July 2, 2012

TWO-MINUTE WARNING: The Pros & Cons Of Dollar Tree Sunglasses

Starring Charlton Heston, John Cassavetes, Martin Balsam, Beau Bridges, Marilyn Hassett, David Janssen, Jack Klugman, Gena Rowlands, Walter Pidgeon. Directed by Larry Peerce. (1976, 115 min).

I love Dollar Tree. My family and I go there at least once a week because we can cruise the aisles and fill our shopping cart with shit we generally don’t need. And there isn’t a better place in the world to get snacks...all kinds of craptastic stuff, like pizza-flavored potato chips, honey-mustard puffs and gobs weird-ass candy...you know, things no sane person would normally buy at Safeway...but hey, for a buck?

There’s a lot of useful stuff at Dollar Tree, too. That’s where we buy all our holiday decorations, birthday cards and wrapping paper. Why not? Spending five bucks on a roll of wrapping paper only makes sense if you’re gonna reuse it, and I defy you to name a single person in your life who really gives a damn about your effort to find the perfect, clever birthday card.

We also buy all our sandwich bags, dog toys, school supplies, stocking stuffers and cleaning products from Dollar Tree. If you have little ones, it’s the perfect place to pick that last-minute gift when he/she is invited to a birthday party. After all, why clean out your wallet for a kid you hardly know?

There are, however, some things you should never buy from Dollar Tree. Their deodorant is like applying grease under your arms, the main ingredient to their shampoos is water and a pack of AAA batteries will power your Wii remote long enough for one or two games of bowling. And whatever you do, do NOT buy Dollar Tree light bulbs. We bought a pack of six, and the first bulb exploded the second we flipped on the living room light switch, catching our curtains on fire and permanently frying the lamp we screwed it into.

Another thing I eventually discovered not to buy is sunglasses. Sure, a buck is a great deal for such an item, especially considering my luck with them. Cheap or expensive, designer or generic, I tend to lose or break them within a few weeks. We do a lot of boating in the summer, and I must have at least a dozen pair sitting at the bottom of the Columbia River by now. At first, Dollar Tree seemed like the perfect solution; racks of cheap shades which, if lost, no big deal. The problem is that Dollar Tree sunglasses only fit right the first couple of times you wear them. After that, they tend to sit on your face crooked. Since how my sunglasses look is at least as important as any practical purpose they might serve, I have an office drawer full of shades that no longer make me look as cool as I often assume I am.

What does a drawer of discarded Dollar Tree sunglasses have to do with Two-Minute Warning, a 1976 disaster thriller about a crazed sniper picking off football fans in a packed stadium? Almost nothing, save for way I watch that movie now.

Two-Minute Warning isn’t exactly a disaster movie in the purest sense, but it looks and feels like a disaster movie, with a lot of the same qualities...simple story, huge cast, needless sub-plots, spectacular deaths, scenes of mass panic, Charlton Heston. Disaster was, and still is, my favorite genre, so of course I wanted to see it when my thirteenth birthday rolled around. Since it was rated R, Dad graciously offered to take me.

This was actually a big deal for a couple of reasons. First, I’m pretty sure this was the first R-rated movie I ever saw in a theater (I was still a few months away gathering the courage to sneak into them on my own). But even if it wasn’t, I’m 100% positive it’s the first and only one either of my parents took me to because I wanted to see it. I remember strutting around in middle school the week before, crowing to anyone who’d listen that I was gonna see an R-rated movie...a grown-up movie. Everyone stop, behold and bask in the presence of Dave...the boy about to became a man through such manly activities as watching a manly movie.

Second, it was Dad who took me. I always had a decent relationship with him and, and for the most part, we got along just fine. But aside from soccer (he coached the team I played on), we never had a lot of common ground, and almost never did anything involving just the two of us. For all I knew, Mom was the one who volunteered Dad to take me to the movie, but it was a huge deal. This was my adolescent version of a guys’ night out! And although movies have never been Dad’s first choice of entertainment, because the plot of Two-Minute Warning centered around football, it was he who provided the first bit of useless-but-fascinating movie trivia I ever heard: Joe Kapp, who plays an aging quarterback in the film, was a once a real-life QB for the Minnesota Vikings.

The movie itself is about a psychotic sniper who manages to perch himself behind the scoreboard at LA’s Memorial Coliseum during the championship game. We’re supposed to assume it is the Super Bowl, but since the filmmakers received no cooperation from the NFL, it is called ‘Championship X.’ Similarly, both teams playing are not real NFL franchises, either (long-range shots used for the film consists of footage from a college match between Stanford and USC). I’m still not sure why the NFL refused to cooperate with Universal in the making of this one, yet allowed Paramount to film the climax of Black Sunday during the actual Super Bowl. I guess it depends on who a producer knows.

In Two-Minute Warning, we never actually see the sniper until the end, though we are provided shitloads of POV shots, from his initial practice kill (taking out a bicyclist from a hotel window), his long drive to the Coliseum, his trip through the stadium turnstyle, to finally sneaking past a couple of guard dogs (bad dogs indeed) in order to get up behind the scoreboard where he’ll eventually start picking-off the cast.

Meanwhile, the game commences, during which time we are introduced to characters whose only purpose is to die, like Jack Klugman as a gambler whose life depends on the game‘s outcome, Beau Bridges as a family man who smacks one of his kids when they mention he’s unemployed, Walter Pidgeon as a pickpocket who utters only one line in the whole movie, and David Janssen & Gene Rowland as a bickering couple. None of these characters have any baring on the plot whatsoever, but without them, like most disaster films, Two-Minute Warning would be thirty minutes long.

Charlton Heston and John Cassavetes star as a police captain and SWAT commander brought in to prevent the sniper from opening-fire. Heston has been in more disaster movies than anyone else I can think of, so he's gotten pretty damned good at phoning-it-in. Cassavetes was always respected in the 70s, but only showed up in audience pictures like this to finance his own quirky little film projects. So even though these two provide the star power, both of their characters are equally useless because, if they were truly good at their jobs, there would be no movie. Who the hell wants to watch a movie about a sniper who’s prevented from sniping?

So, yeah, at the game’s two-minute warning, our sniper starts blowing secondary cast members away. Even though there’s almost no action for most of the film, the last fifteen minutes are pretty wild, and the blood flies like it's exploding from water balloons. This really is a violent movie, and maybe even a bit more disturbing today, since it seems like some nut is blasting random people every week. The killer’s motives are never explained (we don’t even get a look at him until he has been taken down after shooting dozens of innocent people).

There are, however, some bits of unintentional hilarity. For example, once the sniper starts shooting, panic ensues throughout the entire stadium, which is understandable. We see numerous scenes of the terrified crowd scrambling for the exits, fighting, crushing and stepping all over each other in the time-honored tradition of self-preservation. But this chaotic melee continues outside the stadium, with hundreds still screaming, fighting and shoving long after any rationally-behaving person would realize they are already well-out-of harm’s way.

Then there are the sunglasses. Most of the manliest cast members (Heston and Cassavetes included) are wearing sunglasses through much of the movie. No problem there because, unless you are a total douche bag, sunglasses make most people look cooler than they really are.

That is, if they fit right.

I’ll be the first to admit that Two-Minute Warning is gratuitously violent, melodramatic, overacted and just-a-tad nihilistic, and critics generally hated it those all those reasons. Still, I have fond memories of the film because it was one of those father-son moments. But even personal nostalgia couldn’t keep me from eventually noticing that, upon later viewings, when Heston shows up at the stadium, his sunglasses don’t fit his face right; one lens is obviously higher up his forehead than the other. And it isn’t just one scene; it's throughout the whole movie. Didn’t anyone behind the camera notice this...even once?

Then I noticed a few characters in the background who had ill-fitting eyewear as well. It got to the point that, whenever a character appeared in a scene wearing glasses, I focused more on whether or not the shades were crooked than what he or she added to the plot.

But it gets worse. When Cassavetes shows up, at first his shades fit perfectly. But later, they are so askew that he looks like he’d just been in a bar fight, and I fought the compelling urge to scream, “Hey, fix your fucking glasses!” I can’t believe nobody, not even the director, noticed how stupid Cassavetes looked during the final scenes, just because of his glasses. One would think, with the millions it costs to make a film, that somebody, even the caterer, would have noticed this.

I dunno...did they have Dollar Tree stores back then? Did the costume designer stop by a store, scoop up all the cheap shades and slap them on the actors’ faces just to shave the budget a bit? Didn’t they know that wearing Dollar Tree sunglasses is far less cool than wearing none at all?

Two-Minute Warning is another one of those movies that’s forgotten by most people, and never-seen by even more. For me, it’s still a lot of dumb, disreputable fun, even with all the ill-fitting eyewear. I suppose, in this post 9/11 era, like Black Sunday, its once-silly premise might be taken a tad more seriously, but I don’t want to go there.

1 comment:

Ryan Thompson said...

No commenting via Facebook or twitter accounts? Uh, okay. Anyway, your blog hates Firefox on mobile devices.