Thursday, January 23, 2020

Six Guys Sitting Around Talking

This is my entry in the Wedding Bells Blogathon hosted by Hometowns to Hollywood

The first of Barry Levinson's tetralogy of Baltimore movies (the others include Tin Men, Avalon and Liberty Heights) was also his directorial debut.  The man who eventually brought us Rain Man, The Natural and Good Morning, Vietnam, hit one out of the park on his first try.  Diner went on to compete for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (losing to Gandhi) and jump started the careers of virtually every actor in it.

The guys hanging out

Paul Reiser, Tim Daly and Ellen Barkin made their debuts in it, but even the rest of the cast were virtual unknowns at the time. Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke and Kevin Bacon round out the cast as a bunch of guys who spend most of their time just jawing over fries and gravy at a local diner.

Each character has something going on in his life that is transcending him from high school graduate to a life in the real world.  Not sure exactly how old the characters are supposed to be here, but none of them are very many years out of high school, and at least one hasn't matured much since his graduation.

The central theme is how each is dealing with life on the outside of the hallowed halls of school.  You have the guy who got married just out of high school. You have the law student who has a serious gambling addiction.  You have the guy who is planning his own marriage, but wants to make sure his betrothed is worthy of him so is planning to test her on her knowledge of his beloved Baltimore Colts.  (The movie takes place in 1959, when the Colts were still in Baltimore).  You have the wanna be comedian.  You have the guy who is struggling with the concept of maturity.  And you have the guy who just returned to town for the wedding and may have a marriage in his future, at least if he can convince the girl to do so.

Diner (1982):

It is 1959, Christmas time.  Six guys who spend most of their free time palling around with each other, always seem to end up at the local diner.

Edward Simmons "Eddie" (Steve Guttenberg)


Eddie is on the verge of getting married.  But Eddie is a diehard Baltimore Colts fan.  So much so that he thinks his wife-to-be should at least have a passing knowledge of the team and it's history.  (Can you see the potential "football widow" in the future?)  He has a test he plans for his betrothed and if she doesn't pass, well, its "adios, muchacha" for him.  Seriously.  He is going to cancel the wedding if she can't get a passing grade on his Colts test.  I know plenty of Dallas Cowboys fans who are insane about their team, but I don't know any who would pass on a wife just because she was not as avid a fan.

Steve Guttenberg is the only one of these guys I thought was miscast.  Maybe it's because I've seen way too many movies where Guttenberg was a more rational down-to-earth kind of guy.  Not that he doesn't pull it off well.  It was just hard for me to imagine the actor in the role.  Myself, I would have switched Guttenberg with Daniel Stern in their respective roles.  I could imagine Stern as an obsessive fan.  Of course, that could be because Stern did a turn as an obseesive fan in Celtic Pride...

Laurence Shrieber "Shrevie" (Daniel Stern)

Shrevie (w/ a customer at the store)

Shrevie is the sole married man of the bunch.  He got married to his high school sweetheart, Beth (Ellen Barkin) fresh out of high school.  He works days in a TV sales shop.  Nights he hangs out with his friends at the diner, and occasionally harassing Beth because she can't quite grasp his obsessive organization of his records.  I mean really, putting a James Brown record back on the shelf in the rock-and-roll section, when any simpleton can see that it belongs in the R & B section.  Which of course Beth doesn't quite get and is moved to tears by Shrevie's tirade.

 Robert Sheftell "Boogie" (Mickey Rourke):


Boogie is a law student by day.  But his real passion is gambling.  I get the feeling this guy would gamble on whether a particular chocolate had a nougat center or a Brazil nut.  He has numerous sure bets that he tries to get the other fellows in on, as well as betting on whether he can score with the local Ice Queen.  He is in deep doo-doo with the local bookie however, owing $2000 (at a time when that much would almost pay for a new car...) and is constantly trying to recoup his losses with even more elaborate bets.  Don't miss the scene where Boogie tries to pass off a different woman as the one he bet the guys he could get into bed with.

William Howard "Billy" (Tim Daly):

Billy (w/ Eddie)

Billy is the guy who successfully left town and made it in the big world.  He came back for Eddie's wedding.  He's the one with the most marbles in the game, but even he has a problem.  It seems he's got a girl pregnant.  Chivalrous or not, he wants to do the right thing and marry her, but she is reluctant. She's an independent woman, at a time when that was like being a leper.

Timothy Fenwick "Fen" (Kevin Bacon):

Modell (Paul Reiser):

Fen and Modell

Fen is the most immature of the bunch.  He has no sense of rational behavior.  Probably somewhat due to his being a bit on the rich side.  At least, he has a trust fund that his brother governs and doles out money to him every month.  Which made it easy just to drop out of college and be a ne'er-do-well for a living.  But Fen is probably the genius of the bunch, too.  Witness the scene where Fen watches an episode of College Bowl.  (If you don't know what that was, it was a quiz program in which two college teams competed to answer trivia questions.  Sort of like Jeopardy!, but College Bowl questions make Jeopardy! look like Trivial Pursuit.)

Modell doesn't make a big splash in the film, although he is a driving presence.  A joker and also a mooch, he represents a side of the gang that is not readily apparent.  He gets the last laugh in the final scene, though.

The beautiful Ellen Barkin makes a couple of scenes stand out as Beth, Shrevie's wife.  Michael Tucker plays a good turn as sort of a father figure/big brother to the screw-up Boogie.  The fact is there is not a single uninteresting character in this movie.  Even in crowd scenes you get some "real" people.  It almost feels like we've just picked these guys out at random in a crowd and decided to follow them around for a few days.

This is, in my opinion, a hidden gem.  I'm sure quite a few of you have never even heard of it.  But trust me, if you're looking for a break from shoot-em-up westerns, or BEMs from another world, this is an excellent way to spend the evening.  You will never be so intrigued by just dialogue, sans action ever again.  Character before plot, and yes, to you ladies, there is a happy ending.

Time to fire up the old Plymouth.  I'm heading to the diner for a burger and fries (but without the gravy, thank you.)  Drive safely, folks.


Thursday, January 16, 2020

Low Voltage

This is my entry in the Carole Lombard Blogathon hosted by Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood

Carole Lombard made her "talkie" debut in 1929.  Starring with William Boyd and character actor Billy Bevan she was part of a group of people stranded in a snowstorm in an abandoned church.

High Voltage (1929):

Somewhere in the Sierras a group of four passengers and their bus driver are attempting to navigate the roads during a blizzard.  On the bus are Hendrickson (Phillips Smalley) "the Banker", a young girl only credited as "The Kid" (Diane Ellis). Dan (Owen Moore) "The Detective" and his prisoner, Billie (Carol [minus the "e"] Lombard) "The Girl".  The driver, Gus (Billy Bevan) "The Driver" claims that the snow is nothing and he will get the group to Chicago.

Of course, Gus is an blowhard who thinks nothing can stop him from performing his duties.  (Neither rain nor snow...etc.)   But the snow has a different idea.  They get stranded and end up having to trek across the snow on foot.  Fortunately there is a nearby church (although how they knew which way to go is  mystery.  Its not evident that it is that nearby.)

The five get shelter inside the church, but discover they are not alone.  There is also a hobo, Bill (William Boyd).  Bill has some small stash of food so the six won't starve to death, but Bill takes charge of sorts.  At least as far as the rationing of supplies is concerned.  As Bill states, they may be there for 10 days.  It comes to light that Bill is on the run from the law himself, which causes some clashing between Bill and Dan.

Thus begins the rather odd stay in the church.  While Billie is initially standoffish with Bill, a mutual friendship occurs which actually blossoms into love. 

And at one point the two decide to make a break for it on he road leaving the others behind.  But the sighting of a rescue plane causes them to turn back.

There are certain aspects of this film that are distracting.  For one, there seems to be too many times when coherent dialogue is secondary to the actual need to have someone speaking.  I attribute this to the nascent novelty of talking pictures.  Every time Dan and Bill confront each other they have a  conversation it basically deteriorates into a kid's playground confrontation, with all the menace implied: "Oh yeah?"  "Yeah"  For instance, early in the picture, when Dan determines that Bill may be not all on the up-and-up:

Dan: I'd not be surprised if I haven't seen YOU some place before.

Bill: Well, maybe you have.  Who can tell.

Dan: Maybe one of these days I'll be taking YOU on to the pen.

Bill: Maybe you will.

Dan:  Maybe I will.

Bill:  Maybe

Dan:  Maybe

Truth be told, this little item is not much to really hold interest, unless you are a history buff who wants to see Boyd or Lombard in early talkie roles.  Billy Bevan is more of a treat than the two stars, if you ask me.  But far be it from me to turn you away from a potential hour of entertainment.  Just don't expect too much "voltage".  The love between Bill and Billie that develops is pretty tame.  And the confrontations aren't very exciting either.

A sad note:  This movie was the penultimate appearance of Diane Ellis ("The Kid").  She married her husband in October of 1930 and died on their honeymoon two months later in India.  


Friday, January 10, 2020

The Beyond Star Trek Blogathon Arrives.

The Beyond Star Trek Blogathon, a blogathon inspired by the efforts of various actors and actresses to break free from the tractor beam of the Star Trek Universe begins today.  Our illustrious bloggers have been tasked with covering some film or TV work done by people who have made a name for themselves in the Star Trek Universe, but decided not to limit themselves to that role.  Each of the actors and actresses following played significant roles in a Star Trek series or movie, but shined in other efforts as well.

Keep coming back over the weekend as these will be updated on a regular basis as new entries come  in.  You can also check out my co-host's website, Hamlette's SoliloquyThanks Rachel for joining me on this treasure hunt.

The Roster:

 My first entry, Zombies of the Stratosphere, features Leonard Nimoy in an earlier alien role.

Hamlette's Soliloquy presents William Shatner in an episode of The Big Valley.

Caftan Woman looks at a few westerns featuring Deforest Kelly, Zane Grey Theater.

Angelman's Place gives us a creepy Leonard Nimoy in  Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Wide Screen World gets a little kinky with Eating Raoul (with Robert Beltran)

I Am Charles Baker Harris fondly remembers LeVar Burton and Reading Rainbow

Along the Brandywine delves into William Shatner's role in Little Women

Movies Meet Their Match  gives us yet another Shatner performance in Miss Congeniality

Coffee, Classics & Craziness discusses Leonard Nimoy on the TV show Mission: Impossible

Taking Up Room examines Patrick Stewart's turn as Xavier in X-Men

Diary of a Movie Maniac investigates Gene Roddenberry's film Pretty Maids All in a Row

More to come 


Thursday, January 9, 2020

Never Trust a Martian

This is my first entry in the Beyond Star Trek blogathon hosted by Hamlette's Soliloquy and Me

So is it kismet that one of Leonard Nimoy's first appearances on the screen was as an alien?  No, not as Spock.  15 years before that iconic role Nimoy played a Martian (zombie) in the 12 part serial Zombies of the Stratosphere.

Nimoy had a rocky start to his career before Star Trek.  He got the title role in Kid Monk Baroni, but that film failed at the box office, so Nimoy made a decision to just take whatever he could get, which usually resulted in his being an "also-ran" in the credits.  Of course, when Star Trek went into production he was in the title credits, albeit behind William Shatner, but before that you would have been hard pressed to notice his name in the credits.

In particular with Zombies, Nimoy's name only appears third in the list of the secondary characters, behind the 5 primary stars that appear in the first on screen credits.  And Nimoy (as Narab) is basically just a gofer in the film.  For most of the 12 part serial his sole line is usually just "Yes, sir" to the orders of Marex, the leader of the Martian entourage.  But even with that secondary status you can't miss Nimoy's face, and voice.

"Zombies" by the way, is a misnomer.  There are no real zombies, not ones you would think of anyway.  Even the 50's version of zombies.  In fact, you never even hear the Martians referred to as "zombies" until the final reel. But then, as we will see, the Martians are a sci-fi substitute for a much closer "alien" force which many in the West probably considered "zombies" in the 50's.

Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952):

As a group of government agents (Inter-Planetary Patrol) watch, an alien spaceship enters Earth's atmosphere.

Since they don't have any idea of it's intentions Larry Martin ( Judd Holdren) is dispatched to check it out.  Why Larry?  Because he has a spacesuit with rockets attached to his back.  (Note:  Although he is never called Commander Cody in this film, the outfit is almost an exact replica of the one used by that character in other films.  In fact, this was supposed to be a sequel to Radar Men from the Moon, but apparently some snafu involving a projected TV series starring Commander Cody caused the people in charge to have to change the name).

Before Larry can get to the ship though, Marex (Lane  Bradford) and his assistant Narab (Leonard Nimoy) have unloaded some supplies and take off with a couple of nefarious goons who met them at the landing site.  Marex and Narab go to a local (mad) scientist's lab/house where Dr.Harding (Stanley Waxman) is the go-to contact.

The Martians have a plan.  You see, the climate on Mars is pretty shabby.  So the Martians want to build an H-bomb which, when strategically planted, will blow the Earth out of it's orbit, thus allowing Mars to take its place in the Earth's orbit.  (And if you have trouble with the logic of that, you are probably in the wrong theater...)  They want Dr. Harding to help them in their construction of the H-bomb.

So why do they think Harding will be a willing participant?  Well, Harding has been selling state secrets to a competing power (Russia?) and the Martians threaten to reveal his shenanigans if he doesn't cooperate.  (See, even on Mars they understand the concept of "blackmail"...)

The Martians and their Earthling cohorts proceed to try various attempts at hijacking shipments of uranium.  One gets the idea that uranium wasn't all that much of a high priority item as these shipments didn't have hordes of armed forces personnel assigned to guard them.  (But then if they did, Larry Martin and his jet suit would have been pretty much an after thought, if not an unwanted presence. )

Over the course of the 12 part serial we get the typical "cliffhanger", scenes where Larry or one of his associates is trapped and apparently rides off to their death, only to have the next episode reveal some incredible luck to have them survive to fight anther day.

The only real question throughout the entire serial is why only two guys and one girl are involved in the desperate struggle to keep the Martians from fulfilling their nefarious plans.  Are we dependent only on one guy in a jet pack and a few pistols to save the Earth?  (And there is another question.  If the Martians are so advanced, why don't they have ray guns?  Even the Martians resort to primitive pistols.  And none of them are good shots.... I think only one person in the entire serial takes a bullet, but there must have been close to a hundred fired over the course of the serial.)

Probably the funniest part of the serial (though it probably wasn't INTENDED to be funny) is the appearance of a robot.  The robot has some laser powered arms, but on several occasions it just fights with its fists like the rest of the cast.

Although the villain in the film are Martians, this film could have easily subsituted Russians for the Martians and not suffered too much.  To be sure, the plot to switch the orbit of Mars with Earth might have had to be altered somewhat, but then again, the underlying plot was not much more  ridiculous than some of the plots to any James Bond film.  So maybe SMERSH (a frequent James Bond nemesis) could have planned it and was going to colonize Mars with its "New Order".

One must take into consideration when watching this or virtually any other serial that the potential audience for them was mostly kids.  You didn't really need a coherent plot, just losts of fist fights and gun play and an eventual triumph by the heroes.

Personally I'm an advocate for the return of the serial.  I think it would be an improvement on the theater experience.

Well, folks time to fire up the jet packs.  Drive safely, folks.


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

In Search Of The Perfect Show For The Warped Mind

When I was a kid/ young man in the late 70's I was into the concepts of anything that bordered on the bizarre.  I read with avid interest anything I could get my hands on on UFOs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Aliens Among Us etc.  (Think Weekly World News, except most of it was written in pseudo-scientific jargon and treated as if it were real.  Whether or not such things actually do or did exist notwithstanding.)

In 1977 a new TV series captured my interest.  It was hosted by Mr. Spock (really by Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Spock on Star Trek) and delved into such subjects as UFOs, The Bermuda Triangle, The Bimini Wall, Atlantis and other such topics.  The series treated these subjects as potentially real, although, as the voice over said at the beginning of each episode:

"This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture.  The producer's p[urpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine."

I religiously made a habit to be around a TV each week to watch the newest episode.  It ran from 1977-82, lasting 5 seasons, but it never really gained a following except among outcasts like myself and the Trekkies who never stopped believing that a Star Trek revival could be just around the next corner.  (At least that subset of the population eventually got their wish).

A month ago I happened to spot the entire original series on the shelf at the local used bookstore.  I treated myself to an early Christmas present (since I was the only one who would actually buy it for me...)  It was like nostalgia, immersing myself in a series that brought back memories of Saturday afternoon in front of the TV.  (That was when I vaguely remember watching episodes, although wikipedia gives some fairly inconsistent air dates.  It wasn't part of a weekly night time schedule, at least that I can remember.)

Some of the best episodes were the ones that dealt with real bona fide mysteries.  Such as a look at potential possibilities for the identity of Jack the Ripper.  Or mysterious disappearances such as what may have happened to Amelia Earhart. Or Glenn Miller.  Or Michael Rockefeller.   Or D. B. Cooper (and if you don't know who D. B. Cooper was, you are way too young...)

But also included, as hinted above, were investigations into sightings of various cryptids, not only Bigfoot and his brother, The Abominable Snowman, and the Loch Ness Monster, but also lesser known ones such as the Swamp Monster of rural Louisiana fame,  and the Ogopopo Monster, Canada's answer to Nessie.

Tomorrow, New Year's Day, I am planning on a marathon viewing of several episodes.  The marathon is entirely up to whim and I have no schedule as yet as to which episodes I will watch.  But I can guarantee you I won't be bored.  Maybe I'll even have time to review one or two before the weekend.


Friday, December 27, 2019

Attention Deficit Disorder on Steroids

John Landis, Joe Dante and several other directors teamed up in 1987 to deliver a paean to late night TV watching that ranks in the top 20 of my favorite comedies.  The format of the movie features a low budget sci-fi movie called "Amazon Women on the Moon" which a Tv station keeps trying unsuccessfully to broadcast "without commercial interruptions" but is consistently having to deal with the film breaking and thus having to put the viewing audience on standby.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987):

An unseen TV watcher is thus channel surfing trying to find something to watch, occasionally going back to the station broadcasting the film.  Thus we are treated to a couple dozen vignettes that represent the programming on other TV stations.  The highlight for me is a segment in which a man and his wife (Lou Jacobi and Erica Yohn) are checking out his new TV which supposedly has excellent reception, but a glitch in the electronics zaps the guy and he wanders through some of the TV segments begging his wife to get him out of the situation.

In the meantime our unseen TV viewer who keeps changing the channels stops on several stations, and watches a few commercials and TV shows.  This is the glue, such as it is, that holds the film together.

Among the segments is a pretty cool parody of the 70's Leonard Nimoy hosted TV show "In Search Of..." and of "Ripley's Believe it or Not".  The show, hosted by Henry Silva, is titled "Bull**** or Not?" and this particular episode discusses whether Jack the Ripper may have actually been The Loch Ness Monster.

In another segment an infomercial tells how balding men can live a life of glamor with "real" hair by having segments of floor carpeting stapled to their bald pate.

"Critic's Corner" involves two smarmy movie critics, kinda like Siskel & Ebert, (played by radio show team of Barkley and Lohman.  I never heard of them either, but apparently they were a huge hit on LA radio for a number of years.).  The two introduce a new segment of their show in which they critique the life of an average Joe, Harvey Pitnik (Archie Hahn), who coincidentally happens to be watching the critics on TV and is exasperated by their comments on his less than spectacular life.

David Alan Grier appears in two segments as singer Don Simmons, one of which is a segment touting his greatest hits and another in which B. B. King enlists support for a charity for "Blacks Without Soul".  (Don "No Soul" Simmons is basically an African-American version of Pat Boone...)

In one scene a young man (Matt Adler) tries to surreptitiously buy a package of condoms only to find himself as the center of attention for being the 1,000,000 customer to buy that particular brand.

Throughout the film our unseen viewer keeps going back to the station showing the classic low budget sci fi movie of the title,  which feature Steve Forrest as the commander of a spaceship trying to engage in a battle of wits with the leader (Sybil Danning) of an all-women race of inhabitants on the Moon.    If you've seen enough of these low budget types of sci-fi movies from the 50's you will appreciate the zingers the film gets off at this genre.

This is only a handful of the segments within the film.  There are a whole host of cameos in this film, some familiar and some maybe not so familiar to you.  The cast reads like a who's who of late 80's character actors, including Rosanna Arquette, Paul Bartel, Ed Begley, Jr., Ralph Bellamy, Andrew Dice Clay, Griffin Dunne, Carrie Fisher, Steve Guttenberg, Arsenio Hall, Phil Hartman, Peter Horton, Mike Mazurki, Marc McClure and Michelle Pfeiffer.  It also includes in one rather gauche but still funny segment, involving a roast at a funeral, appearances by well-known comedians Steve Allen, Charlie Callas, Rip Taylor, Slappy White and Henny Youngman.

Be warned.  There are a couple of scenes of nudity in the film.  After all, two of the cameos are by Playboy and Penthouse models.  And there is a reason that the top of the movie poster above includes the word "Shameless".   It is not a movie for the prude, in other words.

Well folks, time to fire up the retro-rockets and go back to the planet I came from (wherever that is).  Drive safely, folks.