Sunday, December 10, 2023

Sneaky Guys

 Note: The impetus for this review came as a result of listening to a podcast discussing the movie (Shat the Movies). In it they referenced a little anecdote that I found interesting.  It seems that during the production a couple of men claiming to represent Office of Naval Intelligence approached the director that in the interest of national security he could not reference a hand-held device that could decode codes.  It turned out that it was not really representatives of the government but just part of a prank. It has been suggested that Dan Aykroyd was behind the prank.



It's 1992. Late September. Hollywood unleashes a film that has star-studded cast. It has 3 Academy Award winners and 4 others who have been to the ceremonies as nominees for the prestigious award.  And one more who would also garner a nomination a few years later.  So this prestigious cast all came together for one film.  And although it was a pretty good success at the box office ($105 million on a $23 million budget), I am willing to bet that there are quite a few people out there that have never even heard of it. 

So the cast includes:

Robert Redford, winner of Best Director for Ordinary People and nominated for Best Actor for The Sting. (although ignored for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which I still consider a crime... and that's just the biggest snub,.  See the link above.)

Ben Kingsley, winner of the Best Actor for Gandhi. He was also nominated for Sexy Beast, Bugsy and House of Sand and Fog. (But not for Schindler's List. Pity.)

Sidney Poitier, winner of the Best Actor award for Lillies of the Field, and nominated for one for The Defiant Ones. (More snubs?  He was ignored for In the Heat of the Night, though his co-star, Rod Steiger was the winner of the Best Actor).

Dan Aykroyd, who was nominated for a Best Actor Driving Miss Daisy.

River Phoenix, who was nominated for Running on Empty.

Mary McDonnell, who was nominated for Dances with Wolves.

And briefly in this film, James Earl Jones, who had been nominated for The Great White Hope. (And probably should have gotten at least some recognition as the voice of Darth Vader if only he had received credit for it.  But since it was only his voice, and David Prowse pulled of the physical presence, I guess I'll have to give that one a pass.

Also appearing was David Strathairn, who would later get a nomination for Good Night and Good Luck.


None of these guys and girls actually pulled off anything like Academy Award performances in the film. (Although I will point out that until I saw him in another movie I was convinced that Strathairn was actually blind...)  But having such a prestigious cast should have made this movie more memorable. And you may be one who remembers it fondly... good for you.

I got to see the movie when it first hit the theaters.  I liked it enough to watch it more than once.  The movie is a bit dated by now as technology has surpassed that of what is portrayed in the film, although it was cutting edge at the tim.  It feels like a relic these days, but the acting makes it as watchable as it was in 1992.


Sneakers (1992): 

After an opening credits sequence which features anagram variations of the people involved in the movie:


(Universal Picures)  Presents


A (Lawrence Lasker Walter F. Parkes) Production


A (Phil Alden Robinson) Film


(Robert Redford)

(This sequence acts as sort of a foreshadowing of a later development in the film, as we will see.)

Opening sequence: Two college friends Marty and Cosmo are messing around with early computer hacking, transferring money from such disparate agencies such as having the Republican Party donate a big chunk of money to the Black panthers and having then President Richard Nixon donate his entire money sources to NORML (the organization fighting to legalize marijuana). When Cosmo tricks Marty into being the one to go out and fetch pizza, Cosmo is left alone in the dorm, thus being the only one of the two to be arrested when police subsequently raid the place. A side note: the younger Cosmo is a fair likeness a possibly young Kingsley, but the young Marty with his mustache is so similar to Redford in his younger days it's pretty impressive.

The actual film story begins as Martin Bishop (Robert Redford) and his crew prepare to infiltrate a bank.  After shutting down the security systems and distracting the security guard, they use their tech to transfer a large sum of money to a bank account that Bishop had previously opened. Bishop's crew consists of Donald Crease (Sidney Poitier), a former C.I.A. agent, "Mother" (Dan Aykroyd), an electronics wiz (and for comedy relief, a conspiracy theorist of the highest order), Carl (River Phoenix), a teenage hacker extraordinaire, and "Whistler" (David Strathairn) a blind man who can do wonders with telephone technology.

But it's all in the name of the job that Bishop and his crew perform ; that of finding flaws in the security systems of companies that hire them. (And they must charge out the wazoo for this because I really don't see how it could be a profitable business, even in the 90's, Seems too specialized to me.)

After taking care of business, Bishop is followed by two men Buddy (Eddie Jones) and Dick (Timothy Busfield). The men claim to be from the National Security Agency and want to hire Bishop to steal a "black box" being developed by Professor Gunter Janek (Donal Logue). Under the guise of a corporation called "Setec Astronomy", Janek is supposed to have created something for the Russian government that the NSA is highly interested in.

Yeah, in 1992. I know what you're thinking, and Bishop addresses it. The Russians? "Give me a break. We won. They lost. It's been in a couple of papers."

But as the agents say "We still spy on them and they still spy on us." So, to the effect of stealing the black box, the company sets up a surveillance of Janek's office.  And find out the box is hidden in plain sight on his desk. Bishop breaks in and gets away with the box,  Back at their headquarters they find out the "macguffin" is a code breaker that can break into the most secure computer systems in the world. And through a game of using Scrabble tiles, they figure out that SETEC ASTRONOMY anagrams to "Too many secrets". (See I told you that anagram thing in the credits would turn out to be important). 

Realizing that any agency in the world would kill to get their hands on the device, Crease insists on a lock down until the box can be handed off to the NSA. The next day Bishop delivers the box to the NSA agents.  But Bishop finds out that Dr. Janek was killed, and becomes suspicious. He leaves the "agents" without even collecting the money and the "agents" try to kill him.

Back at headquarters there is a group of friends who are in turmoil.  Who was behind it all?  Certainly not the NSA, because the real NSA calls and wants their black box.  Bishop ends up going to an old acquaintance, Grigor (George Hearn) a former KGB agent. But Grigor says the Russians, although they would love to get their hands on the thing, are not involved.

So who is?  Well, the big surprise is, after Grigor is killed and Bishop is taken hostage, he finds himself  face-to-face with his old friend Cosmo (Ben Kingsley). It is a surprise because Bishop was under the impression that Cosmo had died in prison.  It turns out that while Cosmo was in prison he made himself invaluable to certain members of the Mafia and afterwards became a big shot.  So it's not the Russians but the criminal underworld who are behind the scenes of the crime.

Bishop, whose real name was Martin Brice, soon becomes a fugitive because now that the Mafia, or more specifically Cosmo, has the black box, the file on Martin Brice can be amended to show an alias, It was Bishop's gun that was used to kill Grigor, so Bishop a.ka. Brice will show up on the FBI's fingerprints file.. (BTW, if you're asking yourself how Martin Brice's fingerprints got on file in the first place since he avoided the arrest with Cosmo, you found one of the flaws in the story.)

So Cosmo lets Bishop go.  After all, his revenge is in place with the change of the FBI files making Bishop the target of the law enforcement.  So Bishop and his crew are under two threats now. (The other is the NSA, who were the real backers of Janek's box, because they want their box back.

The final reel of the film involves some of the most intense uses of the abilities of the team, which now includes Liz (Mary McDonnell) who had come on board initially to help Martin decipher Janek's techno speak.  Liz gets to be the computer date for a nebbish, Werner Brandeis (Stephen Tobolowsky), who just happens to have the office next door to Cosmo's, so they can access the place where the box is stashed.

Eventually, of course, Martin retrieves the box and hands it off to the agent from the NSA who shows up to retrieve it (played by James Earl Jones). And the trade off that the crew demands is pretty entertaining in itself.

One of the highlights in this film, for me anyway, is the rather hilarious "conspiracy theories" that Mother keeps spouting. Most of the rest of the crew just accept them as de rigueur, but Kreese's reactions are a hoot.

Despite the fact that much of this film's technology seems a little outdated by today's standards, it is not all that surprising that it still holds up as a thriller.  The basic premise of espionage and double cross will still entertain.  I just re-watched it today and was still excited by it even though I knew almost every twist and turn from the film by heart.

Well folks, time to fire up this old wreck of a Plymouth and head home. And if there are any suspicious cars waiting outside, I'm heading to Brazil.  Drive safely, folks.





Monday, December 4, 2023

Announcing the On The Job Blogathon blogathon






We ALL have to do it. Unless you are independently wealthy like a Rockefeller, but even they had to do it at some point to get independently wealthy... What is it? "Work". (Sorry, maybe I should have said "The W word"...)

Whether you are a wage worker or an executive in the business world, everyone has to put in time doing some sort of labor, whether physical or mental to be able to pay the bills.  The film world has addressed that issue on numerous occasions.  

This blogathon is wide open, as far as that goes.  There are the factory workers in such films like Gung Ho and Take This Job and Shove It.  There are the office drudges dealing with day to day lif in such films as Office space and 9-5. Even sports athletes have to work for a living, as witnessed in such movies as north Dallas Forty and Major League.  And you can't leave out the less than reputable occupations (Pretty Woman, anyone?)

For the purposes of this blogathon we are accepting any entries that have a primary focus on doing some kind of work. (Note: Everyone in every movie has some sort of job, but we want the focus to be on movies which the primary story line is focused on one or more characters in the daily grind of performing their job.)

As usual rules are very liberal.

1. Only one person per movie.  There are plenty of movies to choose from, so there is no need to have multiple entries of the same movie.

2. No old posts.  Please make the entry a new post.

3.  Post your entry sometime around the dates of the blogathon and let me or Hamlette know when it is posted.

That's it.  Join up and play along.  It may be one of the few times you get to have fun writing about working.

Below is a current list of entries we have so far. 

The Midnite Drive-In: Gung Ho (1986)

Hamlette's Soliloquy Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) and Top 10 Movies about writers

Realweegiemidget Reviews: I Hired a Contract Killer (1990)

Friday, December 1, 2023

Blondes Have More Bad Vibes






This is my entry in the Hammer-Amicus Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews and Cinematic Catharsis.





The blonde woman has always been a fixation for the adult male. Blondes get all the good stuff in life, hence the phrase "Blondes have more fun."  But when it comes to film noir, the opposite can also be a standard trope.  Look at how many blondes are the source of a downfall for the main male character in classic noir films.  

Cora (Lana Turner) in The Postman Always Rings Twice? Blonde.  Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) in Double Indemnity? Blonde.  Elsa (Rita Hayworth) in The Lady from Shanghai? Blonde. (Note: Blonde was not always the actress' natural color, sometimes, but they were blonde in these roles.)

One could get the idea that blondes are bad news. And if you find yourself involved in the plot line of a film noir, it's probably a good idea to steer clear of any blonde women.  Not that that advice would be observed by most of the male protagonists in them.

Hammer films were no stranger to this trope during their period of producing noir style films.  Of course, most people who think of Hammer Films will naturally first come up with "Oh, yeah! Those people who made the Christopher Lee / Peter Cushing horror movies!" But that's not the entire output from Hammer Studios.

I won't rehash what I've already written once. If you want to see a little more see my post Hammer Films Does Film Noir .  Both of these films were released in the UK under different titles, hence the "a.k.a." after the titles below.

Bad Blonde (1953): (a.k.a. The Flanagan Boy)

The American title, Bad Blonde, is much more conducive to drawing in the crowd that wanted to see film noir.  The Flangan Boy??? What kind of viewing crowd would THAT draw?  Sounds more like a title for a melodrama than a gritty noir.  But American promoters knew better and renamed it.

The opening music is pretty much a noir type, however.  The music was done by Ivor Staney, who mostly did film noir type movies over his brief career.  

The movie starts at a carnival where a huckster named Sharkey (Sid James) is trying to entice amateurs to go one round of boxing with one of his boxing stars.  He has a ringer in the audience, but the ringer is tripped on his way to the ring and Johnny Flanagan (Tony Wright) steps up to take his place.




After Johnny takes down Sharkey's boxer, Sharkey realizes that Johnny is not entirely the "amateur" he promotes himself as.  In steps Charlie Sullivan (John Slater) who is Johnny's own promoter. 




Together, Johnny, Sharkey and Sullivan decide that making a full-fledged  fighter out of Johnny is a good idea.  They need a backer, however, so they take him to see Giuseppe Vecci ( Frederick Valk).  Giuseppe has a trophy wife, Lorna (Barbara Payton) {the "Bad Blonde" of the title.}  




Lorna has the hots for Johnny and has no scruples about seducing the young boy.  She initially puts up a front, at least in front of her husband. Johnny intimates that he doesn't want her watching him and she harrumphs with one of the best lines in the movie "Tellyour boy not to flatter himself.  I've seen better bodies hanging in a butcher shop."

But is it all just a front?  Not long after, Giuseppe, upset that his new boy and his wife aren't getting along, he invites Johnny to his birthday party, where Giuseppe gets rip-roaring drunk and stumbles around trying to dance with his  wife. Really he has two left feet (or is just too drunk to stand) he gets Johnny to dance with her.  Not long after, the gloves come off (and not just the boxing gloves.

A romance develops with Johnny and Lorna, and, as so often happens in noir film, they both decide they would be better off if Giuseppe wasn't around to hamper the affair. Well, at least Lorna does. Johnny, still a good fellow at heart, doesn't want anything to do with it.  Until Lorna informs him that she is pregnant.  She doesn't have to tell him who the father is.

So Johnny reluctantly agrees to help remove Giuseppe from the scene.  He hides aboard Giuseepe's fishing boat and when Giuseppe goes out to fish, Johnny manages to engineer a drowning.  Since everyone knows Giuseppe can't swim, it looks like an accident.

Of course, if that were all, Johnny and Lorna could life "happily" ever after.  Unfortunately, his mama shows up from Italy. And mama knows more than anyone would think, including the fact that Lorna is not really pregnant.

Johnny is distraught over the whole thing. And decides to cure his depression in that age-old solution that many come to (unfortunately).  But Sharkey and Charlie have their own way of getting revenge on Lorna,

This is a fairly straightforward remake of many film noir films that were made before it.  And not entirely better acted, at that.  It follows mostly along the same lines as The Postman Always Rings Twice. Although you can't blame Tony Wright for not being up to par with John Garfield, I think Barbara Payton could have given Lana Turner a run for her money.  Unfortunately alcoholism cut her career short.  She died at age 39 from heart failure brought on by her addiction.




Man Bait aka The Last Page (1952):


Man Bait had one of the most unbelievable subplots of any movie I have ever seen.  Maybe in the 1950's it might have been shocking and possibly scandalous to kiss a woman who was not your wife. Just kiss her... not even have any more intimate contact than that...  But the plot stems from just that one encounter.

Anyway, the plot revolves around a woman, Ruby (Diana Dors), who is probably the most irresponsible woman in London.  She works at a book store and is notoriously late for work every day. Her supervisor, Mr. Oliver (Raymond Huntley) reprimands her and even approaches the big boss, Mr. Harman (George Brent) to have a talk with her.





After the reprimand, a customer walks in to the shop and, while he thinks no one is looking, attempts to steal a rare book from a case on which he picks the lock.  Ruby spots Jeff (Peter Reynolds) and makes him put the book back.  But instead of reporting him, she accepts a date with him after work.





Later, Ruby ends up having to work late with Mr. Harman.  In a moment of contact with Ruby, Harman impulsively kisses Ruby.




Jeff is the unscrupulous sort, and, in case it wasn't obvious, is not averse to using any means to get money.  So when Ruby tells him that Mr. Harman kissed her, Jeff concocts a plan to extort money from Harman, or else have Ruby inform his wife of the indiscretion.

Of course, even with the blackmail, it's not enough.  Jeff sends a letter, purportedly from Ruby, to inform Harman's wife.  But his wife (Isabel Dean), an invalid, ends up dying while trying to burn the letter.  A confrontation occurs between Harman and Ruby and later, Jeff appears in the shop demanding all the money Ruby had extorted from Harman.  He also ends up inadvertently killing Ruby and stashes her in a crate of books being shipped.  

Harman discovers the body first as in on the run.  Suspicion immediately falls on Harman when the police discover the body later.  Harman enlists the help of his secretary (Marguerite Chapman) to find out the truth as to who killed Ruby.

Except for the unrealistic attempt at blackmail (surely a better path could have been written.), the intrigue involved in the discovery of the real culprit has some good film noir scenes, and overall it is a pretty good example of acting from the main cast members.  

I like the idea of setting the film in a bookstore.  There are a couple of problems with these scenes that do stand out, though.  This is not a chain store bookstore on the same business level as, say Barnes and Noble.  It's just a local bookstore, so having what looks like about 12 employees on duty does not seem all that believable from an economic standpoint.

The other thing is that Ruby seems to have a history of being late to work.  Are the employers that desperate for help that they can continue to let her stay?  She has obviously been doing it for some time, you see.  Even if I had a hot woman like Ruby as an employee I doubt I would have let her last as long as she seems to have been doing.

Overall, I would not give this film as high a rating as it has. (IMDb rates this one higher than the previous entry, Bad Blonde...)  I think Bad Blonde is a better picture.  But both are fairly good given that they are British attempts at a mostly American genre.


Well, the old Plymouth is up and running, so it's time to head home.

Drive safely, folks.


Thursday, November 23, 2023

Can a Humbug Hum?


Years ago I posted an article about the Bill Murray film  Scrooged and gave a brief history of the Dickens story on which it was based, A Christmas Carol. As well as highlight some of those classic films (and TV shows).

A brief reiteration: There are two holiday traditions that I have to get into the holidays: One is every Christmas Eve I watch It's A Wonderful Life. The other is I watch a version of Dickens' classic tale.  A few years ago there was even a fictional account of the struggles Dickens himself had while trying to write that story, The Man Who Invented Christmas

 Just the other day I came across a magazine at the checkout stand.




You know, these things always crop up now and again.  I must've picked up several of them over the years. I have 3 just dedicated to Marvel comics and the movies made from them.  (Blatant Promotion! Watch this blog for a review of those movies coming next year.) 

The magazines are highly entertaining if you find one that has an appeal to one of your interests.  But, truth be told, they are really just glorified coffee table books in magazine form.  The print copy is just an afterthought, the real attraction is some of the pictures within.

Occasionally the print copy will enlighten though, especially if you are unaware of it.  For instance, as much as I knew about the story behind A Christmas Carol,  I was unaware that Dickens named Jacob Marley after an acquaintance he met at a dinner party, a physician named Miles Marley.  The physician apparently introduced himself to Dickens for the sole purpose of getting his name in a Dickens story. He knew that Dickens liked to use odd and unique names for his characters.

Recently I acquired a copy of the Jim Carrey version of the film.  I had seen the previously released How the Grinch Stole Christmas with Carrey in the theater, but I completely missed the opportunity to see this one.  When I ran across it at the used bookstore earlier this year I quite naturally latched on to it.  Of course, I had to wait until the Christmas season rolled around to watch it, because, after all, I did have my tradition to keep.

A Christmas Carol (2009):

Of course, everyone above, say, the age of 5, is probably already is familiar with the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation from a "squeezing,  wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous" old man to a generous life-loving new man.  To go into a complete review of the plot of this version would, therefore, be repetitive.  But, then, this would be a rather short review if I just told you I liked or didn't like it...

This is an animated version of the story, the only one, to my knowledge, that was actually a full length theatrically released animated version, as opposed to using real people to portray the story.  "Theatrically" being the key word.  Of course there were numerous TV animated versions.  And I don't include any that may or may not have been released to theaters in countries other than the US, because I think there actually was one released to theaters in the UK, but that one was only a direct to video release here.

Actually it's more correct to call this a "captured motion" film, which as I understand it, it was filmed with real people and then animated digitally in the studio.  So, in other words, Carrey and his costars performed the film and then the computer geniuses in the production studio created a computerized animation of it for the film. (at least, that's how I THINK it was done. I'm not a "computer genius"...)  So in the real person form, Jim Carrey and his costars could do the scene and, as in the case of the Ghosts, Jim Carrey could actually voice two different characters in the same scene.  (Cary Elwes, for instance, was a stand-in in the scenes featuring the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, but in the production studios, Jim Carrey could voice both.)

In contrast to the book, this version includes an insight into the skinflint nature of Ebenezer Scrooge (voiced by Jim Carrey).  It begins with the death of Scrooge's partner, Jacob Marley.  Scrooge has to pay the embalmer and reluctantly dips in to his coin purse to pay the bill.  But before he leaves, he absconds with the coins over Marley's eyes. (A tradition that is not common these days, and it's origin is debated.  But suffice to say that coins were placed over the eyes prior to burial.  Whether it was to "pay the ferryman" or just as a practical way of keeping the eyes from opening during burial, I can't say.)




Then we flash forward to the traditional story, seven years later, and from here the film follows along quite nicely with the familiar opening; that of Scrooge's nephew's ((voiced by Colin Firth) entreaty to Scrooge to join him and his family in their Christmas day celebration. As well as that of a pair of do-gooders trying to get Scrooge to donate to a charity.

(Here I will interject a problem I've always had with the story.  These charity people are showing up on Scrooge's doorstep unaware of the fact that Marley has been dead for seven years.  They don't know if they are addressing Scrooge or Marley.  Had these guys never bothered Scrooge for donations in the preceding seven years? And how is that they, despite quite a lot of others already aware of it, don't know that Scrooge ought to be avoided like the plague, because he is a grumpy, foul-tempered cheap miser?)

When Scrooge gets home, he is visited by the spirit of his dead partner Jacob (voiced by Gary Oldman). This is one of the most impressive scenes in the film.  Previous live-action films had limited ways of presenting Marley.  Prior to this, I thought that Frank Finlay in the TV version that featured George C. Scott in the pivotal Scrooge role had done he best.  But this animated version really brought the horror of Marley's Ghost to full fruition.





As per the traditional story, Marley tells Scrooge that he is trying to save Scrooge from the same terrible fate that he himself has suffered since his death, and thus Scrooge will be visited by three spirits. From here on the story progresses as one would expect from a telling of the classic story.  Scrooge visits the halcyon days of the past (his own past) which turn out to have some good memories, as well as one or two bad ones.  (He lost his one true love in favor of another love, that of the love of a woman for his love of money).  He also has an adventure with the Ghost of Christmas Present where he sees the hovel his poor clerk has to live, discovering that Bob has a son who will soon die if his ailment is not remedied, as well as a look at the party he disparaged given by his nephew.  In both, despite Scrooge's cruel attitudes towards them, he discovers that they still wish him a pleasant Christmas.







Then comes the Ghost of Christmas Future who shows Scrooge people who are reacting with frivolity to the death of a still unknown man who was a not well-loved one.  When Scrooge entreats the Ghost to show him some sorrow and bereavement instead of the frivolity, the Ghost shows him Bob and his family, who are distraught over the death of Tim.  And of course we must see the familiar scene where the Ghost reveals who the dead man was.

Upon his arrival back home, Scrooge of course is transformed and happily discovers that Christmas is still nigh, so he can get started right away with his change of life.

One thing you should know about this version.  It is far more a ghost story with all the creepiness that is attributed to such stories (and truer to the spirit of the ghost story aspect of the original story.).  It's a fun version, and although it will not move up to replace my absolute favorite version, that of the George C. Scott one from the 80's, I think I can safely ensconce it into second place. The critics on Rotten Tomatoes are only about %0% in agreement, but Roger Ebert did give it a 4 star rating, and I'll get behind him on that.

Hope you all have a Merry Christmas this year.



Sunday, November 19, 2023

Mummy Dearest





 This is my entry in The Two Jacks Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room


What if?  There are rumors, or at least there were, that Elvis faked his own death.  Witness the many "sightings" of Elvis at the grocery store, or filling up at the gas pump at the station, or door-to-door vacuum cleaner sales. 

Believe it or not, there have also been rumors that John F. Kennedy survived his assassination attempt. Not so many people claim to have actually seen him wandering the streets, true, but many of the inconsistencies surrounding his death and the aftermath have led to some admittedly crackpot theories.

A fascinating read on the subject is "Who Shot JFK? A Guide to the Major Conspiracy Theories" by Bob Callahan.  The book covers everything from the reasonably believable (The C.I.A. or the Russians or the Cubans were involved) to the downright insane (aliens were involved).  If I'm not mistaken that's where I first read about a theory that the body that was autopsied at Parkland was not the President but a look-alike and JFK survived the assassination.

My personal belief, after years of reading various theories, is that Lee Harvey Oswald may not have been the one who actually succeeded in his attempt, although I do not subscribe to the theory that he was not actually involved. I also do not subscribe to that theory that it was someone else that died.

However, it does make for an interesting "what if?"  So that what if is a sub-context of today's post.

Bubba Ho-Tep  (2002):

Living in a nursing home, an elderly man lives in a barely coherent state, thinking about his past life, and watching the poor souls around him dying off, as will happen in such a place.  After all, old age does come along in a stealthy manner. The old man lies in his bed, lamenting the decline of his sexual libido. And musing about his past, wondering if his ex Priscilla would come to see him if she knew he was there. 

Priscilla. As in Priscilla Presley.  For this isn't just any old man. This is THE Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell).  Yeah, the one who supposedly died in the 70's.  Only the staff believes his real name is Sebastian Haff, a former Elvis impersonator.  Because, see, just prior to the death of Elvis, Elvis had gone to one of the best Elvis impersonators in the business and made a deal to trade with him.  Sebastian would take the place of Elvis and be the center of all that attention, and Elvis would become Haff, just a normal Joe, albeit one who made his living impersonating Elvis.




(Just a note: I don't have any idea if such a thing existed prior to Elvis' death.  I personally thought the rise of impersonators only became such a thing after his death.  But maybe someone who has been around longer than me could clear that up.)

Anyway, Elvis/Sebastian's roommate dies and the daughter of the man shows up to collect his stuff.  A rather self-centered girl, she had only been there once before, 20 years earlier, to drop him off.  In the process of her visit, Elvis reveals his true past.  He had made a deal with Haff to switch places, with a codicil in the contract between them that if Elvis wanted his old life back he could do it.  But the contract burned up in a fire. And in the following years Elvis had been hurt while performing under the impersonator guise. And the imitator had died in a hotel room while still playing the "real" Elvis. So only the real Elvis knows the truth. And the rest of the world still thinks he's a delusional impersonator.

Elvis (I will call him that for the rest of the review) has only one real friend in the nursing home.  Elvis thinks the old man has lost most of his marbles because this old man thinks he is John F. Kennedy. What complicates this matter is the old man (Ossie Davis) is black, and of course, JFK was white.  The way Jack tells it is they dyed his skin black, among other things.

The nursing home garners a new resident, albeit not one who is registered with the staff.  This new resident, instead, is a manifestation of the evil spirit of a dead Egyptian mummy(?) JFK and Elvis discover this soul eater, and Jack has some ideas.  He has a book about the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Not the real book you may have heard of, however.  This is one called The Everyday Man and Woman's Book of the Dead.

Jack thinks he's figured out what happened.  This Egyptian mummy has risen from the dead and needs souls to survive.  What better way to get it's nourishment than around an old folk's home where it's not curious that people are dying?

And what got Jack to thinking about this?  He found some graffiti in the stall of one of the restrooms. Hieroglyphs, but still your standard fare for public restroom graffiti."Pharaoh gobbles donkey goobers." and "Cleopatra does the nasty." (Did I mention this is a comedy/horror film?)

Elvis is not entirely convinced, of course, and thinks Jack is just nuts. Until a few moments later when he meets the mummy face to face, decked out in boots and a cowboy hat, yet. 




He also gets a vision of what happened, not only in the long past, as in how the mummy died in ancient Egypt, but even a glimpse into the recent past, when the rediscovered mummy is being transported by bus and the bus crashes off a bridge into the local river. Which explains how Bubba Ho-Tep, as Elvis has named him, came to be hanging around the rest home.

How the mummy came to be on a bus is pretty funny, too.  It seems some thieves hijacked the mummy for ransom. (It wasn't like it was King Tut, with all the security guards around to guard the valuable relic.  He was just a lesser known mummy, probably King Tut's brother...) But the thieves were transporting their illicit cargo by bus and ran into a storm in East Texas and crashed into the local river.

So Elvis and Jack know the truth, but since everyone else thinks their old coots who are losing their grasp on sanity, it's up to them to save the rest home and the rest of society from this scourge of the undead.

I'll leave it up to you to watch to see how it all comes out.  Bubba Ho-Tep makes for some pretty good entertainment.  And believe it or not, Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars (take that as you will). It won two U.S. Comedy Arts Film Festival Awards (Best Actor and Best Film) (Side note: I don't know that much about the USCA awards. It was an HBO sponsored event than only lasted about 13 years, from 1995-2008. And I can't find a page on the internet that lists what it was up against.)

It was also an "Official Selection" for several film festivals including one that is near and dear to my heart because of it's local venue the SXSW (South by Southwest) Film Festival in Austin. Hey, it's not Gone with the Wind, but as long as you can get a feel for comedy/horror it is just as good as say, The Evil Dead, (one of star Bruce Campbell's first films). And you get to see Ossie Davis put on a good tongue-in-cheek performance as a black John F, Kennedy.

Well, time to fire up the old Plymouth, and go "take care of business".  Drive safely, folks.


Saturday, November 18, 2023

Toon Noir






Did you know, some movies change over time without you even being aware of it having changed? Not really, of course, but attitudes change as you grow older, seemingly making whole movies change perspective.  That's the way I felt, anyway,  when I recently re-watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the movie getting an entire makeover from what I remembered from seeing it the first time.

The Stephen Spielberg niche in my mind is one of family friendly films like E.T., Hook, and even to some extent, the Indiana Jones films. (Not to discredit the less than "family friendly" films like Jaws and Saving Private Ryan...) But I honestly remembered a much more wholesome movie when it came to Roger Rabbit

But upon re-watching it, I encountered some pretty disturbing scenes.  Although I never had kids myself, I imagined some kids being traumatized by some aspects of the movie.  I had to alter my viewpoint as a result and classify this more as a movie for adults with a still nostagic bent towards the cartoons of their childhood, but with a more mature outlook on life.

To wit, the final scene in which, spoiler alert, the villain Judge Doom (spoiler alert!) meets his demise. The scene is pretty horrific from a point of view of watching it as a movie fror kids.  Not that it was necessarily meant for kids.  After all, there are some pretty adult things going on in it. Does anybody who ever saw it as an adult really think Jessica Rabbit is all that wholesome for kids?

I saw it at the ripe old age of 27 in the theater. I took my sister to see it.  Not sure whether she actually liked it, but I enjoyed it.  But watching it just the other day I began to re-think my opinions about it.  I imagine some kids might have been traumatized by the scene with Judge Doom.  And I'm quite certain Jessica's sexuality sailed right over their heads.

The movie is sort of an homage to classic film noir, so many of the familiar tropes of that genre appear in this film, whether for comic relief or for serious plot advances.  The detective who is down on his luck or just trying to get by, the femme fatale (who it turns out is not so "fatale", but still..).  The bad guy who is not everything he appears to be at the outset.

Anyway, just in case you have never seen it, or are considering a family night, be forewarned: it is probably a good idea to watch it by yourself first before that planned family night with the kids.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988):

It's the 1947. In this alternate universe, cartoon characters (called "'toons") live side by side with humans. They are segregated because all of the 'toons live in Toontown, an animated world.

Alcoholic detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) takes on whatever jobs he can get to pay the bills, although his alcoholism limits him.  The job he is in line for is as a snoop, checking out the assignations of the wife of film star Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer).




Jessica (voiced by Kathleen Turner)  is a singer at The Ink and Paint Club, a human bar that features 'toon performing acts.  Initially Eddie shows up thinking he is going to see a female rabbit, but Jessica is a human form 'toon. And she sings a steamy rendition of a classic song "Why Don't You Do Right".(which is not Turner, but Amy Irving, who, at the time, was married to Spielberg). At the bar Eddie meets Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye) who is rumored to be making time with Jessica.




After the show, Eddie follows Jessica and Marvin and snaps pictures of them playing "pattycake" (OK, so far so good, still not wholesome, but not entirely questionable.  Roger is devastated when he hears the news and loses his happy mood.

Hours later, Marvin ends up dead, with a piano having been dropped on his head. Eddie is not exactly heartbroken, however, because he had a similar thing happen to his brother years earlier when a 'toon dropped a safe on his brother's head.  But suspicion immediately falls on Roger as the culprit.

Enter Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd).  Doom is a human who has managed to become the big wig in Toontown.  But he is a very vicious leader.  He has made it his goal to find Roger, try him and execute him for the murder.  Not an entirely easy goal, because everyone thinks that 'toons are indestructible. 




But Doom has discovered a concoction that will perform the trick. Which he demonstrates by using an innocent by-standing animated boot.  

Roger shows up at Eddie's office proclaiming his innocence and pleads with Eddie to hide him and find out what really happened/ In classic film noir fashion, Eddie is roped into proving the innocence of a man, I mean 'toon, that he really doesn't like.  Eddie has a deep seated dislike for 'toons in general, because it was a 'toon that killed his brother,

In true noir fashion, the detective does some investigating and finds out that there is some subterfuge going on behind the scenes, including a missing will that Acme had which would give over ownership of Toontown to the 'toons.  Without the will it becomes the property of the highest bidder which turns out to be a front called Cloverleaf Industries which has been willy nilly buying up companies and dismantling them.

Why? Well it turns out that Judge Doom is the sole stockholder in the company and he has some nefarious plans all in the name of progress.  Progress that most people are not aware of, especially Toontown, which stands in the way of said progress.

I'm willing to bet that at least 80% of you have seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit? so it won't be a surprise to you to find out that Judge Doom plans to destroy Toontown in the name of progress, which includes building a freeway through the heart of Toontown. Or what's left of Toontown, anyway.

The big surprise of course is that Judge Doom himself is a 'toon.  And the aforementioned defeat of Doom reveals not only that Doom is a 'toon, but he was the 'toon that killed Eddie's brother.  (No real surprise there. You had to see it coming that Doom figured into Eddie's past. It's another defining characteristic/trope of film noir.

The death of Doom is one of the trauma inducing features of the movie that redefined the movie for me in retrospect.  I still think it's a great movie. Just not one I'd recommend for kids.

Well, the old Plymouth will still get me home.  Thankfully Doom's freeway is not a part of my trip, although you can't avoid the real ones much these days.

Drive safely, folks.


Thursday, November 16, 2023

The Family That Slays Together Stays Together

 This is my entry in the Familyathon blogathon hosted by  18 Cinema Lane






A few years ago I reviewed the sequel to The Godfather, The Godfather Part II for another blogathon. I had intended to get back to the primary film at some point, and I might have if the crisis of  COVID hadn't thrown me into a 2 year funk of apathy about doing this blog.

The Family is the primary focus of The Godfather. After all, it is the one oft repeated focus in the movie "never go against the family". The family, of course is ostensibly, the Mafia, but the real family is the Corleone family. (And if you've seen my review for Part II, you know that the Don came from Sicily and was given the last name by the immigration in error; he was originally from the town of Corleone in Sicily. His original name was Andolini.)

How you deal with issues in the family when dealing with outsiders to the family is a main story line.  You stick together through thick and thin, and you defend the honor of your family against anyone who might come in to try to break up the family.




 The Godfather (1972):

The beginning of the movie is a scene of the wedding of Don Corleone's (Marlon Brando) daughter, Connie (Talia Shire) to Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo). 




One of the things about Sicilians that is brought to the fore is that Don Corleone is meeting with various people because no Sicilian can deny a request at his daughter's marriage.  So we get an undertaker asking for revenge for the honor of his daughter who had been gang raped,  The culprits had been let go with basically a slap on the wrists.  The undertaker wants them dead in the name of "justice",  but, as the Don rightly points out, that is not "justice" because the daughter lived.  So the undertaker settles for some people to show up and beat the crap out of the culprits.


Also a baker asks for Corleone's help in keeping an employee from being deported because, after all, the baker's daughter is in love with him and would be devastated by the loss. 


Finally, a godson, Johnny Fontane (Al Martino) who was a great singer but is on bad times and is struggling in Hollywood. (What exactly is his problem with his career as a singer is curious, because he sings a song for the wedding party and does pretty well.)  Anyway, he wants a part in a movie, but the director hates his guts and refuses to give him the part.



"I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse" is a classic line that everyone has probably heard and that is from this movie.  Of course, Corleone manages to help the baker's employee stay and sends some associates to extract a semblance of justice from the rapists, but one of the key scenes involves how the director is convinced to let Fontane have the coveted part. (This is one of the most iconic scenes in the movie, but heads up, don't eat anything before watching it...)



The main focus of the film is a controversy between Corleone and the rest of the Five Families (the Mafia, which it is never called in the film.  This was a concession Coppola made with the Mob to have their cooperation and not cause problems during production.) Because Corleone is a holdover from a more conservative era, he is causing some distress in the world of organized crime.  Prostitution? OK. Gambling? Sure. But drugs? That is not exactly Corleone's favorite. He is absolutely sure that his contacts in the legal world (senators, police, etc) would not be as friendly if The Family got into dealing drugs.  So when a sub-general in the underworld, Solozzo (Al Lettieri) approaches the Don about backing him, Corleone refuses, even though Solozzo tells him that some of the other Five Families are willing to get in on the ground floor.

The Don's oldest son, Sonny (James Caan) is not so reluctant and expresses an interest in front of Solozzo, which distresses the Don.  After Solozzo leaves, he slaps Sonny's face and tells him to "never let anyone outside the family know what you are thinking." Sonny is a hot head.  He also loves his sister and there are a few scenes where he defends her against her abusive husband.

In direct contrast to Sonny are the Don's other two sons. Fredo (John Cazale) is a wimp who won't stand up for himself.  In addition, there is Michael (Al Pacino), a WWII veteran who doesn't really want to get involved with the family business.  Micheal is engaged to Kay (Diane Keaton), a wholly naive but determined woman.

The conflict with Solozzo comes to a head when an attempt on the Don's life is made.  He is gunned down in the city street, but survives.  While at the hospital a transformation occurs with Michael.  He saves his father from an additional assassination attempt and garners an enemy in the form of a corrupt police captain.  The whole thing comes to a head when Michael agrees to kill both Solozzo and the captain at a meeting and is forced into hiding in Sicily.

Here we find that the battle between the other families and the Corleone's is rampaging, resulting in the death of many figures in the underworld.  Meanwhile, while in Sicily, and supposedly safe from the goings on in New York, Sonny falls in love and marries a Sicilian girl.  But the world of New York ends up visiting him in Sicily and an attempt is made on his life.  He survives, but his poor young wife does not.

Meanwhile, life  in New York has gotten pretty uncomfortable.  There is a war of the families trying to establish a control over the city and its vices.  Many of the deaths that occurred during the war were of higher ups in the echelon, although there were a lot of subordinates and probably more than a few bystanders. 

One of the key scenes in the movie involves the hotheaded Sonny.  He gets a call that his sister has been beaten up once again by her abusive husband, and Sonny, in a fit of rage, storms out of the family compound, despite the efforts of Tom and a couple of others to stop him.  Unfortunately for Sonny, the whole thing was a setup and he is killed in a trap by opposing mobsters at a tollbooth.

Michael returns to New York and has been transformed.  He takes over the family operations while his father retires from the criminal activity. And Michael steps into the role with gusto.  Anyone who stands in his way is dispatched.  

Michael doesn't garner many friends, and eventually even alienates his sister, since her husband Carlo was part of the plot that led Sonny into his untimely demise at the previously mentioned tollbooth. Carlo and several others close to the family are dispatched in typical mobster fashion.  The end result is the Corleone family is now established as the premiere family in the Five Families echelon.

The Godfather was a big hit with the public as well as the Oscars. It garnered 10 nominations at the event, although it only walked away with three.  (My opinion is it got rooked for Best Supporting Actor.  Both Caan and Pacino were up for it, but lost to Joel Grey for his role in Cabaret.)   

Family values of the sort used by The Family might seem a little harsh given what The Family does for business, but you can't deny the basic line that you stick together through thick and thin despite the slings and arrows.

Time to fire up the old Plymouth and head home.  I think I'll bypass the tollbooths, though.