Sunday, September 10, 2017

Planet of Solitude

This is my third (and final) entry in the Movie Scientist Blogathon hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings

Sometimes the prognosticators of the 50's era science fiction books and movies were overly optimistic.  Sometimes they were astoundingly cautious.  In the case of this movie, it seems they didn't think too much of the possibilities that the scientists were discovering as they predicted it was only in the late 21st century that man finally reached the moon.  (For those of you not up on your chronology calculations, that means they thought man would not reach the moon until at least the 2080's).  But then they also thought that, having achieved such an astonishing difficult feat, that hyperdrive and faster than light drive was only a mere hop, skip and a jump away.

By the time the mid-2100's rolled around, therefore, we as Earthlings would be on lanets at the far-flung corners of the universe.  Thus setting up the premise of Forbidden Planet, which involved a spaceship manned by Earthmen, heading to Altair IV to investigate the progressof a ship of colonists that had been sent out 20 years before.

Forbidden Planet (1956)

You think you know lonely?  How's this for lonely?  Being on a planet where the rest of your colonization crew has been wiped out, including your wife.  The only other two companions you have on the planet are your daughter and a sentient robot named Robby.  That's the situation for Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who has been isolated on Altair IV for 20 years.

Morbius w/ Robby

Interrupting this isolation, which Morbius is reluctant to give up, comes a manned crew of spacemen who have come to relieve the colonists.

The unwanted crew

Morbius tries to warn Capt Adams (Leslie Nielsen [yes Nielsen did play some dramatic roles early in his career]) to return to Earth and not attempt to land, but Adams, being the macho male and authoritative figure common in 50's movies, ignores Morbius and lands anyway.  Morbius sends his robot, Robby to meet them.  Robby is a marvel to the men of the spaceship.  He is as strong as 20 men and can do things no one would have believed possible.


Morbius tries to shield Alta (Anne Francis), his daughter, from the men.  But she is an independent sort, and despite her naivete, comes to the fore to meet the men.  Over the course of the film, her naivete places the men in some seriously shocking situations, including one officer who tries to teach her to kiss.  (She's never seen another man besides her father).

 In another scene she is swimming in a pool and invites the commander to join her.  He tells her he doesn't have a bathing suit to which she replies "What's a bathing suit?".  (Note: By this she implies that she is swimming naked, but unless the atmosphere on Altair IV caused he skin to become diaphanous, she is wearing something... I know...  OK so this the 50's and nudity would have been strictly verbotten, but I can dream can't I?)


There is some invisible creature roaming the planet which makes its presence known and causes damage to the spaceship and also kills a few crewmen.  However, when the crew sets up a perimeter barrier, the creature lights up like a Christmas tree, so we can vaguely see hat it looks like, and it is huge!

The creature from  Id

Morbius in the meantime reveals a discovery he has made.  The planet was once inhabited by a race known as the Krell which were thousands of times more intelligent than the human races best geniuses.  Morbius has used their equipment to magnify his intelligence, but due to its power, it is only an infinitesimal increase compared to even the children of the Krell.

The Krell lab

Morbius keeps on insisting that he must remain behind, and the more he insists the more adamant the commander becomes that Morbius must come back to Earth with them so that he, Morbius, can convey what he has learned.  And the more Morbius insists, the more violent the reactions become of the invisible monster that has been attacking the crew.  It doesn't take the genius level of the Krell to see that there seems to be a connection.

Morbius trying to deny the truth

The film is inspired in some parts by William Shakespeare's play The Tempest.  Morbius has many of the same characteristics as Prospero, particularly in the devotion he shows towards his daughter.  His sense of need for isolation is inspired by his love for the planet that he has come to call home.  

A few familiar faces come up if you are up on your actors from the 50's and 60's. Richard Anderson (who BTW passed away just last week), as Quinn, was better known as Oscar Goldman on the American TV shows The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. Earl Holliman, who plays the ship's cook, was seen regularly on the TV show Police Woman.  James Drury, who was the title character in the TV show The Virginian, plays Strong.  And Jack Kelly who plays Jerry, will be instantly recognizable of the "Maverick" TV series as Bart Maverick.  And if you look quick, you might spot James Best, who was famous (or notorious) as Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard. Apparently this was a good jumping off point for the nascent television fame...

Some future TV stars

Well, folks, time to blast off into the wild black yonder.  Be sure to watch out for any stray spaceships on the way home.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

See the Light

This is my second entry in the Movie Scientist Blogathon hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings

Ray Milland was an academy award winning actor.  (He won an Oscar for his role as Don Birnam in The Lost Weekend.)  It seems odd, therefore, that late in his career he  was involved in several low-budget sci-fi and horror movies.  In the 60's, after having left Paramount, he worked in TV and with such entrepreneurs of cheapjack movies like Roger Corman.

Sure, Milland did a few major studio roles during this time; he was Oliver Barrett IV's father in Love Story and the sequel Oliver's Story, he appeared in Elia Kazan's The Last Tycoon.  But also he was in such grade B drive-in flicks like Frogs, The Thing with Two Heads, another Roger Corman movie The Premature Burial, and Panic in the Year Zero!, which he also directed, all for American International Pictures which catered to the drive-in crowd. 

It seems odd, therefore, that according to Corman on his commentary on my DVD, that Ray Milland said in an interview once that two movies of which he was most proude were The Lost Weekend and X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes. (you really should watch a movie with the commentaries if they are avaliable, at least once.  For one thing, SOMEONE thought it was worth the trouble to do it, and second you get some fascinating nuggets of trivia you may not have heard otherwise.)

To be honest, X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes is a cut above the standard low-budget fare usually associated with AIP, and I think Milland is one of the reasons this picture is better.  

X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963)

The problem with altruistic science is that sometimes it can go bad.  (and with low-budget science fiction movies, that's a relatively frequent thing.)  Dr. James Xavier (Ray Milland)is a doctor who is not satisfied with the normal range of vision that a human has.  He wants to be better at his job, and as a result, has been experimenting with a drug that enhances the eyes.

In a demonstration to an associate,  Dr. Diane Fairfax (Diana Van der Vlis), he shows how a monkey with the drops in its eyes can see through several boards and see the colors of each board behind the first one.  But the monkey dies in the experiment.  Not from the drugs itself, it seems; it dies because it can't comprehend what it sees beyond the boards.

Despite this, Xavier experiments on his own eyes.  And as a result, his first tests reveal he can diagnose a patient that his fellow doctor has misdiagnosed.  But doctors in movies being ego-driven people, the fellow doctor refuses to accept Xavier's diagnosis and proceeds to operate on his own diagnosis.  Xavier causes the fellow doctor to be unable to perform and proceeds with his own operation instead.  Although successful, the fellow doctor tells Xavier he will see to it that Xavier is brought under malpractice charges.

Xavier continues his experiments on his eyes, and at one point goes to a party.  It turns out that one of the early effects is that he can see through the clothes of everybody.  But don't get your hopes up, this was made in 1963, so you only get to see naked people from the shoulder up and the knees down... :-(

During a scuffle, Xavier accidentally knocks his adversarial doctor out the window, and the doctor plunges to his death.  Realizing he will be accused of murder, even though it was an accident, Xavier goes on the run.  He takes a job with a carnival, where he is billed as a psychic.  His promoter is a real sleazeball played to perfection by Don Rickles.

 finds out the truth and induces Xavier to become a low-rent doctor who gives people advice on their medical condition.  And through these people he is eventually found by Diane.

When Xavier tries to dissolve the partnership with the promoter, the promoter tells him he knows his secret past and will reveal it to the police.  Xavier leaves anyway, and the promoter shouts out the truth, which conveniently just happen to be heard by the entire state of police, apparently.  Xavier steals a car and a long sequence of a chase occurs as he careens down highways trying to escape.

I won't reveal how the movie ends so you can have something to look forward to if you decide to watch it.  One final note on the character, though.  It seems that Corman's original idea had been to have the character be a jazz musician who took too many drugs, but abandoned that idea because of the need, at the time, to make characters who took drugs be destroyed by their "lack of intelligence", so to speak, in using drugs in the first place.  Ah, the old Hays code...

I see by the clock on the wall that there's a spider behind, so I must leave.  Drive safely, folks.


Friday, September 8, 2017

In the Name of Science

This is my first entry in the Movie Scientist Blogathon hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra  is an homage to, and a parody of the science fiction movies of the 50's.  If you haven't seen a lot of the sci-fi and horror movies from the 50's and 60's that were made on the cheap, such as The Brain that Wouldn't Die and Teenage Zombies (both reviewed on here at an earlier date), much of the humor may escape you.  Suffice to say, the stilted dialogue and over-exposition done in this movie is a direct parody of what happened often in such movies of the earlier era.

Larry Blamire and the rest of the cast may or may not be recognizable to the average viewer.  With the exception of Blamire, however, most of the actors have been active in the film industry, and if you are like me and have a good memory for faces, you might even remember some of them.   Fay Masterson, for instance, who here plays the scientist's wife, appears in Cops and Robbersons (a Chevy Chase comedy),  The Quick and the Dead, Eyes Wide Shut  and Fifty Shades Darker (the sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey).  Brian Howe, you might remember as one of Clint Eastwood's sons in Gran Torino.  He can also be seen in Catch Me if  You Can, The Pursuit of Happyness, and The Majestic.

Blamire himself is not a prolific director.  He only has a handful of credits to his name, mostly in the area of the same genre as this, witty parodies of 50's style movies.  (One being a sequel to this one, The Lost Skeleton Returns Again).

The Lost Skeleton  of Cadavra (2001)

Filmed in the exciting new innovation of "skeletorama" (the jokes start early here...), the film pans down on Dr. Paul Armstrong (Larry Blamire) and his wife Betty (Fay Masterson).  They are looking for a recently landed meteor which Paul theorizes may contain significant  amounts of that rarest of all elements, "atmosprerium".  In the exposition leading up to them driving to a cabin in the woods we find that Paul is a scientist and wants to experiment on the atmospherium, because it means a lot to "the  field of science".  They stop to ask a farmer who is just standing by the side of the road and ask directions to the cabin.

Meanwhile, another scientist, Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe)  is hiking through the woods seeking Cadavra Cave.  He encounters a ranger standing by the side of the road just hoping for someone to come along who needs help, and gets directions to the cave. (People seem to just stand by the side of the road waiting to be of help in this movie...)  When he arrives at the cave, Roger finds the "lost skeleton of Cadavra" and begins laughing maniacally at his fortune.  Eventually the skeleton begins talking to him and says it needs atmospherium to be able to come to life and take over the world, and induces Roger to help him.

At the same time, a space ship lands (it's only a model...), and two of the most naive and dim-witted aliens ever emerge, Kro-Bar (Andrew Parks) and Lattis (Susan McConnell).  They reveal two of the additional plot devices that drive this movie; 1) that their pet mutant has escaped and is a danger to the people of Earth, and 2) that they need a special ingredient to be able to repeair their ship. what's the element?  Can't you guess...?

The aliens overhear Paul and Betty discussing the meteor and it's contents of atmospherium.  They use their "transmutatron" to change themselves into normal humans  and show up at the cabin, where they pose as two Earthmen, choosing the names Bammin and Tergasso.  Of course, even despite the obvious, Paul and Betty are clueless that something is amiss with their visitors, and invite them in.

A short while later, Roger shows up with a girl that he has made using the transmutatron to change four forest animals, one he has named "Animala" but introduces as his wife, Pammy (Jennifer Blaire).  There are some rather funny scenes here as all of the visitors try to convince the Armstrongs that they are legitimately who they claim to be while each group tries to figure out how to steal the meteor.  To that effect, Roger engenders a deal with the aliens to share the atmospherium if they are successful.  (He knows the truth about the aliens, of course, having seen them use the transmutatron.

Of course, Roger has no intention of actually sharing, and when the plan works he reneges on the deal and takes all the atmospherium for is own purposes.  He brings the skeleton to life, and the skeleton turns out to have some rather strong abilities such as controlling people psychically. The last part of the movie is a rather funny attempt to foil the plans of the skeleton, which includes marrying Lattis in a ceremony.  The mutant plays a role in this, which is enhanced by the fact that the mutant has fallen in love with Betty.

Once again, if you are a devotee of these old grade Z movies which Blamire and crew are skewering, you will see a lot of the tropes that appear in them.  But you don't have to recognize the tropes to be able to enjoy the movie.  The best way to do so if this is your first time is to suspend your expectations of quality Oscar-worthy performances and just watch it as if it were a cheapjack film, which it most certainly is.

Well folks, time to climb back in my spaceship and head home.  Drive safely.


Teenage Survivalists on the Warpath

This is my entry for the Colours Blogathon hosted by Thoughts All Sorts

I'm going to preface this by stating my political stance.  I am pro-gun.  I believe the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution gives each individual the right to own a gun.  But you shouldn't define me as a "conservative" (or any of the harsher "liberal" epithets) because of that one stance.  I define myself as a "libertarian".  Which means I have the liberal stance on some issues and the conservative stance on some others, defined by how it affects my life, and my opinion that the government should keep its nose out of how I live my life as long as I am not infringing on a fellow individual's efforts to live his or her life as they wish (and vice versa).  Your opinion on how to interpret the 2nd Amendment may differ from mine, and that's OK.  After all that's what being an individual is all about.  Just don't think you can define my entire political stance based on this one issue, because eventually you'd be wrong on one account or another.

Red Dawn (1984)

In 1984, Soviet Russia (USSR) and the United States were still staring each other down over the tops of their nuclear arsenal.  The biggest fear in the US, at the time, was that Russia would instigate an attack or an invasion on US soil.  (Conversely, I think the average Russian, at the time, feared that the United States would instigate an attack or invasion on Russian soil.)  Most of that lingering fear was propelled by the aggressive nature of both countries.  The so-called "Iron Curtain" that concealed most of Eastern Europe was a result of Soviet aggressive policy of invading countries and taking over the control and government of said countries.

At the beginning of Red Dawn  the world is in the midst of turmoil.  It's essentially already WWIII.  As the prologue before the opening credits state:

-Soviet Union suffers
worst wheat harvest in 55 years.

-Labor and food riots in Poland.
Soviet troops invade.

-Cuba and Nicaragua reach
troop strength goals of 500,000.
El Salvador and Honduras fall.

-Greens party gains control
of West German Parliament.
Demands withdrawal of
nuclear weapons from European soil.

-Mexico plunged into revolution.

-NATO dissolves.
United States stands alone.

On this premise, the scene opens at a rural high school in Colorado.  While in a history class, the teacher is the first to observe a bunch of paratroopers landing outside the school.  He goes to investigate and is shot by the invading soldiers (which turn out to be a combined force of Russians and Cubans.)  It is an invasion, although it is not clear immediately why they are invading a remote small town in Colorado.  Even though it later becomes clear that this not just an isolated and randomly chosen target, it does cause a bit of confusion to the viewer who is uninitiated as to the objectives of the invaders.

Jed (Patrick Swayze) and his brother Matt Eckert (Charlie Sheen) are on the ball amidst the pandemonium that ensues.  They take to the hills, accompanied by a handful of their friends, with a brief stop at a local gas station owned by a man known as Mr. Morris.  He lets the boys wipe out the supplies in the store and head for the woods (or mountains, not sure which, since I don't know where in Colorado this takes place,)

Over the course of the film and especially early on, Jed takes the role of a leader, and a rather hard-ass one at that.  But look at the context.  These are just kids who have probably been molly-coddled all their lives (or would have been if this were taking place in today's society.)  The community starts out however as just a sort of Boy Scout camp-out, (although with some rather more drastic supplies than when I was a Boy Scout.)  Eventually however the canned food runs out and they begin hunting.

Meanwhile, back in town, the residents have been divided.  The ones who are complacent enough to go along with the Communist occupation are allowed to roam free (mostly).  The ones who are considered to be a threat (read: anyone who thinks the United States Constitution is more than just an insignificant piece of paper) are rounded up and put in detainment camps.  This includes several of the boys fathers, including Jed and Matt's.  Others, we find out, have been executed by the occupying forces.

Jed and Matt and the rest of the boys thus begin to try to follow Mr. Eckert's exhortation as they leave from a surreptitious visit to the detainment camp: "Avenge ME!"  On one of their forays, they meet with another of the citizens, Mr Mason.  He turns over two young girls he has been hiding out in his cellar and gives Jed charge of them.

The band of teenagers eventually become a crew of renegades, attacking isolated enemy soldiers and causing general chaos in the ranks of the opposing forces.  The Russians do their own part as the bad guys by rounding up some of the dissidents they have detained and executing them in retaliation, but this only inflames the patriotism in the band.  They call themselves "the Wolverines", after the mascot of their high school.  (Sounds a hell of a lot more intimidating than if they came from my high school, which had Cardinals as their mascot...)

Powers Boothe has a brief appearance as a downed pilot who helps the teens in their fight.  In one scene in which one of the girls finds him injured, she suspects he might be an enemy soldier.  The brief query, funny in it's own way, either suggests that the girl is not as educated as she should be, or maybe she's just being cagey.  I never really could tell:

"What's the capital of Texas?" she demands, in order to get him to prove he's an American.
"Austin." the pilot replies.
"WRONG!  It's Houston!" she yells.  (Fortunately she doesn't shoot him at that point.)

The second half of the movie is one big fire fight after another as the enemy tries to find and destroy the renegade band, while the Wolverines use confiscated weapons and artillery against the opposition.  Milius is reviled by liberals because of his pro-gun stance especially in this film.  I admit sometimes this movie does seem to go over the top.  But the one point which is made, with which I totally agree, is that the opposition makes use of the files of registered gun owners to confiscate their weapons in order to quell any potential resistance.

Red Dawn  is essentially a male action fantasy in many respects.  While the mores of society have changed over the course of the past 30+  years since its premiere, and probably not as much a fantasy in the average male mind these days as it was then, it still manages to inspire a feeling of heroism and bravado.  In retrospect it does come off as somewhat propaganda-ish, but it still remains a good actioner, in my opinion, and as I said, politically I side with the pro-gun sentiment, and I make no apologies for that.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Bond Age (Part IX)

2017 marks 55 years of James Bond on the movie screen.  To celebrate this momentous year, I am undertaking to review the entire oeuvre of Bond films, all 24 of them (at this juncture in history), two at a time.  These will appear on the 7th day of each month  (Bond's agent number being "007").  At the beginning of each entry I will give my personal ranking of each movie and of each movie's theme song.  (These are subjective rankings and do not necessarily agree with the view of the average Bond fan, so take it as you will).  I hope you enjoy them, nay, even look forward to the next installment.  As an added note, I am deeply indebted to Tom DeMichael, and his book James Bond FAQ,  for tidbits of information with which I am peppering these entries.                                                                                                                                                                                                  -Quiggy

Timothy Dalton was a success in two outings as Bond.  A third Dalton Bond film was in the works when disaster struck the series.  A lawsuit had been filed between the producers and MGM/UA, the distributors, of the series.  It seems that there was some problems with how the company and the producers viewed licensing agreements which had been signed way back in 1962.  This caused a lengthy delay in the production of the next movie in the Bond series, during which time Dalton's contract expired.

Whether the producers chose to go a different direction or Dalton just simply declined to renew his contract is a matter for the history books.  But the Bond role was open again.  Brosnan was he obvious choice, although serious consideration was given to Ralph Fiennes and, believe it or not, Mel Gibson(...?!).  Brosnan had been passed over, if you remember, because of his work on the American TV series Remington Steele.

A new Miss Moneypenny was cast for the new Bond, an actress named Samantha Bond.  (Is that kismet, or what?)  Also the new Bond would have a new M.  Not only that, but a woman boss.  Judi Dench was pegged to play Bond's superior, and thus the only actor left to reprise his role in the series was Desmond Llewelyn as "Q".

GoldenEye (1995)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: # 6

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song: # 18

Best Bond Quote: (The lead in to this one has Bond and his psychologist barrelling down a winding road when Xenia appears in her Ferrari.  The psychologist says "I like a spirited drive just as much as the next girl.." and then spots Xenia.  "Who's that?" she asks)  Bond:  "The next girl."

Best Bond Villain Quote: Janus:  "Kill him!... The man just won't take a hint."
(A very close second is Boris's oft repeated "I am invincible!" (Which you find out at the end is not necessarily so...)

Best Weapon: Love the pen that is really a disguised grenade.

 In a scene that it turns out takes place prior to the fall of the Berlin wall and the dissolution of the Communist Soviet regime, the film opens with Bond (Brosnan) working in conjunction with another agent, Alex Trevelyan, 006 (Sean Bean), in an infiltration of a Soviet military chemical weapons facility. Colonel Ourumov (Gottfried John) captures 006 and tries to lure Bond out of his hiding place.  The colonel kills 006, but Bond manages to escape in a rather exciting chase sequence.

In the opening credits, the song "GoldenEye" is sung by Tina Turner and it was written by Bono & The Edge of U2.  With that combination of talent, you would THINK that the output would be nothing less than spectacular.  However, in my opinion the song is a bit cold and static.  The Billboard charts for the Hot 100 would seem to bear that out.  It did not crack the top 100 (although it did make the Billboard Dance Hits chart, so some people must have thought it was dance-able...but not me).  In its defense, neither of the Dalton Bond themes cracked the top 100 either, but this one just doesn't pop for me.

One of the first things that will catch your eye in the opening credits is that Sean Bean's name appears right after the title.  Now unless Sean Bean has an ego the size of Marlon Brando, and managed to get top billing for a measly five minutes of screen time, that should be a clue that 006 may not really dead, so Spoiler Alert (for the slow on the uptake)!.... he's not.

Nine years later:  On a winding road Bond is driving with an MI6 psychologist (Serena Gordon).  Bond is pretty much scaring her already with his driving when a mysterious woman in a Ferrari shows up, and Bond's ego refuses to let him lose the race.  Narrowly avoiding a couple of accidents, Bond eventually lets the woman win to avoid wrecking into a bicycle entourage.

Later Bond meets the woman at a baccarat table where he manages to introduce himself and find out her name, Xenia Onotopp (Famke Janssen).  His charm is pretty much wasted on her because she is only concerned with her goals.  Which is later revealed to be a hijacking of a new Russian helicopter.  It turns out she is in cahoots with now-General Ourumov to hijack a former Soviet defense system called "GoldenEye".

What GoldenEye is is a system whereby a satellite in space can fire electromagnetic that can isolate an area and cause an area to lose its power to operate all electronic systems within the area.  The pair enter the Russian facility where the operation systems of Golden Eye is housed and Xenia kills all of the personnel inside.  Well, all but Boris Grishenko (Alan Cumming) who had "conveniently" stepped out for a smoke, and Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) who had, fortunately, gone to the kitchen for some coffee.

Onotopp an Ourumov activate GoldenEye and cause the facility and surrounding area to be laid waste and put in the dark.  At MI6 HQ, this event is viewed by Bond and the rest of those present.  Bond is taked with finding Golden Eye and whoever stole it.  He goes to St. Petersburg (the cold one in Russia, not the warm one in Florida...) where he meets CIA agent Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker), who apparently is now Bond's contact after Felix Leiter's disablement in The Living Daylights.

Baker's Wade is a bit of a smart ass, but I always have liked Baker's acting.  He tells Bond how much he hates the secrecy, passwords and codes of the "stiff-assed Brits", but helps Bond get to a former enemy, an ex-KGB agent now nightclub owner named Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane).  Through a bit of negotiation, Bond gets Zukovsky help him to meet up with the leader of  Russian crime syndicate, known only by the name "Janus".

When Bond finally meets up with "Janus", guess who he really is.... well, if you read the half-assed attempt at a spoiler alert above, you've already guessed.  It turns out that it's our beloved co-agent 006, who apparently DIDN'T die at the hands of Ourumov.  Trevelyan was really a descendant of Russian Cossacks, whom history details as having allied with Nazi Germany against Russia.  After the war, they surrendered to the British and requested asylum, but the Brits turned them over to the Soviets and they were later executed by Stalin .   It turns out that Alex has been planning this whole revenge scheme for years, to pay back both Russia and England for betrayal.

The last part of the movie involves some pretty exciting battles between Bond and Alex, with the goal being to try to prevent Alex from doing the same thing to London that he had done to the Russian facility earlier in the movie.  With the help of Boris, who is in cahoots with Janus, the suspense mounts as to whether the enemies just might succeed this time.

Brosnan's first outing as Bond is top notch.  There was an attempt to return to the nonchalant quips that had been sorely missing from the Dalton movies, and many of these were a bit flat, but still, it was nice to get to see Bond's humorous side come back to the films.

 Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: #23

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song: #23

Best Bond Quote: (I'm not passing this one up. Moneypenny is talking to Bond requiring him to report to MI6.  He is in a romantic tryst with his Danish teacher.  He tells her Goodbye in Danish.) Moneypenny: "You always were a cunning linguist, James."

Best Bond Villain Quote:(I'm giving this one to Carver's henchman.  Read the review below for more explanation):  Stamper:  "I owe you an unpleasant death, Mr. Bond."

Best Weapon:  That cell phone is a monster.  I want one with all tose apps and gizmos.

In one of the best opening sequences ever, Bond is surreptitiously filming a conclave of terrorists.  Back at MI6, the Admiralty overrides M's wishes and orders a missile strike on the terrorist conclave.  Too late they find out that there is a plane with nuclear warheads on it.  More than just a terrorist enclave will suffer.  But Bond to the rescue, he does some Bond magic and flies the plane out...

You know what?  I can't do it.  I can't even BEGIN to give this movie any respect.  Aside from that dynamic opening, the movie just goes down hill from there.  Oh, the very beginning shows a bit of promise.  A British ship is warned it is in Chinese waters, even though the British GPS systems on board say they are not.  And a fancy torpedo controlled by some bad guys (not the Chinese) does some fancy maneuvering and completely destroys the ship.

But from there it goes headlong into one of the most ridiculous scenarios ever.  Our bad guy this time?  Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), a media mogul who is trying to start World War III.  Why?  For ratings, of course.  He wants to be top dog in the news industry and nothing is above the line in order to get that position.  Something similar happened 100 or so years ago when William Randolph Hearst tried to manipulate political forces to get his newspaper headline stories.

The movie even references this history when Carver compares himself to Hearst.  But I don't think Hearst was the person the producers wanted the film-going public to think of when they saw this movie.  Probably less than half of the people who went to the theater to see it even recognized Hearst's name when Elliot Carver mentioned him.  Personally I think the producers wanted people to think of Rupert Murdoch, Fox News Media mogul.  Hell, Pryce even resembles Murdoch in the film.

And a villian trying to start WWIII just for ratings?  Please!  Even Blofeld's plan in On Her Majesty's Secret Service seems intelligent by comparison.  And how about that song?  Yes, decent orchestration, but Sheryl Crow was probably the worst choice they could have found to sing it.  What? couldn't they entice Shirley Bassey to give it another go?  I'm sure it would it would have been thousands of times better.

Sorry to end on a down note, but you could always go back up and read the "GoldenEye" review before you leave the theater...  drive safe, folks


Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Ladd and His Gun: The Sequel

This is my entry in the Alan Ladd Blogathon hosted by Hamlette's Soliloquy

Alan Ladd has never really been on my radar as a film actor.  As a matter of fact, up until I started reading Hamlette's blog, the only movie in which I had ever seen him was Shane.  I have since gotten interested in watching him, especially his film noir outings.  I also discovered a radio series, Box 13, which is a mystery series from the bygone years.  I still don't have the fascination with him that she does. (I have stated elsewhere that the only actor with whom I have ever had a fascination is John Wayne, and I will watch ANY movie featuring him.)

But Ladd is still an interesting actor.  I haven't seen enough of him to get a line on his personality, but he seems to be a pretty good actor.  Some time down the line I think I might get to a double feature of his westerns (of which he made a few), but in the meantime, being the film noir aficionado that I am, I present this pairing for the blogathon.

Appointment with Danger (1951)  

 Alan Ladd plays a postal inspector in this entry.  (Who knew post office employees could have such hair-raising adventures?)  A postal inspector has been murdered and the follow up investigation, a postal inspector named Al Goddard (Ladd) tries to figure out why.

On a rainy night in Gary Indiana, two men murder a postal inspector.  The men are played by Harry Morgan (as George Soderquist) and Jack Webb (as Joe Regas).  Yes the two men who are well known as a pair of cops from the black and white TV series Dragnet play a couple of hoodlums.  This is one of the more interesting aspects of the film.  Webb in particular plays a rather sadistic sort, although, in my opinion, Webb played every character pretty much the same way, with his rather serious demeanor and distinct staccato delivery of lines.  Actually, Morgan is pretty much identifiable too, but he has a bigger range of emotions that he can play.

In the alley where they are trying to ditch the body they are spotted by a nun, Sister Augustine (Phyllis Calvert).  While George distracts the nun, Joe tries to manhandle the body and George tells the sister that the friend is drunk.  She goes on her way, but tells a cop about the incident.  Instead of checking it out the cop decides to chase down a speeding car instead.

Goddard is brought in on the case after the body is discovered and the cop has confessed he didn't investigate, but the nun is named as a witness.  Goddard's first job is to track down the nun.  When he finds her he has to remind her that it is her duty to identify the man she saw because she is reluctant to get involved.  Augustine tells the Mother Superior of the nunnery that she is reluctant because she sees that Goddard has "no heart, no charity".

(I should point out at this juncture that I wholeheartedly agree with the sister.  Ladd's character is a bit of a jerk, but you can chalk up some of that as his being dedicated to his job and the enforcement of law and order. Still, all in all, I doubt if I would be willing to knock back a few with Goddard after hours.  But then again, I would be willing to bet that he is a milk drinker and doesn't imbibe anyway...)

 Regas tells his boss, Earl Boettinger (Paul Stewart), that George has become a liability.  Regas wants to kill Soderquist, but Boettinger just wants to have George leave town.  When George refuses, Joe kills him.  Joe is a really sick individual.  He also wants to kill the nun because he thinks she can identify him too.  As such he tries to arrange an accident for her, but the plan falls through and she survives.

Goddard goes undercover as a rogue agent to infiltrate the mob planning their heist.  (They are going to rob a mail truck as it is transferring a load of money from one train to another).  Joe, being the suspicious sort, does not trust Goddard.   (I would bet Joe would look crosswise if someone handed him a diamond ring and told him it was a gift...)  There is some subterfuge going on and the suspense is tight in the movie.  On more than one occasion it looks like Goddard's plans might be revealed.  But Joe, being the weak link in the chain because of his obsessive nature, causes the plans to go awry himself.

If it hadn't been for my affinity to try to make double features out of my posts here, I might never have seen this movie.  I have Hamlette to thank for that, as it is a pretty entertaining flick, although I still don't like Goddard....even if he is the good guy.  Wikipedia notes that this was the last film noir film in Ladd's career, and he goes out with a pretty good bang.

The Blue Dahlia (1946)

Alan Ladd is one of three buddies who have just been released from military service, Johnny Morrison.  He and his palls, Buzz (William Bendix) and George (Hugh Beaumont, the dad on Leave it to Beaver) are recent Navy men.  Buzz suffers from shell shock and George has poor eyesight, but Johnny is released after meritorious service.

The three get off the bus in Hollywood where Johnny is married to a woman, Helen (Doris Dowling).  He goes home where he finds things aren't exactly as he thought they would be.  His wife is carrying on an affair with another man, Eddie Harwood (Howard da Silva).

To make matters worse, Helen has a secret she kept from Johnny.  Instead of dying from leukemia as she had originally told him, Helen and Johnny's son had been killed as a result of her being drunk and wrecking the car she was driving with the son in it.  Johnny is furious and initially pulls his service revolver, with the obvious intent to shoot her.  Instead he throws the gun on a chair and storms out.  (Big mistake there, honcho...)

Johnny wanders out in the rain where he is picked up by a woman (Veronica Lake).  He tells her his name is Jimmy Moore, and it is later revealed that she is the wife of the man with whom Helen had been having an affair.  Sometime after Johnny left Helen, she was shot and killed.  Johnny is prime suspect number one of course since she was shot with his gun.

Johnny makes out that he is in trouble and realizes the only way to clear himself is to find out who really shot his wife.  His first suspect, of course, is Harwood.  The gritty film nor plays all its cards pretty straight, by leading you on through several prime suspects, one of which is Buzz.  See Buzz has a problem with short term memory and the fact that "monkey music" (jazz) makes his head ache due to the plate in his head, the source of the shell shock.

The lives of all people in the movie intertwine rather well.  And believe me, when it is finally revealed who the culprit is, you will be as surprised as I was.   Justice is served in the end, something that was not exactly common in the average film noir.  At least, not the kind of justice that was servered here, anyway.  Ladd is a much more likeable character in this outing.  (And he does drink liquor, so he isn't as much a "stick-in-the-mud" as the character in the previous movie.)

I liked both movies.  Thanks to Hamlette for running this blogathon, (even if I did have to push the car, so to speak, to get it to jump start...:-D)


Friday, September 1, 2017

The World According to Spınal Tap

This is my entry in the Movie Parody Blogathon hoste by MovieMovieBlogBlog

Author's note:  This is Spinal Tap is a pretty raunchy movie.  If you are the least bit prudish, I suggest you avoid this movie.  In fact, it might be prudent to skip reading this review, as I will be quoting several lines that might offend some sensibilities, but are necessary to convey why I think this movie is so funny.   Be forewarned.

This movie is set up as a documentary (or as director Marti DeBergi (Rob Reiner) puts it, a "rock"umentary.  What it really is is a "mock"umentary.  There is no real band called "Spinal Tap" (or at least there wasn't in 1984).  All of the characters in the documentary are actors playing parts in what is posed as a documentary on the 1983 musical tour of "The Loudest Band Ever", Spinal Tap.  Reiner, as DeBergi, follows with a film crew documenting the tour, as well as carrying on some intimate conversations with the main core of Spinal Tap;  David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer).  It should be noted that all three actors were musically inclined, and they have since actually toured and produced a couple of albums under the name Spinal Tap.

If you are blessed with a copy of the DVD, a special feature has commentary from the three main core actors, McKean, Guest and Shearer).  But instead of commenting as actors, they make the commentary in character as St. Hubbins, Tufnel and Smalls.  This in effect gives you two movies in one, as, in the chronology of the film, the members of Spinal Tap supposedly were disenchanted with what DeBergi had done and make snide comments along with the commentary.

This is Spınal Tap (1984)

Debergi (film director Rob Reiner) introduces the theme of the movie by telling the audience that he began with a plan to capture "the sights, the sounds, the smells" of a rock band on tour.  Ostensibly,  the Tap (as I will refer to them for brevity) were going on tour to promote their 15th album Smell the Glove.

This movie would be hard to encapsulate as I am usually wont to do.  Instead, I have decided to highlight some of the funnier bits.  According to my information, the movie never really had a script as such.  There was a  plan, of course, but most of the film was done impromptu, as such, with only a basic premise for each scene.

In one of the best (and more memorable scenes) Nigel (Guest) is showing DeBergi (Reiner) his collection of guitars, and his improvised amplifier.  The amp has been modified to go to "11".

Nigel: "The numbers all go to eleven.  Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven..."
DeBergi: "Oh, I see.  And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel; "Exactly."
DeBergi: "Does that mean it's any louder?"
Nigel: "Well it's one louder, isn't it It's not ten."[...]
DeBergi: "Why not just make ten louder and make ten be the top number?"
Nigel: (after a brief pause)  "These go to eleven."

(A brief side note: I enjoy being funny, even when the rest of the room might not understand it.  I was in a hotel last year that had 11 floors.  I got on the elevator with a young couple and the woman said to her male companion: "We're on 10."  And I waited a second, then said "These go to eleven."  I got a quizzical look from the woman, but the guy smiled.  I said to him "I don't think she got it...but you did, didn't you...?")

One of the running gags throughout the movie is the rather bizarre accidents that happen to the drummers in Spinal Tap.  This is a parody of the actual phenomena of the life expectancy of drummers in rock bands, and this may be one of the  sensitive points to some of you.  But the Tap has had some really strange deaths of drummers.  One "died in a bizarre gardening accident".  Another choked on vomit, "someone else's vomit".  Another drummer exploded on stage.  (OK, I will admit it's rather sick, but in the context it's funny.)

At one point, Debergi talks with the band about the reviews of their previous albums.  Intravenous de Milo was reviewed as "The tasteless cover is a good indication of the lack of musical talent within. The musical growth of this band cannot be charted.  They are treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry".  (to which Nigel responds "Well, that's just nitpicking, isn't it"?)  The Gospel According to Spinal Tap (which actually shows the album as being titled "Rock and Roll Creation") had a review that said "The pretentious ponderous collection of religious rock psalms is enough to prompt the question 'What day did the Lord create Spinal Tap, and couldn't He have rested on that day, too?'"   Shark Sandwich got only a two word review, "Shit Sandwich".

The band has a continuing decline in attendance and many cancelled shows over the course of the film.  This leads to the decision to a revival of performing a rock opera, "Stonehenge".  Nigel draws a diagram detailing a mock-up for the concert, which is supposed to be a replica of a portion of Stonehenge for the concert.  But on the drawing  he inadvertently writes the dimensions as 18" instead of 18'.  Of course, the replica is built to specifications, but the band doesn't know about it until they are performing on stage.  The replica comes down, accompanied by a couple of dwarves dressed as druids dancing around it.

One of the running gags throughout the film is the delay in the release of the album.  The executives are having fits and some markets are refusing to carry the album because they find the cover offensive.  And believe me, as they describe it (which you never actually see), it is pretty racy and sexist.  The executives decide to release the album as completely black.  (Note: this was years before Metallica released their black album).  The consternation of the band over the cover is a pretty funny scene.

Eventually all the mishaps with the band and their manager, Ian Faith (Tony Hendra), leads to the dismissal of their manager.  St. Hubbin's girlfriend, Jeanine (June Chadwick), takes over as manager.  Jeanine represents the interference usually associated with the breakup of the Beatles, due to Lennon's woman, Yoko Ono, (although Jeanine is not Asian).  None of the other band members really like her, especially Nigel.  A very funny scene happens towards the end of the movie where Jeanine has substituted a show that was cancelled by booking them to play a dance on an Army base.  In the midst of interference from loudspeakers at the base, Nigel leaves, disgusted and quits the band.

The movie is absolutely hilarious, especially when you realize that none of the actors playing three main band members (McKean, Guest and Shearer) were actually English, but they manage to pull it off exquisitely.  There are lots of recognizable faces in the movie as other characters, some of which you may know by name and some which may be familiar to you by face even if you don't know their names.  These include Ed Begley, Jr, Fred Willard, Paul Schaeffer, Howard Hesseman, Paul Benedict, Bruno Kirby, Fran Drescher,  Patrick Macnee, Dana Carvey, and Billy Crystal.

I encourage you to give this movie a shot, but as I stated in the preface, if you are the least bit prudish, I will understand if you choose to avoid it.  It's not as offensive as a few of the other movies I've reviewed over the years, but it does tip the scales in some places.

Drive home safely, folks.