Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

First the TV series, then the movie, then the book, and now the actual movie, one of several based on the book. It’s The Count of Monte Cristo, starring Richard Chamberlain and Tony Curtis, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The book, by Alexandre Dumas, was published serially from 1844 to 1845, and there are multiple motion picture adaptations, this one being made for TV in 1975. Apparently NBC made two versions, one running 119 minutes for the European market and the other running 105 minutes for the American market. I seem to have the European version, and for that we need to be thankful, because additional compression of Dumas’ 601 pages would have invited additional ruin. Here’s my assessment.

If you have ever seen photos of the wreckage of a long railroad train, one where the train collides with something, causing a massive pileup, then you get the picture. The cars are not compressed end-to-end, but they pile one onto the other, and they get reversed end-to-end and turned upside down. There is scant semblance of the order that was. That is what happened when movie producers attempted to fit Dumas’ potboiler of a plot into less than two hours. I will explain and in doing so will recap the plot in comparison to the book.

The movie starts exactly as the book, as exactly as artistic freedom and presentation constraints allow. Commercial sailor Edmond Dantes (Chamberlain) returns from a successful  Mediterranean voyage, as successful as could be expected seeing that his captain has died and was buried at sea, leaving 19-year-old Dantes in charge. In the port of Marseilles he is welcomed by the lovely Mercedes (Kate Nelligan), a Catalan girl who is to be his bride the following day.

But Edmond has rivals. One is a M. Danglars (Donald Pleasence), the supercargo (person responsible for the shipper’s goods), who considers he should have been promoted to captain instead of Edmond. Also there is Fernand Mondego (Tony Curtis), a local Catalan, supposedly a cousin of Mercedes and a rival suitor to Edmond. Here is a meeting at a place where wine is served close by the home of Edmond.  The third person at the table is a neighbor of Desmond, a M. Caderousse (Alessio Orano). He is not a party to the scheme to frame Edmond—he’s so drunk (in the book) to hardly know what is going on. His initial crime is one of omission. He knows of the scheme, but he allows Edmond to be framed and does nothing, at first.

In the book, Danglars proposes to write a phony note, saying what a great joke it would be if this note were discovered and if it pointed to Edmond as a Bonaparte collaborator. The setting is the time Napoleon escaped from his Elba prison and sought to overthrow the monarchy. Danglars has his joke (in the book) and discards the crumpled note, leaving for Fernand to retrieve the note and to take it to the authorities as real.

Edmond and Mercedes are about to be married when the police rush up to arrest him. He is taken to a local official, Gérard de Villefort (Louis Jourdan), who sees that Edmond is falsely accused. But the note refers to a letter Edmond is supposed to deliver. Edmond hands over the letter, never having read it. Villefort unseals the letter. It implicates his father, Noirtier de Villefort in the Napoleonic plot, naming many others, besides. This knowledge has the power to immensely elevate de Villefort’s career, but only if its existence is kept secret. The way to keep the secret is to tuck Edmond away for life in a place where the sun does not shine. He burns the incriminating letter and prepares to execute Edmond’s doom.

Only after he has been carted away does Edmond discover he is being sent to his doom in the scurrilous prison Château d’If in the Marseilles harbor. And behold, the producers used actual footage of the infamous place.

Edmond spends 14 years there, the first few in solitary. Eventually he detects another prisoner chiseling at the stone works. Eventually the two connect up, and the two spend the remaining years of Edmond’s imprisonment collaborating on a plan to escape. The other prisoner is a priest, Abbé Faria (Trevor Howard). The character was apparently a real person, but not the priest in prison with Edmond Dantes. Anyhow, the priest, before he was carted off to the Château d’If for being a royalist, discovered the location of a papal treasure of vast proportions and hidden away for centuries. He promises Edmond to share it with him after they escape. He also uses their time together to teach the simple sailor all the wisdom of the world. Then he dies.

Edmond, thinking quickly, waits for the jailers to sew the body into a bag. Then he switches places with the corpse, stowing it in his cell. The high point of the plot is here, when the guards throw the sack, with Edmond inside, into the sea. Edmond cuts his way out of the bag and is picked up by some smugglers.

He throws his lot in with them, and is readily accepted, since he is a first rate navigator. His travels eventually take him to Montecristo, an Italian island between Corsica and the mainland. There Edmond recovers the vast treasure and uses a small part of it to purchase the island, having himself declared the Count of Monte Cristo.

From Google maps, here is the island of Montecristo.

Edmond uses the ensuing ten years establishing himself as the Count of Monte Cristo and setting up his revenge on his betrayers. For the first time in his life he comes to Paris, where all of them now live, having used the intervening 24 years elevating themselves to great wealth and power, mostly by nefarious means.

The book explains that Mercedes waited 18 months before giving up on Edmond and marrying Fernand. They have a son. In the meantime Fernand has gone to the Battle of Waterloo with Napoleon, only to sell out to the British for a healthy sum. He has continued his double-dealing, next with the Spaniards and finally, as a French officer, betraying an eastern prince for a healthy sum.

Villefort has risen to position of the king’s procurer, and Danglars has become a prominent banker. Not shown in the movie is the life trajectory of the sodden Caderousse. Dumas has the count visiting this wretch, now an innkeeper on the road to the Pont du Gard, in disguise. He gives Caderousse a chance to redeem himself, giving him two large diamonds, supposedly from an unknown benefactor. Caderousse shows his true character when a Jewish dealer comes to the inn to purchase one of the stones. Caderousse and his wife murder the Jew and keep the stone, but the wife is killed in the fracas. Caderousse is caught and imprisoned, ultimately to be redeemed by the count in a scheme to employ him in the further destruction of his enemies.

Here the count arrives at the office of Danglars the banker, where he opens a stately account. He eyes his enemy, undetected, and schemes his revenge.

The count goes to one of the telegraph stations of a system that was established in France at the time, shortly before it was superseded by electric telegraphy. The stations use a system of semaphores to relay messages from one station to the next station down the line. He bribes the operator to send a false message, telling of the return of King Carlos to Spain.

Danglars has arranged for himself to have privy to these messages ahead of authorized parties, and he uses this information to make shrewd bets on the markets. The false message causes Danglars to short the Spanish bonds, and his major clients follow the lead. When the message is revealed to be bogus all his clients demand repayment, and Dalglars is ruined.

Hint: in the book Danglars flies the coop with five millions in cash and heads for Italy. There the count tracks him down and has some bandits kidnap him and hold him for ransom until almost all his money is gone. Then Danglars is left to live the remainder of his life. In the movie the banker puts a bullet through his head.

Villefort’s life, since his betrayal of Edmond, has been one of shady dealing and sordid misdeeds. He has gotten a woman pregnant and has arranged for her to give delivery in secret. Then he took the child and buried it in the garden behind the house, telling the woman the child had died. The movie has the woman dying, as well. Only, one of the count’s smuggler friends was a witness to the deed, and he rescued the baby. The baby was ultimately lodged with an unfortunate couple, growing up to become a pathological criminal who murdered his adoptive mother. He has subsequently been imprisoned with Caderousse. Apparently in their escape Caderousse had double crossed this son of Villefort, and the count works to bring the two into meeting one another. He watches as Caderousse is murdered and the son of Villefort is arrested.

At the trial, the son of Villefort uses information supplied to him by the count to disgrace Villefort, who is the prosecutor.

The count next contrives to make public Fernand’s betrayal of his charge and the murder of the prince he was sworn to protect. He also sold the prince’s wife and daughter into slavery, where the mother died. The count since purchased the daughter in a slave market and made her his ward.

Mercedes’ son, Albert, swears to fight the count in a duel with pistols. Mercedes knows Albert will be killed, and she convinces Albert of his father’s duplicity. the two men meet in the Field of Mars (in the movie only), where each party fires harmlessly, signifying the matter is settled.

Fernand is brought to answer charges, and at the hearing he presents testimonials to his loyalty in the affair. Then the princess, Haidee (Isabelle De Valvert), comes forward and attests to seeing Fernand murder her father and of his selling her and her mother into slavery. She presents documents of the transactions.

Fernand challenges the count to a duel right there in the chamber and is defeated, being forced to yield or die. He is taken off in disgrace to face charges. In the book he puts a bullet through his head.

As each of his enemies is destroyed Edmond counts, “One… Two…” I watched for this in the book but I saw it only at the time of Caderousse’s death. Maybe a closer look will reveal the movie is true.

Both the book and the movie show Mercedes leaving Marseilles to join Albert, serving in the military in Africa. In the book there is an outlandish episode involving Maximillian, son of Morrel, and the daughter of Villefort. Her stepmother has attempted to poison her, and the count has secretly intervened, faking her death until the final three pages of the book, where she and Maximillian are re-united in the grotto on Montecristo. The count sails off from the island with Princess Haidee, apparently to be his wife.

The moral is made that revenge is double-edged. Edmond has exacted it to its fullest, and it has brought him down, as well.

Wikipedia notes that cutting the plot to 119 minutes required leaving many of the book’s characters out. See the item for a complete listing. Read the book if you have the time. It’s a bucket list item. Gone there, read that.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is a new one, out this year. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, whence the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s Beirut, and there’s not much I can tell you about it, as my first run through I spent most of my time trying to figure out who was who. It’s 1972, and we know what was going on in 1972. We see American diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) hosting a party at his residence in Beirut, Lebanon. He’s explaining to the uninitiated that for 2000 years Beirut has been like a boarding house with no landlord. People who don’t necessary like each other, Christians, Jews, Muslims, keep to themselves. More recently they decided to let the Palestinians in, because those folks had nowhere else to go. Each faction figured they could co-opt the loyalty of the Palestinians and gain some advantage, but the Palestinians were the PLO, and all they wanted to do was to destroy the Jews.

Mason’s CIA friend Cal Riley (Mark Pellegrino) arrives, with a crew. They want a word with Karim (Idir Chender), a Palestinian boy that Mason and his Lebanese wife Nadia (Leïla Bekhti) have been fostering. Mason says to hold off. Cal says Karim must go with them right now. He is Karim Abu Rajal, and his brother was involved in the Munich Olympics attack earlier that year.

Inside the house gunfire breaks out, as Karim’s brother comes to take him. Nadia is killed.

Ten years later Mason is on the bottle and running a private negotiating firm in America. Here we see him striving with no success to arbitrate between two recalcitrant parties in a labor dispute.

The government contacts Mason with an urgent demand. Cal has been taken hostage in Lebanon, and the kidnappers want him to negotiate. Back in country, Mason finds Beirut much changed.

He teams with CIA agent Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike).

It becomes apparent how disintegrated things have become. Mason meets with the kidnappers and is confronted by a fanatic whose purpose in life appears to be one of screaming anti-American rhetoric in his face. This is cut short when he is shot in the back of the head by a cohort. It is Karim, now grown up.

Karim wants to trade Cal for his brother, Rami, who has been taken prisoner, by whom it is not clear.

Mason’s cover for the trip to Lebanon is to give a lecture at the University. As his talks wanders into the matter of mutually assured destruction, a bomb planted under a chair in the audience goes off.

They think the Israeli intelligence organization Mossad is holding Rami. This turns out to be a dead end. They discover the PLO has him, and arrangements are made to throw in $3.9 million to get the PLO to cooperate.

As the hand-over takes place a Mossad sniper kills Rami. There is a bunch of shooting.

In the background all the time is treachery within the ranks. CIA station chief Donald Gaines (Dean Norris) has been siphoning money out of the till, and Cal knows about it. Gaines schemes to ensure Cal is not repatriated.

Mason has been winged in the fracas, and he and Cal recall their past friendship as they part company on the beach.

And that’s all I’m going to tell about the movie. Critical scenes are staged using dim lighting, making it difficult to figure out who is who. Dialog in Arabic is handled through subtitles, so it was necessary for me to switch between watching the action and following the conversation.

This is a thriller of a movie, and you may want to watch through it a second time to keep up with the plot.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This one is nearly 30 years old, coming out in 1989. It’s Fat Man and Little Boy, and before you start thinking it’s about The Maltese Falcon I need to remind you these are not characters in the movie. These are the names given to the first and only two atomic bombs used in warfare. This is going to be about the development of the atomic bomb in the final years of World War II. The movie is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

We all know the story about how General Leslie Groves supervised the construction of the Pentagon Building and commanded the Manhattan Project to develop the bomb. The opening scene shows General Groves (Paul Newman) receiving a birthday cake in the shape of the building. Next we see him blowing his top and tossing the cake after being told he would not get a combat assignment, but would, instead, be in charge of shepherding a gaggle of scientists.

When he calms down, the general stops by in Chicago to visit refugee Hungarian scientist Leo Szilard in his bath. Szilard first thought of the idea of an atomic bomb while crossing a London street. By the time he had reached the opposite curb he realized that a critical mass of fissile material would spontaneously split all its atoms and release the potential energy within. The relation between the amount of material and the amount of energy was determined 50 years before by German scientist Albert Einstein:

E = mC2

Since C is such a large number, that’s a lot of energy for any amount of matter. An interesting historical note is that the inventor of the atomic bomb refused to participate in its development.

Groves sees the light. This is the way to win the war, and he is the man to do it. He recruits maverick scientist Robert Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz in his first leading role), because Oppenheimer is the best man for the job. History has demonstrated this conjecture was correct. The Army evicts a private boy’s school from a mesa top in New Mexico, and they construct a secret base there, hauling in all the top scientists they can scrape up to work on the project. Here Oppenheimer explains the game plan.

A big part of the game plan is secrecy. Nobody is to talk to anybody about anything outside of work. No wives, no children, no priests. The lid is really tight. As history has shown, this part of the plan was successful, because nobody outside the project knew about it, except the Soviets, who had planted two spies. But that’s not in the movie.

The ideal approach is to use plutonium, an artificial element. You have to make it in a nuclear reactor, but once you’ve made it, then it’s easy to extract plutonium from the uranium in the reactor due to the different chemical properties of the two metals. Atomic bombs can be made of uranium, also, but only U235 is usable, and it is remarkably difficult to separate that isotope from the bulk of native uranium.

But plutonium has a problem. The principle of all fission bombs is to start with to non-critical masses of the material and then to combine them rapidly into a critical mass. If you attempt to shoot a pellet of plutonium into a non-critical mass of plutonium, then you have to fire the pellet at tremendous speed, else the reaction will start too early, and the whole thing will blow itself apart before much of the material has reacted.

They solve the problem by using shaped charges of TNT to compress a hollow sphere of plutonium, lending some drama to the plot. Here a charge goes off prematurely, gravely injuring one of the experimenters.

Oppenheimer has calculated that he will soon gain the upper hand over Groves in the project, but he has figured wrong. With all the security investigation going on it does not take long to discover that the married Oppenheimer has been (still is) getting some on the side. Not only is the romance sub rosa, but the girlfriend is a communist, Natasha Richardson as Jean Tatlock. Groves forces Oppenheimer to break off the relationship, and he does, leaving her while two FBI agents observe from a a distance. This is related in The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. Shortly after the breakup Tatlock is found dead by suicide.

The day of the first test is 16 July 1945. A plutonium bomb is to be detonated atop a tower on the desert flats near Alamogordo, New Mexico. but first the Army has to deal with a herd of cattle that keeps disrupting the experiment, trampling the bomb’s control wires. The local ranchers refuse to corral their livestock, so the Army handles the matter in the way the Army is trained to handle situations. They shoot the cattle.

Meanwhile there is a faction in Chicago (where the first controlled nuclear fission was obtained) that opposes the use, even the completion, of the bomb. Germany has surrendered, and many contend use of the bomb is overreach. The plot of the movie is narrated through a diary kept by scientist Michael Merriman (John Cusack). Following the accident previously described, he meets and has an affair with pretty nurse Kathleen Robinson (Laura Dern), both fictional characters.

The romance ends when Merriman is involved in an accident in the lab. The researchers are measuring radiation from a near critical mass of plutonium. Two hemispheres of beryllium are brought together around the plutonium, reflecting neutrons back into the mass. Distracted, Merriman twists a control knob, bringing the hemispheres too close and initiating a violent release of radiation. He dies horribly a few days later.

Both a uranium bomb (little boy) and a plutonium bomb (fat man) are designed. Nobody figures they need to test the uranium bomb, since it uses the pellet mechanism, but correctly crushing a hollow sphere of plutonium is considered dicey, since any asymmetry in the implosion will squirt plutonium out to one side. The cattle disposed of, Oppenheimer watches in the pre-dawn of 16 July as the clock counts down, and a blinding flash rends the desert landscape.

And that’s the end of the story. The bomb testers arrive back at Los Alamos to cheers, and three weeks later the city of Hiroshima is leveled by a single uranium bomb, never before tested. Three days after that a plutonium bomb is exploded over Nagasaki, and Japan surrenders a few days after that.

Nobody gets off scott free. Groves leaves the Manhattan Project, and Oppenheimer protests the development of the hydrogen bomb and loses his security clearance. The world changed forever on 16 July 1945.

There is a bunch of fiction, one part being that of Michael Merriman. There was such an accident at Los Alamos, but it was after the Trinity test, and there was another one after that.

A scene in the movie has General Groves on a train crossing the country, when the train is flagged down by an Army motorcycle messenger. I find this a bit hard to believe. An Army general, the man with arguably the most critical mission in the war, is on a train, and the train driver is willing to stop the train out in the middle of nowhere when a person carrying a gun, on a motorcycle, and wearing an Army uniform signals it to stop. That has all the appearances of a plot to assassinate the general.

Characters in the movie, as did real scientists at the time, object to the development of the atomic bomb. Of course, this never made a lot of sense. The thinking seems to be that if these guys did not develop the bomb, then we would all be a lot safer now. People, if North Korea can develop an atomic bomb, then nobody else is safe unless somebody with some sense has atomic bombs. It’s not as though scientists created something that was not there before. It was always there, and sooner or later somebody was going to turn over the rock and find it. There have been no world-wide wars since 1945.

This appears to be the first Paul Newman movie I have reviewed. Hopefully there will be more.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This came out in 1984, and I didn’t catch it in the theaters. It ran on HBO, back when I had cable TV in Dallas, and I never got to watch it again. Since I signed up for streaming video I’ve been waiting for it to pop up, and there it was this morning, streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s Runaway, starring Tom Selleck as Sergeant Jack R. Ramsay of some police department in the future. He’s part of a unit assigned to handle cases of runaway robots, hence the title. This is a time when we have turned critical, and not so critical, aspects of our work and our lives over to robots, more properly called automatons. As luck would have it for the sake of the plot, these robots sometimes go haywire, and the police need to be called in to corral them. We see Ramsay getting a new partner. She’s Karen Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes), fresh from the traffic division, and is she ever good looking.

Immediately the two are directed to helicopter out to a cornfield where a robot has run amuck among the rows. This movie is beginning to look like a comedy, as Officer Thompson plunges into the corn and snares the miscreant machine, right before its circuits blow in a fiery display.

Then the plot turns serious, as Ramsay and Thompson are called to a residence where a domestic servant robot has murdered two family members and is inside the house holding off the police with a pistol. More people die, as a cowboy news cinematographer follows Ramsay into the house and gets killed by the robot.

Investigation reveals the robot was altered, and the altering was done by the man of the house, a Mr. David Johnson (Chris Mulkey), who works for a high-tech company. Meanwhile, Thompson visits Ramsay at home, presenting us with this cute domestic scene with widower Ramsay, his son Bobby (Joey Cramer), and the new woman in Jack’s life.

Apparently in this modern age it is illegal to modify a robot without authorization, and Johnson goes on the run. Ramsay chases him down, but another person, Dr. Charles Luther (Gene Simmons), cannot have Johnson telling what he knows. Luther unleashes a guided bullet at Johnson, which follows him down alleys and around corners before making a turn-around and impacting with an explosive charge. This is getting serious. Some crooks have devised a new generation sinister weapon, and the police need to put the kibosh on the operation.

Jack and his partner make a call on the tech company, and while they are there they take another runaway assignment, inside the company. Luther’s secretary (and girlfriend) Jackie Rogers (Kirstie Alley) is trapped on her desk by a security robot that keeps zapping her when she tries to leave.

Ramsay destroys the robot, rescues the comely Ms. Rogers, and gets out of her that Luther is behind the scheme to develop the deadly technology. That leads Ramsay and Thompson to track down Luther, and they sneak into where Luther’s gang is holed up. This gives the producers the opportunity to spice up the video with some gratuitous nudity.

But the bust goes wrong, and Luther points a gun at Jackie’s head, and makes his escape. Thompson is wounded, and two other cops are killed. Also Luther’s two Italian mobster friends.

The microchips required for the smart weapon have been encoded onto templates, preparatory to producing them on an industrial scale. The police come out of the fracas with the templates.  Ramsay uses Jackie as bait, and they lure Luther after them on the freeway. Luther unleashes a succession of surface-skimming robots, armed with bombs. Ramsay and Thomson defeat the scheme by decoying the robots with an empty, self-driving, police car.

But Luther is ahead of the game, having planted an undetected tracking device on Jackie. At an arranged meeting Luther grabs Thompson, and agrees to exchange her for Jackie and the templates. He gets only half of the templates, and he murders Jackie and escapes.

Next he kidnaps Bobby, and he arranges for Ramsay to meet him in the upper levels of a high rise under construction. This is ideal for Luther, since Ramsay has a deathly fear of heights. At the site Luther deploys his own invention, mechanized spiders that track down their prey and inject poison into them before exploding. The spiders have been programmed to attack the first person who comes down from the building.

Of course there is a mighty struggle, and Ramsay kicks Luther off the elevator right before it reaches ground level. The spiders attack.

Ramsay and Thomson are going to get it together.

The story is by Michael Crichton,, who also directed, and it’s a fairly lame science fiction plot. The robots are totally unrealistic, for one. We see an agricultural robot, whose sole task appears to be to travel among rows of corn and pick off insects. And this robot is going to run amok and start charging through the field, mowing down rows of corn? The reality is we have modern robots that work to make our lives easier. I have a clothes washer with a computer inside that lets me select from a menu of wash processes. It automatically detects the load level and recommends the amount of detergent to add. Similarly for my clothes dryer and my dishwasher. These robots just work, and when they fail they just stop working. We don’t have to call the police to run them down.

People watching this may be reminded of our current fascination with self-driving cars. This parallels the plot of this movie—turning over to machines the responsibility of getting passengers safely to their destinations and avoiding accidents on public roads. The salient failure mode of these cars is that there is a traffic accident, and we are then faced with determining who was responsible, the non-driver or the software engineer. Some people need to watch the movie.

Tom Selleck rose to fame playing the title role in Magnum, P.I. . We previously saw him in Three Men and a Baby.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This one actually took me by surprise. The name kept popping up, more recently on Hulu, where it’s streaming and from where I obtained these screen shots. From 1996 it’s The Rock, and I decided to give it a look. Burned through 136 minutes. Whew!

Title credits are impressive:

  • Sean Connery as Captain John Patrick Mason, Special Air Service (Rtd.)
  • Nicolas Cage as FBI Special Agent Dr. Stanley Goodspeed
  • Ed Harris as Brigadier General Francis X. “Frank” Hummel, USMC Force Recon
  • John Spencer as FBI Director James Womack

My expectations soared.

Background to the sequence depicts tense radio traffic as a mission goes badly and people get left behind. Apparently that is ancient history and sets up the plot theme. Action begins in the rain in a cemetery as General Hummel, all alone, converses with his wife’s grave. He begs for forgiveness for what he is about to do, and he leaves his Medal of Honor on the headstone.

Back at FBI headquarters somewhere Dr. Goodspeed’s workday boredom is punctuated by an emergency arising out of a suspicious crate. He and an associate, new to the job, don protective suits and enter a sealed area to unpack. It turns out to be a trap, releasing deadly gas and initiating the timer of an explosive device. Goodspeed, cool to the core, defuses the device and saves everybody plus the remainder of the movie plot.

Back with his girlfriend later he speaks of a rough day at work. She has more bad (and good) news. She’s pregnant.

Meanwhile Hummel has recruited a cadre of Marine professionals, and they assault a weapons depot, making off with 15 armed chemical weapon missiles. They intended for 16, but an accident activates one, and the team loses a member trapped inside the sealed magazine with the poison gas.

We next see them at Alcatraz Island, where they interrupt a tour group and take hostages. Alcatraz, originally a Civil War fort, is affectionately known as The Rock, hence the movie title.

The renegades demand $100 million ransom, to be used to indemnify the sacrificed troops previously mentioned and also to pay $1 million to each of the group. Else the missiles will be launched, blanketing San Francisco and bringing about nearly total annihilation. The deadline is set at 48 hours.

The feds figure they need to act quickly and decisively, and Director Womack pulls out an ace he’s been keeping in the hole for decades. It’s Mason, who previously stole microfilm chronicling this country’s deadly misdeeds from three decades previously. Mason has been languishing in a federal lockup pending his disclosure of the whereabouts of the sacred film. In that time his foliage has grown impressively. Mason is the only person known for sure to have escaped from The Rock, and Womack intends to use his expertise to reverse the escape and to infiltrate the former prison.

The bargain is struck, and the government promises a full pardon. Womack tears up the paper after Mason hands it over, and Mason is pulled out to a luxurious hotel suite in San Francisco.

But he does it again. Mason escapes from captivity and leads Agent Goodspeed and otherd in a wild chase, setting the theme for the remainder of the movie. Nothing but impressive FX and lots of lead flying.

Yes, Goodspeed, with Mason and a team of Navy Seals, steals into an underwater entrance and penetrates the fortress. But a trap set up by the renegades leads to a horrific firefight that leaves all the government forces dead, except for Goodspeed and Mason. And the plot waxes even more bizarre. Here the two, desperately eluding their pursuers in the labyrinth beneath the prison, recapitulate the runaway mine car sequence from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Goodspeed manages to disable all but three of the missiles. One is fired at the city, but Hummel deflects it. He has no inclination to become a mass murderer. It’s all a bluff. Onshore, the feds, believing all is lost, revert to Plan B. It’s to be an attack by F/A-18 fighters launching thermite plasma bombs on the island, sure to blanket the area and obliterate the chemical agent. Also all living things, including the hostages. We are treated to some great footage, possibly CGI, of a flight of fighters skimming the surface beneath the Golden Gate bridge.

But Goodspeed neutralizes the remaining missiles and eliminates the last of the renegade Marines, and he gets off two green smoke flares, signaling that all is clear. Too late, a thermite bomb is launched, but it strikes a remote part of the island, doing no damage.

Goodspeed lies and claims the bomb vaporized Mason, who escapes the island using SCUBA gear left over from the raid. Goodspeed retains a note from Mason, detailing the location of the microfilm. The movie ends with Goodspeed and his new bride stealing the film from the country Iowa church where they just got married and where Mason had left the film in hiding. As his sweetheart drives he inspects a piece of the film and announces he now knows who killed President Kennedy.

Yes, the movie is that silly.

  • There is no such thing as a thermite plasma process.
  • Mention of crashed aliens at Roswell and the Kennedy murder is laughable.
  • The chemical agent missiles are absurd. No such ordnance would ever be assembled, much less designed.

It was good to see John Spencer again, after watching him for six seasons of The West Wing. He died before the seventh season, and the plot featured the death of vice presidential candidate  Leo McGarry. Ed Harris was the German master sniper in Enemy at the Gates. We also saw him in A History of Violence, The Truman Show, and The Firm. Cage featured in Snake Eyes. He also appears in the Left Behind movies. Sean Connery was an Irish cop in The Untouchables, a Russian sub captain in The Hunt for Red October, a tough military cop in The Presidio, and a space cop in Outland. He was Major-General Robert Elliott “Roy” Urquhart in A Bridge Too Far. He was an Irish soldier storming the Normandy beaches in The Longest Day. And I didn’t mention any of his James Bond roles or A Fine Madness, which I will review if I can get hold of a copy.

Criminal Empire

The DVD has been on my shelf for several weeks, and today I got around to watching. Worth the investment—this is a compelling story. Screen shots are from the DVD. Details and quotes are from Wikipedia.

Spotlight was (is?) the name of an investigative team at The Boston Globe. The 2015 movie is about their investigation into corruption in the local diocese of the Catholic Church. Priests were sexually molesting (raping) children, boys and girls, and the Church was covering it up. The relevance of this film has gained monumental strength with additional revelations earlier this month.

The movie opens with a scene in a Boston precinct station, where a priest, Father John Geoghan, is the subject of an investigation. A young policeman converses with the desk sergeant about the matter, and he is assured that the matter is going to be handled in the usual way. It’s 1976.

A young prosecuting assistant district attorney exits the interview and tells the sergeant to keep the matter quiet. The priest is hustled out of the station and driven away.

In 2001 The Boston Globe hires a new editor. He is Marty Baron , played by Liev Schreiber. He is a Jew. The previous editor was Catholic, as are about half the population of Boston. This is significant, because the previous editor was reluctant to publicize Catholic Church misdeeds. Here Baron discusses strategy with “Walter “Robby” Robinson, the editor of the newspaper’s “Spotlight” team,” played by Michael Keaton.

The Globe was acquired by The New York Times in 1993, losing some of its independence. Also, the newly surging Internet is draining readership from print media. The newspaper has to win back readership by providing insight not available to thinly sourced Internet sites. Baron tasks the Spotlight team with investigating and reporting on Church corruption. Here Robby strategizes with the team.

Reporter Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) holds a conference over lunch with Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), a lawyer for several victims of Church abuse. Garabedian tells him there are documents under seal that can be made public. Abuse by diocese priests has been ongoing for decades and Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou) has been covering it up. Priests have been shuffled from place to place as they continue to molest children. We learn from psychotherapist Richard Sipe (Richard Jenkins) that 6% of Catholic priests are guilty of child molestation. With 1000 priests, that means approximately 60 Boston priests are involved.

The newspaper has in its library records of Boston priests—their tenure in the diocese, reasons for leaving.

Rather than search for victims, the reporters decide to identify guilty priests. Many have been reassigned for other than legitimate reasons.

“Unassigned.” “Sick Leave.”

Reporter Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) digs into the “morgue” files and hands Robby a story from years back. The newspaper has been party to the cover-up.

Sacha tracks down priests they have identified and interviews one at his house. As described by Sipe, this one has the maturity of a child and fails to recognize he did anything wrong. His sister interrupts the interview and orders Sacha to leave.

Disaster! As Garabedian prepares to file the motion that will unseal the critical documents, the terror attacks of 11 September disrupt air travel and all news reporting. The documents remain public for weeks before Rezendes can get access to them and bribe a clerk to make copies. There is much resistance all along to allowing the documents into the open.

The air clears, the paper waits until after the Christmas holidays to print the lead story, and the presses roll. All great newspaper-themed dramas have these scenes. Miles of newsprint churning through the presses and the folding machines.

Bundled by automatic machinery.

Loaded onto trucks and driven into the streets for delivery.

A reporter places a copy on a critical doorstep.

The reporters go into work the following day, their day off. The news story carried the phone number (and URL) for the Spotlight hotline. The phones ring continuously as victims and others contact the paper.

The closing credits tell the horrific details that came to light as a consequence of The Globe‘s revelations.

That was 17 years ago. Earlier this month it became apparent that the Boston episode had no impact on the Church’s corrupt practices.

Catholic Priests Abused 1,000 Children in Pennsylvania, Report Says

Bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years, persuading victims not to report the abuse and law enforcement not to investigate it, according to a searing report issued by a grand jury on Tuesday.

The report, which covered six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses and found more than 1,000 identifiable victims, is the broadest examination yet by a government agency in the United States of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The report said there are likely thousands more victims whose records were lost or who were too afraid to come forward.

It catalogs horrific instances of abuse: a priest who raped a young girl in the hospital after she had her tonsils out; a victim tied up and whipped with leather straps by a priest; and another priest who was allowed to stay in ministry after impregnating a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion.

The sexual abuse scandal has shaken the Catholic Church for more than 15 years, ever since explosive allegations emerged out of Boston in 2002. But even after paying billions of dollars in settlements and adding new prevention programs, the church has been dogged by a scandal that is now reaching its highest ranks. The Pennsylvania report comes soon after the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, who is accused of sexually abusing young priests and seminarians, as well as minors.

There is much more I could mention here, but it has become no longer necessary. The implications and the remedy must by now be manifest to all—all but a few in a small enclave in Rome.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 233 of a series

The plot is so well-stitched, earning this one its place as BMotW. From 1978, it’s Jaws 2, with Roy Scheider reprising his role as as Police Chief Martin Brody of the friendly resort of Amity Island. It follows by three years the original shark movie, based on a book by Peter Benchley. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia. If you saw the original, you know the plot.

Two divers discover the sunken fishing boat from the earlier movie. So does yet another great white shark, who eats both, but only after one of them gets some photos.

When the divers go missing the chief begins to resurrect his old suspicions. Next we see two women on a water ski outing. One is driving the boat. The shark stalks the skier, and while the driver is not looking the shark takes the bait. When the driver sees what’s going on she panics, and, attempting to counter the shark, she explodes a gasoline can on the boat. No live witnesses.

Suspicions throbbing, the chief constructs some cyanide-tipped bullets for his revolver. They never get used in the movie.

Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), left over from the first movie, is showing potential investors around the community. A major annoyance is Brody, embarrassing them all by sitting in his shark observation tower while tourists enjoy the beach, unaware. This reprises the original theme. A concerned and vigilant chief of police pitted against a town council that is more concerned about scaring away tourists and investors.

When the photos taken by the deceased divers are recovered, the town council refuses to believe they show a shark. They act to rid themselves of this troublesome priest, and Brody is out of a job. At this point the plot devolves into teenagers (plus one juvenile) putting themselves into harm’s way as a festive rollick on the water begins. Also, under the water.

The shark attacks the party crowd out of sight of land, and the remaining 30+ minutes of the film is consumed by screaming teenagers, fighting off the shark, falling out of boats, getting eaten, desperately seeking help. A harbor patrol helicopter lands to rescue them, but the shark attacks and sinks the helicopter.

Of course, Brody sails to the rescue. The final shark attack comes as the group is about to be rescued at Cable Junction, a small spit of rock that houses power and communications hookups. Brody accidentally pulls up a power cable with the anchor of the police boat, but he feeds it to the shark.

The shark takes the bait, and we watch a glorious minute of the shark being fried.

And that’s the end of the movie. We only imagine Brody will get his job back. We do see the mayor eating a small serving of crow when others report the shark attack. We know from history this meal will not stick, because there is going to be a sequel, and we need somebody to play the doubter against all evidence that a shark is on the prowl.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Ha! I boast. I never saw this in the theaters. I bought a VHS shortly after it came out in 1990, and it sizzled. With Julia Roberts as a Hollywood street walker and Richard Gere as a multi-millionaire corporate takeover specialist, you know there’s going to be some sex. This is definitely not suitable for small children. It’s streaming on Hulu, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

With a title inspired by Roy Orbison, it’s Pretty Woman, and that’s what the story is all about. It’s a story about a very pretty woman and her romantic relationship with an iron-fisted tycoon. The movie opens with Vivian Ward (Roberts) and her cohort in crime Kit De Luca (Laura San Giacomo) cruising the bricks on a fine evening. A Lotus 1989.5 Esprit SE comes sailing down the street driven by Edward Lewis (Gere). He’s not looking for a ride, but he is having trouble with the stick shift on the Lotus. Sweet Vivian offers to help out and, for and extra $100, more.

They wind up in Edward’s penthouse lodgings, where the $100 gets extended into a one-week dalliance. Edward is in town to take over a local company, and he needs a sidekick so he doesn’t show up for business dinners looking like some jerk who can’t get a date.

The first assignment is dinner with the top executives of the target company, a wizened CEO (Ralph Bellamy) and his grandson (Alex Hyde-White). But first Vivian must head out to Rodeo Drive to hunt down a proper cocktail dress. Here’s one of the great scenes. The snooty sales clerks don’t want trampy Vivian in their store, and she returns to the hotel humiliated.

There she has a conversation with the worldly hotel manager Barney Thompson (Héctor Elizondo). He recognizes the business that is transpiring in his hotel, and he only asks that Vivian identify herself as Edward’s niece. Then he arranges for her to be received at a local fashion house where she purchases the required cocktail dress.

And she is absolutely stunning at the dinner with the CEO and grandson.

When Edward learns of the way Vivian was treated out on Rodeo Drive, he tags along with her on a shopping expedition, where he demonstrate that even here money doesn’t only talk, it swears. He shows Vivian that the right amount will get any and all to “suck up.”

And she is an absolute smash. I once visited Rodeo Drive as a tourist, and I can vouch that if anybody can add some class to this strip it’s Julia Roberts. This stroll is to the accompaniment of Oh, Pretty Woman.

Of course everything does not go smoothly, else there would be no movie. Edward’s experience with Vivian softens his heart, and he decides not to break up the target company and sell off the parts. He agrees with the CEO they will continue to build ships, except the company will be operating with improved liquidity.

This pisses off Edward’s lawyer and partner Phillip Stuckey (Jason Alexander). I’m guessing Danny DeVito was unavailable at the time of filming, else he would have been cast for the part. Anyhow, Phillip sees Vivian as the fly in the ointment that’s costing him an expected $multi-million payout, and he pays her a visit, calls her a whore, and assaults her. Edward breaks up the love fest, and the partnership is ended.

The week also comes to an end, and Vivian goes back to her digs with Kit and makes preparations to renew her life in faraway Georgia. Edward prepares to ride to the airport in a limo, but the limo driver knows where Vivian lives. We see Edward coming astride a white limo with flowers to rescue Cinderella from a mundane existence.

And it is a fairytale ending.

I previously reviewed Roberts in Notting HillErin BrockovichConspiracy Theory, and The Pelican Brief.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

From 2004 it’s Suspect Zero, featuring Aaron Eckhart as FBI Agent Thomas Mackelway and Ben Kingsley as Benjamin O’Ryan. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

The opening shows traveling salesman Harold Speck (Kevin Chamberlin) enjoying coffee and a newspaper at a diner beside the highway. It’s raining outside, and in walks a mysterious stranger, who sits himself across from Harold, and accosts him. The stranger speaks probing suggestions into Harold’s life on the road, what Harold does when his wife is at home alone. Harold gets nervous and leaves. He ends up dead in his car exactly on the Arizona-New Mexico line. There is a reason for this. That makes the killing FBI jurisdiction.

We find out later the stranger is Benjamin O’Ryan, and he has stalked and killed Harold. We also learn later that Harold was a serial killer.

Meanwhile FBI Agent Mackelway arrives at his new posting in Albuquerque, supposedly the armpit of FBI postings. He was previously at the Dallas office, but he once pursued a suspect across the Mexican border and kidnapped him. After six months of psychological observation he has been allowed to go back to work. There is something troubling the mind of Agent Mackelway,

Meanwhile, O’Ryan has visions, and he sketches them. He mails some to Mackelway, along with cryptic notes. They relate to serial killers.

A mysterious truck stalks two young boys riding their bicycles. One of the boys disappears and is later presumed dead.

A hot young thing is celebrating her sexuality at a roadside bar. When the bartender insists she show ID to order a drink, she goes out to her car, in the dark, to retrieve it. We know exactly what is going to happen. A nefarious character follows her out.

The man grabs miss hot body in the parking lot and drags her to his vehicle, where he rapes her. But a mysterious stranger appears, breaks through a window, and drags the attacker out. It is later revealed the rapist is a wanted serial killer, and he is now dead on the pavement.

Mackelway goes to visit Professor Dates (Robert Towne) who reveals the identity of Benjamin O’Ryan, formerly a secret FBI agent who participated in remote viewing experiments. It becomes apparent O’Ryan is seeing at a distance and is stalking and killing serial killers. Mackelway has similar visions.

Mackelway and O’Ryan team up and track a graveyard of victims they have visualized to a desert homestead. A field contains dozens of graves. When the mysterious truck appears, the two give chase. The chase ends in a crash alongside a desert road, and the culprit attempts a getaway across the hellish landscape.

Mackelway phones the situation in to the authorities, who come rushing to the scene. Mackelway’s partner Fran Kluck (Carrie-Anne Moss) rescues a young boy from the truck, then she takes out after Mackelway and the killer.

Mackelway catches and subdues the killer. O’Ryan appears and insists that Mackelway kill him (O’Ryan). He hold’s Mackleway’s pistol to his own forehead.

But Mackelway will not, so O’Ryan pulls out his knife and menaces Mackelway. Fran shoots O’Ryan dead. The two stand over O’Ryan’s body and stare down at it.

It’s the same scene depicted in one of O’Ryan’s drawings.

Yes, the bit about remote viewing is preposterous.

In the early 1970s, Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ joined the Electronics and Bioengineering Laboratory at Stanford Research Institute (SRI, now SRI International) where they initiated studies of the paranormal that were, at first, supported with private funding from the Parapsychology Foundation and the Institute of Noetic Sciences.

I was once called in to do a TV interview and explain what was wrong with remote viewing tests that purported to show positive results. There is more available from the North Texas Skeptics. More recently Harold Puthoff was doing edgy research in Austin.

Ben Kingsley is always worth a watch. We have already seen him in Shutter Island and also Sneakers.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This one caught my attention when it first screened in 1995, but I never saw it. It’s now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. It’s Dead Man Walking, based on the book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean, who is the subject of the story. Details are from Wikipedia.

Here is Sister Prejean as a young girl, shown in flashbacks from home video, at I presume to be her confirmation. Sister Prejean as a young girl is played by Eva Amurri Martino, daughter of Susan Sarandon, who plays the grown-up Sister Helen.

Sean Penn is Matthew Poncelet, a piece of Louisiana white trash, who six years previous teamed up with a buddy to murder a young couple at night out by the swamp. Both Matthew and his partner raped the girl, and Matthew shot the boy in the back of the head with a .22 rifle. Now Matthew faces death by lethal injection at what, in another movie, came to be called Louisiana’s Green Mile. Peen is perfectly cast for this role. Nobody else can project worthless humanity with aplomb as Penn does. Wait. Note the facial hair. I imagine the prison barber asking him, “Matthew, what do you want to look like?” and Matthew flashes a big smirk and tells him, “Make me look like a don’t-give-a-damn punk killer.”

So, Sister Helen takes on the chore of being Matthew’s moral counselor, and that’s what the story is all about. The matter is, the Catholic church is dead set against the death penalty, and they want to stop any and all executions. So, how does Sister Helen and her pro-bono defense lawyer attack the case? By demonstrating to the appeals board that the death penalty is in violation of the Constitution or is otherwise inappropriate? Of course not. They attack the ruling of Matthew’s guilt, something that is, in reality, unassailable.

Here is Sister Helen exiting the clemency hearing and running into parents of the two dead victims. The person on the right is R. Lee Ermey as Clyde Percy, father of girl who was raped and killed.

Of course all attempts to forestall the inevitable are to naught, and the execution goes off on schedule. I’m posting two shots from the execution, because I find them worth noting.

The first shows preparations for lethal injection. They are going to stick a needle in Matthew’s arm. And, yes, the person doing the sticking first sanitizes the area with an alcohol patch. The person who is seconds  from death needs to be protected from infection.

Now they strap Matthew to the gurney. You see that? yes, it’s almost a perfect crucifix. Jesus Christ, they want to call attention to his martyrdom.

And that’s the movie. No real action except flashbacks of the crime. Nobody falls in love. Nothing of any interest happens to anybody except for Matthew. Sarandon spends a lot of the movie listening to other people talk.

Amazon Video’s X-ray feature makes some interesting points.

  • In real life the killer got the chair.
  • In the movie, Sister Helen gets pulled over by a Louisiana trooper for speeding. This happened after the movie started filming, so they added that scene to the movie.
  • Louisiana now uses injection, but they strap the convict to the gurney after laying it flat.
  • This is one of several movies where Sarandon’s character as a child is played by her daughter.

R. Lee Ermey is famous for portraying Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, eight years prior to this one. More recently I watched him almost daily as a military interpreter in various shows on The History Channel. He died April 15 from pneumonia, in Santa Monica, California.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This came out in 2007 and has been streaming on Hulu for several weeks. I decided to take a look and ended up investing 2 hours and 38 minutes watching it. It’s American Gangster, featuring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe. It didn’t take long to spot this as a meld of Goodfellas and The French Connection. It’s about (see the title) an American gangster, in this case real-life Frank Lucas. From a quick review I get the idea the plot roughly follows the crime career of Frank Lucas. The screen shots are from Hulu. Details are from  Wikipedia. Here’s the cast:

The opening shot shows somebody tied up in a chair. It appears he is being water-boarded. Somebody is pouring water all over him, while he’s screaming. Now we realize it’s not water. It’s gasoline. Frank Lucas has a lesson he wants to teach people who get out of line. He flicks a flaming piece of paper on the man, who bursts into flames. The man screams for a few seconds before Lucas kicks the chair over and shoots him dead.

Next  we see gang boss Bumpy Johnson dispensing largess from the back of a truck in a Harlem (New York) street, where his downtrodden constituents give him rave reviews. That happy scene changes swiftly as Bumpy takes his driver Frank Lucas aside to explain what is wrong with modern cities. Neighborhoods have lost their identity. Small shops, owned by people who live on the same street and who work there, are being replaced by business run by large corporations, by people who don’t live in the neighborhood. This is 1968, and Martin Luther King is already dead, killed by a sniper in Memphis, Tennessee. Bumpy takes Frank into one of the new stores. Nobody there is from the neighborhood. Gone is the community. Then Bumpy dies of a hear attack in the store, and Frank figures to take over his empire.

He takes inspiration for his business model from Bumpy’s advice. Vice in the neighborhood is owned by the Italian mobs. Drugs on the street pass through multiple layers before being injected into the bodies of Harlem junkies. Frank concludes what is needed is local management and vertical integration. He will personally run the whole operation from top to bottom.

Meanwhile, his nemesis is germinating in the form of a, rare, honest cop. Detective Roberts is taking classes to become a lawyer with the idea of moving up in the world. Meanwhile, he and his partner, Detective Rivera, are watching some business going down in a parking lot. Some suspicious characters leave something in a car. They investigate and discover hundreds of thousands of dollars in street bills. Against his partner’s advice, Roberts insists on taking it down to the station.

This is a bad move. This is free cash that could have been distributed, according to seniority, to any number of members of the New York police force. Roberts becomes a pariah in the department. Later, when Rivera, who is, himself a junkie, murders a dealer, and Roberts needs to extricate him from a hostile neighborhood, the dispatcher will not send backup.

Lucas figures to solve the problem of inferior drugs by getting his supply from the source. The Vietnam War is in progress, and 500,000 American troops are stationed in Vietnam and Thailand. Thousands enter and exit the region on a daily basis. It is an excellent supply route from the heroin producers of Thailand. Lucas travels to Thailand, where he hooks up with an American Army sergeant. Together they trek into the hot zone, where the poppies are grown and where the drug is refined.

His business model is an instant success. Selling “Blue Magic” trade-marked heroin at below the competition’s prices, Lucas takes over the trade in the New York City area. He purchases a large country estate for his extended family from low rent North Carolina and moves everybody in. He recruits his five brothers as partners in the business. His scheme is that blood loyalty will protect his enterprise from police infiltration. And that works, for a while.

Back in Harlem, he impresses his brothers with the seriousness of their business. He had heretofore been squeezed by the street enforcer of the legacy gang. The unfortunate pictured here previously demanded 20% of Lucas’ action—insulting and also above the established market. As Lucas and his brothers are enjoying lunch, Lucas spots the enforcer on the street, pressing a local business for the money. Lucas leaves his brothers, who watch from the restaurant, and he strides up to the enforcer, confronts him, and shoots him dead in front of a large crowd. Then he rejoins his brothers. Nobody bothers him. There’s a new sheriff in town.

Lucas operates outside the model of the old Harlem mob. He wears a suit, not flashy, and gives all the appearance of a local businessman. He insists others in his gang do likewise, adopting a low profile. When brother Huey shows up wearing the 1970s equivalent of a zoot suit, Lucas takes him down a peg, asking him why he wants to walk around saying “arrest me.” Lucas marries  stunning Eva from Puerto Rico.

But matters begin to go bad for Lucas. Roberts is recruited from the NYPD into a federal investigative unit and concentrates on finding who is behind Blue Magic. He begins to zero in on the Lucas brothers. His group keeps an eye on them, and in a case-breaking event, they see Huey chase a woman out into the street and shoot her. They now have leverage into the Lucas operation.

At the same time the local police are putting the squeeze on Lucas. He’s not paying his share, and this upsets Detective Nick Trupo, who wants to keep the Lucas operation thriving as a steady source of income to the corrupt police. Lucas strikes back, fire bombing Trupo’s car in front of his house to send a message.

But Roberts’ crew eavesdrops on a conversation between Huey and Lucas (in Thailand). It’s 1975, and American  forces are coming home. The Blue Magic supply line is about to be shut down. Instructions are in code, but Roberts translates the dialog into the tail number of an Army C-130 transport arriving in Elizabeth City, New Jersey. His group is ready with a search warrant when the plane arrives.

But they can’t find the shipment on the plane. They even open caskets of American bodies being returned to the States but find nothing. Roberts’ commander is incensed. They have desecrated the bodies of these soldiers and have nothing to show for it. Also, black guys doing this stuff? Not Italians? Where’s the Italian connection? Only the Italians do this stuff, not black guys. What is Roberts thinking? He’s a disgrace.

But Roberts persists. He decides the shipment is in the caskets, and his men follow the vans taking them away. At a point the caskets are opened, and the bodies are transferred to burial coffins. The caskets leave by a separate van. The crooks take the caskets to a building, where they open them and unseal compartments in the bottoms. They pack a shipment of heroin into plastic trash bags and cart the bags over to a waiting truck. Roberts’ group follows the truck, which goes to  Lucas’ packaging plant.

In a dramatic raid guns blaze, crooks die, and the packaging manager ends up on the sidewalk on his back, staring into the muzzle of a shotgun.

Lucas is in church, and as he leaves he is faced with a street full of police cars and nobody else around.

Lucas tempts Roberts with a deal. Any amount of money. Roberts places a counter offer. The whole gang and all others who can be snared. A closing note says that Lucas received 70 years. But Roberts quit the police and became a lawyer. He represented Lucas and got his sentence reduced to 15 years. Eva went back Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, Detective Trupo sees what’s going on. Knowing that Lucas is going down, and the money pot is about to dry up, New York police raid Lucas’ mansion looking for the getaway stash that gangsters keep for such emergencies. They tear the place apart and finally locate the dough under a doghouse, after shooting the dog.

Three fourths of the New York City’s drug enforcement agency was convicted of related crimes. We see Dozens of police being arrested and packed into vans. We see Detective Trupo sitting in a lawn chair in his back yard and placing his service pistol under his chin before pulling the trigger. Justice is truly served.

With 158 minutes worth of celluloid, there is obviously more. What I’m not showing is Detective Roberts’ family life coming apart, his wife suing for divorce and taking his son to Las Vegas. We see Roberts humping his lady divorce lawyer on the kitchen counter when he gets a phone call that his partner has died from an overdose of Blue Magic. We see naked women processing the heroin (sorry, Steve). They are naked to make sure they don’t steal any of the stuff. Also, I’m thinking if you don’t get any of the powder on your clothes, it’s going to be easy to test clean when you get back out on the street.

But wait! There are plot failures. The cops raid the C-130, and don’t find the dope. The crooks, enormously stupid, believe they are home free, and they proceed to carry the caper to the end. Don’t they know that by now there is a cop behind every trash can? Who believes this?

Besides, in real life the drugs were not in the caskets, but in the pallets under them. It’s Hollywood, people.

Contrary to the movie, Roberts had no children.

The drama is tense and doesn’t let up from beginning to end. The plot does not line up perfectly with the actual story, but it’s worth a watch.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Looking for a movie to review, I found this one on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. It’s The Vanishing of Sidney Hall, from 2017, so I’m thinking it must have gone straight to video. This is what I used to call an art movie back when I caught L’Avventura and others at an art movie house in Philadelphia. I didn’t understand that one, either. From Wikipedia, where I’m getting details, here’s a list of characters I’m going to mention:

The plot is evolves much like a Mandelbrot set. Let me illustrate.

If you ever played with one of these things, you will know what to expect. You can zoom in on the image, and ever more detail emerges. You can never zoom in far enough to run out of detail. This movie’s plot is like that. It is decidedly non-linear, so I will unravel it and leave it to interested readers to re-knit it on their own.

We start with high school student Sidney Hall, in trouble again. He’s an insightful writer—too insightful to be specific. He produces powerful prose, but when asked to pick a subject the product is way too graphic for his teachers’ taste. Here we see Sidney’s English teacher praising Sidney’s work, but cautioning him to tone it down.

Amazon

At some point in his life, not explained initially, Sidney eventually does not tone it down. At some point, apparently still in high school, he publishes Suburban Tragedy, a rough-reading work that sails to the top of the charts and lingers there for months. It affects some readers. People who have read the book commit suicide. Yes, it is that powerful.

We learn that somebody, most probably Sidney, now much older, is going around to book stores and burning copies of his book. Somebody with a (fake we learn later) police badge follows the trail of burnt books, looking for Sidney, who has gone off the map. We will later learn the fake cop is Francis Bishop, a writer who edged Sidney out for the Pulitzer Prize.

Back in Sidney’s high school days, a mysterious girl leaves a note in Sidney’s mail box. He hunts her down and discovers she is Melody, who lives across the street. He is fascinated with her, and eventually they marry. Then they break up after another woman confronts them in a restaurant and tells Melody Sidney has been humping her. Melody threatens to leave Sidney. She is pregnant. They reunite. She dies when they become stuck in a stalled elevator without her asthma medication.

In high school there was a class jerk named Brett Newport, and Brett offers to straighten up, but Sidney must take them back to where the two buried a metal lunch box years earlier.

They dig up the lunch box and head back toward Bret’s house, but while they are stopping by to drop off Sidney at home, Brett’s father comes up and drags Brett out of the car and takes him home, leaving the lunch box with Sidney. When Sidney gets around to opening the lunch box he finds a video tape. He plays the tape, which shows Brett’s father, a judge, raping a young girl. Sidney’s assistant finds the tape and burns in in the fireplace before Sidney can return it to Brett. With proof of his father’s guilt gone, Brett has nothing to live for and kills himself. Sidney uses notes found in the lunch box as a springboard for his horrific novel.

Sidney has published another successful novel, but without Melody he loses all interest in life. He travels around the country with his dog Homer, riding freight trains and sleeping wherever. Homer was what Melody wanted to name the baby. In a dusty desert town a cop car spies Sidney sleeping in an alley. Since he has an open container, they arrest him.

During their courtship, Melody clipped a photo from a magazine and showed it to Sidney. They had no idea where it was, but when Sidney becomes successful, he hunts the place down and buys it for Melody.

Bishop catches up with Sidney while he is in jail and posts his bail. He drives Sidney and Homer to the place in the desert, where Sidney lives out the rest of his life. After seven years off the grid, Sidney is declared dead. Then he is discovered alive, but dying.

And so Sidney dies, with Bishop by his side.

And that is one sad tale, but I do not plan to kill myself.

The movie closes with Tomorrow is a Long Time, written and performed by Bob Dylan.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This came out in 1984, about the time I was moving back to Texas and was absorbed with other things. For some reason I never saw it through until recently were it is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. It’s The Natural, starring Robert Redford as some kind of baseball sensation. I caught some it on TV a few decades back; I caught the part where Roy Hobbs (Redford) strikes out The Whammer and then goes to meet a woman in a hotel room, where she shoots him. And I watched the very end where Hobbs hits the game-winning home run and wins the pennant. I must have missed all the rest until a few days ago, when I sat myself down and viewed all two hours plus. I came away with the assurance the story could have been told using 30 minutes fewer feet of celluloid. Here’s how it goes. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s the early 20th century, and Hobbs is a farm boy whose father teaches him baseball. He’s a whiz.

But the father dies suddenly, and Hobbs finishes growing up on his own. Near where his father died lightening strikes a tree, and the boy plucks away a log from the trunk. He shapes the log and fashions a baseball bat, which he brands with a hot iron: “Wonder Boy.” And he adds a bolt of lightening.

He says goodbye to his high school sweetheart, Iris Gaines (Glenn Close) and catches a train to try out as a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. It’s a steam locomotive, so the train has to stop for water. On the train is a pro ball player, known in the movie only as ‘The Whammer’ (Joe Don Baker),  and looks a lot like Babe Ruth. There is a fairground next to the tracks, and Hobbs wows patrons by consistently knocking down all the wooden milk bottles in a carnival game.

A challenge is issued, and a large bet is laid. Hobbs will strike out The Whammer. Three straight whiffs is the challenge. The Whammer watches the first ball go by and swings at the remaining two. He is not amused.

In Chicago Hobbs accepts the invitation of a woman, Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey), who was on the train. He comes to her hotel room, where she shoots him in the gut. Then (we learn later) she kills herself. We also learn she has previously killed other athletes, all using silver bullets.

Years pass within one splice of the film, and we see Hobbs as a 30+ player recruited from  a minor-league team by a scout for the New York Knights, a bit of fiction from  Bernard Malamud, who wrote the book of the same name.

We eventually learn that Hobbs is on the team as part of a scheme by The Judge (Robert Prosky), co-owner of the team. The Judge needs for The Knights to not win the pennant, because if they lose, then team manager Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley) has to give up controlling interest in the team. So The Judge has been recruiting losers, such as Hobbs, and he has bribed  another player to lose. Shades of Eight Men Out.

Pop doesn’t want to play the unknown Hobbs and keeps him on the bench for game after game. But the crooked player dies crashing into the outfield wall, and Hobbs gets invited to batting practice. He hits ball after ball into the stands. His first time at bat in a game he really does hit the cover off the ball. While the opposing team chases an unraveling ball of twine, Hobbs trots the bases.

Things are no longer looking bright for The Judge. The Knights have been losing games on end, but Hobbs begins hitting a stream of home runs, inspiring the team, which now begins to play major league ball.

The Judge runs in a woman of casual virtue, Memo Paris (Kim Basinger), to distract Hobbs, and she screws his brains out so consistently his game drops off. Paris is also Pop’s niece. Hobbs is in a terrible slump, and so is the team.

But in Chicago, Hobbs’ fame catches the attention of Iris, now grown, single, and with a son.

At bat, close to once more striking out, Hobbs spots Iris in the stands, and he slugs a homer.

Hobbs dumps Paris, but his stomach wound flares up, and he misses games in the hospital, where the silver bullet is removed from his stomach. Seeing he is needed to win the pennant-winning game, Hobbs takes himself out of the hospital and suits up for the game. Now comes the drama.

Game runs are on base, and Hobbs needs to hit a big one. Iris sends in a note telling him her son is also his, and he’s at the game. Hobbs whiffs a couple of pitches and then splats a fowl ball into the stands. Bad news, that swing has shattered Wonder Boy, and Hobbs tells the bat boy to go select a winner for him.

And here comes the fatal pitch.

Hobbs swats it into the lights behind the outfield for a home run. As he trots the bases electric lights continue to shatter in a cascade of sparks.

Hobbs retires from ball, and we see him and his son tossing a ball on the farm as Iris looks on.

What gives this movie interest is the intro. All is going well for Hobbs, and you would never believe a mysterious woman will shoot him in the gut, sidelining his career.

It’s not adequately explained why Hobbs never went back to hook up with Iris after his life-shattering experience—didn’t even write.

By the time of his return to baseball, Hobbs is a once-burned, street-wise, 36-year-old. And he still falls for the floozy sent in to throw off his game.

See the picture of Hobbs and the bat boy examining the shattered Wonder Boy? Watching Hobbs bat the ball into the stands we see Wonder Boy fall harmlessly to the ground as Hobbs heads for first base. It is obviously not broken.

The winning hit shatters a flood lamp. Then lights begin to shatter all over the field. People, this does not happen.

This plot device of bringing it all down to a final pitch that will decide the pennant is getting old. It was getting old 34 years ago, and it is not going to pick up additional sparkle anytime soon.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is from 2010 and is currently streaming on Hulu, where I obtained the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia. It’s Shutter Island, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as Edward “Teddy” Daniels, a U.S. marshal, sent to investigate the escape of a dangerous mental patient at Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island in Boston Harbor. It’s 1954, and Teddy brings along his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo). They cross to the island by way of a ferry, the only transportation.

On the crossing the two converse. Chuck inquires of Teddy’s personal life, and Teddy recalls his lovely wife, now deceased.

The facility is ominous, with guards, electrified fences, multiple layers of gates.

The escaped inmate is Rachel Solando, who was committed after she drowned her children. Teddy investigates the escape. Staff at the facility cannot locate the dangerous escapee. She was locked in a secure cell, and was later found to be absent, with no signs the cell had been compromised. Teddy questions the staff, and receives suspicious responses. An orderly who swears he saw and heard nothing later admits he left his post for a bathroom break.

Teddy continues to have flashbacks from his past. His wife was killed in a fire at their apartment, a fire set by an arsonist, also mentally ill and is now, Teddy suspects, at the facility.

In another flashback Teddy recalls the time during the war his men liberated Germany’s Dachau death camp, and they murdered the guards.

A storm is raging, and we are beginning to recall Shakespeare’s The Tempest again. The two marshals change our of their wet clothing and don orderly’s uniforms. Without getting deeply into  the plot, Teddy and Chuck head into the island wilderness to see what’s been going on. Teddy suspects the Shutter Island facility is being used by the federal government to conduct mental experiments on people. He suspects the critical activities are going on within a lighthouse adjacent to the island.

Teddy has been warned he will not be allowed to leave the island and that the staff have means to deem him insane and to incarcerate him. In a climactic encounter, Teddy swims to the lighthouse and confronts Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the head psychiatrist. Cawley advises Teddy that he has been a patient at the hospital for two years, ,and then Chuck enters, revealing he is Dr. Sheehan, Teddy’s psychiatrist for all this time. The entire plot has been one to get Teddy to acknowledge his true past and progress toward a cure.

Teddy then recalls how, two years previous, he returned from an assignment to find his wife had drowned their children in the lake. Teddy thereupon shot her to death, which act precipitated his descent into psychosis.

Before Teddy can be put on the path to a cure the staff need to determine whether he has truly come to  accept reality, and Dr. Sheehan (Chuck) interviews him on the steps of the hospital. Teddy pretends to have relapsed into psychosis, telling Sheehan he would rather die as a psychotic than live with his past. Sheehan gives a nod to the staff, waiting to take Teddy away, Teddy walks away with them to resume his confinement.

You do not need to be reminded this is a 1950s film. You can tell, because the men are wearing hats and somebody is smoking in almost every scene. There are noticeable lapses, such as in a scene where Teddy goes deeply into a dungeon-like section to confront patients locked behind bars. There are no lights so Teddy lights one match after another to see. They got the lighting all wrong. There are no shadows where there should be some, and we can still see clearly after the match has gone out. It would have been better to have played that scene with some kind of artificial light to make it more realistic.

This is based on Dennis Lehane‘s 2003 novel of the same name. The Kindle edition is $9.99, and it might be worth a read. Maybe next time I take vacation and need something to read on the plane.

There is no Shutter Island in Boston Harbor, but there is a Long Island, which Lehane visited as a child and which became the inspiration for Shutter Island.

The Awful Truth

Number 4 in a Series

These are troubling times. The truth is becoming an endangered species. The history of threats is long. This is a story about The Washington  Post.

Katharine Graham was the daughter of Eugene Meyer, who purchased The Post at a bankruptcy sale in 1933. Katherine (Kay), went to work for the newspaper in 1933, and in 1938 she married Phillip Graham, then a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. When Eugene Meyer died in 1959 he bequeathed management responsibilities to Phillip instead of to his daughter. Eventually Phillip Graham’s health deteriorated, ,and he ended his own life in 1963. Katherine assumed management of the paper for the following twenty years. She died in 2001. 1971 was a critical time for The Post, it was marginally profitable, if at all. It was at this point the nature of The Post changed forever.

The story is told in the movie The Post, which was released last year and which features Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham and Tom Hanks as Post editor Ben Bradlee. An in-law lent me a copy of the DVD, whence these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Who would have thought there could be such drama in a movie where nobody gets killed, there are no sexual encounters, and huge amounts of money are not stolen in armored car heists? This movie packs tension and suspense into a 116-minute run time, and to give it justice I am illustrating with 35 images. There’s going to be more after a short review of the plot.

The opening scene shows young State Department military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), suiting up to head off into combat with U.S. troops in Vietnam. This is in 1966, a time when the heat was building fast. Forget my having promised nobody would die. We see troops being killed in an ambush.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) is in-country, and Ellsberg hears the secretary tell others he has great confidence in the way things are going. This is contrary to what McNamara has said in private, and it is contrary to what Ellsberg has put into his reports. Back home and working for the Rand Corporation, Ellsberg observes the government, now under a new administration, continues to propagate the myth. He takes action in the form of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and also the terms of his top secret clearance. In small packets he filches sections of the Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, a document that traces “United States Department of Defense history of the United States’ political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.” He eventually makes copies of the document before returning the originals. He releases the copies to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, Katherine Graham is discussing the financial situation of  The Post. The solution is to take the paper public, executing an IPO, selling stock in the company to investors while retaining majority control.

Editor Ben Bradlee and his staff are others concerned about the newspaper. They are located down the street from the most powerful government in the world, yet their competitor, The New York Times, is getting first breaks on important political stories. Bradlee confers with his staff, and they conclude that Times reporter Neil Sheehan has been off the grid for days. What is he working on? Does The Times have a big story in gestation? Bradlee hands an intern $40 and tells him to take a train to New York, head over to The Times on 43rd Street, and find out what Sheehan is up to.

The intern crosses the street to the Times building, and he asks a UPS delivery man what floor the newsroom is on. The man tells him it’s the 6th, and while his back is turned, the intern steals an envelope from the top of the man’s stack and carries it into the building. He has no idea where to find Sheehan, so he gets on the elevator. Others get on. One of them is holding a markup of the next day’s front page. There is a big blank space with the name “Sheehan” written in. The intern hands over his purloined envelope to the man on the elevator and returns to Washington and tells Bradlee what he saw.

Simultaneously, Catherine has had a conversation with McNamara, who happens to be a personal friend of long standing. McNamara tells her there is hot water with The Times. They are about to run a story that is not complimentary to McNamara. Bradlee is desperate to get a lead on that story.

Meanwhile, Catherine negotiates with the bankers on the IPO. They want to  purchase stock at $24 and some change a share. That will mean The Post will lose the financial  wherewithal for 25 reporters.

The Times hits the street with the Pentagon Papers story, and is promptly enjoined by the government from publishing additional information. Bradlee is desperate to get ahead of the curve on this story, but his chances are grim.

Then, a bomb shell. A young woman steps out of a crowd on the street and enters the Post newsroom with a package. She places it on top of the typewriter of the first mature reporter she comes to, and then she leaves without saying anything more. When the reporter opens the package he discovers excerpts from the Pentagon Papers.

Bradlee has his entry into the story. But the most that can be determined is the source of the leak is possibly Ellsberg. Post reporters try to track him down. There is no Google, so they use the telephone. “May I speak to Daniel Ellsberg?” “Who?” Another call, “Daniel Ellsberg, please.” “He’s not in.” Bingo! Since there were no cell phones for the NSA to track in those days, they employed the time-tested use of random pay phones on the street. Assistant Editor Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) makes the critical connection.

It’s a crucial time for The Post. The paper goes public on AMEX at the moment its value may drop close to zero.

But the pay phone operation yields gold. In a motel room Bagdikian meets with Ellsberg and receives a boatload of paper.

He carries it back to Washington, purchasing a first class ticket for it. At Bradlee’s house he gets help unloading his cargo from the taxi. Bradlee’s daughter is out front selling  lemonade.

Inside, the living room is turned into a sorting center. The papers are in no special order, and the editors need to make a story out of the mess.

Katherine Graham reaches a crisis as McNamara drops by for some serious talk.

McNamara protests that he had to make difficult decisions, and the reputation of the country is at stake. Katherine reminds him of the men who went to Vietnam under false pretenses, some of them friends and relatives. Also, there are those who died.

The Post has the story. To publish or not to publish? There is grave legal danger. Company lawyers urge holding off. Editors argue otherwise. If the government can deny publican in advance, then free press in the United States will be gone forever. Katherine says, “Do it.”

The story is proofed and sent down to the composing room by pneumatic tube. There the mechanical process of putting together news pages is put on  display. It is awsome to watch.

For the past many years newspaper composition has been done by computer. Something like Microsoft Word is used to create the page, and most likely something like laser printers are used to generate what is called “cold type.” The cold type is an aluminum foil with ink-philic areas forming the print, text and half-tone images. Then the foil is wrapped on a printing drum, and rolled against an inking drum. Ink transfers to the foil, which then rolls over a rubber “mattress,” which picks up the ink image. The rubber mattress drum then rolls over the paper, printing the image on the paper. It’s called “offset printing.”

In the old days they used “hot type.” The composing machine had a keyboard that selected molds for the characters. Molten metal (mostly lead) poured into the molds, making hard-face type. Pages of these metal typefaces were then mounted on drums which rotated, picking up ink and transferring ink to paper. These were huge machines.

The page is composed and then assembled into the presses. The printing deadline is nigh. It’s time to shit or get off the pot. Katherine receives stern advice not to publish. Bradlee is there. She tells him to roll it. He picks up the phone, rings the press floor and says, “Go.” The operator presses the critical button, setting in motion a train of events that cannot be reversed. It starts with a loud alarm bell. The presses are about to  turn, so people better get out of the way.

And the die is cast. Miles of newsprint run through the presses.

Workers scoop up bundles and bind them for distribution.

Workers at the dock load the bundles onto trucks.

Trucks roll out of the plant. There is no turning back now.

A staffer signals Bradlee that Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Legal Counsel William Rehnquist is on the line. Rehnquist advises Bradlee that publication of the story will be a violation of the Espionage Act. Bradlee thanks him for wasting his time (my words).

The story is already on the street. Literally. Bundles of papers are dropped off the backs of trucks for pick up by distributors, including a drop-off point in front of the White House.

Katherine wanders the newsroom, fretting over the consequences.

The Times reports the status. It has been enjoined from publishing, temporarily, while The Post escaped the ban.

There is no ambivalence elsewhere. Newspapers almost without exception join The Post, republishing the story. It is obvious to all that freedom of the press is at stake. Also significant, The Post has come up from  being a hometown newspaper. Any concerns on the part of the bankers can now be dispelled. The newspaper’s value has escalated.

The Supreme Court takes the case immediately.

Katherine Graham, waiting in line to attend the hearing, is approached by a government worker, a young woman carrying a box of documents into the chamber. She escorts Katherine into the chamber and reminds Katherine that she agrees with what The Post is doing. In the hearing a judge asks whether The Post would have published plans for the D-Day Invasion. The Post lawyer responds that a survey of past situational assessments hardly compares to a military operation. As Katherine exits the building, women along her path look on in admiration. Women are coming to power at this time, and she is clearly an exemplar.

The phone rings in the newsroom. The Court has reached a decision. It’s 6-3 in favor of The Times. Siding with the majority, Justice Black wrote, “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” In particular, the First Amendment has the intent of protecting the press and not the government.

Katherine continues to get the feel of her newspaper, visiting the composing room.

Strolling with Bradlee through the press room by the trucking dock.

Not all are pleased. A closing shot shows the outline of Richard Nixon months later, viewed through a White House window. The voice is likely ripped directly from the Oval Office tapes that would later haul him down. He says, “no reporter from the Washington Post is ever to be in the White House.”

One year later a security guard checks a door in the Watergate office complex that has had its lock taped over, and a resident at the adjacent Watergate Hotel phones police to report people using flashlights in the office complex. Two years after that, Nixon was forced to resign.

Ellsberg was subsequently prosecuted for his actions, but government misconduct in obtaining evidence against him resulted in the case being thrown out with prejudice. The Watergate break-in was associated with attempts to discern any connection between Ellsberg and the Democratic National Committee.

In more recent cases, people with access to classified data have leaked the contents, perhaps with Ellsberg in mind. To be sure, Ellsberg was guilty of a crime, and it was proper to prosecute him. What is not proper is to claim to be a martyr for a cause and not to suffer consequences. My thinking is that being a martyr means you are dead. In the case of the Pentagon Papers, public good was done.

I have held a government security clearance in the past, and I always took the papers I signed seriously. I was promised jail time and even execution if I divulged classified information. Beyond that, I find humor in government attempts to stifle dissemination of information once it is leaked. What happens when classified information is compromised is that it immediately becomes available to our country’s enemies, and the only result of restricting additional dissemination is to  keep the secret from the American people. Which is often the purpose. There are things that would be damaging if our enemies has access, and that would be even more damaging if the voters have access. Yeah, it goes that way.

I have previous critiqued the case of Edward Snowden, and I have low regard for his actions. He revealed our government was doing some unsavory things (spying on friendly governments), but these were not illegal actions. Furthermore, divulging this information was damaging to our intelligence operations, unlike releasing the Pentagon Papers. Snowden wants to come home as a hero, forgetting that one must first die to become a martyr. He chose to seek refuge with one of this country’s most worrisome enemies, and it is my hope he will remain there to enjoy the fruits of his folly.

The fate of The Washington Post is a primary theme of the movie, and it’s a problem that has been amplified by emerging technologies. The list is long. The advent of cold type (offset printing) eliminated the jobs of multitudes of typesetters. Word processors and laser printers eliminated the work of many cold type composers. Word processing software has streamlined the story creation and editing process, definitely reducing the number of openings for spell checkers. The advent of Web publishing is threatening to eliminate all print journalism. Now anybody with a cheap computer and an Internet connection can be a publisher—that you are reading this now demonstrates the point.

A thing that cannot be eliminated easily is the work of source reporters, people who do the leg work, go to the sites, interview the people, record what they observe, and make it all into a coherent story that somebody will pay to read. Others attempt to take the place of these journalists, and the result has been a dilution of truth in the news. The ability to publish with minimal cost and with zero accountability is working adversely to mold public opinion. Concerned readers can work to counter this by underwriting mainstream journalism. If you are like me, you are no longer settled to the point you can receive a daily newspaper, 1/4 of which you might read, at your door every day.

The recourse, a path I have taken, is to subscribe to mainstream news on-line. We have a president who seeks with determination, to undermine mainstream news, casting outlets, such as The New York Times,  as “fake news.” He also echoes, “Failing NYT.” And the NYT is down on subscriptions and  revenue since decades past. In response to the president’s attacks I have counterattacked by obtaining an on-line subscription to The Times. My few dollars a month subscription gets me the news I am looking for in a form I can use in my work. Quotes, even from decades past, can be tracked down and copied for quotation in my postings.

Readers concerned about the survival of truth in news are encouraged to subscribe on-line. Nearly all publications include  this option. Consider subscribing to one or more of the following:

  • New York Times
  • Washington Post
  • Los Angeles Times
  • Dallas Morning News
  • Houston Chronicle
  • Boston Globe
  • Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Kansas City Star
  • Detroit Free Press

There are many more. An on-line subscription means the-ink to-paper intermediary is being  eliminated, writers are getting paid for their efforts, and healthy sources of information are being preserved. Act for your own best interests.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I knew I would get around to this one eventually. It’s Saturday Night Fever, from 1977. In case you forgot, that was 41 years ago. Seems like yesterday. Currently it’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

It was a time when the calendar snagged on a theme and came to a halt for a few years. Then the snag broke, and we broke free, into the Reagan years and beyond. But while the clock stood still, disco was it, along with its signature polyester suits. This is a story built on the fad but not based on it. It’s the story of Anthony “Tony” Manero (John Travolta) coming of age in period Brooklyn.

And here he is, Travolta as Tony, looking as cool as anybody possibly could while hoofing it down a Brooklyn street carrying a bucket of paint.

I’ve been to Brooklyn before, but not here. Opening shots show the newly-constructed Verrazano–Narrows Bridge nearby.

Tony, fresh out of high school, lives with his parents and works in a paint store. Surprisingly, he is successful at his job, and he has a future there. But his outer life is disco, which he experiences in a local club, 2001, and is a star. He grooms his persona with slavish attention to his hair and an intense cultivation of style. He eats dinner with his working-class family, keeping his new shirt covered with a cloth. As fabulous as his other life is, his family life is drab by comparison. His father, long the family provider as a construction worker, is out of work since four months. Family meals are an exercise in recrimination.

Tony pals with some loser friends, who make 2001 a regular hangout. In the movie we see the gang cruising around in a clunky car that, when parked at the curb, doubles as a sex mobile. One of the gang is Annette (Donna Pescow), a frequent dance partner, who has an unhealthy sexual fixation on Tony. She wants some sack time, but she will not dismiss her Catholic upbringing and practice birth control. Tony is adamant and brushes off Annette’s advances, but he agrees to partner with her in a coming competition.

But Tony’s attention is drawn to a brighter flame in the person of Stephanie Mangano (Karen Lynn Gorney). He ditches Annette and teams with Stephanie.

This was Travolta’s breakout role. His acting is solid, and audiences were stunned by his moves. He became an icon, along with the Bee Gees, of the era.

Then Tony’s world cracks. He and Annette give a moving and sensual performance in the contest, and they are declared the winners. But Tony recognizes that the performance by a Latino couple, lit by fire and brilliance, should have scored the win. He sees bias against the Latinos as something that permeates his society. He hands over the first place trophy to the other couple and storms out.

Tony has a thing for Stephanie, and outside the club he gets into the car with her and puts the move on her, insistently. She repulses him and storms off. Then comes Annette. She is stoned, and two of the boys, take turns with her. Then the gang heads out to the bridge, where they are fond of playing pranks. Bobby, goes to far and plunges from the bridge. Police are unable to find his body in the water at night.

I was taken back by the bridge scenes—there were a couple. How do these kids get away with parking a car on the bridge, let along playing pranks on the suspension cables and the safety rail? I’ve never seen where this was allowed, even  possible.

Tony chucks the whole thing and rides the subway all night. In the morning he goes to where Stephanie has moved in Manhattan and wakes her. She agrees to get something going with him again, overlooking  the previous night’s behavior.

We are left to conclude that Tony now has his life together and will have a future with Stephanie., and it’s the end of the movie. It was hard not to notice that Tony does not mention Bobby’s death to Stephanie, which is the first topic that would come up in the real world.

So it’s a coming of age story, popular in past decades, but here upstaged by disco. The public face of the movie is Travolta’s dance performances, which for the first 15 minutes seem to be about the whole substance.

Travolta caught public attention as Vincent “Vinnie” Barbarino in the TV series Welcome Back, Kotter (1975 – 1979). Prior to this movie he appeared in The Devil’s Rain and Carrie, previously reviewed. He later Starred in Grease. I also reviewed Blow Out

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I reached back 30 years to retrieve this one. From 1988 it’s Eight Men Out, based on the book of the same name by Eliot Asinof. Of course, it’s about the 1919 baseball scandal involving players of the Chicago White Sox, who took money from gamblers and threw the World Series. It’s currently streaming on Hulu, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Opening shots tend toward sepia, supposedly to reflect the era, 99 years ago. A jazz track overlays the opening credits to enhance the mood. We see two young boys, avid White Sox fans, coins in their fist, ditching a sandlot game to run down to Comiskey Park, home field of the Sox and at the time named after team owner Charles Comiskey (Clifton James). They pay their quarter and take grandstand seats, barely able to see the game over the adult fans, who are constantly on their feet, cheering their team as it clenches the American League championship against the St. Louis Cardinals.

But others in the stands are not so much interested in the game as in the players. They are already looking forward to the World Series and figuring out which Sox players can be compromised. Later in a bar a one-time prize fighter introduces himself to a couple of the Sox players and begins the process of grooming them to throw the game, at the rate of $10,000 per participant.

Nobly assisting the grooming process is Comiskey, notoriously stingy, low-balling players’ salaries (this was decades before free agency). Here he confronts pitcher Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn). He had promised Cicotte a $10,000 bonus if he won 30 games in the season. But Comiskey pulled Cicotte after he won 29 games and saved himself $10,000.

The schemers find an underwriter for their scam in the person of New York mobster Arnold Rothstein (Michael Lerner). He will front the money to pay off the players, and he will take his profit by laying bets on the National League Cincinnati Reds. But the scammers scam the players, as well. They pay them half in advance, and put the other half out on bets, which half the players will never see in this life.

And the center piece is the Series, best 5 out of 9. In game 1 Cicotte takes revenge on Comiskey by dribbling balls to the Cincinnati batters. Presently the Sox are two  games down, but they catch fire in game 3 and show their true form. Here a Sox fielder snags an inning-ending fly ball and tosses his glove as he prances from the field. It’s a scene I found hard to fathom, since leaving a glove on the field was something never done even in sandlot ball.

Yeah, it’s obvious to any who watched that the Sox were throwing the games. Word of the scheme is afloat, and concerned officials scan the stats as the series progresses, pinpointing where players performed well below expectation.

The Sox lose 3 to 5, and word is out the series was fixed. There is a trial, an odd one at that. Since playing poorly and collaborating with gamblers was not, in itself, a crime at the time, a complaint is lodged against the player by a gambler who lost money betting on the Sox. He claims he was a victim of fraud. Crowds watch as players file in and out of grand jury hearings, and the iconic scene has one of the young fans confronting Shoeless Joe Jackson (D. B. Sweeney) begging “Say it isn’t so, Joe.” Of course this is a bit of fiction. There never was such an encounter. It’s from a headline written by a sports writer at the time.

Surprise! The players are acquitted. No surprise, they are banned from professional baseball for life.

The movie ends as an older Joe Jackson is shown playing amazing ball for a semi-pro team.

Actors were hired for their playing ability and the film features some excellent plays, but you need to wonder how often the actors had to reshoot scenes to get the plays right.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is one I missed when it came out. It’s Sleepers from 1996, featuring such notables as Kevin BaconRobert De NiroDustin Hoffman., and Brad Pitt. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, allowing me to get these screen shots. Details are from  Wikipedia. This is a crime, social justice, courtroom drama, with a story going back to 1966. It takes two and a half hours to run, so I had to wait for some serious slack time to watch it.

Four kids grow up in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, which I will explain later. Suffice it to say, in those days this was not the toniest place in town. It’s also the setting for West Side Story.

Anyhow, the place is the definition of multi-ethnicity, with scads of Italians, Hispanics, Jews, maybe some Irish, but I couldn’t tell. The four pals live in the streets, and about the time their hormones are beginning to kick in their lives go to shit in single day. They hit upon the grand idea of ripping off a hot-dog vendor, and they end up making off with his cart. When the cart goes down the steps to the subway and puts a man in the hospital the law cracks down on them with a vengeance.

They are sent to Wilkinson Home for Boys, a place in upstate New York that is dressed out as a prep school but is in in actuality Attica writ small. The guards brutalize the boys, employing beatings and sodomy. One boy who helps in a scheme to humiliate the guards in a touch football match is beaten to death. The boys remain quiet, under threat of retaliation, and they vow to carry their debasement to their deaths.

But one, Michael, has taken an interest in The Count of Monte Cristo, the story a man, falsely imprisoned, who escapes and plots vengeance.

Thirteen years after they get out it’s 1981, and two of the boys are hardened criminals, one with a record of multiple murders. The two are in a pub one evening when they spy the key guard, Sean Nokes (Bacon). They sit themselves across the table from him, introduce themselves, and shoot him multiple times.

Unfortunately,  there are multiple witnesses, and the men are put on trial for second degree murder. One of the kids, Shakes (Jason Patric), has grown up to become a newspaper reporter. Another, Michael (Brad Pitt), is now a prosecuting attorney, and he wrangles the job of prosecuting his two pals. The back history of the four is secret due to their age at the time of their crime, so Shakes’ scheme is to get the two killers off and also to work justice on the Wilkinson Home and its guards. He arranges for washed-up lawyer Danny Snyder (Hoffman) to defend the killers. His scheme is to throw the case.

A part of the scheme is to bring back one of the guards, a friend of Nokes, to testify as a character witness for the victim. Snyder has all the dope on the Wilkinson guards, and his cross-examination eviscerates the corrupt Wilkinson culture.

Additionally, a friendly priest (De Niro) testifies he was attending a Nicks game with the two killers at the time of the crime. The killers are not convicted, and after the trial they meet for the final time in their lives. Within a few years both the killers are dead from their life styles.

It’s an interesting story and one that could have been told in less than two hours, but I had the time. As a historical  note it’s the tale of a place whose time has passed. Hell’s Kitchen came to my attention while I was still in high school and before West Side Story. Out of high school and in the Navy, I got a glimpse of Hell’s Kitchen when my ship docked on the Hudson shore. One of the guys in my division was from the neighborhood, and he went by for a visit and got knifed.

A few years later I was back, doing some work at the Post Office building nearby, and we would sometimes wonder over to Manganaro’s for lunch. This was in the early 1970s, and at the time it was not a place you wanted to be alone or after dark.

Times have changed:

Since the early 1990s, the area has been gentrifying, and rents have risen rapidly. Located close to both Broadway theaters and the Actors Studio training school, Hell’s Kitchen has long been a home to learning and practicing actors, and, in recent years, to young Wall Street financiers.

It does take some of the spice out of the story.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

It’s sometimes nice watching a movie you’ve seen before. This is Rear Window, but it’s from 1998 instead of Rear Window from 1954. Sixty-four years ago Alfred Hitchcock hatched his plot with James Stewart as the action photographer laid up with a broken leg, whiling away his days watching his neighbors out the rear window of his Greenwich Village apartment. Now it’s Christopher Reeve as a quadriplegic architect in much the same situation. This is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

We see the opening scene, and we know exactly what is going to happen. A car is speeding down a dark and winding road. Oh, Jesus. Somebody stop this. But the plot cannot be rewritten, and the woman fumbles with her cell phone as her car drifts across the double yellow line.

Eventually that gets around to Jason Kemp (Reeve), a prisoner of his wheelchair while he is comforted by his ex-wife, worried about her alimony.

But Jason gains enough mobility to  resume work for his architectural firm, which work he accomplishes from  his apartment. He whiles away his down time watching his neighbors out his rear window.

His firm has hired a new partner to work with him to complete the project he had been working. She’s Claudia Henderson (Daryl Hannah), and she’s almost as sexy as Grace Kelly.

Just as 64 years ago, there is a married couple living across the air shaft, and they are continually fighting. He’s a sculptor, producing massive steel works in his adjacent studio. She’s a blond bombshell alcoholic. When he begins to knock her around, Jason phones 911. The police come and arrest the sculptor, but he bails out and returns to the apartment.

There is a dark and lonely night, and Jason, unable to sleep, hears screams and sees the flashes of light as lots of welding goes on across the way. The next morning the wife is gone. Yeah, you’ve seen this movie before. A portage company comes and hauls off a large steel sculptor.

Jason phones his policeman friend, the one who worked the case of his fatal collision. He is Detective Charlie Moore (Robert Forster), and he is skeptical of Jason’s suspicions. As 64 years before, he checks out the disappearance of the wife and reports back that she went off to Rhode Island for a few days. He phoned there and talked to her. Then she returns to the apartment, but much changed.

It’s not the same woman. Claudia is sure of it. When she left she did not take her jewelry and her perfume. What woman doesn’t do that? Almost word for word from Grace Kelly. So Jason stirs the pot, sending anonymous emails to the sculptor (Ritchie Coster). That gets things going, and in the absence of Raymond Burr, the sculptor pays Jason a visit in the middle of the night. He has in mind eliminating Jason as a witness.

But help arrives in the form of Jason’s caretaker Antonio Fredericks (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) and finally Detective Moore.

The sculptor goes to trial, but they have not been able to find the body, because they have not been able to find the sculpture. Then Jason’s building project is completed, and Claudia cuts the ribbon. The coverings fall back revealing, the sculpture.

Not so fast. They still do not find the body, and the case against the sculptor goes on without a corpus delicti. Meanwhile, Claudia has acquired an affinity for Jason, and they two get romantic, with the expectation that in the future modern medical science will enable their relationship to become physical.

The movie ends with the camera zooming in on what appears to be the sculpture of interest. The director wants to leave the mystery hanging.

This was Reeve’s first film after his 1995 crippling accident. He ultimately died from his injuries in 2004. Wendell Corey played the cop in Hitchcock’s film, and Thelma Ritter was dynamite as his caretaker.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Saw this one before. Must have been on TV, because I don’t have a copy. It’s now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. It’s Marathon Man from 1976, based on a novel of the same name by William Goldman. It’s from Paramount Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia. Here’s a quick overview.

Opening  titles show Thomas Babington “Babe” Levy (Dustin Hoffman) on a running trail, apparently along the Hudson River near Columbia University, since we soon learn he is a graduate history student there. The scene switches back and forth with a sequence showing an old German immigrant withdrawing a packet of something precious from a bank safety box. As he exits the bank he brushes up beside a man wearing a blue blazer, and he slips the packet into  the man’s hand, and the two go their separate ways. This movie is supposed to be a super suspense thriller, but it kicks off with grand comedy.

Mr. Szell (Ben Dova) gets into his car and shortly gets involved in a road rage tussle with an immigrant Jew. The exchange between the two involves racial slurs and some common German insults: “Gehen Sie zum Teufel!” (Go to the Devil or Go to hell). It ends when both drivers crash into a fuel truck and are incinerated. Babe, crossing a bridge on his run, observes the conflagration.

Cut to Babe’s brother, Henry “Doc” Levy (Roy Scheider), from all appearances a very shady operator. He is the person the late Mr. Szell passed the packet to. Anyhow, he’s now in Paris, up to something nefarious. He drops off the packet to another suspicious character, and he notices the man seems surprised to see him, alive. When he returns to his car a time bomb hidden in a baby carriage detonates near his car.

Things continue to unravel. He goes to the opera to for an agreed meeting with the suspicious man. When he gets to the specified opera box, he finds the man has been murdered. As he exits the opera he warns off a woman who is coming to  meet him. She disappears into the darkness and is apparently murdered. Back at his hotel room he kills another man who comes to murder him. Something is afoot.

He discusses the situation with his partner in suspense, Peter Janeway (William Devane).

Meanwhile, down Uruguay way, Dr. Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier), is the brother of the other, late, Mr. Szell. He changes his appearance in  preparation for coming to the United States. His brother’s death has made it necessary for him to be doing what his brother had been doing  for him.

Meanwhile, Babe’s fortunes improve. Researching in the school library (before Google), Babe spies a very interesting woman. She is stand-offish, but he pursues her to great success. She is Elsa Opel (Marthe Keller) from Switzerland.

Only she is not from Switzerland. Doc comes to New York to visit Babe at his apartment. Meanwhile Elsa and Babe have been attacked in Central Park by muggers wearing suits. Doc is most interested in this. The brothers also get into  a heated discussion of their father, who was a victim of the McCarthy witch-hunts and subsequently shot himself with a .45 Colt.

Doc treats Babe and Elsa to dinner at a swanky restaurant, where he quickly determines that Elsa is a phony. She is not from Switzerland, but from Germany.

Doc pays a visit to Dr. Szell, who is now in New York, his appearance disguised. He is der weiße Engel (the White Angel), a notorious Nazi fugitive who performed grotesque medical experiments on Jewish prisoners. In a face-to-face confrontation Dr. Szell guts Doc with a blade he hides in his sleeve. Doc makes it back to Babe’s apartment, mumbles a few words, and dies.

The police come. Janeway comes. The police leave with Doc’s body. Janeway questions Babe and warns him some people may come calling. Janeway will keep an eye out.

The people come while Babe is in the bathtub. As they work at breaking down the bathroom door we get to see Dustin Hoffman’s bare butt. Sorry, no screen shots.

They take Babe to visit Dr. Szell, who performs dental procedures without anesthetic as a way of obtaining the answer to that question that has burned for all time in our brains, “Is it safe.”

But Babe escapes, and he learns Janeway is in on the scheme. Here comes the part for the marathon runner as Babe outdistances Janeway down darkened Manhattan streets. He contacts Elsa, and she picks him up in a car, driving him to this house out in the middle of nowhere. Babe immediately suspects Elsa, and that suspicion proves to be true.

As they wait, Babe exhibits his father’s pistol, which he has kept all this time. Presently Janeway arrives in a car with two other gunmen. In a ridiculous standoff, Babe kills the two accomplices and rushes outside the house. Elsa makes a move, and Janeway shoots her dead. Babe blasts a few rounds through a window and kills Janeway. Now it’s just Babe against the evil Dr. Szell.

Szell has gone to the bank with the safety box key, and he has retrieved a passel of diamonds from the valult. He is now confronted with a mystery. He has been in the Uruguay outback since 1945, and he knows nothing about the jewelry business. He needs to find out what his treasure is worth. New York is the place to go. We see Szell visiting jewelers, apparently on 47th street, the city’s diamond market place. Unfortunately for Szell, these shops are run almost entirely by Jews, some of whom are Holocaust survivors.

One jeweler, a survivor, thinks he recognizes Szell from the concentration camp days. A woman on the street, played by Madge Kennedy, knows immediately he is der weiße Engel, and she runs down the street shouting this out. The jeweler comes out and confronts Szell, who slashes his throat with his famous sleeve knife.

But Babe has been stalking Szell, and he confronts  him on the sidewalk with his father’s pistol, saying “It isn’t safe.” He forces Szell to go with him to a city water plant, where there will be a final  showdown. Wary of any knife trick, Babe keeps his distance and names the price for Szell’s life. He takes the valise full of diamonds and tells Szell he can  keep all that he can swallow. He punctuates his demands by periodically tossing a few diamonds into the water.

But quickly Szell has had enough, and he is sure Babe will not shoot. Babe throws the remaining treasure into the water, and Szell tumbles down  the steel spiral stairs, falling on his own blade. We see Babe running along the Hudson, pausing to toss the pistol over the chain link fence, into the water.

Great suspense, mystery, action, drama—from beginning to end. However, there is no point to this narrative except to thrill viewers with suspense, mystery, action, and drama. Olivier was being treated for cancer while making this film. He obtained an Oscar nomination for performance, beat the cancer, and lived another 13 years. This was Ben Dova’s only film appearance. It was Madge Kennedy’s final film. She died 11 years later.