Archive for J. Lee Thompson

Murphy’ Law (1986) Review

Posted in Murphy's Law with tags , , , on August 1, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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MURPHY’S LAW

*** ½ Out of 5

Tagline- He’s a Cop, She’s a Thief, Together They’re Running for Their Lives.

Release Date- April 18th, 1986

Running Time- 100-Minutes

Rating- R

Screenplay- Gail Morgan Hickman

Director- J. Lee Thompson

Starring- Charles Bronson, Carrie Snodgress, Robert F. Lyons, Richard Romanus, Kathleen Wilhoite

By the time Murphy’s Law was released in 1986, Charles Bronson pretty much worked exclusively for the Cannon Group and the good portion of his films in the 80s were with Cannon starting with Death Wish II (1982). Charles Bronson through most of his career was a supporting actor with such films the Magnificent Seven, the Dirty Dozen and the Great Escape or in the very least co-lead in films such as Sergio Leone’s epic Once Upon a Time in the West. It wasn’t until 1974 with Death Wish when Bronson became a bankable leading man and by that point he’d already been in the film industry for over 20-years. However after Death Wish, Bronson would have success, but by 1982 his films weren’t doing much business as at best they were moderate hits and that along with the paycheck is why he kept making the Death Wish sequels even though by all accounts he wasn’t very fond of them outside of the original film, but with the Death Wish sequels, Bronson got a nice paycheck and a box office hit. Murphy’s Law like the good portion of Bronson’s work in the 80s not called Death Wish was only a moderate success, but his films were big on VHS rentals. Despite starring in film classics like the Great Escape and Once Upon a Time in the West, Bronson’s career always goes back to the Death Wish films and it seems the films he starred in during the 80s are the films most people seem to cite when talking about Bronson’s career outside of the Death Wish films, which is quite unfortunate since even though I enjoyed his films in the 80s, Charles Bronson starred in some truly great films great films prior to the 80s and again even though I liked a lot of his films in the 80s none were exactly on the level of Once Upon a Time in the West.

Murphy’s Law won’t go down as one of the best Bronson films as its nowhere near the level of some of the films I’ve mentioned, but with that said it does provide enough entertainment to make a passable viewing. Even among Bronson’s 80s films I’d still rate Murphy’s Law as a middle of the road film as its not as fun as Death Wish II & 3 (though a little below the 4th) and its not as good as Death Hunt or 10 to Midnight, but it is better than films such as Messenger of Death and Kinjite. I guess it’s a middle of the road film no matter how you slice it.

Jack Murphy (Bronson) is a cop who’s framed for murdering his ex-wife. While in custody, Murphy is cuffed to Arabella (Wilhoite) a girl he recently arrested for stealing his car. Murphy stages an escape having no choice except to drag Arabella along with him. Murphy sets off to clear his name while the cops and mob are after him. Arabella is listed as an accomplice and she hopes to stay alive long enough for her name to be cleared.

The screenplay was written by Gail Morgan Hickman and his other credits would include the Dirty Harry film the Enforcer (story credit) as well as the Big Score and Death Wish 4. Hickman has also written for such TV shows as Crime Story, the Equalizer and the Flash. The screenplay is often fun and the banter between Murphy and Arabella often entertaining. Murphy’s Law is light on plot as the story lacks depth from the history between Murphy and his ex is underdeveloped and the reasoning behind Murphy being framed is also lacking however all this made up for in the fun factor with some really funny bits (some intentional and some not). Every other bit of dialogue from Arabella is some kind of an insult and while funny it does get a little tiresome and than a little annoying and while I suppose the character is in early 20s the insults come across as very immature like something a 14-year old would say. Hickman writes the standard Cannon Group action film and while the plotting could have used a bit more depth and perhaps a little less insults from Arabella, but Hickman delivers a fun script that’s nothing more or less.

Murphy’s Law was directed by J. Lee Thompson who at one point in his career was a very successful filmmaker with such films as Guns of Navarone, which earned Thompson an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination. He also directed Cape Fear, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. But later in his career he became more known for B-movies with films such as the slasher cult classic Happy Birthday to Me. J. Lee Thompson and Charles Bronson worked together 9 times as besides Murphy’s Law they also worked together on, St. Ives, White Buffalo, Cabo Blanco, 10 to Midnight, the Evil That Men Do, Death Wish 4, Messenger of Death and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects. Starting with 10 to Midnight all the films Thompson directed throughout the rest of the 80s were for the Cannon Group with the exception of the Evil That Men Do. Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects would not only be the last film Thompson and Bronson worked on together, but also Thompson’s final film. In an odd twist of fate J. Lee Thompson would pass away on August 30th, 2002 at the age of 88 and Charles Bronson would die the same exact day only one year later in 2003. At this stage in his career Thompson was making B-movies however he always tried to keep his films a little above that, which in someways hindered the productions and in other ways helped them. With Murphy’s Law it’s a little bit of both. The pacing is generally strong and Thompson sets up a fun and light tone. However by the middle the film does begin to run out of steam a little bit, which is more due to the light plot than direction, but to Thompson’s credit he always at the very least keeps things fairly interesting and Thompson also stages some fun action scenes and while I suppose Murphy’s Law wouldn’t be a high mark in Thompson’s career (or Bronson for that matter) its still a fun film and Thompson makes the standard Cannon action film, but flaws and all he almost always keeps it fun.

Despite his popularity Charles Bronson never really got his credit as an actor as most people cite his tough guy persona in his films. And no doubt Bronson was one of the great film tough guys, but at one point in his career he was a terrific actor and his performance in Once Upon a Time in the West showcases how talented of an actor he was. After Death Wish it seemed as if all his roles were some kind of variation of Paul Kersey. If he wasn’t playing a Paul Kersey type character he was a rogue cop like in Murphy’s Law and as fun as these films were they didn’t show off his talents as an actor and I could be wrong, but while I know he wasn’t overly fond of the Death Wish sequels he probably felt that way about a lot of the films he made in the 80s and I think he was just sort of going through the motions as these films were the best he could get and probably the best paying and even if his performances while not as strong as some of his past ones, but Bronson still gave in my opinion a decent performance and he’s always fun to watch.

Overall Murphy’s Law is an enjoyable film and it has enough to offer to make it a fun viewing. And while the middle scenes might lag in spots, Thompson still retains a fun tone and Bronson is always a joy to watch.

If the cabin Murphy goes to looks familiar it should as its the same cabin the Jarvis family lived in from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, which came out in 1984 two years before Murphy’s Law.

10 to Midnight (1983) Review

Posted in 10 to Midnight with tags , , , on July 31, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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10 TO MIDNIGHT

*** ½ Out of 5

Tagline- A Cop. A Killer. A Deadline

Release Date- March 11th, 1983

Running Time- 102-Minutes

Rating- R

Screenplay- William Roberts

Director- J. Lee Thompson

Starring- Charles Bronson, Lisa Eilbacher, Andrew Stevens, Gene Davis, Geoffrey Lewis, Robert Lyons and Wilford Brimley

Released in 1983 10 to Midnight has become a cult favorite among Bronson fans and while I liked the film, but when compared to other Bronson films such as the Great Escape, Once Upon a Time in the West and even Death Wish, which despite its popularity doesn’t always get its rightful credit as people mostly seem to focus more on the action packed sequels, but this film isn’t quite as strong compared to those. 10 to Midnight has often been compared to Death Wish, but it seems every film Bronson made after Death Wish gets compared to it, but if anything 10 to Midnight is a lot closer to Dirty Harry as the 2nd half of the film, Bronson’s character begins to follow the villain waiting for him to do something much like how Harry followed the Scorpio killer. I suppose since Bronson takes the law into his own hands its linked to Death Wish, but truth is the films are quite different. 10 to Midnight was released when the slasher film was highly profitable and while it was at its most popular in the 1980-1981 range, these films still continued to dominate the market throughout the rest of the 80s and many filmmakers made films that takes aspects of the slasher film, but wanted to avoid the slasher conventions that started to bog down these films. Besides 10 to Midnight there was also the Chuck Norris film Silent Rage, which mixes crime/drama/action and throws in a little slasher as a couple of scenes seem clearly inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween and the most famous film for adding in slasher conventions, but doesn’t fully go down that road is the Stepfather from 1987. More often than not these films can suffer a bit from lack of identity with the exception of the Stepfather. Silent Rage would have been better off going in one direction (the slasher aspect is the strongest) and one can say the same about 10 to Midnight however it works better than Silent Rage, but nowhere near as strong as the Stepfather.

Leo Kessler (Bronson) is a cop hot on the trail of serial killer Warren Stacy (Davis). However with no evidence and an airtight alibi there’s nothing Kessler can do, but after another murder, Kessler plants evidence, but when the truth is revealed, Kessler is fired and Warren a free man. Kessler begins to follow Warren and even posts crime scene photos at his job. But it becomes even more personal when Warren begins to stalk Kessler’s daughter Laurie (Eilbacher) and its not long after that he plans to make her his next victim.

The screenplay was written by William Roberts who also wrote the classic western the Magnificent Seven, which starred Bronson in an all star cast with the likes of Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner. 10 to Midnight would actually be the last film Roberts would write. As mentioned the script balances crime/drama and slasher, but Roberts avoids the pitfalls often found in the slasher films, but the script is bogged down by being the typical thriller and it perhaps takes a little too much from Dirty Harry. Characters are fairly decent and are interesting enough when the focus is on them rather than the action. The influence on the script seems to take aspects of serial killer Richard Speck and I have to assume the slaughter of the nurses were directly inspired by Speck. While the screenplay has decent characters and a strong idea, but I’m not sure Roberts was the right guy for the job as at times the script isn’t entirely sure what it wants to be and due to that it can lack an identity. However with that said 10 to Midnight isn’t poorly written as it is decent enough, but there was potential for more.

The direction by J. Lee Thompson feels a little restrained in regards to he doesn’t wanna go down the slasher route or exploitation, but does incorporate aspects of both. Thompson seems to be aiming more for a sophisticated thriller, but the script wasn’t strong enough for that and I can’t help but feel the film would have better served going for more exploitation. Some have compared the death scenes to Psycho in how it was shot in regards that we don’t actually see the stabbings and while I wouldn’t be surprised if Psycho had an influence on Thompson and no offense, but 10 to Midnight shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence as Psycho as this film isn’t in the same galaxy. Though to Thompson’s credit he does try to make more out of the film and playing up to the exploitation film would have been taking the easy way out, but maybe the better move. Even after Michael Winner turned the Death Wish films to all out exploitation with the 2nd and 3rd film, Thompson with the direction on Death Wish 4 very much moved away from that style. The pacing is generally strong until about the middle of the film when it becomes a little disjointed, which has more to do with the writing and 102-minute running time does seem longer than it needs to be. However Thompson still keeps the film above float and delivers a terrific final act with some genuine suspense and tension and the ending is a classic Bronson moment. 10 to Midnight was the 4th of 9 films Charles Bronson made with J. Lee Thompson and this film also marked Thompson’s first film with Cannon and the remainder of his films after this were made with Cannon with the only exception being the Evil That Men Do (which also starred Bronson). Two years prior to 10 to Midnight in 1981 J. Lee Thompson would direct the cult slasher film Happy Birthday to Me and even in that production, Thompson doesn’t seem to wanna take the film fully down that road and aims more for a thriller.

While the cast is strong, obviously it’s Charles Bronson is why people seek this out. Charlie is his typical no nonsense tough guy and while his performance isn’t on par with Once Upon a Time in the West, Bronson still provides a fun performance, but he does seem to be going through the motions. While after Death Wish he played a lot of Paul Kersey type characters he played the break the rules cop a lot more as besides 10 to Midnight there was also Murphy’s Law and Kinjite.

Overall 10 to Midnight is a solid film and while not one of Bronson’s best films it still has enough to offer and the ending alone makes it a worthy viewing. While the film is a little disjointed in spots its still effective in particular the final act. Also look for Kelly Preston as Doreen in an early role as one of the nurses killed by Warren and in the credits her name is listed as Kelly Palzis.

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Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987) Review

Posted in Death Wish 4 with tags , , , , on May 21, 2013 by Last Road Reviews

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DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN

*** ½ Out of 5

Tagline- The Vigilante is Back with a Vengeance

Release Date- November 6th, 1987

Running Time- 99-Minutes

Rating- R

Screenplay- Gail Morgan Hickman

Director- J. Lee Thompson

Starring- Charles Bronson, Kay Lenz, John P. Ryan, Perry Lopez, George Dickerson, Soon-Tech Oh, Dana Barron

The original Death Wish is the holy grail of the vigilante flick and in my opinion the best vigilante flick hands down. At the time Charles Bronson was 54 and that was the movie that launched him from supporting actor to lead. The 2nd Death Wish was pretty much a rehash of the original, but still a very good film. Both films may not be the most realistic, but I think they can actually happen. They were excellent crime/dramas of a man pushed too far, but once we got to the 3rd movie they became action flicks and Bronson’s character Paul Kersey sort of became a superhero going up against people half his age and he also had a whole arsenal of weapons. Death Wish 4 however not only is Kersey a superhero, but he channels his inner James Bond as he now seems to have skills of a spy with tapping phones and going undercover!

After destroying Brooklyn in Death Wish 3 the 4th film returns to Los Angeles also the setting of the 2nd movie. Perhaps the makers of the movies aren’t aware, but the US has other places besides New York and L.A. the 1st, 3rd and 5th were set in NY with again 2 & 4 being is L.A. so here we are back in Los Angeles and Paul Kersey (Bronson) is attempting to live a normal life as he’s in a relationship with Karen (Lenz) who has a teenage daughter Erica (Barron) and Paul cares deeply for both and hey this is a Death Wish movie so the fate of both characters shouldn’t be a shocker. After Erica dies from an OD, Paul reverts back to his vigilante ways, while Karen who works for a newspaper tries to gather information for an article she wants to write about the dangers of drugs. In Kersey’s quest for revenge he meets Nathan White (Ryan) who gives Kersey the weapons and info he needs to destroy the drug cartels overrunning L.A., but Nathan White may not be who he seems to be and soon Kersey is on his own sets out for another deadly showdown.

There were some changes made to the series with Death Wish 4 starting with the change of director. Michael Winner who of course directed the first 3 movies is out and J. Lee Thompson who by this time was mostly working for Cannon Films steps into the director’s chair and the classic score used in past films is pretty much gone and if I’m being totally honest this really doesn’t feel like a Death Wish movie and I’m not sure it needed to be there are mentions of the first 2 (nothing said about 3) and I guess as its own film it might be a little too much like Death Wish, and I guess the name of the series helps box office numbers and again even with eliminating mentions of past films it still would be too much a like despite how different this film was to the past 3.

The screenplay written by Gail Morgan Hickman whose other credits include Murphy’s Law (also starring Bronson and directed by J. Lee Thompson) and is credited for the story on the Eastwood Dirty Harry classic the Enforcer. Whereas the first 2 films were mostly crime/dramas starting with the 3rd they became more action driven, but 3 still retains many elements of the first 2, but seems to be a more satirical take on them, but Hickman writes Death Wish 4 as an action movie and no longer does Kersey hide in the shadows, here he strikes whenever he can and walks away out in the open. The screenplay has some touches of social commentary as it tackles the dangers of drug use and deals with teen drug use in particular, but if you’re looking for a deep screenplay, Death Wish 4 isn’t one of them. The opening scene was quite interesting as it starts off in a parking garage where 3 masked men attack a woman and Kersey shows up and kills all three, but when he looks down at one of the victims he sees himself and is in shock. Of course this is all a dream, but this idea never goes anywhere and I’m not sure what the point of it was since again it’s never brought up. It was an interesting idea I suppose to get into Kersey’s head, but this scene could easily be removed and nothing would be missing. The script works on the camp factor and while the script does differ than the past 3 and as I said this could have worked as its own film, but really by this point there wasn’t much left to do except have Bronson go around killing bad guys. The script is fun though, but does take itself a little too serious at times and I’m not entirely sure some of the silly dialogue was always intentional. Overall the script isn’t really anything special though some interesting ideas were presented, but never go anywhere; the script simply is just about Kersey killing bad guys and its quite easy to forget why he’s even after this drug cartel and Kay Lenz who plays a vital role early in the film is gone though the middle shows up again in the final act and its easy to forget she’s in the film.

At one point J. Lee Thompson was an acclaimed director, but by this point in his career he was making silly action flicks that really didn’t showcase his talents, but these films did work on the fun factor. With the change of director comes a change in tone and while J. Lee Thompson has made some solid films, Death Wish 4 is far inferior to the previous 3. Michael Winner may not be a great filmmaker, but with the first 3 Death Wish films he did a great job with the original film being the holy grail of the vigilante film. The pacing for Death Wish 4 can be sluggish in spots, but for the most part there enough action and silly moments to keep the film entertaining. Death Wish 4 feels more like your run of the mill low budget 80s action film rather than a Death Wish film, but Thompson still crafts a fun and over the top film.

Charles Bronson is great as Paul Kersey and despite nearing 70 at the time I personally never found it difficult to except Bronson going around taking out people half his age. Death Wish 4 is just a showcase for Bronson to go around killing thugs and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Like I said before Kersey never really hides in the shadows, his escapes are in plain sight and he also doesn’t attempt to conceal himself at all either and even takes care of business during the daytime in an oil field. With his spy techniques and arsenal of weapons it is a bit over the top and it worked better in part 3 due to the satirical nature of the film (or at least I saw the film as more of a satire).

Of all 5 Death Wish films I would rate this or 5 as the weakest, but even a weak Death Wish film is still great fun. Overall Death Wish 4 is an entertaining film that at times attempts to be a little deeper, but quickly moves away from that in favor of action sequences. If you liked the previous 3 odds are you’ll enjoy this one as well.

Death Wish 4 also boasts a solid cast of character actors and cult favorite Danny Trejo appears in a couple of brief scenes one where he meets an exploding end!

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