Saturday, December 23, 2023

Different Directions Part1



As I mentioned in a previous blog entry back in 2019, one of my favorite Stephen King books was Different Seasons.  The book consists of four separate novellas by King that depart from the horror genre he is primarily known to publish.  Although I was originally attracted to King's work through what was then a newly released paperback edition of his first collection of short stories, Night Shift, my favorite story after I read was, and still is, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption which is as far away from that typical horror genre as you could possibly get, I expect.

Three of the stories in Different Seasons have made it to the big screen, with only the last story in the book, "The Breathing Method" still awaiting a movie version.  Between 1986 and 1998 we got, in succession, Stand By Me (based on "The Body"), The Shawshank Redemption (based on "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption") and Apt Pupil (based on "Apt Pupil"). 

All three were well done, and two of them even received recognition by the Academy Awards committee. (The only one to not get recognized was Apt Pupil which may have had more to do with the subject matter than anything with the direction of Bryan Singer or the acting of it's two stars, Ian McKellen or Brad Renfro.)

Recently I came across my battered copy of Different Seasons and decided to reread it afresh. And since I have re-inaugurated the blog, I thought why not review the films (which I was astonished to find out I had never delved in to any of them in more than a brief reference.)

An observation from the outset.  It seems. to me anyway,  that one of the overall themes of these films (and the stories behind them) is the loss of innocence. I didn't get that feeling from "The Breathing Method" as a story, so maybe that is part of the reason why it still hasn't been filmed.  Everyone likes a good "loss of innocence" story on one level or another, whether nostalgic, like "The Body", or one that drives a character to greater triumphs, like "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption".  Even the loss of innocence accompanying "Apt Pupil" has a lesson that can be learned.

So here we are.  And since the nostalgia factor was the impetus for re-reading the book and watching these movies again, I think it's fitting that the first entry be on Rob Reiner's production Stand By Me ("The Body")

The movie has an impressive cast. Most of the child actors in the film were just starting out.  This was the first role for Jerry O'Connell (Vern). Wil Wheaton had been in a few TV movies and as an extra in a couple of theatrical releases. River Phoenix also had some TV experience (he was a cast member on a TV show Seven Brides for Seven Brothers ). The member with the most cachet of the primary cast has to be Corey Feldman, however, who had some 30 appearances to his credit, including being a primary cast member of two other 80's "coming of age" movies, Gremlins and The Goonies.

In addition you also had Keifer Sutherland who was just getting his feet wet in the industry, as well as Casey Siemazko.  When you add that such already well established actors as Richard Dreyfuss and John Cusak came on board, you have to realize that Rob Reiner did have some pull in Hollywood, even with only a couple of films under his director's belt. But you can see with this film that Reiner knew what he was doing and his genius as a director would be well established from now on.


Stand By Me (1986):

In 1985 a man sits alone in his car reminiscing.  He has just read about the death of one of his childhood friends as the result of the friend trying to intervene in a bar fight.  The man, a grown up writer (Richard Dreyfuss) is revealed to be Gordie LaChance. He and his friends had an adventure way back in 1959 when they were 12 years old, which becomes the center point for the film. 




Gordie (Wil Wheaton) and his friends, Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman) and Vern (Jerry O'Connell) sit in their clubhouse playing cards and just doing things kids that age did. Vern reveals that he overheard his older brother, Billy (Casey Siemaszko) and his friend Charlie (Gary Riley) discussing having found the dead body of a missing kid. They express a reluctance to reveal the fact because the two had been engaged in the hijacking of a car when they found him.




Vern convinces the rest of his compadres to do an overnight hike to find the body themselves and take credit for discovering it. With visions of becoming home town heroes the four trek off, using the cover that they are actually camping out overnight at one of the friends' house to convince their parents that it is just a innocent sleepover.

Over the course of the film we get some insight into the characters, which is the driving force behind this outing. Chris is fighting a seeming losing battle over being considered a delinquent because he was accused of stealing some funds from school. Gordie is struggling with being basically the invisible boy at home because his older brother, Denny, had recently died and his parents are so distraught that they have been neglecting him. Teddy has an abusive father who has been committed to an insane asylum. Although the father was abusive to him, Teddy still idolizes him on some level because after all, his father had been among those who stormed the beach at Normandy during D-Day in WWII. Vern, for his part, is just considered the wimp of the group and is timid in most conflicts.

Although the film mostly is just a character driven delving into the friendship of the four, there are some interesting scenes worth checking out.  At one point during the trek they have to cross a junkyard owned by an irascible old man. Milo (William Bronder) and his guard dog "Chopper". Chopper has a legend surrounding him that his owner has trained him to bite whatever body part that Milo orders him to attack (I.e. "Chopper, sic balls").

The scenes were the gang has to cross a long train bridge while wary of when the next train is due, and cross a swamp which turns out to be infested with leeches are among some of the great scenes, Also of note are some intense dramatic scenes which in the real world reveal some of the potential that would come later in the careers of these child actors. I'm particularly fond of the scene between Phoenix and Wheaton when Chis reveals to Gordie the truth behind his supposed indiscretion with school funds.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, Billy and Charlie have broke down and revealed their secret to their own friends which comes to the attention to the leader of the town's biggest hoodlum gang, Ace (Keifer Sutherland) who bullies the rest of the gang to accompany him in discovering the body themselves. Piled into two cars, the hoodlums drive to the location.




The boys discover the body first, but Ace and his gang show up and there is a confrontation to determine which group is going to get credit for the discovery.

Spoiler Alert!: Never bring a switchblade to a gun fight. Ace thinks he has the upper hand with his knife until Gordie brings out a gun that the boys have brought with them. Gordie asserts that neither of the groups is going to get credit. They are each going to go their own way and leave the discovery to someone else.



(Which brings up one point that always bothered me, The boys are on foot.  Ace and his gang have cars.  What stopped Ace and the others from just driving off a ways and waiting for the boys to leave and then coming back and taking the body anyway? It implies a sense of honor which up to this point I couldn't see in the hoodlums that Ace led.)

Back in the present Gordie as the adult writer is finishing up his story. He reveals that Vern got married and is a forklift operator at a factory.  Teddy, after having unsuccessfully try to enter the army, had ended up doing odd jobs and even experiencing a little time behind bars.  Chris, despite feeling that he was doomed to a life of being an outcast, had instead made it to college and been a lawyer. 

Gordie ends his story with "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twevle.  Jesus, does anyone?:

The film only got a limited release on it's first week out, and that might have been the end of it, but it did well and was later released to more theaters, where it made a huge box office success.  It garnered a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay (which it lost to A Room with a View) and several other noms. It didn't win any, but it still got a lot of press from critics. It currently has a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And as an added bonus, it was one of the few movies adapted from his work of which the author expressed approval.

An interesting side piece of trivia for you.  Did you know that the title track song "Stand By Me". which was originally released in 1961 (and made it all the way to #4 on the charts) was re-released to coincide with this movie and made it to #9 in early 1987?  I don't know if 26 years stands as a record for an original song to chart, either as a re-release or even the original first time, but I think that's pretty impressive anyway.  I wonder what the singer thought about that... (He was still alive at the time, so possibly he was asked, but I couldn't find an interview with him online.)

Well, folks, fortunately I don't have an overnight trek to get home. The old Plymouth will still get me home.  Drive safely.


Sunday, December 17, 2023

Arnie and Jesse: Governors in Action

In 1999, wrestler and actor Jesse Ventura was elected for the office of governor of Minnesota.  He served one term in that office as the Reform candidate, but opted not to run for re-election.

In 2003, body builder and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor of California as a Republican, after the recent governor, Grey Davis, was recalled.  He went on to be elected and serve for two more full  terms in the office.  He was limited by state constitution to two terms so could not run for a third term.

But this post is not about their lives as political candidates.



Prior to their political turns (and afterward) both men were Hollywood stars. And, though it may seem like there were more, the two only appeared together in two movies; One as allies (Predator) and one as enemies (The Running Man).  Both were essentially starring vehicles for Schwarzenegger, but Ventura also played a significant presence in them.

Action stars both, but Schwarzenegger had the bigger career (of course). Whether Ventura's acting career stagnated because of career choices or he just didn't have the cachet I can't say.  He did have some rather memorable excursions as a lead actor (including the title role in one of is first movies,  Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe) and a less than memorable role as the co-star with Rowdy Roddy Piper in a TV pilot (Tag Team), but his acting career was not on par with Schwarzenegger.

Predator (1987):

Unlike most action movies, this one doesn't waste time with a lot of build up to the action.  A mere 5 minutes into the film we are already on the way.  "Dutch" Schaefer (Schwarzenegger) and his crew of mercenaries for hire, which include Blain (Ventura), as well as "Poncho" (Richard Chaves) the explosives guy, Billy (Sonny Landham) a tracker, Rick (Shane Black) the radio operator, and Mac (Bill Duke) a machine gun expert are in the air on the way to the drop off.


The crew also includes an old friend of Dutch, Dillon (Carl weathers), who was instrumental in getting the mercenaries brought in on the rescue operation in the first place. The rescue, a recovery of some hostages who have been captured by some guerillas in a Central American jungle, is the primary job.

But while advancing to the stronghold where they are being held, the crew encounters some strange phenomena.  They find members of the piloting crew skinned alive and wonder why the guerillas would do such a thing. (Of course, it wasn't the guerillas that did it, but the crew doesn't know that yet.)

Of course, everything is not all it seems.  The capture of supposedly innocent civilians eventually turns out to be that the "civilians" were not so "innocent" as the crew was led to believe.  Upon arriving at the stronghold they blast away and while the crew is pretty accurate with their guns, apparently the guerillas couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with an atom bomb. 

If you know ANYTHING about this movie you probably know the line that Blain utters.after Poncho observes that he has been hit and is bleeding:

"I ain't got time to bleed."

(Side noteI Ain't Got Time to Bleed was also one of Ventura's political books, the title of which came from this movie.  Good book if you want to check it out.)

After the fire fight, and with all the hostages and the guerillas dead, the crew determines they need to high tail it out of there because more enemy forces are on their way.  Dillon insists that the one surviving member of the guerilla force, a female soldier, needs to be taken with them because she could give them away if left behind. (Always has to be a female who presents both a hazard and an enticement in these kinds of films, you know...) It turns out that the female becomes more useful in the long run, however.

Now we get to the meat of the story. Watching the proceedings is a mysterious character and the only way we know at the beginning that it is not necessarily human is we see it's POV, which is apparently some kind of helmet that lets it see the human and other figures as heat sources. 




The next hour or so of the movie involves the crew gradually coming to the realization that the hunters trying to get to them are not "HUNTERS" but one "HUNTER", and it ain't exactly human.  It turns out of course that it is the alien we see in the first minute of the movie being ejected from a spaceship flying past the Earth.  We are never really told why just one alien is landing, nor why it is in the jungle in the first place, or what it's ultimate objective is.  (Although if it's ultimate goal is the extermination of humans, it seems more logical it would initially land in some place like New York City or Los Angeles... wait until the sequel to get that scenario.)   

The predator begins taking out the crew one by one, and of course the final battle comes down to a one on one with Dutch (who else... it is a Schwarzenegger movie after all). My big complaint is that Blain goes way too early in the film. Not that I don't like Mac (or Billy or Dillon for that matter). Bill Duke, who plays Mac, is always  a treat when he gets enough screen time to be a presence. (see Car Wash for a real good Bill Duke performance. He is as intense there as he is here) And of course we all know Carl Weathers from his turns as Apollo Creed in the early Rocky  movies, so we know how good he can be .

The ultimate battle comes down to Dutch and the alien, and instead of the alien just blasting Dutch with one of his alien ray guns, they go mano a mano.




This was director John McTiernan's first major film.  You can get an insight into his future as a director of such well-remembered action films like the first two Die Hard films as well as The Hunt for Red October and  Last Action Hero.  He was also director of the remake of Rollerball in 2002, but the less said about that one the better...

Of course, as with most Schwarzenegger movies, this one made a profit.  And it even managed to get a nomination for an Oscar (for Best Visual Effects, but it lost to it's only competitor, Innerspace). It got mixed reviews on it's release, but that old standby for referencing reviews, Roger Ebert, gave it 3 stars.  It currently has an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  And audiences love it even today. Whether that's because of the story or just Schwarzenegger's biceps is the question. As an action movie and sci-fi movie fan I think it's entertaining although my rational mind still has those questions referenced above.

Schwarzenegger and Ventura were both pretty busy in 1986-87. After finishing filming this movie, they got together for another action film The Running Man.

The Running Man (1987):.

 The Running Man is loosely (heavy emphasis on the word "loosely") based on a Stephen King novel (published under what was then an unknown pen name of "Richard Bachman"). Note the cover of the first publication below: "In 2025...". Which means we are not far from this scenario, time-wise, and what with reality TV being what it is, we may not be that far away after all...


[A side note: In 1983, when the original novel hit the stands I was working on a paper route as a source of income.  One night, after throwing the paper, I stopped off to get something to drink at the local grocery store.  As was my custom whenever I was there I would browse the paperback book racks for something interesting.  And I bought a copy of this book. It remains in my possession even today. And without the obligatory "Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman" on the cover since it was still unknown that King was Bachman. (see image above)  It is probably the most valuable thing I own, since copies of the first edition can fetch about $100 or more]

The novel was pretty good. Now, the fact is that it was optioned for Hollywood BEFORE the revelation that Bachman was actually a King pen name. (I picked that tidbit up from listening to podcasts, so I don;t actually have a credible source to verify it.)  In all honesty I thought it would probably have never seen light of day as a potential Hollywood film if it hadn't turned out that Bachman was actually King.

The basic premise, a future world where the most popular TV show is a game show that pits contestants against a cast of hunters whose job it is to eliminate the contestant is still present. And that's about it. The rest of the film is entirely in the mind of the scriptwriters.  If you read the novel AND watch the movie you can decide who did a better job with the story. I recommend you do both.  Each is worth the effort individually, but doing both will enlighten you on the controversy that King has had with Hollywood productions of his works.

In the beginning of the film, Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger) is a police officer monitoring a riot on the streets. (In the book Richards is not a policeman, just an out of work guy looking to make some money).  The movie Richards is ordered to fire upon the rioters who are unarmed and just looking for food.  Did I mention this is a dystopian future?  Well, it is.  And in Hollywood that always means the government tries to rundown the common man. (i.e: the good guys are the innocent proletariat and the bad guys are the government, or at least the non-Liberal government, which is the personification of "evil" in the Hollywood world. Remember Ronald Reagan was in the Oval Office at the time)

Anyway Richards refuses the order and is taken prisoner by his fellow officers.  And said fellow officers complete the mission, that of stopping the riot by force. Flash forward a few months.  Richards was convicted and sent to prison as the person who fired on the unarmed civilians.  Yes, the same government that was trying to force him to kill the civilians made him the scapegoat for the crime.

After a successful escape from the prison (I just encapsulated a fantastic 10 minute sequence there, but the end result is his escape), Richards is out to track down and hook up with his brother to try to get out of the country.  Only in the interim of his prison time his brother was also arrested and made a prisoner.  At the brother's apartment instead of finding the brother he finds Amber (Maria Conchita Alonso). (Note: There is a part here that will make you sit up and say "huh"? Richards uses his brother's security code to enter the apartment, but it turns out that Amber has moved in.  She didn't change the security code?)




Richards takes Amber hostage in his attempt to escape the country, but things don't go as well as planned.  And as a result of his capture he is brought to Killian (Richard Dawson), the host of the nation's most popular TV show, The Running Man. Killian coerces Richards to become the next contestant on the show, the plot of which is that the contestant is sent out into a playing grid (essentially a neighborhood section of the city) with a hit man, called a Stalker,  sent to kill him. The cadre of Stalkers that could be sent after him are chosen by  a random member of the audience. The Stalkers are your basic video game fighting characters with their own special weapons and outfits. 




Killian of course, in keeping with the sleazy double dealing trope of the villain in these movies, has double-crossed Richards. He initially convinced Richards to play the game in place of two of his fellow prison escapees, but at the last minute Richards finds out that Killian is going to send his two compatriots into the playing grid, too. These two friends, played by Yaphet Kotto and Marvin McIntyre, become targets for the Stalkers as the game progresses. (It probably goes without saying that the two friends are eventually dead meat, but they do get a few chances to get their chops in.)

Back to the studio, the first Stalker to be sent out after the runners is chosen by a random member of the audience. And like any contestant who gets a front row spot on The Price is Right, she is overwhelmed to be on the same stage as Killian. So the first stalker sent out is Professor Subzero (Professor Toru Tanaka)




Meanwhile, on another front, Amber has discovered that the world is being given false information about Richards and takes it upon herself to try to find out the truth.  Conveniently she works for the TV station so she can access the files. And, of course, the TV station kept on file the actual footage of the real riot scene as well as the edited footage the public got to see that framed Richards. But she is got red-handed and becomes yet another runner in the grid. (Along with the edited footage show to viewers,  that promotes her as a whore, a conspirator and who knows what else, so the public can howl for her blood, too.) 

Back on the playing grid, it doesn't take long for the first victim to be eliminated from the competition. Unfortunately for Killian and the fans, the first victim is Subzero.  A shock in more ways than one because apparently a Stalker has never been killed before in the history of the show. Which brings up the next contestant, who being indecisive, manages to have Killian pit two Stalkers into the grid; Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch), a chainsaw equipped Stalker and Dynamo (Erland van Lidth), an opera loving Stalker whose main weapon is electricity. {Side note: van Lidth actually was an opera singer. That's actually him singing in the scenes where Dynamo sings}.








The defeat of Buzzsaw is a "buzz kill" (yeah, I said it.). But the battle against Dynamo features a background music of "Ride of the Valkyries" (appropriate for a battle with an opera singer, even if it is pretty much expected and possibly a cheesy trope at that point.)  The death of one more of the Stalkers in unprecedented. (Richards leaves Dynamo alive, but powerless.) Apparently no one, the audience nor even Killian himself, has seen such carnage performed on  the "lawmakers". It's bound to be a foregone conclusion that they have seen such carnage committed against the players, but then the players are supposed to be lawbreakers, so that's no big deal.

Bring on the backups. Fireball (Jim Brown) a Stalker from the back stage is brought up. And since Dynamo was allowed to live, we have another pair of Stalkers to pit against the renegade policeman.  But Richards gives them more than Killian and the execs or the Stalkers bargained for.  But there is still one more chance for the "good guys".  Jesse Ventura finally gets his chance as Captain Freedom, a retired Stalker who has been reduced to doing exercise videos.








Eventually Richards gets free of the confines of the game grid and goes after Killian.  The final wrap of the movie is just as you'd expect from such a movie.

If you are just looking for a lot of action and a few explosions this movie is pretty good.  However, if you are looking for a film that stays true to it's source material, or are just a fan of King as King actually wrote the original, you might want to avoid this one. It's not as bad as, say, Lawnmower Man in that respect, but it does not come all that close to the novel.

Well, folks, the drive home will prove to be a challenge.  I think I will avoid that section of the city  that has all those cameras all over the place.  Drive safely.





Sunday, December 10, 2023

Sneaky Guys

 Note: The impetus for this review came as a result of listening to a podcast discussing the movie (Shat the Movies). In it they referenced a little anecdote that I found interesting.  It seems that during the production a couple of men claiming to represent Office of Naval Intelligence approached the director that in the interest of national security he could not reference a hand-held device that could decode codes.  It turned out that it was not really representatives of the government but just part of a prank. It has been suggested that Dan Aykroyd was behind the prank.



It's 1992. Late September. Hollywood unleashes a film that has star-studded cast. It has 3 Academy Award winners and 4 others who have been to the ceremonies as nominees for the prestigious award.  And one more who would also garner a nomination a few years later.  So this prestigious cast all came together for one film.  And although it was a pretty good success at the box office ($105 million on a $23 million budget), I am willing to bet that there are quite a few people out there that have never even heard of it. 

So the cast includes:

Robert Redford, winner of Best Director for Ordinary People and nominated for Best Actor for The Sting. (although ignored for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which I still consider a crime... and that's just the biggest snub,.  See the link above.)

Ben Kingsley, winner of the Best Actor for Gandhi. He was also nominated for Sexy Beast, Bugsy and House of Sand and Fog. (But not for Schindler's List. Pity.)

Sidney Poitier, winner of the Best Actor award for Lillies of the Field, and nominated for one for The Defiant Ones. (More snubs?  He was ignored for In the Heat of the Night, though his co-star, Rod Steiger was the winner of the Best Actor).

Dan Aykroyd, who was nominated for a Best Actor Driving Miss Daisy.

River Phoenix, who was nominated for Running on Empty.

Mary McDonnell, who was nominated for Dances with Wolves.

And briefly in this film, James Earl Jones, who had been nominated for The Great White Hope. (And probably should have gotten at least some recognition as the voice of Darth Vader if only he had received credit for it.  But since it was only his voice, and David Prowse pulled of the physical presence, I guess I'll have to give that one a pass.

Also appearing was David Strathairn, who would later get a nomination for Good Night and Good Luck.


None of these guys and girls actually pulled off anything like Academy Award performances in the film. (Although I will point out that until I saw him in another movie I was convinced that Strathairn was actually blind...)  But having such a prestigious cast should have made this movie more memorable. And you may be one who remembers it fondly... good for you.

I got to see the movie when it first hit the theaters.  I liked it enough to watch it more than once.  The movie is a bit dated by now as technology has surpassed that of what is portrayed in the film, although it was cutting edge at the tim.  It feels like a relic these days, but the acting makes it as watchable as it was in 1992.


Sneakers (1992): 

After an opening credits sequence which features anagram variations of the people involved in the movie:


(Universal Picures)  Presents


A (Lawrence Lasker Walter F. Parkes) Production


A (Phil Alden Robinson) Film


(Robert Redford)

(This sequence acts as sort of a foreshadowing of a later development in the film, as we will see.)

Opening sequence: Two college friends Marty and Cosmo are messing around with early computer hacking, transferring money from such disparate agencies such as having the Republican Party donate a big chunk of money to the Black panthers and having then President Richard Nixon donate his entire money sources to NORML (the organization fighting to legalize marijuana). When Cosmo tricks Marty into being the one to go out and fetch pizza, Cosmo is left alone in the dorm, thus being the only one of the two to be arrested when police subsequently raid the place. A side note: the younger Cosmo is a fair likeness a possibly young Kingsley, but the young Marty with his mustache is so similar to Redford in his younger days it's pretty impressive.

The actual film story begins as Martin Bishop (Robert Redford) and his crew prepare to infiltrate a bank.  After shutting down the security systems and distracting the security guard, they use their tech to transfer a large sum of money to a bank account that Bishop had previously opened. Bishop's crew consists of Donald Crease (Sidney Poitier), a former C.I.A. agent, "Mother" (Dan Aykroyd), an electronics wiz (and for comedy relief, a conspiracy theorist of the highest order), Carl (River Phoenix), a teenage hacker extraordinaire, and "Whistler" (David Strathairn) a blind man who can do wonders with telephone technology.

But it's all in the name of the job that Bishop and his crew perform ; that of finding flaws in the security systems of companies that hire them. (And they must charge out the wazoo for this because I really don't see how it could be a profitable business, even in the 90's, Seems too specialized to me.)

After taking care of business, Bishop is followed by two men Buddy (Eddie Jones) and Dick (Timothy Busfield). The men claim to be from the National Security Agency and want to hire Bishop to steal a "black box" being developed by Professor Gunter Janek (Donal Logue). Under the guise of a corporation called "Setec Astronomy", Janek is supposed to have created something for the Russian government that the NSA is highly interested in.

Yeah, in 1992. I know what you're thinking, and Bishop addresses it. The Russians? "Give me a break. We won. They lost. It's been in a couple of papers."

But as the agents say "We still spy on them and they still spy on us." So, to the effect of stealing the black box, the company sets up a surveillance of Janek's office.  And find out the box is hidden in plain sight on his desk. Bishop breaks in and gets away with the box,  Back at their headquarters they find out the "macguffin" is a code breaker that can break into the most secure computer systems in the world. And through a game of using Scrabble tiles, they figure out that SETEC ASTRONOMY anagrams to "Too many secrets". (See I told you that anagram thing in the credits would turn out to be important). 

Realizing that any agency in the world would kill to get their hands on the device, Crease insists on a lock down until the box can be handed off to the NSA. The next day Bishop delivers the box to the NSA agents.  But Bishop finds out that Dr. Janek was killed, and becomes suspicious. He leaves the "agents" without even collecting the money and the "agents" try to kill him.

Back at headquarters there is a group of friends who are in turmoil.  Who was behind it all?  Certainly not the NSA, because the real NSA calls and wants their black box.  Bishop ends up going to an old acquaintance, Grigor (George Hearn) a former KGB agent. But Grigor says the Russians, although they would love to get their hands on the thing, are not involved.

So who is?  Well, the big surprise is, after Grigor is killed and Bishop is taken hostage, he finds himself  face-to-face with his old friend Cosmo (Ben Kingsley). It is a surprise because Bishop was under the impression that Cosmo had died in prison.  It turns out that while Cosmo was in prison he made himself invaluable to certain members of the Mafia and afterwards became a big shot.  So it's not the Russians but the criminal underworld who are behind the scenes of the crime.

Bishop, whose real name was Martin Brice, soon becomes a fugitive because now that the Mafia, or more specifically Cosmo, has the black box, the file on Martin Brice can be amended to show an alias, It was Bishop's gun that was used to kill Grigor, so Bishop a.ka. Brice will show up on the FBI's fingerprints file.. (BTW, if you're asking yourself how Martin Brice's fingerprints got on file in the first place since he avoided the arrest with Cosmo, you found one of the flaws in the story.)

So Cosmo lets Bishop go.  After all, his revenge is in place with the change of the FBI files making Bishop the target of the law enforcement.  So Bishop and his crew are under two threats now. (The other is the NSA, who were the real backers of Janek's box, because they want their box back.

The final reel of the film involves some of the most intense uses of the abilities of the team, which now includes Liz (Mary McDonnell) who had come on board initially to help Martin decipher Janek's techno speak.  Liz gets to be the computer date for a nebbish, Werner Brandeis (Stephen Tobolowsky), who just happens to have the office next door to Cosmo's, so they can access the place where the box is stashed.

Eventually, of course, Martin retrieves the box and hands it off to the agent from the NSA who shows up to retrieve it (played by James Earl Jones). And the trade off that the crew demands is pretty entertaining in itself.

One of the highlights in this film, for me anyway, is the rather hilarious "conspiracy theories" that Mother keeps spouting. Most of the rest of the crew just accept them as de rigueur, but Kreese's reactions are a hoot.

Despite the fact that much of this film's technology seems a little outdated by today's standards, it is not all that surprising that it still holds up as a thriller.  The basic premise of espionage and double cross will still entertain.  I just re-watched it today and was still excited by it even though I knew almost every twist and turn from the film by heart.

Well folks, time to fire up this old wreck of a Plymouth and head home. And if there are any suspicious cars waiting outside, I'm heading to Brazil.  Drive safely, folks.





Monday, December 4, 2023

Announcing the On The Job Blogathon blogathon






We ALL have to do it. Unless you are independently wealthy like a Rockefeller, but even they had to do it at some point to get independently wealthy... What is it? "Work". (Sorry, maybe I should have said "The W word"...)

Whether you are a wage worker or an executive in the business world, everyone has to put in time doing some sort of labor, whether physical or mental to be able to pay the bills.  The film world has addressed that issue on numerous occasions.  

This blogathon is wide open, as far as that goes.  There are the factory workers in such films like Gung Ho and Take This Job and Shove It.  There are the office drudges dealing with day to day lif in such films as Office space and 9-5. Even sports athletes have to work for a living, as witnessed in such movies as north Dallas Forty and Major League.  And you can't leave out the less than reputable occupations (Pretty Woman, anyone?)

For the purposes of this blogathon we are accepting any entries that have a primary focus on doing some kind of work. (Note: Everyone in every movie has some sort of job, but we want the focus to be on movies which the primary story line is focused on one or more characters in the daily grind of performing their job.)

As usual rules are very liberal.

1. Only one person per movie.  There are plenty of movies to choose from, so there is no need to have multiple entries of the same movie.

2. No old posts.  Please make the entry a new post.

3.  Post your entry sometime around the dates of the blogathon and let me or Hamlette know when it is posted.

That's it.  Join up and play along.  It may be one of the few times you get to have fun writing about working.

Below is a current list of entries we have so far. 

The Midnite Drive-In: Gung Ho (1986)

Hamlette's Soliloquy Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) and Top 10 Movies about writers

Realweegiemidget Reviews: Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1990)

Taking Up Room: The Founder (2016)

Critica Retro: The Name of the Rose (1986)

Meanwhile, in Rivendell: Jungle Cruise (2021)

Silver Screenings: The Dentist (1932)

Friday, December 1, 2023

Blondes Have More Bad Vibes






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





The blonde woman has always been a fixation for the adult male. Blondes get all the good stuff in life, hence the phrase "Blondes have more fun."  But when it comes to film noir, the opposite can also be a standard trope.  Look at how many blondes are the source of a downfall for the main male character in classic noir films.  

Cora (Lana Turner) in The Postman Always Rings Twice? Blonde.  Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) in Double Indemnity? Blonde.  Elsa (Rita Hayworth) in The Lady from Shanghai? Blonde. (Note: Blonde was not always the actress' natural color, sometimes, but they were blonde in these roles.)

One could get the idea that blondes are bad news. And if you find yourself involved in the plot line of a film noir, it's probably a good idea to steer clear of any blonde women.  Not that that advice would be observed by most of the male protagonists in them.

Hammer films were no stranger to this trope during their period of producing noir style films.  Of course, most people who think of Hammer Films will naturally first come up with "Oh, yeah! Those people who made the Christopher Lee / Peter Cushing horror movies!" But that's not the entire output from Hammer Studios.

I won't rehash what I've already written once. If you want to see a little more see my post Hammer Films Does Film Noir .  Both of these films were released in the UK under different titles, hence the "a.k.a." after the titles below.

Bad Blonde (1953): (a.k.a. The Flanagan Boy)

The American title, Bad Blonde, is much more conducive to drawing in the crowd that wanted to see film noir.  The Flangan Boy??? What kind of viewing crowd would THAT draw?  Sounds more like a title for a melodrama than a gritty noir.  But American promoters knew better and renamed it.

The opening music is pretty much a noir type, however.  The music was done by Ivor Staney, who mostly did film noir type movies over his brief career.  

The movie starts at a carnival where a huckster named Sharkey (Sid James) is trying to entice amateurs to go one round of boxing with one of his boxing stars.  He has a ringer in the audience, but the ringer is tripped on his way to the ring and Johnny Flanagan (Tony Wright) steps up to take his place.




After Johnny takes down Sharkey's boxer, Sharkey realizes that Johnny is not entirely the "amateur" he promotes himself as.  In steps Charlie Sullivan (John Slater) who is Johnny's own promoter. 




Together, Johnny, Sharkey and Sullivan decide that making a full-fledged  fighter out of Johnny is a good idea.  They need a backer, however, so they take him to see Giuseppe Vecci ( Frederick Valk).  Giuseppe has a trophy wife, Lorna (Barbara Payton) {the "Bad Blonde" of the title.}  




Lorna has the hots for Johnny and has no scruples about seducing the young boy.  She initially puts up a front, at least in front of her husband. Johnny intimates that he doesn't want her watching him and she harrumphs with one of the best lines in the movie "Tellyour boy not to flatter himself.  I've seen better bodies hanging in a butcher shop."

But is it all just a front?  Not long after, Giuseppe, upset that his new boy and his wife aren't getting along, he invites Johnny to his birthday party, where Giuseppe gets rip-roaring drunk and stumbles around trying to dance with his  wife. Really he has two left feet (or is just too drunk to stand) he gets Johnny to dance with her.  Not long after, the gloves come off (and not just the boxing gloves.

A romance develops with Johnny and Lorna, and, as so often happens in noir film, they both decide they would be better off if Giuseppe wasn't around to hamper the affair. Well, at least Lorna does. Johnny, still a good fellow at heart, doesn't want anything to do with it.  Until Lorna informs him that she is pregnant.  She doesn't have to tell him who the father is.

So Johnny reluctantly agrees to help remove Giuseppe from the scene.  He hides aboard Giuseepe's fishing boat and when Giuseppe goes out to fish, Johnny manages to engineer a drowning.  Since everyone knows Giuseppe can't swim, it looks like an accident.

Of course, if that were all, Johnny and Lorna could life "happily" ever after.  Unfortunately, his mama shows up from Italy. And mama knows more than anyone would think, including the fact that Lorna is not really pregnant.

Johnny is distraught over the whole thing. And decides to cure his depression in that age-old solution that many come to (unfortunately).  But Sharkey and Charlie have their own way of getting revenge on Lorna,

This is a fairly straightforward remake of many film noir films that were made before it.  And not entirely better acted, at that.  It follows mostly along the same lines as The Postman Always Rings Twice. Although you can't blame Tony Wright for not being up to par with John Garfield, I think Barbara Payton could have given Lana Turner a run for her money.  Unfortunately alcoholism cut her career short.  She died at age 39 from heart failure brought on by her addiction.




Man Bait aka The Last Page (1952):


Man Bait had one of the most unbelievable subplots of any movie I have ever seen.  Maybe in the 1950's it might have been shocking and possibly scandalous to kiss a woman who was not your wife. Just kiss her... not even have any more intimate contact than that...  But the plot stems from just that one encounter.

Anyway, the plot revolves around a woman, Ruby (Diana Dors), who is probably the most irresponsible woman in London.  She works at a book store and is notoriously late for work every day. Her supervisor, Mr. Oliver (Raymond Huntley) reprimands her and even approaches the big boss, Mr. Harman (George Brent) to have a talk with her.





After the reprimand, a customer walks in to the shop and, while he thinks no one is looking, attempts to steal a rare book from a case on which he picks the lock.  Ruby spots Jeff (Peter Reynolds) and makes him put the book back.  But instead of reporting him, she accepts a date with him after work.





Later, Ruby ends up having to work late with Mr. Harman.  In a moment of contact with Ruby, Harman impulsively kisses Ruby.




Jeff is the unscrupulous sort, and, in case it wasn't obvious, is not averse to using any means to get money.  So when Ruby tells him that Mr. Harman kissed her, Jeff concocts a plan to extort money from Harman, or else have Ruby inform his wife of the indiscretion.

Of course, even with the blackmail, it's not enough.  Jeff sends a letter, purportedly from Ruby, to inform Harman's wife.  But his wife (Isabel Dean), an invalid, ends up dying while trying to burn the letter.  A confrontation occurs between Harman and Ruby and later, Jeff appears in the shop demanding all the money Ruby had extorted from Harman.  He also ends up inadvertently killing Ruby and stashes her in a crate of books being shipped.  

Harman discovers the body first as in on the run.  Suspicion immediately falls on Harman when the police discover the body later.  Harman enlists the help of his secretary (Marguerite Chapman) to find out the truth as to who killed Ruby.

Except for the unrealistic attempt at blackmail (surely a better path could have been written.), the intrigue involved in the discovery of the real culprit has some good film noir scenes, and overall it is a pretty good example of acting from the main cast members.  

I like the idea of setting the film in a bookstore.  There are a couple of problems with these scenes that do stand out, though.  This is not a chain store bookstore on the same business level as, say Barnes and Noble.  It's just a local bookstore, so having what looks like about 12 employees on duty does not seem all that believable from an economic standpoint.

The other thing is that Ruby seems to have a history of being late to work.  Are the employers that desperate for help that they can continue to let her stay?  She has obviously been doing it for some time, you see.  Even if I had a hot woman like Ruby as an employee I doubt I would have let her last as long as she seems to have been doing.

Overall, I would not give this film as high a rating as it has. (IMDb rates this one higher than the previous entry, Bad Blonde...)  I think Bad Blonde is a better picture.  But both are fairly good given that they are British attempts at a mostly American genre.


Well, the old Plymouth is up and running, so it's time to head home.

Drive safely, folks.