Monday, June 22, 2020

Wise Guy: Book Review of Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures by J. R. Jordan

It's astonishing that I have seen so many of Robert Wise's movies that I like and yet never really added him to my list of favorite directors.  Maybe it's just the fact that he stayed under the radar over the years.  A workman-like attitude towards his craft without actually having to be the face of his movies (unlike some I could name). Some of those movies I wasn't even aware that his name was lisyed as director.

Robert Wise: The Motion Pictures by J. R. Jordan:

The format of the book is well laid out.  It takes a look at each of the movies that Wise directed in chronological order.  One of the things I like about this book is that it is not a biography as such, which I probably would have found tedious.  Although it does include a few tidbits about his life, the author keeps that at a minimum.

The depth of the research behind the movies was really impressive.  The film analysis portion of each chapter gives one a better viewpoint into the content of the movie.  And it opened my mind up to movies that I'd either heard about or knew of remotely but hadn't seen.  It was a discovery that Wise had directed them.  Being a big fan of film noir I discovered several movies that fit the film noir mold that I should check out.

Of course, Wise is also an Academy Award winner, albeit two of those Oscars are for movies that I would be hard pressed to watch (much less review) since they are musicals  (The Sound of Music and West Side Story).  But given his talents, it was a phenomenal career and the author doesn't stint on the info.

One thing that bothered me about the book was that sometimes I got lost when reading the encapsulations of the films.  It seemed to me that the author talked as if his readers had seen every movie, kind of like as if we had watched it together and were discussing it after the fact.  I was OK when it was a movie I had seen, but in some cases, if I hadn't seen the movie, I got lost with what was happening. 

Overall, if you are a fan of these films, you will be sure to learn some new things.  The author is engaging without being overly gushing about the man himself.  And I liked that.

I am going to review a few of the movies that Wise directed over the next couple of months as a result of reading this book.  (It has been WAY too long for a scheduled comparison of Wise's classic The Day the Earth Stood Still with the less than stellar remake from a few years back... I get way too bogged down with life and blogathons, it seems.)


Saturday, June 13, 2020

Standing Tall in the Face of Disaster

This is my entry in the Disaster Blogathon hosted by Dubsism and Me

Stephen King has been off and on one of my favorite authors.  (I published a blog piece last year on how he influenced me, which you can read here.)  One of my favorite novels of his is The Stand, which was published way back in 1978.  In the summer of 1984 I had a job as a security guard in a manufacturing plant.  Since my main duties were to watch out for the computer room (this being back in the days when computers took up whole rooms and probably had less processing power than your current smart phone, but were extremely valuable), I had a lot of free time.  One of the books I read that summer was the original publication of The Stand.

In 1990, twelve years after the publication of the original, King brought out the "Complete and Uncut" edition of the book, in which he included much of the stuff that his publishers had forced him to leave out.  (Apparently, according to his preface, the publishers balked at releasing a 1200 page manuscript by a relatively new author and forced him to reduce it to a more manageable 800 page book, still a big book for a fledgling author, but compare that to the average book King puts out today.)

Was King a psychic?  The current spread of the Coronavirus is not near as devastating a disaster as the one described in the book, but one can't help but think of the current situation in the world today if one reads the book's first part (or watches part one of this miniseries).  Note: I would be less than honest if I did not tell you that King himself has recently tried to distance himself from comparisons of the "Super Flu" or "Captain Trips" described in The Stand from the current virus.  But when this blogathon idea first came to my attention back in November, it was the first film I thought of, and now it seems almost prescient that I chose it.

The book and film are both, by necessity, America-centric.  King himself, in the novel, never really delved into what happened in the rest of the world after he outbreak of the "Super-Flu".  Maybe the same thing happens in Russia and China and the rest of the world in some fashion. To be sure it's hard to imagine that some people didn't take the Super-flu with them outside of the continental United States.  That is the only flaw I see in the story however. 

The Stand (1994):

The whole thing starts with a mistake.  OK, so its not really all that much of a mistake.  The US military and the government have been working to create a lethal virus, ostensibly to be used in warfare.  But it is a series of mistakes and mishaps that gets it out into the open.  A mishap inside the military compound releases the virus and a security guard at the gate is told to shut down the complex.  But instead he panics and goes back to his home and gathers up his wfe and baby and hightails it before the override security can shut the gates.

Thus the beginning starts not with a bang but a whimper.   The next time we see the guard is when he crashes his car into a gas station in a podunk town in Texas, where Stu Redman (Gary Sinise) and some assorted friends hang out.  The guard's wife and baby are already dead from the virus and the guard himself is not long for this world.  But he has been spreading the virus everywhere, including Hap's Gas Station where Stu and friends are hanging out.  Eventually Stu and the entire town are packed up and taken to a government facility, not necessarily with their consent.

Not long afterward the virus is everywhere.  In Manhattan, Larry Underwood (Adam Storke) arrives to visit his mother.  He recently left home to become a singer in Los Angeles, but he has overspent his advancement and has gone home to escape  his creditors.  And in rural Maine Frannie Goldsmith (Molly Ringwald)is helping her father who has come down with the disease.  Eventually only she and her nebbish admirer Harold Lauder (Corin Nemec) are survivors in the town.  Into this cast of characters is also cast Nick Andros (Rob Lowe), a deaf mute who is stuck in rural Arkansas after being attacked by a gang of hoodlums.

On the other side, there is a malcontent named Lloyd Henreid (Miguel Ferrer) who has been jailed after a foiled holdup in which his partner killed the store owner.  Lloyd's partner is killed, but Lloyd ends up in prison as an accessory.  There is also a character known only as Trashcan Man (Matt Frewer), an arsonist who likes setting fires to things.

With 98% of the population dead from the virus, the survivors are called by superior powers (God and the Devil, or what have you).  The good guys feel themselves being called to rural Nebraska where an elderly black lady, Abigail Freemantle (Ruby Dee) is the instrument of good calling them to her.

On the opposite side is Randall Flagg (Jamey Sheridan) (who may or may not be the embodiment of the Biblical Antichrist, calling the not so good guys to Sin City, Las Vegas.

The second part of the movie involves the gathering of these assorted characters.  Nick meets up with a good but retarded man named Tom Cullen (Bill Fagerbakke).  Frannie and Harold eventuall hook up with Stu and an older man Stu encountered, Glen Bateman (Ray Walston).  All are being haunted by dreams of both Abigail who is calling to them and Randall who scares the shit out of them.

Eventually the good guys end up having to move to classier digs, since after all there's not much room for them all at Abigail's home/farm, and they pack up to move to Denver, where the rest of whats left of the good guys end up meeting them.

While both sides try to recreate society in their own way, the good guys eventually have to come to the conclusion that the Las Vegas contingent isn't going to sit on their haunches and expect a mutual piece.  What happens next constitutes the second two parts of the movie. Even though the good guys would like to coexist with the bad guys and have it be let each other alone, they know the truth that Flagg and Co. are not going to let it be such a mutual co-existence.

There are some traitors among the good guys, as to be expected.  And eventually the Denver group decides to send spies to see what's going on.  But Flagg is a bit more cognizant of their intentions than they would like to believe.

The movie as made takes a few liberties with the text.  After all, even at a 6 hour running time (it was made into a 4 part serial), some stuff had to be condensed to make it manageable.  And it should be noted that there is not much from the "unexpurgated" version that made it to the film; it's primary source is the original 800 page version.  The good thing is Stephen King had a hand in writing the script, so it stays pretty true to the book (unlike some other films I could name... Lawnmower Man anyone...?)

The cast includes a lot of familiar faces.  Even the author gets a brief cameo.

Watching The Stand may be hard on anyone who has lost friends or loved ones during the current situation.  At least the first act.  But the story is rather intriguing.  And it may or may not encourage conspiracy theorists on their views of the government,  (Again, especially in the first act).  One thing.  I rarely cry when watching movies, but if you watch it I will tell you that the scene in which Kathy Bates makes a cameo caused me to well up immensely.And not necessarily because she dies.  It's more of the circumstances surrounding her death.  You have to watch the scene to relate.  It has to do with my being such a strong advocate of free speech.

Time to head home, folks.  Drive safely.


Friday, June 12, 2020

Masters of Disaster: The Disaster Blogathon Arrives

The world is coming to an end.  You just have time enough to stick your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.

So the Disaster Blogathon will probably have you believe anyway.  We have all kinds of scenarios of imminent destruction; from plagues, to sinking boats, to planes in imminent danger of crashing.  We have alien invasions, to erupting volcanoes and even a giant octopus.

Keep coming back over the weekend to find out who is going to be still among the living after the spectacles befall us.  Also check out my co-host's website for a more current update until Sunday.  Dubsism  has more time to keep it current than me until Sunday... LOL

The Disaster Roll Call:

Moon in Gemini:  The Andromeda Strain

Realweegiemidget Reviews:  Airport

John V's Eclectic Avenue:  Miracle Mile

Angelman's Place:  Deep Impact

Caftan Woman:  The Hurricane

Charity's Place: Pompeii

Hamlette's Soliloquy:  The High and the Mighty

And You Call Yourself A Scientist: No Time at All

An Aging Broad with a Scrapbook: Deluge

The Spirochaete Trail: Hero

Sports Chump: Independence Day

Cinematic Catharsis: It Came From beneath the Sea

Taking Up Room: The Towering Inferno

Pure Entertainment Preservation Society:  Titanic (1953)

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies: The Poseidon Adventure

Crítica Retrô: The Last Days of Pompeii

and another entry by

The Midnite Drive-in: The Stand

Movie Rob: The Swarm

Movie Rob: (again) Mars Attacks!

Movie Rob: (again)  The Wandering Earth

Silver Screenings: When Worlds Collide

The Stop Button: Ashfall

Horseback to Byzantium: Exit

Totally Filmi: Virus

I think we had 100% participation on this.  A new one for me.  Thanks to all entrants.  And thanks to Dubsism for letting me in on ground zero.


Sunday, June 7, 2020

Pink Problems

This is my entry in the Broadway Bound Blogathon

Bent (1999):

Bent starts out by giving us some insight into the life of Max (Clive Owen), a gay man living in Berlin at the time of the rise of Hitler and the Nazis to power in that country.  Max is a fairly promiscous man, even though he has a current lover, Rudy (Brian Webber II).  One night he brings home a man who is the the SA with the Nazi government, much to the dismay of Rudy.

Unfortunately for Max and Rudy this happens to have happened on the infamous "Night of the Long Knives", an event in which Hitler and members of his inner party sent out gangs of the SS, Hitler's inner military men to murder those deemed to be a threat to the consolidation of his power with the German government, and Max's man of the moment is one of those deemed to be on the list to be eliminated.  And the SS men have been following him.  The break into max and Rudy's apartment and murder him, sending Max and Rudy on the run.

The problem is that, among other undesirables within Nazi Germany at the time, gay men are on the list.  The two are in danger of being captured and sent to detention camps.  Max tries to deal with his uncle Freddie (Ian McKellan), who is also gay, but not quite as overt about his activities and still in a position within the government to help.  Uncle Freddie manages to procure papers to allow Max to leave the country, but Max insists that Freddie also get papers for Rudy.

With nowhere else to go, Max and Rudy hide out in a makeshift shed in the woods. Unfortunately Rudy has been talking to the wrong people and Max and Rudy are captured.  In an effort to save himself from persecution as a gay man, Max convinces the authorities instead that he is a Jew, thinking he won't be treated quite as badly.  (In retrospect, we as the audience know that eventually that decision could prove to be bad, but apparently, at least this early in the history of the Nazi regime, he might get better treatment).

While on the train, sadistic Nazi officers accost Rudy, because he is gay, and think that Max may be hiding his true nature.  When confronted however, Max denies that he even knows Rudy, and reluctantly helps beat him, after which Rudy dies and is thrown of the moving train.  Horst (Lothaire Bluteau) chides him for his cowardice, convinced that Max is gay despite hgis insistence that he is a Jew.

Later, in Dachau, Max is giving a demeaning assignment of moving rocks from one side of the compound to the other.  He uses bribes to get Horst assigned to help him, having actually fallen in love with him.  Although initially their relationship is a bit hostile (Horst doesn't actually want to do this stupid job, which is pointless; they move rocks from one side to the other, then repeat the process in reverse, a ploy designed to drive the prisoners mad).

A relationship and a love does develop between the two however, albeit not in a fashion that can be consummated.  At least not in the physical sense.  But they manage to have sex by conversation alone and the two end up finding true love and admiration for each other.

It's not going to end well, as you may well know.  But in the process Max does come to terms with his sexuality and the ending, although a bit depressing, does satisfy.

For more information on the treatment of gay men in Nazi Germany might I suggest a documentary Paragraph 175?  This movie sheds some new light on that very good documentary.  The movie was based on a Broadway play, and I think I would have liked to see it.  One of the things I miss by not being in New York is there is a wide variety of plays that end up making profound movies making me wish I had some access to them in their original form.

Drive home safely, folks


Saturday, May 16, 2020

Why the 60s Was the Greatest Decade for War Films

This is my entry in the 6 from the 60's blogathon hosted by Classic Film and TV Cafe

"War is man's greatest adventure" - Ernest Hemingway

War movies have been around ever since the invention of movies.  It may not have been among the first subjects. After all, a decent war flick does involve a bit more than some slapdash makeup to create a Frankenstein monster, or even to create the illusion of traveling to the moon.  But take it as fact, once the concept of motion pictures took off, quite naturally the adventure of war became a target to transfer to the screen.

I can't actually tell you what the first war movie was.  I gave up trying to find a website that would tell me.  But as early as 1911, war was depicted on film.  The Fall of Troy, a 1911 short film from the silent era seems to be one of the first, however.

Over the years, war became increasingly a good draw at the box office.  Some of the classics would have to include (regardless of political messages they may have had):  Birth of a Nation (1915), Battleship Potemkin (1925), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Sergeant York (1941), From Here to Eternity (1953), Patton (1970), Platoon (1986), Gettysburg (1993), Black Hawk Down (2001) and Fury (2014).

(Author's Note:  For brevity, I only chose one movie from each decade.  This is not necessarily the best movie, just my choice as a representative of the decade. If a movie you favor was not chosen, it does not mean I think it's less than the one I actually chose. Your opinion may differ.)

You will notice, of course, that the 60's are missing from the above list.  That's because, in my opinion, the 60's were the best decade for war films.  The primary subject for war films during this time period, of course, was for the then fairly recent conflict of WWII.  The one we actually could hold our heads high and proudly state "We won!"

Of course, it didn't hurt that some of the biggest names in show business were associated with these films.  I mean look at the cast listing of the six movies I am using as a representative:  Stanley Baker, Ernesst Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, James Coburn, Sean Connery, Vince Edwards, Henry Fonda, James Garner, William Holden, Trevor Howard, Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, David Niven, Gregory Peck, Donald Pleasence, Anthony Quinn, Cliff Robertson, Frank Sinatra, Rod Steiger and John Wayne, just to name a few.  Plus you had such stalwart directors as Robert Aldrich, John Sturges and Daryl F. Zanuck behind the camera.

Of course, the following six are only a representative of the whole decade, not necessarily the unanimous best.  They are some of my favorites, of course, but as you will see, I also chose these six because I have already reviewed them in depth in other posts on this blog.  Some of the others not included, but well worth checking out from the 60's output of war films are:  The Alamo (1960), The Battle of Britain (1969), Battle of the Bulge (1965), The Green Berets (1968), Hell in the Pacific (1968), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Sand Pebbles (1966), Where Eagles Dare (1968), and Zulu (1964). (Still an incomplete list, but it will get you started.)

My favorite war movie of the 60's is not one that involves actual war action.  I consider The Great Escape  (1963) to be the best of the bunch, however.  It is actually based on a true story about the planning of and escape from a Nazi P.O.W. camp near the end of WWII (based on an account written by one of the P.O.W.s who witnessed the events, Paul Brickhill).  The all-star cast makes this an intriguing movie.  The ending is somewhat of a downer, I warn you in advance.  I won't spoil the ending more than that, but watching the likes of McQueen, Bronson, Garner, Coburn and the like as they plan the escape is rather riveting.  As a side note, I used to call my folks every week when they were still alive, and I would play this movie without the sound in the background as I talked with them. (It helped me focus on the conversations, believe it or not...)

Another great escape movie is Von Ryan's Express (1965).  In this film, Frank Sinatra plays a downed pilot named Ryan who becomes the ranking officer in an Italian P.O.W. camp during WWII.  As such, he makes a general nuisance of himself, earning himself the rather disparaging nickname of "Von Ryan" (insinuating that he has Nazi sympathies).  The ultimate goal at the end is the commandeering of a prisoner train that is transporting the Italian P.O.W.s to a German P.O.W. camp after the Italians have surrendered.

 The Dirty Dozen (1967) is a different animal altogether.  In this film Lee Marvin is an officer given the task of training a dozen malcontents into a crack force of soldiers destined to create havoc at a secret Nazi rest area for officers of the German army.  And the all-star cast of this one has people who have memorable scenes which will stick with you long after you watch it.  Don't miss the great performances of Charles Bronson, Telly Savalas, and Donald Sutherland just to name a few.

On the heels of that escapade comes another story about a cadre of men with a goal to disrupt the Nazi's and their nefarious deeds. The Guns of Navarone (1961) involves a group who must somehow disable a couple of devastating guns in a mountain stronghold that is creating havoc with troop movement of the Allies.  Gregory Peck and David Niven are among the stars of this great adventure.

In The Devil's Brigade (1968) William Holden is the leader of a cadre of American and Canadian soldiers with a task to capture yet another Nazi stronghold.  Like the Dirty Dozen, many of Holden's charges are malcontents who must be whipped into shape before proceeding on their mission.

Rounding out this sextet of great 60's war movies is another one that is actually based on fact.  John Wayne heads yet another cast of familiar names staging the historical D-Day invasion of France, then under Nazi control.  The Longest Day (1962) focuses on more than just Wayne, however.  Most of the big names are listed above, but you will recognize quite a few more of them, depending on your movie watching history.  And the fact that it's all pretty much true to the actual conflict is a history lesson that for once you might not mind enduring.

Looking back, the fact that all of these are representative of only one conflict, WWII in Nazi Germany, may seem a bit choosy.  But the fact is there is not a dud in the bunch.  And they were all made during one decade. For more in depth discussion on each entry, please click on the links to see my thoughts on each.  Or better yet, devote a weekend to just watching the movies.  I guarantee you won't be bored.

Drive home safely, folks.


Monday, May 4, 2020

The Promise of The Chosen One

The mantle of "hero" is never an easy one to bear.  People look to you to rescue them from every plight that befalls them.  Not an easy job.  Even if you are faster than a speeding bullet, or have every gadget known to man in the pockets of your tool belt, or even if you can manipulate time and space to make the bad guys just disappear into another dimension.

But what if, just what if, you are just an ordinary guy who has less power and intelligence in your entire body than Superman or Batman or Dr. Strange has in their pinky finger?  What if you are just some shmo who everyone thinks in the promised savior but you know yourself to be just some guy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

That's exactly what happened to Ty Farrell.  He's just a struggling actor trying to make a paycheck on a cheesy 50's sci-fi superhero series as "Captain Zoom". But far far away in another galaxy, the planet of Pangea is on it's last legs fighting off the evil overlord Lord Vox.  And the little electronics wizard brother of the leader of the resistance is searching for a champion to help them in their endeavor.

And he thinks he's found it when he stumbles across a broadcast of "The Adventures of Captain Zoom", a kiddie sci-fi show originating on Earth.

The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space (1995):

In a galaxy far, far away, the residents of the planet Pangea are in a desperate struggle to avoid the taking over of their planet by Lord Vox of Vestron (Ron Perlman)

In the struggle a young warrior, Tyra (Liz Vassey) leads the people to thwart the evil machinations of Vox.  But in a raid on the base of operations Tyra is captured.

Back at home base, things are looking bleak, despite the promise of their spiritual leader, Sagan (Nichelle Nichols) that "it is written" that a promised one will appear.  

 Most of the people accept her predictions, but young Baley (Gregory Smith), the young brother of Tyra has become exasperated with Sagan's platitudes.  Instead, being the electronics genius of the clan, he uses his knowledge and equipment to search for a hero on his own.

And he thinks he finds it in the person of Ty Farrell ( Daniel Riordan). 

Farrell is the star of a TV show on a planet far away, "Captain Zoom".  But young Baley thinks his exploits are real and thinks that Captain Zoom is just the hero the people need to defeat Lord Vox.  So he uses his equipment to bring Zoom to the planet of Pangea.

Of course, you and I know Farrell is just an actor, although no one on Pangea knows what that is...

Farrell:  I'm not a hero.  I'm just an actor.
Simulus: What's an 'actor'?
Farrel: I pretend I'm somebody else, for money.
Simulus: Oh, a spy... kill him.

Vox has plans to subjugate Pangea and discover the ancient wisdom hidden somewhere on the planet.  He also wants Tyra to marry him and become his queen (because he is, after all, just a horny man who has needs other than the desire to become king of the known universe...)

Meanwhile, back at home base, Farrell is having trouble coping with his new situation.  For one thing, everyone thinks he really is Captain Zoom, despite his efforts to dissuade them.  And they think he is the chosen one come to deliver them just as Sagan's prophecies have foretold.

Of course, due to his ineptitude, while actually trying to rescue Tyra, he too is captured, mainly because Vesper (Gia Carides) i, Vox's high priestess, has clairvoyant psychic powers.  But she only has these powers as long as she remains a virgin.  (Don't get ahead of me here...)

Vesper has the hots for Zoom, and she tries to work her powers on him.  But Tyra and the captain escape from Vox's fortress spaceship.  Unfortunately for Vox, this is a surprise because Vesper failed to foretell of the escape.  (OK, now you can catch up...)

Eventually Farrell is informed of the sad fact that Baley used all of his available isotopes in brining Zoom to Pangea and the bad news is it will take thousands of years before more can be made.  But Tyra tells him that the quest for ancient wisdom in the hidden cavern that both she and Vox are searching for may also contain information that could restore him back on Earth.  So he reluctantly joins the quest.

Farrell is essentially the essence of The Peter Principle (a theory that eventually a person rises to a position of which he is too incompetent  to perform the duties to which he is assigned... sound familiar?)  Farrell is far from the hero that the people of Pangea think he is, but he has an ego to match just about anyone in Hollywood so he thinks he can be whatever they want (as long as it isn't too strenuous...)

The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space is a real hoot.  Unfortunately I don't think it's ever been released on DVD.  However, there is a poor quality recording of it on you tube (in three parts, but not to worry it's only about an hour and a half long in toto).  I had the fortune of seeing this when it was first broadcast on Starz back in 1995.  It's a made for TV film, and the special effects are negligible, but don't go into it expecting a Star Wars knockoff.  Go into it for the comic performance of Zoom and his would-be worshipers.