Friday, February 23, 2018

The Day the Academy Lost Its Mind

This is my entry in the 31 Days of Oscars Blogathon hosted by Outspoken and Freckled, Once Upon a Screeen and Paula's Cinema Club

The Best Picture award is always given to the best film of the year, right?  Not necessarily.  Arguments have been made for how better movies were passed over for the one that actually won.  As I told Kellee when I signed up, I always thought "Goodfellas" should have won instead of "Dances with Wolves", and although part of that has to do with my intense dislike of Kevin Costner, I must point out that I am not alone in the idea that Goodfellas was the better movie.  There is a large contingent of people out there that agree with me on that subject.

There are plenty of others that have their devotees who think the wrong movie got the award.  Some I agree with (Going My Way over Double IndemnityOrdinary People better than Raging BullTitanic was greater than L.A. Confidential? I could go on but those are three of my top issues.  I concede the argument whether Star Wars was better than Annie Hall, but I think ALL of the movies in the 1976 category were better than Annie Hall...)

One of the biggest Oscar snubs of its history, however, would have to be how two fantastic movies, The Quiet Man and High Noon, got passed over for Cecil B. DeMille's melodrama of circus life, The Greatest Show on Earth.  Why DeMille's extravaganza won while two decidedly better movies were passed over is a mystery to me.  I can only imagine that since DeMille had been around since the beginning of time (or at least the beginning of cinema) and was only now getting recognition by the Academy that the voters voted for it for old time's sake.  Or maybe the fact that it was the biggest moneymaker for the year of 1952.  (Of course, that no longer means much in Oscar decisions.  If that were the case Terminator 2 would have been up for consideration, and surely no one thought it was Oscar worthy... But maybe it was true in the 50's, I don't know).

The Greatest Show on Earth revolved around, just in case the title didn't give it away, the circus.  (Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey's Circus has that appellation as their motto.)  Like most other extravaganza's of the day, this revolved around multiple characters and, at least in this case, some of the cheesiest melodrama ever to grace the screen.

As far as the acting goes, I guess the best example of how substandard it was is the fact that none, not even one, of the actors and actresses were nominated for an Oscar that year.  Is it because there were way too many to choose from?  I highly doubt it.  And its not as if they were nobodies... You had Charlton Heston, Cornel Wilde, Dorothy Lamour, Betty Hutton, and even Jimmy Stewart in it.  But none of them really pulls off anything better than what you might find on General Hospital.  Which basically this film is, a soap opera on the big screen.

The film was also up for best director, but fortunately clearer heads prevailed and the statuette went to John Ford for The Quiet Man.  (Best Actor went to Gary Cooper for High Noon, so at least the Academy didn't go completely bonkers that year.)  But I'd like to touch upon the two better movies that lost the Best Picture Award to this clunker.

High Noon (1952):

High Noon was a Western with a message. The message is that a man must stand up for what he believes is right, despite the fact that everyone seems against his decision.  Some people, including John Wayne, thought that the movie was a parable denouncing the HUAC's stance against former and current people in Hollywood with Communist leanings, although the director, Fred Zinnemann, insisted that this was not the case.

Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) has just married his love, Amy (Grace Kelly), a Quaker who has convinced Will to hang up his guns and step down as Marshall.  But unbeknownst to him, three gunmen from a gang whose leader, Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald), have just ridden into town.  The three gunmen (Sheb Wooley, Lee van Cleef and Robert J. Wilke)  are awaiting the arrival of their leader who has been pardoned by the governor and is en route to the town to take revenge on Will. who was instrumental in sending him to prison in the first place.

Will and Amy are encouraged to skeedaddle before the arrival of the train, and initially they do so.  But on the way out of town, Will's conscience and determination takes over and he heads back to town to face destiny.  He tries to get people to help him, trying to form a posse to defend the town, but he runs up against a group who just want to let things be.

Primarily working against him is his former deputy, Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges), who resents the fact that Will didn't stand up for him in his attempt to take over as Marshall.  Pell walks out on Will after throwing down his badge.  Will also runs into problems with a former lover, Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado).  Helen tells Amy that if she had married Will, she would not desert him in his time of need, which amy seems determined to do.

The town is divided into two courts, some who disapproved of Kane's actions with Miller (friends of the outlaw) and some who are worried that the whole town may suffer as a result of the feud between Miller and the Marshall.  He cannot get anybody to help, not even the town's leaders.

Eventually Miller arrives and a showdown begins as Will faces the four alone.  You surely don't need me to tell you how the movie ends, but I think you may just be surprised at one or two of the events that occur before the final denouement.

The Quiet Man (1952):

John Wayne movies were notoriously shubbed over the years, and much of it probably had to do with his politics.  For years the political view in Hollywood has been of a liberal bent and Wayne was a staunch conservative.  He was quoted once in an interview that he was proud of the fact that he had helped run Carl Foreman, the writer of the previous movie in this entry, out of Hollywood because of Foreman's Communist connections.

But his politics must be viewed separately from his acting, (as should anybody), when it comes to awards such as the Oscars.  In actuality that is not always the case, but I am an idealist by nature, and I have a view that the best person should get the laurels even if I don't agree with his outlook on life.  (On a personal note, I think Scientology is a whack-job religion, but I would not have let that affect my voting on Best Actor and would have given John Travolta my vote for best actor in Pulp Fiction.)

The Quiet Man begins with Sean Thornton (John Wayne)  arriving in Ireland.  Thornton is a man on the run from the past (although you only get hints of it until about midway through the movie).  Thornton was originally born in Ireland but moved to America at an early age.  He grew up in America and became a prize fighter, and it is an event in his life as a fighter that has brought him to leave America.

His first goal is to acquire his birth home.  The cottage and land is owned by a wealthy widow, Sarah Tillane (Mildred Natwick), and Thornton has a competitor in wanting to acquire the land, Will Danaher (Victor Maclaglen), a local squire.  Thornton outbids him, but the widow probably would have sold it to him anyway because she doesn't really like Will.

Thornton becomes infatuated with a redhead woman he sees who turns out to be Will's sister, Mary Kate (Maureen O'Hara).  At first, as is the custom in Ireland, brother Will refuses to let Thornton court his sister, because he is still miffed over the slight in the contest to buy the land, but the town's residents conspire to convince Will that the widow, with whom Will is infatuated, will marry him if his sister is no longer in the house.

Once Will finds out the truth, after the marriage, he refuses to give Mary Kate her dowry.  Mary Kate wants Thornton to fight her brother for the dowry, but he refuses, since the reason he left the States in the first place was because he accidentally killed a man in the boxing ring.  The towspeople convince Will to release Mary Kate's furniture, but stilL refuses to give her her dowry, and Mary Kate refuses to allow Thornton to consummate their marriage as a result.

It all boils down to an ultimate donnybrook in the town between Thornton and Will.  The final knock down drag out is the highlight of the film.

So which movie do I feel should have won the Oscar?  Well, my love of John Wayne movies would suggest that I chose The Quiet Man, but you may be surprised to learn that I think High Noon is the better movie, despite the fact that my hero hated it.

Time to sail the old Plymouth back to the cottage, now.  Drive home safely.



Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Mr. Monk Meets Willie Nelson

This is my entry in the Small Screen Blogathon hosted by Maddylovesherclassicfilms.

I came upon the TV show "Monk" midways through the first season.  Episode 10: "Mr Monk Takes a Vacation", to be exact.   But I was immediately attracted to the character.  For the most part, Adrian Monk is the exact opposite of me.  He is organized to a fault; I couldn't get to my front door in the dark without tripping over something.  He washes each dish immediately after use; I let dishes pile up for days.

The biggest attraction to the "Monk" series for me was his obsession with solving the murder of his wife Trudy, an event that happened some 5 years prior to the series beginning.  (The year, 1997, shows up on the tombstone which we see at the end of this episode we are discussing today.  The date, revealed in a later episode was Dec. 14, 1997)

Monk is a modern equivalent of Sherlock Holmes, a man with an astounding memory and one who has the ability to see details that elude his police friends, thus helping him to solve complicated cases, such as one that occurred when the ex-girlfriend of an astronaut supposedly hung herself while the astronaut was doing a space jaunt.  Monk believes the astronaut was responsible and eventually solves the case, due to his ability to notice certain inconsistencies with the "suicide".

"Monk" was the first TV series of which I ever bought a single season, and have since acquired all 8 seasons.  I usually get in at least one episode a week, and even though I know how each one ends intimately, I still find them fascinating.

Monk: "Mr. Monk Meets the Red-Headed Stranger":

At a rehearsal for an upcoming concert, Willie Nelson and his band do a run through of "On the Road Again".  After the rehearsal, Willie confronts his road manager, Sonny Cross (David Anderson) and accuses him of juggling the books, because there is a missing balance of $400,000.  Willie tells Sonny if the books don't balance before they get ready to leave to return to Austin "you won't be going back to Austin".

The band is scheduled for a meeting to which Sonny shows up and encounters a sign that says "J. Cross Use Side Door".  When Sonny goes around the corner there are shots.  Willie comes around the corner sees Sonny shot and a woman, Wendy Maas  (Jackie Richardson)  yelling for the police.

The story becomes more complicated when it is evident that the woman is blind.  Monk is called in as a consultant.  A surprise to everyone who knows Monk, he and his wife were (and he still is) big fans of Willie Nelson's music.  (He later confesses to having all of Willie's albums!).

Early on Monk becomes convinced that Willie is innocent, and not just because he is a fan.  The first clue is the note that was left for Sonny.  It said "J. Cross" (his first name being Jason), but Willie only knows him has "Sonny".  But the only other person in the alley was the blind woman.  And Sonny had been shot twice, once at point blank range, which the blind woman could have done, but second shot was in the back as he was trying to run away.

Some of the more interesting and funny scenes occur as Monk tries to investigate the murder.  My favorite is when Monk and Sharona get on Willie's tour bus.  Monk immediately notices an odor and says "Do you smell that?", to which Willie responds "No.  And you don't either."  (Hint:  Just in case you are unfamiliar with Willie nelson, that doesn't imply Willie sprayed the place with "Winter Gardens" air freshener...)

There is always a ubiquitous scene in which Monk is confronted with his germophobia.  In this case Willie invites Monk, who is a fairly decent clarinet player to sit in on a live radio broadcast to play clarinet on "George on My Mind".  One of the band members attempts to show Monk how close to the microphone to play and puts his lips on the mouthpiece.  Monk now can't play the piece because of his fear of germs and ends up whistling his solo, a funny scene.

Monk, during his investigation, observes several clues that helps him solve the case.  In case it isn't obvious, Willie is not guilty.  Of course, if you are a frequent watcher of the series, you know if Monk says "He's the guy", the person to whom Monk is referring IS the culprit.  On the same wave, if Monk is convinced someone is not guilty, that person is always innocent in the end.  So who killed Sonny?  Well, without giving it away completely, remember the Sherlock Holmes maxim about what happens when you eliminate the impossible.

The final scene has Willie and Monk playing a duet over Monk's wife's grave, a tender scene to end the episode.

Monk aired for 8 seasons.  All are available on DVD.  Fair warning, you may want to clear a couple of weekends for binge watching after watching one episode.  I suggest highly that you watch them in order because occasionally one episode will make a reference to a previous episode and almost all of the season ending episodes involve clues leading to the discovery of who killed Trudy Monk and why.  And thankfully the producers had the foresight to wrap up the series in the last episode of the final season so that we faithful followers got to see Monk resolve the mystery.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Marvel-ous Comics Parody

This is a new one for me, inspired by Hamlette's We Love Superheroes Week.  A comic book review.

In 1993, I was still reading comic books and a place opened up here in town that catered only to comic books and the like.  I came across this series, a 6 book feature that was printed by Image Comics.  It was written mostly by Alan Moore, a name that is familiar in the comic book world.  He wrote the Watchmen series which was featured in a movie a few years ago, and also created the comics on which a few other great movies were based:  V for Vendetta, From Hell, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The 1963 imprint of Image featured the six book series that was an homage to the Silver Age of comics, and had parodies of many of the Silver Age heroes of the comic book industry.   Each issue featured one (or more) characters from that era and was written in the style of 60's comics.  The parodies were almost all of Marvel comics superheroes (which explains some of the reasons why I had an attraction to it).

Book One was titled Mystery Incorporated  and featured characters who were supposed to represent The Fantastic Four.  Crystal Man and his cohorts, The Planet, Kid Dynamo and Neon Queen, had to do battle with an intruder in their secret fortress.  It turned out that the intruder had come from across time and alternate universes through a gizmo Crystal Man had created called the Maybe Machine.  The Maybe Machine was kind of like the doorway in the Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever", except that it could look into alternate timelines.  At the end of the issue Crystal Man decides that the solution to the problem is that the four must enter the Maybe Machine.

Book Two was titled No One Escapes The FuryThe Fury was based somewhat on Spiderman and Daredevil.  Initially The Fury is accompanying the delivery of a top secret package to L.A.S.E.R.'s (based on S.H.I.E.L.D.) headquarters, but is distracted by the appearance of an arch-enemy, the Voidoid.  Meanwhile, at L.A.S.E.R.'s HQ, a creature that was contained in the top secret box, an intelligent dinosaur, escapes.  The dinosaur ends up in the fray with The Fury and the Voidoid.  Things look bad for The Fury, but he has help from members of the L.A.S.E.R. squad, led by a woman named Solo, who is apparently a parody of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.  (She even tokes on a cigarette in a macho way...)  Eventually good triumphs, but The Fury is curious about some of the weapons that the Voidoid had and takes them to a friend who confirms that the technology is beyond what is potential for the current day, so from whence did they come?

Book Three, Tales of the Uncanny, featured Ultimate Special Agent. aka U.S.A. (a stand-in for Captain America).  U.S.A., standing in for President Kennedy, prevents an assassination attempt on the President.  Off he goes into the school book depository only to encounter would be asassin vanishing in a burst of light, and the real Leo Harley Osbourne, the assassin bound and gagged.  He claims it was all a conspiracy, and that the real would be killers were the Communists.  And to prove it, U.S.A's Soviet nemesis Red Brain appears to do battle with our flag wearing hero.  But just as U.S.A. seems doomed to failure, the vanishing assassin reappears and disables Red Brain, then disappears again leaving behind only a newspaper, dated 1993!

The second half of the issue features The Hypernaut (a parody of Iron Man). The Hypernaut lives in a space station on the dark side of the moon.  He is plagued by an invasion of a creature from the fourth dimension   By now it must be apparent that there is something peculiar going on in the multiverse.   Of course our hero vanquishes his foe, but leaves behind the ultimate question...WHY?

Book Four was called Tales from Beyond, and featured two (count 'em, two!) heroes; The Unbelievable N-Man and Johnny Beyond.

The N-Man was an homage to the Incredible Hulk who, despite his red skin, was a true blue American, through and through.  On a mission from the government, N-Man investigates the highly radioactive Shimmering Zone, site of a nuclear test.  There he encounters Comrade Cockroach, an adversary from Red Russia.  But the center of the Shimmering Zone holds a mystery that seeks to encompass them both, a gravitational field that draws everything into it.  It is actually a portaql to another time dimension, although it is not evident in this segment.

Time is of the essence through out the series, and the segment featuring Johnny Beyond adds more mystery.  Johnny beyond is a beatnik version of Doctor Strange, who encounters a wayward soul from 1993.  She has been caught up in a time slip that seems focused on Johnny's pad, and come to find out she is the paramour of an alternate universe future version of Johnny, called by his real name, John Behan.  The episode ends with a switcheroo, with John and his girl stuck in 1963 and Johnny in the middle of some time warp.

Book Five, Horus, Lord of Light had as it's central character a take on Thor.  Horus poses as Professor Falcon, a teacher on campus who performs double duty as an educator and his duties as a god of the fabled Egyptian mythology.  When he goes to Heliopolis, a student (and infatuated wannabe lover of Professor) stows away on the sun barge.  Horus discovers an evil plan.  Someone has drugged the guardians of the barge and it is defenseless as it travels trough its night phase.  So Horus has to act as guardian of the barge.  He is successful, with the help of his mortal stowaway and returns to Earth to find a message to assemble with Infra-Man (as have several of the others).

Book Six was the final issue, called Tomorrow Syndicate, which was a take on The Avengers and collected the heroes from the previous five issues.  Included in the Tomorrow Syndicate are Horus, The Hypernaut, U.S.A., N-Man and two new characters Infra-Man and Infra-Girl, based on Ant-Man and the Wasp, respectively.  Inside Mount Rushmore is the hidden base of the Tomorrow Syndicate.  Infra-Man informs them that a weapon the Voidoid used against the Fury (see Book Two) was way too technologically advanced for this time.  But radiation from the weapon is similar to radiation points in two places in Manhattan, Lexington Avenue and Greenwich Village.  At the Lexington Avenue location, the Syndicate inadvertently stumble across the Mystery Mile (home to Mystery Incorporated; see Book One).  They discover the Maybe Machine and determine that's where Mystery Incorporated went, and that they must also enter the machine.  There they encounter a time warp and meet up with a group that U.S.A. had joined to battle Hitler in the 40's.  They also find a giant space station of sorts, which they find is the Lobby of Alternity.  They use the portals to try to find their co-horts, Mystery Incorporated, but end up in the wrong timeline at first...and second...and third...and fourth...and end up in the present day (or at least 1993, which was the present when the comic was published.)

Unfortunately this is where the span of the series ended.  There were plans for a double issue that would have wrapped up the entire series, possibly connecting these chacters with some of the then modern day comic books stars, but it failed to appear.  According to the wikipedia article on the series,  Moore was in the midst of writing the final issue when his cohort decided to take a sabbatical.  Things never got back on track, and at this point, probably never will.  But the series is still enjoyable, as is, even without the resolution.

It was fun even rereading the series for this post.  I got nostalgic once again for those comics of the Silver Age which inspired my love for comic book superheroes in the first place. 


Monday, February 12, 2018

The Incredible Superhero Tag

Not exactly a first on this blog, (I have completed at least two other tags such as these).  but it qualifies as a rarity.  This is for Hamlette's Soliloquy's "We Love Superheroes Week" Event.

1.  Who are your favorite superheroes?  (Go ahead and list up to five if you want!)

The Thing (of Fantastic Four)
Ghost Rider
Captain America

2.  What's your favorite superhero movie?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

3.  Do you have a favorite superhero couple?

No, my superheroes are almost all loners.

4.  What was your introduction to the world of superheroes?

My father had a gas station which catered to the lake crowd and he stocked magazines and comic books.  I read most every comic book he bought, especially the superhero ones.

5.  If you could be any superhero for a day, who would you like to be?

I'll give you a hint... "It's clobbering time!"

6.  Do you have a favorite super villain?

In movies, Heath Ledger as "The Joker" (even though I prefer Marvel over DC as far as my superheroes).  As far as comic book villains, however, my favorite was always the Spideman nemesis; The Vulture.

7.  Can you think of a superhero who should get their own solo film, but hasn't yet?


8.  Do you read comic books?

Not so much since I passed 40....

9.  Why do you like superheroes?

My heroes have always been "super"
And they still are it seems
Staunchly in search of
And one step ahead of
Justice and the American dream...

(apologies to Sharon Vaughn the writer of the song)

10.  Have you ever cosplayed as a superhero?  Feel free to share pics if you want!

Not unless I did when I was a kid for Halloween.  But I did create a superhero for a role-playing game once, "Captain Amazing" (for which I created the secret identity which became my blog name Winthrop J. Quiggy).  But I didn't dress up for it, which is what I think cosplay actually means.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Being a Superhero Ain't All It's Cracked Up To Be

This entry is for the We Love Superheroes Week Event hosted by Hamlette's Soliloquy

It's been one of those days.  I woke up feeling pretty damn decent about the world.  I slipped on my tights and cape and mask and prepared to do battle against the evil injustice in the world.  But life just handed me a sack of lemons and said "deal with it".

First thing I did was scope out the park.  Sure enough, there was a couple of muggers holding up a little old lady, trying to snatch her purse.  I swooped in, TA-DA, like I always do, and Wham-Bam, save the old lady's pension from the would-be dregs of society.  Bad mistake!  The two muggers were 16 year old kids and now their parents are threatening me with child abuse charges.  Worse, the little old lady thought I was trying to horn in for myself and sprayed me with pepper spray.  And then started beating me over the head with her purse.  She must've had a couple of rocks in there with her money...OUCH!

OK, bad start, but there's still the rest of the day, right? So I headed over towards the bank and sure enough there was a full scale robbery going on. Two rough looking characters were holding the bank customers hostage, and police were surrounded the bank trying to coax them out.  I rush in and resolve the situation.  Pretty neat, eh?  Well, not so much.  It turns out that Hollywood was trying to do a remake of Dog Day Afternoon and the scene was just a movie set.  (So that's why one of the "robbers" was shouting "Attica! Attica!"...)  The director nearly had me arrested for disrupting the shoot (and called me several disparaging names due to my costume... some people are so cruel).

Now, I know that things can't be all that bad for me.  Surely there must be a need for truth justice and the American way somewhere in this place.   So I looked into the activities of my old nemesis, The Dark Legionnaire.  Well, guess what, the old Dark-meister had gotten religion and was now a TV preacher going under the name The Light Warrior...  and he tried to tell me my actions were the specific domain of the Lord and that I was sinning before the Ultimate Ruler of Good.

Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.

There are hundreds of do-gooders in the world.  The pantheon of superheroes include such righteous dudes like Superman and Captain America, guys you couldn't get to even jaywalk if there was no traffic.  There are also wanna-bees whose actions are good even if their motives are a bit ego-centric, like Iron Man.  Sometimes the hero is someone who has had the mantle of superhero sort of slapped on him by a twist of fate, but manage to somehow corral in the new found abilities in a way that turns out alright in the end.  Spiderman comes to mind here.  Occasionally you get some vigilante who wants to correct the system because of some deep dark past, like Batman, but for the most part they all have taken the role in stride.

Then there are the doofuses who can't seem to get a handle on the superhero thing, even if they are well-meaning in their attentions.  Sometimes these are just average dweebs who had some chivalric notion of being a hero, and sometimes it is just a guy who had fate hand him the role and still doesn't know how to cope with it.

One of my favorite memories was of coming home one Friday night in 1995 and watching a made for cable feature called The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space.  The essence of this movie is that Pangea, a planet in a galaxy far far away,  is being subjected by an evil villain, Lord Vox of Vestron (Ron Perlman) (something on par with Ming the Merciless from Flash Gordon).  The leader of the rebellion is a woman named Tyra (Liz Vassey) who is at her wits end.  Her little brother, Baley (Gregory Smith), is an electronics whiz and goes looking for a solution.  He finds it in a 50's era TV show  called "Captain Zoom".  He uses his electronics genius to zap Captain Zoom from Earth to do battle with Lord Vox.  Unfortunately, as you can well guess, "Captain Zoom" isn't  really a "superhero".  He's just an actor, Ty Farrell (Daniel Riordan), and not a superhero in any sense of the word.  But Farrell is in a serious predicament because everyone believes he is Captain Zoom and eventually he has to use what wits he has (which is not much) to help free Pangea from the clutches of Lord Vox.  (Note:  As far as I know this movie was never released on DVD, but there is a poor quality version of it on youtube).

Meteor Man is a different case.  Jefferson Reed (Robert Townsend) is a school teacher who is doing what little he can as his neighborhood is overrun by hoodlums and a drug lord, Anthony Byers (Frank Gorshin).  In a freak accident Jefferson is hit by a falling meteor and develops some amazing powers, which he incorporates to help defeat the drug lord.  but his ability to control and use his powers often causes more havoc than he is trying to stop.

The Mystery Men are a bunch of second class superheroes who really really want to be the saviors of the universe, but are hindered by the fact that they don't have any super powers that are much good.  Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), The Blue Rajah (Hank Azaria) and The Shoveler (William H. Macy) are being constantly upstaged by the true superhero of Champion City, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear), a somewhat smarmy and egotistical dilettante.  The Mystery Men recruit three other superhero wannabees, The Spleen (Paul Ruebens), The Bowler (Jameane Garofalo) and Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell) .  (Invisible Boy's Super power is he can become invisible, but only if no one is looking at him...)  The six attempt to rescue Captain Amazing who has been captured by his arch-nemesis, Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), but inadvertently kill him instead.  Now it is up to these third-rate dimwits to mount an attack to stop Frankenstein from his nefarious plans.

Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey) is just a poor shmo who has been walked over by everyone he meets.  But Stanley has the luck (good or bad, your guess is as good as mine...) to find a mask in a dumpster.   Being the average everyday ordinary guy, he puts the mask on his face.  (Yeah, OK, so you wouldn't, and I wouldn't, but if HE didn't there would be no story...)  The mask transforms Ipkiss into...Jim Carrey.  (OK so it transforms him into The Mask, but it is essentially Jim Carrey, and good thing too, since that's who is playing him.) Ipkiss has the usual run ins with the usual bad guys, and through a series of missteps that end up working in his favor, he, as The Mask, manages to save the day.  But is it really all in a day's work?

Raph Hinkley is yet another dweeb with the luck of the angels, or in this case the aliens.  He's a substitute teacher who, on a field trip with his students is given a special superhero suit by an alien force, which he is instructed to use to do good, fighting for truth justice and the American way, and all that crap. But Hinkley being the bumbling fool he is, loses the instruction manual.  He becomes The Greatest American Hero, virtually by luck, since he has to learn by trial and hero how the damn thing works.  And often it is error that causes him to save the day, fortunately for him.  He never actually gets a true superhero name, but he refers to himself, on occasion, as "Captain Crash" and Captain Gonzo".  (I guess "Super Dweeb" was already taken by some other hero.)

Melvin Ferd (Mitch Cohen)  is just your typical 98 pound weakling, a guy who is picked on by every muscle-brained jock in the health club where he works. One fine day he is being chased around and ends up falling out a window into an inconveniently place canister of toxic waste.  What is a can of toxic waste doing outside the window of a health club? Well, how else would you get the dweeb in it?  You think he's gonna jump in it to hide...?  Ferd is transformed into a powerful superhuman creature known as The Toxic Avenger and fights bad guys, doing the job so well he becomes a hero, although not to the Mayor of the city who wants him eliminated.  (You have to watch the movie to find out why the Mayor wants him eliminated, although this comment in itself is probably a clue...)

Another luckless fool who is changed by nuclear waste is Super Fuzz.  Dave Speed (Terrence Hill)  is just your average Joe who has graduated the police academy and on his first mission is sent to deliver a parking ticket to a member of the local Indian reservation.  (Don't ask why he is being sent instead of leaving the ticket on the culprit's car, it will only confuse you.)  The reservation, however, has been evacuated because it is to be the grounds for a nuclear test.  Dave doesn't die from being in the middle of the bomb site, instead he is transformed with super powers.    Which he uses with some serious ineptitude, but still manages to come out on top.

There are plenty of other heroes who just barely make the grade in the superhero world, including Blankman, a nerd who becomes a sort of poor man's Batman (with Damon Wayans in the title role), Underdog, a crime dog reject beagle who gets exposed to various chemicals that give it super powers, an actor (John Ritter) who becomes convinced he is really the superhero he is only pretending to be (Hero At Large) and a couple of heroes that are sure to offend the more timid souls that read this blog, like Orgazmo (a Mormon who becomes a porn star superhero) and Supertwink (a gay superhero).   The world needs more humor, so why not in its superheroes?

Now if you'll excuse me I must be off.  Time to save the world for the nuts, fruitcakes and malcontent bozos who are really my people.   DADADA!


Thursday, February 8, 2018

David Morrell & First Blood

This is my entry in the O Canada! Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings

David Morrell was born in Kitchener, ON in Canada in 1943.  His most famous creation is that of John J. Rambo, a US Special Forces veteran of the Vietnam war.  That's right.  The loose cannon made famous by Sylvester Stallone, who first appeared in 1982 as Rambo, and spawned, as of today three sequels, was the brainchild of a Canadian author.

Morrell's first published novel was First Blood.  It was well received, for the most part, and was immediately optioned for a movie.  However, the rights to the script bounced around Hollywood for 10 years before anyone ever really made a concerted effort to produce it.

In the interim, Morrell continued to write.  He tried his hand in multiple genres.   He wrote Last Reveille, a western and The Totem, a horror novel.  He also wrote a fantasy novellette (which I only just discovered) called The Hundred Year Christmas.

But his niche turned out to be in the thriller and spy genre.  His second most famous creation (at least to fans of Morrell like me) is the story of the orphans who were trained to be assassins in the trilogy of The Brotherhood of the Rose, The Fraternity of the Stone and The League of Night and Fog.

He has recently delved into historical detective fiction.  Murder as a Fine Art began an ongoing series which has Thomas De Quincey (of  Confessions of an English Opium-Eater fame) as the central character, trying to solve crimes in 19th century England.  These are good both as crime novels and as an educational look into the Victorian era of English history.  Hopefully it won't be long before Hollywood comes calling again.  I don't think I've ever read a Morrell book that didn't entertain me.  They are all hard to put down.

In the 10 years that it took before bringing the First Blood to the big screen, there were many phases.  Early on, some actors who were considered for the role of Rambo (he was just Rambo in the novel, by the way.  He didn't get a first name until the film), were Clint Eastwood and Robert DeNiro.  Other names were presented as time went by and actors got too old to play the part.  Among them were Paul Newman, Al Pacino, Nick Nolte and even John Travolta.  (You should know each one was still young enough to pull off playing the character at the time they were considered, although both Newman and Eastwood were in their early 40's at the time they were in consideration...)

The final holders of the rights were Carolco Productions and the producers settled on Ted Kotcheff, who personally selected Sylvester Stallone as the anti-hero Rambo.

Kirk Douglas was originally signed to play Colonel Trautman, but quit because he wanted Rambo to die at the end of the film, which he actually does in the novel.  (BTW, if you think it's a spoiler to reveal he doesn't die in the movie, maybe you missed the part earlier where I said there were three sequels...)  Rock Hudson was also approached for the role, but had to bow out due to health reasons.  The role finally went to Richard Crenna, who had first gotten his start in radio.  (He was Walter Denton on the radio and TV versions of Our Miss Brooks, among others).  Character actor Brian Dennehy was cast as the sheriff and it was to be his breakthrough role.

Although the movie ostensibly takes place in Washington state, the movie was actually filmed in British Columbia, and the real town of Hope, BC was the setting for the fictional town of Hope, WA.  According to background details, all the weaponry used in the film had to actually be imported from the US, and apparently some of it went missing (as in stolen)  before the movie wrapped.

The movie held the #1 spot for movie sales for three weeks running and was in the top 20 of money makers for the 1982 calendar year.

First Blood (1982):

An itinerant wanderer appears on the scene.  It is John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), a veteran of the Vietnam War, who is looking for friends from his fighting days.  It isn't in the cards however, because he finds out that the fellow soldier he fought with in the war died the previous summer from cancer, brought on by the chemicals the government used in the war (agent Orange).

Rambo tosses his address book in the fire and becomes a nomad, but in the late 70's early 80's, as even now, people without a goal in life are viewed with suspicion.  When wandering through the town of Hope (now there's a misnomer) Rambo is stopped by police chief Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) and escorted unceremoniously out of town.  But apparently Rambo has reached his breaking point at being a discarded unwanted presence and attempts to go back into town.  

He is arrested for vagrancy. Being treated like a second-class citizen is one thing, but the rough way the police treat Rambo causes flashbacks from when he was a POW in Vietnam.  Now Rambo was a member of an elite assault team of the Green Berets, so he knows how to himself in dire situations.  He escapes the town and heads for the hills.  But this doesn't set well with the macho-minded police.  They intend to go get him and bring him back.  (No exactly a good idea in retrospect)

Rambo lives on what he can find.  He finds an old tarp which he fashions into a cloak.  (It is in the middle of winter when he escapes, dressed only in a t-shirt and jeans, the rest of his clothes left behind during his escape). Meanwhile Teasle and an army of deputies go into the woods searching for him.

Being a Green Beret and the ultimate survivalist, and having knowledge of how to use his skills to build traps and the like makes Rambo a dangerous target, however.  But despite how bloody the reputation this and the rest of the Rambo movies have, very few people actually die in the film (as opposed to the novel where Rambo takes out all but Teasle of the posse from the town).

Ultimately Rambo escapes from capture in the woods and takes the battle into the town.  With the National Guard and various other police forces on the lookout, he still manages to trash the town and ultimately exacts a sort of revenge on his tormentor, Teasle.  The only thing that keeps him from ending up destroying everything is the appearance of his mentor, Col. Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna).  Trautman is the only person whom Rambo actually respects, and the denouement when Trautman and Rambo actually meet is a bit heart-wrenching, although it does come off a bit maudlin.

 The rest of the Rambo movies were a bit hit or miss in their portrayals.  I particularly liked Rambo: First Blood Part II, but Rambo III, although entertaining, does not  work as well for me.  Fortunately the fourth Rambo movie made up for it.  There is currently a remake of the original movie in the works, a Bollywood effort (India's version of Hollywood).  If I get a chance to see it, I will give it a fair viewing, but I can't say whether it will come close to the Stallone version.

That's the view from the back seat this time, kiddies.  Hope you make it home without any trouble from hick sheriffs, but take my advice: Get a haircut and get a real job.