Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Spoiler alert. This review is going to reveal the ultimate twist to the plot, so stop reading now if you plan to watch the movie. Of course this one has been around since 1997, so if you haven’t seen it by now, then it’s your own fault. It’s The Game, featuring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn and now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, the source of the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s a tale of convoluted deception. We see the early life of Nicholas van Orton (Douglas). He has grown up among wealth and privilege, but his father killed himself early in life by taking a dive from the top of the family mansion. Nick has grown to become a person of great wealth of his own making, and he is as hard as granite. Divorced, he lives alone in the mansion. He runs his investment banking business with machine precision and without warmth.

Come his birthday, and Nicholas receives a message that his brother Conrad (Penn) wants a lunch meeting. It is short and cold, Conrad leaves him the gift of a game hosted by a concern named Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). He advises Nick to take advantage. It will be a life-changing exercise.

Nick has the intention of blowing it off, but he spies the offices of CRS and becomes intrigued.

Stopping in, he finds a concern in flux. The offices are being fleshed out, but he presents his gift card, and is interviewed by CRS representative Jim Feingold (James Rebhorn). Nick has accustomed himself to being treated with considerable sufferance, but Fiengold is detached and somewhat dismissive. He fakes Nick into undergoing a lengthy and tedious interview process. Nick is then shown the door and told he will be contacted. He subsequently receives a call on his private number telling him he has not been selected to participate in the game.

But that was only a ruse. Coming home that night, Nick discovers a clown mannequin in the driveway, at the spot where his father’s body came to rest decades before. He takes the dummy inside and eats his dinner. The newscaster on TV is Daniel Schorr (played by himself), who on occasion interrupts his business reporting to speak straight to Nick. Nick discovers the dummy contains a camera that is transmitting video from the room. The game is on.

At a business conference where Nick is in the process of dismissing a key employee for lackluster performance, he attempts to pull the requisite documents from his briefcase. However, he cannot open the briefcase, and he storms out of the meeting. Things have begun to go sour in Nicks life of domination over events and other people.

At a restaurant a waitress, Christine (Deborah Kara Unger) spills a drink on him and initiates a nasty confrontation. She is fired from her job, but Nick follows her out, and they encounter a man collapsing on the street, and they come to his aid. The police arrive and require that Nick and Christine ride in the ambulance with the victim, but when they get to the emergency entry garage, the victim is taken away, leaving the two alone in the garage. Then the lights go out, and the real adventure starts.

There are flights from the police, shootings, discovery, and a penultimate confrontation between Nick and Christine. He discovers she is working for CRS. Then he blacks out from the drink she has given him, and he wakes up in a cemetery in Mexico, no money, no passport. He is forced to use his survival skills to get back home.

It all comes to a head, as Nick figures it’s a scheme to gain access to his accounts and steal all his money. He returns to CRS and confronts the people there, and now he has a gun he obtained when a mugger attempted to hold him up. When CRS men pull weapons, Nick takes Christine hostage on the roof of the building.

Now it’s Christine’s turn to be alarmed. It has all been part of the game, but Nick was supposed to have a fake semiautomatic pistol. She sees he has obtained a real gun (from the mugger), and she tries to warn the CRS people, who are in the process of breaking through the door to the roof. Nick takes aim and shoots the first person to come through the door. It’s Conrad. The game has gone horribly wrong.

Nick realizes what he has done, and he ends it by stepping off the roof of the building.

But many floors down he crashes through the fake glass roof of the restaurant and onto an air cushion. It has all been part of the game. Conrad is not dead, and he holds up a tee shirt with the logo, “I was drugged and left for dead in Mexico, and all I got was this stupid shirt.” Everybody wishes Nick a happy birthday.

Everybody is happy, and as they start to leave Nick follows Christina out to her car. She is going to the airport. She invites Nick to have coffee with her at the airport.

Complaint number one: most of the scenes were shot so dark that it was difficult to pick up on a lot of the action. I had to use Corel PaintShop to brighten up many of the scenes before posting them.

Much of this is highly improbable. A lot of stuff had to go right, or somebody was going to get killed. Worth a watch, however, provided you are not already reading this.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 254 of a series

This came out in 1962 when I was deadly serious about college and probably missed it. I must have seen it first on TV, and I have some history with it. I worked with a guy named Mike, and I was doing an impersonation of some sort, and he called me the terrible triffid. Now others use the appellation. This is The Day of the Triffids, a classic and a really bad one. It’s one of that bag of down-market features currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

This is London. A brilliant meteor display lights up the sky, and inside a botanical section of the Christal Palace, triffids attack and kill the security guard. The meteor display has triggered them to go rogue. They can kill and devour animals, and they are not rooted to the ground. They roam and multiply.

Merchant naval officer Bill Masen (Howard Keel) misses out on meteor display, because he is laid up with eye surgery and has his eyes bandaged. The doctor promises that tomorrow at 0800 the bandages will come off and Masen will be able to see again. He hopes to see pretty Nurse Jamieson (Colette Wilde), but he never does.

Comes morning, and Masen is sleeping in bed when hears Big Ben strike nine. It’s 0900, and the doctor has not come to remove the bandages. Calling out, Masen receives no response, so he removes the bandages and goes looking. He finds the doctor, blind. Everybody who looked at the meteor display has gone blind. The doctor commits suicide by jumping out the window.

Meanwhile, drunkard scientist Tom Goodwin (Kieron Moore) and his wife Karen (Janette Scott) work on research at a lighthouse on a spit of rock off the coast of Cornwall. They, too, missed the display, and they have not been blinded. Tom waits for the resupply boat that will bring him another bottle of scotch. It never arrives. Neither does radio contact work very well. They are puzzled, but they soon learn the fate of the rest of the world.

Masen goes hunting through the streets of London. The few people he comes across are blind.

At the train station a train thunders in, apparently operated by a blind engineer, because it crashes into the platform. A survivor is school girl Susan (Janina Faye), who can see. They team up and go to Masen’s ship.

Masen uses the ship’s radio to gain information of the catastrophe. He and Susan listen in as an airliner, everybody aboard blind, crashes. Coincidentally the crash is near where the ship is docked.

Masen and Susan make it to France, where they meet other survivors at a château. One is Christine Durant (Nicole Maurey).

Escaped criminals invade the château. They, being in prison, avoided the light show and are not blind. They take over and turn the château into a debauchery. Triffids invade and kill everybody except Masen, Susan, and Christine.

The three make it to Cadiz in Spain, where Susan discovers an ice cream truck that plays music over speakers. They take the truck to an estate in the country near Alicante, where a submarine is available to take on survivors.

There they are menaced by triffids. They discover that sound attracts the triffids, and they use the music from the truck to distract the triffids.

When triffids attack, they encounter an electrified fence that Masen has constructed.

But the fence will not hold them, so Masen employs the hose from a fuel truck and sprays fire onto the triffids. Then, while Susan and Christine get away in a car, Masen decoys the triffids with the sound truck.

Susan and Christine make it to the submarine and are taken aboard. As they watch, Masen reaches the bluff above the water, and he dives in to be picked up by crew members from the submarine.

Meanwhile, at the light house, the triffids multiply and break in. As a last resort, Tom sprays them with a fire hose. But the fire hose uses sea water, and the sea water melts the triffids. They have discovered how to defeat the triffids, and humanity is saved.

I don’t think I have to explain why this movie is bad. For one, it is massively disjoint. The Odyssey of Masen and Susan comprises the bulk of the plot. It’s a chain of unrelated episodes without cohesion.

The bit about the convicts at the château breaks up the flow of the action, seeming to have been inserted as a distraction, perhaps to burn off some celluloid.

From France they go to Cadiz. That is way south on the Atlantic coast. From there they drive in a few hours to Alicante, which is on the Mediterranean coast, hundreds of miles away. Really?

The movie is based on the novel of the same name by John Wyndham. The Kindle edition is available on Amazon for $6 ($5.99 plus tax), and I obtained a copy for comparison. There is none. About the only similarity between the two is Masen and the matter of the triffids. There is a Susan character, as well, but no Christine. No lighthouse, either.

So we have to wonder what inspired screen writers Bernard Gordon and Philip Yordan to stretch Wyndham’s apocalyptic yarn into such a pot boiler. The book appears to have promise. There is a strong parallel to The Death of Grass (No Blade of Grass) by Samuel Youd (John Christopher), that came out five years after this book. Recommended reading. There is also a movie, but it’s not currently streaming on Prime, so I will watch for it and catch it when it does.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Everything comes to those who wait. I have been looking for Cujo to stream, and it’s on Hulu starting this month, where I obtained these screen shots. It’s based on the Stephen King novel, but I am not prepared to review the book. Rest assured, however, that there will be differences between the book and the movie.

The intro sequence shows a cute bunny rabbit, could be Marlon Bundo. Anyhow, the cute bunny rabbit is stalked by a giant St. Bernard dog named Cujo, hence the title.

Cujo chases the rabbit down a hole, and when he sticks his nose into the hole a rabid bat bites him on the nose, setting the plot for the movie.

Next we see the Trenton family, Donna (Dee Wallace), young Tad (Danny Pintauro), and husband Vic (Daniel Hugh-Kelly). Vic is a high-pressure advertising genius.

But Vic has trouble with his Jaguar sports car, and he is advised to take it to mechanic Joe Camber (Ed Lauter), who lives out in the country. Out in the sticks, really, but I’m being polite and saying “country.” Two different worlds meet here. Donna meets Joe’s repressed wife Charity (Kaiulani Lee).

She also meets Cujo, the family dog.

The scene shifts back to the suburbs, where Donna is having a fling with family friend Steve Kemp (Christopher Stone). She tries to break off the liaison, but Steve resists. He comes to the house and tries to force himself on Donna. Vic comes in. Things get tense.

Back at the Camber estate, the effects of the rabies virus become manifest. Joe’s neighbor Gary Pervier (Mills Watson) is the first to take note. He is outside pilling some trash onto the pile that is already there when Cujo approaches menacingly. Cujo attacks and kills Gary.

This is an interesting point of the plot. Joe and Gary are depicted as country bumpkins with all the expected bumpkin traits. They are coarse, slovenly, and disrespectful of women. Charity has won $5000 in the lottery, and she takes her son to visit her sister for a few days, clearing the deck for the remainder of the plot.

Cujo next kills Joe. Vic leaves on a business trip, leaving Donna with their broken down Pinto. It has trouble, and Vic has instructed her to take it to Joe to be fixed. When Donna arrives, with Tad in the car, Cujo attacks, and the two become trapped inside their car. The car takes this opportunity to go belly up, so Donna cannot simply drive away. This was in the days before cell phones, so the remainder of the plot involves Donna and Tad trapped inside the sweltering car while Cujo attempts to get at them. It’s the entire plot.

Two days pass. Vic tries to phone home (before cell phones) and gets no answer. Steve tries to phone Donna and gets no answer. Steve comes to the house, and finding Donna gone, trashes it and leaves. Vic comes home to find Donna and Tad gone, the house trashed. He has learned about Donna’s liaison with Steve, and he informs the police. Nobody has yet brought the Camber estate into the picture.

When they do, the sheriff (Sandy Ward) drives out to investigates. He fails to notice Donna and Tad trapped in the Pinto, and he fails to notice Cujo until too late. He becomes Cujo’s third victim.

Now Donna becomes desperate. Tad is having an asthma attack and is near death. She exits the car and does battle with Cujo, using a baseball bat that has been left lying in the yard. She breaks the bat on Cujo, and Cujo impales himself on the splintered handle.

Donna rushes Tad into the house and revives him in the kitchen with water. Cujo comes around and crashes through a window, spraying broken glass all over. For some reason Donna has brought the sheriff’s pistol with her, and the reaches for it, lying on the table. Exit Cujo. We weep.

About this time Vic drives up in his Jaguar, and the Trenton family is united again, and that is the end of the movie.

Yeah, there’s a bunch to look sideways at. The entire plot is about the mother and son trapped for two days by a large, rabid dog. The business with Steve is a side show to give the plot some human interest.

We see the sheriff, a professional lawman, drive up at the Camber place and fail to notice two people trapped inside a car that has blood smeared all over the windows.

We see Donna club Cujo with a baseball bat and gore him with the broken handle. She grabs the sheriff’s gun, but she does not shoot the dog. Do you believe that?

Yes, this is late 20th century America, and we see Tad driving around in a nifty Jaguar, while his loving (?) wife is forced to get around in a Pinto on its last legs. If I did that kind of shit with Barbara Jean I would be out the door before I could get a last word in.

The part of Cujo was played by Moe.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Thanks to Ana for lending me the DVD. This one has become a cult classic and also, unaccountably, a Christmas icon. It’s Die Hard, from 30 years ago and starring Bruce Willis. as New York City cop John McClane in Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). As the 747 lands a seat mate observes that McClane has a fear of flying, and he advises how to unwind. It involves bare feet on the carpet and making fists with his toes. This is critical to the plot, as will be seen.

Holly has left John stranded in New York to follow her career to the West Coast. Her company, Nakatomi  Corp., is holding a Christmas party. It’s Christmas eve, which is how this became a Christmas movie. Here is Joseph Takagi (James Shigeta), head of the American division, addressing his staff and telling them to have a good time. He has arranged for a limousine to pick up John at the airport.

Meanwhile we meet the jerk of the ensemble, Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner) who puts the move on Holly in the most crass and inept way. It’s obvious he will not last the length of the movie.

The Limo driver is Argyle (De’voreaux White), who will play a pivotal role.

The setting has been established, now the drama begins. As twilight dims the city a box truck rolls into view, its headlights signaling the coming of doom.

Here is where the conversation with the seat mate comes to play. John joins Holly at the party while Argyle parks the limo in the Nakatomi Plaza garage and waits for his next bit in the movie. John and Holly retire to Holly’s plush office, where John freshens up. He takes off his shoes and lets them munch on the deep-pile carpet. Holly rejoins the party, expecting John to come down.

The bad guys arrive. The truck pulls into the garage and parks. A gang of really mean characters unload, and they carry their bags, loaded with weapons and explosives. The leader is Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). They are up to no good.

Meanwhile, two others arrive in a sedan at the front entrance, and they enter nonchalantly, almost playfully, distracting the security guy at the front desk and shooting him point blank. The gang quickly moves to take over the Nakatomi high-rise. The only other occupants are the holiday party, and much of the building is still under construction. We quickly come to dislike these people, and we wish them a horrid future.

Shooting wildly, the bad guys barge in on the party, and Gruber takes Takagi to his office to coerce him to cough up a security code. Takagi either does not have the code, or else he lies about not not knowing the code. Anyhow, Gruber always intended to kill Takagi, and he shoots him in the head.

Meanwhile, alerted by the commotion, John has crept close, and he observes this deadly scene. Significantly, he is barefoot, dressed in pants and tank top. But he has his pistol.

John launches a campaign to unravel the scheme. First he pulls a fire alarm to bring fire trucks. That fails when the crooks phone 911 to announce it’s a false alarm. Gruber’s men go in search of the person causing the trouble, and John begins his process of eliminating Gruber’s people in ones and twos.

Here is where I have my first issue with the plot. John knows he is vastly outnumbered, and he does not adopt a winning strategy. What to do if you ever find yourself in this kind of situation is to lie low, let the enemy come to you, and rub them out as efficiently as possible. Instead, John’s police instinct kicks in, and he attempts to subdue his first encounter without spilling blood. He eventually kills the guy by throwing him down the stairs. Anyhow, he winds up with the man’s machine gun, so he’s up for the encounter.

Enter the second key component of the plot. It’s LAPD Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson). He is desk-bound after serving a term on the streets. He has sidelined himself after he accidentally shot an unarmed teenager and decided that if the time came, he would be unable to use his weapon.

Anyhow, he’s shopping for pastries when he gets the call to investigate John’s radio call for help.

The crooks wait for Powell to arrive, and they lie low while he checks out the building. The crook posing as security at the front desk convinces Powell that all is well, but during this time John kills another of Gruber’s men, and he tosses the body out a window onto the hood of the police car.

All hell breaks loose. High volume fire from inside the building shreds the police car as Powell backs it feverishly into a ditch and calls for backup.

And the remainder of the plot is police arriving and making stupid decisions and grandstanding, all the while Powell’s very sound advice is ignored. The crooks solidify their scheme to loot a vault of millions in bonds and to ambush police helicopters landing on the roof by setting off charges they have planted.

Prime jerk Harry Ellis seizes the opportunity for self-advancement and intrudes himself into negotiations with the crooks, falsely promising to be able to obtain missing detonators that John has snatched. Gruber quickly sees through Harry’s usefulness and dispenses karma with a bullet.

All this commotion alerts Argyl, who has until now been unaware, listening to tunes on his headphones. When he sees a van emerge from the box truck and hears all the gunfire, he springs into action. He plows the limo into the side of the van and cold cocks the driver.

But John has figured out the plot, and he herds the surviving members of the holiday party down from the roof, where they had been scheduled for sacrifice by the crooks. The explosives destroy the top floors of the building, killing the uppity FBI agents attempting to execute an ill-advised assault.

When the surviving crooks attempt to exit the building by way of the van, John is there waiting. But Gruber has taken Holly hostage. And it doesn’t work. John has anticipated the standoff, and when he surrenders his pistol he waits to catch Gruber off guard before pulling the weapon he has hidden behind his back.

Gruber’s henchman dies on the spot, and Gruber gets shot and is ejected, still alive, through a window. But he has hold of Holly’s arm, threatening to drag her down with him. That doesn’t work, as Gruber loses his grip and plummets multiple floors.

Outside, John and Holly emerge, reunited again. Everybody is congratulating each other when a surviving crook emerges from the building, menacing with a machine gun. Powell’s reluctance to shoot disappears in a flash, as he fires multiple rounds into the gunman.

And that’s the end of the movie.

There was no doubt at the time this came out that the title was inspired by Die Hard batteries, a brand marketed by Sears. Sears had a long-running and intense TV ad campaign that gained the term notoriety and likely gave a boost to the movie.

Once the plot is established by the takeover of Nakatomi Square it is straight-line from there. It’s a battle between good an evil, with additional characters thrown in to flesh out toward a climax. Characters are stereotyped for the amusement of the audience. News reporters are crass and uncaring in their pursuit of audience dominance. Powell is the one other sensible person intruding into the crooked scheme. The local police are career-advancing maladroits, continually making the very the decisions most likely to bring failure. The FBI rides in like The Valkyrie, lording it over the local police, aimed at stealing thunder, suffering thunder in their due.

We see John’s signals for help being ignored by the police. He gets on an “emergency channel” radio, and the police respond by telling him to quit abusing communications protocol.

From the get-go John goes around barefoot, never retrieving his shoes after he hears the first sounds of gunfire. This leads to an encounter where the crooks blast a bunch of glass partitioning, forcing John to walk through broken glass. He spends the remainder of the movie with bloody feet. Wouldn’t your first impulse on sensing an impending battle be to retrieve your shoes?

Lots of other stuff doesn’t make sense. After John kills the first of the crooks, he confiscates the sought-after detonators from the man’s bag. Wait! Gruber sent the man off to hunt down John, and this person set off on the mission with the detonators in his bag. Who does stupid shit like that? In a well-run operation the detonators would have been stashed in a safe place until needed. But nobody listens to me.

This is the film that made Bruce Willis. Many famous names were considered for the role before he was selected.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Full disclosure: I post this Wednesday series as a way to keep ahead of the volume of movies to be reviewed. Generally the Wednesday posts are not bad movies, not really bad. But I manage to find flaw with every movie I watch. This one is It’s a Wonderful Life, from 1946. That makes it about 72 years old and also the first time I have seen it streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

I watched it through on my computer, finding it irresistible to pass up so many shots that I wound up with 110 by the time I was finished. I will recap the plot, which everybody should know by now, and I will provide some background.

This film belongs to the late actor James “Jimmy” Stewart. It’s his film more than it belongs to costar Donna Reed or director Frank Capra. Prior to World War Two Jimmy Stewart was a top Hollywood star, headlining famous works, living the life of a film colony playboy, and bedding down with some of the choicest babes on the screen at the time. When the war came he chucked it all, paid for his own flying lessons, and went down to the local recruiting office, where he signed up as a private in the Army. From there he worked his was up to flight leader and led deadly combat missions in B-24 bombers over Europe. He saw many of his command die in those days, but when it was all over he came home and attempted to restart his career. This is his first film after the war.

All right, everybody is aware this is a fairy tail about good over evil, and it’s pure corn. It’s centered in the mythical town of Bedford Falls, which appears to be somewhere in New York. It’s winter, and it’s Christmas Eve. This is a Christmas story.

We see small town Bedford Falls as small towns existed in those days.

But in the distant heavens there is trouble. We see stars wink as angels converse. There is trouble in Bedford Falls, and two angels summon Angel 2nd Class Clarence (Henry Travers), who has yet to earn his wings. Did I mention corn? Clarence must do a good deed to get his wings, and the trouble in Bedford Falls is just the package.

But first the background must be explained to Clarence, and also the the viewers. We start back when George Bailey (Stewart) was 12 years old. It’s winter again, and the gang is having winter fun. Here George prepares to shoot down a snowy slope riding a coal scoop onto a frozen pond.

George’s brother Harry (Todd Karns) goes next, and he outdoes them all, sliding out onto the pond where the ice is deadly thin. He breaks through, and George saves his life. But a result is George loses hearing in one ear, dooming him to a lifetime of partial deafness.

Of course the movie needs to have an odious character, and this has one in the form of Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who makes up for having too much money by having absolutely no morals. He’s riding in a horse-drawn carriage, because this is 1919, when the story begins.

We see more of George’s early life in Bedford Falls. That’s young George (Bobby Anderson) working as a soda jerk at Gower’s drug store. Who remembers what a soda jerk was? The blond is Violet Bick (Jeanine Ann Roose), who’s pretty, and she knows it. She is going to grow up to be Gloria Grahame. The girl on the right is Mary Hatch (Jean Gale), who’s going to grow up to be Donna Reed. both girls are trying to charm young George.

Then drama! One of George’s tasks at Gower’s drug store is to deliver prescriptions. But on this day George discovers a telegram relating the death of Mr. Gower’s (H. B. Warner) son. He sees that Mr. Gower is drinking liquor from a bottle. He also notices a bottle containing a poisonous substance, and he becomes disturbed.

George tries to warn Mr. Gower, but Gower tells him to deliver the prescription and to not bother him. George attempts to speak to his father (Samuel S. Hinds), but his uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) tells George that his father is busy with a problem at the Building and Loan that he runs.

The Building and Loan is in financial straits, and they need financial support from Potter. Potter is gleeful at their problems, because he would like the company to go away. Potter wants to lend money at exorbitant rates.

George returns to the drug store without delivering the tainted prescription, and Gower boxes his ear (the bad one) before George is able to explain. When Gower realizes George has saved him from committing negligent homicide, he becomes a George Bailey supporter for life. This is key to the plot.

The two angels bring Clarence forward to 1928, and George Baily has grown up. He’s preparing to leave Bedford Falls, to see the world. He is in a store to purchase a valise, and he shows the clerk just how big. At this point the director freezes the frame so Clarence can get a good look at the subject of his target subject. Here is the frozen frame.

At this point viewers should take a look. Two years before this was taken, Jimmy Stewart was deep into the horrors of war, in combat that took the lives of 50,000 American air crew. What is remarkable is how little time he had to put all that behind him and stand before the cameras for this photo.

The clerk pulls out a large case, and George determines it is just the right size. The clerk tells George the price is right, as well, because Mr. Gower is picking up the tab.

George prepares to leave Bedford Falls and to see the world.

He spies Violet, who really has grown up.

At the Bailey dinner table the talk turns to the need for George to stay on and take over running the Building and Loan. Standard for movies of this era is Lillian Randolph as Annie, a black maid. Yeah, black people still occupied the lower rung, and movies of the time keep us reminded.

George persists in his plan to leave Bedford, and he gives his mother (Beulah Bondi) a playful whirl.

Pa Bailey is disheartened at George’s decision.

Annie butts in.

But George is off to the school reunion dance.

Violet is there, and she still has the hots for George. Truth is, she has the hots for lots of guys.

Old school chums say goodbye to George.

Mary is there, and has she ever grown up. George is captivated to the core.

They dance, and love blossoms.

They participate in the Charleston contest.

George has captured Mary’s heart, and a jealous rival gets exacts some payback. He and a friend activate a switch, which rolls back the dance floor. There is a swimming pool below. George and Mary are the first to splash. The rest, sensing great fun, join in.

George and Mary walk home, singing “Buffalo Gals,” a tune that was popular when I was young.

They pause by the abandoned house to toss rocks at the windows.

Devastation. Word comes that Pa Bailey has died of a stroke. George must stay and take over the Building and Loan.

Harry returns from college with a new bride and a job offer from his father-in-law. George is stuck running the Building and Loan.

George mulls at the cruel blows that have befallen him. In those days everybody smoked in the movies.

But Mary has waited for him. They are deeply in love, and they marry.

And they are off on their honeymoon.

But not so fast. It’s the Great Depression, and there is a run on the local bank.

Trouble stalks the Building and Loan, as well, as depositors line up to withdraw their savings. The B&L cannot repay all depositors’ savings, because the money is lent out.

Potter puts through a phone call to the B&L warning George that if the B&L closes before the scheduled hour it will not be able to open the next day.

Mary shows up with the money they had saved for the honeymoon, and that saves the day as the B&L ends the day with $2 remaining.

Mary leaves George a note to meet her at a certain address. It’s the abandoned house. They are moving in there.

They raise a family, George runs the Building and Loan, and he develops a low-cost housing development called “Bailey Park” for the town’s working class.

George introduces new homeowners to their prospective homes.

Potter finds the B&L a thorn in his side, offering low-cost loans and undercutting his loan shark rates.

Potter calls George in and offers him a job. But George sees through Potter’s scheme and turns down the offer.

At first George shakes Potter’s hand.

Then he realizes that some of that stuff may have rubbed off.

He attempts to remove the stain.

Back home he starts up the stairs, grabbing the wooden knob at the bottom of the banister. It comes off in his hand. This business with the knob is never fixed, and it becomes a link that ties segments of the plot together for the remainder of the movie.

War, and George takes over draft registration for the town. Harry goes off to war.

Other of Georges school chums go off to war, one taking part in seizing the Bridge at Remagen.

Harry becomes a combat pilot, taking part in the war in the Pacific.

George runs commodities rationing for the government.

The war ends.

Harry comes home a hero.

It’s the day before Christmas. Recall, this is a Christmas story. Billy is jubilant. He takes $8000 from the B&L to deposit at the bank and shows the news headlines to Potter.

But Billy has tucked the money inside the newspaper he gave to Potter, and Potter keeps the money. Billy cannot recall what he did with the money.

It’s devastating to the B&L. They are responsible for the loss, and they cannot personally cover it. An audit is scheduled. The B&L will be ruined. The Bailey’s will be prosecuted for theft.

At home George is mean-spirited to his family. They do not know why.

The knob again.

George’s young daughter Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes) is sick.

George goes to Potter for financial help. Potter greets him with threats.

George gets drunk at a bar.

He smashes his car into a tree.

He goes to a bridge that crosses the river. Suicide is tempting.

Clarence is watching. He jumps in first.

George jumps in to save Clarence.

Maybe this is a drawbridge, because there seems to be a bridge keeper’s shack. George and Clarence dry off in the shack.

Clarence explains his heavenly mission. George and the bridge keeper are dubious, to say the least.

George tells Clarence he wishes he had never been born.

Clarence grant’s George’s wish. George was never born.

Clarence is going to take George to see how the would would be if he had never been born.

They tour the town.

People on the street do not recognize George. He was never born.

He goes back to the familiar bar. It’s no longer friendly. It’s a real dive.

Mr. Gower shows up. He is the town drunk, just out of prison for manslaughter. George was not there to prevent the tragic poisoning.

The town George sees is low-class.

It is named after Potter, who has taken control.

He runs into Mary. She is a lonely old maid. She has never married. George frightens her.

George gets into a fight with a cop he knew in his life. The cop draws his pistol as George makes a getaway.

George regrets his wish that he was never born.

Clarence undoes the curse, and George is returned to his present life. The cop asks George if he needs help. The episode with the fight never happened.

George is gleeful to be alive.

When he gets home to face his family, the bank examiners are there. There will be a reckoning.

But George does not care. He’s alive.

The knob.

George embraces his children.

George, Mary, the children, embrace.

Townspeople have learned of George’s predicament. They show up en masse, and they bring money. They are bailing out the B&L.

Annie pitches in.

The family is joyful again.

Harry arrives. He has commandeered a plane and flown to Bedford Falls to be with his brother.

Under the Christmas tree are presents. One is a copy of “Tom Sawyer,” a book that Clarence showed to George. Clarence was real.

Zuzu reminds us that when you hear a bell ring, that means an angel has gotten his wings.

Forget about Tiny Tim. God bless us, everyone.

Before I ever saw this movie I was familiar with the plot. In those days before my family had television, there was radio. And there was this program that featured audio enactments of movies, and when I saw the movie I recognized pieces of the plot. Some things were different.

In the radio program we hear George recount how he is alone in the darkened town, in the cold and the snow. He comes upon a friendly dog. When he reaches to pet the dog, the dog bites him.

Of course the part about seeing how the world would be is central to the plot, and that was the part most familiar from the radio program. The movie is based on The Greatest Gift, a 1943 short story by Philip Van Doren Stern. Of course, the revision carries the time frame forward to after the war to get Harry’s heroics in.

I most recall the part about the deadly prescription. That haunted me long after I listened to the program.

Of course there is stuff in this movie that does not ring true. For one, the plot ignores what we now call the “butterfly effect.” The universe is a complex system that responds non-linearly to the smallest input. The absence of a single character in the town would have produced a highly-divergent line of development. What the movie shows is rigid universe with one component unplugged.

The case that struck me most watching the movie is George’s wife Mary. Without George, she never marries, and grows old alone. This is absurd beyond all reason. She is Donna freaking Reed. A babe of this caliber would have been snapped up by any of several hundred eager suiters. Actually, in Stern’s book, George finds that Mary has married another man.

Donna Reed went on to further greatness. She won an Oscar for her portrayal of a Honolulu prostitute in From Here to Eternity. Her TV show The Donna Reed Show ran from 1958 to 1966.

Stewart’s career soared in the 1950s, where he appeared in a number of Alfred Hitchcock movies.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

All comes to those who wait. Finally Deliverance popped up on Amazon Prime Video. It came out in 1972, and it stars Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds. It’s based on the book of the same name by James Dickey, who also wrote the screen play. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s a hair-raising tale about four Atlanta city slickers off for a white water adventure on the Cahulawassee River. The deal is the power company is damming the river, and the gorge will be shortly flooded for several lifetimes. This is their last and only chance.

As they motor into the Georgia mountains, they feel themselves going back in time and into a world bereft of culture. They have a low regard for the mountain locals, and this begins to set the stage for subsequent encounters. They stop their two vehicles to fuel up, and Bobby Trippe (Ned Beatty) gets into an awkward conversation with one of the locals. Bobby is a salesman and the softest of the four.

Another newcomer to the out of doors is Drew Ballinger (Ronny Cox), who gets into an impromptu musical duel with a banjo-playing teenager. The musical number is a signature feature of the movie. Viewing the kid, a remark is made about the region’s shallow gene pool.

The four set off on the river adventure that will change their lives forever.

Early the following day (Saturday) Ed Gentry (Voight) and Bobby get ahead of the others, and the two put ashore, where they encounter two characters from the backwoods. The tough guys have a dim view of the city guys and proceed to abuse them. They strap Ed to a tree, and the toothless one on the left forces Bobby to strip and then corn-holes him. That job finished, the two approach Ed and make plans for him. Just then Lewis Medlock (Reynolds) and Drew come in quietly through the woods, and Lewis puts an arrow through the chest of one of the toughs. the toothless one gets away in the woods.

Figuring they are in deep trouble for killing a local, the four bury the dead guy in the woods and make their escape down the river, ever watchful for the dead man’s accomplice, who they figure might be stalking them from the bluffs above.

Suddenly Drew pitches forward and disappears beneath the surface. Bobby, who has been sharing the canoe, thinks Drew was shot. They immediately encounter some white water, and one canoe is demolished. Lewis is severely injured, and he sits out the remainder of the movie.

Fearing another sniping attack, the three survivors hunker down on the shore Saturday night while Ed takes a bow and some steel-tipped arrows and climbs the bluff. There he waits out the night, ready to pounce if the surviving mountain man appears.

Come morning, and a man appears nearby on the bluff carrying a rifle. In the ensuing exchange the mountain man is killed by Ed’s arrow, and Ed manages to wound himself with one of his arrows. The dead man does not have the missing teeth of their antagonist from the previous day. Ed has killed a random hunter.

Ed attempts to lower the dead man to the bottom of the gorge at the end of a line, but he ends up falling into the water when the line snaps. The three adventurers sink the body in the water, and then they discover Drew’s body. They cannot confirm that Drew has been shot, but they fear that an coroner’s examination will reveal a bullet wound and trigger an investigation. They weight the body of their friend with stones and sink it into the river.

Back at their downstream pickup point the survivors spin a fabricated story to keep investigators from looking upstream and finding Drew’s body. Evidence does not support this story, but the sheriff (played by author James Dickey) has no evidence to hold them. The last we hear about Lewis is that he might possibly lose his leg.

Settling back into his home life, Ed dreams of a human hand rising above the surface of the new lake.

This production received considerable push back due to its condescending depiction of the local characters. There is not much evidence that Georgia mountain people are as backward as depicted.

The first thing I noticed about the plot is that the four rational individuals would head into such treacherous white water with two of them apparently experiencing their first ride in a canoe. Any sane outdoors man would recognize this as a recipe for disaster. Even without the attack by the mountain rapists, this expedition would not have ended well.

Uh, Ed climbs to the top of the bluff, and he takes along with him enough line to lower a body to the bottom of the gorge. That is an amazing amount of forethought, and I have to wonder, “Why?” I mean, if you want a dead body down at the bottom of a cliff, the way to do it is to roll the body off the cliff. That is essentially what happens in the end. I have not read the book, so I don’t know if Dickey employed this element in the book or if director John Boorman figured the plot needed some extra drama.

Voight shot to fame for his portrayal as a would-be gigolo in Midnight Cowboy, He also received acclaim for his role in Runaway Train. I previously reviewed Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit.

This was the first feature length role for both Beatty and Cox.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

It’s here at last. I’ve been waiting for this to start streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and my wait was rewarded this month. It’s Westworld from 1973 and starring Yul Brynner as a killer robot. I saw this when it came out, so the plot is familiar. Details are from Wikipedia.

Michael Crichton, who previously gave us The Andromeda Strain., wrote and directed this. It’s a sci-fi thriller with a ground-breaking theme. It’s the original theme that keeps this from being posted as a Bad Movie of the Week.

There is a plot, and it’s straight forward, so I will sketch it out and show some visuals. The kick-off plays a smarmy TV commercial for Delos, an entertainment enterprise. They’re like Disneyland, only for adults. Here the ad man is interviewing a customer just returned from one of Delos’ three theme parks. They are Romanworld, Medievalworld, and best of all, Westworld. Each of the three allows visitors to experience life once lived in respectively, the decadent Roman Empire, the decadent world of a Medieval court, and a decadent frontier town of the American 1880s.

In the parks high-tech robots interact with patrons and drive the narrative. 20th century visitors will live among the robotic inhabitants as citizens did in those days gone by.

This is billed as “The vacation of the future, today.”

Two dudes from Chicago are riding the futuristic flying shuttle to the theme park, apparently somewhere in a California desert region. They are John Blane (James Brolin), a return visitor, and Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin), come to visit Westworld for the first time.

Checking at Westworld, the two are outfitted for their week-long stay on the American frontier. And by the way, cue the banjo music.

They quickly get into the swing of things. In a frontier saloon they order whiskeys and throw them back. A gunslinger (Brynner) saunters in, bumping Martin, causing him to spill some of his drink. This is how fights got started in the old west. At Blane’s urging, Martin picks a fight with the gunslinger, who is a role-playing robot. Both men draw their pieces, and Martin kills the robot. Patrons dutifully drag the body out into the street. That was life and death in the old west.

The deal is, visitors are given the opportunity to act out as would not be allowed in modern society. And the beauty is, there are no consequences of their actions, since everything is designed so no actual people are harmed.

We are given snapshots of life at the other two theme parks. Here is a ribald court scene from Medievalworld.

One of the attractions of the old west was the availability of ladies for hire.

At night, when all the patrons have bedded down, park crews come forth and haul in the damage from the previous day’s debauchery. They have to repair robots that have been shot, stabbed, beheaded, whatever.

There is a problem. In a place where it is promised that nothing can possibly go wrong, things are starting to go wrong. At a project meeting we see that the rate of defects, failures in the robots, has not leveled off as one would expect in a new technology. Instead, it is as though an infection is spreading among the robots, which source the technicians cannot explain, since much of the technology was developed by computers, and nobody fully understands it.

The gunslinger from the day before is resurrected, and he comes looking for Martin. Martin defeats him in a blazing exchange of gunfire in the pair’s hotel room, and the gunfighter dies, again, crashing through a window and falling to the street below.

But there was law in the old west, and the sheriff jails Martin to await trial before a hanging judge. Not to worry. Blane springs him by smuggling in some explosives. Blasting through the jail house wall, Martin escapes, and the two ride off to hide out in the desert.

The first thing they notice that something is going wrong is when a rattlesnake bites down on Blane. It’s a non-poisonous robot snake, but this was not supposed to happen. After Blane and Martin depart, a crew goes out to retrieve the snake and poke for the problem.

Meanwhile in Medievalworld, a stately lord, a park visitor, is forced to fight a duel with the Black Knight. He loses the fight when the robot plunges a real sword through his belly. Something is obviously going wrong. The resort operators attempt to shut the park down, but there is no response to their controls. They attempt to shut down power to the resort, but they only succeed in sealing themselves inside their airtight control building, where all die.

Riding back into town, Blane and Martin encounter the gunslinger again. Blane accepts the gunfighter’s demand for a duel, and he gets two slugs in the belly. Martin gets on his horse and rides for his life, the gunfighter following.

For reasons I never caught onto, Martin knows how to get access to the control building, and he hides from the gunfighter by pretending to be one of the robots on an examining table. When the gunfighter detects something and comes over to take a look, Martin throws hydrochloric acid into the gunfighter’s face and makes a run for it.

His vision much diminished, the gunfighter stalks the resort, looking for Martin. Pursued to Medievalworld, Martin notices the gunfighter cannot see him, paying attention only to hot objects. He decoys his adversary and sets him ablaze with one of the torches serving as lighting in the castle.

Martin looks around and can find nobody else alive. He hears a noise and comes to the rescue of a fair damsel, who has been chained to the bars of a dungeon cell. But when he gives her a drink of water, the water shorts out her circuits, and she begins to smoke. She is a robot.

Martin contemplates being the sole survivor of the movie.

Besides some corny dialog, this production is plagued by a load of unlikelihood. Of course, the technology is nowhere believable. In 1973 it may have been a wish that sentient robots would be feasible in a few years, but hopefully this would involve technology of the future. What we see when technicians open up one of their creations is 1960’s electronics.

Additionally, some of the logical basis is beneath belief. The pistols in Westworld fire real bullets, but to ensure the safety of real people, the guns are fitted with (supposedly) infrared detectors that prevent their being fired when pointed at a warm object (person). Yeah, that’s going to work. Like a bullet going through a wall is not going to kill somebody on the other side?

These anthropic robots are supposed to be very smart and of advanced, futuristic construction. But when we are allowed to view the world through the gunslinger’s eyes, the image is coarsely reticulated. Everybody’s cell phone these days has resolution sharper than the 35mm cameras used to shoot the movie.

Creighton imagined some kind of technological plague spreading from one park site to the others, but nowhere is it contemplated what vector must be involved. Viewers are asked to accept the premise and follow along with the plot.

Of course, this movie involves a bunch of actors who are supposed to be robots, and this set up for a breakthrough in motion picture production. A view into the insides of one of the robots incorporates computer-generated animation, the first time industry unions allowed creativity to performed by other than a union member.

Little known about Brynner, who seemed to burst into stardom as the haughty monarch in The King And I, was originally from Siberia, in Vladivostok. He needed the money at the time, and accepted $75,000 to play the role. He died 12 years later.

A Westworld TV series airing on HBO debuted in 2016, continuing into 2018. A third season is scheduled for production.

Quiz Question

Number 180 of a series

It’s time for a change of pace. Here is an exercise in modern culture. Give the title of the movie associated with each of the following quotes.

  1. Come on, Dover! Move your bloomin’ arse!!
  2. We’re going to need a bigger boat.
  3. TWA 517, do you want to report a UFO? Over.
  4. Top of the world, ma!
  5. You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.
  6. Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.
  7. Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie.
  8. Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?
  9. Let the wookie win.
  10. It was beauty killed the beast.
  11. The wind blows so hard the ocean gets up on its hind legs and walks right across the land.
  12. Mildred: Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?Johnny: What’ve you got?
  13. Why, you crazy — the fall’ll probably kill ya!
  14. Do you feel lucky?
  15. Go ahead, make my day.

You can use Google to find all these, but the requirement is to answer from your own knowledge. Post your answers in the comments section below.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

James Bond movies are currently streaming on Hulu, where I obtained these screen shots. First, something about the Bond series. Ex spy Ian Fleming wrote a bunch of these stories in the 1950s before finishing up in the early 1960s and dying in 1964. MGM began to put out movie interpretations, beginning with Dr. No in 1962, and they generally followed Fleming’s plots. Then they got famous for their special effects, and eventually Bond movies became synonymous with sex, glitz, stunts, and special effects. Really quite boring. No story—sequences of episodes strung together, sometimes losing the central theme in the process. Fortunately for us, something like this one got made, and it has a real story with real plot development. It’s For Your Eyes Only, from 1981, by which time the Bond series was well into it’s plot-devoid era.

The problem is, the original Fleming plot takes up a few pages in a collection of short stories published under the same title. The movie uses the title and the names of a few of the characters and concocts an epic yarn. More later.

The opening scene has nothing to do with the plot. We see James Bond (Roger Moore) laying flowers at the grave of his wife, who was cruelly murdered in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Comes a call from headquarters, and a helicopter arrives to pick him up for an important assignment. Only it’s a fake. Once Bond is inside the helicopter, buckled in, and in the air, an unseen hand pushes a button on a remote control device and causes the pilot to be electrocuted. Bond is trapped inside the helicopter controlled by a vicious and sinister old man sitting in a wheel chair on top of a distant building. The man’s voice comes through the helicopter intercom telling Bond of the grisly fate that awaits him.

But Bond gains the upper hand. He climbs out a door and hangs on as the helicopter flies a torturous and frightening route among buildings and stacks in an industrial area of the city.

Finally he gets inside the pilot’s compartment, dumps the dead pilot, and takes control. He flies the helicopter up behind the sinister wheel chair and scoops it up with one of the  craft’s skids. Then he dumps his nemesis, wheel chair and all, down a smoke stack, which you see just now coming up.

Then runs the film’s intro, and the movie starts for real. A British spy station is disguised as a fishing boat off the coast of Albania, and the “fishermen” catch a floating mine in their net. The mine explodes, sinking the vessel before the crew can activate the thermite destruction device to destroy the ultra-secret ATAC device, this plot’s MacGuffin. The race is on to recover the device before opposing forces can get at it.

Switch to the yacht of the Havelock family, husband and wife being oceanographic researchers, he being involved in helping recover the ATAC. Their glamorous daughter Melina (Carole Bouquet) comes to visit while the yacht is anchored in Greek waters. She arrives by a float plane, which lands close by and lets her off at the yacht.

The float plane takes off, but then it circles back, and the pilot opens up on the boat with machine guns concealed in the floats, killing the husband and wife.

Here is where the film and the Fleming story overlap. In the book Mr. Havelock is retired MI6 living on the family estate in Jamaica. Gangsters seeking to flee Cube before Castro comes to power (this sets the time about 1958) are looking for other places to park their wealth. One gangster seeks to purchase the Havelock property, and Mr. Havelock turns them down flat. The gangsters take the next logical step and murder the husband and wife, then they begin to put pressure on the heir, the daughter, named Judy in this case. She seeks revenge with an aim to track down and to kill the gang leader. At this point the two plots diverge, never to cross paths again.

In the book James Bond’s boss, “M.”, is a friend of the Havelocks, and he asks Bond to “take care of business.” He hands Bond a file and stamps it “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.” Hence the title.

Here is a scene nearly straight out of the Fleming story. The gangster is holed up in a resort in Vermont near the Canadian border with a lake and hot and cold running bimbos. The movie somewhat duplicates the scene, only this may be on the island several thousand miles to the east.

In the book Bond goes in with a sniper’s rifle with intent to kill the gangster. There he meets Judy, who has arrived by a different route and with a crossbow. Judy tells Bond to stay out of this business and to let her do it. In the movie Bond is unaware of the girl until the gangster dives into the pool and floats to the surface with an arrow through his worthless torso, a scene from both plots.

But Bond has been surprised by guards and taken to the boss, who orders him disposed of. The arrow generates confusion, allowing Bond to escape, whereupon he meets Melina on the trail, where she saves him again with a well-placed arrow. They team up and escape in her little yellow car, since his tricked-out Lotus has exploded when one of the guards attempted to break in. Here begins the first of several stereotype Bond chases, as the little yellow car (a Yugo?) dashes madly along winding mountain roads and through villages, pursued by two cars full of gunmen. Of course Bond and the girl escape, as the gunmen meet ghastly ends.

Trust me. There is a plot in this movie. The story advances as Bond follows lead after lead to track down who is after the ATAC. In the meantime there is the requisite snow chase. Here motorcycles with ice racing tires (spikes) chase Bond, on skis, down the mountain.

And down a bobsled run.

But Bond finds out he has been chasing the wrong villain. A smuggler clues him in that a supposed Anglophile is the real mastermind, and Bond and the girl retrieve the ATAC from the sunken spy boat, only to be captured by the traitor. It is decided that rather than shooting the two and dumping them to the sharks, the mastermind will troll them behind his boat over some sharp coral and let the sharks do the rest.

This is a plot device out of Live And Let Die, and the same escape is employed. Bond and the girl catch some slack in the tow line when the boat reverses course, and they snag the line on some rocks. As the boat charges forward the line goes taut and snaps, allowing the two to escape.

They team up with the smuggler, Chaim Topol as Milos Columbo, and they form up a team of five to assault the villain’s stronghold atop a Greek mountain top.

Bond makes the climb using rope and pitons, but when he nears the top a guard confronts him.

To sum up, the gang of five defeat the villains in a fierce fight in the mountain fortress, right before the Soviet general arrives to take possession of the ATAC. Bond tosses the device off the mountain, where it explodes in a shower of particles, and everybody departs content.

Finally, Bond and Melina reconcile, and as she undoes the top of her clothing she tells him the scenery is “for your eyes only.”

Obviously there are plot defects. We are meant to believe the ATAC, a highly sensitive device aboard the spy boat. has been designed for destruction to avoid capture. The person chained to its console drowns before he can pull the lever to initiate the destruction, and the device sinks, intact, with the boat. And it was not designed to dissolve in salt water? It lies at a depth of over 400 feet for days (weeks?), and it’s still going to be functional? No. Just no.

It’s necessary to have the Havelocks killed. In the book the two gunmen who come around to make Mr. Havelock an offer he can’t refuse. When he refuses, they pull weapons out of their bags and shoot them down on the patio. In the movie they trick out a float plane by installing machine guns in the floats. Then they endeavor to have this be the plane that picks up the daughter and takes her to the yacht. A simple matter would have been for the pilot/assassin to come aboard at the time and gun down everybody and leave. In real life, nobody fits out a float plane with guns in the float pods.

Bond and the girl are captured, and the miscreant needs to get them out of the way. Does he have them shot and dumped overboard? No. He needs to come up with a plan to kill them creatively and also to give them an opportunity to escape. Movie plots seem

The story is one of five in a volume with this title. The first story in the book is From a View to a Kill, and yes, Hollywood made a movie using a similar title. The Fleming story has Bond tracking down a Russian spy ring engaged in murdering motorcycle couriers carrying secret NATO communications in France. As became typical, MGM threw away Flemming’s plot to make the movie, now streaming on Hulu. A review shortly.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Hey! A surprise even for me. Never heard of it before it popped up on Amazon Prime Video. It’s Blue Steel, from 1990 starring Jamie Lee Curtis as newly-minted NYPD cop Megan Turner. Details are from Wikipedia.

This was co-produced by Oliver Stone and directed by  Kathryn Bigelow, listed as co-writer. We have much to thank for the stunning visuals and action, but I resisted the temptation to put up a full gallery of imagery. It’s an interesting plot, but I am only going to skim it and give you an idea of how twisted it is.

The opening follows the action of a police raid on an apartment. Officers approach a door in a darkened corridor with weapons drawn. They kick in the door, and in charges Turner. She is confronted by a desperado who grabs up his female companion, creating a hostage situation. Turner threatens without flinching, causing the gunman to drop his sidekick and turn his attention toward her. She wastes him, and as he falls to the floor, so does the chickadee. While Turner focuses on the the man, the woman whips out a weapon and fires. It’s all over. It was a police academy training exercise, and Turner has learned a valuable lesson. Keep your focus at all times.

Graduation follows, and Turner pauses to experience a dysfunctional home life. Her mother is a middle-aged punching bag for her abusive husband, who hates cops. They did not attend the graduation.

Comes the day of Turner’s first active duty assignment, and she and her partner cruise the streets of Manhattan, looking for trouble. The partner opts for a pee break, and they stop into a quick mart. While her partner relieves himself, Turner practices being observant. She observes that at the supermarket across the street a man with a .44 magnum is got the clerk at the till cowered. Seeing no sign of her partner finishing up in the back, she crosses the street, and sneaks in the back way. Stalking among the shelves, she finally gets a view of the action and levels her weapon.

The guy with the .44 is having none of this shit, and he is certainly not taking any off a cunt rookie cop. He points the .44 at Turner, who empties six chambers into his unfortunate body, which crashes through the glass and onto the sidewalk.

All patrons have been on the floor up to now, one being Wall Street commodities broker Eugene Hunt (Ron Silver). While Turner focuses on the damage, Hunt focuses on the .44 dropped by the dead man. He reaches his hand over and pulls it into this possession. That creates a problem for Turner.

Back at the station house they have a rookie cop who has killed a man an hour or so into her first time on the street, and there is no gun. Hunt has slipped away with it, and Turner is in deep trouble. They relieve her of her badge and her gun and send her off duty indefinitely.

Meanwhile, Hunt takes the weapon home, extracts the cartridges, and carves “Megan Turner” onto each before reloading. Then he plays Matt Dillon before a mirror and ultimately stalks the streets with the .44 under his jacket. On a rainy night in Manhattan he literally bumps into a middle aged white man, and both fall to the sidewalk in the rain. The weapon clatters to the concrete. Hunt picks it up and fires one shot into the unfortunate bumpee. A serial killing rampage is under way.

It quickly becomes apparent that Hunt, besides being a Wall Street commodities trader, is a raving psychopath. He works out at the gym and hears voices in his head telling him to do things.

Turner, looking for a night on the town, steps out onto the sidewalk to hail a cab in the rain. But Hunt is there, and he has a cab. He invites Turner along. He takes her to dinner. He later takes her on a helicopter rider to view Manhattan by night.

Meanwhile the police have come across an empty cartridge casing with Turner’s name carved on it. They haul her in for questioning. Since the only other Megan Turner in New York City is an octogenarian living in retirement, the cops figure they have the correct Megan Turner. They decide to bring Turner back onto the force as a detective and use her as bait to catch the person with the hot .44. They assign sexually appealing Nick Mann (Clancy Brown) to be her second skin.

Things develop. When Turner and Hunt return to her apartment from a date, she invites him up. He suggests a later time. Good thing, because when Turner opens her apartment door, Mann is there waiting. He chides her for not having much to eat, forcing him to dine on tuna salad.

For reasons I am unable to fathom, the police never connect Hunt with the case, and on a subsequent encounter with him, he reveals to Turner he first saw her when she blew away the perp at the supermarket. She guesses he is the person they are looking for, but since the police didn’t scoop him up at the scene, there is no evidence he is the killer. He engages heavy legal counsel, and under threats of sever legal action, the police are forced to let him roam.

Disaster follows. As Turner and her chum Tracy (Elizabeth Peña) go out together, Hunt falls silently in behind. He throws an arm around Turner’s neck and shoots Tracy. Then he conks Turner on the head and departs. Since she is unable to verify it was Hunt, the police are again forced to let him walk.

We see Hunt burying the weapon in a park somewhere, and we see Mann and Turner stalking him, waiting for him to lead them to the gun. They ultimately determine he must have cached the gun, and they stake out the place. When they see somebody searching with a flashlight, Turner handcuffs Mann to the steering wheel of the car and pursues Hunt on a personal quest for vengeance. But Hunt has outsmarted them, and Turner discovers the person with the light is an old shopping cart woman. Meanwhile Hunt ambushes Mann in the car and takes his weapon, preparing to shoot him. But Turner shows up and puts one through the fleshy part of his arm. He again escapes, but now the police put on a full court press to locate him.

While the police sweat to resolve the matter, Mann and Turner retire to her place to get in some sack time. But Hunt is already there, hiding out in a back room. While Turner is showering off, Hunt muffles the .44 with a towel and shoots Mann, who recovers eventually. But Turner is placed under police guard while Hunt is on the loose.

Fire burning her belly, Turner resolves to personally close with the enemy. She decoys the cop guarding her and slugs him, stealing his uniform and his weapon. She stalks the streets, waiting for Hunt to find her.

He does, and there ensues a running gun battle. Turner catches a slug and puts a tourniquet around her arm, continuing the battle with her good arm. After putting another round into Hunt, snatching up a civilian car and ramming him, she exchanges shots until she empties all six chambers. Hunt stalks her while she reloads, and he wastes his last round hitting the civilian’s car. Now Hunt is defenseless, but there is no “kings ex” in this game. Turner must have her retribution, and the last thing Hunt sees in his life is her starring at him over the sights of the purloined pistol. Classic Jamie Lee Curtis.

A bunch wrong with this plot. Point by point:

Turner has no evidence the robber had a weapon. Really? The store clerk was so frightened he could not recall whether the man had a pistol or a knife. Who believes that bit of nonsense? Also, there were multiple customers lying on the floor besides the commodities trader. Why were they lying on the floor if there was no gun. Even if they did not see the gun, they must have known there was a gun, else they would have skedaddled.

Now Hunt shoots a man on the street in Manhattan. To be sure, it’s raining, but even in the rain people are going to notice a .44 magnum going off, and this is not going to pass unnoticed. The police find a .44 casing with Turner’s name carved into it. Where? At the crime scene? It’s a revolver. The shooter had to eject the casing and toss it nearby. We are left to our imaginations to figure this is what must have happened.

Hunt encounters Turner hailing a cab in the rain. No rain, and she would not have accepted his offer of a ride. Too many things are falling into place for this plot to be believable.

They give Turner a pretend detective’s badge. That is not explained. She is obviously a rookie. Why pretend she’s a seasoned detective?

Mentioned before; if the police are going to be on Turner like paint, how come they miss so much about Hunt? How come they don’t notice Hunt sneaking into her apartment?

Toward the end, after it is determined Hunt is the killer, Turner visits her parents. There has been trouble. Her father has been beating her mother. She arrests her father, cuffs him, and starts toward the station house in her car. Then she reconsiders, he promises to stop this bad behavior, and they both go back to the family home. Hunt is there, posing as a friend of Turner’s. It’s touchy situation. Turner is concerned Hunt will pull something deadly if she doesn’t get him out of the house. She does, and reports this to the police. But wait! If Turner didn’t discover her father’s assault on her mother, she would never have left with him in the car. If she had taken him to the station, then Hunt would possibly have come and gone before she got back. The plot doesn’t work unless a string of special circumstances convene. This makes for an improbable plot.

Turner decides to engage in a vendetta, so she slugs a copy. I mean, she cold-cocks him with her fist, and he does not come around until after she has undressed him and left with his uniform and his weapon. Do not, I say, do not mess with this woman.

The police are out in force, scouring the borough for Hunt. The can’t find him. But Turner knows how to find him. Just put on a cop uniform and walk down the street like Gary Cooper with her six gun on her hip. Hunt is right there on the spot.

Turner and Hunt engage in a gun battle for several minutes in downtown Manhattan, and the scene is not swarming with cops until all the smoke has cleared? I don’t believe it either.

Jamie Lee Curtis is, of course, daughter of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. Her face tended toward androgynous, but there was a body what would not quit. Guys went to her movies on the chance of seeing her naked, often the case. My favorite JLC movie is True Lies with Arnold. I have it. I will do a review.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 245 of a series

I don’t know why these are sometimes hard to find on Amazon Prime Video. Amazon knows I like to review bad movies, but often they hide them way down in the listings. This is Vengeance Valley from 1951, and I swear I never saw it when it came out. It’s based on the Luke Short novel of the same name, and I acquired a Kindle edition for comparison. Screen shots are from Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

The story is told by Hewie (Carleton Carpenter) a young cowpoke who works at the ranch. Looking at the scenery I got the idea the setting is Wyoming, but Wikipedia says Colorado. Anyhow, two cowpokes come riding in from the winter range. Before heading to the ranch house they stop at the saloon for something to warm their bellies. They are Owen Daybright (Burt Lancaster), the ranch foreman, and Lee Strobie (Robert Walker), misfit son of the ranch owner, Arch Strobie (Ray Collins).

There’s word floating around the saloon, and it filters to the two cowpokes. Apparently there has been a new arrival in the valley since the two ranchers left back in the fall, and the addition is the result of some shenanigans between Lee and a comely restaurant waitress named Lily Fasken (Sally Forrest). Only this last information is, for the time being, a matter of conjecture.

Lee shrugs off his situation and sits at the card table to gamble away some of his money while his own bride Jen (Joanne Dru) pines for his return back at the ranch house.

Since Lee won’t soldier up, Owen stops by the widow’s ranch where Lily and the new addition are convalescing. He lays $500 on her, since he figures his boss’s son is not going to step up.

Also at the widow’s house is Jen, who Owen is thinking made a mistake marrying Lee. Something is happening here.

Lily has two brothers, Hub (John Ireland) and Dick (Hugh O’Brian), and they consider the dishonor of their sister a matter they need to handle. The second brother arrives by train, telling Sheriff Con Alvis (Jim Hayward) they plan to kill somebody.

Meanwhile Lee shows his true colors as he goes about breaking a new horse. All cowboy fans know that a horse, no matter what his lineage, is born with an instinct to buck off anything that crawls onto its back. The way to make a horse ridable is to “break” it by letting it buck until it realizes that bucking won’t work. Often the rider doing the breaking gets thrown several times before the horse finally caves in.

The horse bucks Lee into the dirt, and Lee takes it in true character. He grabs a whip and lashes the horse with it. This elicits a strong reaction from the other cowboys, and Lee’s stock takes a nosedive. He will never be accepted at the ranch again.

Even Lee’s pretty new bride starts to see through him, especially when it becomes he is the one who humped Lily.

Anyhow, the Fasken brothers confront Owen and Hewie. They have guns, and the cowpokes are unarmed. Nevertheless, Owen gains the upper hand in a fight, and the Faskens wind up in the sheriff’s jail for a week.

Meanwhile, things begin to unravel at the ranch. Lee sees his days are numbered. His father recognizes his son’s failings, but tries to overlook them. This leniency is stretching thin, and Lee looks for a way out. He convinces Arch to deed over half the ranch to him before the cattle drive, and he plots to dispose of Owen out on the trail. He enlists the aid of two rustlers, and when the sheriff ships the Laskens out on the train, one of the rustlers is there to advise them of the plan. They get off the train, pick up three waiting horses, and join the cattle drive in a scheme cooked up by Lee.

Lee hooks up with another rancher on the drive and strikes a deal to sell his father’s cattle. Then he arranges an ambush for Owen. The two Laskens are waiting when Lee and Owen ride toward the telegraph station, supposedly to head off the rancher who purchased the cattle.

The shooting starts. Lee skedaddles, and Owen picks off one of the Laskens. The cowboys, hearing the gunshots, ride to the rescue. They pick off the remaining Lasken brother. Own rides down and kills Lee in a duel by the creek.

Back at the ranch, Owen explains to Arch what happened, and Arch agrees it was a thing that needed doing.

About that time Jen arrives in a buckboard, and Owen has the happy duty of telling her she is no longer a married woman. Not shown is Hewie and Lily getting together.

This is not all that bad a movie. It’s well-photographed, and the dialog is realistic. The director has put in a lot of stuff about life on the ranch not strictly required by the storyline. There are interchanges between the characters that can be counted as great additions to the color but providing nothing to advance the story. That business of Owen chasing Lee across the badlands is overdrawn, much as is done in about half the westerns I ever viewed. We see Lee riding. We see Owen riding. We see Lee riding. And on and on. We see pokes firing off their pistols at impossible distances and getting unlikely hits.

A comparison with the book shows that, contrary to many book conversions, character names are generally preserved. Interestingly, Wikipedia uses “Strobie,” and the book shows “Stobie.” Could be Wikipedia’s reviewer didn’t have access to the full credits and didn’t hear the name correctly.

It’s apparent some of the action in the movie is made up, so we can assume a lot of it is. The duel between Owen and Lee never happened—there was more of a free-wheeling gunfight. From the book:

A close bellow of gun behind him swiveled his head. He saw Mead Calhan lowering his gun, and then he saw that Lee was down, gone from his horse which was bucking wildly now.

Short, Luke. Vengeance Valley (Kindle Locations 2544-2545). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

Truth be known, the book is much better than the movie. Although Luke Short was never known for deep character development, his depictions of rough and ready action are legend. And knee-deep.

Sullenly, then, Dick Fasken holstered his gun. As soon as he did, Mead Calhan stepped up to him, yanked the gun from the holster, and hit Dick Fasken in the face with all the strength in his squat and powerful body. Dick fell flat on his back, and did a somersault before the force of the blow was spent.

Short, Luke. Vengeance Valley (Kindle Locations 659-662). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

Good news to all Burt Lancaster fans. MGM failed to renew the copyright, and the picture entered the public domain in 1979. You can watch it for free on YouTube:

 

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Here’s another one I never heard of until it started streaming on Amazon Prime Video. It’s Gardens of Stone, from 1987 and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Details are from Wikipedia.

This is a story about the Army in peacetime, only it’s not peacetime, it’s 1968 to 1970, at the height of the war in Vietnam, and these are soldiers doing stateside duty while others die. Except for the dying part, this one makes me recall Soldier in the Rain. It opens up the grim reality of day to day soldiering.

These soldiers are the Old Guard, the 1st battalion 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) at Fort Myer, Virginia. They are the unit that conducts military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. The opening scene depicts the ritual of such an event.

The alternate name of this unit might be “spit and polish,” because spiff is front and center. Into the Old Guard comes Jack Willow (D. B. Sweeney), possibly the spiffiest of them all.

He serves under Sergeant First Class Clell Hazard (James Caan), who serves under Sergeant Major “Goody” Nelson (James Earl Jones). To add drama, we see Sergeant Hazard meeting and wooing Washington Post reporter Samantha “Sam” Davis (Anjelica Huston).


Inspections are the order of the day in the Old Guard, and Willow is a master of the inspection. Humor is introduced when Sergeant Major Nelson challenges Willow in a duel of wits during barracks inspection.

Nelson: How do worms reproduce?

Willow: They reproduce asexually.

Nelson: And who came up with that idea?

Willow: Your wife?

We see a lot of pomp and circumstance throughout, but an underlying theme is Willow’s goal to get into the war and to earn a CIB, a Combat Infantryman Badge. Hazard wants to go to Fort Benning to teach soldiers how to fight an unconventional war.

In a dramatic interlude in the film, members of the Old Guard are ordered to participate in a field exercise, posing as Viet Cong fighters. Hazard employs his ideas concerning asymmetrical warfare, and embarrasses the opposing commander.

Willow’s spiff and rectitude pay off for him, as he obtains acceptance into Officer’s Candidate School and an assignment to Vietnam. After a year in-country his body comes home.

The final scene shows Willow’s coffin being laid at the National Cemetery and his young wife receiving the ceremonial flag.

Truth be told, “glacial” is an understatement of this plot’s movement. Go see Soldier in the Rain first, then come back and see this. The story contains much stereotypical conversation about the anti-war movement of the time and the militarists standard position. Hazard, a combat-hardened veteran of Korea, sees the war as the wrong war, for the wrong reasons, being prosecuted the wrong way. He sees it as a futile quest, producing only a steady supply of bodies for the Old Guard to process. The general theme is anti-war, particularly this war.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

It’s one of the few movies I have seen in a theater in the past 40 years, and I saw this one because my daughter wanted me to take her. It’s Pet Sematary from 1989, and I will get to the spelling of that last word in the title shortly. This is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. I don’t have a copy of the book, not even the Kindle edition, so I have no way of comparing this movie with the book. In fact, I didn’t watch the movie through again. I pulled the video up on Amazon Prime Video and grabbed these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

The setting is in Maine, Stephen King’s home ground and where the location scenes were shot. The opening sequence sets the ominous mood. A massive tanker truck comes barreling down a country road, past a neat home that has just sold.

Right behind comes the Creed family, moving in, not realizing the nightmare that is to unfold here.

They meet their curmudgeonly neighbor Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne). He needs to be in this plot for the city slicker Creeds to play off against. He also needs to be the voice of a dark and foreboding wisdom.

Jud takes the Creed family to a place in the woods where apparently children have brought defunct pets and named it Pet Sematary, using second-grader spelling.

Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) is a doctor, and one of his patients is a jogger who has been struck and killed. Before he dies the patient warns Louis about the Pet Sematary, calling him by name, although the two had never met before.

When the family cat comes a cropper to traffic in front of their home, Louis takes the animal to the Pet Sematary. The cat comes back as a demon possessed.

Repeat that opening sequence, if you please. The truck driver picks up his load of fuel at the depot and sets off along the highway of death, not a care in the world. His music is playing, it’s a bright and sunny day, the truck is humming along without missing a beat. He adds weight to the pedal.

Meanwhile the Creeds are enjoying an outing on the front lawn. The truck is coming nearer. Little Gage (Miko Hughes) is doing what doomed toddlers are always doing. he is seeking death in his merry way. Too late, the family notices Gage is headed toward the highway.

You knew all along what was going to happen. The truck ends up on its side, and little Gage has proved to be no match. To shorten my recap, Louis takes Gage’s body to the Pet Sematary. Horror of horrors! He comes back as evil personified.

Jud seeks the demon Gage, searching into his own home. A small hand wielding a surgeon’s scalpel strikes like a snake from under the bed, expertly severing Jud’s Achilles tendon. Jud goes down, and Gage is on top of him to finish him off with the scalpel.

Next to go is Gage’s mother Rachel (Denise Crosby). Louis goes looking, and her body, hung by the neck, drops from above.

Louis cannot escape his fate. He takes Rachel’s body to the Pet Sematary, and later she returns for him to love into eternity.

Yes, this is a very scary film. King, if this is his plot, has put together all the standard components for classic horror. And that’s what is much about the plot. It’s formula without an underlying story of great interest.

None of the other players tug at my memory, but Fred Gwynne does stand out. He kept us entertained as Officer Francis Muldoon in the TV series Car 54, Where Are You and also as Herman Munster in The Munsters. I most recently saw him as the curmudgeonly Judge Chamberlain Haller in My Cousin Vinny. I’m keeping an eye open for that one to come to Prime Video. A review will be forthwith.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 242 of a series

I need to check on this. Yes, it was on Wednesday I posted a review of Ghostbusters from 1984. Of course there needed to be a sequel, and there was. Here it is. From 1989, here is Ghostbusters II, with much of the same cast and crew.

Like its predecessor, this is streaming on Amazon Prime Video, the source of these screen shots. It’s from Columbia Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

The opening title shot tells this is “5 years later.” There is a crack in a New York City sidewalk, and a slimy ooze emerges and spreads. Along comes the enchanting Ms. Barrett, since married, since divorced, not arriving at her apartment, carrying her groceries, pushing her new baby, Oscar (William T. Deutschendorf and Hank J. Deutschendorf II) in a carriage. There is a special place in hell for parents who name a child Oscar, but that’s another matter. Anyhow, the carriage wheels roll through the ooze, and as Dana engages with the building superintendent, the carriage starts to roll away. Not just roll away, but on and into Midtown traffic while the frantic mother chases after it. It rolls and dodges traffic, as if by luck (or magic) and finally stops. Dana is curious, and she considers calling her old friends with the Ghostbusters.

And we see the new logo. Number 2.

The five years have not been good for the Ghostbusters. The luster has come off the business, and they are reduced to doing birthday parties. Even the sixth graders think this stuff is a big hoax.

Dana stops by Spengler’s research lab to try to get some answers. She does not want Peter involved, since she wound up marrying a musician instead of him (he never asked her).

She is now working as an art restorer at a museum, under the direction of Dr. Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol). He’s the nerd’s definition of a nerd, and his attempts at cozying up to Dana are brutally inept.

But in the museum is a painting of Vigo the Carpathian, a European tyrant from centuries past. Alone in the museum, Janosz is accosted by the spirit of Vigo coming out of the painting. He is commanded to obtain a baby to enable his rebirth. We know which baby this is going to be.

The Ghostbusters, following up on Dana’s request, check out her apartment. Peter checks out Dana. He is enchanted by the baby he figures should have been his. Then the team moves to the sidewalk, where they discover a sinister presence underground. Bypassing the city’s permit process, they set themselves up as a repair crew and proceed to punch a hole in the street to locate the sinister force.

They are successful in the first part. They find beneath a river of ooze and recover a sample. In the second part they sever a main power cable and punch the Big Apple into darkness, leading to a criminal trial. As evidence, the police bring along stuff they found in the Ghostbusters wagon, including a beaker full of the ooze.

The ooze is strange stuff. It reacts to human emotion, and as the judge starts to pronounce sentence he becomes more enraged, and the beaker becomes more volatile, finally erupting into the ghosts of the Scaleri Brothers, the pair of which the judge previously sent to the electric chair.

Anyhow, the Ghostbusters are (temporarily) vindicated, but things are not going well for Dana. Mysteriously, Oscar climbs out on the building ledge, where an apparition, apparently in the employ of Vigo, snatches him and carries him away.

I won’t stretch out a deconstruction of the plot, but suffice it to say the Ghostbusters figure the mysterious ooze can be turned around and made to work for them. They accumulate a boatload of the stuff and apply it to the Statue of Liberty, and they activate it with soothing vibes. This animates the statue, which wades the Hudson and comes to Manhattan to do battle with Vigo.

The Ghostbusters triumph. End of movie.

Five years after the original, much of the charm had worn off the concept, but this production still earned $112.5 million in the American market and $215.4 million world wide. It was the eighth best grossing movie of that year.

The script is by Aykroyd and Ramis, those two in the middle above. We saw a lot more of Peter McNicol later, as he played Professor Larry Fleinhardt for six seasons of Numb3rs. Also, he was a camp supervisor in Addams Family Values.

I’m not going to review any additional Ghostbuster sequels.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is one that completely blind-sided me. I moved back to Texas in 1984 and was working for a defense contractor. A group in my section was working on a project called “Tankbreaker.” It was a little missile that would home in on a tank and wipe it out. Anyhow, we were called to a section meeting, and two of the executive assistants had composed this cute presentation. It was a slide show accompanied by music, and there was a cute tune. The graphics showed a Soviet tank superimposed with a crossed-out circle, “no tanks.” And the tune played, and when it got around to the part where it said, “Who’re you gonna call?” they substituted in “Tankbreaker.”

So I told one of the gals who did this that it was a nice tune, but where did it come from. Did I ever get a roasting. Had I never heard of Ghostbusters?

Anyhow, I subsequently caught the movie when it came on TV, and it’s now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia. Here’s a rundown of the plot.

The opening sequence has a prim lady librarian in the New York City Public Library, and she is moving with a measured pace among the stacks. She has a cart, and she is reshelving books. Behind her back books start moving themselves from one shelf to another. She doesn’t notice at first. Then in the card file system (they don’t have these anymore), the drawers start opening by themselves, and presently cards are flying out of the drawers and spraying amongst the rows. The noise alerts the librarian, and she turns around and sees the chaos. She screams and runs in panic. Then comes on the title graphic and the theme music starts to play.

Only, at this point in the movie there is (are) no Ghostbusters. There are three odd-ball researchers living off grants at Columbia University.  Two are doing research into supernatural phenomena, such as ghosts. The other, is Professor Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), who is conducting research into psychic abilities. Here he has hired two students to participate in his work, which is to explore whether negative feedback can bring out latent abilities. He has two students, one a nerdy guy, and the other a comely coed, and it’s obvious he’s making a play at the girl. He has a set of Zenner cards, of which there are five kinds, each with a different symbol. He alternates between the boy and the girl, and when the boy guesses wrong he throws a switch, delivering a painful shock to the boy. The girl never gets it right, but Venkman conceals this and always rewards her with praise.

The boy quits in disgust and charges out of the room. Venkman tells the girl they need to do more research after hours.

Then Venkman’s two friends charge in with a report from the library. They have their instruments, and they want Venkman to come with them to look for a ghost in the library. The two friends are Dan Aykroyd as Raymond “Ray” Stantz and Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler. It’s during this sequence we get to hear Venkman utter those immortal words, “Back off, man. I’m a scientist.”

Presently they spot the ghost, a wisp of vapor in the form of a lady librarian left over from the 19th century. They initially draw back, but then they decide to approach her. She shows her true nature, and they flee into the street.

Meanwhile, Columbia has become fed up the three hangers on and has withdrawn their grants, closed their facilities, and banished them from the campus. Staring unemployment in the face, they decide to go private. They form Ghostbusters, adopting the logo shown above. They move into an unused firehouse, and they hire a woman to answer the phone. Then they wait for the phone to ring. And they wait.

Enter Dana Barrett played by Sigourney Weaver, a sharp contrast from Warrant Officer Ripley of the space tug Nostromo. Now she’s a concert cellist, returning to her Central Park West apartment by cab with a load of groceries. When she enters her apartment, the TV is mysteriously on, and a commercial for the newly-minted Ghostbusters is playing. She looks. She think’s that’s strange. She starts putting away the food stocks, when mysteriously the egg carton springs open, and eggs start exploding and cooking themselves on the counter top. She hears a noise coming from the refrigerator. She cautiously approaches it. People in the audience are screaming at her, “No, no! Don”t open that door!” She opens the door and is greeted by hideous monster, which description and background I won’t get into.

We next see Dana showing up at the Ghostbusters store seeking resolution. Peter, still pining for the days of coeds gone by, leaps into the breech. He insists on coming by Dana’s apartment to check out things. He gets nowhere with Dana.

The phone actually rings. The manager of a swank hotel has a ghost problem. Can Ghostbusters help? They come charging, arriving in their Ghostbusters wagon, lights flashing and sirens blaring. They approach the assignment like a squad of Navy SEALs.

The first encounter—not so good. Peter comes, Peter sees, Peter gets slimed. Get ready for it. Here it comes. “He slimed me.”

But there is success, and the team departs the hotel with the bad fellow locked safely in an apparition-restraining box. More good news. Peter gets a date with Dana. Before he can arrive she encounters difficulties. It turns out her upscale apartment building was originally constructed as a conduit to an ancient goblin. As she sits in a chair, hands come out through the fabric and restrain her, and the chair slides into her bedroom, from which emanates an unearthly light.

Peter arrives for the date to find Dana much transformed.

He coaxes her to bed, but that only reveals additional surprises.

To cut to the conclusion, a smart aleck EPA official orders Ghost busters to cease operations forthwith, and he commands a technician to shut off the power to the goblin containment facility. All hell breaks loose, and goblins run rampant through midtown Manhattan. The Park West building erupts, spewing lightning and masonry.

When the ghost busters arrive they find Dana and her nerdy neighbor Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) transformed into manifestations of the evil goblin. It’s a great opportunity to show off Weaver’s fantastic legs.

You guessed it. The ghost busters are triumphant, and they deploy their proton pack weapons to defeat the demigod Zuul and save the day.

They are heroes (for the moment) and Peter and Dana are a couple (for the moment). We see in the sequel that the moment has come and gone, and I will be posting a review of the sequel on Sunday. Keep reading.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This came out in 1975, and I watched it once before on TV. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. It’s The Stepford Wives, and if you never heard of it, then you’ve been vacationing on the moon. In the intervening 43 years this film has added to our lexicon. A Stepford Wife is the ultimate subservient domestic partner. In modern terms, this is The Handmaid’s Tale writ small, as though Gilead were shrunk into the tight (presumably) Connecticut village of Stepford.

For those just back from the moon, here is a sketch of the plot with a lot omitted. First we see the Eberharts leaving their Manhattan digs and moving to Stepford, where husband Walter (Peter Masterson) hopes to get away from the clamorous city life to a place where he feels more in charge. Joanna (Katharine Ross) has not been consulted on the move, and she is not thrilled.

It definitely is a change of pace. Joanna takes some time getting used to the new digs.

She takes a lot of time getting used to the stiffness of Stepford society. The wives mainly walk around like robots, always immaculately dressed, always soft spoken, always polite, always stiff. Then Joanna meets a kindred soul in Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss) a free spirit, also new to Stepford. Together they decide to take Stepford society head on and turn it around. They fail absolutely. Something sinister is in complete control.

What they observe is breathtaking. Exemplifying Stepford women is Carol van Sant (Nanette Newman). She is the complete domestic, and almost totally mindless. She goes off kilter and has to be carted away in an ambulance after a small bump car event at a shopping center. Joanna notices with alarm that the ambulance does not take Carol in the direction of the hospital. Suspicions grow.

Later at a party Joanna and Bobbie become alarmed at Carol’s actions. She walks around with a blank expression saying to each person she meets, “I’ll just die if I don’t get this recipe.”

Joanna gets ever closer to the truth. When Carol and her husband go away for a weekend, she comes back much changed. Now she’s glassy-eyed like all the rest, she is fashionably dressed, even in her own kitchen, and her house is spotless. Nothing is out of place.

Joanna guesses what has happened. She grabs a kitchen knife and plunges it into Carol’s abdomen. Carol’s only response is to pull it out, wipe it off, and replace it on the rack. Then she starts to go bonkers, moving and speaking in a loop, taking a cups from the shelf and dropping them on the floor.

In the end Joanna confronts the mastermind of the scheme, Dale “Diz” Coba (Patrick O’Neal) in a mansion used by the Men’s Associatoin. There she enters a room that’s a mock-up of her own bedroom, and she meets her artificial replacement, wearing a blank stare and a see-through nightgown. Every husband’s dream woman. The replacement Joanna advances on her holding a nylon stocking, presumably to be employed as a garrote.

The final scene shows the Stepford Wives, Joanna included, shopping in a grocery market. They are all dressed to perfection, and they move slowly with grace, speaking in soft tones, staring blankly.

Fade to black.

It was a scary movie. The implication is these men are bringing their wives to Stepford, there to have them disposed of and replaced by complacent automatons. Once you get over that hurdle there are more mundane considerations to ponder.

  • Hundreds of men are having their wives murdered, and nobody is getting wise?
  • The children are growing up in this society. What’s going to happen to them?
  • Here is a conspiracy theory on a grand scale, historically a recipe for disaster. A quote from the Russian revolution goes, “When three men sit at a table to plot revolution, two of them are fools, and the third is a police spy.” That has not changed in 100 years.
  • The Eberharts have a runty little dog, and we see him in a cage in the back of a truck, driven supposedly out of town. Where does this fit into the plot?
  • What kind of person wants a wife like that, anyhow?

Before you are too quick to dismiss this kind of attitude, let me tell you that I knew such a person. I worked with him, and once on lunch break we went to where he was purchasing some art. The artist was a woman who worked at home, producing pieces out of copper. One of our party remarked on leaving how amazing it was she was able to do that. My friend remarked he would prefer a clean house.

The same friend watched this movie, rather part of it. He said he quit watching, because it became apparent Joanna was planning on having an affair. He never caught on to the plot that involved men having their wives killed.

Prior to this Ross made a big splash in The Graduate and later in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Her most recent movie was The Hero, released last year.

Unlikely Hero

Yesterday I posted a review of Sergeant York, a movie from 1941 based on the life and war exploits of American soldier Alvin York. The battle action of that film is based on events of 8 October 1918, in the closing days of World War One. During the same week another drama of courage under battle was playing out, and the episode became know as the story of The Lost Battalion. A 2001 TV movie based on this story recounts the events of that horrific week. This is being posted on the 100th anniversary of these events.

The movie played on The History Channel a few years back, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Opening scenes show battalion commander Major Charles White Whittlesey (Rick Schroder), a former New York lawyer now turned soldier. And he is every bit the picture of a New York lawyer. A more stiff and up-tight prig you might never expect to see in the trenches of the Great War. Here is inspecting his troops on the front lines, determination etched in his face. Above ground the war is taking lives. A soldier arriving from no man’s land, wounded and apparently blinded, is shot by a sniper as he steps to the edge of the trench. He falls dead at Whittlesey’s feet. The Major orders others to attend to the body, and he resumes his inspection. He is the picture of unflappability.

Major Whittlesey’s battalion comprises nine companies of the 77th Division, approximately 554 men. They are ordered to advance into the Argonne Forest against unseen German forces. They are supported on the right by two units of the 92nd Infantry Division and on the left by a contingent of French troops. The advance encounters German resistance, and shortly the French and those from the 92nd withdraw, leaving Whittlesey’s men isolated in the woods. Due to lack of communication with the command structure it is some time before Whittlesey finds out they are alone in the woods and completely surrounded by German forces.

His men may have originally been dismissive of Whittlesey, for all his bookish ways, but that presumption quickly vanishes as he remains calm and in complete control throughout the five-day ordeal that is to ensue. Whittlesey and his men engage the Germans and prevent them from taking this critical area in the center.

The Germans are stymied and a bit confused. They cannot figure out why this isolated group of American soldiers does not recognize the inevitable and surrender. They know they must dislodge Whittlesey’s troops or else lose this section of the front.

Attempts to establish communications are unsuccessful. Messengers sent back to the rear are captured or killed by the Germans. Whittlesey’s men are pinned down on an uphill slope facing the Germans. The Germans enjoy the advantage of grazing fire, meaning their guns are able to fire flat from protected positions. Anything a distance above the ground will catch a bullet.

Attempts to obtain water from a stream only result in soldiers getting killed. From time to time the Germans assault Whittlesey’s position, and there is close-quarter fighting. American artillery fire falls on the American position, and the Americans send a critical plea by carrier pigeon telling them to stop firing.

The Germans capture two American soldiers. The German major entices Lieutenant Leak with offers of food and water. The Lieutenant lies to his face, claiming he has no need of such. There was plenty of food and water where he just came from. The German expresses puzzlement at the Americans’ resistance. Leak tells the German what he is dealing with. “What you’re up against, Major, is a bunch of Mick, Dago, Polack and Jew-boy gangsters from New York city: They’ll never surrender.” The German major is left in amazement. His troops are not up against soldiers they are accustomed to fighting. They are up against New York City gangsters.

The American command is unable to locate Whittlesey’s position, and they send a scout plane out to search the woods. The Germans don’t fire on the plane at first, because they don’t want to signal the battle situation to the American command. Whittlesey’s men catch the attention of the pilot, who circles their position on his map. The Germans realize he has located the American troops, so they open fire on the plane. The pilot lands and dies, but his map shows Whittlesey’s location.

The Germans attempt a final assault, using flame throwers. We see close quarter combat as Whittlesey fires his pistol into the face of a German soldier.

After five days the Lost Battalion is relieved with only 194 remaining. The others have been killed or else captured by the Germans. Offered a ride back, Whittlesey declines. He is furious at the lack of support his battalion received, and he responds, “That’s not acceptable, sir. I’ll stay with my men.”

Whittlesey and Captain Nelson M. Holderman were subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor. However, the lingering effects of the ordeal never left Whittlesey. Three years after the ordeal he disappeared and was presumed lost on a ship from New York to Havana.

The line about New York gangsters plays out in another film about another war. In Casablanca Major Heinrich Strasser asks Rick Blaine how he would feel to see German troops in New York. Rick reminds him there are parts of New York City he would not recommend the Germans attempt to invade.

All was for naught. Days after these events the Germans capitulated and the insanity that was the Great War came to an end. It was 100 years ago.

Sergeant York

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I’m posting this on the 100th anniversary of the critical events. On 8 October 1918 Corporal (later Sergeant) Alvin York’s heroic actions and spectacular feats of arms earned him the highest military awards of any American soldier in what is now called World War One. Alvin York never wrote a book, but 22 years later consented to having his story made into a film:

The film was based on the diary of Sergeant Alvin York, as edited by Tom Skeyhill, and adapted by Harry Chandlee, Abem Finkel, John Huston, Howard Koch, and Sam Cowan (uncredited). York refused, several times, to authorize a film version of his life story, but finally yielded to persistent efforts in order to finance the creation of an interdenominational Bible school. The story that York insisted on Gary Cooper for the title role derives from the fact that producer Jesse L. Lasky recruited Cooper by writing a plea that he accept the role and then signed York’s name to the telegram.

Cooper went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal. The film also won for Best Film Editing and was nominated in nine other categories, including Best Picture, Director (Hawks), Supporting Actor (Walter Brennan), and Supporting Actress (Margaret Wycherly). The American Film Institute ranked the film 57th in the its 100 most inspirational American movies. It also rated Alvin York 35th in its list of the top 50 heroes in American cinema.

And the only parts of the story that closely match reality are the battle scenes.

If it’s local color you want, this picture has it. Alvin York was a true hill billy, living in the back woods of Tennessee. We see him first as a hell raising bachelor, riding hard on moonshine and shooting up the countryside. He is nearly 30 years as the movie begins and war comes to the United States. Here we see the mail carrier arriving at Rosier Pile’s country store on a mule singing this:

Froggie went to see the mouse,
Timma ring ting bottom and a ky-mo.
From the well into the house.
Timma ring ting bottom and a ky-mo.

Chorus: Ky-mo nee-ro captain kee-ro bom-a-nishy ky-mo,
Semma nicka bomma nicka flata bony rig
Domma rig tum clatta bona ky-mo.

He took Miss Mousie on his knee,
Timma ring ting bottom and a ky-mo,
And says, “Miss Mouse, will you marry me?”
Timma ring ting bottom and a ky-mo.

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It’s a great rendition. The character’s name is Luke, but I can’t find any credits for him in the movie.

He brings the mail and also the newspaper. There’s a war in Europe, and American is about to get in it.

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The movie shows Alvin York’s path to redemption that begins here at a local target shoot, where he scores spectacularly to win the main prize of a “beef critter.” We see everybody shooting muzzle loading rifles. They also melt the lead and pour their own bullets.

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When a local land owner reneges on a deal York gets drunk and rides through a storm, armed and with murder on his mind. A lightening bolt knocks him down without killing him, and he wanders into a church meeting, where his friend Rosier Pile (Brennan) is the pastor. He makes a religious conversion and adopts strict non-violence.

Non-violence comes into conflict when York is drafted. Pile helps York apply for conscientious exemption status, but the draft board does not recognize York’s status, and he is inducted into the Army. Then the fun begins.

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But first there’s the scene where Alvin York rides off to the induction center on a mule, along with his brother, George (Dickie Moore), leaving his mother (Wycherly) and sister (June Lockhart) behind, wondering what it’s all about.

Sister: Ma, what are they a-fightin’ fer?

Mother York: I don’t rightly know, child.

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And neither does anybody else. The Great War was started for no good reason and grew disproportionately for the worth of those involved.

We see Alvin York saying before he rides off, “I’ll be comin’ back.” If you didn’t already know the outcome of the story, you would be wondering at this time.

We see the Army suspicious of York as a new recruit. His record shows his application for conscientious objector status. They figure him for a weak sister.

Things change when the recruits are issued their rifles. York is a crack shot with a muzzle loader, but the Army doesn’t know this. He marvels at the repeating rifle (likely an Enfield M1917). First time out on the firing range all the recruits are getting their first target practice. His buddy “Pusher” Ross (George Tobias) misses completely with his first shot. Then York takes his first shot, as his instructor looks on with skepticism.

The target markers call York’s shot a miss, as well. York expresses great surprise. The instructor requests a remark. the markers examine the target again and notice a hole in the black circle. The instructor gives York a full clip and York puts the remaining shots close to the center of the ball.

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York attains considerable respect and is employed assisting the other recruits in rifle training. He’s offered a promotion to corporal, but he declines. His captain offers him a week’s leave to reconsider his religious opposition to the war. He takes that and returns with a commitment to fight when necessary. He accepts promotion to corporal, and then he goes to war.

The movie shows little of Yorks early weeks in the war zone (France). We do see the new recruits coming to terms with trench warfare. A buddy, Bert Thomas (David Bruce), is killed by a shell fragment.

Comes the crucial day, 8 October 1918. The Germans will be conceding defeat in 34 days, but they don’t know it yet. On that day his unit goes “over the top,” out of their trenches to attack German positions near “Hill 223.” It’s the classic World War One charge across no-man’s land. American troops are advancing through shell holes and among broken trees. German machine guns are chugging relentlessly. German shells are falling around the advancing American. Men are dying right and left.

Ultimately the charging Americans reach a crisis. Their advance is stopped. They are pinned down among the shell craters. York’s sergeant is ordered to take his platoon and work their way up and knock out the machine gun positions.

The Americans infiltrate into a German trench and kill enemy soldiers in hand-to-hand fighting. Bayonets and hand grenades are the weapons of choice. They realize they have not advanced far enough, and they continue until they are behind the enemy positions. Two German soldiers discover the Americans and alert the others on the front line. It’s too late. By then the Americans are above and behind the German firing positions. They have the drop on a large group of Germans and force them to surrender, including their commander, a major.

After the Americans occupy the German line with their prisoners they are detected by German machine gunners farther up the hill. The machine gunners open up, killing many of the Americans and pinning the rest down. With York’s sergeant badly wounded York becomes the lead NCO. He tells the remaining Americans to guard the prisoners, and he works his way, under fire from the machine guns, to a point where he can out flank the enemy positions.

It’s at this point that York’s marksmanship comes into play. Whenever he can see a German he kills him with a well-placed shot. A scene that is right out of York’s diary shows him taking out a squad of charging Germans with only a pistol. He fires six times and kills all of them.

There’s a small bit of artistic license here. The movie shows York using a captured Luger. Actually he used an Army issue .45 Colt. The problem is the Colt could not handle blank ammunition, but the Luger could. Using rifles and captured pistols, York lays waste to the German positions.

In one instance he positions himself in line with a German trench position and kills them one after the other as each falls in front of him. After many of them have been killed, the Germans lie low while a sharpshooter attempts to get a shot at York. York kills the sharpshooter. They all give up.

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York leads the remainder of the German detachment down the hill to join the other prisoners. He and eight others are the only Americans left standing. Then a German prisoner pulls a grenade and kills “Pusher” Ross. The Americans gun down the prisoner and march the survivors back toward American lines.

Along the way they spot more Germans along a ridge line, and York orders the German major to command them to surrender. He has a pistol pointed at the major. The major tells his bugler to sound the retreat call, and all the Germans on the ridge throw down their weapons and join the parade back to American lines.

I’ve tried to figure out the Germans’ willingness to surrender in this kind of situation, but a look at the back side of the war during this time shows a considerable dip in morale among German troops about this time. They have mostly had their fill of this war. By 11 November it will all be over, and those still alive will be able to go back home.

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Back behind American lines with 132 prisoners, York and his men are greeted with amazement. Eight men bringing in a full company of combat infantry. The word begins to get around. York becomes the talk of the war zone.

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We see General John Pershing awarding now Sergeant York the Medal of Honor. Sergeant York has picked up a number of other awards along the way.

Back home he gets a hero’s welcome and prepares to marry his sweetheart, Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie). Gracie was by then 19 years old. Joan Leslie was 16 years old when she played the part, making her about the age as Gracie at the start of the movie. York insisted the part of Gracie be played by a non-smoking, non-drinking girl, and pickings for this profile were scarce in Hollywood.

Contrary to the movie, Alvin York did not come to religion from an epiphany along a mountain trail. Rather, his conversion began years before the first scenes.

The movie also features Ward BondNoah Beery Jr. and Gig Young as an uncredited marching soldier. Margaret Wycherly started in movies in 1915 and would eight years later play the villainous Ma Jarrett with James Cagney in White Heat. Walter Brennan actually fought in World War One. A gas attack left him with a scratchy voice, and he played codgers of various stripes throughout his acting career. He finished up with how own TV show, a codger to the end.

At the same time Alvin York was involved in the action that earned him the Medal of Honor, Major Charles White Whittlesey, Captain George G. McMurtry, and Captain Nelson M. Holderman were concluding the siege of The Lost Battalion. A TV movie of this World War One drama depicts the five-day ordeal. Today I’m also posting a review of this movie and a recount of this critical battle in the Argonne Forest.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is a strange, but intriguing film. It came out last year, and it’s already streaming on Hulu, where I watched it and obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

The plot centers on a character named Dylan Branson (Michiel Huisman), who lives in Manhattan and works as an air traffic controller at JFK Airport. He bikes to Grand Central Station and takes the train to work at the airport each day. Dylan’s father was an airline pilot, but Dylan ever made that move, because he’s afraid of flying. But one thing about Dylan is that he continually sees patterns in things. He looks to the sky and sees patterns in the stars. Each day, on his way to work, for example, he sees things happing, things repeating from the previous day.

In particular he daily sees people greeting and acting out in the train station, again repeats from before. In particular, when the ornamental clock in the station advances to 2:22, time seems to freeze and strange events take place. Hence the name of the movie, 2:22.

One day while Dylan is at work directing the takeoffs and landings of jet airliners, the time advances to 2:22. For a minute Dylan zones out, and he allows an airliner to clear for takeoff across a runway where another is landing. A co-worker brings him out of it in time for Dylan to instruct the take-off pilot to “Punch it.” A collision is avoided by scant feet.

Aboard the landing aircraft is Sarah (Teresa Palmer), coming to work for an art gallery in Manhattan.

Dylan gets fired from his job, and he meets Susan at a ballet performance. A scorching romance develops.

Jonas (Sam Reid) is Sarah’s ex-boyfriend and also New York City’s rising art star. Dylan attends the opening of Jonas’ hologram presentation, and to his horror the sequence depicts the Grand Central Station scene in his dream. He attacks Jonas, causing Sarah to attempt some distance.

The holograph sequence depicts a triple homicide that occurred years before.

But Sarah can’t let go of her true love for Dylan. In the meantime, Dylan discovers letters hidden in the rafters of his apartment. They are from one of the homicide victims. Dylan tracks down letters from another victim. The two were lovers who were killed in a shootout that also took the life of a police officer.

Jonas is shown as having an unhealthy fascination for Sarah, and he convinces her to go away with him for the weekend. Dylan grows suspicious, and he breaks into Jonas’ apartment and discovers ominous signs in some of his work. He becomes convinced that Jonas is a dangerous character.

Dylan rushes to head off Jonas and Sarah, but his bizarre behavior attracts the attention of the police, who pursue him to the train station. At the train station Jonas orders tickets for the Millhurst Express, leaving at 2:22. It’s a run that was in play at the time of the triple homicide, but which has been discontinued for 30 years.

Sarah grows suspicious, and Jonas reacts menacingly. Dylan arrives and shouts out to Sarah. Jonas pulls out a pistol and aims it at Sarah. Dylan steps in between and takes the bullet. The clock reaches 2:22. The cops arrive and finish off Jonas.

The final scene shows Sarah with their baby watching Dylan head off to work wearing an airline pilot’s uniform.

Yes, it’s a tale told beautifully and dramatically, and it’s a fun watch. But it’s the dictionary definition of “fanciful.” Also there are superfluous plot contrivances that lead nowhere. For example, Dylan takes a cab. He wants to go to Grand Central Station, but the driver becomes flustered by the city’s erratic traffic. Dylan observes the driver is taking them down a path that brings back memories of disaster. He orders the driver to stop, and the driver does. Along comes another car that slams into the side of the cab, upending it. It’s a significant event does not lead to a significant consequence. A total mismatch.

Watch it, anyhow.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This one came out in 2016 from Universal Pictures and is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained the screen shots. It’s Snowden, about the short, eventful, career of Edward Snowden. Details are from Wikipedia. The opening scene shows the closing days of the drama, as renegade NSA contractor Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) approaches Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto), a journalist for The Guardian, and documentarian Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) in an upscale shopping mall in Hong Kong. Snowden is carrying a Rubics cube, by which I interpret he was to be identified. Snowden has left his contract job in Hawaii, taking with him a micro SD card of stolen data. He intends to release it to the world.
There follows a flashback of Snowden’s previous life, beginning with his abortive military career. He trains at Fort Benning, but washes out after breaking both legs.
He finds his niche in the CIA, which takes him on after he demonstrates extraordinary skills in qualifying exams.
From that point through 2012 Snowden moves from working for the CIA to working for Dell on an NSA contract. During this time he becomes aware of computer surveillance of such power it has the ability to snoop on anybody and to ruin peoples lives. Additionally he becomes disenchanted while observing the nonchalance with which combat drone operators accept collateral damage as part of the way of doing business.
Finally, he leaves Dell to work for an NSA contractor in Hawaii, and he uses his access there to load a micro SD card with pilfered data. He smuggles the card out of the facility by hiding it in the Rubics cube.
After the Guardian and Wikileaks publish the data, Snowden becomes a hero to many and a pariah to those who have the power to crush him.
From Hong Kong, Snowden makes his way to Russia, where he remains to this day, unable to travel without a passport that will protect him from the United States Government. Oliver Stone directed this, and he also directed JFK, which famously portrayed the murder of President Kennedy as a vast conspiracy. By that measure we expect to see some of the same kind of treatment here, and we are not disappointed. Snowden is depicted as an earnest and conflicted individual, and there is no doubt that is how he sees himself. A turning point for him, also depicted in the movie, is NSA Director James Clapper’s skirting the issue of gathering data on American citizens. I have previously addressed this:
When all committee members had used their allotted five minutes, Chairman Feinstein opened for a second round of questions on camera before we’d adjourn to the closed hearing. Only Senators Feinstein, Angus King, and Ron Wyden had “round two” questions, hers on Hezbollah and Senator King’s on extremism in North Africa. Senator Wyden’s seemed to come out of left field: And this is for you, Director Clapper—again, on the surveillance front. And I hope we can do this in just a yes or no answer, because I know Senator Feinstein wants to move on. Last summer, the NSA director was at a conference and he was asked a question about the NSA surveillance of Americans. He replied, and I quote here, ‘‘The story that we have millions, or hundreds of millions, of dossiers on people is completely false.’’ The reason I’m asking the question is, having served on the committee now for a dozen years, I don’t really know what a dossier is in this context. So what I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions, of Americans?   Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 207). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
The movie depicts Snowden as a prime mover and shaker in the cyber intelligence business, and indications are that he had some credible chops. Wikipedia indicates he tested about a 145 IQ, which is about par for a Ph.D. candidate, but not stratospheric. The movie shows him stealing his trove of data while working in Hawaii, but indications are he obtained the major part of his load before going there. I watched this drama play out five years ago and saw (still do) Snowden as a self-appointed majority of one. Nothing much has come down the pike since to dispel my notion.