Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Yes, for old and bad movies Amazon Prime Video is the go-to place. I’m trying to get ahead of the game so I can take a few days off, so I’m doing a burst of bad movies this week. And this one is bad. It’s Unashamed: A Romance, from 1938. There’s no Wikipedia entry, so I’m getting details from IMDb.

Sorry, it’s not a really great print. That’s about what’s available from that era. The opening shows a nice looking woman in her underwear, preparing for a day at work and contemplating her love life. She is Rae Lane (Rae Kidd). We are going to be seeing a lot more of her.

Rae has the hots for Robert Lawton (Robert Stanley), her hunk of a boss. Except that her boss doesn’t find her all that appealing. Besides, he’s a hypochondriac, always wasting doctors’ time and taking bottles of pills. Rae convinces the doctor, Dr. Malvin (Joseph W. Girard), to recommend that Robert take some time of and relax. The doctor recommends a nudist camp. This is going to get interesting.

Robert arrives, sees all the naked people, and gets ready to strut his stuff.

Without an explanation why, Rae is there. Now Robert finds her interesting.

A romance develops, hence the title. But along comes Barbara Pound (Lucille Shearer), a pharmaceutical heiress, on the run from unwanted publicity. She and her sidekick, another charming lass, stumble onto the nudist camp while eluding search parties. Not realizing they are on the camp property, they make themselves at home.

Besides checking out each other’s wares, the nudists are entertained by a ventriloquist and his dummy.

For a movie showing all this flesh, it is terribly dull. There is next to zero drama, and we spend most of the 64 minutes worth of celluloid watching naked people play volley ball, splashing in the pool, and (here) doing a sing-along.

Robert takes an immediate shine to Barbara. Rae is suddenly abandoned.

Her loss sinks in and Rae climes to the tip of the stony peak and surveys the surroundings and the remains of her love life. It’s not made explicit whether she jumps.

And that’s the end of the movie.

Yeah, given a gaggle of good-looking, naked women (and men), I could have come up with an interesting plot, and maybe even some intelligent dialog. Watching through it on my big screen I got the idea that somebody had a few thousand dollars and wandered through a studio lot and asked, “Who wants to be in a nude flick?”

The title sequence does not reveal the production company, and neither does IMDb. Amazon on-screen notes relate this film was banned in Boston (surprise, surprise). A theater showing was scheduled without first clearing it with City Censor John J. Casey. The police showed up, and everybody had to leave the theater. Those were the days.

No mention of Academy Awards nominations.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I kept seeing this available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, but the title threw me off. That’s because there is another film with the same name from 61 years ago. But I needed another movie review for 16 August, so I clicked on this and got a surprise. It’s based on a John Grisham novel of the same name. From 20 years ago, this is The Rainmaker, starring Matt Damon as newly-minted Memphis lawyer Rudy Baylor. I purchased a copy of the book, but I have not had time to read it. I will, however, make note of variances between the book and the film. This is out of American Zoetrope and Constellation Films and distributed by Paramount Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

Grisham wrote a slew of lawyer novels, and the ones I have covered share a common thread:

  • A disdain for the American legal  system
  • A lawyer dangling by a thread and working to right a wrong.

Rudy Baylor tells the story. Fresh out of law school he can’t find a job. He is studying to pass the bar exam, and the only work he can get is with a sleaze bag firm in Memphis. He’s given a list of clients to rein in and an assistant, Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito), who has a law degree, but who has failed the bar exam six times.

One of Rudy’s clients is the Black family. Donny Ray Black (Johnny Whitworth) is dying of leukemia, which condition could be resolved, except that requires a bone marrow transplant, which the Black family cannot afford, except they have health insurance from a company calling itself Great Benefit. Only Great Benefit has declined the family’s claim eight times, the final time in the manner of an abusive (“dumb dumb dumb”) rejection letter. Here we see Dot Black (Mary Kay Place) comforting her son, who is bleeding from the nose.

To pick up clients and earn his keep at the law firm, Rudy hangs out at a local hospital, where he witnesses a severely injured woman, Kelly Riker (Claire Danes) being abused by her husband Cliff (Andrew Shue), who put her there previously with the aid of an aluminum softball bat. This image shows right before the husband blows up, throwing stuff in his wife’s face, and storming out of the hospital cafeteria, knocking over furniture. Rudy offers to help her.

Oops! Rudy’s employer dissolves, as its owner, J. Lyman “Bruiser” Stone (Mickey Rourke) gets charged with racketeering and absconds. Before the balloon goes up Rudy and Deck make off with critical case files and start their own law firm. They take the Black case to court. However, Rudy has only just passed the bar exam, and he is not yet really a lawyer. Great Benefit’s high-price lawyer, Leo F. Drummond (Jon Voight) agrees to allow Rudy to continue with the case if the judge will swear him in on the spot.

The judge is notoriously sympathetic with outfits such as Great Benefit to the detriment of people who bring suit against them, and he urges a settlement on Rudy, apparently in collaboration with Drummond. Rudy takes the offer to Dot, but she tells Rudy it’s too late for money. She wants justice. She wants Great Benefit nailed to the wall.

Dawn breaks, and the judge has died. The case gets a new judge, a former civil rights lawyer. Nothing could be worse for Great Benefit. Rudy tells the judge the Black family has declined the offer and wants to proceed with the case. That brings Rudy to a deposition at a Great Benefit’s conference room in Ohio. With nothing working for him but a shoe shine, Rudy faces a bank of lawyers billing at $1000 an hour and their client, who stonewalls the deposition. Witness have disappeared. Gone. Left the company, Whereabouts unknown. Tough luck, kid.

Where have we seen this before—a disclosure proceeding involving a disappearing employee? How about a movie by that name, Disclosure, which came out three years before?

In the meantime, Deck has figured out their law office has been bugged. It’s not a government bug, not high-end. They figure Drummond’s firm is behind the caper. They test their theory. They track down one of the jurors scheduled to hear the case. They do not contact the juror, but they have their process server Butch (Adrian Roberts) to fake a phone call, posing as a juror, to Rudy at the office. Sure enough, in court Drummond charges that Rudy has been in contact with the juror.

Meanwhile, Rudy has multiple irons in the fire. He convinces Kelly to file for divorce, and he sequesters her in the home of an elderly client. When Rudy and Kelly go by her house to get some clothing Cliff breaks down the door with his trusty aluminum softball bat and commences to wage war on the two. After suffering some damage, the two gain the advantage over Cliff, and Kelly advises Rudy to depart and forget he was ever there. As Rudy closes the door behind him he hears multiple blows being landed on Cliff. It’s the end of Cliff, and police haul Kelly in. Rudy represents her as her lawyer.

Good news. the district attorney declares Cliff’s fatal encounter was an act of self-defense, and Kelly is not charged. Deck employs some dodgy methods and locates one of the missing witnesses from Great Benefit. Jackie Lemanczyk (Virginia Madsen), it turns out, did not resign voluntarily. She was paid $10,000 to quit and to say nothing. She was in charge of routinely denying claims. The company’s business model was to sell cheap policies door-to-door, collect premiums weekly, and deny claims.

There is some back and forth in the courtroom, which makes for good viewing, and the jury awards the Black family (Danny Ray has since died) $50 million. But they don’t collect, and also Drummond’s law firm does not get paid. Great Benefit’s CEO is arrested attempting to leave the country after looting the company. Rudy informs Dot there will be no money, but Dot is agreeable. She has obtained her vengeance.

Rudy hooks up with Kelly. They are likely to be making babies soon. But he decides he does not want to be a lawyer. Recall Grisham’s unfondness for the legal system.

Grisham, or else whoever crafted the movie script, takes a few things for granted. For example, Jackie, the claims handler, cites a section U of the company handbook. That section instructs that all claims should be denied. She presents her own copy of the handbook, a large three-ring binder, which she took with her when she left the company.

However, Drummond presents the “current” copy of the handbook. There is no section U. He charges that Rudy’s copy is not admissible in  court, because Jackie stole it from her employer. Initially Rudy is stumped by this, but Deck, who previously failed six time to pass the bar examination, pulls up a precedent showing that stolen evidence is admissible, so long as it was not the ones prosecuting the case who stole it.

On the face of it, this should have been well-understood, even by a fuzzy-faced kid out of law school. Suppose a gang robs a bank, and then one of the gang steals some of the bank money and turns it over to the district attorney. Is the district attorney not allowed to use the twice stolen money as evidence? We would not think he should. Stolen, fell out the back of a van, blown out a window by a capricious wind, when it lands in your lap you can  use it.

Jackie cites section U. The defense presents the current handbook with no section U. Of course, section U has to be the last section in the book, else Great Benefit would need to explain  why there is a section V but no section U. And what difference should it make, anyhow? Get one of the witnesses from Great Benefit on the stand and ask about section U. That person denies its existence under penalty of perjury. Who’s willing to go to jail for Great Benefit?

As it turns out, I have since acquired a Kindle edition of the novel, and I checked on this particular item. Grisham never put any concern about stolen paperwork in  the book. That part seems to have been crafted by screen writer Francis Ford Coppola. It chews up a few minutes of celluloid, ushers in some extra drama, and confuses legal minds watching it.

Also, there is the matter of the bugging of Rudy’s office. Rudy and Deck have enough evidence to demonstrate that the defendant’s law firm bugged their office. Drummond exhibited knowledge that could only have been obtained from eaves dropping the faked call. Rudy has the ammunition to turn the high-price law firm into a vacant lot.

While writing this I spoke with somebody who previously worked for Blue Cross. The information I obtained is that their practice is much like that of the fictional Great Benefit. Deny claims as a matter of course. Lest the viewer think this is an extraordinary circumstance, a short Internet search reveals it to be common. Insurance companies attempt to boost their profit by denying claims, with little consideration  for the claims’ merits:

In order to understand the effect of an insurer incentive plan on claims personnel, it is helpful to review the details of an actual program. For instance, Farmers Insurance Group, Inc. has instituted a number of employee incentive programs. One program is called “Quest for Gold.” It was implemented by Farmers in 1998. Quest for Gold is a contest in which Farmers pays cash prizes and bonuses to the personnel of the Branch Claims Offices that perform best in achieving various predetermined goals. In 1999, the North Dakota/South Dakota (Bismarck) Branch Claims Office excelled in the Quest for Gold contest. The Office achieved a silver medal entitling each of the Bismarck Branch Claims Office personnel to a share of the cash prizes.

That posting goes on to lay out the framework. Since an employee cannot increase profits by boosting policy premiums, the employee is left with the option of denying claims, whether specifically instructed to do so or not.

Another peculiar aspect of the Great Benefit case is the nature of the policy. The Black family is shown to be low-income and a ripe market for weekly premium payments. From the book:

I examine the Blacks’ policy with Great Benefit, and take pages of notes. It reads like Sanskrit. I organize the letters and claim forms and medical reports. Sara has disappeared for the moment, and I’ve become lost in a disputed insurance claim that stinks more and more.

The policy was purchased for eighteen dollars a week from the Great Benefit Life Insurance Company of Cleveland, Ohio. I study the debit book, a little journal used to record the weekly payments. It appears as though the agent, one Bobby Ott, actually visited the Blacks every week.

Grisham, John. The Rainmaker (p. 34). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

It is not emphasized in the movie, but the insurance company incurs considerable cost servicing these policies. An agent must physically visit the Black family each week and collect the premium payment. This is money subtracted from the company’s profit on the policy, and this must be made back by charging a higher rate. What it would mean, even if Great Benefit paid off, is that the Black’s would be getting less coverage for premiums paid. Great Benefit boosted their profit even more by not paying valid claims.

In his summation to the jury, Drummond demonstrates a prevalent bit of insurance company propaganda. He rages that if the jury is not willing to push back against outrageous claims against insurance companies, then they will be to blame when the premiums of honest people become priced out of reach.

A brief scan of the book reveals the movie plot tracks it closely. After Cliff is knocked down in the fight, Kelly tells Rudy to hand over the bat and leave. Rudy waits nearby in his car and watches the police arrive to investigate a murder scene. Kelly is not indicted. In the end Rudy and Kelly leave to make a new life with each other, Rudy taking extraordinary steps to never have further contact with the legal system. There will be a review of the book later this year.

Clair Danes has more recently appeared as hyperbolic counter-terrorism agent Carrie Mathison in the Showtime thriller series Homeland. I previously reviewed The Martian, with Matt Damon in the title role. John Voight’s first memorable appearance was as male prostitute Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy. He went on to another stellar performance in Deliverance. With age his glamor appeal faded, as evidenced by Runaway Train. My favorite Danny DeVito vehicle was Romancing the Stone. He was also outstanding in Ruthless People.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Most-reliable Amazon Prime Video came through for me again this week. Getting desperate for a Bad Movie of the Week, I skimmed titles from Amazon. This one came through. It’s Inhuman Resources, 2012, and I have to warn you, it’s a slasher movie to end all. Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry, so I’m getting details from IMDb. Here are the highlights:

You have heard of human resources. That’s what they used to  call personnel in companies. Anyhow, this is inhuman resources, so you begin to get the picture. It’s corporate politics from hell, and it starts out provocatively enough. There’s a blonde corporate type making waves as she struts her stuff between the cubes and gets on an elevator.

The next time we see Ms. Hot Stuff she is decapitated on the floor of the elevator car. Annabelle Hale waits for the doors to open and comes face to face with the gruesome scene.

Regional manager Nicholas Reddmann is standing there with the bloody ax and a fiendish countenance. It’s the most recent of a series of such atrocities.

Of course, Reddmann is tried and convicted but is deemed insane. He appears to die in a fire during an escape attempt. Annabelle, daily looking for work, picks up living expenses doing Internet strip shows. Here is the slasher movie obligatory bare breast scene. Show me a slasher movie without bare tits, and I will show you Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

But Annabelle is abducted from  her apartment, and comes to, chained to a conference table along with five other people. Each is in some manner connected with the ax murder.

Reddmann is miraculously alive, and he directs his captives to work mightily at proving his innocence of the ax murders.

When somebody’s work slacks off, Reddmann employs his hook of a hand to inscribe a mark on the forehead of the miscreant. Five such marks, and Reddmann dispatches the offender in the most gruesome manner imaginable. Here William Tucker (Sam Reid) already has three.

Cutting to the chase, Annabelle works diligently and finds a way to escape through an A/C vent in the women’s rest room. She puts the kibosh on Reddmann and unchains William and one more. They are the  remaining survivors.

As the three battle to escape, one of the three is killed, leaving only William and Annabelle. It becomes apparent to Annabelle that William is not as innocent as he claims, and he reveals what really happened on that fatal day months before.

William was a parcel delivery man, and he had a habit of waylaying officer workers and decapitating them. He reveals his method and describes how he wielded the ax and handed it, covered with blood, to a shocked Reddmann, who took the fall when the elevator doors opened at the ground floor.

Reddmann and William disappear, leaving only Annabelle for the rescue squad to haul away from the gruesome scene. Annabelle recovers to write a book about the episode and is scheduled for a book signing. But William, in hiding, has taken offense, and he murders Annabelle’s publicist and forces his way into her apartment, bloody knife in hand.

Annabelle fights William off and flees onto the street, with William in deadly pursuit. She encounters Reddmann on the darkened sidewalk, and Reddmann kills William, leaving Annabelle with William’s severed head to take to the book signing. She presents the head and asks if there are any questions.

Do I need to explain why this is the Bad Movie of the Week?

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This came out in 1996, and I saw part of it for some reason. Watching the complete film on Hulu gave me a revised perspective. It’s The Juror, starring Demi Moore as Annie Laird, the juror in question. It’s a crime thriller, along the lines of Experiment in  Terror from 1962. It’s from Columbia Pictures, and details are from Wikipedia.

It’s the kind of situation any citizen can come up against. You’re a juror in a trial against a violent and powerful criminal, and there is the temptation on the part of the accused to sway your opinion using means available to such people. That’s what this film is about.

In the opening scene a hired killer murders a gang member, and then he kills the man’s grandson before departing. The police have  wiretap evidence. There is a trial. Jurors are being selected. Annie Laird, a single mother, agrees to serve. She becomes an immediate target.

The hired killer is not on trial. His identity is not known to police. The person who hired him is on trial. That leaves the hired killer, Mark Cordell “The Teacher” (Alec Baldwin), available to pick up some extra cash by fixing the jury vote. He zeros in on Annie. Posing as an art dealer, he purchases a number of her sculptures and introduces himself. After a little romantic foreplay he reveals his true purpose. She will be required to vote “not guilty,” or she and her son will be killed. The Teacher has already planted listening devices in Annie’s house so he can keep close tabs.

The Teacher works from a rented storage facility, and when the owner gets too nosy he figures it’s necessary to eliminate him. This he does, and he forces Annie to watch.

Now the arguments at trial are over, and jury deliberations begin. Ten jurors vote to convict. Annie and another vote to acquit. Now The Teacher changes the rules. Annie must turn the jury completely around, else the threatened consequences will accrue.

And she does. Hour after hour Annie makes the argument for acquittal, eventually wearing down all opposition. The gang boss is acquitted.

Naturally the prosecutors are interested in Annie. They haul her in. She tells them they cannot help her. She has her safety and that of her son, Oliver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), at stake. The prosecutors have no such commitment.

But this catches the attention of The Teacher. Only, he has developed an attachment toward Annie. She is an attractive woman (hey! Demi Moore), and she is strong and capable. So he goes after her friend Juliet (Anne Heche), a doctor. He seduces Juliet and murders her in bed after a rousing sexual romp.

That is the straw that breaks Annie’s resistance. She takes her son to a remote village in  Guatemala and returns to work with the cops. She insists on wearing a wire in a meeting with The Teacher. But, unknown to the cops, Annie tucks another device deeper into her clothing. Meeting The Teacher, Annie discloses the first wire and removes it. Then, alone with The Teacher, she gets him to reveal his plans to overthrow his boss. Then she plays the recording to the boss.

The boss takes action, summoning The Teacher to a meeting that is held on some mud flats in New Jersey, upstream of the George Washington Bridge. An excellent place to dispose of a body.

But The Teacher has anticipated the plot, and he turns the tables on the gangsters, killing them all. Then he turns his vengeance on Annie.

Then he makes a mistake. He underestimates Annie. He tells her of his intent to go to Guatemala and kill Oliver. Then he catches a flight to Guatemala City. Annie is  too late. She can’t get on the flight. The Teacher is on his way to kill Oliver.

But there is a second flight. Annie is still behind The Teacher’s schedule. At the airport in Guatemala City The Teacher hitches a ride, then kills the driver and drives his car to the remote village. It’s a long drive. Too long.

Annie arrives in Guatemala City and cannot hire a car. She hires a plane, instead. Arriving in T’ui Cuch ahead of The Teacher. The Teacher spots Oliver in a crowd celebrating a local festival. Oliver lures The Teacher to an ancient structure, where local  gunmen are waiting. Annie fires the final, killing rounds into The Teacher. There is a certain amount of glee.

There is a certain moral dilemma here. Yeah, I can save my own skin and my son by playing along, and I am agreeable, in exchange, to accommodate the deaths of the rental dealer, the best friend, and the driver in Guatemala. Truth be known, the mobsters were never destined to be safe as long as Annie was still alive. And why not kill Oliver along the way?

There are some disconnects in the plot.

The gangsters decide to kill the hapless chump in the car by rolling over a cliff. In front of God and everybody? There could have been up to 50 witnesses to this crime.

Annie knows The Teacher is heading to Guatemala to kill Oliver. She can’t pick up a phone and tell the police? An official  call from the NYPD would have Guatemala police waiting to take The Teacher into custody when he stepped off the plane.

The Teacher carries two loaded handguns aboard an international flight? And passes through Guatemalan customs with them? No.

No, the movie needs the dramatic shootout in the closing scene to show good triumphing over evil in the biggest way possible. Even if much credibility needs to be stretched in between.

I first recall Demi Moore from Wisdom, the tale of a social dropout who resorts to crime as a protest against his life’s consequences. She is the hapless girlfriend of John Wisdom (Emilio Estevez), ending the film getting shot and killed as police close in. I have a copy of Striptease, about a single mother who earns a living taking off her clothing. My only regret about that movie is it does not involve more of her fabulous body, once featured au naturale on the cover of Vanity Fair. Opposite Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, she is foil to Cruise’s dominating character. Her Wonder Woman persona shines in G.I. Jane, where she gets to show off both her tough and her sexy sides. With an emphasis on tough. I will do reviews of these films when they become available.

Alec Baldwin created the film embodiment of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October. More recently he has moved to television comedy, lampooning President Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live.

I love Anne Heche in Six Days and Seven Nights, a comedic thriller played opposite Harrison Ford. It’s a romping adventure with the unforgettable scene that features Ford feeling around in  her crotch area for an wayward fish. A review is due.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

There may be some readers who think they quit making bad movies 60 years ago. It could be because I tend to dig way back in the archives to find a BMotW candidate. This one puts the lie to that idea. It’s from three years ago, and it’s bad. It’s Deeper: The Retribution of Beth, from Fat Lemonade and Atomic Imagery, currently streaming on Hulu. Wikipedia does not have an entry for this one, so I’m getting details from  IMDb.

There’s not much to explain about the plot, but I will have a go at it. It’s in Seattle, and there are these two jerks, John (Greyston Holt) and Steve (Andrew Francis), who make a living producing porn videos. To sweeten their profits they work a scam that goes like this. They cruise the streets in  a white van, and when they spot a likely mark, a sexy babe walking alone, they stop and present their proposition. They are making a video, and they would like to interview her. Will she get in the van? They offer money. We see multiple marks taking the bait.

Steve converses while John shoots the footage. A little money offered. Will you do this? Yes. More money offered. Will you do more? Viewers get a chance to see a bunch of women’s tits.

Anyhow, when the marks are not looking, Steve steals back the money, and the victim is turned loose feeling sorely burned, while the jerks go off laughing at their grand joke.

Mark (Matthew Kevin Anderson) and Susan (Olivia Cheng) set out to do a story on the two porn kings, and they meet the pair on a street corner. Mark thought the plan was to meet in their office, but Steve insists that Mark ride along for a live interview. He insists that Susan cannot come along. It turns out to  be good news for Susan. For Mark, not so much.

In a twist from their usual prank, the two pick up a pair of babes. Sam (Elise Gatien) is sweet and prime. Beth (Jessica Harmon) has a few more miles but still passes for for hot.

While Mark looks on the scammers start their spiel. Sam warms to the scheme and suggests migrating to a more remote spot before getting down to  serious business. The van heads into a secluded section of boreal forest.

That’s when things turn deadly. As Sam commences to display her feminine wares, Beth whips out a piece of her own and blows John dead away.

The remainder of the plot is a mash of mayhem, as Mark and Steve are cuffed with tie-wraps, and Steve gets pistol whipped while being reminded of his past sins. People happen onto the scene and get murdered, there are repeated escapes into the woods accompanied by determined hunts and recapture. At gunpoint Mark is forced to hump Steve from behind, at which point a hunter in camo puts a wing shot into Beth to break the matter up. Eventually everybody dies.

Except, Sam and Steve. With everybody else dead, Sam retrieves slip-joint pliers and grips Steve’s tongue, pulling on it and slicing it off at the base. A black car drives up and Sam gets in and departs. And that’s the end of the movie.

Yes, there is a back story, but it shows up only in retelling. There’s a load of plot churn that leads nowhere. Somebody wants to depict a gruesome extreme of the human condition and almost succeeds.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I previously had a hard copy of the book, but now I have a Kindle edition. I don’t recall where I first saw the movie, but it’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The movie came out twenty years ago, the year after Carl Sagan’s death. It’s Contact, based on his novel of the same name. It’s distributed by Warner Brothers. Details are from Wikipedia.

Contact refers to contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, and in particular this movie pertains to SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which was one Carl Sagan’s prime endeavors. Principle in the plot is Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Ann Arroway, played by (Jodie Foster). It begins early in Ellie’s life. As a child she had a consuming interest in communication with remote intelligence. Her short wave radio set connected her to people around the planet.

Then her father died, and she forged her own path.

She is next seen working on the SETI project at the Arecibo radio telescope facility in Puerto Rico. It is a place of Audacious Science.

It is difficult to defend SETI. Telescope time is valuable for more pragmatic research, and Ellie has to scramble for grants to fund her research. She meets and becomes romantically involved with her polar opposite, Palmer Ross (Matthew McConaughey) a religious philosopher.

A wealthy billionaire, S.R. Hadden (John Hurt) takes interest and provides funding. Hadden is strange, even for a reclusive billionaire. He has ensconced himself aboard a low-Earth satellite, where the zero gravity prolongs his life. Ellie moves her work to the Very Large Array facility west of Socorro, New Mexico. It’s a place of Very Large Science.

The improbable occurs. The antenna array picks up a regular signal. The signal comes precisely from the Vega star system, 26 light years from Earth. Decoding it reveals the earliest television signals, from the 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi Germany. Following are plans for the construction of what amounts to a time-travel machine.

No explanation is given—just instructions for building and operating the machine. It is huge and bizarre. There is a place for a single human passenger in a capsule to be dropped, free-fall, through the center of rotating rings.

Ellie’s nemesis, her former NSF overseer David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt), is chosen to make the trip. Tragedy intrudes. A religious fanatic infiltrates the project and explodes a bomb, wrecking the system and killing Drumlin.

Fortunately, billionaire Hadden has secretly funded the construction of a duplicate system on a Japanese island, and Ellie makes the trip.

She rides the capsule free-fall and experiences what is imagined to be a trip through a worm hole, winding up shortly on a planet in the Vega system. On a beach, within a hallucination induced by an alien life form, Ellie converses with an alien being projecting itself as Ellie’s long-dead father (David Morse).

Then Ellie returns, and the capsule completes its fall through the rings. Only seconds have transpired on Earth, and all the recorded logs from the capsule contain only noise. The official position is that Ellie’s accounts of her experiences are either fallacious or else imagined. However, a White House official, Rachel Constantine (Angela Bassett) observes the recorded data from the capsule spans 18 hours.

Yes, this is a nice science fiction story, albeit incomplete. Some technical issues do not survive.

Example one is the characters using cell phones at Arecibo and the VLA. The times I have visited those places cell phones were ordered to be off.

The business of traveling through a worm hole is contrived. Worm holes are mathematical entities postulated by physicists enabling connectivity between points distant in four-space. Going through a worm hole, if only in principle, would not be like actually traversing a tunnel, as depicted. In short, there would be no visuals, and it is not supposed there would be any sensation of elapsed time.

The four-space travel machine is appropriately bizarre. A more mundane physical implementation would have sufficed, although not as entertaining.

Following Ellie’s return from the Vega system, her story is widely discredited. Really? A team of highly-proficient scientists and engineers failed to  notice the 18-hour discrepancy? The discrepancy was not immediately made public? I’m not buying that.

Furthermore, antagonists insist the Vega signals could have been faked by the wealthy Mr. Hadden. Absolutely not. Signals being received by multiple observatories cannot be faked.

Sagan long pushed the SETI project, but on an invalid basis. The fallacious premise is that we should search for extraterrestrial life by examining the radio spectrum from galactic sources. The reward for success is learning that intelligent life exists beyond our planet. On the face of it,  that’s a poor return, because I am going to postulate there is intelligent life on other worlds. So, what do we really get? Top prize would be having something to shove into the face of the nearest creationist who persists on mouthing that our species is a special creation. A secondary prize would be reassurance concerning our ideas on modern cosmology. The Universe developed some 13 billion years ago, Stars formed, galaxies formed, planets formed, life formed. That would be good.

But the cost-benefit is low. Back of  the envelop calculations indicate the possibility of  success is vanishingly small. Even if the reward were the prevention of another human calamity on the scale of World War Two, the effort would be better spent elsewhere.

So, what is the proper approach to SETI? My nomination is SETI@home.

SETI@home (“SETI at home”) is an Internet-based public volunteer computing project employing the BOINC software platform, hosted by the Space Sciences Laboratory, at the University of California, Berkeley. Its purpose is to analyze radio signals, searching for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence, and as such is one of many activities undertaken as part of the worldwide SETI effort.

A computer sitting on the floor behind me is running SETI@home right now. The project does not require antenna time. It piggy-backs on existing radio telescope research. Signals from active research are parceled out to the thousands (millions?) of participating computers, which perform analysis in the background. You may not know it, but your computer is always active. When you press a key on your keyboard and before your finger can get to the next key, your computer is looking around for something to do with the unused time. That’s background. SETI@home uses that wasted time.

Search for SETI@home, get the software, get started.

My spare computer is also running the asteroid search. It’s like SETI@home, but the process involves identifying objects that may strike the Earth and do much damage. I eagerly await the night when my computer blasts out an alarm, flashing a notice on the screen: “GET AS FAR AWAY AS POSSIBLE FROM YOUR HOUSE IMMEDIATELY. AN ASTEROID WILL IMPACT IN FIVE MINUTES. SIGNING OFF. GOODBYE.”

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Amazon Prime Video. When desperate for a really bad movie to review, I can always count on Amazon to come through. Sometime in recent months a person at Amazon must have approached the keeper of the Motion Picture Historical Society (assuming there is such a society) celluloid vaults and said, “How would you like to unload a few tons of ancient stock?” Due to that, if you want it, Amazon’s got it. This one was originally incubated by E.I. Chadwick Productions, and the Amazon stream has an extra few seconds up front of the titles tipping to Weiss Global Enterprises as the distributor.

It’s Wayne Murder Case, without use of the definite article. Interestingly, Wikipedia, where I’m getting details, lists it as A Strange Adventure, with the alternative title The Wayne Murder Case, with the definite article. I’m going with what shows up when you play the movie, which you can for free on YouTube. This came out in 1932, about five years after they first added sound to movies.

And it shows. It shows an industry trying to find its footing and still trying to figure out how actors should speak their parts. Apparently sound pictures required more dialog than was fed to silent viewers, and industry writers were not up to the task of making the characters emote using their voices. The film comes off as a pantomime with words dubbed in.

Here’s a rundown of the plot.

The opening scene shows blatantly dishonest private secretary Claude Wayne (Eddie Phillips) opening a safe in somebody’s private study. He removes a copy of the owner’s will, peruses it in dismay, then places it back into the safe. Before closing the safe he substitutes a fake diamond for the very large real one that was there. Then his boss (and uncle), Silas Wayne (William V. Mong) comes in.

All right, this gets tricky. After Claude leaves Silas opens the safe and at one point notices a dried flower that had fallen from within the folds of the will onto the floor. Suspicious, Silas examines the diamond and figures it is fake. He summons Claude and accuses him of treachery. But Claude puts the real diamond back, and on a second examination Silas figures he was mistaken about his initial assessment. Then Claude makes the switch again and departs.

Silas, who is roundly disliked, has no children, but does have numerous heirs. All have been waiting in the large house to be summoned for the signing of the will. Silas, who “owns half the town,” summons two police to come to his house to witness what may be a crime (?). Here we see Harry Meyers as Officer Ryan and Eddie Chandler as Officer Kelly (I can’t tell which is which) getting out of their police car in front of the Wayne mansion. Watching this for the first time I wondered at the ability of the studio to incorporate this vintage piece of road iron. But then I realized this was likely a vehicle borrowed off the dealer’s lot back in 1932.

Anyhow, everybody, including the two police officers, attends the reading and signing of the will. They also witness Silas Wayne getting murdered right in front of their eyes, and nobody can figure out who did it.

First come’s police Detective-Sergeant Mitchell (Regis Toomey). Then arrives a gaggle of reporters, among which is one named “Nosey” Toodles (June Clyde). She sneaks into the house to scoop the other reporters, and Mitchell cannot find it in himself to get rid of her.

Amazingly, a credited actor is Snowflake playing the part of Jeff, the butler. Don’t you just love those movies from 80 years ago when a bowing and scraping subservient character needed to be played by a black man who comes off as illiterate, stupid, and superstitious?  I’m impressed he received credit right up front in the titles sequence. His real name was Fred Toones.

Because of the sheer number of movies in which he appeared, Toones is one of the most prolific character faces in B-Westerns and cliffhangers. He appeared in over 200 films between 1928 and 1951; and between 1936 and 1947, Toones worked under contract for Republic Pictures, appearing in about 40 of its films.

He died in 1962. I hope he enjoyed the money in the meantime.

To heighten suspense, it is found necessary to  introduce a nefarious character who lurks about the house terrorizing people.

Anyhow, Detective-Sergeant Mitchell solves the case, but not before one additional person is murdered. Watch it on YouTube or Amazon if you want to find out who done it.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I’m not going to spend a lot of effort diagnosing this movie, because there is not much to diagnose. It’s an almost plot-free production, the main effort apparently being to impress viewers with the skill and determination of the stunt and special effects people at Jerry Bruckheimer Films. This came out 20 years ago (1997) and stars Nicolas Cage, whose presence generally signals something quirky. It’s Con Air, concerning escapades related to an attempted prisoner escape. The title derives from the nickname of the American government’s prisoner air transport system. This played on Hulu last month, and I’m getting details from Wikipedia. I will keep it simple.

Cage is ex Army Ranger Sergeant Cameron Poe, fresh off active duty and back home to make snuggle bunnies with his cute wife Tricia (Monica Potter). Trouble begins with the homecoming kiss in a Mobile, Alabama, bar, as a drunken jerk horns in, insulting sweet Tricia and challenging Sergeant Poe. The jerk continues his assault outside in the rain and ends up Hemingway-esque, dead, in the rain. Poe goes to the slam for ten years.

Paroled after eight, Poe is aboard a Con Air flight home to Alabama, along with some of the meanest creeps ever to draw time.

Of course, there is a plot to high-jack the flight, and some of the hardest of hard timers take over, killing some guards and diverting the flight to an airplane junk yard out in the desert (looks like Nevada or Arizona). A crash landing and an absconding getaway plane create some additional interest.

When the cops and the feds arrive there is a humongous battle with automatic weapons and explosive gas cannisters.

Unnecessary levity abounds when a new sports car, belonging to one of the feds, gets chained to the Con Air plane (appears to be a C-130). The plane takes off, towing the pricey set of wheels behind. We get to see the Corvette breaking free and falling  to earth after clipping the control tower.

The cons run out of options and are forced to land. Apparently the only available space left in the state of Nevada is the Las Vegas Strip. By now it’s dark, and the C-130 finally extinguishes itself plowing through cars and casinos.

And that’s the end. No, it is not. Surviving cons are still free, and they high-jack a fire truck, racing to escape through the crowded Strip. Poe and a fed give chase. Here Poe clings to the extended ladder of of the hard charging firetruck.

Of course, all the crooks are killed or captured, and Poe gets hugs and kisses from Tricia and his darling daughter. And that’s the movie.

As mentioned, this is about stunts and special effects, and they are amazing, while nothing in the plot is believable. Hey! This is Hollywood. I was impressed that with all this stuff going on the production budget was only $75 million. Box office was $224 million, and that  was before it got piped to Hulu, where I am paying dollars a month to  watch stuff commercial-free.

I never saw Leaving Las Vegas, and my favorite Nicolas Cage film is Next, which I have yet to review. His darkest work has to be 8mm, with a plot centering on the supposed snuff film industry. I previously reviewed Gone in 60 Seconds, another thrill shot. Rumors of Cage’s religious quirkiness are fueled by his appearance in a reboot of the Left Behind series. For somebody whose countenance gives definition to the term hangdog, Cage seems to get all the major babes in the movies. Makes them worth watching.

Poe is from Alabama. He’s going back to Alabama. And Lynyrd Skynyrd is performing Sweet Home Alabama. Makes the movie.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Good thing I missed this when it came out in  1937. It’s Headline Crasher, from Conn Pictures Corporation. This was during the period 1936 – 1939 when a handful of production companies came and went, turning out, in the course, some of the worst ever. Even Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry. I’m getting details from IMDb. This is brought to us through the largess of Amazon Prime Video, seemingly prepared to ensure we never forget our past transgressions, even after 80 years.

I’m not going to detail the plot. It’s inconsequential. I will just give a sketch and show some screen shots. It goes like this.

An attractive young piece named Helen (Eleanor Stewart) has suitcase in  hand and is attempting to  hitch a ride. Nobody stops until along comes a speedy sports car, driven by Jimmy Tallant (Frankie Darro) the son of Senator James Tallant (Richard Tucker), who is running for re-election. Helen tells Jimmy she needs to get to the airport in 20 minutes. It’s a matter of life and death. Since the airport is 26 miles away (do the math) that means some laws are going to be broken, and there is going to be trouble.

There is. Climbing aboard what appears to be an American Airline flight, the gracious Helen thanks Jimmy for being such a sucker. Then the plane takes off as the police arrive in pursuit.

Booked at the police station, Jimmy learns he’s going for forfeit his driver’s license. He’s also going to get some unwanted publicity. Standing by is ace reporter Larry Deering (Kane Richmond). His paper gleefully reports the Senator’s son is a criminal. Larry’s employer is working 24/7 to see the senator is not re-elected.

Larry stages further incidents, for instance having it appear Jimmy is driving without a license. As scandal piles on top of engineered scandal, Jimmy takes a powder and hitches a ride to the family vacation home by the lake. Larry drops by the senator’s office to get a line on Jimmy’s whereabouts, meeting the delightful Edith Arlen (Muriel Evans). She lets slip where Jimmy went, and Larry heads that way to look for more dirt.

Edith and the senator figure out what Larry is up to, and Edith takes it on herself to go to the resort and work the situation. In the meantime there is a bank robber on the loose, and Jimmy is accused of helping Helen, who is working with the gang.

Larry arrives at the resort. The caretaker, Martin (Ray Martin) tells Larry the place is closed for the fall (also winter and spring). Martin is typical of Hollywood’s portrayals of black people in those days. He speaks like an illiterate, and is completely subservient, saying “sho ‘nuf ” and “yassuh” sufficiently often to cement his position in society. Ray Martin played the part uncredited, as was often the case.

Surprise, surprise! The bank robbers’ hideout is walking distance from the senator’s resort home. One of the wounded robbers is driving there and encounters Jimmy on the road. Jimmy, ever the fall guy, gives him a lift to the hideout and gets taken hostage.

The robbers raid the resort home and take everybody prisoner. The sheriff arrives. The sheriff departs. The senator arrives. There are multiple turnings over of power as first one faction has the guns, then the other faction has the guns. Finally, thanks to Jimmy and Larry, the bank robbers are defeated, and Larry and Edith make wedding plans.

The cops arrive to put the arm on Jimmy.

Jimmy gets booked as Larry looks on.

A series of embarrassing headlines

Larry makes time with Edith.

Ray Martin welcomes Larry to the resort house, acting  the required part.

Larry has the gun. But not for long.

Now the crooks have the guns, and the senator.

First thing you’re going to notice watching this right after reading this review is the drawn out police chase early on. Jimmy is driving Helen to the airport, doubling the speed limit, laughing at stop signs. First one, then two, then three motorcycle cops fall in behind. And on and on. Yes, we know the cops are trying to catch the elusive Jimmy, but does it take two minutes worth of celluloid to get the notion across?

The gang leader is Tony Scarlotti (John Merton). Yes, he’s Italian because… because, you know, gangsters are Italian. His gang robs a bank. The senator has previously prosecuted bad-as-bad Tony, and Tony has vowed vengeance. And his hideout is just blocks away from the senator’s summer resort. How much coincidence can a plot hold still for?

When evil Helen gets stranded heading for the airport with the stolen bonds in her suitcase, who gives her a ride but the senator’s son?

Yes, it’s a nice story, but the plot is overly contrived, if that’s not being redundant.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is about human cloning, and if that doesn’t clue you as to the title, then catch this:

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

So it was on the 6th day God made man, and that’s what this movie is about. It’s about The 6th Day. It came out nearly 17 years ago (2000), but I never got around to seeing it. It’s now on Hulu, and I continue to wonder what I ever did for old movies before I latched onto Internet streaming services. This was released by Columbia Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

You have to recall that, four years prior, the Scots stunned the world by producing Dolly, the first cloned sheep. And there was (still is) a big uproar. This is the future (actually 2015), and all manner of animals are being cloned, but, due to the disastrous result of an earlier trial, human cloning is strictly prohibited by law. And that’s the situation when star ($300 million a year) quarterback Johnny Phoenix gets his neck broken in a crucial play. Not to worry. His handlers have matters well in hand. In the ambulance ride to the hospital his heart is stopped, and he is subsequently replaced by a human clone, who retains all of Johnny’s memories and playing  skills, but without the broken neck messiness. All this is carried out secretly under the auspices of a corporation called Replacement Technologies (RT).

Arnold Schwarzenegger is Adam Gibson, who runs a helicopter charter service along with his partner Hank Morgan (Michael Rapaport). They take wealthy clients high into the mountains, leaving them to ski themselves back to civilization.

But Adam and Hank are required to take a drug test, which requires a blood sample and what seems to amount to a brain scan. Only, when the tests are submitted, the samples are switched accidentally. Then Hank takes out another party by himself, and on top of the mountain an unknown assassin opens fire, killing Hank and others.

Suddenly the TV screen (I’m watching this upstairs on the big screen) goes jerky and the scene jumps to Adam, waiting for Hank to meet him. Adam has figured that Hank is in on a surprise birthday party planned for him, and the meeting between  the two was intended to keep Adam in check while the surprise was being set up.

But Hank is a no-show (dead), and Adam drives to his house, intending to act surprised. Surprised he is, as he peeks in the window and sees a clone of himself getting fresh with his sexy wife Natalie (Wendy Crewson). Just then some assassins working for RT arrive to undo the mistake when the wrong person was cloned. We subsequently learn that the killing on the mountain top was carried out by a anti-cloning activists, but I only watched this through one time, and I never  figured out why there was a scheme to clone Adam and Hank. But it doesn’t matter. The story surges forward.

The assassins pursue Adam, while his clone hangs around at Adam’s house and makes time with Natalie. Adam kills two of the assassins during the chase, but it’s to no avail. Reliable RT Corporation quickly replaces them, and the chase continues. At a certain point Adam confronts the anti-cloning activist (Colin Cunningham) who killed Hank.

Yes, the expected happens. Adam (aka Arnold Schwarzenegger) prevails and tracks down the evil doers at RT Corporation. Here the two  RT assassins are about to meet their doom, as the two Adam’s team up to unravel and destroy RT operations.

Everything made right, the two Adams figure to go their separate ways. Adam the clone prepares to open a cloned charter business in Argentina.

And that’s all hunky-dory.

On-par performances, top notch directing and cinematography. Some lame concepts.

Mentioned previously, my favorite Schwarzenegger is Kindergarten Cop. That has the appeal of the tough guy impregnater being run over by a bunch of pre-schoolers.

Robert Duvall is Doctor Griffin, the inventor of this technology, who unzips the entire operation when he sees what is being done to  maintain it.  And I am not going to mention all the ins and outs of the convoluted clone and replace schemes, because it was too thick for me to follow. There is a lot of silliness to castigate, however.

At one point, a cloning advocate gushes forth on the benefits. All the cloned fish that are feeding a hungry world. People, the standard way of making fish is to fertilize fish eggs, and this process produces more fish than people can eat. Malthusian economics is being abetted by people, who eat the seed stock and disrupt an environment that in the past produced 10 times as much bounty as is presently available from the sea. The idea that more farm live stock can be produced by cloning than by natural process defies basic economics. The only real reason you might want to produce cloned animals would be to provide exact matches for laboratory research.

Cloning reproduces the clones individuals fingerprints. No, it does not. Fingerprint patterns are formed by a random process that is not dictated by the genome.