Miami Herald, The (FL) - March 18, 1984

Author: BILL COSFORD Herald Columnist

Headline: WOMETCO TO SELL ITS THEATERS.Item: There's an usher who works the early shift at Wometco's Miracle Theater in Coral Gables, and has for as long as I can remember. When you give him your ticket he says, "Enjoy the show." On the way out, if there's not a crowd he asks, "How did you like the show?"

Sometimes it is the little things.

With Wometco Theaters, the little things have mostly been done right. Several years ago, The Herald did a three-county survey on movie theaters. We visited all of them, not checking on the movies but investigating everything else: cleanliness, comfort, crowd control, food quality, price. Before the survey was half done, we had confirmed what had been only a suspicion, that the Wometco insignia was that rare thing in American business, a guarantee of quality.

There are other well-run theaters, of course. The Riviera, across the street from the University of Miami, is one; it attracts a young crowd, and with it an excuse to be dirty and loud, but the Riviera is neither. Fort Lauderdale's Galleria is well maintained. And in north Dade, the Marina complex remains the best-run "tube theater" -- eight screens under one roof -- in the area. There are a few others scattered about South Florida.

The difference with Wometco has been, for years, that virtually all their theaters were well run. At a Wometco Theater, if you had a complaint, you were likely to get an answer. For a long time, it has been company policy that if you didn't like the movie, and you left early, you could get a free pass to another. The ushers actually tell loud people to be quiet, the concession stands are clean, even the restrooms are clean. An attempt is made to sweep the aisles between shows.

With all that, we found another thing about Wometco theaters: Their prices were lower -- in most cases on tickets, in all cases on popcorn, candy bars and drinks.

Wometco, in other words, has been a nice place for a long time.

We were never sure why, exactly. The late Jack Mitchell, who died not long ago after a fight with cancer was one of the reasons. He ranthe Florida theaters (Wometco also has theaters in Alaska and the Caribbean), and when you talked to him about putting on a show, he would always start his speech about the employes, and how to get kids working for little money to treat moviegoers who weren't spending much money themselves as important people. He loved to talk about that, though he had better themes from his days as a minor-league P.T. Barnum, putting on outlandish film promotions. I think it was Jack who staged the chariot race down Biscayne Boulevard, and I know it was he who put the live sharks in the Dadeland lobby for Jaws II, and who challenged Sylvester Stallone to a fistfight between Rocky's.

Another factor was that Wometco, unlike General Cinema or AMC or Plitt or the other chains, was locally based. The company regarded the Dadeland theater as its flagship, but since executives could drop in anywhere here, they were all flagships after a fashion.

What was sure was that people who went to the movies a lot often tended to regard the entire Wometco chain warmly. And in all the time that I have been going to movies, I have never encountered an entire theater chain about which people felt good.

That not only sounds nice, it sounds like good business as well. But the movies are not such good business as you might think.

Contractual relations between movie distributors and movie exhibitors are complex and fraught with quirks of accounting, but the basic terms of a contract for a big movie usually come down to this formula: Allowing for a certain deduction for movie-theater overhead -- an amount that is often arrived at arbitrarily, and may bear little resemblance to the theater's actual cost of doing business -- the initial week's take for a film such as Return of theJedi or Superman III, the ones you would think make everyone rich, is divided according to the "90/10"split. The "10" -- 10 per cent -- goes to the theaters. The "90" goes back to Hollywood. After a few weeks, the split drops to, say, "80/20."

In any case, the split is arrayed against a large advance guarantee, and advance guarantees are not ordinarily refundable even if your blockbuster goes, as they say on the West Coast, into the toilet.

This is why, and it has become a cliche of the business, theater owners will tell you that the profit is all at the concession stand. That is not quite true, but it's close.

It is also why the trend to large numbers of small theaters under one roof -- "tube" theaters, the worst kind of place to see a movie -- is probably irreversible. If you can show eight movies with the overhead of a single large theater -- one big rent, one ticket seller, one projectionist, one large concession stand -- you have a better chance to make some money.

This is why even Wometco, which cared for its theaters and their place in the community, first broke the Miracle, at 1,600 seats a genuine movie palace, into a twin, and more recently, into a "four- plex" (yes, even the names are ugly). The Dadeland was similarly altered. And when Wometco built new theaters -- Campbell Square, Miller Square -- they, too, were tubes. Handsome, well-run tubes, but tubes nonetheless.

Wometco might have stayed with its theaters and their fine reputation for years, but Wometco ownership recently changed hands. Van Myers, who began with the chain 40 years ago, when theaters were essentially its only business, and who is now chief executive officer, speaks with the delicacy of a man
auctioning off his family's antiques: "On the part of the new owners, there is good reason to divest those properties which they feel do not have the long-range potential of some of the other properties."

In other words, a forward-looking Wometco does not want to be in the popcorn-and-hot-dog business any longer. To a businessman taking a cold look at that 90/10 split, they haven't been in the movie business for years.

Myers says that the sale of the Florida theaters, when it comes, is likely to be to another chain. And he is optimistic that such theaters as the Miracle, a Coral Gables landmark, will not go the way of the old Coral and Gables theaters, sold and torn down to be replaced by office buildings.

Nonetheless, as Myers says, "Times change, industries change." Wometco is keeping its cable-TV operations, and the lesson there is Business 101. Cable makes a good return selling us movies that have already proven themselves in theaters. The trick, for theater owners, is to get people into the theaters first. Wometco knew how to do that, but even at its best theirs was not exactly a growth industry.

"It's just one of those things," Myers says, and of course he's right. I can find no villain in the piece, so I look for just a twinge of nostalgia for those years of a job well done. We'll miss Wometco theaters when they're gone, I tell Myers.

"Well," he says, "I'm not so sure that we won't, either."



Miami Herald, The (FL) - June 7, 1982

Author: BILL COSFORD Herald Movie Critic

The kids know first. Carol Anne likes to wander down to listen to the voices that come from the TV after all the programs have ended, and her brother Robbie has begun to have nightmares about the tree outside his window.

The parents, being adults, are a bit slower to sniff the change in their house, at least until Diane has that trouble with the kitchen chairs. Once the chairs begin to rearrange themselves, right there in broad daylight, while the construction gang out back is still goofing off around the swimming-pool site and the neighbors are going about their business as if there is nothing new under the sun in the suburbs, only then does the Freeling family get the gist of things. The idea is, they are not the only people living in their own house. Something, some things, are in there with them. What things could these be? And what are their intentions?

Ooh-eeh-ooh. It's Poltergeist, the story of a very haunted house. It's a great big scary movie for the summer, and it's a good one. Poltergeist (the "noisy ghosts," the Germans called them when they coined the word centuries ago) seems designed to show us that the horror movie is still Hollywood's prime genre. As a piece of entertainment, it is nearly everything that most of the potboilers since The Exorcist have not been, and as a piece of art it is a grand thumbing of the nose at filmmakers whose creative vision isn't quite so keen as that of Steven Spielberg and his collaborators. And though the movie has its fancy moments, what sets it apart is simple storytelling. It's a solid movie in every way, and it's best when it is simplest.

We can't be sure whom to credit. Poltergeist was directed by Tobe Hooper, who was allowed to graduate from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive to this, the bigtime, but producer and cowriter Steven Spielberg has been receiving most of the praise so far. Reportedly, Hooper and Spielberg did not get along well; reportedly, Spielberg stepped in to "supervise" the production of Poltergeist. Certainly, it has his mark on it, a deadeye fix on what pleases audiences and keeps them in thrall. It's an all- American movie , and the temptation is to lay it all on Spielberg, the Jack Armstrong of filmmakers.

As has always been true, what makes such films work is the care taken to set things up. We'll want to see those special effects sooner or later, and a few shock scenes are de rigeur. But first, the family and its milieu; once we have accepted the Freeling family as real people in a real place, then we will be scared of almost anything that happens to them. And here is where Poltergeist works the real movie magic.

Spielberg and Hooper create an ordinary family in an ordinary suburb with impeccable detail, without a trace of condescension. Everything here is familiar, all the totems invoked: It's a family with a mom and a dad, two girls and a boy, a dog and a canary, a couple of TV sets. It's a middle- tech family with all the labor-saving conveniences, and a Sunday afternoon in their neighborhood, established by 10 minutes of gently funny vignettes, is an almost universal time and place. At the Freeling house, the neighborhood men are watching the Rams game. Out in the street, the neighborhood kids are curbsitting, waiting for a chance to pull a prank with a pair of remote-controlled model cars. Lawns are green, sun is warm, houses are neat as pins and expensive-looking, if maybe a bit too close together.

That's the problem with these planned communities, and the biggest disturbance of this or any other Sunday afternoon is that Freeling's television set, the one on which the men are depending for the Rams resolution, is of the same brand and remote-control frequency as that of the guy next door, who doesn't much care about the Rams and whose kid wants to watch "Mister Rogers." So for this day, the Freelings' biggest problem is the remote-control war, by which a long curl pattern, Rams driving, is replaced without warning by a smiling face and kiddie patter. It's funny, and it's familiar. Wherever it is that the Freelings live, we think we've been there.

The next day, there is the trouble with the chairs, and in the days after that all hell breaks loose, literally, in the very same house. The details are secrets that belong to the movie , but its success owes to the careful establishment of ordinary circumstance, and to the performances of the no-name cast playing the various Freelings. Craig T. Nelson is Dad, a real-estate salesman and a nice guy; Oliver Robins is Robbie, the boy whose tree seems to have turned scary; Dominique Dunne is the teenager, Dana; Heather O'Rourke is the angel-faced little girl, Carol Anne, who hears the "TV people"; and Jobeth Williams is mom, whose house is suddenly an amusement park. They're all-Americans, and they're all good.

Poltergiest is no nonstop scream express; at times it pulls its punches (Spielberg wants that PG rating), and at times its effects are bigger than life and less than terrifying. But like Spielberg's Jaws, which was a perfect genre movie , Poltergeist does what it's supposed to do about as well as it can be done. You want to see a movie about the house next door that turns out to be haunted? Here it is, done just right.

MOVIE REVIEW Poltergeist (PG) CAST:Craig T. Nelson, Jobeth Williams, Beatrice Straight, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins, Heather O'Rourke CREDITS:Director: TobeHooper;Producers: Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall Screenwriters: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais and Mark Victor Based on a story by Steven Spielberg.Cinematographer: Matthew F. Leonetti; Music: Jerry Goldsmith. An MGM/UAEntertainment Co. release.



Miami Herald, The (FL) - June 2, 1982

Author: BILL COSFORD Herald Movie Critic

Girls. Girls. Girls. Acres of 'em. Tummies, thighs and heaving breasts, squirmy toes and giggles. It's Beach Girls, a drive-in product that has somehow oozed into the neighborhood theaters in the week before the big summer movies arrive.

It's about these three high-school girls -- Sarah, Ginger and Ducky -- who stay in Uncle Carl's guest house and invite lots of boys, and meanwhile, out on the ocean there's this pot- smuggling boat and a Coast Guard cutter with a gay crew and the dope gets dumped overboard, and just about the time that the girls think their party's over, here comes the dope washing ashore and well, there you have it. Beach Girls.

Somebody asked me if this was a "takeoff" on the old beach- party movies , a kind of updating of Annette and Frankie and the surfers against the bikers. Naw. It's not a takeoff on anything. It's the softest of softcore, a breast-a-thon for the lonely. All that really happens is that folks disrobe, as quickly -- perfunctorily, actually -- as possible, the better to effect a new costume change and a new jettisoning of halter top.

The girls hit the beach, and it's swish, off with the tops. The girls see a swimming pool and zip, free again. A frisky pup scampers up to the sunbathers, and whoops. The girls find a
break in the action at the house party, trade blank glances and whoo-boy.

Of course, if these are high-school girls then the system has indeed collapsed; Sarah and Ginger are at least 25 apiece, and that wistful look in Ducky's eyes is the gaze of a gal
recalling 30 from the mature side. But Beach Girls is not about girls or women or even breasts, though that would seem the dominant subtheme. The movie is about women as meat, and oddly enough was produced by a woman, Marilyn J. Tenser. No stranger to this material, either -- Tenser made The Pom Pom Girls, The Van, Van Nuys Boulevard and Malibu Beach, all films featuring interchangeable flesh-lets in search of rationales by which to doff their tops. Clearly, Ms. Tenser has her own interpretation of the "women's movement," by which we may infer that not all of Hollywood has gone political on us. This is either refreshing or not, depending on how you feel about the concept of women as mobile glandular exhibits. As always with such material, one's conscience is one's guide.

Personal note to Alan Alda: It's your industry, pal -- you clean it up.

Movie Review Beach Girls (R) no stars (LEADER:)1..... CAST Debra Lee, Val Kline, Jeana Tomasina, James Daughton, Adam Roarke. CREDITS Director: Pat Townsend Producer: Marilyn J. Tenser Screenwriter: Patrick Duncan Based on an original story idea by Mark Tenser Cinematographer: Michael Murphy Music: Michael Lloyd ..... A Crown International Pictures release ..... Vulgar language, nudity, implicit sex ..... At the Trianon, Shores, Westchester, Movie City, 16th Street, Movies at Plantation. ..... **** Excellent*** 1/2 Very Good*** Good ** 1/2 Average** Fair* PoorZero: Worthless .



Miami Herald, The (FL) - May 31, 1982

Author: BILL COSFORD Herald Movie Critic

The slash-and-splatter genre marches on. Though on all sides film-industry types are observing sagely that the wave of psycho-on-the-loose films is finished, an even larger number of
filmmakers seems to be stubbornly at work on just this type of film, and an impressive number of hungry teens seems willing to stand in line to see the results. In the audience for Visiting Hours, there are seminars on the form: "It's like Halloween II, not as scary as Prom Night but better than Terror Train."

What's sure is that the movies are gradually covering the major walks of life in the search for splatter-plot backdrops. In Visiting Hours, it's a hospital that is under siege; coming up, we may assume, are psychos terrorizing a law office, a Ma Bell substation, a partnership of CPAs--there's not much else left. Wake us when they get to OPEC.

Visiting Hours is a two-year-old movie starring Lee Grant (once a legitimate actress) as a beleaguered TV-news reporter on a psycho's hit list. We can tell he's a psycho
because whenever we see him there is strange music, and he's always squeezing a black rubber ball compulsively, sure Freudian signs of sociopathological behavior.

We can tell as well that the filmmakers didn't really have their minds on what they were doing; the script should never have been released from intensive care. One moment the psycho is capering about the strangely deserted halls of the major urban hospital, the next he is seen hiding in the bushes off a suburban street; he scores a nurse in the early minutes, and though her body is discovered at once, her death is never mentioned again, and apparently the body is left, bedside in a semi-private, for the duration. Well, it's a big hospital.

William Shatner is seen from time to time in a role that is pure filler, while Grant emotes furiously ("My face. My face."). Linda Purl serves the plot much as chum serves a charter boat after shark. Not once is a frightened cat tossed onto one of the principals, however, which breaks a splatter- film streak that we had become rather excited about--this time it's a parrot, and it just isn't the same.

MOVIE REVIEW - VISITING HOURS (R) CAST: Lee Grant, William Shatner, Linda Purl, Michael Ironside. CREDITS: Director: Jean Claude Lord Producer: Brian Taggert Screenwriter: Claude Heroux Cinematographer: Rene Verzier Music: Jonathan Goldsmith A Twentieth Century-Fox release Vulgar language, violence.



Miami Herald, The (FL) - May 19, 1982

Author: BILL COSFORD Herald Movie Critic

The trouble with comic-book movies is the tone; only George Lucas (Star Wars) seems to have gotten it down right. A number of directors working directly from pulp (Superman) or with pulp- inspired plots (The Sword and the Sorcerer) get most of it right -- usually the look, the special effects and the music -- but still fall short of producing the joyful energy of Star Wars, the sheer movie sparkle.

This is what happens to John Milius in Conan the Barbarian. He's a clever filmmaker like the rest of them, and he has his credentials in order (writer/director, The Wind and the Lion, cowriter, Apocalypse Now). But if we didn't know it was Milius at work, we might laugh at Conan; its occasional whimsy and sly asides, of the kind made popular in the Marvel comics of a decade or two ago, don't seem to fit the rest of the movie .

Conan is about a mythic hero from a fantasy world of an epoch long past. He is large and strong and loves to fight, "to crush enemies, to see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Unfortunately, this quote comes out, "und hear de lamentation of dere vimen," because Conan is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian weightlifter, who bears an accent somewhat out of synch with his character's era.

This is probably Milius' idea of a good joke, as is the bazaar scene in which Conan and his party are approached by sleazy vendors hawking "lizard on a stick" and "Black lotus, Stygian, the best." Schwarzenegger has the muscles for the part, and little else -- his face is so mild and restricted in its emotional range that he seems better suited to play Cohen the Librarian. And the jokes, coming between episodes of bloodletting and graphic wenching, are strange jolts. Conan was not written with a tone ironic enough to make its self-derision work; instead, the lines seem lame.

It takes great skill to laugh at one's material and still keep it exciting. The aim, presumably, is to give adults something to enjoy while throwing a bloody bone to the youth audience. But though Milius gets a grand look on film, and has a delightful score of the Ben Hur school, his movie is long on pop metaphysics and short on fun. Also, it's just plain long.

The one scene in which the Milius humor works comes near the end, when Conan and his cohorts (Gerry Lopez as the sidekick
from the mysterious East and Sandahl Bergman as the Viking queen-of-thieves, ingredients of an epochal stew) attack the evil snake worshiper Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones) in his lair. Here we find that the local Sybarites have embraced cannibalism, and watch as a harem girl enjoys what is, quite literally, "finger food." In the spirit of the pulps, this is a decent sight gag. But it's not enough to carry a whole movie .

Movie Review Conan the Barbarian (R) ** ..... CAST: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Gerry Lopez, Ben Davidson, Cassandra Gaviola, Mako. CREDITS: Director: John Milius Producers: Buzz Feitshans and Raffaella De Laurentiis Screenwriters: John Milius and Oliver Stone Based on the comic-book character created by Robert E. Howard Cinematographer: Duke Callaghan Music: Basil Poledouris ..... A Universal release. ..... Nudity, implicit sex, violence and gore. ..... At the Omni, Hialeah Cinema, Triple Gables, Bryon/Carlyle, Concord, Cutler Ridge, Movies at the Falls, Lauderhill, Movie City, Florida, Coral Springs, Movies at Plantation, Thunderbird Drive- In. ..... **** Excellent*** Good ** Fair* PoorZero: Worthless



Miami Herald, The (FL) - May 25, 1982

Author: BILL COSFORD Herald Movie Critic

A cultured voice does the voice-over, describing a post- Holocaust civilization given over to tribes of automotive paladins who rape, loot and (worse) steal gas. The voice tells us that the speaker, now old, remembers many things: "...Most of all, I remember the Road Warrior, the man we called Max."

It's a weird thought. In a film that didn't mean to be goofy, you figure they would have written it the other way around -- "Max, the man we called the Road Warrior." I mean, his given name is Max, not Road Warrior, so...

And yet the movie isn't goofy -- just that first line, and the last couple of lines. The stuff in between is violent and strange, successful in creating an arid nightmare world of the future, superbly edited and topped off by what is certainly the single most frenzied chase scene in the movies .

It's all from Australia, too; the Smokey and the Bandit gang ought to be cringing about now.

But they saw it coming. The Road Warrior is actually a sequel to a low-budget sleeper of a couple of years ago called Mad Max, which went on to make around $100 million worldwide. In Mad Max, Mel Gibson (who went on to star in Gallipoli) played a 1990s highway patrolman on duty along roads where cars were weapons. It was sort what "CHiPs" might be like if Dirty Harry were running the outfit, and there was plenty of twisted metal by the end.

Gibson returns in The Road Warrior, his character having been rendered a cynical loner by the violent climax of Mad Max. He is no longer an arm of the law; he is instead wandering about a lawless countryside in his supercharged Dodge, his dog literally riding shotgun in the back seat. He's a good guy, but only barely; when he stops to help the victim of an assault by the local punks, it's not so much to render succor as it is to barter for high-test.

Gas is hard to come by in the desert. The only ones who seem to have enough of it are the relatively peaceful folk (their flamethrowers are for self-defense) who live in a refinery-turned-fortress. Outside, the punks -- led by "The Humungus" and inspired by Wez, a sort of New Wave Killer Kowalski -- buzz around annoyingly, throw taunts and take the occasional toasting from the parapets. The punks want the gas, the decent folk want to leave, and it's a stand-off until Max arrives.

In the spirit of these adventures, he doesn't really want to help but must eventually be pressed into service. He has a Sancho Panza in Gyro Captain, who trains snakes and flies a homemade helicopter, and a mascot in Feral Boy, an eight-year- old who speaks in grunts and wields a razor-edged boomerang. Once the gang is together, action p(TV)oceeds apace.

The Road Warrior shows what happens when filmmakers learn something on their way to the sequel. Though the action here follows a predictable course (it's high-tech Shane), the milieu is fascinating, the story sophisticated where Mad Max was crude.

"Sophisticated" must be taken advisedly, however, for what we have here is a tony ya-hoo movie . Beneath the veneer of stylish scenes and character originals, Smokey is still chasing the Bandit. He's just doing it better, faster.

And with that touch of style. Director George Miller (who got his feature start with Mad Max) throws in his odd visions regularly: Pigs and chickens scuttle about the refinery, men scoot off in vehicles of demented design, the feral boy darts
from his tunnel for a gawk at the action, the dog looks on with old man's eyes. It's unsettling -- if The Road Warrior weren't a car-chase movie , it might be truly frightening.

Two final notes: The Road Warrior is similar in physical style to a 1975 film adaption of Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog; if Miller saw that film (few but cult-film fans have), subtract a point or two for originality. And: Road Warrior may be too violent for some tastes; it's worth sitting through to get a look at the dazzling stunts of the last half-hour, but it's still grim.

Movie Review The Road Warrior (R) **1/2 .... CAST: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Vernon Wells, Emil Minty, Mike Preston, Kjell Nilsson, Virginia Hey. CREDITS: Director: George Miller Producer: Byron Kennedy Screenwriters: Terry Hayes, George Miller with Brian Hannant Cinematographer: Dean Semler Music: Brian May ..... A Warner Bros. release ..... Brief nudity, brief implicit sex, considerable violence and gore. ..... At the Hialeah Cinema, Miracle, Omni, Normandy, 163rd Street, Ambassador, Campbell Square, Cutler Ridge, Kendale Lakes, Lauderhill, Movie City, Movies at Pompano, Cinema 4, Coral Springs Mall, Movies at Plantation, Thunderbird Drive-In. ..... **** Excellent*** 1/2 Very Good*** Good ** 1/2 Average** Fair* Poor Zero: Worthless



Miami Herald, The (FL) - May 22, 1982

Author: BILL COSFORD Herald Movie Critic

Parasite in 3-D: The title almost says it all. The year is 1992, times have changed for the worse, and society is divided into folks scraping by and an arrogant elite composed of government and what remains of big business. The cities are radioactive, the suburbs are forced-labor camps. And the evil bureaucracy has succeeded in breeding a new life form for population control.

Another society run amok might have settled for the laser or the biological agent. But this is 3-D, and only a parasite would do. Gosh, you should see him -- he slithers up your leg, takes a bite out of your thigh, gnaws away at your chest cavity. Sometimes he burrows into your torso, works his way and explodes your head. Whew.

And there is little more to say. A discussion of production values is meaningless when the movie is in 3-D; the effect still doesn't work the way it should, there are constant focus problems, and there are those mid-film headaches. Script and performances are quite beside the point, though Parasite isn't wholly lacking on either element. What it all comes down to is watching the head explode into your lap. Take it or leave it....

Movie Review Parasite (R) *
CAST Robert Glaudini, Demi Moore, Luca Bercovici, James Davidson, Al Fann, Tom Villard, Cherie Currie.

CREDITS Director: Charles Band Producer: Charles Band Screenwriters: Alan Adler, Michael Shoob, Frank Levering. Cinematographer: Mac Ahlberg Special effects: Stan Winston and James Kagel Music: Richard Band ..... An Embassy Pictures release .....

Vulgar language, nudity, violence and gore .....

At the 167th Street, Concord, Movie City, Cinema 4, Coral Springs. ..... **** Excellent*** 1/2 Very Good*** Good ** 1/2 Average**
Fair* PoorZero: Worthless