Friday, June 22, 2018

Love (Or Something Like It)

Every few years there are movies that come along that can be said to "define a generation".  From The Wizard of Oz to Casablanca to Rebel Without a Cause to Easy Rider to Star Wars to The Big Chill (and maybe even Harry Potter), certain movies just cross all the boundaries and exhibit what is generally assumed to be the quintessential example of what a movie is that one thinks of as the evocative example from a generation.  One that, if you mention a certain decade, is usually the first movie that comes to mind, and one that most people who grew up in that particular decade remember fondly.  Essentially they are the best example of how the people of that particular generation viewed the world around them.

This isn't one of them.

Porky's was one of the first in a long line of movies from the 80's that centered on the sex-obsessed teenager.  It featured a cast that most people would be hard-pressed to think of any other movie they had been in. Although, unlike a couple of movies I've reviewed in past entries, the stars of this one did go on to more roles in Hollywood films and TV.  But with the exception of Kim Cattrall, I'll bet you can't peg any of them.  (I must admit however that it was during a re-watch of Caddyshack and seeing Scott Colomby (who played one of the caddies in that film), that I was reminded that he also appears in this one (as the Jewish kid).

The movie itself is pretty basic, raunchy 80's teen sex comedy in a barrel.  It's geared towards the young adult male (or at least the young adult male in the early 80's, of which I was one.)  It was directed by Bob Clark whom many of you will recognize as the director of the classic A Christmas Story.  His previous output had been mostly horror movies, including Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things and Black Christmas.  He also directed one of more intriguing Sherlock Holmes pastiches, Murder by Decree.

Porky's (1981):

The movie takes place in the fictional southern Florida town of Angel Beach. With the exception of a few rare scenes, the basic gist of the movie is a bunch of horny high school students and their efforts to get in the sack with members of the opposite sex.  The main star of the film is a kid named "Peewee" (Dan Monahan), who is particularly enthusiastic about the venture because he is still a virgin.

Several vignettes play out through the movie, including a bunch of pranks that some of the other guys pull on Peewee (mostly because he is just a gullible foil).  There is also a recurring scene where the boys use a hidden place to spy on the girls when they are taking a shower.  (And one of the funniest scenes is when Miss Balbricker (Nancy Parsons), the bull of a female teacher, discovers the boys' hiding place.

The boys end up deciding that the solution to their sexual frustrations is to go across the county line to a strip club (and secretly, a whorehouse), to get some action.  The place is called Porky's and is owned by a man who really deserves the moniker...Porky (Chuck Mitchell).

But plans go awry when Porky takes the kids' money but dumps them in the swamp.  Then the sheriff shows up (Alex Karras), who is actually Porky's brother, and is in the back pocket of Porky.  They run the boys off, but one of the boys, a foolhardy kid named Mickey (Roger Wilson) continues to try to go back to get satisfaction of the return of the money.  And gets the crap beat out of him.

The boys, with the help of the new Jewish kid, Brian (Scott Colomby), devise a plan that will be just what you'd expect from one of these kinds of movies.  Interestingly enough, Mickey's brother, Ted (Art Hindle) a police officer in Angel Beach, doesn't have a whole hell of a lot of love for his fellow neighboring law enforcement brothers or for Porky (he was a victim of Porky's bad business practices himself a few years earlier).  Ted helps the boys in their scheme and then is instrumental in a final confrontation in Angel Beach when Porky and the sheriff arrive.

Obviously this one is not one to watch with the kids.  For that matter, unless your significant other is rather liberal in her attitudes, you guys might want to send the girls out of the room, too.

Drive home safely, folks.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Love on the Rocks

This is my entry for the Sex! Blogathon hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog

Bridget Bardot was the sex goddess of her day.  Admittedly she didn't have the acting chops of, say, a Bette Davis or a Katherine Hepburn, but she was hotter than a 3 dollar bill on screen.  Contempt (or it's French title Le Mephis, which actually translates as "doubt") was a film by Jean-Luc Godard.  It was based on a novel by Italian author Alberto Moravia (who also gave us the inspiration for two other classic movies, Two Women and The Conformist). It is the story of a deterioration of a marriage, and yet, somehow, is one of the sexiest movies every made.  (And not just because Bardot has a couple of scenes in the all-together...)

Contempt (1963): 

The film opens with a scene with Camille (Bardot) and her her husband, Paul Laval (Michel Piccoli), lyting in bed.  Camille, beginning with her feet, enumerates her various body parts and asks Paul if he loves them.  Paul eventually confesses that he loves every part of her, individually and as a whole.

Paul has recently acquired the job of doing rewrites on  a movie set.  The movie is being directed by Fritz Lang (playing himself), but the producer, Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance), doesn't like the direction the movie is going.  (Given that the movie is an adaptation of Homer's The Odyssey, one would think sticking to the original story would be logical, but this is the French version of Hollywood, so...)

 Prokosch is an arrogant bastard, a man who thinks his way is right and will do anything to get his way.  He belittles Lang because Lang's version of the movie is not what he wants.  (For one thing, he wants more naked bodies in it.) 

The key scene is when Prokosch invites Camille to ride to his villa with Paul left to catch a taxi.  Paul does not demand that his wife ride with him; instead he lets Prokosch take her in his two seater sports car.  Paul arrives late, claiming there had been an accident on the road.  Of course, Camille doesn't believe him. Apparently Camille comes to the conclusion that Paul is essentially trying to prostitute her to Prokosch in order to advance his career.  (Note: in the novel, the accident really does happen, but apparently Godard wanted to have his audience unsure of what really happened on the road.)

The middle of the movie is the breakdown of the relationship between Paul and Camille.  Paul turns out to be a whiny insecure twit, one who constantly badgers Camille to explain her reactions; i.e. why she seems to have fallen out of love with him.  His ego refuses to let him be a sensitive sort and just take her in his arms and tell her his love has never failed for her.  Which is probably what she really wants.  Thus her attitude with him changes from love to outright disgust.

This is not a romantic movie, it's not even really a sexy movie, to put it rightly.  So why do I think it's sexy?  Because I tend to put myself in Paul's shoes and can see that what I would do would be different.  In the movie that I would make with Bardot, we would reconcile our differences tout suite, and instead of Camille leaving Paul in the dust, we would leave the studio and Prokosch and Lang behind, and find another way to get the money.

But then I am a romantic at heart.   So I think I have the solution to every marital difficulty I see on the screen.  Not that Camille is not without her own faults.  If Paul is to be believed, Camille may be a bit on the greedy side.  He thinks she wants to live in luxury, which is why Paul took the scriptwriting job in the first place.

Drive home safely, folks.



Thursday, June 7, 2018

Death of a Soldier

In 1984 I was vacillating on what to do with an up until then haphazard college career.  Having spent most of two years just taking what interested me with no degree plan in sight, and with a year and a half off in the working world doing nothing but earning a living, I had no real goal.  I had always had an avid interest in history, especially the early twentieth century, the generation preceding my birth (which was 1961).

What attracted me initially to A Soldier's Story was that interest in life during WWII.   I had never heard of most of the stars in the movie.  The 1981 film Carbon Copy had featured Denzel Washington, but this was only his second film and although I knew the actor from the previous film, I had not seen him since.  (He spent several years on the TV show St. Elsewhere in between the two feature films, but I never watched that show, so this was only the second time for me to see him on screen).

As far as the rest of the cast, well, most of them were unknowns.  David Alan Grier was still years away from his fame on In Living Color, this only being his second film.  David Harris, whom some may recognize from The Warriors, had also been in very few movies.  (Norman Jewison in his commentary on today's movie says this was Harris' first movie, but Jewison is in error.  It may have been his first role with any "meat" on it, but he had been in at least 3 other feature films, including the aforementioned Warriors.)

Adolph Caesar, the Oscar nominated supporting actor for his role as Sgt. Waters, had been mostly on Broadway in the theater.  His credits included a few gigs as the voice-over narration for some theatrical trailers, but only a couple of bit parts on screen before this.  The only real name star, at the time, was Howard E. Rollins, Jr., who had been nominated himself for an Oscar for his role in Ragtime.

A lot of the reasoning for such a cast of unknowns was due to the worries that Columbia Pictures had about the commercial prospects of an essentially all-black cast and of a WWII picture.  They initially only granted $5 million to Jewison to make it.  (And he was lucky to get that.  Several other studios had turned it down outright.  This despite the fact that Charles Fuller, the author of the original play, had won a Pulitzer for Drama for the story.)  Jewison says they had to scramble to find authentic looking locations, due to budget constraints that wouldn't allow them to build sets.  He also says that he volunteered to do the film for free, but the Director's Guild nixed that, so instead he took the minimum pay allowed by the union.  But he got a piece of the gross, so he made out anyway.

Everybody involved in the movie put out great performances.   The movie garnered several Oscar nods, including Best Picture..

A Soldier's Story (1984):

In 1944 in rural Louisiana, a black sergeant, Sgt. Waters (Adolph Caesar), is killed.  The brass in DC send a black captain, Capt. Davenport (Howard Rollins, Jr.) to investigate.  The request stems from the white Captain in charge of the black regiment, Capt. Taylor (Dennis Lipscomb), who had been pestering his superior, Col. Nivens (Trey Wilson) to have it done.

Of course, Taylor never expected the brass to send a black investigator.  Given the climate of rural Louisiana at the time, and the fact that Taylor is positive that the Ku Klux Klan is involved, he would have preferred a white officer, but he is stuck with what he has.  He does attempt to withdraw his request and have the case quietly swept under the doormat, but the wheels are already set in motion.

Davenport begins his investigation by interviewing members of Waters' platoon.  With some excellent flashbacks, Davenport is given an impression of what a hard, cynical man that Waters was. Some of his platoon exhibit some hostility towards the sergeant, while others feign at least a reverence for him.

The platoon was basically formed because all of the soldiers could play baseball rather well, and the platoon has been racking up wins every time it plays.  One of the players, C. J. Memphis (Larry Riley) is a star player.  But Waters dislikes him intensely because he exhibits a backwoods uneducated side that Waters considers to be demeaning to the advancement of the black race.  As long as C. J. is around, Waters thinks, the white race will point him out as an example of the black race and they will never achieve a place in society with him around.

Davenport discovers that two white officers encountered Waters on the road the night he was killed.  Against Nivens' wishes, Davenport demands that he has a chance to interview the two.  While Lt. Byrd (Wings Hauser) exhibits the standard racist views of the time and admits to hostile words with Waters, his companion, Capt. Wilcox (Scott Paulin), adamantly states that he is a medical officer, that their guns were not issued with bullets, and that they left Waters on the road still alive.

Nivens thinks they are lying, but Davenport is convinced of their innocence.  More of the Memphis story is revealed when it is learned that Waters had staged an incident that ends up with C. J.'s arrest.  After C.J. eventually commits suicide while locked up, things deteriorate between many of the platoon members.  In particular, PFC Peterson (Denzel Washington), who has been at loggerheads with Waters throughout his tenure in the Army, has an intense dislike for what waters did to C.J.

The ending may surprise you.  I certainly didn't see it turning out like that.  Aside from Adolph Caesar's Oscar nominated role, some stand outs also are here.  You can see the potential that Denzel Washington had even in this early role.  Rollins also makes a great showing.  I was particularly impressed with Art Evans who has a role as Waters' confidant.  Having seen Evans in numerous roles over the years, and not being particularly impressed wit them, coming back to this one, I wonder what happened.  He certainly shines here.

This movie has an appeal to it.  Even if you are not particularly enamored with war-time drama (and really I don't guess "war-time" is an appropriate tem since it has no battle scenes), this movie can draw you in, especially with the excellent performances.

Drive home safely folks.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Dinosaur Island

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

Edgar Rice Burroughs gave us fantastic tales over a 40 year period of writing.  Of course, everyone knows he was the creator of Tarzan, the boy who was raised by apes.  Many a schoolboy (and girl) has thrilled to the adventures of Tarzan ever since he first appeared on the scene back in 1912.  Many many actors have portrayed Tarzan over the years, including Elmo Lincoln (the first actor to play him, in a 1918 silent era film), Johnny Weismuller, Ron Ely (on TV), Christopher Lambert and most recently Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd.

Burroughs also produced a lesser known, but still just as adventurous hero, in the character of John Carter, a man from Earth who ends up on Mars.  This too was also filmed, in 2012, but was a financial and critical failure.

Given his imaginative mind, it stood to reason that even his lesser known creations would be ripe fodder for filming, and indeed some of them were especially attractive to the drive-in movie makers.  The worlds of Pellucidar (a variation on the Hollow Earth theory) and Caspak (a lost unknown island/continent, renamed Caprona for the movies) both attracted attention for makers of drive-in movie fare.

Amicus Productions, a contemporary of Hammer Films, made movies over a brief 15 year period.  A lot of these were of the shocking horror variety, but towards what turned out to be the end of it's run Amicus made three movies which were based on Burroughs stories.  One was At the Earth's Core (1976), which was based on the aforementioned hollow earth Pellucidar books.  They also made two of Burrough's lost world stories into film.

The Land That time Forgot (1975):

The movie opens with a bottle floating in the ocean.  It is a carrier of the story that follows.  A fisherman on the coast finds it and opens it and reads it, at which point Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure) takes over narrating the events.

A German U-boat sinks a British merchant ship.  Of the survivors, initially it is just Bowen and a lady,  Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon).  Fortunately for them they hook up with another lifeboat containing several officers from the merchant ship.  But things are looking bleak for them because their supplies are limited and the ship was not able to give the Admiralty their location before it went down.

However, the German U-boat is in the vicinity, and the Germans, believing they are safe, surface.  The British commandeer the ship as they catch the Germans unaware.  Then the germans regain the upper hand and take the British prisoners.  Then suddenly the British regain the upper hand and take the Germans prisoners.  (I don't know for sure if all this was necessary to develop a need for later cooperation or if the director was just trying to pad the movie with extra action, but suffice to say that the command of the sub changes several times).

Eventually it turns out through various subterfuges, including the sinking of a German warship that the Germans were trying to contact, it turns out that the sub is hopelessly lost somewhere south of South America.  The two nationalities have to come to some sort of agreement to cooperate or they will never get home.

They end up sailing for the fabled island that a previous navigator had found, the island of Caprona.  The previous navigator never found a suitable landing place, so never got any further than the coast, but since our crew is in a submarine  they can take an underwater entrance.  And boy are they surprised by what they find....

It is an island that is some millions of years behind the times.  Literally.  There are dinosaurs and pterodactyls and cave men a-plenty.  The whole of prehistoric times is encapsulated in the few hundred square miles of this island.  And, it turns out, the island has some secret in which evolution is combined with reincarnation (at least that's how it seems).

Bowen and the rest of the company are stranded on the island until they realize that there is a vast deposit of oil on the island.  And conveniently enough, they have all the equipment they need to convert it into usable fuel for the submarine.  But since they are strangers to the land they attract unwanted attention of the various tribes of cave-men.  The tribes consist, as with the dinosaurs, of various levels of evolution,including a Neanderthal-like tribe, a Cro-Magnon-likle tribe, and others. To make matters worse, the tribes don't like each other much either.

I have to admit, after having seen what CGI can do in movies like Jurassic Park, some of the dinosaurs in this and the sequel look decidedly fake.  In fact a couple of them look like sock puppets. But it's still a rousing adventure of the type that made for good movie attraction back in the late 70's.  And unlike some of the low budget stuff I've reviewed recently, the acting in this one is quite good.

The People That Time Forgot (1977):

The story from the lost Bowen Tyler has spawned a rescue mission.  At the helm is Maj. Ben McBride (Patrick Wayne) who was a childhood friend of Tyler and is leading the mission to rescue him.  He is accompanied by his pilot, Hogan (Shane Rimmer), a scientist, Norfolk (Thorley Walters) and a photographer for the newspaper, Charly (Sarah Douglas), whom McBride resents for coming along, but her father's newspaper is putting up much of the dough to finance the trip so he's stuck with her.

When the ship arrives at the island, of course there is no port for them to anchor, so the four load up on an amphibian airplane and trying to fly inland.  They end up out of radio range of the ship, they are so far inland, and they end up having to fight off a couple of pterodactyls which cause damage to the plane and it is forced to land.

McBride leaves Hogan in charge of making the necessary repairs while he and Charly and Norfolk go off in search of Bowen.  They encounter a young primitive, Ajor (Dana Gillespie). who is running from a pair of evil looking dinosaurs.  After rescuing her, and convincing her they are friends, come to find out that Bowen had taught her and a tribe of others pretty good English.  It seems, though, that she is the last of that tribe, as there is a competing tribe that has been hunting them down.

The competing tribe is a bunch of samurais (hey that's what they look like to me...)  The competing tribe ends up capturing Bowen and troupe and take them back to headquarters in the mountain of Skulls.  (The mountain is an obvious matte painting, but damn, it sure looks impressive.)  It turns out that the spiritual leader of the tribe is a priest, Sabballa  (who looks a lot like Tor Johnson, but is in fact another big time professional wrestler of the era, Milton Reid, better known as "The Mighty Chang").

The plan that Saballa is going to sacrifice the women as wives to the volcano god.  Meanwhile the male members of the troupe have been cast into a dungeon where they find a ragged and haggard looking Bowen, although a Bowen who still has his strength despite having been a captive for some time...  The three men escape from the prison dungeon and rescue the women, inadvertently killing the priest. But that doesn't faze the leader of the samurai warriors, so they aren't completely out of hot water yet.

Once again, the dinosaurs tend to look a little cheesy for someone who has seen how advanced computers have made such things a relic of the past, but given that caveat, both movies are well done and make for a great double feature, one for all ages.  I think you can even let the little ones watch this.

Drive home safe, folks.


Friday, June 1, 2018

A Hippie Gospel

This is my entry in the Broadway Bound Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room

In 1973 two Broadway musicals were released as films.  The more memorable one, based on the proliferation of songs released as singles and it's box office success, was Jesus Christ, Superstar.  But the second film (which was actually released first, chronologically) was in itself a unique movie.  Both ostensibly tell the story of Jesus from the gospels of the Christian Bible but, although Jesus Christ, Superstar cast all the characters as a group of performers enacting the Passion Play in costume, Godspell chose to enact the story with a bunch of hippies in modern day New York City.  Godspell also does not specifically name any of the characters, including that of Jesus (Victor Garber).  The character that is supposed to be representing Jesus is only referred to as "Master" and the rest of the cast, supposedly representing the disciples, are also incognito during the movie.

Godspell (1973):

A character ostensibly representing John the Baptist (David Haskell), playing a shofar, and dragging a elaborately decorated wheelbarrow through New York City, calls several people to leave their stressful lives and join him.   They are drawn to a fountain in Central Park where John baptizes them.

  The Master (Jesus, played by Garber) appears and asks to be baptized. 

The city of New York suddenly becomes deserted.  (Not through some miracle of Jesus, just that in no scenes that take place in the middle of the movie feature any indication that there is anybody else left in the entire city.  Not important to the plot, at least I don't think, but I thought it was interesting that you don't even see any traffic in long shots...)  The cast of 10, The Master, John and 8 disciples seem to be alone in the city.

As mentioned above, the cast members are never addressed by any names.  The credits call them by their actor or actress names, so that Robin Lamont is "Robin",  Lynne Thigpen is "Lynne", Gilmer McCormick is "Gilmer", Merrell Jackson is "Merrell", Jeff Mylett is "Jeffrey", Katie Hanley is "Katie", Joane Jonas is "Joanne" and Jerry Sroka is "Jerry".

Through the film, several teachings and parables are delivered, mostly by the Master, but on a couple of occasions one of the other cast members delivers the teaching.  The only really memorable song, at least in my opinion, is "Day by Day" sung by "Robin".  This song was released as a single and I can remember hearing it on the radio back then as a child.  It made the top 40 peaking at #13 according to Billboard charts.

The movie was based mostly on the Gospel of Matthew, although some segments were taken from other Gospels.  It did garner a bit of criticism, especially from the evangelical community.  Most objections centered on the fact that the movie does not address a resurrection of the Jesus character, an essential point in the story for the Christian religion.  Also at issue was the face painting of the cast, which was viewed as turning the characters into clowns.

Viewed as just a movie with a message, not as a movie that has a message of the divinity of the Christ character, this movie can be very entertaining.  The religious aspect of it may cause some people to teeter over into the negative, either from its lack of a resurrection scene for the evangelical, or just as offensive to people who already have some negative views to religion in general, but watched with an open mind, the music and story is quite good.

Drive home safely, folks.  And be good to each other on the way.