Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This one has been a long time getting to these pages—30 years to be exact. From 1987 it’s Over The Top, starring Sylvester Stallone as he-man truck driver Lincoln Hawk. It’s a Golan-Globus production, so you sort of know what to expect. The two cousins are noted for a tableaux of off-kilter productions, including:

That’s just up through the 1980s, and there are many I didn’t list. This one was directed by Menahem Golan. Screen shots are from Amazon Prime Video, which is a trove of hard-to-find productions. I promise more of these in the future. Details are from Wikipedia. The story in a few sentences.

Michael Cutler-Hawk (David Mendenhall) is graduating from a prestigious military academy.

Meanwhile, his father is coming to pick him up and take him to see his mother, who is dying.

The mother is sweet Christina Cutler-Hawk (Susan Blakely). Her husband long ago deserted her and their son, due to interference from her filthy rich and domineering father, Jason Cutler (Robert Loggia).

The kid did not even know his father existed, and is not impressed by having to ride home in a second-hand big rig tractor. But dad introduces Mike to an entirely different life—eating at a truck stop serving truck driver fare and crowded with dudes wanting to challenge Dad to an arm wrestle at $1000 a pop. Dad beats one tough guy and declines the invite from another, even more massive, hulk.

Mike gets his chance when he encounters flak from a tough kid. He loses his first round, but his dad reminds him that soul counts for much in competition and in life. He slams to tough guy in the second round.

The mother dies before the kid gets home, and the kid rejects his dad, noting that in ten years he never got a birthday card. Grandfather Cutler takes custody of the kid, against all legal standards, and big Hawk responds by ramming his rig through the Cutler estate security gate, across the fountain-festooned front yard and through the front door of the house.

Of course, big Hawk gets thrown into the slammer for this, and he seeks to redeem himself by selling his rig and investing the proceeds in a Las Vegas bet on himself in the world championship competition. The remainder of the movie shows the kid escaping the Cutler estate, stealing granddad’s pickup truck, taking a flight to Las Vegas, and cheering his dad to victory.

Yeah, you and I are on the same page here. Stallone was one piece of beef in those days, but seeing him put down guys with biceps thicker than his waistline really is a bit over the top.

The movie is well directed and photographed. The story is strictly manufactured. Stallone had his own take. From the Amazon screen notes:

Years later, Sylvester Stallone explained why he agreed to appear in this movie, saying, “Menahem Golan kept offering me more and more  money, until I finally thought, “What the hell – no one will see it!”

The joke’s on you, Sly.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is currently available for view on Amazon Prime Video, in case you missed when it came out 11 years ago. And there is an interesting back story.

My first software job, and video tapes were coming in vogue. I told my boss at the time that there would come a time, I thought soon, when studios would forgo movie theaters and aim straight for the VHS market. He scoffed, but I prevailed. I’m seeing more and more stuff, not straight to VHS but straight to DVD. This is one of them. It’s Second in Command, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme in another of his kick-ass action roles. Details are from Wikipedia.

It all takes place in Moldavia, you can see that in the opening credits. The problem is, there is no country named Moldavia. There is a region in Eastern Europe called Moldavia, but it’s partitioned among a number of political entities, one of them being Moldova.

Never mind that. The fictional  country of Moldavia is an a world of hurt, and Navy SEAL Commander Samuel Keenan is coming to straighten things out. He arrives at the capital to step in as second in command at the United States embassy, and we see him arriving at the airport in a special jet and in full uniform. But he is not in uniform for long. He first has to make a stop at the Hotel Continental, and here’s the reason. She’s news correspondent Michelle Whitman (Julie Cox), and she’s sex on a stick.

But while Commander Keenan and his sweetie are getting reacquainted, a miscreant communist terrorist attacks the hotel, gunning down news reporters, including a number of Michelle’s friends. Keenan puts on pants and a shirt and steps out to kick some ass and put a lid on the ruckus.

The ruckus is masterminded by communist leader Anton Tavrov (Velibor Topic). He sets the stage for an uprising by sending an agitator into a disgruntled street mob and then  ordering a sniper to kill her, making it appear she was killed by government troops. You know that before the end of the movie Keenan is going to  have to kick Tavrov’s ass.

Back at the presidential palace, newly elected Moldavian President Yuri Amirev (Serban Celea) is trying to figure out what to do about this communist uprising. Evacuation is not an option. He phones the American embassy. It’s going to be Commander  Keenan to the rescue.

Much gunfire and many dead bodies later, and Keenan arrives back at the embassy with President Amirev. Now they need to figure out what to do. An RPG attack kills the ambassador, and Keenan has to deal with intelligence chief Frank Gaines (William Tapley), who thinks he has a better idea and wants to be in charge. Gaines wants to  evacuate, Keenan wants to hold the fort and wait for reinforcements. A contingent of Marines is detached from an American base several hundred miles away.

Also, President Amirev has hopes that General Borgov, who is off in the hinterlands chasing after some terrorists, will arrive to save the day. Suspense is heightened by occasional views of a tactical display, showing where the Marine contingent (arriving by helicopter) and Borgov’s force are located with respect to the embassy and how long it will take for them to arrive. It’s going to  be close.

To resolve the impasse at the American embassy, Tavrov takes some hostages, including a Moldavian general and two news correspondents, Michelle and her cameraman. A sniper stands ready to dispatch them if Tavrov’s demands are not met. He shows he’s serious by having the general killed.

Gaines asserts his authority and takes over, countermanding Keenan’s decision to hold firm. But Gaines’ master escape plan is anticipated by Tavrov, and many escapees are killed. With fewer troops on the line and dwindling ammunition, the Americans go full defensive, making the communists pay for every inch. More are to die.

General Borgov arrives with his armored column, but he has thrown in his lot with the rebels, and he kills Gaines, who had counted on his personal friendship. Also killed in the final battle is Michelle’s photographer.

Then the Marines arrive, and their attack helicopters turn the street in front of the embassy into a killing zone. Inside the embassy Keenan faces off with Tavrov and defeats him in hand-to-hand combat when Michelle scoots a knife his way. The battle over, the two lovers walk out into the sunlight of a new day. It is romantic as all get out.

Lots of action, intrigue, gunfire, and dead bodies with a storybook ending. Pure entertainment aimed straight at the gonads. Fairly standard plot of a combat veteran prevailing over bureaucratic rigidity and winning the day. That’s what these movies are all about.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

A quick testimonial for Amazon Prime Video. This source is a prime trove of those movies you never heard of, and, which if have heard of, you would never want on your personal shelf. This is Sky Racket from 1937, which I feel sure predates anybody reading this. It’s from Victory Pictures Corporation, which went the way of many such studios of that era:

Victory Pictures Corporation was a film production and distribution company that operated from 1935-39. It was owned by Sam Katzman and specialised in making low-budget movies, predominantly Westerns. It made two serials and 30 films, including some of the Western series’ of Bob Steele and Tim McCoy. It also made eight films based on the works of Peter B. Kyne.

The studio plant caught fire in 1937, causing $50,000 worth of damage.

And that about says it all.

The story and screen play are by Basil Dickey, responsible for 147 screen plays. We are all hoping this was not one of his better works. Details from Wikipedia consist of the cast of characters, and the plot gets summarized in two sentences. Here is more. Sketchy, but still more.

High-spirited heiress Marion Bronson (Joan Barclay) is getting married to Count Barksi (Duncan Renaldo). Only she isn’t. It’s one of those marriages. Money is being traded for social standing, and sweet Marion is the pawn being exchanged.  While the groom and wedding guests wait down stairs, Marion decides this not her future, and she shucks off her wedding dress and presses her handmaid, Jenny (Hattie McDaniel), into helping her make a getaway out the upstairs window using the old knotted bed sheet device. If you are watching this right now on Amazon, then you are wondering how the hefty McDaniel is going to  shinny down that rope of bed sheets. Hollywood magic, and possibly a stunt actor, make it possible.

Marion’s rich uncle has the keys to the getaway car, so Marion, over Jenny’s protests, boosts a gardener’s truck, which soon runs out of gas. Marion leaves the hapless Jenny to fend for herself and waits for her uncle and the count to show up in pursuit. Once they arrive, Marion emerges from concealment and hops onto  the back bumper as the car steers toward the local airport to head off the runaway bride.

At the airport Marion hops aboard a mail plane sitting idle on the apron and conceals herself in the front seat.

Oops! Worst airplane to stow away on. The mail plane is part of an operation by the feds to track down gangsters who have been sabotaging mail planes and stealing the loot after they cause the planes to crash. This flight is under the command of Eric Lane – Agent 17, played by “Herman Brix” (actually Bruce Bennett). Well into the flight and well into the scheme to track down the gangsters, Eric discovers the spunky Marion in the front seat. He thinks she’s part of the plot and pulls a gun on her. Then the plane suddenly loses power, caused by a remote device operated by the gang leader.

Anticipating having to bale out, Eric has brought along a parachute—only one parachute. He leaves the wounded plane with Marion clinging closer to him than unmarried couples are supposed to cling. They end up in a tree.

But the crooks have been following all this, and [much drama omitted] they capture the two and take them to a room in the back of a Los Angeles club. Here we are treated to two separate bouts of plot churn, as first one of the gang members recapitulates his medicine show spiel of days past, all for the entertainment of the club audience and for the movie viewer. On another occasion a club entertainer chews up more celluloid with a song and dance number.

Early in their predicament, Eric and Marion develop an unspoken understanding, and the two play a charade that puts Eric as a kidnapper, snagging the heiress for a $50,000 ransom. The crooks don’t know whether to take this for real, and there is much back and forth as they try to decide whether to play along or to just knock the two off and cut their losses. There were no mail bags in the plane. That’s ring leader Benjamin Arnold (Monte Blue) giving Marion the third degree while Eric sits tied up in a chair.

Much more drama is omitted, and final scenes find Marion locked in a closet in the ring leader’s headquarters and Eric coming to the rescue. Marion continues to show her spunk as Eric and ring leader Benjamin Arnold fight it out. Eric wins the fight, and all the crooks get arrested.

There has to be a Hollywood ending. The heiress and the G-man fly off together on a honeymoon.

It’s an interesting story, and I firmly believe that had I been given the script I could have turned this into a reasonable crime thriller. Neither Wikipedia nor IMDb provide any information about production costs and gross receipts, but I’m guessing both were low, even by standards of the 1930s. IMDb does mention this is, “Virtually an exact remake of Tim McCoy’s 1936 western, Ghost Patrol.”

This was not Bennett’s only dip in the pool. His film credits are impressive, with 91 being displayed on Wikipedia, some of which you may have seen:

He lived to be 100.

Barclay found steady work in Hollywood until 1945, when her career faded completely. You have seen this one:

She was in at least one other Falcon movie that I have seen but not reviewed.

This film is interesting in that it gave Hattie McDaniel top billing, along with Bennett and Barclay. Not typical for Hollywood in those days, but keep in mind she plays a handmaid and appears in only three scenes. She went on to earn an Academy Award in Gone with the Wind . Sky Racket was 18 years before Sidney Poitier broke the barrier and played a starring role in a major production.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I had to decide whether this was going to be another Bad Movie of the Week. In the end I figured that due to the acting and production quality it could be elevated. It’s Silent Trigger, from 1996 out of Buena Vista. It stars Dolph Lundgren and Gina Bellman, respectively, as a military sniper turned assassin named Waxman and his spotter, known only as Clegg. It features grim circumstances, mock military prowess, blazing gunfire, and lots of dead bodies. Plus some skin-on-skin sex. I’m not going to string out the plot for you, because the plot is what kills this. That plus a distant relationship with believability. Where to start?

First, there is an assassination setup from days gone by. Waxman and Clegg team up for the first time to kill a woman politician in some failing state across some ocean. They create their sniper’s nest in the top of a church tower, and right away any amateur fan of military operations can see what’s wrong. Waxman sets up his rifle on a stand and points the barrel over the ledge of a window. I’m taking guesses from readers how many minutes would go by before somebody looks up and says, “Hey, there’s a sniper in that church tower.”

So, Sniping 101 says, “concealment, concealment, concealment.” There is none. Then there is rule number 2, how do you get out of this? Waxman and Clegg have left themselves no way out. They are in the top of a church tower in a metropolitan area, and the only out is the way they got in, down  the stairs and out on the street, with all the police from miles around trying to get a piece of them.

It goes down hill from there.

Waxman can’t take the shot. The woman politician is holding a child. No clear shot. His commanders, by radio, order him to take the shot, and when he fails to do so a helicopter arrives, machine gunning the sniper’s nest and dropping commandos by rappel line on top of Waxman and Clegg. Massive gunfight. The two defeat the attacking force, killing them all, and escape. Unbelievable

Making their way out of the God forsaken country, the two encounter armed men at a checkpoint murdering some civilians. Another gunfight, and all the gunmen are killed.

Now comes the final assignment, and Waxman is supposed to infiltrate the penthouse of a skyscraper under construction and from there he is supposed to take out a target, who will be arriving at eight the following morning, crossing a bridge, about a mile away. He is surprised to see Clegg is again his spotter.

Clegg is a real looker, and she attracts the attention of rent-a-cop working building security. Things get physical, and Waxman comes to her rescue. Gratifying sex follows the rescue.

Come the appointed hour, the car arrives, crossing the bridge. Waxman cannot or will not take the shot. He is through with this shit. Clegg is assigned not only as his spotter, but as his executioner in case he screws up again.

That doesn’t happen, but some backup snipers take out the car on the bridge.

The calvary arrives again to  finish off Waxman. They are again defeated, but a spare rent-a-cop is actually the team’s command contact, and he has already dispatched his partner and comes gunning for Waxman.

But Waxman has booby trapped the elevator, and as the backup attempts to flee he takes the elevator down, for the last time.

Clegg figures Waxman is dead, but he is not. As she walks away from the site, Waxman puts a round into a nearby water hydrant, giving her a farewell shower.

Also, did anybody notice? It they were going to have an army of backup snipers to take out the target and then to attack the first sniper nest, why did they need the first sniper nest? No sense.

Clint Eastwood’s movie about American sniper Chris Kyle, even with its observed shortcomings, does a far better job of portraying a sniper’s world. Another I have watched, but not reviewed, is Battle for Sevastopol, a biographical film about Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko, credited with 309 kills, many at Sevastopol. If you appreciate realism, these might be the movies for you.

Yes, lots of show and no substance. Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Ever since I picked up Hulu and Amazon streaming video I’ve been watching for this one to get served up. Here it is, from 1987, No Way Out, from MGM, and starring Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman. It’s on Amazon Prime Video this month, the first time I’ve seen it in about 30 years. Details are from Wikipedia.

This is a political-espionage thriller, and it mostly takes place in the nation’s political hub, in and around Washington, D.C. You won’t miss that point, because the title scene is a magnificent helicopter “boom” shot that starts with the focus on the White House nestled behind the George Washington monument, panning backward, across the Potomac before finally settling on an impressive house on the Virginia shore. The scene switches to inside the house where Lieutenant Commander Tom Farrell (Costner) of the United States Navy is explaining to a panel of interrogators how the present situation unrolled. The scene then switches back to the beginning, six months earlier.

Farrell is at an inauguration ball, so this must be 20 January, and the year must be 1984, because that’s when the inauguration prior to this movie occurred. Farrell spots a really hot babe whose name is Susan Atwell and who is played by Sean Young. She decides to ditch her date for the night and make it with Farrell. They get it on hot and heavy in the back seat of a limo, going full carnal for the cameras. They end up at the abode of Susan’s friend Nina Beka, played by Iman. Susan ditches the remainder of her garments, and the two spend the night together in Nina’s apartment.

Immediately Farrell goes off on a sea duty assignment to the Republic of the Philippines. Along the way he becomes a hero after saving a seaman from being washed overboard in a storm. His name and photo appear in the news.

In the Philippines Farrell and his Navy buddy soak up some local culture, inserted by director Roger Donaldson for viewers to feast their eyes while the plot ripens.

Back in D.C. and now attached to the office of Secretary of Defense David Brice (Hackman), Farrell reconnects with Susan, and they really get it on hot and sinful. After a weekend of heavy necking at a Chesapeake Bay hideaway the loving pair return to Susan’s place, where the rent is being paid by Farrell’s new boss. When Secretary Brice shows up unexpectedly, Farrell cuts out the back way as the Secretary enters by the front. Susan’s landlord figures she is double dipping on him, and there is a confrontation. Susan ends up dead, falling from an upper floor onto a glass table below. Things get sticky for the DoD head.

To salvage his reputation, and his job, Secretary Brice engineers a plot of distraction, employing the aid of his eager assistant Scott Pritchard (Will Patton). The plan is to blame the murder of Susan on an imagined Soviet mole named Yuri, suspected of living surreptitiously among Pentagon workers and being sought by the FBI, CIA, and military intelligence. Most of the remaining action takes place within this massive complex, supposedly the largest office building in the world. Irony of ironies, Farrell is assigned to work the investigation. He struggles to keep a level countenance.

Pritchard’s ambition and resourcefulness are without bound. Any and all methods are available for play. Here he discusses strategy with two government contract killers, inside the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Director Marshall (Fred Thompson) discusses with agent Leon Russom (Kevin O’Brien) just what the hell is going on at the Pentagon. Russom speculates Brice has taken on himself the task of tracking down Yuri the mole to steal the CIA’s thunder. He tells about the late Susan Atwell, apparently the girlfriend of Pritchard or his boss. The Director points out it can’t be Pritchard, because he is gay. Surprise, surprise!

As Farrell monitors the process and pretends to be hunting for Yuri, he gets wind Pritchard’s hit men are going after Nina. There is much artificial drama as Farrell snatches a car from the Pentagon’s pool and gives chase, cutting off the two gunnies and reaching Nina in time to warn her to flee her workplace at a Metro boutique and to get deeply lost.

Farrell enlists the aid of close friend Sam Hesselman (George Dzundza), ultimately taking Sam into his confidence. This proves fatal for Sam. When Sam confides to Pritchard, also revealing Susan’s connection with Brice, Pritchard murders Sam, shooting him inside a Pentagon gymnasium.

In the meantime, investigators have brought in witnesses from the Chesapeake resort to identify the man they saw with the late Susan. One spots Farrell in a Pentagon corridor, and a massive hunt throughout the entire building is initiated.

Farrell discovers Pritchard has murdered Sam Hesselman, and there is a big blowout in the Secretary of Defense office. Pritchard is selected to take the fall, and he responds by putting an unused bullet through his temple.

That ends the hunt for Yuri and possibly not quite Farrell’s troubles. He exits the Pentagon and reminisces on a grassy slope next to Susan’s grave. Two men in suits come and lead him away. They take him to the house in Virginia and interrogate him. His Soviet boss steps from behind a one-way mirror and tells him it’s time to come back to the fatherland. He declines the offer, and his boss instructs his agents not to kill Farrell. He reminds them Farrell has no place else to go.

So, that’s the key to the entire plot. Yuri the mole turns out to be Farrell, and you start to wonder how a deep cover operator like him managed to misplay his relationship with Susan, thus risking his exposure. What was he thinking? Then it is revealed that his assignment was to get close to Susan, very close, and thereby close to the SecDef. Apparently what happened is he got too close and developed a loving relationship, not a wise move for a seasoned spy. As it turns out, this is to be expected.

Revealed at the end is that Evgeni (Eugene in English) had been planted in the United States for years, becoming completely absorbed in American life and working his way to the upper reaches of the United States military. What often happens in cases like this is that the propaganda of the spy’s home country wears thin and with it the spy’s loyalty. Without periodic refreshment orientation an embedded agent may eventually flip.

Other aspects of the plot lack real world comfort. Yuri is known to be in the Pentagon. What do they do? They instigate a room by room search, dragging along the two witness who can identify him. They expect to complete this before the end of the work day, when thousands of people will be heading home. No, I don’t believe that either. I once worked for this company, but it was only last year that I ever visited the headquarters. The place is huge. Let’s think about a room-by-room search taking several days at least.

There is a lot of what I call plot churn. This is what you see when action seems to have been added in an attempt to stretch out the suspense. In this case, as is often, the action takes on the appearance of pachinko played with human marbles. That’s what we see as Defense security people charge from office to office and up and down those huge ramps that connect floors.

The same can be said of Farrell’s dash to save Nina from the killers. A freeway confrontation, an engineered crash, over the edge of an elevated lane, down a tree, through back alleys, sliding down an escalator divider, onto a Metro train, and on and on. It’s plot churn.

This production features a fair amount of female skin, much appreciated by a segment of the viewer-ship. Also there are shots of Kevin Costner’s bare torso, which will interest others in the audience. Titillation is a lot of what this movie is about. Enjoy.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

This movie is prime for review on a number of counts, not the least of which is its poor print and sound quality. That it came out in 1936 should have no bearing, because there exist works in excellent shape from the same era. However this one suffers from an intriguing plot plagued by implausibility. It’s House of Secrets, and I’m obtaining the screen shots from Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia. Here’s a summary of the story.

Leslie Fenton is Barry Wilding, an American traveling in Europe, although the reason is never explained. Here he is on the ferry from France to England, and he has just rescued comely Julie Kenmore (Muriel Evans) from a man who was making untoward advances. Only, Barry does not know her name at the time. She refuses to tell him that or why she was in France. When Barry attempts to gain information by examining her purse, she chucks it into the Channel. Rather extreme some would think. There are more extremes to come.

Guess what. Barry has hardly checked into his London hotel when he gets a summons from a lawyer. It is never explained how the lawyer knew Barry was in London, since he only planned to  stay until he could catch a boat to America. Anyhow, the lawyer is named Coventry (Jameson Thomas), and he explains that Barry is heir to a British estate. All Barry needs to do is to sign, in blood, an agreement to never sell, and the 300-year-old place is his. They use red ink instead of blood, and the lawyer assures Barry it’s all perfectly legal.

Not so fast. Barry shows up at the estate, supposedly unoccupied since the death of his relative, only to be met by guard dogs and a distinguished gentleman in the form of a Dr. Kenmore, who also has a gun—pointed at Barry. Despite Barry’s protestations, he is ordered to depart forthwith and to never return. This is a disappointing turn of events.

And if you have guessed there is a connection between Julie Kenmore and Dr. Kenmore, you are right. The good doctor is Julie’s father. The intrigue thickens, as Julie shows up at Barry’s hotel room asking him to cease and desist. Who can refuse an offer like that? Everybody, of course.

Barry stops at a local lodging near his estate and gets the lowdown. This scene also introduces some of the rare acting talent in this movie. From IMDb I learn that Mrs. Shippam is played by Rita Carlyle, who puts in a sterling character performance.

Among the documentation that came with Barry’s inheritance is half a parchment that originally gave directions to a hidden treasure. Who has the other half?

It’s necessary to introduce Sidney Blackmer as Tom Starr, an American friend of Barry’s and also a police detective, in England to ferret out a murderer who fled American law. Tom helps out and eventually plays into the plot.

It turns out the killer Tom is looking for is Dan “Three Fingers” Wharton (Noel Madison), and Dan and his gang are looking for the treasure. They have the other half of the parchment. To cut to the chase, Wharton gets Barry’s half of the parchment, and the gang raid the estate, dragging everybody except Barry (missed him in their dragnet) down to the basement. They will force them to reveal the secret treasure. They threaten to turn on the valve on that tank and then leave everybody cooped up in a closed room filling with poison gas. In fact, that is exactly what they do.

But Barry comes to the rescue. He gets the drop on the gang and breaks into the closed room He is advised to turn on the valve attached to the other tank. It contains a gas that neutralizes the poison gas.

And that’s what the movie is all about. The government (Great Britain) has been seeking to develop the poison gas neutralizer, and seeing Barry’s estate vacant they took it over to run their experiments. Now the poison gas neutralizer is proved to be successful, and the whole business can come to an end, and Barry and sweet Julie can live happily ever after in the estate. They celebrate.

But what about the treasure? They spring up and go on a treasure hunt, quickly finding the ancient loot. Barry and Julie are going to live quite comfortably ever after. Of course, this movie was put out not knowing that a major world war was about to engulf England in barely three years, and everybody’s life was going to be disrupted in horrific fashion.

What’s wrong? A short count:

Barry meets Julie on the ferry. She tosses her purse into the water rather than reveal her identity. As though nobody on the boat knew her name already. Who gets on a cross-channel vessel without entering some kind of identification into a passenger manifest?

Barry is in London and receives a lawyer’s summons while the ink on hotel register was still wet.

Barry acquires an estate by signing his name to an agreement. Really? No title transfer and lawyer stuff?

Barry shows up and gets run off his estate. Police tell him to get lost and quit troubling these squatters. Why doesn’t Barry show his title deed to the property? Because he has none.

The British government wants to conduct secret experiments, and the only way to keep the secret is to take over somebody else’s estate. That’s going to keep the secret?

The estate has been around for 300 years, and nobody has ever found the treasure under a trap door in the basement?

My knowledge of poison gas is that it kills quickly. A few seconds inside a closed room with the gas valve on, and everybody would be Dead. With a capital D.

Yeah, a lot doesn’t make sense in this movie. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Sidney Horler. I wish I could get a Kindle edition and do a review, but it’s available only in hard cover. Others share my opinion of Horler’s plots:

Literary reviewers of the time, such Dorothy L. Sayers and Compton Mackenzie, generally gave negative opinions on Horler’s fiction. Horler’s novels have not been popular since his death. Critics have taken issue with Horler’s plots, described by William L. DeAndrea as “unbelievable” (Horler himself claimed to “give old man coincidence’s arm a frightful twist”) and characters seen as cliched. David Stafford describes Horler as “among the worst” of British thriller writers.

There’s a lot of that going around even today, much of which finds its way into movie plots.

Fundamental Apocalypse

The word in the title, “apocalypse,” has slipped its original meaning. It has come to  mean “dire circumstances.” And that’s what this movie is all about.

Hulu has produced a TV series based on Margaret Atwood’s book, The Handmaid’s Tale, from 31 years ago, and it’s right up there with any zombie apocalypse flick you care to see, made more treacherous by skillful understatement. It’s a tale of modern society gone horribly wrong. It’s about the people living through the fundamental apocalypse. Where have we seen this before?

What has happened is the Unite States government has been overthrown in a well-crafted coup d’état, carried out by a fundamentalist Christian movement. The coup is swift and decisive. The national government is decapitated in a single strike, eliminating all leaders of the national government, all leaders, that is, except perhaps some of the movement already in power. The coup is blamed on external forces, a monstrous false flag operation, necessitating the suspension of all civil rights. This is followed, of course, by the instigation of an authoritative and self-perpetuating rule and a state named Gilead. American law and American  society will now be based on biblical literalism. Almost to the letter.

Opening scenes show a family, husband, wife, daughter, from Boston, attempting to escape north across the Canadian border. They don’t make it. The husband stays by their stalled car while the wife and child dash through the woods toward the border, two miles away. Guardians, heavily-armed religious police, overtake the mother and daughter and carry the child away. Gunfire in the distance indicates the husband has been killed. The fate of the mother is worse.

The title derives from Genesis 16:

16 Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.

And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.

And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.

And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.

And that is about the sum total of the handmaid’s tale. Catalyst to the coup were multiple failures of modern society, one of which was a precipitous decline in human fertility. Genesis 16 was to counter this calamity. Fertile women were to be pressed into breading service, in almost exact accordance with the biblical passage. The wife, now given the name Offred (from Of Fred), undergoes a brutal program of indoctrination that renders her totally submissive and in perpetual dread of unpleasant death, at least superficially. She is placed in the home of a high level Commander, her only tasks consisting of daily grocery shopping and, once each month, spreading her legs so the Commander can penetrate and impregnate her. It is not a private affair. The Commander’s wife sits behind Offred and restrains her hands. Other members of the household observe. There is not a lot of love lost.

The first crack of the plot brings to mind Robert Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100, previously reviewed. Recall from that tale (“If This Goes On”), the country has devolved into a repressive theocracy, and desirable young women are pressed into service as concubines for the priests. Other similarities exist. Heinlein’s story incorporates secret police keeping watch on everybody, and also an underground movement to oppose and overturn the theocracy. There are also shades of 1984, with eavesdropping cameras all about and sudden disappearances of those only suspected of apostasy. A black van may come to a stop next to the curb on a busy street and a pedestrian scooped inside, never to be seen again.

Another scene recalls The Stepford Wives. The handmaids shop in pairs, each keeping an eye on the other. They move among the supermarket aisles like grown up dolls on trolley wheels, the hems of their frocks almost brushing the floor. Faces devoid of expression.

As Offred and her shopping partner Ofglen (Of Glen) return to their respective prison houses, they often pass alongside the river, where authorities have on display the latest reminders of what resistance brings. Homosexuals and Catholic priests are equally served.

The book is presented as a narrative, recorded by a woman giving only her handmaid’s name, Offred, in what may have been a safe house along the escape route to Canada. An epilogue is presented as a symposium on the history of the Gileadean.

Being a partial transcript of the proceedings of the Twelfth Symposium on Gileadean Studies, held as part of the International Historical Association Convention, held at the University of Denay, Nunavit, on June 25, 2195.

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale (p. 299). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

The presenter describes the finding of a collection of audio cassettes, inside a container in a house, in no particular order. The book has apparently been constructed by compiling and assembling transcripts of the tapes. Atwood’s book is meant to recreate the haphazard nature of the narrative, moving, jumping forward and backward in time, as the woman calls to mind her experiences in Gilead and her life before.

In the book, her narrative ends precipitously. There is a ceremony featuring the execution by hanging of three people, followed by the unmasking of revolutionary elements within the ranks of the handmaids. The wife of Offred’s Commander reveals her knowledge of Offred’s perfidy, a sexual fling with the Commander, and Offred is sent to her room to await her fate. When the black van arrives to  take her away the Guardians inside are revealed to be rescuers with the rebellion, come to help Offred escape. Offred’s narrative ends at that point.

There is ample in  the book to make a reader’s blood run cold, but Hulu has added more. I am up to episode 6 in the TV series, and the creators have already introduced disturbing sub-plots. One episode features a visit by a trade delegation from Mexico. The trade ambassador is a woman, a complete repudiation of Gileadean culture. On arriving she quizzes Offred about her situation, in the presence of the Commander and his household. Offred is meek to the core, telling the ambassador the is satisfied. At a later, private, meeting Offred is candid. She is a prisoner, raped monthly in a vain effort to produce a child, doomed to death at the end of her tenure. The Mexican ambassador says she cannot help Offred. Mexico has the same fertility crisis, and the Mexicans are prepared to trade chocolate for some of Gilead’s handmaids.

Contrary to the book, Hulu shows Offred’s husband, Luke, having escaped to Canada and receiving a note from Offred, smuggled to him by the Mexican delegation. It is unknown to me how much further along this tangent Hulu will carry the story. Is there going to be a counter revolution? Will Offred (revealed by Hulu as June) ever see her daughter alive again? Or Luke?

Some Skeptical Analysis is in order. Here are a few points of note:

The inception of Gilead by means of a surgical coup d’état is uncharacteristic. The creation of a totalitarian theocracy out of the United States is too quick and too precise. Historical precedent is contrary. The Soviet Union developed with breath-taking speed from the Russian Empire, but there was merely one framework of suppression and brutality exchanged for another. Additionally, Russia’s abject military failures were a necessary caustic agent. Nazi Germany grew remorselessly out of a German monarchy that suffered humiliating losses in a war of its own making. And it was not overnight. Chinese communism and the current state of Cuba are additional examples. Look to Venezuela to see a modern state collapsing into oligarchy. Neither the book nor the movie display such a run-up to dystopia.

Gilead’s economy is failing, and it is not difficult to see why. With one half of the work force standing as armed guard over the other half, who is doing productive work? The book does tell of Colonies, where slave labor is producing food and maybe other products of the economy, but shortages are rife in both renditions of the story.

A core theme is modern society’s plummeting birth rate. Gilead attempts to remedy this through the handmaids, and readers (viewers, as well) recognize this as a reliance on scripture to solve a real world problem and also a mechanism that only contributes to it. It is obvious to the the casual observer that Gilead, perhaps the remainder of human society, is doomed to extinction from aging within two or three generations. Only the religious fanatics can fail to recognize this.

Yes, I can see a society that rides theocracy into its grave. We have only to look at:

  • North Korea—yes it is a theocracy.
  • The Taliban

These societies, and others so organized, cannot exist in a modern world without an infusion from the world they detest.

Watching, also reading, one wonders whether this is the vision we could expect under today’s theocratic politicians. How much power would it be required for them to have to bend modern society along these lines? We may be experiencing a small taste. Is the experiment already underway?

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Saw it before. Must have had the VHS at one time. Catching it now on Amazon Prime Video. It’s Sliver, staring that very hot (then) Sharon Stone. This came out in 1993, about the time Stone was still sizzling from Basic Instinct, to be reviewed later. It’s from Paramount Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s based on the book of the same name by Ira Levin, and I’m guessing the title comes from the apartment building that’s central to the plot. It’s a sliver of concrete, steel, and glass that shoots up in a tony neighborhood in Manhattan. It’s a thriller, with emphasis on eroticism and suspense. Lots of people die.

Opening scenes show a striking blond woman, Naomi Singer played by Allison Mackie, entering the building and taking the elevator to her apartment on the 20th floor. Closed circuit television (CCTV) follows her every move. She goes immediately to her balcony, overlooking the city, and takes in the view. Another person, not identified, enters her apartment using a key. He comes up behind her and caresses her. She responds at first. Then she is suddenly and violently thrown over the railing to her death. Thus begins the drama.

The next tenant of number 20B is Carly Norris (Stone), book editor for a New York publisher. She bears a resemblance to the late Ms. Singer.

Carly is newly divorced, having shucked off a seven-year, miserable marriage. She soon meets a number of other residents of the building, some of whom are about to die. One is Gus Hale (Keene Curtis), who first notices Carly’s strong resemblance to the former tenant. He aims to tell her some things he knows before he goes off to Japan for an extended stay. Later we observe his body in the shower, as seen on CCTV. Coverage throughout the building seems to be unlimited.

Unlimited includes Carly’s bathroom. Somebody watches her bathe erotically.

Nothing and nobody are missed. CCTV seems to cover every inch of the sliver building.

One of the downsides of Carly’s promising career is a morass of pressure exerted on her by people in power. She advertises herself as fiercely independent, a person who likes to be in control. Her boss, Alex Parsons (Martin Landau) wants her to review a book by Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger). She does not like Jack’s books, and she does not want to review his book. Alex wants Carly to work with Jack. Jack lives in the sliver building. He has already noticed Carly moving into the building. He is brash and pushy, just the kind of person Carly does not like.

Carly throws a party, and Jack crashes the party, uninvited. Another tenant is Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin), who also attends. Somebody has gifted Carly with a telescope, already set up on the balcony. Party goers take turns exercising some erotic voyeurism through the telescope. It remains a mystery how the telescope got delivered and installed.

It turns out Zeke was the donor. It also turns out he owns the building. Both Jack and Zeke put the move on Carly, but Zeke has more oil (as in oily), and his rude sexual overtures are successful. There is much steamy sex, as much as can be allowed without garnering an R (X?) rating. Here Zeke has left Carly the gift of sexy bra and panties. At dinner in a swanky restaurant he demands she demonstrate she is wearing them. That she does, to the alarm of an elderly couple sitting nearby. She has to demonstrate the panties by removing them and passing them over to Zeke.

But Zeke has wired his entire building so he can spy on everybody and everything. He invites Carly to participate. She is spellbound and cannot look away. Tragedy and depravity are played out in front of them. Zeke, from time to time, interferes with these dramas, in one case levying an anonymous threat against a child molester, forcing the creep to mend his ways. But there is no doubt who is creepier.

Carly’s friend Vida Warren (Polly Walker) has something to tell Carly about the late Naomi, but she doesn’t. She is shortly murdered in the stairwell, and Carly hears the commotion and spots Jack standing over the body. Jack is arrested, but released on bond. There is a confrontation. Jack has a gun. Jack accuses Zeke of setting him up to take the fall for Vida’s murder and wants Zeke to confess. Carly and Jack wrestle for the gun, and Jack is killed. Police stop looking for the root of the sliver building murders.

But Carly’s suspicions grow. She sends Zeke out on an errand and uses the interval to search for video tapes. She finds the one showing Naomi’s murder, a tape Zeke said did not exist. She also finds Zeke’s gun, and when Zeke returns early and sees she has the tape, Carly holds him off with the gun, from time to time shooting out one of the myriad TV screens. In a glimpse she catches the identity of Naomi’s murderer. It is not Zeke. He empties the pistol into various TV screens and leaves.

And that’s the end of the movie.

My first impression was that for a woman as Carly purports herself to be, having the need to be in charge, she allows Zeke to run all over her. I would consider Zeke’s sexual approach to be crude and doomed to failure had I not witnessed the same method work (not for me) on a number of occasions.

People, a hidden TV camera in every bathroom? Is there any reason the tenants have not already sued Zeke’s socks off and taken possession of the building for themselves? There is ample evidence that unauthorized entrance is being made to Carly’s and other apartments, and nobody calls the police to investigate, much less a lawyer.

Reality is not what this movie is about. Watch it for yourself, but beware your glasses are going to steam up.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Missed this when it came out in 1960. I must have been out at sea at the time. Good thing. It’s The Walking Target, starring Joan Evans and Ronald Foster, not exactly headliners even in those days. This was released by United Artists. I caught it on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

After a very dramatic title poster, we see convict Nick Harbin (Foster) talking tough with the prison Warden. We are informed in no uncertain terms this is the California State Prison. The warden is talking tough right back. He lauds Harbin  for being such a straight arrow for five years, but there is a remaining account he needs to settle. That’s the matter of the $260,000 he and his gang stole in an armored car robbery. Harbin says no dice and walks out.

He walks into the arms of waiting ex-girlfriend Susan (Merry Anders). She is dressed to kill and there is no doubt she has in mind the 260K. Harbin gets physical with some pesky reporters, and he and Susan head off to his bungalow in the country.

Been there. This setting seems to have been shot in those hills up coast from Malibu, where a lot of studios still shoot rural scenery. Also at the cabin is Nick’s friend Dave (Robert Christopher). Doesn’t take much figuring to know lots of people are looking to snag the stolen loot.

Nick goes looking for an old sweetheart, Gail Russo (Evans). Way back when she ditched Nick and married Nick’s friend Sam Russo. Then Nick convinced Sam to go in with him on the armored car caper, and Sam got killed. But only after Sam and Nick sealed the cash inside a welded compartment of a car, now belonging to Gail. An old geezer, living in the late Sam’s garage, tells Nick that Gail has gone back home to Gold City, Arizona.

A flash back shows Sam bluffing his pretty wife, even as he and Nick make preparations for the heist.

The flash back shows the death of a third partner, shot by an armored  car guard.

When Nick gets back to the bungalow he finds old friend Dave and old girl Susan making out. The layout falls into place for Nick.

Other gangsters are after the loot, and they’ve contracted Dave to get it for a cut. Meanwhile, Nick tracks Gail to her diner in Arizona. She still has the car, and the money is still there.

The gangsters track Nick to the diner and put the squeeze on, threatening to work Gail over.

Guess who. The police have not been idle, and two arrive shortly. Both get shot, but one is only badly wounded. Nick prevails in a row with the gangsters, and he reveals his plan to return the money.

And everybody goes home.

Not a bad plot, if fairly straight line. Acting is about par, no great demands placed on the players. Some visuals don’t ring true.

The cops see what’s going on in the diner and they enter after kicking in the door. The first is apparently killed in the exchange of gunfire, and the second is badly wounded. He finishes out the movie without showing an ounce of remorse for his dead friend.

Nick meets Gail at the diner and tells her the money is in her car. The drive out into the boondocks where Nick cuts open the sealed compartment with a cutting torch. Five years before, there was ample welding and cutting equipment at Sam’s garage, but where is Nick getting the torch to cut the compartment open?

Interesting that Gail kept the used car for five years and never junked it or traded it in.

Nick organizes an armored car heist, no guns used, but two guards are clubbed senseless. Then one of the gang gets killed by the police. Usually that would mean a murder charge for Nick. He gets only five years. Of course, it had to be a short term, because there was no way Gail was going to keep the car forever.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

In 1889 the Brits set out to construct a rail line from Kenya to Uganda. This in competition with the French and the Germans. At the time the African continent was open to colonization, and European countries were invading en masse. During construction of a bridge over the Tsavo River the construction crew, mostly Africans and Indians, was beset by two man-eating lions, who would from time to time attack a worker, sometimes at night in his tent. At one time the Guinness Book of World Records listed this as the worst plague of man-eating lions at 300 killed. That has since been revised, and a figure of about a tenth that is now acknowledged. That’s the basis of this movie. It’s The Ghost and the Darkness from 1996 from Paramount Pictures.

British Army Colonel John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer) is engaged to manage the project. He leaves behind in England his lovely wife, Helana (Emily Mortimer), pregnant.

Patterson teams up with construction foreman, Samuel (John Kani). Together they vow to finish the project on schedule. Samuel asks Patterson if he is married. Patterson tells him he is. Samuel tells Patterson he, himself, has five wives. He asks Patterson whether he loves his wife. Patterson tells him he does, very much. Samuel mentions he does not like any of his wives.

We get a preview of coming disaster, as tan forms move through the tall grass near the rail line.

The killings begin, as a worker finds himself dragged from his bed in the middle of the night and eaten by a lion.

Patterson has never seen a lion before, but he teams with fellow Brit Angus Starling (Brian McCardie) to stalk and kill the lion. At this, Patterson is successful, and all celebrate the vanquishing of the menace. Then the killings resume.

When Patterson, Samuel, and Starling stalk an attacking lion at the railway station, they spot another on the roof. There are two lions.

Patterson converts a railway car into a killing trap for the lions. A trap door will ensnare the lion, while accomplished killers from among the work crew will shoot from inside their protective cage. It does not work. These accomplished killers panic and fire wildly, hitting the cage bars and nary a lion.

Professional hunter Charles Remington (Michael Douglas) appears on the scene. Together, Remington and Patterson stalk the two lions.

 

They succeed in killing one of the lions and celebrate with champagne and a restful sleep. Patterson has a dream. His lovely wife and newborn son arrive at the railway station, and she waves to him. Then he sees a tan form charging through the tall grass, onto the platform, and attacking his bride.

 

Patterson wakes up and sees Remington is gone. He finds Remington’s body out in the grass, where the lion has left it. Patterson constructs an elevated platform from which to shoot the lion, and he baits the area with fresh kill. When the lion comes it is an even match, and Patterson ends up killing the animal up close and personal with two blasts from a large-bore, double-barrel weapon.

The construction workers, who had fled earlier, return to the job on the train, as well as Patterson’s wife and son. No tan nform stalks from the tall grass. And that’s the end of the movie.

The Remington character is fiction. Amazon movie credits tell that Patterson killed both lions. The movie spends a lot of time with Patterson and Remington tracking the lions and discovering a lion den cave with a cache of human remains. No.

The bit about the accomplished killers in the railway car trap is beyond absurdity, engineered to entrap viewers into some extra suspense and drama. Three armed men unable to shoot a lion through the cage bars is too much a stretch.

The bridge, by now nearly 120 years old, appears in the beginning and end credits of the movie.