Solar Yaaaaaaawn Crisis

Solar Crisis is currently available on instant Netflix.

Solar Crisis


Solar Crisis (1990) – Rated PG-13

“In this sci-fi thriller set in 2050, a huge solar flare threatens to destroy life on Earth unless a band of scientists can save the day by dropping an antimatter bomb on the sun. To make matters worse, there’s a saboteur among their ranks.”

One Line Review: Plot good but actors wooden and script way too exposition heavy

One of the primary rules of storytelling is never tell, always show. Sadly, Solar Crisis tells us at every turn. Most of the first act is solid, boring exposition. The film begins with some very inexpensive looking scrolling text, letting us know that Earth is doomed and to buy war bonds now. Don’t strain your eyes though as a narrator reads those same words aloud.

Could the movie poster above be any more generic?

They waste a good cast. Charlton Heston, certainly a sci-fi veteran if ever there was one, has little to do here and just scowls and collects a paycheck. Jack Palance chews the scenery as a desert rat. Peter Boyle gives Jack a run for his money as Arnold Teague. The rest of the cast are stiff and wooden, including lead Tim Matheson.

Director Richard C. Sarafian so disavowed this mess that he uses the Alan Smithee credit. The plot desperately needs streamlining. As with the later projects Armageddon and Sunshine, apparently saving the Earth isn’t sufficient to capture people’s interest. They have to add on all sorts of plot devices, including the ubiquitous traitor in their midst.

While Solar Crisis is terribly boring, it was certainly way ahead of its time with greedy corporations ruling the Earth. Danny Boyle appears to have lifted whole sections of the plot for Sunshine (much as he combined Day of the Triffids with Night of the Living Dead to produce 28 Days Later). At least Sunshine was exciting and visually attractive.

People Watch: Yes, that is composer Paul Williams as the voice of Freddy the Bomb (I don’t make this stuff up). Horror icon Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes) has a small part as Matthew.

The Professionals – South of the Border week

This is South of the Border week. We will be featuring movies taking place in Mexico. The Professionals is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: The Professionals (1966) – Rated PG-13 for adult content, adult language, nudity and violence.

“A largely forgotten action-adventure gem, The Professionals teams Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Burt Lancaster with more star wattage than most Westerns have ever marshaled. Hired to retrieve kidnapped Claudia Cardinale from bandito Jack Palance, these pros shoot, rope and ride all over northern Mexico. Gorgeous cinematography from Conrad L. Hall (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) makes The Professionals ideal summertime entertainment.”

“Your hair was darker then” – “My heart was lighter then.”

“Maybe there is only one revolution, since the beginning, the good guys against the bad guys. Question is, who are the good guys?”

Richard Brooks does double duty here. He not only directed The Professional but also adapted it from the book, “A Mule for the Marquesa” by Frank ORourke. He was nominated for an Academy Award for both of those roles.

Conrad L. Hall was also nominated for an Oscar for color cinematography. Unfortunately The Professionals ran into the juggernaut that was A Man for All Seasons. A Man for All Seasons took 6 Oscars including the three that The Professionals was nominated for.

While the cinematography is gorgeous (nearly a requirement for a good western) and the story takes place in Mexico, the filming was not done there. The Professionals was filmed in Death Valley and the Valley of Fire.

Being a western of the 60s, this film has characters that are a little more complex than earlier decades. They are somewhat introspective. The heroes are not all good and the villains are not pure evil.

Lee Marvin plays the same role he always does and is fun to watch. Burt Lancaster does a good job of letting Lee do the leading. Burt spends his time playing the cynic. Robert Ryan comes the closest to being an old-fashioned western hero and the script does a good job of pointing out that he is somewhat naive in his outlook.

Our fourth hero is played by Woody Strode. I really like that they address the possible prejudice against a person of color without making him the lackey of the group. The other members accept him as an equal.

Owing to his complexion and angular features, Jack Palance was pretty consistently doomed to play the villain. Here he plays Jesus Raza. He actually is not in much of the film but he gets a pretty sweet speech.

Our kidnap victim/love interest is played by the lovely Claudia Cardinale. True story – my wife saw her in person at the Cannes film festival. She had no idea who Claudia Cardinale was and Poppa and I who would have loved to have seen Claudia were off on a park bench at the time.

In spite of the three Oscar noms, this is not a classic film. The action suffers a bit from lack of realism – there would be three more years before we would have the grittiness of The Wild Bunch (1969) and it lacks the polish of The Magnificent Seven (1960).

Mostly due to the cast and cinematography, it is quite enjoyable if you like westerns and I do recommend it on that basis. While the first two acts are fairly standard western tropes, the third act actually has several good payoffs culminating in a very satisfactory finale.

People Watch: Our intrepid group is hired by Joe Grant played by Ralph Bellamy. While he starred in literally hundreds of movies from the 30s on, Ralph Bellamy is currently best known for two roles. He played Randolph Duke in Trading Places opposite Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. He also played FDR in The Winds of War and War and Remembrance miniseries.

Panic in the Streets – The Doctor is Out! week

In honor of my sudden illness this past weekend, this week is The Doctor is Out week. Panic in the Streets is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Panic in the Streets (1950) – NR – Not rated.

“A medical official races against time to stop a deadly epidemic from spreading across the United States in this taut drama. Lt. Cmdr. Dr. Clinton Reed (Richard Widmark) frantically scours New Orleans to locate two murderers (Jack Palance and Zero Mostel) infected with a deadly plague. Reed must inoculate the criminals and anyone with whom they have come into contact, without causing widespread pandemonium. Barbara Bel Geddes also stars.”

You know, my mother always told me if you looked deep enough in anybody… you would always find some good but I dont know.” – “With apologies to your mother, that is the second mistake she made.”

Elia Kazan does a wonderful job of directing here. The opening scene comes across as a classic film noir as do many of the scenes featuring Palance. The rest of the film is shot very matter of factly – almost documentary style.

Elia Kazan previously won an Oscar for Gentlemans Agreement and would go on to win for On the Waterfront. He was also nominated for A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden, and America, America.

His honorary Oscar in 1999 was full of controversy. During the McCarthy hearings, he informed on many of his fellow artists causing “irrevocable harm” and in some cases driving them out of the country or the business. Many of the attendees neither stood nor applauded when he was awarded.

Edna and Edward Anhalt won the Oscar for Best Writing for their work on Panic. They would go on to be nominated again in 1953 for The Sniper. Edward won a second Oscar for writing Becket. Part of the reason the writing is so good here is that it seems exceptionally forward-thinking for 1950.

Jack Palance makes his film debut here. He is wonderful as a psychotic killer although I expect that that facility and his angular, swarthy looks caused him to be typecast. I love how he spends most of the movie physically shoving people. Jack is billed here as Walter Jack Palance.

This is also the debut of Zero Mostel and there is not a trace of his humor to be found in this very serious performance.

A young Richard Widmark plays our (somewhat cranky) heroic investigator, Dr. Reed. Barbara Bel Geddes has fun as his long-suffering wife Nancy Reed. Paul Douglas is the disbelieving police captain.

I give this forerunner to Robin Cook/Michael Crichton a watch. It is flawed but the melding of film noir to medical thriller is very interesting.

People Watch: Director Elia Kazan has a cameo as a mortuary assistant.