Tag Archives: Michael Moriarty

30 Days of Madness, Day 23 — Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

qwingedserpent

Written & directed by Larry Cohen.

This movie should have been called Q: The Whiny Small Time Crook. Michael Moriarty is one of the whiniest, weasliest protagonists ever, and the majority of the film follows him around, so its his unbearable show. Am I supposed to find him funny? Or sympathetic? It really seems like he was intended to be both. He’s terrible. And castmates Candy Clark, David Carradine, and Richard Roundtree aren’t much better.

In fact, there isn’t a single character in this film I did care about. All I could think for an hour and twenty minutes was how much I wanted to see this giant bird dragon appear and destroy everyone. An hour and twenty minutes into a 1 hour 32 minute movie. Fifteen minutes from the end, and I was still waiting for real monster action beyond the quick glimpse here and there. I’m thinking there’s only about a minute and a half of monster in this entire film. And maybe another couple of minutes of gross Aztec ritual killings, because, oh yeah, there’s also a cult that’s barely shown. They worship the ancient god Quetzalcoatl, which I guess is what this monster is supposed to be, even though it ends up being nothing more than a lazily designed lizard with wings. It doesn’t look remotely birdlike, even though they’ve been referring to it as a bird throughout the film. Did they even look a picture of Quetzalcoatl before making this movie?

And then the police force’s response to finally finding this giant flying monster is to shoot automatic weapons wildly from the top of a skyscraper out across lower Manhattan. They probably killed more people than the monster did. It would take a scene by scene breakdown to appropriately explain how bad this movie is.

Bad writing, bad directing, bad acting, bad cinematography, bad music (I kid you not, there were two separate pieces of music playing at the same gorram time in one scene), and, I’m sorry to say since I’m a lover of old-fashioned stop-motion monster movies, bad special effects. I actually can’t find anything worthy of legitimate praise.

Final grade: I’m afraid I have to give this an F. I was looking forward to watching this, too.

My Flickchart ranking: #3193 (out of 3268, a relative 2/100) (Bottom 100!)

A Year of Movies

8. Courage Under Fire (1996)

Cast: Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Sean Astin, Matt Damon, Seth Gilliam, Scott Glenn, Tim Guinee, Zeljko Ivanek, Michael Moriarty,Lou Diamond Phillips, Bronson Pinchot, Tim Ransom, Regina Taylor.Written by Patrick Sheane Duncan. Directed by Edward Zwick.

Thursday, January 13.

The basics: Washington plays an Army officer investigating the increasing discrepancies surrounding the story of a female chopper commander (Ryan) who has been nominated to receive the Medal of Honor for bravery in combat in the aftermath of the Gulf War.

The experience: I had never seen this film before. It was in fact the only of Zwick’s historical/political films I had not seen. I am a fan of his other work, including The Siege (which was underrated and chillingly prophetic) and especially Glory, Blood Diamond, Defiance, and The Last Samurai which had a major personal impact on me back in 2003. As with The Patriot, my grandpa was watching Courage Under Fire on TV while I was working in the other room. Thus, I heard quite a lot of the movie without watching it, which is interesting with a movie one has never seen, and a bit frustrating for someone like me who values the first-viewing impact a movie can have. It’s my own fault though; I’ve had almost 15 years to see it. Anyway, the movie had a big impact on my grandpa, who was sorry he had not been able to see the whole movie. He handed me some money and told me to find it and buy it, so that’s what I did. Today, I went out and tracked it down, which took awhile, because it was no longer available in any of the major DVD retailers. I found a copy at a secondhand electronics store. I brought it back, and we watched it together immediately, and we both thought it was a great movie. I wish I had seen it sooner.

The good: Like I already said, it’s a great movie. The way the plot unfolds, the details of what really happened in that incident slowly coming to light, was intriguing. It was interesting to see pre-Good Will Hunting Matt Damon (though I’d seen a couple scenes already on Inside the Actors Studio). Denzel Washington is downright amazing in his multi-faceted role, digging for truth while coping with demons from his own war experiences and the effects it has had on his family life. He didn’t get an Oscar nomination for this? Shame. Zwick’s direction is heart-pounding as ever. The rest of the cast is decent enough, though….

The bad: Some of the character interactions do fall a bit flat. Meg Ryan is perhaps slightly out of her depth in this intense role, though, to her credit, she gives it her all. She is, for the most part, affecting, but just sometimes the obviousness of how much she’s forcing it out of herself can be distracting. Lou Diamond Phillips is still not the greatest at heavy dramatic scenes. (Remember his monologue from Young Guns?) But this is quibbling about a dramatically engaging film. The film’s biggest problem is the way the big revealing scene is handled in the end, and unfortunately, to go into detail would constitute spoilers of epic proportions. Suffice it to say, the impact is diminished by one of the worst, and regrettably most laughable, uses of slow-motion in film history. This needless and counter-productive climactic slow-mo is, I fear, Zwick’s biggest shortcoming. It’s the same problem that diminished the climactic impact in The Siege and especially Legends of the Fall.

The verdict: Courage Under Fire is highly recommendable. Technique aside, the story itself is so engaging and the truth so shocking (if you don’t know the truth ahead of time, which I unfortunately did because of the aforementioned overhearing of the film the day before) that it is, in the end, a very effective film. One more time: Denzel is phenomenal. My Netflix rating: 4/5 stars. My IMDb rating: 8/10. Current rank on my Flickchart: 464/2201 (Top 500).

–Tom Kapr