Friday, April 28, 2017

A Dish of Cold Revenge

This is my second (and final) entry in the Great Villain Blogathon sponsored by Shadows and Satin, Silver Screenings and Speakeasy

Star Trek, both the TV series and the series of movies, had its share of nasty villains.  Everyone probably has their favorite.  Although some may take the side of Lord Kruge (Christopher Lloyd) in The Search for Spock, or the renegade Klingon General Chang (Christopher Plummer) in The Undiscovered Country, or possibly even the unrelenting space probe from The Voyage Home, my own vote is for Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh, the adversary of Kirk and crew in The Original Series episode "Space Seed" and his return in The Wrath of Khan feature film.  (Although, a close second is Chang.)

Coincidentally, both The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country were directed by the same man, Nicholas Meyer.  On most lists ranking the Star Trek oeuvre, these two are in the top 5, variously in different positions, depending on the ranker, but still.  (BTW, my personal list has them at 1 & 2)  I think it is a tribute to the director as much as the cast that these two are so highly revered.  And, an interesting point, Meyer had never seen even one episode of the TV series before being tagged to direct.

You read that right.  Meyer was not a complete neophyte to the science fiction realm (he had directed Time After Time just a couple of years before), but he had no previous connection of any type with the Star Trek Universe before accepting the role at the helm of the 2nd Star Trek movie.  Which makes at least his success with the first Star Trek venture all that more impressive in my mind.

And to elicit a performance by Ricardo Montalban as one of the most despicable villains in movie history is equally impressive.  Montalban's Khan only gets a paltry #72 on the list of great movie villains (although in my opinion that list is suspect. Heath Ledger's Joker doesn't even crack the top ten), and he doesn't make the list of AFI's top movie villains but I think he deserved to be in the top 50 at the very least.  To be sure, he is sometimes a caricature, but you can't help be mesmerized by his villainy.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

If you have never seen the Star Trek episode "Space Seed", which introduced the world to Khan Noonien Singh, it might be interesting to watch it first, but it is by no means necessary.  I admit that before I saw this movie, I myself had never watched the classic episode.  There is enough in the feature movie to give you an indication of the background of the enmity that Khan holds towards Captain Kirk, however, so it's not necessary to watch the TV episode.

The beginning of the film introduces us to the "Kobiyashi Maru" scenario, a classic "no-win" scenario designed to test the abilities of potential captains of starships.  The training mission in this instance is being used to evaluates Saavik (Kirstie Alley), a Vulcan candidate for the position.  The scenario, which involves a Federation starship, the "Kobiyashi Maru", supposedly stranded in the Neutral Zone and under attack by Klingons, tests the character and resolve of potential candidates.  (Note: in the history of the timeline of the Star Trek Universe, the Federation and Klingons are still warring enemies, unlike later years when they became allies).

In the meantime, on a mission for Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) and her scientist crew, Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) and the Captain of the USS Reliant, Captain Terrell (Paul Winfield) are trying to find a planet completely devoid of life.  In this mission they are investigating Ceti Alpha VI, which shows to be lifeless, but has an indication there might be some living matter on the surface.  It turns out the planet is inhabited by the refugees from the Botany Bay, a starship from the 20th century which had been discovered floating in space 15 years earlier.

The starship was occupied by a race of genetically enhanced supermen who had tried to take over the Enterprise but had been defeated and sent into exile on an nearby planet, Ceti Alpha V.  In the 15 years since their marooning the neighboring planet Ceti Alpha VI had exploded and altered the orbit of Ceti Alpha V, rendering it a wasteland.  (At this point, if you are a nitpicker like me, you may wonder just how thorough the Federations star charts are if they can't detect the change in the orbits of the planets they are mapping,  but then if they could do that, this movie would have been very different indeed...)

Side note:  When Khan comes upon Chekov and Terrell in his home/cargo hold, he claims he never forgets a face and recognizes Chekov.  But Chekov (Walter Koenig) wa not shown on theOriginal SEries episode "Space Seed".  In fact Chekov did not even appear in one episode of the first season.  The character Chekov was only added as an afterthought because of criticism from Russia that a crew that was supposedly a model for world peace on Earth didn't have a Russian crew member.

Khan (Ricardo Montalban), and his outcasts end up capturing Chekov and Terrell and taking over the Reliant, essentially marooning the real crew on the outcast planet in the process.  Khan's obsession with revenge on Kirk is paralleled to Ahab's obsession with finding and destroying Moby Dick.  (And just so you don't miss the significance, the director of the movie placed copies of Moby Dick and Milton's Paradise Lost  on the bookshelves of Khan's living quarters on the planet.)

As a part of the plot, Dr Marcus and her crew are involved in finding a planet on which they can use an invention called the "Genesis Project" which will convert a lifeless planet into one that is hospitable.  This would, as established in the movie, turn an already inhabited planet into a new planet, in the process destroying the life already existing on the planet.  You can see the possibilities if an unscrupulous person gets the Genesis project and uses it as a weapon...which is exactly what happens.

Khan and his cohorts use Carol Marcus to entice the crew and Admiral Kirk to the space station.  When Kirk and crew arrive, the space station is virtually deserted.  There are a couple of dead bodies, but the rest are nowhere to be found.  It turns out that the dead ones remained behind to help ensure the escape of the prominent scientists to the interior of the dead planet nearby.  Of course, the interior is part of the phase of research to develop the Genesis project.  But when Kirk and McCoy and Saavik beam down to the planet, two things happen.   First it appears they may be stranded for some time, because Khan and his comrades on the Reliant disabled the Enterprise.  Also Khan now has possession of the Genesis.

But, it turns out, Kirk has a few tricks up his sleeve.  He fooled Khan into believing the Enterprise was in worse condition than it was.  And he also taunts Khan and his "superior intellect", thus causing Khan, who has been more than amply shown to be as obsessive about Kirk as Ahab was about Moby Dick, to give chase after the Enterprise.  An epic battle ensues.

And of course, Khan, even in his ultimate defeat is still determined to kill Kirk, even as he himself is dying.  And since the Enterprise is only slightly less crippled than Kirk has led Khan to believe, Khan just might succeed in taking Kirk and the Enterprise with him.  Unless Spock has something to say about it...

Montalban, as Khan, makes Captain Ahab from the Moby Dick story look positively like the paragon of mental stability.  His obsession with revenge on Kirk, which in reality he brought upon himself (although he'd never admit it) is another link in the chain of great villainy.  (I once based an RPG character I played on Khan, and I must say, I think I did a pretty good job of it, but without Montalban's inspiring performance, I doubt I could have pulled it off.  I'm just not that evil in real life...)

One final note:  Star Trek: Into Darkness  reinvented Khan in the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch (of the U.K.'s Sherlock and  Doctor Strange fame).   Having seen both, I admit a prejudice for Montalban.  Cumberbatch was good, but I had 25 years to grow to love Montalban's Khan before Cumberbatch appeared on the scene...

Folks, its been a long week.  The evil villains are starting to play a game of racquetball in my head.   Probably time I head for home for a long rest.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Gunslinger from Hell

This is my first of two entries in the Great Villain Blogathon sponsored by Speakeasy, Shadows and Satin and Silver Screenings

A vacation is the greatest thing in the world.  A vacation from the real world would seem to be even greater.  But technology is always the fly in the ointment.  (See Jurassic Park for an excellent case in point, another Michael Crichton story).

Michael Crichton was, in my opinion, the king of taking cutting edge technology and extrapolating it to it's insidious future.   The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, Timeline, and the aforementioned Jurassic Park are only a few of his prolific output.  He got his start in the late 60's, while still a medical student, writing action-adventure novels under the name of John Lange.  (All of those have been reprinted by Hard Case Crime  and well worth seeking out).  At some point after achieving his MD in medicine, however, he decided he liked writing instead, so, while he never practiced medicine, he developed a career as a writer (and sometimes movie director)

As far as movie director, his output was somewhat hit or miss.  Looker (from 1981) was a very bad movie.  Runaway (from 1984, with Tom Selleck and Gene Simmons, of KISS) is watchable, although it does get a little cheesy at times.  The Great Train Robbery (with Sean Connery), however, is fantastic, even if it doesn't have any cutting edge science.  And then, of course, there's Westworld.  Crichton not only directed, but wrote all of those movies.  (He also wrote the screenplay, and directed the movie version of the Robin Cook novel Coma, which is pretty decent)

Westworld (1973)

Vacation:  Everybody loves them.  You can go to exotic locales or you can just stay near home base.  You can go to museums.  You can go shopping.  Or you can go to theme parks.  Most theme parks are like my own local Six Flags Over Texas which has a bunch of thrilling rides, but is also divided into separate periods of Texas history, so that each section gives you a (nominally) authentic feel of that particular period.

But it's nothing like delving deep into the authentic aspects of the historical period.  Enter Delos.  A company that has developed three separate theme parks, each one dedicated to a particularly enticing period of history.  There's Roman World, which gives you the experience of ancient Rome (although apparently a lot cleaner...but that's this history major's input.)  There is also Medieval World, where you can experience knights and sword fights in Medieval England.  And then there is Westworld.  An experience living in the style and times of the Old West of the United States, complete with cowboys, saloons and gunslingers.

Richard Benjamin and James Brolin play two friends who are bound for a trip to Delos' Westworld theme park.  John (Brolin) has been there before and acts as an escort to introduce his friend, Peter (Benjamin), to the intricacies of the park.  Peter has recently been separated from a bad marital relationship and is looking to just unwind, although he is a bit nervous about the trip, but John assuages his fears.

In Westworld, the two arrive by stage to the town, where they get situated in a hotel.  In Delos' theme parks, all of the "employees" are androids, each geared to acquiesce to any and all desires of the paying customers.  I don't remember seeing what year this takes place, but wikipedia assures me it is set in 1983, which would have been 10 years in the future at the time the movie came out.  The cost per day for this vacation is $1000 per day, a lot of money either in 1973 or 1983.  For that money you get the experience of a lifetime however.

The first thing that happens is the pair go to a saloon where Peter is assaulted and insulted by a robot gunslinger (hereafter referred to by his credited name as "the Gunslinger"), played by Yul Brynner.  A shootout occurs.  The robots have been programmed to be slower on the draw, and the guns the customers use are specifically designed so that they kill androids, but do not fire when pointing at humans, thus making it impossible to kill another paying customer.  (This is important since the androids are so intricately designed that it is impossible for one to detect a difference, thus ruining the real feel of the theme park.

The robots that are "killed" are removed at night and repaired so they can appear again the next day.  (Obviously it would be cost ineffective if the robots could only be used once and retired...)  Thus, the Gunslinger reappears the next day and is once again "killed".

Meanwhile, in the background, technicians are discovering a defect that keeps cropping up.  Certain androids are not performing concisely to the prepared program for which they were designed; i.e. a "pleasure" robot turns away from a park customer, rather than succumbing to his or her advances.

 The fact that this occurs in both Roman World and Medieval World brings some fears that there may be a computer virus that is spreading among the robots.  Typically the higher powers poo-poo this theory, mainly because it would affect their bottom line, and not because they actually don't believe the possibility.  The fact that the upper echelon executives don't have any real cares about the safety of their paying customers does not seem to matter.

The error in the robotic system starts to become really evident when, after robbing the bank, John and Peter hide out in the outskirts of town, and a robot snake strikes John.  This is not supposed to happen, as he so vehemently complains.  Later, he two end up back in town where the Gunslinger reappears.  Contrary to what is "supposed" to happen, not only does the Gunslinger outdraw John, he kills John.

All over the Delos theme parks, robots are killing the paying customers, almost like a revolution.  Peter begins a long chase sequence with the Gunslinger unopposed chasing Peter with the intent to kill him.  And this being a robot, nothing seems to deter it.  Plus, since it has super-sensitive hearing and eyesight, it can detect humans though their breathing and their body heat.  Acid, burning torches, nothing seems to stop the Gunslinger from its new mission.

The Gunslinger is the ultimate villain.  Of course, in the movie world, just when you think the villain has finally been defeated and the movie is over, that's just when you let your guard down, as does the hero in the same position.  Be assured that in such movies, it's not over until the final credits roll (and even then it may not quite be over... There was a sequel to this movie, Futureworld,  Care to guess whether the Gunslinger made an appearance in it...?)

Well folks, that ends today's villain entry.  Come back on Friday and see the ultimate in obsessive revenge with a character called "Khaaaaaaan!"


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Mixed Nuts

This is my entry for the (Jack Nicholson) Here's Jack Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews.

Ken Kesey wrote the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1962 and it was adapted first as a stage play.  Interestingly, Kirk Douglas originally played McMurphy on stage and tried for years to get a studio to back a film production.  (He owned the rights.)  By the time it finally got a rd light, Kirk was already to old to play the part (he wasn't too old in the stage play??)  He gave the project to his son, Michael, who with Saul Zaentz, finally was able to get a green light.

According to the commentary on my DVD, they were pressured to film on a sound stage in Hollywood, but the makers insisted on verisimilitude.  They sought out a real mental hospital to film the movie.  But most hospitals viewed the context of the story as casting a negative shadow on the hospital and refused.  Dr. Dean Brooks, however, head of a hospital in Oregon agreed to let the film crew on the grounds.  One of his stipulations was that some of the patients be used in the production, as he felt it would have a beneficial effect.  A few of the background patients, therefore, are real mental patients, although all of the central characters are actors.

The actors spent a couple of weeks preparing for their roles by becoming involved in the proceedings, following certain patients around and observing them, as well as sitting in on real group therapy sessions.  Thus, characters like Martini (Danny DeVito), Taber (Christopher Lloyd) and Chesswick (Sidney Lassick) seem almost real.  The casting also included having the real resident doctor, Brooks, play the resident Doctor Spivey.  (Which is why, at least to me, he seems to be less of a competent actor... it's because he isn't. an actor at all.. I'm pretty sure none of the other doctors are actors, either, but I can't be positive.)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

Jack plays an amoral character (big surprise?), R. P. McMurphy, a convict who has managed to wangle his way out of the work detail at the regular prison by pretending to be insane enough to be sent to a mental institution.  Of course, little does he know, this isn't just an easy out from the work detail.   He is wholly at the mercy of the staff at the mental hospital, namely in the person of Nurse Ratched.

Mc Murphy

Nurse Ratched (and friends)

But McMurphy has a few cards up his sleeve ( with the requisite photographs of naked women replacing the spades and clubs...)  His appearance on the scene at the mental institution is remarkable on several levels.  For one, McMurphy is a guy who is domineering over the women in his life.  Although it is condensed in the film to only a couple of the major characters, in the book each patient has a problem with women, letting them be the domineering aspect of their lives.  Thus McMurphy is a savior of sorts.

In Kesey's novel, the main character and viewpoint of the entire novel is the Chief (here played by Will Samson).  The film doesn't delve into the background of the Chief, but the book indicates that his mother, a white woman, ended up basicaly emasculating his father, a powerful chieftain in his tribe.

Chief Bromden

The main characters in the movie on whom we are educated to their backgrounds also have some problem with finding the wherewithal to overcome the women in their life.  Harding (William Redfield) has a philandering (or so he thinks) wife who belittles him.  Billy Bibbitt (Brad Dourif) is wholly under his mother's thumb.  Charlie Cheswick  is obviously a momma's boy who never grew up.  Each of these patients is further emasculated by the evil Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who uses their individual psychoses to further dominate them.




Billy Bibbitt

Enter R.P. McMurphy.  Here is a guy who is fully entrenched in his macho male dominant personality.  He is confused and frustrated that these other men willingly allow Nurse Ratched to keep them under her thumb.  McMurphy is not the gallant savior, completely, however.  He sees no problem with bilking his fellow patients out of their cigarettes and money in illicit gambling stakes.  But it is apparent that he has a "duty" to free the men from the domineering strictures represented by the Big Nurse.

Mc Murphy even makes a bet with his fellow patients that inside of a week he can get the Nurse to come out of her placid shell and become a raving harridan.  Since none of the others have ever seen her anything but stolid and peaceful, they jump on the bandwagon to take his bet.  McMurphy then proceeds to push at the buttons to try to get the Nurse on an uneven keel.  And, of course, he does win his bet.

Meanwhile the governing directors, doctors and assorted other heads of the institution are increasingly suspicious of McMurphy (i.e. is he really crazy or just faking it to get out of the prison farm?  Of course, you and I know the answer, but the docs still question it.)  After an incident where McMurphy hijacks the hospital bus and takes the inmates on a ocean fishing expedition, the docs are ready to give up on him, but Nurse Ratched still believes she can dominate him in some way and convinces the rest of the committee to let her keep him on the ward.

Attempts at electro-shock therapy have no real effect on the outlaw. Finally after several weeks, McMurphy finds out that he is a permanent patient on the ward, and is wholly at the mercy of  the doctors and Nurse Ratched as to when he will be released.  (He thought he'd just finish out his prison term in this easier place and be released...)  He also finds out that most of his fellow inmates are "voluntary" and can go any time they feel like it.  This sends him over the edge and he realizes his only hope is to escape.

A send off party is planned on the night of his escape, and with the reluctant help of the night guard, Mr. Turkel (Scatman Crothers), McMurphy sneaks two hookers and a cache of booze on the ward.  He helps, with the assistance of Candy (Marya Small), one of the hookers, to get Billy to no longer be a virgin.  But his plan to escape goes awry as he passes out and is still on the premises the next morning when the Big Nurse comes on duty.

Nicholson as McMurphy is one of the most iconic characters in movie history.  And despite his rather insidious and criminal attitudes, paired up against Nurse Ratched, he becomes sort of a folk hero.  Something of a Christ-like character comes into play here.  (And before you religious people get up in arms, I am not even remotely comparing McMurphy's personality to that of the Christian deity.)  How I view the character though, is that McMurphy comes down (from the clouds, so to speak), to help the patients who are wholly deceived by the evil Big Nurse and women in general.  And as a result of his efforts, some of those patients do overcome their own deficiencies to become better men.

Nicholson finally won his first Oscar (after four previous noms) for his role in this movie.  He also won several other prestigious awards including a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and a Film Critics Award.  In my opinion, Nicholson became the epitome of the macho male in film with this performance, and later portrayals owe at least a debt of gratitude to his performance.

Well, folks, time to crank the old Plymouth up and head home.  At least, I'm not headed back to the instution.  (Thank God, that's over)


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Didn't See THAT Coming!

This is NOT a post full of Spoiler Alert!s...  You can read this post and still watch the movies listed herein.  I'm not giving away anything.  (Unless you just don't like being told there is a surprise at the ending, of course.)  This is all in fun, just a list of movies with a revelation or an event that, if you were not aware of it prior to the viewing, may surprise you.  And I don't include "The Crying Game" (a classic "didn't see THAT coming" event for some, at the time, but I could tell right away...  See?  I didn't even spoil that one...)

Some of My Favorite Movies with Surprise Endings.  (or "Didn't See THAT Coming!")

Primal Fear (1996) : Based on the book by William Diehl, but I hadn't read the novel first.

Planet of the Apes (1968):  Not a big surprise now because it's iconic, but when I first saw it...

The Sixth Sense (1999):  I think I fell out of the chair on this one...

Time Bandits (1982):  A twist that is somewhat the milieu of Terry Gilliam.

Fight Club (1999):  This kind of ending will always surprise me.

Chinatown (1974):  A very odd outcome, although not really surprising considering it was a Roman Polanski film...

The Empire Strikes Back (1980):  A family affair that was a big surprise at the time.

The Usual Suspects (1995):  Finding out true identities was a shocker.

12 Monkeys (1995): Terry Gilliam, again.  What else can I say?

Of course, you could include a lot of slasher movies in this list.  Who actually saw the ending coming in such classics as Psycho, Friday the 13th, and a slew of others.  One of my favorites, however, is a drive-in classic, but is now largely forgotten, except by aficionados such as myself:  Happy Birthday to Me.  (If you like slasher films, seek that one out..)

Hope you folks liked this little tidbit.  And if you haven't seen some of these, by all means check your video store or Netlix.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Dedicated Doctor vs. Domineering Demagogue

This is my entry for the (William Holden) Golden Boy Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema.

My first introduction to William Holden, at least my earliest memory anyway, was as the star of the made for TV-version of the Joseph Wambaugh police novel The Blue Knight.  I was only attracted to it because it was a TV movie of a book that I had thoroughly enjoyed.  I had no idea at the time whom Holden was.  I was entertained by the movie, and it was obviously a very good performance because Holden won the Emmy that year ( for Best Actor in a Limited Series).

But by 1973, the year that NBC broadcast the made for TV movie, Holden had already had a career spanning several decades, having been nominated twice, at that point,  (and winning once) for Oscars, and having had several memorable roles besides.  At only 12 years old (in 1973), I had had very little experience with movies, and TV was my only window into the acting world.  So, still on the horizon, for me, were the experience of such seeing bravura performances as Joe Gillis (Sunset Boulevard), Sgt. Sefton (Stalag 17), Cmmdr. Shears (The Bridge on the River Kwai), and Pike Bishop (The Wild Bunch), as well as his later Oscar nominated  role as Max Schumacher in Network.

Some of Holden's better roles are the ones for which he is lesser known, however.  It was a tossup, therefore, as a choice for this blogathon that I picked one of the more obscure roles.  It was going to be either the WWII   adventure The Devil's Brigade (in which he co-starred with Cliff Robertson and Vince Edwards), or his turn as co-star with John Wayne in The Horse Soldiers.  Since I can't resist a Duke entry, I chose the latter, but I may go the second route next year for the next "Golden Boy" entry, because it's a damn good movie in it's own right.

The Horse Soldiers (1959)

William Holden plays Major Henry Kendall, a medical officer in the Union Army whose sense of his commitment to his profession is at odds with and often conflicts with that of his superior officer, Colonel John Marlowe (John Wayne).  The movie is the 11th time that Ford and Wayne paired up, but it was the first time that either had appeared with William Holden.

According to behind-the-scenes stories, the two were entirely different on the set.  Wayne, always the outgoing and fan-friendly type would dig in with fans who showed up on the set, but Holden considered his paramount to everything.  A recent article (an interview with co-star Constance Towers) in a piece written for True West Magazine by Henry C. Parke backs this up, as she claims he was shy and refused requests for autographs.

Holden and Wayne, as Kendall and Marlowe, are often at loggerheads throughout the movie.  Kendall  as a doctor is committed to helping out any and all who need his help, this despite the fact that some of his patients are either enemy combatants or victims who, by his delaying the mission for his helping sometimes seems to jeopardize the mission, or even outright  hurt his own safety if he is caught by the Confederates.

The movie starts out with Marlowe being commanded to go deep into enemy territory to cause havoc with the enemy supply lines at a place called Newton Station, a supply depot  near Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Wayne finds himself saddled with Union doctor, Kendall.  Marlowe does not want to be hampered by such things as wounded, and in fact expected to leave behind any wounded soldiers for the Confederates to capture.  Of course, Marlowe does realize that Andersonville and other Confederate P.O.W. camps are not exactly havens of good P.O.W. relations, but he is rather single-minded in achieving his mission, despite any altruistic thoughts on the part of his subordinates.

Kendall immediately gets on Marlowe's bad side when he leaves the troops to assist in the delivery of a baby in a nearby encampment of former slaves.  Kendall is reprimanded and put under officer's arrest.  Marlowe insists that Kendall's duty is to the army, not to civilians, which of course Kendall takes objection to, since he feels he is more committed to his Hippocratic Oath than to his Oath of allegiance to the Union.

Later the Union troop commandeers the mansion home of a Southern Belle, Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers) and her maid/slave, Lukey (Althea Gibson).  Through some trickery which is subsequently discovered, Hannah finds out about Marlowe's mission.  As a result, he takes her hostage to prevent her from revealing to the Confederates his goal.  Of course, this does not set well with the dainty woman, and she constantly tries to either get away or hamper Marlowe's movements.

In war, all is fair, and Hannah constantly tries to renig on her agreement to not contact any Confederate soldiers, including one attempt where the Union troop tries to remain in hiding while a larger Confederate group of soldiers passes by.  Eventually, Marlowe's despisal of Kendall comes out as Marlowe blames doctors in general for the death of his wife.  Eventually both Hannah and Kendall come to respect Marlowe, and his mission.  Kendall never loses his determination to do right by his Hippocratic Oath, and in the end determines to help the wounded in the face of odds that he will be captured by the Confederates.

On one occasion the troop meets up with a wounded friend of Kendall's, albeit one who has sided with the opposing force and is now a prisoner, Col. Miles (Carleton Young).  Such was the story of brother against brother (and friend against friend) that was the basic sad tale of this point of American history, that even though the two are on opposite sides, their friendship still remains solid.  In fact, even when Miles tries to lead a charge, Kendall knocks his friend to the ground to prevent him from being killed and later attends to his wounds.

Holden is the more sympathetic character of the duo, Wayne being typically Wayne, determined to do the duty for which he has committed himself despite any conflicts that may try to deter him.  I find Holden to be the consummate rendition of an idealist, determined to stay the course to his doctor-hood despite the conflicts that occur between him and Wayne.  It's too bad the two never paired up again, because the chemistry works on all levels.

On a scale of ranking the great Wayne/Ford masterpieces, this one definitely ranks as one of the lesser ones, and were it not for the addition of Holden, I doubt it would rank very high even on my list of Wayne movies (even with me being the consummate Wayne fan that I am.)
Hope you folks have a good Easter weekend.  Enjoy the celebrations.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Go ahead, make my day!

This is my entry for the Great Movie Quotes Blogathon hosted by The Flapper Dame.

Harry "Dirty Harry" Callahan, a character who was essayed by Clint Eastwood in 5 movies, is the ultimate "I don't give a rat's ass about the rules" character, and one of my heroes of the cinema.  Dirty Harry was always at odds with his superiors, never taking bull**** lying down.  Never taking bull****, period, for that matter.  The Dirty Harry series were rife with memorable lines, like "Do you feel lucky...PUNK?"  (Which has been misquoted actually...The tail end of the actual quote is "You gotta ask yourself a question...'Do I feel lucky?'...Well, do ya, PUNK?")

In 1983's Sudden Impact, early in the movie, Harry goes in to the Acorn Cafe to get a cup of coffee, where he discovers a robbery in progress.  Harry takes out all but one of the robbers, the sole robber then takes a hostage and threatens to shoot her.  Harry utters the immortal line, which basically encapsulates his "screw it all" attitude.  The scriptwriter, Charles Pierce, pulled the line from his own childhood.  According to him, his father used the same threatening line on him when he was a kid.

The line gained a new life of it's own when at a business conference, then President Ronald Reagan used it to emphasize his intention to veto any tax increases from Congress

People have a love for the underdog and the buckers of the system.  "Go ahead, make my day" has been honored as one of the greatest movie quotes of all time, ranking #6 on the list.


Friday, April 7, 2017

The Bond Age (Pt. IV)

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

Sean Connery returned after the dismal performance of George Lazenby in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  However, that only lasted for one more film, as Connery was tired of the role.  Roger Moore, who though considered for Bond on several occasions but was unable to take the role, finally got the call to make the next Bond movie in 1973.  He would go on to become the most prolific Bond of them all, playing the role 7 times.  Moore was also the only Englishman to play Bond, until the arrival of Daniel Craig.  (Connery was a Scotsman, Lazenby was an Australian, and successors to the role, Dalton was a Welshman and Brosnan was Irish).

An interesting change in the character from Connery's portrayal to Moore's was the dispensing of the "dry martini, shaken not stirred".  Moore only orders bourbon in this first outing.  This was an intentional thing on Moore's part.  He purposely decided to deviate from that concoction in order to separate his performance.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: #4

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song: #11

Best Bond Quote:  "Your problems are behind you now." (Said as he stuffs the launching cassette in the back of Tiffany Case's bikini briefs).

Best Bond Villain Quote: Almost any of the repartee between Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd qualifies.  But the understatement of the year goes to Mr. Wint who comments "Curious, how everyone who touches those diamonds seems to die."

Best Weapon:  What could possibly top a space satellite with a diamond-powered laser?

The opening scenes have Bond finally tracking down Blofeld (Charles Grey) after the death of his Bond's wife (see On His Majesty's Secret Service).  He seemingly gets his revenge by dumpin Blofeld in a vat of goo, but like Bond himself,  we know that it's never all that easy to kill Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

The credits sequence includes the return of Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger) returning to sing the theme song.  The song was not the hit that the previous Bassey song was.  It topped out at only #57 on the Billboard top 100.

Someone is smuggling diamonds.  Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith), a pair of barely concealed homosexual flunkies, kill off everyone who passes on the smuggled diamonds.  They have some fairly devious tricks they pull to accomplish this, including putting a deadly scorpion down the back of the shirt of one man, drowning an old lady who is posing as a schoolteacher,

Bond is sent to Amsterdam where he takes the place of Peter Franks (Joe Robinson) and meets up with his contact, Tiffany Case (Jill St. John).  Unfortunately for Bond, Franks escapes and shows up at Tiffany's apartment.  A fight ensues, and Bond kills Franks, and exchanges IDs with him, giving Tiffany the impression that Bond, as Franks, has killed the "real" James Bond.

Bond and Tiffany, with the diamonds cleverly hidden in the coffin carrying Franks, smuggle the diamonds into Las Vegas, where the Mob takes possession, and Bond is knocked out by Kidd and Wint and sent to his death in a cremation chamber.  But the Mob, led by Shady Tree (Leonard Barr), find out the diamonds Bond passed were fake and pull him out before he gets burned up.

Bond ends up with Tiffany in "The Whyte House", a hotel owned by a reclusive millionaire, Willard Whyte (loosely based on Howard Hughes).  When Bond goes up to talk with Whtey, he discovers, insteard, Blofeld.  In fact, he discovers TWO Blofelds...(one of them is a clone).  Bond kills Blofeld, albeit the wrong Blofeld.  The real Blofeld captures Bond and sends Kidd and Wint to dispose of him in the desert.  (Just a question.  Why don't these villains just put a bullet in Bond's head, instead of devising ingenious methods of destruction for which Bond always seems to escape?)

It turns out that Blofeld has been smuggling diamonds for use in a powerful laser which is launched in a satellite in space.  One of the reasons this particular outing ranks so high in my own list is that Blofeld actually does succeed in using the laser on three separate targets; a missile silo in North Dakota, a Russian nuclear submarine and a rocket site in China.  The plan is to use his new found weapon to extort money from the world's super powers.

A fantastic final reel in the movie involves Bond trying to switch the real programming cassette which operates the laser with a cassette of music.  At the same time, an all out attack is launched on Blofeld's hideaway by our old friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter (played this time by Norman Burton).  Of course, you know Bond succeeds, but the final battle is still thrilling.

Live and Let Die (1973)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: #12

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song: #3

Best Bond Quote:  With the coming of Roger Moore as Bond, the sexual double entendres came out in full force.  The best one in this movie was after Rosie complained that she was going to be useless to Bond: "I'm sure we'll be able to lick you into shape."

Best Bond Villain Quote: Cab Driver:  "Man, for $20 I'd drive you to a Ku Klux Klan cookout!"

Best Weapon:  That watch of Bond's, which not only houses a super-powered magnet, but also doubles as a miniature saw to cut the ropes tying him up.

The opening sequence is only the second time in the series that James Bond does not appear.  (The appearance of a Bond look-alike who is killed off in From Russia with Love was the first.)  Three separate agents in the employ of her majesty are executed.  In the first, a member of the United Nations, representing the UK is killed by a high-pitched blast.  In the second, in New Orleans, an unwitting agent becomes the guest of honor in a jazz funeral.  And lastly, another member is killed by a snake being used in a voodoo ritual on the (fictional) island of San Monique.

Fresh off the recent disbanding of the Beatles, Paul McCartney and his then-current band, Wings, perform one of the best Bond songs ever.  This song spent 3 weeks as #2 on the charts, and was jumped by two separate songs.  The first week it was #2 behind Maureen McGovern's "The Morning After".  The second week it was jumped by Diana Ross' "Touch Me in the Morning", and on the third week at #2 it was jumped by The Stories' "Brother Louie".  An added note:  This was the first Bond theme song to be recorded by the person who wrote it.

To start off this adventure, M (Bernard Lee) makes a visit to Bond's own personal digs, just barely avoiding catching Bond in flagrante delicto with a female lover.  M sends Bond off on his mission to find out who is behind the killings of several agents (from the prologue sequence).  In New York, a pimpmobile cruises by the car carrying Bond and shoots his driver.  Not a very auspicious beginning to say the least.

It should be noted at the outset that this outing was obviously designed to cash in on the then current "blaxploitation" genre of movies.  Almost all of the bad guys are black, but then so are several of Bond's comrades-in-arms.  The main character Bond has to deal with is Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto) who is the leader of the aforementioned fictional Carribean island of San Monique.  He is also running a secret heroin trade under the guise of "Mr. Big".

Kananga has the help of a few memorable villains in this endeavor.  One, his right hand man (so to speak, since the character has a mechanical replacement for his right arm, so pun not intended..), a character call "Tee Hee" Johnson (Julius Harris).  Called Tee Hee probably because this guy is always grinning, especially when he has the upper hand (again pun not intended) in the situation.

Also helping out Kananga is a tarot card reader called "Solitaire" (Jane Seymour).  (Just to interject something:  I realize this is a movie and as such is a fantasy, but I had one hell of a time suspending my disbelief that such malarkey as tarot card reading really worked.)   Nearly all potential allies for Bondin the early part of the film are actually working for Kananga.  Check out the scene where Bond tails a car to Harlem in a cab.  An innocent cabdriver in the endeavor?  Not hardly.  Neither is the supposed ally CIA agent that Bond hooks up with early in the movie.

There are two really exciting chase scenes in this movie that, although they take up about 20 minutes of running time, are very well executed.  The boat chase on the Louisiana bayou is particularly exciting, especially when a local Sheriff (Clifton James) gets involved in the act (on land, chasing the boats via roads and bridges).  The Sheriff scenes are strictly for comic relief, but Clifton James instills a good-ol-boy style to the sheriff that is enchanting.  He would later reprise this role in The Man with the Golden Gun.

Eventually (of course), Solitaire comes over to the side of the good guys, although initially that must be seen as an act of self-preservation, since by losing her virginity to Bond, she also loses the "powers" she has in reading the tarot cards, which doesn't make Kananga very happy.  Of course we have to have the obligatory attempt to kill Bond, which in the final scenes involves him being cut on the arm and then slowly lowered  (..."SLOWLY"...) into a shark infested tank.  The slow descent giving time to devise a way out of the predicament.  (Again, why don't these villains just put a bullet in Bond's head?  Why do they have to get cute?)

A great movie all-around.  I particularly like the on location scenes in New Orleans.  They didn't look all that familiar, but they reminded me of my own trip to the Crescent City back in 2003.  I feel certain I walked that street a few times during my stay.

Well folks,  time to head home.  Drive safely.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Tears in the Rain

This is my entry in the April Showers Blogathon hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog

"Who is Philip K. Dick?"  This question may cross your mind, especially if you are not a science fiction fan.  35 years ago the question might have even puzzled some sct-fi fans. (Dick had a following, to be sure, but even I, as an avid reader of sci-fi, was unaware of him until the Science Fiction Book Club made his last novel the featured selection one month.)  But today, it is probably a lot rarer to find people who have never even heard the name, even if they are not familiar with his work.  After all, Dick has been a hot commodity for sci-fi extravaganzas since the first adaptation of his work appeared on the big screen in 1982.  To be sure, even if you don't know who Philip K. Dick is, you have heard of his work, since almost a dozen adaptations of his novels and short stories have hit the theaters over the years.

The current TV series being produced by Amazon, The Man in the High Castle, is only the most recent film version of Dick's work (that being based on Dick's Hugo Award winning novel of the same name).  A list of movies you may have seen that were inspired by Dick's work include Total Recall (both the 1990 Schwarzenegger extravaganza and the recent remake, and to some extent the TV series Total Recall 2070), the Tom Cruise film Minority Report, director Richard Linklater's animated film version of A Scanner Darkly, and a handful of others, including today's entry, Blade Runner.  (BTW, later this year a sequel to the original Blade Runner is due to hit the theaters).

Dick had a fan base throughout his writing career, but he died in 1982, before the release of even the first theatrical film adaptation of his works, so he didn't get to see how his popularity increased over the years.  His works generally carried a theme of what it means to be human and what is reality.  You can really get some insight into Philip K. Dick by reading one of his biographies, the best of which, in my opinion, is a 2006 book, Counterfeit Worlds: Philip K. Dick on Film, which includes an overview of his life.

Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner is a (seemingly) never ending conundrum of a movie experience.  It was released in 1982.  But the director, Ridley Scott, apparently was never satisfied with it.  In 1992, he released "The Director's Cut", which eliminated Harrison Ford's voice-over and added a few scenes that had been left on the cutting room floor.  But even that was apparently unacceptable, so in 2007, "The Final Cut" was released.  In all there have been 7 versions of the film, some with very minor alterations, but still...  The Final Cut is the one that Scott likes the best, but I have always preferred the original theatrical release, mostly because Ford's narration adds a bit more of a film noir feel to the movie.  (The other two major versions cut this out).  My review will cover the Final Cut (although I miss the voice-over, there are key changes in the final cut that intrigue me)

The film takes place in the future of 2019 (from a 1982 view, 37 years in the future).  There seems to be a problem with overpopulation in the film, and the world is rather stark and gritty.  Rain is constantly falling and I think the rain adds a certain feel to what the movie is.  Rain as a metaphor can be seen as a cleansing agent, and if any world ever need cleansing it is the Los Angeles of 2019 as seen in this film.  Personally, I think it would take a rain of Biblical proportions to clean up this reality...

In this vision of the future, androids, called replicants, are almost identical to humans.  They are used as slave labor.  In the pre-history, from the movie's standpoint, a bunch of replicants banded together and tried to start a revolution, and as a result, a law was made that banned replicants from Earth.  This wasn't a "replicants must use the inferior bathrooms outside the establishment" type of banning, like the racist South did to the black people in the first part of the 20th century.  Replicants were under a death penalty if they were found on Earth, and a special unit of the police force, called "Blade Runners" was formed to hunt them down and exterminate them (called "retirement".)

The movie opens with an interview of Leon (Brion James), a suspected replicant.  The interview involves using a "Voight-Kampff machine", which supposedly, by way of several questions and readouts from it's screens, can determine whether a subject is human or a replicant.   During the interview Leon shoots his interviewer, thus exposing the fact that he is indeed a replicant.

Leon (Brion James)

Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is forced by his former boss to come out of retirement to hunt down this, and three other replicants; Leon, Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), Pris (Darryl Hannah) and Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) have escaped from off-world and come to Earth, illegally.  (BTW, I'm not sure why Roy gets a last name, but the others don't, but I'm sure the reason is probably subversive...)

Deckard (Harrison Ford)
Zhora (Joanna Cassidy)

Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Darryl Hannah)

At first, Decard is accompanied by Gaff (Edward James Olmos), an officer of the police force who speaks only in a cityspeak dialect and has an affinity for creating origami figures out of scraps of paper.  These origami figures aren't just random, however.  The first one is a chicken which he creates while Deckard tries to talk his way out of the job of hunting down the replicants.

Gaff (Edward James Olmos)

Deckard and Gaff go to Leon's apartment where they find a stash of pictures.  Why would an adroid, who only has a four-year life span, want to hold on to pictures?  This becomes part of the driving force of the picture, making it not just a cop tracking down criminals movie, but essentially dwelling on the Philip K. Dick theme of what defines a human.

On another track of the same theme, Deckard visits the Tyrell Corporation, where Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) has Deckard use his Voight-Kampff device on his secretary, Rachel (Sean Young).  After a long session with the machine, Deckard determines that Rachel is a replicant.  But Rachel is a special "new prototype" replicant, one which has been given extensive memories, thus she thinks she has had a past, including growing up.  Once again, the "phildickian" theme comes into play.  Is she truly human just because she has memories? No.  Which calls into question, for those of us with the imaginative side anyway, are any of our memories truly our own... creepy, huh?

Rachel (Sean Young)

As to why these replicants came to Earth in the first place, that is revealed gradually over the course of the movie.  Roy Batty, as the leader, is very close to his expiration date (and if you question how, or why the replicants know they have an expiration date, you are in my same boat).  They have come to demand that Tyrell give them an extension on their lives.  They need a contact to get them in to see Tyrell, and they go to several people who are involved in the process to find a contact, killing each contact after their use to the replicants is done.

Ultimately, Deckard eventually terminates Zhora, Leon and Pris, leading to a final battle between Deckard and Roy Batty.  The replicant becomes a bit philosophical at the end:

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe.  Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate.  All those moments will be lost in time.. like tears in rain. Time to die."

Spoiler Alert! The ending of the original theatrical release had Deckard and Rachel leaving together, heading North.  Gaff had left a telling origami of a unicorn, indicating that he had been at Deckard's apartment but had not retired Rachel.  In the final cut, a previous sequence involving a daydream of Deckard thinking about a unicorn was included, which seems to imply that Deckard himself is also a replicant (otherwise how would Gaff know about the unicorn memory...?)  The final cut deletes the actual scenes of Deckard and Rachel leaving, making their future less predictable.  Will Gaff eventually track down the pair and eliminate them both? We don't know.

One added note:  It's still raining at the end of this movie (unless you see the original cut, but those scenes take place outside the city).  I guess the cleansing is ongoing...

Hope you folks enjoyed the flick.  If my engine isn't waterlogged by now, its time to fire up the old Plymouth and head home.  Until, next time, watch out for replicants.  (Or if you are a replicant, then watch out for blade runners...)