the first stop. 7/10

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 12:26 AM MEST
Updated: 10 August 2013 12:36 AM MEST

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