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 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 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 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.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I saw this before,  but I forgot most of the plot. It’s Blow Out, starring John Travolta as Jack Terry, a sound technician for low-budget films. The director is Brian De Palma, usually a slam dunk for the first tier. Not in this case. Some maturity in the supporting roles and also in the writing is required. This came out in 1981 from Filmways Pictures. Again, as most recently, it was Hulu to the rescue when I was looking for an odd movie. Details are from Wikipedia.

I don’t recall these opening scenes. Maybe I was watching on Sunday Night at the Movies. Anyhow, this opens to be another slasher film, as we see somebody peeking into windows where college girls are running around most nearly naked. The stalker first kills what may have been a policeman, peeking at the goodies. We don’t see the stalker, and apparently neither does anybody else, as the stalker’s view moves into the dormitory and down halls among ample eye candy. Coming to  a shower, where a girl is oblivious to the intrusion, the film recreates the Bates Motel scene. The girl screams. It’s a piss poor scream. It’s not what the director is looking for. We are not watching real life but the screening of a scene from a low-budget slasher film.

Jack is supposed to provide a blood curdling scream to go with the scene, but multiple trials using professional screamers comes to naught.

Jack knocks off and goes out at night to record sound tracks for his library. Hearing a commotion on a local street, he points his shotgun microphone toward a speeding car. There is a loud bang, and the car veers out of control and plunges into a creek.

There are two people in the car, and Jack dives in, rescuing a woman. He cannot rescue the man. The man turns out to be Governor McRyan (this is Philadelphia), a presidential hopeful. Jack has trouble getting his story across to to the police, then a political handler comes along proposing that Jack cover up the whole business about the girl.

The girl is Sally (Nancy Allen), who turns out to be an escort hired by McRyan’s political opponents to cause an embarrassing situation. The embarrassment has gotten out of hand, as the person managing the setup figured it wise to shoot out a tire on the governor’s car. The plunge into  the creek was fortuitous (unforeseen), but Jack has a quality recording that reveals the gunshot causing the blow out.

Jack convinces Sally to hang around and help resolve the situation.

The situation turns out to be deadly serious. The mastermind behind all this subterfuge is a man named Burke (John Lithgow), and his elaborate scheme to eliminate Sally is to create a string of serial killings and to include Sally as one of the victims. Burke taps phones, destroys copies of Jack’s tapes, and works his way up to getting the last of Jack’s copies, eliminating Sally in the process. Here Burke stalks a prostitute in train  station, where she has been giving a blow job to a sailor. While she brushes the taste out of her mouth, Burke leans across the bathroom partition and loops a wire around her throat.

Burke signs his killings by first strangling, then stabbing his victims with an icepick. All the killings need to look like Sally’s murder.

Burke pretends to be the reporter who has arranged to meet Jack and review his remaining recording. Jack plants a wireless microphone on Sally as a precaution before sending her into the station to meet the supposed reporter. Burke lures Sally away from the station, and Jack frantically attempts to track down  the pair, but he is seconds too late. Burke strangles Sally, but before he can  stab her with the icepick Jack arrives and pounces, killing Burke with the icepick.

The scene cuts sharply. Apparently Jack has left the scene of the double killing, leaving police to conclude Sally ended the string of killings by stabbing Burke.

But Jack has the recording he has made from Sally’s wireless microphone. It is just the scream they need for the shower scene.

Yeah, that’s about it for this movie. De Palma was able to inject a load of drama and suspense, but lackluster performances from down-ticket, along with a wad of lame dialog, sink this production. Wikipedia reports the producers lost a few million dollars here.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I have Hulu to thank for this one. My grandson sent me a link to a video featuring I Love the Nightlife by Alicia Bridges and Susan Hutcheson from 1977, a big disco hit in those days. The song is one of the numbers used in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert that came out in 1994, and the video contains clips from the movie. The Hulu release is from MGM. I’m getting details from Wikipedia.

Opening scenes show drag queen Anthony “Tick” Belrose (Hugo Weaving) going on stage to perform at a Sydney cabaret. The performance receives a cool reception, and Tick is backstage and depressed. He figures to move on.

Along with his co-performers, the trans-gender Bernadette Bassinger (Terence Stamp) and Adam Whitely (Guy Pearce), he sets out to do a gig in Alice Springs. Adam procures a tour bus, which they name Priscilla, hence the title. “Queen” is English slang for drag queen. You can tell the three are off to a bad start, and the bus is shown going down the freeway on  the left hand side.

The movie has not much of a plot. This is just the adventures of three drag queens in Australia’s hostile outback. Hostile in multiple ways. It’s a celebration of the bizarre as all popular conceptions of cross dressing, transsexuality, and homosexuality are magnified for effect. Here Adam rides atop the bus as it rolls along the desert highway, a spectacular, flowing costume billowing in the wind.

Much adventure follows, including an encounter with “Bob,” who has an absolutely wacko Indonesian wife, who puts on a performance that shades anything the three can match. The three accomplish a goal of hiking to the rim of King’s Canyon in full costume.

I took up this review as a project for my grandson, and I was prepared for 100 minutes of drab LGBT advocacy. Lacking a coherent plot, the movie manages to entertain by exploiting absurd situations. The bus breaks down in the middle of the dessert and Bernadette troops off into the wilderness to locate some assistance. Bob’s wife, already mentioned. Hooking up with a group of Aborigines, one of whom joins in an  impromptu performance. The absolutely wild costumes, which garnered awards, including an Oscar.

The 1970s disco numbers, lip-synced, help keep the mood light while bringing back memories for some of us. Notable are “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor, and finally Mamma Mia, performed by ABBA. Adam rides atop Priscilla to the tune of ‘E strano… Ah! Fors e lui‘ from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verde and sung by Joan Carden.

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.