Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here comes the fatal pitch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Awful Truth

Number 4 in a Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workers scoop up bundles and bind them for distribution.

Workers at the dock load the bundles onto trucks.

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

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

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

Katherine wanders the newsroom, fretting over the consequences.

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

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

The Supreme Court takes the case immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Times have changed:

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

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

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

It’s been more than two years since I signed up for Amazon Prime Video, priming myself to catch a few old movies I have not seen in decades. There are two I have been especially on the lookout for, one being Working Girl, starring Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford. This one is Baby Boom, with Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard. It came out in 1987 from United Artists. Screen shots are from Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

The title is, of course, from the period following the end of World War Two. A bunch of people put off procreating during the war—besides, a few million American males were off fighting Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo, and they weren’t getting much nookie. When the soldiers came home, and the wartime economic sanctions ended, people began making up for lost time. The result was the Baby Boom, a population explosion that is only now subsiding.

However, this is a different story. It’s about feminism in the work place, where, 30 years ago at least, women were finding their way into the work place, even the upper reaches. This story is loaded with lessons about conflicting career with family. Men, of course, are excepted from this conundrum. As one male character in the story—the big boss—says, he can have it all. He works a never-ending treadmill, creating wealth and moving into the business stratosphere. Meanwhile, his faithful (we hope) wife is managing his living side—home, community, children. He may not actually know how many children he has.

J.C. Wiatt (Keaton) is a woman who believes she can have it all. She is a human dynamo, a high-level management consultant at an upper west side Manhattan concern. She is often referred to as “Tiger Lady.”

Her love life is as structured and as spare as one of her management reports. She lives, unmarried, with an investment broker. Their sexual encounters are unspontaneous and brief. Her life is about to change.

J.C. is on track for partnership and is given to opportunity to haul in a massive food distribution company as a client. Then a phone call arrives in  the middle of the night, and the next morning she is at the airport to take delivery on the inheritance from a distant cousin. It’s a baby, Elizabeth (Kristina & Michelle Kennedy), and J.C. is the only surviving  heir.

Truth be, Elizabeth is a huge water balloon dropped into the midst of J.C.’s career prospects. Here is a woman who barely has time for a roll in the hay with her boyfriend, and Elizabeth is going to suck up every second of J.C.’s spare time and also carve a gaping hole in her career prospects. Realizing the only way to avoid drowning in this whirlpool, J.C. decides her salvation requires dumping dear Elizabeth onto somebody else.

The adoption papers J.C. signed give her the option of shedding this sweet child through adoption. At the critical moment, J.C.’s iron will caves to her humanity. She sees the kind of soulless parents about to take Elizabeth off to Minnesota, and she reneges on the deal. Elizabeth is going to be hers forever.

Of course, that sinks J.C.’s career. Although she snags the fat and juicy client, her boss back-shelves her and gives the account to a back-stabbing subordinate. J.C. responds by purchasing a Vermont country home and taking Elizabeth to live in the upper reaches.

We all know that is not going to work out. The country estate turns out to be a money pit, purchased well above market value. J.C.’s woes come to a head when the local handyman announces her well, the place’s sole source of water, has run dry. Here she loses it completely, going into a rage, and collapsing face up in the snow.

When she wakes she is looking into the wise and kind face of Dr. Jeff Cooper. Dr. Cooper’s warm and caring manner decompresses J.C., and she unloads all her troubles on him, including her lack of sex for the past six months. Only then does she discover Dr. Cooper is a veterinarian, not an M.D. She is so furious at this humiliating herself, that she vents her rage on Cooper, subsequently rebuffing all his attempts at friendship and more.

But, during the time before Vermont turned into a vast snowfield, J.C. has amused herself by harvesting the estate’s generous crop of apples. Now, with nothing left to do in the winter, she gins up a formula for gourmet apple sauce for Elizabeth. Then she realizes a business opportunity and begins to market gourmet baby food. Using her deep marketing skills, J.C. launches Country Baby, which quickly becomes a market challenge.

Meanwhile, romance is building with Dr. Cooper, and J.C.’s sex-free life comes to an end. This spiritual bliss is intruded upon by a phone call from her previous employer. The giant food distributor wants to purchase Country Baby, and J.C. drives back to New York City to look over the offer. It is grand beyond compare. $3.5 million cash purchase price, plus a juicy position for J.C. in the corporation with perks that would make Donald J. Trump salivate.

And she turns it all down. She drives back to Vermont, back to Elizabeth, back to setting her own pace, far from the towers and canyons of Manhattan, and back to the bed of Dr. Jeff Cooper. We know as the end titles roll that another baby boom is in the making.

What a sweet story, but there is a lot that’s wrong with the story. Some enumeration:

  1. J.C. Wiatt is supposed to be a top-of-the-class business executive, yet opening scenes reveal a school girl response to  being offered a partnership. Whatever happened to  Tiger Lady?
  2. She meets the envoy from London, bringing Elizabeth into the country, and she signs the transfer papers without reading them and not realizing she is taking charge of a baby. Does a hard-nosed business person ever miss fine details such as these?
  3. We watch in dismay as J.C. fumbles again and again as she attempts, in  vain, to manage the baby and her career. Any working parent standing on the sidelines could have advised her, hire a qualified governess right now. Instead, we see J.C., famous for requiring subordinates to cancel social plans and work through the weekend, needlessly sacrificing attention to her work in order to personally manage Elizabeth. To be sure, this is a major part of the story. It’s a real life woman, an actual human being, whose parenting instincts come immediately to  the surface when faced with the circumstances.
  4. She purchases this estate out in Vermont, sight unseen. Can anybody believe this? I’m a fumbling engineer, but I would never make a major purchase such as this without a first-hand look and a professional appraisal.
  5. I watched the progress of time. The story starts during the summer when Elizabeth enters as a one-year-old baby. Then there is the first winter in Vermont. Then there is spring, as we see the apple trees blossoming again. Then there is another apple harvest, which takes us to another autumn. Now J.C. starts her company. Now we see the company growing. Time must be passing by. And Elizabeth does not seem to get that much older. Elizabeth was played by twin girls over a 5-month shoot. Anybody who has watched a daughter grow up will recognize the time warp that intrudes into this plot.

Anyhow, this is a nice morality play. The real things in life are those that are close to the heart, and as an engineer I use the word “heart” figuratively.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is currently streaming on Hulu, and I avoided watching it, because I knew what it was going to be about. It’s Parkland, from 2013, produced in part by Tom Hanks through American Film Company
Playtone, and distributed by Exclusive Media Group. The screen shots are from Hulu. Details are from Wikipedia.

Parkland, as everybody who lived in Dallas knows, stands for Parkland Memorial Hospital, the Dallas County hospital. It’s the public service hospital for the county, where you go if you’re having a baby, and you can’t afford medical care. It’s supported by a county-wide tax, but people from neighboring counties make use of the facility. It’s where they took President Kennedy when he was shot a few blocks away in November 1963. And that’s what this story is about, but not all the events take place there.

22 November 1963 dawns like any other day, much as did 7 December 1941 and 11 September 2001. People are going about their business, not realizing that shortly their lives are going to be upended. Dr. Charles James Carrico (Zac Efron) is preparing to start his day as resident, meaning the go-to doctor of the day. He is soon to receive the most important patient in the world.

Everybody knows that President Kennedy will be in Dallas this Friday. People are making preparations. The President has spent the night in Fort Worth, about 35 miles to the west. He will fly into  Dallas Love Field in the lat morning and will tour through downtown about noon.

Among those getting ready is Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), who has his 8mm movie camera and is looking for an elevated spot to get a good view.

The plot move quickly, and Mr. Zapruder watches through his viewfinder as the history of the 20th century pivots. The stricken President is driven directly to Parkland.

Shocked at seeing the most important person on the planet lying, likely already dead, on his operating table, Dr. Carrico has to be coaxed to commence the fruitless task. We see the awful conclusion as Jackqueline Kennedy reacts to the fatal pronouncement.

Everybody already knows the main plot, but this film dwells on the back story, the people not in the news that day. As news announcements disclose that Lee Harvey Oswald has been arrested after murdering a cop in south Dallas (Oak Hill), his brother Robert (James Badge Dale) hears the news at work. He leaves immediately, his life in Dallas at an end.

Reaction to the murder among law enforcement officials is swift and wrought with recrimination. Lee Oswald had been a known trouble maker, and nobody had been able to prevent his getting at the President.

Law enforcement is about to be further embarrassed, as Oswald is murdered while in police custody. Dr. Carrico loses the second most important patient on the planet.

The following Monday a state funeral is held for President Kennedy, with the symbolic empty saddle and burial at Arlington Cemetery. Robert is left to bury his brother in a donated grave site. No pallbearers are available, and news photographers volunteer. As Robert begins the task of shoveling dirt over Lee’s coffin, workers standing by pitch in to help.

It is all over, and the world goes on.

The seamy underside of the historic event is played out.

Government officials prepare to load the President’s body onto Air Force One, but the county coroner objects. The law requires an autopsy before the body can  be released. This is a murder case. The Secret Service has the guns, and the coroner is overruled, this following a physical struggle.

Abraham Zapruder realizes he has world history inside his camera, and he takes it to the Dallas Morning News. They realize they can’t develop the 8mm, so they recommend the Kodak lab north of Love Field, a place I have used. The lab does not normally process 8mm, but the task is assigned to a specialist at the lab, who develops the film, making copies for Zapruder, the Secret Service, and the FBI. Zapruder is immediately set upon by hoards of media outlets, bidding for the priceless cargo. He ignores the ringing of his phone until he finally picks it up. Life magazine is calling, and he grants them an audience, because he respects the publication. As Zapruder, in his office at work, sets conditions for use of the images (no shots of the President’s head exploding from the impact of a bullet), people outside his office are pounding on the door and slipping offers in writing under the door.

We see Robert visiting his brother in jail and speaking to him by phone through a glass partition. Afterward the police wonder what was said. It is not realistic such a conversation would have been private.

The police advise Robert to move away from Dallas and to change his name, which he does.

Lee Oswald’s mother is shown as a shrewish bitch, convinced Lee is innocent and the victim of a conspiracy. She boasts of the expected wealth to come her way from her son’s notoriety, this before Lee is murdered.

Some historical accuracy is lacking. An account published shortly after tells of the scene in the Parkland emergency room. The doctor worked on Kennedy’s frontal injuries before turning the body over. He saw the massive head wound and only then realized it was “incompatible with life.” The film does not show this bit.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This one has been streaming on Hulu for several weeks, and I’ve been ignoring it, because I saw it decades ago. I once had a VHS copy. I wasn’t keen on watching it again, because it is way too sweet, but this is Bad Movie Wednesday, so here it goes. It’s Regarding Henry, featuring  Harrison Ford in the title role. It’s from Paramount Pictures in 1991, so everybody was a lot younger then. Screen shots are courtesy of Hulu. Details are from Wikipedia.

Henry Turner is a cut-throat lawyer working for a cut-throat law firm, and we see him winning his last court case. He defends a hospital against a Mr. Matthews, who we can surmise received careless treatment. The hospital contends Matthews never advised staff he was diabetic, resulting in injuries for which that institution is being sued. Henry convinces the jury that, despite counter claims, the problem lies with the plaintiff and not with his client. Henry and his law office fellows celebrate with a nice dinner that evening.

Henry is not a nice man. He is stern abrupt, and domineering at the office and much the same at home. We see him reprimanding his sweet daughter Rachel (Mikki Allen) before going out to dinner.

Henry’s life turns 180° after dinner when he steps out to the local convenience store for some cigarettes. He walks in on an armed robbery in progress and gets gunned down.

One of the shots hits an artery, and Henry suffers irreparable brain damage. Recover is going to be slow and improbable. In the rehab center he meets physical therapist Bradley (Bill Nunn), the man who is going to save his life.

A good part of the movie depicts Bradley working diligently and gradually pulling Henry back from the brink.

Then Henry is back home with his lovely wife Sarah (Annette Bening), and they re-engage with their high-flying friends. A lapse of caution reveals the insincerity and shallowness of their erstwhile friends, and Henry and Sarah withdraw into their own world.

The two resurrect their former love for each other.

Back at his law firm, Henry reviews the Matthews case and realizes his team withheld evidence that substantiates the defendant’s claim. At home Henry discovers a love note his business partner previously sent to Sarah and realizes the two had been going at it behind his back. A former lover at the law firm discloses to Henry they, too, had been messing around. Henry delivers the crucial evidence to Matthews, and when he returns to his law office to say goodbye a call comes in from Matthews’ lawyer.

Henry reconciles with Sarah, and they drive up the the swanky boarding school where they previously parked their daughter, and they take her home. The three are going to be a family again.

And that is really too sweet.

The movie starts with a real shocker, as we see the star player getting shot in the head and the chest. We’re thinking this is going to be a short movie.

Then there is the rehabilitation, which seems  a bit strange. Henry starts out unable to speak and barely able to move. Bradley goads him on, putting hot sauce on his breakfast eggs to get a reaction out of him. From that point on Henry’s recovery is remarkably swift, barely months later he can stroll down Manhattan streets on his own.

After his injury Henry loses all memory of people. He has to learn everybody’s name. His daughter has to teach him how to read again. Yet he recalls the Matthews case and has the appropriate file pulled. He seems to recall the essential  elements of legal practice. That is amazing.

It is really not clear why Henry’s law firm accepts him back when it’s obvious he will not be able to  practice law. Most likely a law review board somewhere would want to examine him before they allow him to represent clients again.

Henry’s law partner sent Sarah a love note, and she kept it around for Henry to find in the apartment. Dudettes, this is an absolute no-no.

We saw Bening five years later as the President’s girlfriend in The American President, where she was absolutely stunning, turning in a stellar performance. A lot of cold water had to be thrown on Indiana Jones to get Henry Turner for this movie. There is a long stretch during which we wonder if he’s going to get a speaking part.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

After Tom Hanks made Splash and became famous for Bachelor Party and The Man with One Red Shoe, he went on to star in classics like Turner & Hooch and The Bonfire of the Vanities. Then suddenly he was at the top of the heap after scoring the best actor Oscar two years in a row with Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. About that time I figure he made a bet, something like, “If I don’t get the Oscar for Apollo 13, then I promise to sign up for any number of wacky movies you want me to do. But first I have to do Saving Private RyanThe Green Mile, and Road to Perdition.” Recently the winner of that bet appears to be calling in his marker, because we have seen Hanks star in such downers as The Circle (previously reviewed) and now this one, A Hologram for the King, currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. This came out two years ago, almost to the day, released through Lionsgate. I’m getting details from Wikipedia.

I am not going to regurgitate the plot, just explain some of the movie to let you know what you’re in store for if you decide to watch. The intro shows Hanks explaining modern life. Everything you thought would be guaranteed turns out to be illusionary. You get what life deals you.

What life deals Alan Clay (Hanks) is a dead-end assignment to sell a high-tech presentation tool to the Saudi government. Never is culture shock more brutally presented than when Clay wakes up late in his Jeddah hotel room, having missed his ride to the site of the sales presentation, a desolate camp miles out in the desert, where the fabulously rich Saudis are constructing a city of one million people from scratch. Out on the street in front of his hotel he is obviously the odd man out.

But Clay is, if nothing, self-reliant and  resourceful, and he engages a local driver, Yousef (Alexander Black), to be his guide. The adventure begins.

Out at the remote site he finds his staff already ensconced in a stadium-sized tent, remote from the main building and lacking the basics: food, water, Internet connectivity. He strives to bring things together, successfully, but all the while enduring what is obviously a royal run-around.

His problems worsen as he discovers a prominent cyst on his spine.

That brings him into contact with a sharp-looking doctor, Zahra (Sarita Choudhury), who treats him and removes the cyst in surgery. Clay is divorced, and Zahra is in the process of divorcing her husband. Things get interesting.

The plot drifts a bit as Yousef becomes convinced he is being targeted by a wealthy adversary and needs to retreat to his home territory, far from other civilization. Clay tags along. This adventure includes being challenged by a local jihadi, who becomes convinced Clay works for the CIA. There is also an episode that involves stalking wolves at night with a sniper’s rifle. Soon the main plot is rejoined.

Due to Clay’s management skills the sales demonstration goes off flawlessly, and the king is impressed.

Previously Clay has explained how he worked for Schwinn in America, where he sought to reduce production costs by moving manufacturing operations to China. Unfortunately the Chinese copied his company’s designs and started producing their own bicycles at a fraction of the cost.  Now the Chinese win this contract, bringing the project in at half the price and with a shorter schedule.

Clay ends up in bed with the doctor and begins a new career in Jeddah, where he is going to spend a whole bunch of time with his new love.

I’m not going to diagnose the plot further. If you enjoy a tale of frustration and redemption, then you may want to  give it a look. It’s based on the book of the same name by Dave Eggers. the Kindle edition is $12 plus tax.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I watched this stream on Netflix last year, but I did not have a copy for review. It is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia. It’s Eye in the Sky from 2016 out of Entertainment One and Raindog Films. It’s about drone warfare, and it wants you to think through the morality of remote control combat. We shall see.

The war is in Nairobi in Kenya, where some terrorists are making plans to carry out a suicide bomb attack within the city. We see a dusty neighborhood where life struggles for normality despite a desperate tension barely beneath the surface. Here we see a father, Musa Mo’Allim (Armaan Haggio), prepare a hula hoop for his daughter Alia (Aisha Takow). Due to her unquestioned innocence, she is  to be the plot’s central theme, the collateral sacrifice in the pursuit of a higher goals.

It is  morning, and a Reaper (Predator) drone is overhead, monitoring the activities of a terrorist group in Alia’s neighborhood, a poor section of this major city

Thousands of miles away in England the sun is just coming up, and a woman prepares for a day at work. She is “Colonel Katherine Powell, a UK military intelligence officer” (Helen Mirren). This scene is pivotal in portraying an aspect of modern war. Increasingly war is not up close and personal.

The Reaper relentlessly flies its mission, possibly unnoticed by those on the ground.

The center of attention is a particular room in a particular building in Alia’s neighborhood. Inside the room combatants in an unsymmetrical war are preparing to strike at their enemy, which is assumed to be Western style civilization. A man sits for a martyr’s video, which will be dispensed after he has completed his deadly mission.

Outside in the adjacent streets, counter forces are quietly marshaled. Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) is an undercover Kenyan NIS agent monitoring events close up. Not explained is why Kenyan government forces cannot move in and neutralized the growing threat. We see Jama constantly in danger of being comprised by the gang of insurgents who permeate the area.

Tiny drones with audio and video capability penetrate the terrorists’ complex and obtain information that turns the mission from the capture of two operatives to interdiction with prejudice of the suicide bombing.

The film emphasizes the dispersion of command and control and also the attached bureaucracy involved. Disparate locations involved in the operation include an American base in Nevada and various other points on the globe where official approval must come from traveling officials. The need to observe strict niceties of killing produces a mad scramble to cross all the ‘t’s and to dot all the ‘i’s before an innocent girl’s life is put in jeopardy.

Tension builds as Alia takes loaves of bread her mother has baked and sells them in the street adjacent to the drone target. When Jama attempts to resolve the situation by purchasing her remaining loaves, it only encourages Alia, who brings more bread from home.

The final scenes show the targeting reticle centered on the bomber’s room as Alia completes her last sale and prepares to depart. The Hellfire missile strikes the building, flinging parts into the air and upending the white car. Alia’s small body is crushed by the debris, and she dies shortly after in a hospital. The bomber thread has been neutralized, hundreds of innocent Kenyan citizens have been saved, and modern warfare has done its job.

The obvious theme is the impersonality of modern warfare, and underlying that is the perception of drone attacks as somehow unsporting. In olden days fighting men faced each other with clubs and axes. Then smarter men figured that placing a point on the end of a long stick allowed them to kill the enemy while remaining beyond the swing of the ax. Spears and then arrows proved even better. Then came the gun, fired from the hand or the shoulder or launching deadly projectiles from miles away. Aircraft introduced an entirely new dimension to remote killing. First came bombs dropped from airships, then attacks with guns and bombs from airplanes. The atomic bomb, later coupled with the guided missile, today disconnects the assailant completely from his target. Modern missiles mean there is no more “going downtown.” Still the drone is viewed by some as a criminal instrument of war. The movie wants to remind us of that.

Beyond that, the movie takes some liberties, the destruction of the terrorists’ hideout being one of them. The drone fires a Hellfire missile into the house. The Hellfire has at most an 18-pound warhead. Yet we see a car parked outside the house being flipped in the air. No. Just no.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This one has been streaming on Hulu for a while, and I finally decided it was necessary to see it. It’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. , and it is going to  take two hours and 45 minutes out of your life. Since I never read anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald, I’m going to struggle explaining the story.  This was distributed by Paramount and Warner Brothers, as the title sequence shows, and if you want to  see these logos as you have never seen them before, then you need to watch this. Not fully comprehending it all, here is my overview of the story.

An old woman is dying, and, as this is a story about life from birth to death, several actors play the part, the main one for Daisy Fuller being Cate Blanchett. She tells the story while her daughter reads Benjamin Button’s journal.

During World War One a clock maker and his wife sent a son off to war, and a coffin came back. The clock maker buried his son, and he worked tirelessly on a clock. The clock was activated in the train station on the day the war ended, and it ran backwards, to the amazement of all. The clock maker explained this was the only way we could bring back those we had thrown away.

On the same day a New Orleans industrialist’s wife died giving birth to their baby, but the baby was so grotesque, withered like an old man, that the father snatched the infant and carried him away, with the idea of tossing the creature into the river. Instead, he left the baby on the steps of an old-folks home, where a black woman who worked there took him in and raised him.

We watch as Benjamin matures, at first confined to a wheel chair as a crippled old man, but becoming younger and stronger as he matures. At a religious revival the faith-healing preacher encourages him to walk on  his own, and since he has actually grown younger and less inform, he can, indeed, walk.

Benjamin grows healthier and younger, and he takes a job on an ocean-going tug, where the world-wise captain teaches him the ways of the world.

World War Two comes, and the tug joins the war on the east coast, where German submarines are sinking United States ships. In a horrific encounter at night, the tug rams and sinks a U-boat that has torpedoed a troop carrier, and all on the tug except Benjamin are killed in an exchange of fire with the sub.

Back to Benjamin at the retirement home. He is already sexually accomplished when he meets Daisy at the retirement home. They meet again and again throughout the story, he growing less mature and she more.

She becomes an accomplished ballerina, pursued by hot and cold lovers until an accident with a Paris taxi cab ends her career. In the meantime, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng) has acknowledge his son to bestow his inheritance.

Benjamin and Daisy become long-time lovers, and  they have a child. Daisy grows older, and Benjamin grows younger, and they part.

In the end an aging Daisy cares for Benjamin as he regresses to infancy and becomes unborn (dead).

F. Scott Fitzgerald notwithstanding, the setting seems to be 2005 New Orleans, and as Hurricane Katrina rages outside, Daisy (apparently) dies, and the movie ends.

Of course there is a lot odd with this movie, aside from retrograde aging. Up front we see the clock maker’s son arriving home in a coffin. I feel fairly sure no American bodies were brought home from the war until possibly it was all over, and this part is curious.

Also curious is the end of Benjamin Button. He begins life as an infant with the body of an old man. When it comes time for Benjamin to die it is necessary to shrink him to the body of a youth, a child, and finally as a newborn infant. Yeah, right. Even some of the wackiest fantasy writers would have trouble with that concept. At what point does Benjamin die? Does he die at the point he should have been exiting the womb, or does he die, as pro-lifers would assert, at the point that the male sperm exits the egg? It’s troubling to say that this is the really weird part of the movie.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Yeah, Amazon Prime Video. Thanks again for another Bad Movie of the Week. This is Underworld Scandal from 1948, by Pine-Thomas Productions and distributed by Paramount. I was seven years old when this came out, and I do not recall watching it at the Palace Theater on the town square in Granbury, Texas, at the time. Images are screen shots from the streaming, and details are from Wikipedia.

First off, congratulations are in order for whoever came up with the title. I mean, back then if somebody had dropped by to visit me in class in the second grade and asked me to suggest a title for a movie about a bunch of teenagers who get in trouble with the law, are paroled into  a junior league basketball team, and then get into trouble with the law again, then Underworld Scandal would have been my first choice. It was somebody’s second choice, because the working title is now Big Town Scandal.

“Big Town” refers to the name of the city where all  the action takes place, and the reason for the name is not clear, because from all appearances this is a city on the order of Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Apparently 70 years ago there was an aversion to using real location names in movie plots.

Anyhow, the kids are caught boosting sporting goods, including a basketball, from a store that is for some reason closed at night. Rather than sending these first-offenders off to youth boot camp, the judge agrees to parole them to a newspaper magnate, who proposes to enroll them into the aforementioned junior team to keep them out of trouble.

And here they are, practicing for a season of serious play.

However, and this is where the movie gets interesting, one of the kids, Tommy Malone (Stanley Clements), has a crooked friend, Joe Moreley (John Phillips), who gives Tommy a  ride in his “new” car. He lets Tommy drive. He lets Tommy drive before revealing the car is “hot” about the time the police give chase.

Joe bails, and Tommy eludes the police by parking in the building where the basketball team trains. There he discovers the hot car has a load of hot furs in the trunk. Rather than blowing the scheme wide open, Tommy demands a cut of the action, and we soon see Tommy rolling in the green and showering his girlfriend, Marion Harrison (Donna Martell) with fine gifts. As the gangsters’ grips tightens they coerce Tommy, the star player, into  throwing a game.

Right here is where my brain falls off a cliff. This is junior league basketball, played in run-down venues with less than sellout crowds of about 100. And gangsters are boosting bets in thousands of dollars? No. Just no.

But, one of the team members gets wise, and he blows Tommy’s scheme to the others.

The team members decide to make things right and to return the stolen furs. But first they need to break into  the places where the furs were stolen, and one of the kids, John ‘Pinky’ Jones (Roland Dupree) gets shot by the police. He dies. Tommy and the others get away.

The police have Pinky’s fingerprints from the store and also Tommy’s, but they have not yet connected the prints to Tommy as the team plays the final game of the movie. Tommy has been ordered to throw the game, but the first half shows he is rebuffing the offer, as he and his team stretch a lead over the Giants at half time.

That’s when Joe lets Tommy know that a gun will be pointed at sweet Marion during the game. Tommy’s performance drops, and the Giants pull ahead. Then Tommy has a change of heart, and with seconds to go the Big Town Big Shots are trailing by a single point. The crooks decide to end the suspense, and a pistol shot from the stands takes Tommy down, just as he tosses the winning basket.

The police charge after the gangsters, and a fierce firefight erupts in the stands. One of the gangsters goes down, but another is getting away. Waldo ‘Dum Dum’ Riggs (Tommy Bond) can neither hear nor speak, but he could possibly make a living predicting the future. Seeing events unfold in the stands, he climbs a rope and positions himself. As the crook attempts to get by, Waldo swings by the rope, knocking the crook onto the playing floor. Eat your heart out, Errol Flynn.

Tommy is going to do some time, but Marion is going to wait for him. The team’s sponsors, newspaper folks Steve Wilson (Phillip Reed) and Lorelei Kilbourne (Hillary Brooke) decide to hook up, and the movie ends with their looking toward some serious sack time.

Yes, this movie is going to chew up slightly less than an hour of the remaining time you have  on this planet, so you might want to catch it on Amazon. Or you can watch on YouTube, where it is currently streaming for free.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Thanks again to Ana for lending me the DVD. This is a very watchable movie, afflicted with but a few historical omissions. It’s Darkest Hour, featuring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill (later Sir Winston Churchill), British Prime Minister during the bulk of World War Two. It’s about Great Britain’s darkest hour, when the main body of the British Army became trapped on the French coast by the Wehrmacht and threatened with annihilation. The very existence of the nation was at stake. This was released last year by Focus Features and Universal Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia and also from Churchill’s book Their Finest Hour.

The events of May and early June 1940 were critical, and the movie marches viewers through the period, beginning with the 9th of May, just before the dam burst. I do not recall following these events in the news. Apparently I was gestating somewhere in Hood County, Texas, at the time. I have since made up for this oversight by reading the history.

As the movie portrays, in response to Germany’s invasion of Poland, following a litany of offenses and double-dealing by the Nazi state, the British and the French decided they must make war on Germany, and hostilities commenced on 3 September in 1939. Then nothing much happened for months, except that the British warned other countries they would be next after Poland, following which said countries sat still and prayed for forbearance while Germany’s Chancellor Adolf Hitler continued his grand plan by invading and quickly conquering Norway and Denmark before setting his sights on The Netherlands and Belgium. Yes, also—seldom mentioned—Luxembourg, as well.

The 9th was calm on the continent. The Germans were preparing to launch their attack on The Netherlands and Belgium. On the other side of the Channel was turmoil. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who had for months negotiated away the Allies’ (Great Britain and France) power against Hitler, was now in tremendous disfavor. At a tumultuous Commons meeting there are savage calls for him to resign. He sweats. Not known to the many is that Chamberlain is dying. He has terminal cancer, and he will not live out the year.

As friends and adversaries of Chamberlain gloat on Chamberlain’s agony somebody asks the pregnant question, “Where’s Churchill?” The response is, “Making sure his fingerprints are not on  the knife.”

Chamberlain goes to  King George VI and announces he is dissolving the government. The King must approve a new Prime Minister.

Churchill, at the moment unpopular for the failed Norway campaign and historically for his failed Gallipolli Campaign from the previous war, secludes himself at Chartwell, his country home. A stenographer/typist comes to work for him. She is Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), and she finds the assignment daunting. Churchill is a demanding overlord, requiring complete subservience and attention to detail. She strives mightily, but she is not up to the task. After a few minutes Churchill orders her to leave.

But… But outside, preparing to go, she accepts a telegram from a dispatch rider. It’s from the Palace, and it requests Mr. Churchill come see the King. Elizabeth remains Churchill’s secretary for the remainder of the war.

A theme of the movie is the interplay between two polar opposites. Clementine Churchill (Kristin Scott Thomas) is charming and level-headed, while Winston is impetuous and bombastic. You get the idea that at one time the fate of a nation hung on this dynamic.

This is a part I find unfamiliar. The British TV series The World at War recounts a critical interchange not exploited in the movie. J.R. Colville was Chamberlain’s private secretary at the time, and he tells of a meeting. Edward Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax was the logical successor to Chamberlain, but no peer had been Prime Minister for nearly 40 years. Chamberlain asked Churchill and Halifax to join him in the cabinet room, and he put Churchill on the spot. He asked Churchill point-blank whether, in the 20th century, the Prime Minister should not be from the House of Lords. If Churchill answered there should be no reason why not, then Chamberlain would immediately recommend Halifax to the King. If Churchill responded in the contrary, then there would be only one obvious choice, and that would be himself. Churchill did not respond. He turned and stared out the window.

Chamberlain recommended Churchill to George VI, and the course of history was set. To bad the movie does not capture that meeting. Here are Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) at the critical moment.

Churchill responds to the cable from the Palace and accepts with true British grace.

The war on the Continent split completely open on 10 May, Churchill’s first day on  the job, and the movie posts periodic reminders as the calender advances toward the darkest hour. By 26 May the combined British and French force were solidly trapped at Dunkirk on the Channel coast, and a smaller contingent of Allied troops was similarly trapped at the coastal town of Calais, the narrowest point in the Channel.

We see Churchill standing ground as opposition within Parliament demands he seek terms with the Germans, Benito Mussolini acting as an intermediary. This is abhorrent to Churchill, a war hero from the 19th century and about the only person in Great Britain who constantly challenged Hitler’s rise to power. Churchill sees, as in the actual history, that a brokered peace with Hitler will be yet another of the dictator’s traps, proclaiming the British should expect to soon see the swastika flying over Piccadilly Circus.

Churchill is at his lowest point, seeing absolutely no support in Parliament. Then Clementine announces a visitor, George VI has come to call. This is one of those knock-you-over-with-a-feather moments. The King is of a like mind with Churchill, and he promises his full support. It’s now up to Churchill.

Inspiration comes when Churchill is forced to ride the Underground to a Parliament meeting. He is alone with British subjects, and they reveal they are of the same mind as he. They say they will fight to the end, and they will never give up.

Churchill gathers members of Parliament in the cabinet room and relates his encounter and the sentiment of the people. Those in attendance rally behind him. Elizabeth must now help him with his Parliament speech. He dominates, getting almost complete support from Parliament. Great Britain will fight, and the Axis forces will be defeated. Churchill’s speeches are for all history.

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight in the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air; we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender; and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might. steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old.

Churchill, Winston. Their Finest Hour (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) (Kindle Locations 1726-1732). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

“What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say: ‘This was their finest hour.’

Churchill, Winston. Their Finest Hour (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) (Kindle Locations 3356-3363). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Churchill orders a flotilla of small boats to assist in the rescue of Allied forces at Dunkirk. In the meantime he orders the contingent at Calais to sacrifice itself to  stall the Germans. We witness the destruction of that force by Luftwaffe bombers. Elizabeth’s brother is one of those trapped at Calais. The story of the Dunkirk evacuation is told in last week’s movie.

The movie reminds us the Dunkirk force was largely saved to fight again and that less than five years later Hitler was dead and Nazi Germany was defeated.

The movie gives the impression the Calais force was wiped out, but the outcome was not as grim. 300 British soldiers were killed, 200 wounded (evacuated), 3,500 captured. 16,000 French, Belgian, and Dutch were captured.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This came out last year and depicts a historical event. It’s Dunkirk, “written, directed, and produced by Christopher Nolan.” Of course, it’s the story of the evacuation of the defeated English and French armies from the coastal town of Dunkirk. It was produced by Syncopy, Inc., and distributed by Warner Brothers. These screen shots are from the DVD, and details are from Wikipedia.

Following a complete military collapse in May 1940, the Allied armies in northern France retreated to the Channel Coast, and the Germans closed in. The evacuation of some 338,000 soldiers occurred from 26 May to 4 June. All military equipment carried by Allied troops, including even most small arms, was abandoned. The Germans took the surviving troops prisoner, about one-seventh of the number evacuated.

The movie is beautifully photographed, and directing was masterful—reflecting the grim reality of the enterprise. However, the movie has little success at encompassing the magnitude of the event, and time compression destroys continuity. Here is a brief look at the flow of the plot.

British soldiers are seen being bombarded with leaflets from German planes, explaining the hopeless of the Allied position, and urging immediate surrender.

Immediately following, these troops come under attack from Germans, who have overtaken them. With no opportunity to establish a line of defense, the British troops race for safety as one after another is gunned down. Only one escapes.

In the meantime the RAF is providing cover for the evacuation, taking on German fighters and bombers plus some German surface units.

The British soldier who survived the attack in the Dunkirk street arrives at the beach to confront interminably long lines of troops waiting to  board rescue vessels.

Small boats from England make ready and cross the Channel to aid in the rescue. One, a teenage boy (Tom Glynn-Carney), joins his father, who has already lost a son in the war. The boy will not return alive.

The crew of the small boat rescues a British survivor from an overturned ship. The survivor is mad from battle fatigue, and he subsequently kills the teenage boy in a fit of rage.

Ships at dock-side and ships at sea are attacked and sunk. We see trapped soldiers attempting to escape their sinking vessels.

An RAF pilot crashes into the sea and barely escapes his sinking fighter.

The end draws near, and survivors board trains in England to rejoin their units. At a stop they purchase newspapers headlining their exploits.

An RAF pilot uses his remaining fuel to ward off a Luftwaffe attack and lands on the French beach. He fires his Very pistol to destroy his plane before surrendering to approaching German troops.

The story of Dunkirk is over, and a new chapter in the war is about to begin. We know what those at the time did not know—that the Germans would press their attack on the island nation and would lose the Battle of Britain, a major turning point in the war.

The movie received numerous Academy Award nominations and other accolades. It won for film editing, sound editing, and sound mixing.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is currently streaming on Hulu, and I have avoided it until now. I needed something for Wednesday, hence these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s Kate & Leopold by Miramax from 2001, featuring Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman in the title roles. It’s a comedy, a soapy romance, featuring time travel. That should have made for considerable interest, providing it were handled properly.

The plot opens in New York City in 1876 at a dedication ceremony at the Brooklyn Bridge, then under construction (1869-19883). In attendance is Leopold, Third Duke of Albany (Jackman), keenly interested in technological developments of the time and taking notes. He takes note of a man in the crowd who seems to be photographing the scene with a 21st century camera. His curiosity aroused, he gives chase, but the man escapes in the maze of Manhattan streets.

Later, that night, at a reception in his family’s Manhattan estate nearby, he arrives late. It’s an important gathering. The duke is expected to select from a bevy of American beauties a bride who can bring money to  the family’s faltering fortunes.

He ends up dancing with the least interesting woman on the American continent. He is then distracted on seeing the mysterious stranger mingling with the guests. He dumps the unfortunate prospect and pursues the stranger up to his quarters. The stranger turns out to be Stuart Besser (Liev Schreiber) from the 21st century, here to gather proof that he has gone back to the 19th century and has met up with his great-great grandfather.

Another pursuit ensues, ending high up on the bridge. Stuart dangles precariously as the duke holds on to his hand. But Stuart has a purpose, and he entreats the duke to release him. They both fall toward the East River and into the 21st century.

Morning finds Stuart and the Duke in his Manhattan apartment and being harangued by Stuart’s soon-to-be ex-girlfriend Kate McKay (Ryan). Stuart is fixed on his studies of time travel, leaving no time to keep Kate amused. She dumps him, but at the same time she is attracted to the interesting stranger in period costume and speaking with a British accent.

Somehow Leopold adapts quickly (within hours) to the 21st century, and a romance develops with Kate. She never accepts the story that he is from the 19th century, but she does find his charm and poise dead-on for a margarine ad her company is attempting to develop. The duke introduces 19th century gallantry to the Big Apple when, on the street, a purse snatcher grabs her bag and sprints across Central Park. Leopold commandeers a horse, and the two give chase. This is exciting, and Kate’s little woman heart is absolutely throbbing.

Not needing to detail the remainder of the plot, in the end Stuart convinces Leopold he must return to the 19th century, and then he realizes Kate must follow him. It’s back to the Brooklyn Bridge, and Kate takes the plunge to follow and find her true love.

We’re back at the reception again, and Leopold is casting among the assembled hopefuls. There, he spots Kate in the crowd and chooses her, much to the disappointment of many. It’s Cinderella regurgitated.

We are asked to believe a lot, even after getting past time travel. Stuart has figured a way to predict cracks in the space-time continuum, and he exploits this to travel in time. But the travel must be along a minimum four-space line, which means the person doing the traveling must be in free fall. Hence the drops off the bridge. So he and Leopold take the plunge, and they wind up dry in Stuart’s apartment come morning. Accept it.

Same when Kate goes back to find Leopold. Fortunately she is attending a formal company function (she is being made North American  vice president) when she realizes she must make a change in her life. Dropping off the 21st century bridge, she, none-the-less, arrives at the royal party dry and perky after hoofing the few blocks to the duke’s family mansion, which, by the way, happens to be the same place as her company’s formal reception.

Leopold is characterized as technologically advanced for his time, but even so his rapid acclimation to  the modern  world is hard to swallow.

A minor detail is the matter of Leopold’s apparel. At the reception (ball) in the beginning he is wearing riding boots. These are going to come in handy in 21st century New York, where he is going to need to ride a horse. However, I find it strange that a gentleman would be wearing boots to a swanky affair. He exits the 19th century so dressed, and he seems to wear the same clothing, with minor interludes, throughout the movie. Somewhere dry cleaning or a trip to the laundry should have been inserted.

Leopold arrives in the 21st century without a cent in his pockets (he was at a dance, remember). He survives New York for approximately a week without visiting a bank for some cash. We see him hosting Kate to a catered rooftop dinner, paid for with which funds remaining unclear. Obviously shortcuts have been made to streamline the flow.

Putting those snags aside, the theme and interest of the movie is the contraposing of (supposedly) 19th century culture and elegance against modern New York’s brashness and base values. A realistic look at European royalty of the period finds no such evidence of refinement and good breeding.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is one of those vigilance justice films, and it came out in  2012 from Lionsgate. It features Josh Duhamel as Jeremy Coleman, ace fire fighter. There is also Bruce Willis as police detective Mike Cella and Rosario Dawson as Talia Durham. She’s Jeremy’s girlfriend, but not until later in the movie. It’s Fire with Fire, from 2012 and currently streaming on Hulu, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Jeremy is heroic and good looking. All the women crave him. However his life changes forever when he gets caught up in a gangland hit. Aryan Brotherhood (read “white pride”) crime boss David Hagan (Vincent D’Onofrio)is making to take over some Eastside Crips (E.C) territory in Long Beach, California, and Jeremy happens to be in a convenience store when Hagan’s men, followed by Hagan himself, enter to put the squeeze on the owner, who currently is paying protection to the E.C. The Aryan’s want to make an example, and they murder (shoot) the man’s son and then the man. Jeremy escapes and becomes the sole witness who can put Hagan in the slam. Jeremy goes into  the witness protection program.

That gets interesting. In Louisiana (New Orleans), where he is hiding out, he develops a close (very close) relationship with federal marshal Durham. She teaches him how to shoot. This is going to come in handy later on.

Following this blissful scene, the two get ambushed in the motel parking lot. Durham is wounded, and Jeremy puts some slugs into one of the Aryans. That turns out to be fatal, because the wounded man’s partner puts him down to keep him from blabbing.

Jeremy goes on the lam, and he’s seeking revenge. He and anybody loosely associated with him will never be safe while Hagan is alive.

He makes it back to Long Beach and drops in to visit the local E.C., no friend of the Aryan Brotherhood. He negotiates the purchase of a pistol that cannot be traced.

Then he starts a gang war by pummeling one of the Aryan team to death in an alley, carving “E.C.” into the face of the corpse. Just to make sure the Aryans know who done this. He also guns down a driver who comes to assist the fallen superman. More Aryan’s die as the Crips take to the streets to defend their turf.

But Marshal Durham recovers and tracks Jeremy to Long Beach, where the two reconnect. Jeremy goes for Hagan in his stronghold, but the Aryans have captured his girlfriend and are holding her there. He does not know this when he sets fire to the place and heads inside to finish off the Brotherhood. We jump with joy as we watch Aryans going out the windows on fire.

Jeremy confronts Hagan. Hagan is about to shoot Jeremy. Durham has freed herself, and she puts the lights out for Hagan. Jeremy carries his true love out of the burning building in true fireman fashion. The entire Aryan Brotherhood is wiped out.

Yes, this is a formula plot, and we should see Bruce Willis in there and mowing down the Aryans. But, as a savvy cop, whose partner (plus the partner’s wife) were previously murdered by the Aryans, he satisfies himself with cleaning up the mess.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Time for another Bad Movie of the Week, and Amazon Prime Video is there when I need it. This is Shadow of a Man out of E.J. Fancey Productions in England. Release date was 1954 according to Amazon, 1956 according to Wikipedia, where I obtained technical information. The apparent locale is Hastings, on the English coast, and the opening scene features Inspector Gates (Tony Quinn) investigating a disturbance on The Pier. Never having been to Hastings I checked Google maps. And, yes, there is a famous Hastings Pier, still there 64 years later.

The gatekeeper tells of a couple, a man and an attractive young woman, going out on the pier late in the evening. Later another man came through, and out in the darkness shots were fired. A search finds a semi-automatic pistol and nothing else.

The scene shifts to Gene Landers (Paul Carpenter) holding an intense conversation with Carol Seaton (Jane Griffiths). Gene is telling what transpired out on the pier. The police will be looking for him. He needs to explain to Carol, and much of the remainder of the plot is a flash-back.

Paul Bryant (Bill Nagy) is at a night club with his wife Linda (Rona Anderson). Also there are Carol and Linda’s good friend Norman Farrel (Ronald Leigh-Hunt). You see them here in the background as a drunken and disorderly Paul gets punched by night club owner Max (Robert O’Neil) and ejected from the club. Meanwhile, a cabaret singer (Rose Alba) belts out the title song, Shadow of the Man I Love.

Back at the Bryant flat, Carol herds Paul into his bedroom, where he is left unconscious. There is much drinking and smoking of cigarettes. People smoked a lot in those days.

Norman goes in to check on Paul, then he leaves. Carol, who is also staying at the flat, goes to her room. Linda goes in to  check on Paul, then she comes out and phones for the police. Paul has expired.

Anyhow, Linda is an airline hostess, and she is out of  town when the police dig deeper into Paul’s death, and they find the broken tip of a hypodermic needle in his arm. He has died of an air embolism. Somebody has injected air into a vein, causing heart failure.

Also while Linda is away Gene arrives from America. He is a wartime buddy of Paul’s, and Norman has the sorry task to inform him of Paul’s death.

More develops. Gene is a writer with no place to stay, so Linda invites him to stay at the Bryant flat. Things are getting crowded, and interesting. Norman has a love interest in Linda, and he walks in while Linda and Gene are passionately embracing.

Now we get the full picture. Norman, who is diabetic, has used one of his syringes to inject the deadly air bubble. His scheme was to get Paul out of the way so he could make time with Linda. But then Gene came along and spoiled the whole thing.

Gene has brought with him from America the infamous pistol that was found on the pier. The police approve, since Gene obtained a permit on arriving in England. Anyhow, Norman took the pistol from the drawer in the Bryant flat and lured Linda out onto the pier on the fateful night. Gene came along and figured out what happened. He followed them, becoming the second man mentioned by the gatekeeper. Norman fired and missed. There was a tussle. Gene got the gun and fired, and Norman went into  the water.

Now the police have the whole story. Norman was not hit by Gene’s bullet, and  now he is on the loose, and he has armed himself with another gun. He has been spotted on the pier.

Gene and Linda go with Inspector Gates to the pier, where Norman has been spotted. They clear the pier, and the inspector prepares to go it alone and take Norman into custody. Gene offers to pitch in with the aid of his trusty pistol, but the offer is declined.

Gates confronts Norman, who wings him with a shot. Gene comes to the rescue and wrestles Norman to the ground.

Norman is taken away to be booked. We are sure Gene and the widow Bryant are going to become better acquainted.

The plot is overly complicated, and some of it does not ring true.

Norman has used hypodermic syringes twice daily to inject himself, but in the critical instance when he kills Paul, he breaks the needle. Then he takes the broken needle back to his flat, where the police find it, tying him conclusively to the murder.

The police searched Norman’s flat, and they found a case of hypodermic needles. One needle was missing its tip and was a match for the murder weapon. This raises some questions. Norman had a supply of needles at his flat. How come he happened to be carrying one around with him when everybody went to the Bryant flat on the fatal night?

Gene arrives in England with a pistol, and he registers it. Why? He figures the Huns are going to restart the war? The pistol has no position in real life, being introduced only to agitate the plot.

The police find Gene’s pistol, and Gates hands it over to Gene. Really? Isn’t that pistol now a piece of evidence in a crime investigation? By now the pistol is loaded. Previously Gene kept the bullets separate. Why is a police inspector handing a civilian a loaded pistol?

Gene shows up at the pier with the loaded pistol. The police relieve him of it forthwith, but I don’t see them impounding it and yanking Gene’s permit, forthwith.

In total, the acting is credible, and the plot, a bit lame, does work.—provided you war willing to accept a variety or premises.