Saturday, May 25, 2019

Little Green Men

This is my second entry in the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings, Speakeasy and Shadows and Satin.

It's no wonder Martians are always trying to invade the Earth.  We Earthlings have a greener more hospitable planet conducive to life.  We have resources out the wazoo for making life more comfortable.  And we are definitely in a warmer space zone.  Which everyone and their brother seems to want.

But also it might be because they have an inferiority complex.  Most of them are as ugly as sin, which probably makes date night at the local Martian singles bar a pain in the ass.

Even I could get a date compared to those mugs.

Tim Burton must have had a long list of "favors" in order to garner the cast he got for this movie.  The long list of names above the title include such luminaries as Jack Nicholson, Rod Steiger, Glenn Close, Annette Benning, Pierce Brosnan, Michael J. Fox, Martin Short and Danny DeVito.  It also includes Natalie Portman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lukas Haas, Jim Brown, Pam Grier and, believe it or not, Tom Jones.

Mars Attacks! (1996):

When the Martians finally decide to come to Earth (although God only knows why they would really WANT to), I only hope we are more prepared to meet them than the Earthlings of this movie.   An indecisive President James Dale (Jack Nicholson in one of two roles) can't decide whether to approach the oncoming entourage of Martians with trepidation or with enthusiasm.

Even with advisers like the renowned scientist, Professor Kessler (Pierce Brosnan) urging that they must be coming in peace because, after all, truly intelligent races are not warlike (...are we, Earthlings?  Earthlings...?  Anybody there?  Is this thing on?).

Or General Decker (Rod Steiger) who urges to be wary of them because they are coming in droves and must therefore have nefarious purposes in mind.

Dale's Press Secretary, Jerry Ross (Martin Short) has only the President's popularity in mind, so he can't be counted on to give an opinion that doesn't involve the bottom line of how the President will appear to the people.

And Dale's wife, First Lady Marsha Dale (Glenn Close) is only concerned with how it will look if she is seen with such ugly specimens of interstellar life forms.  Especially if she has to serve them on the Van Buren china.

Meanwhile in the real world (or as real as it gets in Tim Burton's reality), the common people deal with the inevitable realization that we are not the only life in the universe.  In Las Vegas, Art Land (Jack Nicholson again) deals with how he can make a profit off of the coming Martians, while his wife, Barbara (Annette Benning), a new age recovering alcoholic is ecstatic with the idea of how life will improve with the coming of an enlightened race.

In a remote BFE part of the country, Billy-Ray (Jack Black) prepares to be a part of the armed forces who will be present to greet the aliens in Nevada. While his little brother, Richie (Lukas Haas) and the rest of the family send him off.  Billy-Ray and Richie's grandmother, Florence (Sylvia Sidney) is only concerned with getting back to the nursing home and her collection of Slim Whitman records.

Back in Las Vegas, Nathalie Lake (Sarah Jessica Parker), the host of a cable fashion show, finds herself at the front of the pack when she lands an interview with Professor Kessler, despite her boyfriend Jason Stone's (Michael J. Fox) insistence that he and his legitimate news network should be given this plum job.

And former boxing superstar, (now just a glorified bouncer and attraction at one of the gambling casinos), Byron Williams (Jim Brown) is dealing with a less than accommodating boss as well as his estranged wife, Louise (Pam Grier) who is having problems of her own trying to raise their two boys.

Into this mix, bring on the Martians.  When the Martians declare they "come in peace", the hippies in the crowd release a dove, which the Martians incinerate.  And then lay waste to the assembled crowd.  Giving lie, it would seem, that they came in peace...don'tcha think?

But the ever positive crowd behind President Dale insist that the Martians may have just misread the dove factor, that maybe to the Martians a dove meant war.  So what does Dale do?  He invites the Martian ambassador and his coterie to appear before Congress.  Which the Martians waste with gusto.

President Dale: "I want the people to know they still have 2 out of 3 branches of the government working for them, and that ain't bad."

The Martians have everything going for them.  If you've seen War of the Worlds or Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, you know that alien technology almost always trumps whatever feeble attempts the earthlings can pull out of their proverbial pockets.  (Can't we all just get along...?)

But just when it seems like we might all have to die (or at least learn how to say "Yassuh, Massa!" in Martian), the bizarre wit of Tim Burton comes into play.  How the Martians are defeated is well worth sitting through this film. If that sounds as a bit like the film is a drag before the ending comes, it's not.  This is one of Burton's funniest films and is cool on so many levels.  The CGI Martians not the least of them.

But just when you think the nightmare is over, along comes Tom Jones, crawling out of a cave to sing "It's Not Unusual"...  (Hey, I warned you Tom Jones was in this thing at the beginning...)

Well, folks, time to head home.  The world is safe once again from those disgusting Martians.  Now if someone could just do something about all those politicians...  Drive safely, folks.


Friday, May 24, 2019

Road Rage

This is my first entry in the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy, Silver Screenings and Shadows and Satin

Here he comes!  Machine Gun Joe!  Loved by thousands, hated by millions!

Yessiree!  They don't come any badder!  Darth Vader eat your heart out.  Machine Gun Joe Viterbo could run rings around your black-caped ass and have time to eat a stromboli or two in between acts.

Machine Gun Joe, who has the second best record in the annual Death Race runs has a deep and abiding hatred of his rival Frankenstein, the only other two-time winner of the Death Race and the only one who has a better record than Viterbo.  But Viterbo hates being second best in anything.  (Which is why I won't even put him below Darth Vader on the bad guy list.  Strangulation I can deal with.  But a couple hundred machine gun bullets?  That'd hurt...)

Death Race 2000 (1975):

In the year 2000, the world is a vision of dystopia that seems somewhat familiar today.  Albeit one in which America has somehow garnered a President-for-life dictator. The President, in all his magnanimous glory, has established an annual race in which all of the racers are given the task of racing across the United States from New York to Los Angeles.  The first one to arrive in Los Angeles is not necessarily the winner, however.

Because in the violence loving future, the racers have an added goal of running over any civilians they can find in their path.  Points are given based on the age of the victim and these are accrued to their score.  So technically, a racer could arrive in LA first, but still be second in the winner's bracket because he or she didn't kill enough people en route.

The racers are a hodgepodge of tropes, much like the WWF of today.  And each racer has their own navigator/sidekick who helps the driver achieve his or her goal.  .You have Matilda the Hun ( Roberta Collins) and her second, "Herman the German" (Fred Grandy; Gopher from "The Love Boat") who are a Nazi-themed duo.

You have Nero the Hero (Martin Kove) and Cleopatra (Leslie McRay), who are Roman gladiators.

You have Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov) and Pete (William Shephard) who are Western heroes.

You have the favorite star Frankenstein (David Carradine), who in the tradition of all Frankenstein's is supposedly pieced together with spare parts after numerous accidents in previous races, along with his navigator, Annie Smith (Simone Griffith).

And then you have Machine Gun Joe Viterbo (Sylvester Stallone), a gangster with his moll, Myra (Louisa Moritz).

Frankenstein, for his part, is just another driver, although he has been saddled with a new navigator.  Unbeknownst to him, Annie is the granddaughter of Thomasina Paine (Harriet Medin), the leader of a resistance group determined to bring down the Death Race and to overthrow the rule of the President.

The race begins with a real bang as Viterbo shows up, and hearing the cheers for Frankenstein and boos for him opens up fire on the stadium.  Those kills don't count, Joe.  You gotta run them over, not shoot them...  Joe does have some sense of the rules though.  And at one point he takes out his own pit crew.  Which the judges determine counts in the total of his "kills".

The race takes off, and Joe scores first.  But the fly in the ointment is the resistance group who aren't above setting up traps to kill the drivers in order to achieve their goals.  They lure the drivers into apparently easy kills only to have them blown up or drive off a cliff (through a fake detour tunnel, shades of Coyote/Roadrunner cartoons!)

Eventually, of course, it comes down to our two "heroes"; Frankenstein and Viterbo.  And with Frankenstein apparently swayed over to the side of the resistance by Annie, that leaves only Viterbo to fight for for the good old American Way of violence at all costs.

Some of the better side scenes come from the trio of commentators who give the play by play action.  Harold (Carle Bensen), a Howard Cosell knockoff, gives a straight forward no-nonsense account.

Grace Pander (Joyce Jameson) is the on the scenes girl, with a penchant for calling all the riders "a dear dear friend of mine".

And Junior Bruce (played by disc jockey "The Real Don Steele") is a riot as an over the top play-by play guy.

The dark comic aspect of the film may be missed by some due to the bloodshed on screen, but Paul Bartel, the director of the film, as an eye for real black comedy.  You should check out Eating Raoul, another of Bartel's genius black comedies, for a true look at his bizarre wit. Lust in the Dust is also worth a look.  Bartel only directed a handful of films, and may be more recognizable as a character actor.  (he has 91 credits as an actor).  But among Roger Corman's impressive list of "discoveries" in the field of directorship, Bartel stands out as one of the best in  my opinion.

Stallone was still a year away from true stardom with his role in Rocky, but this movie  represents an excellent window into the kind of character with which he would make a name for himself, as a gung-ho don't give a rat's ass about the rules type of guy.

Well, folks, that revving sound you hear is me firing up the old Plymouth.  Drive safely, folks.  (After all, this is only a movie.  We don't actually have  a Death Race...yet...)



Saturday, May 18, 2019

Buddy Buddy Cop Cop

This is my entry in the Cops Blogathon hosted by Dubsism

I love buddy cop movies.  Most of them have two disparate characters who get on each others nerves, which kind of reminds me of my relationships with some of my male friends.  (I'm always the oddball one, in case you couldn't guess).  In 1987 Mel Gibson teamed up with Danny Glover to release the first of one of the better buddy cop movie series.  The original Lethal Weapon paired veteran police sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), just turning 50 and on the verge of retiring with a loose cannon, somewhat suicidal sergeant, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), who look in on a suspicious suicide.

The movie spawned three more sequels, with additional characters coming on board over the span of the series.  Including Darlene Love and Traci Wolfe as Murtaugh's wife and oldest daughter respectively, we also got the addition of Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), a loud-mouth whistle blower turned real estate agent and then private detective and Lorna Cole (Rene Russo), an internal affairs officer with whom Riggs eventually develops a relationship in later sequels to the original movie.

Although the first Lethal Weapon introduced us to the main characters, I think by far the best of the four was the second one.  South Africa's apartheid was a popular bugaboo in the 80's, with both Cry Freedom and the British TV bio Mandela having come out in 1987.  Due to world wide public outcry the discrimination that occurred in South Africa was finally drawing to a close.

But Hollywood still had a couple of aces up it's sleeves.  For Lethal Weapon II the studio created not only a racist villain, but one who had a huge drug laundering operation in the States. Although Joss Ackland and Derrick O'Connor  basically come off as caricatures, the film has some excellent moments.

Lethal Weapon II (1989):

Opening up on a car chase (one of the best ways to open an action movie if you ask me), Riggs and Murtaugh are chasing down a suspect in Murtaugh's wife's station wagon.   The radio is alive with chatter, both from the cops and from the suspects (who are speaking a foreign language).  Upon wrecking his car, one of the suspects escapes, leaving behind a trunk full of gold kruegerrands.

Having made a complete mess of Los Angeles (as they seem wont to do), Riggs and Murtaugh are given an assignment to babysit a federal witness, Leo Getz (Joe Pesci).  Getz is scheduled to spill the beans about a drug laundering scheme that h had with some shady drug dealers.  Being Hollywood movie background, it should be no surprise that the drug dealers are the same foreigners that the cops were chasing in the first scene.

At the head of the organization is diplomatic attache Arjen Rudd (Joss Ackland) and his number two man Pieter Vorstedt (Derrick O'Connor).  They are Dutch South Africans, and Rudd in particular is fond of using his "diplomatic Immunity" to get out of any entanglements with the police due to his nefarious dealings.  And of course, we have the racist tendencies to deal with, as Rudd and his crew hate the fact that one of the officers involved, Murtaugh, is a kaffir ( a term that could easily be the N word to you and me).

Murtaugh and Riggs, being the rebels that they are, with the help of Getz try to take down Rudd and his gang.  And the South Africans do everything within their power to discourage such activity, including a spree of killing off as many of the officers involved in the investigation as they can.

Riggs begins an affair with the consulate secretary, Rika Van Den Haus (Patsy Kensit), and she reveals a few mostly insignificant details to him, but the cartel views her acts as sabotage anyway.  So it comes as no surprise when Riggs, who was captured and tossed into the ocean finds her dead body.  He also finds out that the cartel was responsible for the death of his wife (see the first film, which reveals the story, although not the details).

Ultimately it comes down to the two buddies to take on the cartel alone.  And chaos and mayhem ensue.  You just have to see the destruction of the "house on stilts", even if the scene may be unrealistic in real life.  (Either that or that damn truck has more power than I would have ever guessed a truck could have.)

Ultimately, there are some great moments, both in action and in dialogue.  Don't miss the rubber plant.

Drive safely, folks.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Time and Time Again

This is my entry in the It's a Young World Blogathon hosted by Pop Culture Reverie

Back to the Future (1985), Back to the Future II (1989) and Back to the Future III (1990):

Marty Mc Fly (Michael J. Fox) is a typical teenager of the 80's.  He has dreams of being a rock star, getting into the panties of his girlfriend and just surviving high school.  That third part may not be so easy since Principal Strickland (James Tolkan) has an abiding dislike for slackers.  Strickland was around when Marty's father was a student at Hill Valley High School and doesn't think much of his family.

Strickland also looks down on Marty because Marty has a habit of hanging around the town weirdo, Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd).  "Doc" has a lot of eccentric ideas, and his latest thing is a time machine.

Wait a minute, Doc... Are you telling me you built a time machine...out of a DeLorean? -Marty:

Doc has a time machine, yes. Made out of a DeLorean.  (For those of you who were born post 1983, the DeLorean Motor Company made a brief blot on car history, but it was basically just a classy looking dud )

Doc built it based on an idea he had in 1955, and it took him 30 years to do it, but it works.  Unfortunately, he made it by hoodwinking some Libyan terrorists into thinking that the plutonium they stole was going to be used for a bomb, but he gave them some defective stuff and is using the plutonium to power the time machine.  And of course, the terrorists come looking for him.

Marty uses the car/time machine to try to escape, which, when it hits 88mph turns into the time machine.  Which sends Marty back to the day that Doc came up with the idea of a time machine back in 1955.

It also happens to be the day that Marty's mom and dad first met.  But along with the typical fish out of water flick as Marty deals with an 80's mentality in the 50's, there is an added twist.  Marty interferes with the meeting of his parents and instead of Mom falling in love with Dad, she falls in love with Marty.  (uh-oh).

Now Marty and his history is gradually disappearing as he has created a classic time travel paradox.  Before he and the 1950's Doc can arrange to somehow get him back to his future, he first has to arrange for his parents to fall in love, otherwise he won't have a future to get back to.

As a window into 50's teens, it does have some flaws.  (my parents were teenagers in the 50's, so I had some background to research it.  It seems more like an 80's view of what the 50's were like rather than an actual window into the 50's, but it is still fun.)

Of course, eventually Marty does manage to get his parents together and return to the present, although there are a few changes.  Nothing drastic like the future the time traveler returned to in Ray Bradbury's classic story A Sound of Thunder, but in terms of his own present there are a few changes.

Back to the Future II picks up where the first movie left off, with Doc, having returned from the (then) future of 2015 to get Marty to go with him to help save his kids.  The future of 2015 had flying cars (and imagine the disappointment when 2015 has come and gone and I still don't have a flying car...) and a myriad of other neat little things, some of which we do have.

The future Marty is living a life not quite unlike his father in the pre-time travel present of the first movie.  It is established that his dream career of being a rock star went down the tubes after an accident that occured when he was a teenager.  (Marty hates to be called "chicken" and gets into a lot of trouble throughout the second and third movies as a result.)

Marty's son, Marty, Jr. (also played by Fox) is on the verge of ruining his future because he is going to get into an illegal act with the local bully.  Marty has to pose as his son, which he can do since he is the same age.  But in the process of doing so, his girlfriend, who came along for the ride, ends up at his future home and they have to rescue her.

As an added twist, Marty, thinking only of himself, buys a copy of a sports almanac which tells the results of every sporting event from the 50's to the 200's.  But Doc makes him throw it away.  Only Biff (Thomas F. Wilson), a nemesis of his father in the 50's, now an old man, fishes it out of the trash, and using Docs time machine, takes it back to the 50's and gives it to his younger self.

Which makes for an extremely tough time when Marty and Doc return to the present.  Because they return to a present in which Biff has become top dog of Hill Valley, and the "present" is nothing like the present that Doc and Marty left when they went to 2015.  They determine that the only solution is to go back to 1955 and prevent future Biff from giving past Biff the book.

Potential paradoxes abound as Marty not only has to interact with some of the same characters but he also has to avoid running into the other Marty who is also still in the 1955 scenario.  Confusing?  Well, not if you are up on time travel theories.  Michio Kaku, a astrophysics theorist who has written about such things says they got the whole thing right in an interview on my DVD.

The second movie ends with a cliffhanger as Doc, in the time machine, is zapped by a lightning bolt and ends up in the Old West of the 1880's.  Marty is seemingly stranded in 1955, until a Western Union man delivers a message that has been held for the past 70 years to direct Marty in to how to return to the future (his present).

But in Back to the Future III, Marty ignores the future Doc's request that he not come back to get him, because he finds out that Doc was to be killed by an outlaw.  So using the 1955 Doc's help, Marty goes back to 1885.  Talk about a fish out of water.  Marty, who has decided to use the alias of "Clint Eastwood" gets together with Doc and tries to finagle a way to get the time machine back to the present.  Which is inhibited by the fact that there is no gasoline in 1885, thus no way to get the car up to the requisite 88mph on its own power.

Not only that, but Doc has acquired a love interest in the person of a local schoolmarm (Mary Steenburgen).  A schoolmarm who, by the way, was supposed to have died in a wagon accident, but was rescued by Doc before said accident occurred.

The whole Back to the Future saga will keep you on your toes in terms of it's scientific theories.  But fear not.  Even if you aren't quite up-to-date on potentials for paradoxes, it is still a hoot.

This old Plymouth couldn't get up to 88mph even with a shove by a jet engine, but it will get me home.  Drive safely, folks.


Friday, May 10, 2019

The Eyes Have It

This is my entry in the Joan Crawford Blogathon hosted by The Pale Writer and The Poppity.

After The Twilight Zone went off the air, Rod Serling tried his hand at a few other projects, including a TV western called The Loner and the screenplay for the first Planet of the Apes film.  Eventually he put is hand in the cookie jar that made a name for him with the Zone by developing an entirely new series called Night Gallery.  The premise of this series was a private nighttime viewing of some of the more odd paintings in an art gallery, shown to the audience by Serling himself.  The two or three segments in each episode stemmed off these odd paintings.

Some of the guest stars were familiar names, not only in TV but in the movies.  Joan Crawford, who starred in one segment of the pilot episode was not the only big name.  Larry Hagman, John Astin, Imogene Coca and Burgess Meredith, all familiar TV names appeared in episodes, as did Leslie Nielsen, Barry Fitzgerald, Vincent Price, Sally Field... the list goes on and on.  And a few future stars from behind the camera made some of their early work on the show.  John Badham, director of such classics as Saturday Night Fever, the 1979 version of Dracula and WarGames got his start on the Gallery as did the director of today's entry, Steven Spielberg.  (And, BTW, this episode actually predates was it commonly referenced as his debut, Duel, by a year or so.)

Joan Crawford was born in 1906 in my home state of Texas (San Antonio, to be exact), as Lucille LeSueur.  She had a remarkable career in film.  Starting out as a dancer on stage, she gravitated towards Hollywood where, within 3 years, she was getting star status.  Arguably her best early performance was in the film Grand Hotel.  She never had to look back after that.

Spoiler alert! By necessity I have to reveal the ending to this episode.  If you wish to watch the episode first that's fine.

Night Gallery (episode "Eyes" original broadcast Nov. 8, 1969):

Claudia Menlo (Joan Crawford) is a bitter, selfish woman. She has been blind since birth, but has a lot of money, so she should be happy.  But she is not.  She wants to see, even if only for a brief time.

As a result, she has made a deal with a poor shlub, Sidney Resnick (Tom Bosley).  Resnick is an inveterate gambler who is in debt to a bookie for $9000, and has made a deal with Ms. Menlo: to donate his eyes to her for the money to pay off his gambling debts.

But she needs a doctor to perform the surgery.  Fortunately her private doctor, Dr. Heatherton (Barry Sullivan) has the necessary skills.  But he refuses to do it.  That of course is no obstacle for Ms. Menlo.  She has some incriminating evidence against the doctor with which she can blackmail him.

See, some time ago the poor doctor succumbed to that evil temptation that happens to some married men.  He had an affair with a woman who was not his wife.  The result was that he got the girl pregnant, and then encouraged her to have an abortion.  And since he had a reputation and a marriage to protect, and abortion was still illegal at this point in time, the doctor to whom he sent her to perform it was less than reputable and the poor girl died on the operating table.

Ms. Menlo is not above doing anything to get her way.  She is a selfish old hag and tells Dr. Heatherton she will ruin his career and his marriage if he does not perform the eye transplant.  The doctor reluctantly performs the operation.  But not without warning his patient that the procedure  may have limited success.  At best she can only hope for about 12 hours of sight before the transplant fails.  But for this limited time, Ms. Menlo is willing to follow through.

After the operation, Dr. Heatherton warns that she should take it easy and expose herself to light gradually.  He then leaves her, intentionally turning on the bright living room light as he leaves.  Impatiently, Ms. Menlo removes the bandages quickly, but finds herself staring at the bright light of the chandelier.  Then everything goes black.

But this twist is not the final denouement.  As she stumbles around in the darkness we are gradually exposed to the truth.  There has been a blackout in the city.  Ms. Menlo has the misfortune of gaining eyesight only to be plunged into total darkness again by fate.

As day breaks, she does finally get to see.  She finds herself gazing at a beautiful sunrise.

But even as she looks at it, the operation's success gradually runs out of time.  She reaches out pleadingly as the new eyes go blind again, inadvertently pressing against her penthouse window, which is cracked from the previous night's flailing and tumbles out to her death.

Night Gallery continued in it's tradition of "just desserts", as Ms. Menlo gets a comeuppance that she truly deserves.  This proved to be one of Crawford's final appearances on film as she passed away a few years later from a heart attack, but it is one of the better late film portrayals.

Time to fire up the Plymouth for the drive home.  Drive safely, folks.