Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Shout Factory - ROLLERCOASTER and TWO-MINUTE WARNING on Blu-ray ""

Friday, June 17, 2016


ROLLERCOASTER (1977; James Goldstone)
I cannot explain why I love ROLLERCOASTER so much, but I do. Maybe it's partially the nostalgia for a time when amusement parks were an even bigger deal than they are now and a "much simpler time" as it were. My affection for it has grown a lot over the years and I'm always pleased to come across another fan like myself. It's a fun little "ride" of a movie (sorry, had to do it).
The almost fourteen-minute opening sequence plays out along the lines of a near silent flick in that the gentleman we are focused on (Timothy Bottoms mad bomber character) speaks almost not at all the whole time. We watch Bottoms' sicko character stroll calmly through the park and take it all in just moments before he wreaks havoc on the place.  It's all supposed to feel very Hitchcockian and it works for the most part. The first rollercoaster crash that we see is still a little grisly and conveys the terror of such an event pretty well (watch for the dummies though). In a time when JAWS had frightened vacationers away from beaches a few years prior, this movie was attempting to make them skiddish about amusement parks. It's like Hollywood was going after popular recreational spots. ROLLERCOASTER was actually a little later in the cycle of these movies. It's also a film that was probably in theaters at the same time as STAR WARS at some point. I'm fascinated by the idea that there was some couple or family trying to decide between STAR WARS and ROLLERCOASTER for their night out entertainment.
Let's talk about George Segal for a second. Can I just say that I love that there was a time when he was a leading man in big Hollywood motion pictures. Not to say that he's not a handsome fella, but he - like Elliott Gould - feel like the stars of a bygone era. I just adore Segal in this movie. He has my vote for one of the grumpiest, most openly sarcastic main characters in all of cinema. He snipes and grumbles his way through this thing in the most entertaining way. It's neat that they made it a subplot that his character is trying to quit smoking so as to help motivate his extra grouchy moments. He's not even above blackmailing his boss. Because of his defiant attitude, he ends up coming off like a subtle badass. He takes no crap from anybody - even the mad bomber. That sarcasm plays a dual role though in that it amps up the tension a bit when he and the bomber are engaged in their cat and mouse game. It seems like it might be a bad idea to have a smartass like this dealing with a no-nonsense maniac with his finger on a detonator.
Another notable and fun thing about ROLLERCOASTER is that it is one of a small group of films that were presented the Senssurround process. It was an interesting experiment - often consisting of equipping theaters with giant speakers that - combined with an extra amount of bassiness and the speaker placement - could actually physically shake a theater. It worked best in a film like EARTHQUAKE, when it functions as basically a very analog predecessor to today's D-BOX seating. ROLLERCOASTER has a few longer sequences of point-of-view rollercoaster riding that would have been accompanied by the heavy rumbling of Senssurround. It's just an interesting gimmick to draw people into theaters. That seems to be a battle that has being fought since television came onto the scene until right now.  
Other things I like about this movie - Richard Widmark as an equally cranky FBI man who is immediately at odds with Segal. Widmark is one of the original cinematic wise-asses and he can carry off that kinda thing quite well. Just watch PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET for a great example. 
Also, Timothy Bottoms is consistent in his eerily calm, monotone psychopath is passably chilling here and that helps the movie a bit. I always enjoy a movie with a solid villain and this guy is downright ambitious as well as methodical. 
Watching it now, I was constantly thinking about how different the investigative process was in films before the internet and cell phones. People have to call each other from landlines and big accidents were not all over social media within a matter of hours and it took longer to see patterns. Segal's character actually gets an early clue from a print newspaper in the bottom of a birdcage in a pet shop. Just a few other fun things about ROLLERCOASTER - and they have to do with bit parts. Most memorable is a very young Helen Hunt playing George Segal's daughter. Secondly, is an on-stage performance by the band Sparks - which always seemed an odd choice to me, but I love it. Lastly, keep an eye out for Craig Wasson as a random hippie ROLLERCOASTER rider in line with his girlfriend. Oh and last but not least is Lalo Schifrin's wonderful calliope theme for the film. Great stuff.
This Shout Factory Blu-ray looks pretty good. The colorful palette of the amusement park backdrops is served well by the format.

Special Features:
Shout has included a new on-camera interview with writer Tommy Cook. It runs about thirteen minutes and features Cook  discussing how he came up with the original story that became the script for ROLLERCOASTER and how he went about getting the script to Universal. Cook is a very interesting character and a lively storyteller so it's a nice little featurette.

ROLLERCOASTER can be purchased here:

TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976; Larry Peerce)
As with ROLLERCOASTER, this one also has a large and crowded public event as its backdrop for a suspenseful tale. It also similarly has a different kind of movie star at the center. Charlton Heston is one  of those actors that was such a Hollywood  institution for so long that eventually became kind of a parody of himself (for my money, in a good way). His cadences and acting choices always erred on the side of not subtle and he really embodied the bigger-than-life man's man kinda gents. I personally have been completely on board with him since seeing OMEGA MAN in college. That one just ended up being another of my favorites over time.  TWO-MINUTE WARNING sees Heston dealing with a homicidal sniper who has chosen a stadium-bound championship football game (notably not and NFL game) as his barrel to shoot fish in. Said barrel is the Los Angeles Coliseum and we're told it contains some ninety-one thousand cheering fans for the picking at the outset. Like many disaster flicks of this era (and this one loosely fits the genre), this one contains lots of character stereotypes that we're supposed to care about played by a large ensemble of solid acting talent. One of the tell-tale signs of a disaster movie in this era was the poster - which typically had all those little boxes with the pictures of the various stars in the cast. This group includes Heston, John Cassavetes, Martin Balsam, Jack Klugman, David Janssen, Gena Rowlands, Walter Pidgeon and Beau Bridges among others. This time around, I even noticed Andy Sidaris's name in the credits. It's great to see all these actors, even if their back stories are a bit thin due to there being so many of them. Klugman is a down on his luck gambler who has basically staked his life on the outcome of the game. Beau Bridges is a recently unemployed dad who has brought his wife and two boys to the game. Janssen and Rowlands are a couple in from out of town. Balsam is the stadium manager (which has lots of important folks including in attendance with a possible presidential visit in the works) dealing with the VIPs and the crowds. You get the idea, there's lots of drama and when you throw in a crazy sniper scanning the crowd for a target - it makes for some tension. Thankfully, John Cassavetes is the head of S.W.A.T. and in charge of taking out the sniper. While this movie ain't no ROLLERCOASTER, it's still an enjoyable if grim view - especially for disaster movie fans like myself who are content to just watch all the big stars do their business. It also has a pretty epic riot scene at the end when the people attempt to flee the stadium in a mass exodus of absolute mayhem. It's the kind of mayhem that you only really saw in 70s films, with stunt men doing some crazy stuff in the service of the depicted chaos.

Special Features:
Shout has got a couple nice supplements here that I wouldn't have expected for a disc like this. First is a new 26-minute interview with director Larry Peerce. This is a neat interview for me as I am always curious about the behind the scenes on a movie like this with a big cast such as this one. The disc also has includes the broadcast television version of the movie (in standard definition), which used reshoots to change the story and give the film a different ending.

TWO-MINUTE WARNING can be purchased here:

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