Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This was Stephen King‘s big breakthrough. Before there was The Green Mile, before there was Pet Sematary, before there was The Shining, there was Carrie, a notable piece of horror. This came out in  1976, and I don’t remember where I saw it  the time before. I just now viewed it on Hulu. Details are from Wikipedia.

Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is shy and unremarkable. She is maladroit and poor at sports. She fumbles a critical play, and her team loses a volleyball match. Back in the locker room the other girls taunt her or ignore her completely. Steve, here’s your chance to see naked teenage girls in the locker room.

Carrie is dangerously unworldly. Her mother is a religious psychopath and has not informed Carrie on basic feminine development. When Carrie’s first menstrual period is manifest in the shower, she panics and turns to the girls for help. Instead, they taunt her, chase her into the shower and throw towels at her.

Back home, Carries mother, Margaret White (Piper Laurie) is worse than the girls. She screams at Carrie that she is living in sin and must repeat that aloud.

In class, Carrie is the only one to respond after the teacher reads Tommy Ross’s (William Katt) poem. Tommy, with long, blond hair, is a certified hunk.

The girls who taunted Carrie are severely punished. Their gym teacher, Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) manages their detention, forcing them to do rigorous exercises.

The girls complain. One, Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen), drops out, forfeiting her ticket to  the senior prom. Another, Sue Snell (Amy Irving) doesn’t drop out. She stays in. And plots revenge.

Meanwhile, Carrie has grown  angry, particularly when Principal Morton (Stefan Gierasch) persists in calling her “Cathy.” Objects move on his desk. Carrie investigates, pulling books from  the library. She comes across the concept of telekinesis. She can do it.

Sue works her revenge on Carrie. She connives to have her boyfriend Ross take Carry to the prom. She also connives to have the voting compromised so that Carrie and Ross are elected queen and king of the prom. She has set Carrie up, bringing her to the high point in her life.

Then Sue unleashes her plot. She has incorporated other students, including Billy Nolan (John Travolta) to slaughter some pigs and collect a bucket of blood. The bucket is rigged, and a pull at a rope dumps the blood on Carrie as she stands in her place of honor. Additionally, the bucket falls on Ross, knocking him out.

Carrie unleashes her fury on everybody. She leaves the auditorium engulfed in fire with everybody locked inside. Everybody, that is, except for the perpetrators. As Carrie walks home in her blood-drenched dress, she encounters Billy Nolan and Chris Hargensen, who attempt to run over her with the car. The car veers to one side and overturns. The two die in the burning car.

Carrie has defied her mother by going to the prom. Back home her mother embraces Carrie, then stabs her in the back with a kitchen knife. Carrie responds. Knives and other objects fly from the kitchen and pin her evil mother to a door frame.

Their house dissolves in flame.

Afterward, Sue is the sole survivor of prom night. She has a dream. She is placing flowers at the site of Carrie’s burned  house. There is a cross, really a for sale sign. On it are painted the words “Carrie White burns in Hell.” An arrow points down.

A bloody hand comes up from the ground to drag Sue down.

And that was our introduction  to the mind of Stephen King. He has taken our worst experiences of high school and amplified on them. You want to see how nasty high school girls can be? Come see this movie and be glad you have moved on.

Since this is a work of fantasy, there is not much that can be argued against the plot. If you want any of it to make sense, then you have to make sense of somebody setting an auditorium on fire and killing everybody through mind power alone. Beyond that there are some stretches of imagination.

Sue thinks she is going to pull of this business with the bucket of blood and then ever graduate from high school? Or live in this town?

Yeah, high school kids have done stupid things, thinking about five seconds into the future, but breaking into somebody’s pig business and killing some pigs is something that’s going to earn time in the clink, and screw all thought of going to college. Example: About the time I was starting at the University of Texas, some frat kids thought it would be cute to kidnap the Baylor bear mascot. They wound up killing  the bear (a cub). End of college for those guys.

Stephen King is an excellent writer, and his stories have enough reality to ground them while the remainder of his plots fly off into the stratosphere. If you can stretch your mind enough, you can appreciate a vicarious journey into the netherworld.

If I can obtain a copy, I hope to review Cujo.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

This has to be the worst Steve McQueen movie ever, maybe after The Blob, which was his first starring role. This came out in 1959, probably a good reason I missed it until it came up on Amazon Prime Video. It’s The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery from Charles Guggenheim & Associates and distributed by United Artists. Details are from Wikipedia and IMDb.

If you think the title gives the plot away, your’re right. It’s about an actual bank robbery that occurred in St. Louis, Missouri six years earlier. In fact, opening credits announce, “This story is based on a true incident. Men in the St. Louis Police Department play the same parts they did in the actual crime.” The Southwest Bank in the movie appears to be the same bank involved in the original crime.

Opening scenes show three cars trailing in-line across the bridge from Illinois. Nothing like three cars moving in  concert to arouse suspicion, but none is aroused. The three park across from the bank and scope it out.

Later they gangsters drive to a park to discuss the plan. McQueen is George Fowler, scheduled to be the designated driver. He has no criminal record, but he does need the cash. The others are Crahan Denton as John Egan, the boss; David Clarke as Gino; James Dukas as Willie, a gangster upshot who vies to be the driver; and Larry Gerst as Eddie.

Here’s a problem. These hot shot gangsters are mostly broke, further evidence crime does not pay. Egan has some money, and he can bankroll his friend Willie. But George is down to his last two dollars, and Gino, a friend of George’s, is running on fumes. Somehow George and Gino are going to need to get some cash. Gino has an idea. George is an ex-boyfriend of Gino’s sister Ann (Mollie McCarthy). Gino coerces George into hitting Ann up for a loan. George can’t let on that Gino put him up to it.

George gets the money muffs the con. Ann figures it’s Gino who wants the money, and George tells her Gino is in Chicago and needs money for airfare to St. Louis. He will pay her back. That backfires when Ann spots Gino coming out of a diner, where he has been conferring with George. Ann is bound to crack the operation wide open.

Egan gets wise that the plan has been compromised. He figures to silence Ann, but he cant’ let on to George and Gino. He pretends he’s going to take Ann to the airport to  get her out of town, but he pushes her down a fire escape to her death, instead.

Yeah, the carefully-timed heist quickly goes sour. Two cops are at a donut shop nearby when the bank alarm comes in. One cop is wounded in an initial exchange. As Egan attempts to skedaddle with a hostage a cop puts one in  him.

Gino, figuring to never go back to the slammer, retreats to the bank basement and puts the muzzle of his pistol into his mouth. In the meantime, Willie, who has wormed his way into the job of designated driver, scoots in the getaway car. George makes a go of taking a hostage, but he does not have the ruthless instincts of his cohorts. He gets shot and hauled off by the cops.

Acting is barely par for this production. McQueen is his laconic self, And McCarthy just gets by. This was shot a few months before McQueen started appearing on our TV screens in Wanted, Dead or Alive, which shot him to the big time.

Examining the actual history of the robbery reveals correlation in some details. History does not mention Ann, sister of one of the robbers. The shooting of the robber by a policeman is real, and the actor playing the cop in  the screen shot above is Officer Melburn Stein, who died last year. From IMDb:

Policeman Mel Stein, a hero for shooting a bank robber and saving a woman hostage, only just died in 2016 at the age of 102. He retired to St. Louis County near Creve Coeur where he took long walks each morning and enjoyed martinis reminiscing with their neighbors including of his WWII experiences in the Pacific as a Marine, which contributed to his ability to remain cool under fire the day of the bank robbery.

Something about the movie that did not seem true to life was the number of shots fired by the police and the manner of the shooting. With Gino dead in the basement, Egan fatally wounded and carted away, and with Willie absconded with the getaway car, George is flat out of luck on the bank lobby floor. And the cops continue to pour lead through the bank windows. Did cops ever do this? No return fire. Bank crowded with civilians, and no target visible, the cops are shooting up the place. Reports from the actual even have it the police fired 40 rounds in  the one-sided exchange.

News reporters of the day were quick to respond, and Jack January, of the Post-Dispatch caught the following of the action:

The getaway driver was captured three days later, and the two surviving robbers received long prison sentences. IMDb notes “The movie American Heist (2014) is based on The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery.”

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is a strange one, but you quickly realize you are seeing The Blair Witch Project rebooted. This is Cloverfield. It came out in 2008 from Paramount Pictures. I watched in March on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

As in Blair Witch, somebody found video taken by people now dead (missing in the case of Blair Witch). We are treated to the intro added to the found clip for identification.

Rob is moving up in his company and is relocating to Japan. His friends have arranged a surprise party, and somebody is making a video. There is a problem. Beth shows up. It gets out that Rob previously humped Beth, and now he’s leaving without so much as a goodbye. Poor Beth.

Beth leaves after making a short testimonial on the video, and Rob’s friends urge him to make things  right with Beth. At that moment disaster strikes. The building shakes, and the lights flicker.

From the rooftop of the Manhattan apartment building the party goers watch as their world dissolves under an alien attack.

An attempt to escape over the Brooklyn Bridge is thwarted when some monster creature severs the bridge mid-span, and Rob’s brother is killed.

Rob learns Beth is trapped in her East Central Park apartment, and he determines to rescue her. Taking to the subway, Rob and three others encounter a small version of a monster in the tunnel, and one of the girls is severely injured.

Exiting the tunnel they encounter military forces, who advise them to evacuate. The injured girl is determined to be fatally infected by the monster and is taken away.

The remaining three make it to Beth’s apartment and rescue her. They board evacuation helicopters, but a monster attack brings down a helicopter in Central Park. A monster kills the guy who has been managing the video camera.

The remaining survivors take refuge under a bridge in the park as military forces come in to flatten  Manhattan. The video shows the last moments of their lives.

Well acted and skillfully captured by somebody who imitates amateur video camera work. Scenes are choppy, and panning is second grade. That’s second grade student level. The video loses some credibility as found footage by the introduction of flashbacks, which would not appear in video captured either on tape or on flash memory, which this purports to be.

Aliens attack. Massive explosions take down lower Manhattan. And the power doesn’t go off all over? Rob finds a working cell phone in an electronics store, and he phones his mother. Really? He can get a line with all this going on?

There is a clock on the wall at the party, and is shows 10 after midnight a few minutes before the shit goes down. The video stops somewhat after 6 a.m. During that time they were supposed to have evacuated a large part of the population of Manhattan? With the Brooklyn Bridge out?

According to Wikipedia this was to be the start of a franchise, but after nine years there is still no sequel. The theme has been continued, however, by 10 Cloverfield Lane, currently running on Amazon Prime Video. God Particle is coming out this year.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I watched this back in January, courtesy of Amazon Prime Video. I should have saved it for Christmas. But, no. It’s Midnight Clear. If the title sounds familiar, recall this:

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold!
Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From heaven’s all gracious King!
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

Yes, that’s what this is all about. There is no Wikipedia entry, so I’m getting details from IMDb. The production company is listed as Jenkins Entertainment. My early guess was the setting is Houston, but filming actually took place in Dallas. The scenery just looks Texas, not to mention car license plates. It’s Christmas eve. It’s grim.

This movie is drama as a morality play. We are going to get lessons in life before the 95 minutes run time is up.

The opening scene shows Lefty (Stephen Baldwinabout to lose his job. He’s a demonstrated loser. There must be a badge for demonstrated losers, but Lefty seems to have lost his. He’s sleeping in his car because he’s homeless. A co-worker is coming to wake him and tell him he’s late for work. It’s a good way to keep your demonstrated loser badge.

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Yes, Lefty does lose his job. Reporting for work he is told by his boss that his days with the company are over. Goodbye. On his way out Lefty steals some stuff from the company and takes it to sell.

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We meet a host of other characters facing life crises. Here is Kirk (Kirk B.R. Woller). He runs a convenience store/gas station. He has become embittered with life.

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Here is Eva. Elderly, living alone, planning to  end her life. Her plan to take all her medication at one time is thwarted by the arrival of a visitor.

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Things get worse for Lefty. His wife has divorced him, and he is unable to get visitation rights for his son. At a meeting with his ex-wife’s lawyer he explains why he is called Lefty. He is actually right-handed, but when he was growing  up his family didn’t have much money, so when  he played baseball he had to borrow his brother’s baseball glove. His brother was left handed and others called him Lefty, because he fielded left handed.

At the meeting he is asked if his current address is still as listed. He attempts to flummox the lawyers by claiming he has just received a promotion at work, but the extra money hasn’t come through yet, so he doesn’t actually have a place to live. That ends the meeting. No court is going to grant visitation if you don’t have a home.

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Lefty’s next move is typical of him. He goes to a shop across the street from his ex-wife’s house and bums a cell phone from a customer, telling him he has to make an important business call. Then he phones his ex-wife Heather (Faline England) and cusses her out, falsely telling  her that her freaking lawyers screwed him over because she and her dorky boyfriend don’t want him to visit his kid. The shop owner comes out with a baseball bat and forces Lefty to return the phone to its owner.

Mary (Mary Thornton) takes her son Jacob (Dominic Scott Kay) to visit her husband Rick (Kevin Downes). He is in a perpetual care facility, having received irreparable injuries in an automobile accident. He doesn’t speak. Things are grim for Mary.

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Lefty steals more stuff from his former employer. He trades it for a pistol and some ammunition. His plan to use the gun to rob Kirk is aborted, and he leaves. His plan to kill himself with the pistol is called off, as well.

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Mary is going to visit relatives for Christmas. Her car encounters trouble, and she pulls in at Kirk’s station. He fixes the car for her. Kirk and Mary get something going.

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Eva turns out to be Lefty’s mother. They share dinner, and things begin to come together for everybody. Lefty and his mother go to church together.

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This movie has no great plot. It’s a story of Christian redemption, loaded with syrup. Acting is par for a modern film. Contrast it with standard fare from 70 to 80 years ago. And nobody dies. Watch it when you are feeling down and need a lift.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I’m seeing this the first time, and it’s about time I did. It came out in  1974, and it’s been on the edge of my radar, but I always seemed to miss it. It’s Mr. Majestyk, starring Charles Bronson as Vincent “Vince” Majestyk. The production company (from Wikipedia) is The Mirisch Corporation,  which I never heard of, and it was distributed by United Artists. When it showed up on Amazon Prime Video the title screen showed the MGM logo.  This is obviously going to be  another tough guy movie.

Vince is ex-Special Services, ex-con, ex-family man. He now runs solo and has a melon farm in Colorado, where the filming took place. We see him trying to corral a team of workers to pick his crop of watermelons, about 160 acres. Little luck, and when he shows up at his field with a skeleton crew some interlopers try to buffalo him into using their crew, instead. He has an encounter with one of the wise guys named Bobby Kopas (Paul Koslo).

That little kerfuffle lands him an  arrest warrant sworn by Mr. Kopas, and soon we see him being transported by prison bus to the county law center. One of the prisoners is highly-touted mob hit man Frank Renda (Al Lettieri). Outside the courthouse the law caravan is bushwhacked by mobsters set on freeing Renda. There’s a firefight straight out of the Battle of the Bulge, with many casualties, and Vince makes a getaway in the bus, with Renda in tow, handcuffed.

Vince takes Renda to his hunting cabin in the boondocks, where he is offered $25,000 for Renda’s freedom.

Vince pretends to take the offer, but phones the police, instead. The police decline Vince’s offer of Renda in exchange for a clean slate, so Vince hands Renda over to his girlfriend Wiley (Lee Purcell). Vince still intends to take Renda to the cops, and this enrages Renda, who pulls a gun from Wiley’s purse. Vince escapes into the woods. Unfortunately, the only witness the state of Colorado had against Renda was a cop who got killed in the courthouse shootout, so the cops have to  drop the the murder charge against him. They release him on bail, and he immediately goes on a quest for vengeance against Vince. (???)

It’s complicated. Many bad things happen. Not finding Vince at his farm, Renda and his gang run off Vince’s skeleton  crew of pickers Then they machine gun the load of watermelons already picked. Some really bad asses.

Seeking retribution, Vince and his girlfriend Nancy Chavez (Linda Cristal) initiate a plan to turn the tables on the hoods. They decoy the convoy of crooks into a chase into the wilderness, Vince’s very capable F-150 Ford pickup truck showing its stuff.

Vince’s ploy is simple at the outset. He gets behind the crook’s convoy and forces two of the cars in turn off the road. Here the second one goes over the edge, with the predictable endo and the car dissolving into a ball of fire. Much poetic justice going on here.

You know what. I think I have driven through here. The wife and I took the Camry down a dirt road (showed the shortest route on the map) and through these tunnels. Creepy enough.

The surviving three crooks, including Renda and Copas, plus Wiley, retreat to their resort hideaway in the woods. Vince and Nancy stake the place out and Wiley is coaxed to desert the gang when she is sent out to negotiate.

Vince uses his Special Forces skills to take out Lundy (Taylor Lacher) and then Renda, shown here receiving a shotgun blast to the chest. Copas is spared, as he has volunteered as bait while Vince goes after Renda.

The police then arrive and politely request that Vince come down to the station and explain things. We assume Vince and Nancy are about to team up to grow melons, and more.

I have seen a collection of movies in  which nearly every frame can be pulled from the move, printed, and hung up on the wall in an art gallery. This is not one of them. The camera work is somewhat above point and shoot. Neither is the acting likely to attract the attention of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. Nor the plot logic:

  • Frank Renda is a professional killer working for “the mob” with seven kills to his credit. And for that the mob is willing to take on the county police force in a blazing gun battle, incurring casualties on both sides. Really?
  • Renda’s murder charge is dropped after the only witness, a cop, is killed in the shootout. If the mob wanted to spring Renda, all they had to do was to ambush the cop some dark night, and much excitement could have been avoided.
  • The crooks surround Vince’s house and wait. Vince drives up and gets out of his truck. Then he vanishes from view. While the crooks watch Vince sneaks among them, lying low, checking out their number and location. Then he sneaks back into the house and finds Nancy has been there all the time. They hatch a plan to wait for Renda to arrive the following morning before they unroll their scheme to draw the crooks into a road battle. Yes, that makes a lot of sense.
  • The character of Wiley seems to have been miscast. Quiet of demeanor and lacking a great set of tits, we wonder what a scumbag like Renda sees in her.

Yes, you know where you’ve seen Al Lettieri before. He was the murderous, double-crossing Rudy Butler in The Getaway, previously reviewed. He was drug kingpin Manny Santiago in McQ, also previously reviewed. He died the year after this movie came out.

As mentioned, the truck chase gets our attention. From Wikipedia:

The Ford Motor Company used scenes licensed from the movie showing extreme driving of Majestyk’s Ford Pickup truck during commercials for its 1974 F-150 model.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

About the time this came out in  1974 I worked for a company that had some installations in New York City, so I was spending some time there. There were movie posters featuring the movie, and it  may have been up on one of the theaters in Times Square. I am sure I never saw all of it until this March, when it came available on Amazon Prime Video. It’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, also known as The Taking of Pelham 123. There’s also a book, available in Kindle, but I don’t promise to do a review.

It’s a crime thriller, set in Manhattan, and Pelham 123 is a subway train on the IRT (Interurban Rapid Transit) line. Pelham 123 is the  name of the train—final stop Pelham, starting out at 1:23 p.m., hence the title. The movie involves four criminals who hijack the train to extract $1 million dollars  ransom from the city. The production company is Palomar Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

The opening scene shows Harold Longman a.k.a. Mr. Green (Martin Balsam) getting out of a taxi in mid-town Manhattan and getting on the train. He carries a package. We can guess what’s in the package. Get set for some action.

Others get on the train at different stations, each carrying a package. All are obviously wearing fake mustaches. All are wearing trench coats and hats. The last aboard is Bernard Ryder a.k.a. Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw). He kicks things off by thrusting a gun in the conductor’s face and taking over the train.

An interesting note is that Mr. Green has a bad cold and is always sniffling and sneezing. This is going to prove pivotal.

Walter Matthau is Lt. Zachary Garber of the transit police, who is in the process of escorting some gentlemen from the Tokyo subway system, here to see how the Americans do it. The New York City system is the largest in the world. The meeting with the Japanese executives ends abruptly when it becomes apparent a train has been hijacked.

These are four very desperate men. They want a million dollars within one hour, or they will start killing hostages. The mayor (Lee Wallace) must be brought into the picture, because he has to authorize payment of the money. Although Ed Koch did not become mayor of New York City until four years later, the mayor immediately reminds viewers of Mr. Koch.

There is gripping drama, as the crooks hurl threats and emphasize their demands.

The fire power is impressive. The four carry automatic weapons, and they fire them off when they feel it’s necessary. When negotiations falter, Mr. Blue puts the conductor off the train and shoots him.

Another criminal is Giuseppe Benvenuto a.k.a. Mr. Grey (Héctor Elizondo). He’s a loose cannon, eager to do damage, in need of anger management.

The police figure their only recourse is to pay the million dollars, and scenes show the frantic effort to get the bills counted and packaged as demanded.

Then the bills have to be brought to the 23rd Street station, and wouldn’t you know it, the cop car bringing the loot crashes. Motorcycle cops complete the delivery, and the crooks begin to put into motion their escape plane, which involves setting the train, by now down to a single car, loose heading south while they attempt to sneak topside through an emergency exit to a sidewalk grate.

That’s the point at which everything falls apart for the crooks. Mr. Grey refuses to ditch his weapon as part of the plan for the crooks to blend in with street traffic. Mr. Blue shoots him down on the steps leading to the sidewalk.

Meanwhile, all this time there has been a cop aboard the car in plain clothes, and he has been waiting for a chance to make his move. He guns down George Steever a.k.a. Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman), leaving only two of the original four alive.

Finally the cops have figured out what’s going on, and Garber confronts Mr. Blue in the tunnel. With no escape and no plan B, Mr. Blue takes the easy way out and steps on the line’s third rail. Mr. Green makes his escape, and a subsequent scene shows him rolling in cash on his bed.

To bad for Mr. Green. The cops have figured that one of the crooks must be a cashiered subway employee, because somebody was needed who knew how to operate the train. Garber and another cop go from door to door with a list of ex train drivers and end up knocking on Mr. Green’s door. He hides the cash, and brushes off the cops. As they are about to leave, Mr. Green sneezes. The jig is up.

It’s a tense but uneven plot. Four heavily-armed thugs take of a train and start killing people, demanding a million dollars. And bits of humor are sprinkled here and there.

Viewers’ credulity is stretched in places. The line apparently runs north and south approximately under Park Avenue, terminating at the south end of Manhattan Island. The cops concentrate their efforts on where the train car is and where they suspect the cooks must be. I’ve seen more police presence involved in a police car chase on Los Angeles streets than in this movie. It is never made clear why the cops don’t blanket all exits up and down the line. As it is, they get decoyed away from the 23rd street exit, giving the crooks a way out, although only Mr. Green takes advantage of the opportunity.

The final hunt for the escaped train man is unrealistic and lackadaisical. The most wanted man in the country is loose, and only two cops go door to door looking for him. The Constitution be damned, but any police force in the country would have hauled all suspects down to the station for questioning. Garber and the other cop ask Green a few questions and are satisfied with his answer, “I was here all day,” and they start to leave. Nah!

The cops believe the crooks must still be on the train car, because a dead man switch in the cab would prevent the train from moving without the operator present. And they don’t figure out what every train driver in the country has already figured out, that there is always a way to defeat these safeguards.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

The title is reused from an earlier production. Night Moves came out in 1975, starring Gene Hackman, This is a later production with no similarity to the prior. Night Moves was released in 2013 and doesn’t have the star power. It’s a low-key story about environmental terrorism with people getting killed. I caught it on Hulu. Details are from Wikipedia.

Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) are two environmentally conscious twenty-somethings, and they check out a dam across a small river in Oregon. They dam is an environmental monstrosity in their view. The lack of a fish ladder prevents salmon from swimming upstream to spawn. It needs to come down. They have a plan.

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Dena is from amazing wealth, and $10,000 cash allows the to purchase a boat. We can guess what they plan to do with the boat. The catch phrase could be something like “boat, bomb, dam: some assembly required.” The name of the boat is Night Moves, hence the title.

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Josh has a friend Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard). Harmon is a former Marine, and he knows how to build the bomb. Dena is leery of Harmon He’s prone to be loose with facts. Over lunch at a fast food table they discuss the destruction of the dam.

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The plan incurs the purchase of an extra 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Harmon already has 1000 pounds, but figures an additional 500 pounds will ensure success. Post Timothy McVeigh, the stuff is a controlled substance. There is intrigue as Dena weasels her way toward making the purchase at a country feed store.

The plot begins in earnest as the trio mix fuel oil with the fertilizer to make the explosive. They strip out the luxury boat and pack the hull with bags of the mixture. Then they head to the lake. There is additional intrigue as they attempt to be nonchalant, parking at a campsite on the lake and waiting for night to launch. It seems to them everything they do attracts unwanted attention.

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The plan is successful. They park the boat against the dam and set a timer, making their way back to camp in a canoe. On-time, there is a loud boom in the distance,  and police cars are soon speeding  past them on the country road. At a police check point, Josh and Dena show their fake IDs and pass through.

Of course, things have not gone as expected. A camper downstream of the dam has been killed, and it’s a murder case, as well. Also bad is the reaction of their environmental movement friends. The dam is only one of a hundred and makes no difference in the overall picture. What is needed is not the destruction of dams but the winning of popular support for the cause. Police come prowling around, and tension grows. Josh loses his job because of the suspicion surrounding him.

Jena comes completely apart. The trio are supposed to have no further contact, but recriminations fly between cell phones, a dangerous trend. Despondent, Dena plots suicide, but Josh confronts her, demanding she cease inviting attention. Dena orders Josh to leave, and he panics. He kills her and hints at it in a phone call with Harmon. Harmon advises Josh to get very lost.

The movie ends with Josh applying for a job in  a distant sporting goods store. Security cameras about the store remind Josh that in today’s society it is impossible for a person to get completely lost.

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The movie is devoid of dramatic action, possibly with the exception of when Josh strangles Dena. Technical details show a lack of authenticity. For example, the three park the boat next to the dam, but they don’t sink it. 1500 pounds of ammonium nitrate explosive might blow off the top of the dam, but it won’t topple the dam. To bring down the dam the explosion has to go off under water and at the base of the dam.

This is well known to anybody who has seen The Dam Busters. It’s a true-to-life film about an operation the Brits carried out in World War Two. The trick was to drop bombs into lakes behind three German dams. The bombs had to skip along the water until they bumped up against the dam. Then the bombs would sink and explode at the base of the dams. It worked, but with the loss of a third of the aircraft involved. If I can get a copy of the movie I will do a review.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Hard to believe this one is over 30 years old. It came out in 1985, around the time my movie going was beginning to  slack, and it never came on HBO or Turner Classic movies. I caught it on Amazon Prime Video in February.

It’s Silver Bullet, by Stephen King, who also did the screen play. It was produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Martha De Laurentiis and distributed by Paramount pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

Yes, this is a Stephen King story, so you are seeing  this, a human head lying between the rails on a railway line. There is prior footage that shows how this gentleman got into this predicament, but I’m being spare on the graphics today.

The story is told by teenager Jane Coslaw (Megan Follows), who by the time of the telling has grown up, the movie being set in 1976. She tells of how the killings started in her small  home town on the night of the last full moon before the end of the spring school term. This killing was passed off as an accident, the victim being a railway worker noted for heavy drinking on the job.

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Jane is burdened by her crippled brother Marty (Corey Haim), for whom she is the designated caretaker. We see Jane as she witnesses a disagreement between two locals, one of whom accuses the other of getting her pregnant.

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Pregnant and contemplating suicide is Stella Randolph (Wendy Walker). Just as she swallows the fatal dose of sleeping pills or whatever, the werewolf, for this is a werewolf film, bursts through her bedroom window and tears her apart.

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The Coslaw family is beset by Uncle Red (Gary Busey), a heavy drinker and also feared to be a bad influence on Marty.

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Marty’s friend, Brady Kincaid (Joe Wright) is next. He’s been mean to Jane, so he may have been coming his due. Flying his kite in the park is the last we see of him alive, and his body has been found torn apart.

Sheriff Joe Haller (Terry O’Quinn) tries to dissuade a mob from going into the woods to look for the killer. To no avail. Three more victims fall to the werewolf in a dark and foggy swamp.

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Uncle Red is losing his wife (she’s leaving him), and he dotes on Marty. He constructs a super motorized wheelchair for Marty, which he names the Silver Bullet. It is fast.

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Marty is told to never take the Silver Bullet out by himself. So that very night he takes the Silver Bullet out by himself. He brings along some fireworks with the idea of shooting them  off on a wooden footbridge. The werewolf attacks. Marty shoots the werewolf in the eye with a rocket and escapes.

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Grownups won’t believe Marty’s story, but sister Jane goes looking for somebody in the town with one eye out. Horrors, it’s the Reverend Lester Lowe (Everett McGill).

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Again, grownups won’t believe what Marty and Jane suspect. Then, on the road, the Reverend chases Marty with his car and tries to kill him.

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Shown the matching paint scrapes due to a collision with the Reverend’s car, Sheriff Haller goes to investigate. The werewolf kills him.

Uncle Red takes matters in his own hands. He accepts two silver pendants from the children and takes them to a gun shop. Here the gunsmith melts them down and constructs an actual silver bullet.

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Then Uncle Red lays a trap. He tricks Jane and Marty’s parents into taking a vacation, leaving him in charge of the kids. They wait in the house for the werewolf to attack. By nearly the end of the night Uncle Red is giving up, and he removes the silver bullet from the pistol.

Then the werewolf attacks,  bursting through the wall. The silver bullet goes flying, falling through a floor grate. The werewolf tosses Uncle Red about the room and goes for the two children. Marty fishes the bullet out of the grate and loads it into the pistol. A single shot does it for the werewolf, and everybody is saved. As the werewolf dies he re morphs into the Reverend, now missing both eyes.

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And that’s the end of the movie.

There is nothing wrong with this movie except that it is about 100% predictable. It’s a straight-line werewolf story with victim following victim, until the principle characters confront the danger and eliminate it.

Except that there is a certain lack of reality, in addition to the werewolf bit. Multiple murders are occurring in the town, and there is no call for outside help. The story does not include any expected police procedures, gathering forensic evidence, talking to forensic experts.

Marty tells of shooting the werewolf at the footbridge, but nobody follows up to examine the evidence of the  rocket being fired and werewolf blood samples collected from the bridge.

The Reverend now is lacking his left eye, and nobody asks him what happened to his eye.

The story came from King’s  Cycle of the Werewolf, which might be worth reading. King is an excellent writer, his The Green Mile being a prime example.

Corey Haim parleyed his child star beginning into a successful acting career, but he died at 38 of a drug overdose.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

From 25 years ago, it’s a movie I never got to see before. Maybe it was because I was going to college about then and didn’t have time. The topic intrigued me. I was acquainted through trailers running on TV, and I had the idea there was a double meaning in the title. It’s Sneakers from 1992 and starring Robert Redford and also Ben Kingsley. It’s hard to imagine these two guys are 25 years older now. Then, so am I.

This is from Universal Studios. I caught it on Hulu. Details are from Wikipedia.

“Sneakers” is, or was, the term for people who used remote access to break into others’ computers for fun and mischief. I had the idea “sneakers” also alluded to the juvenile mentality of these people. Anyhow, back in 1969 we see two sneakers, Martin Brice (Redford) and a person named Cosmo (Kingsley) in a college dorm breaking into bank accounts and transferring large sums of money. Brice assures Cosmo there is no chance they will get caught and punished for this. Then he goes out for pizza.

His VW minivan won’t start (cold and snowy), and he watches in horror as police raid their dorm room and haul Cosmo off to  jail. Brice escapes and becomes Bishop.

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It’s maybe 23 years later, and Bishop now has his own company. What his company does is break into banks and steal money. Here he is closing out a fake account he has created for himself. $100,000 in bills go into his briefcase. He then dumps the money onto the table in the bank’s conference room and explains how it was all done and what the bank needs to do to  spruce up its security. He pockets a check for his services and goes back to his company’s digs, which appear to be in a warehouse of some kind. This is a shoestring operation.

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Two feds show up. They know Bishop is Brice, and they are not friendly. They are with the NSA and either he cooperates with them, or he goes to jail. They want him to steal a device from a mathematician who has developed it for nefarious purposes.

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Bishop enlists his employees, one of whom is a cashiered CIA snoop named Donald Creas and played by Sidney Poitier). Here we see Bishop sneaking past a hotel clerk while a co-worker distracts the clerk with a phony package delivery.

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They get the device, a “black box,” and the horror sets in. While the crew is celebrating their score and contemplating the big check they will receive at the hand off the next morning they discover the value of what they have stolen. It provides the user means to crack the most advanced encryption in use. They realize this is a prize many would kill for, and that turns out to be true. The two “NSA” types are not (currently) with the NSA, and they plan to kill Bishop and not make the payment. At the hand-over Crease, waiting in the getaway car discovers from a newspaper headline the mathematician has been murdered, and he summons Bishop back to the car before he can get the payoff check, which check was likely just an illusion.

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The box is gone, along with the two phony NSA spooks, and the crew is out the payoff. Then the group that obtained the box kills a Russian spook and his driver, and they kidnap Bishop, taking him to their headquarters and a room with a massive computer that has all the appearances of a period piece Cray supercomputer. Head of the operation is Cosmo, who did not die in prison as advertised. Cosmo warns Bishop off any future interference, and Bishop is dumped off on a deserted street.

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To cut to the chase, the crew figure out where Bishop was taken, and a massive sneaker escapade gets them the black box. No time to celebrate, though. The real NSA is onto them, and once again threats of prison are leveled at Bishop, by none other than James Earl Jones, here playing NSA Agent Bernard Abbott. Bishop’s crew agree to cough up the box in exchange for all the goodies they had expected to obtain with their expected payoff. An agreement is reached, and Bishop hands over the box.

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Ha! The joke’s on  the NSA. Bishop has retained the crucial circuit that does the decryption, and the movie ends with a TV announcer giving the sad news that the Republican Party treasury has been looted. On the bright side, on the same newscast, anonymous donors have made huge contributions to Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and the United Negro College Fund.

This plot is quaint on a number of points. About 1969 I was working with one of Seymour Cray‘s first computers, so I  was sort of aware of what the computer world was like back then. 1969 was too early for big banks to have their computer operations on-line and vulnerable to remote looting.

The encryption  cracking was developed by a mathematician named Dr. Gunter Janek (Donal Logue), and his process has been incorporated into an integrated circuit. This device would be truly amazing if it really had the ability to crack modern encryption, even back in 1992. That is definitely a bit of science fiction, as the difficulty of cracking these codes is well-studied mathematics. The cracking can be accomplished, in principle, but requiring massive, need I say “astronomical,” amounts of computation. The short answer is, no.

Bishop hands over the black box to the two phony NSA types. One of them reaches into  a briefcase, ostensibly to retrieve the payoff check, but suspected of about to pull a gun. No. There is no way, with this much at stake, the two were going to blow Bishop away in a public place. After shooting Bishop their next act would have to be quietly slipping away and hoping nobody noticed the gunshot and the dead body.

Anyhow, Cosmo has multiple opportunities to kill his former friend and former dorm mate, and he does not. Old college ties and all that. Cosmo is revealed as super altruistic—he’s doing all this to bring down major industries and the entire fabric of world economics. That will reduce humanity to a level playing field with everybody equally impoverished. And  to accomplish this in the name of world peace he has a Russian spook and his driver gunned down on a public street?

In the final encounter, Bishop’s crew has the black box, and they are back at their safe place, and in bursts the real NSA with real guns. And Bishop negotiates the handover of the box? If the NSA team was ready to negotiate, why the guns in the first place?

It was pleasant, in today’s political climate, seeing in the end the Republicans looted and all their money going to liberal causes. Who could have imagined 25 years ago?

I first caught Poitier in what may have been his breakthrough role. It was Blackboard Jungle in 1955, and it introduced film goers to rock and roll, with Bill Haley & His Comets playing Rock Around the Clock. Poitier was a high school tough, and Glenn Ford was a newby teacher at South Manual Trades high school in New York City.

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Poitier went on to garner an Oscar for his role in Lilies of the FieldShoot to Kill is the film I am waiting to see again, and I will do a review if it ever pops up on Hulu or Amazon Prime Video.

In 1991 Katie Hafner and John Markoff came out with their book, Cyberpunk. It detailed the exploits of Kevin Mitnick, Pengo and Project Equalizer, and Robert T. Morris. These were escapades that made headlines in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. These cases never came close to the level depicted in the movie, which plot seems to have presaged the level of criminal sophistication seen in modern cyber crime. Cliff Stoll’s book, The Cuckoo’s Egg is a detailed account, unmatched at the time,  of an extended computer crime escapade. It was published in 1989 and recounted Stoll’s encounter with Project Equalizer. At that early stage the protracted attack on American government computers never reached the level of  sophistication seen in the movie. That level appears to have been matched only years later.

A lot is made in the movie of cracking passwords. The truth is that fairly simple passwords, involving non-language combinations of letters and numbers, are beyond the ability of a computer to crack. Direct password attacks are routinely thwarted by the simple device of locking accounts after multiple log in failures and by notifying users of such attempts.

Successful intrusion is typically accomplished by:

  • Social engineering, convincing somebody to give out a password
  • Phishing, tricking a user into suppling a password in order to execute a bogus login
  • Security compromise, rogue or careless system  administrators [This was the approached used by Edward Snowden.]
  • Network snooping, intercepting network traffic and decrypting secure communications and stealing passwords sent in the clear

These approaches do not provide the drama and rapid development required of this movie plot.

A fact not reflected in most fictional tales of military espionage is that secret information is not kept on computers connected to outside lines. Thefts of classified government information have always involved somebody walking out of a secure facility with a copy of the stolen data. This is the approach used by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

A prize find from Amazon Prime Video. It’s an interesting and well-constructed crime, mystery yarn, well directed and photographed. The acting is passable, as well. It’s The Fake, which came out in 1953 from United Artists. It’s about dead sure I never saw this on the big screen as a kid. Details are from Wikipedia.

So, what’s it all about? What is the fake? We soon guess. The opening scene shows a ship unloading at a London dock. Various shadowy characters watch with interest. Several wooden crates are unloaded, marked “Tate Gallery.” The Tate is a famous London art gallery. We guess the crates hold paintings destined for the Tate.

One crate, in particular, draws special attention from the figures lurking in the shadows. One, marked number 11, gets the nod. An unruly character approaches the dockworker carting the crate to its destination. He deliberately starts a fight, which distracts everybody, well nearly everybody. During the distraction the number 11 crate is spirited off to a waiting lorry, and a substitute is put in its place. One of the shadowy figures, Paul Mitchell (Dennis O’Keefe),  observes this and gives chase. He has been hired to look after the security of the paintings. His intervention is intervened by another shadowy character, a Mr. Smith (Guy Middleton), special investigator for the insurance company carrying the load for the priceless shipment of paintings.

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Anyhow, matters get sorted out, and Mitchell shows up at the Tate with the real painting. It’s Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna and Child, and Mitchell has figured it was scheduled for theft, so he had the ship’s captain bring it across from America in his safe. The real painting is placed in its rightful place in the museum, and the fake from the substitute crate is removed.

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There is a big reception at the museum, and all of the art swells of London show up. One guest, who arrives uninvited, is disgraced artist Henry Mason (John Laurie), let in the back way by his daughter Mary (Coleen Gray).

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Mitchell takes an immediate shine to the lovely Ms. Mason, but he is especially interested in the father. He suspects Henry Mason has been producing fake masterpieces, and he seeks to obtain a copy of Mason’s work to check out his hunch. To do this he commissions Henry to paint a portrait of the daughter, and, upon viewing it at the Mason home, he takes with him, instead, a smaller painting by Mason.

In the meantime, a master thief crashes the gallery and makes off with the real Madonna.

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The art expert at the museum confirms Mason’s work is identical to the fakes, and the finger points to Mary’s father. Mary is distraught, and the romance between Mary and Paul Mitchell begins to fall apart.

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But, Mitchell digs deeper and gets too close to the truth. The man behind the fakes and the theft of the Madonna, plus two additional da Vinci thefts from other museums, finds it expedient to have Henry Mason killed off, in a suicide fashion.

Mitchell is sure it is not suicide, and it is not. Villainous art buff, Sir Richard Aldingham (Hugh Williams), is behind the whole thing. He has ordered Mason’s killing, and he needs for Mary to be killed, as well. He directs his henchman, Weston, (Seymour Green) to make it look like a suicide. Weston, refuses, and Sir Richard murders him by putting poison in his drink.

Meanwhile, Mitchell and Smith tour the late Henry Mason’s workshop, and Mitchell spots a painting. He has seen the setting before. It’s Sir Richard’s study, only the painting shows the study with the stolen da Vincis in place on the wall. The paint on Mason’s final work is still wet. It’s a message from beyond the grave, fingering Sir Richard.

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Meanwhile, Sir Richard has taken Mary’s demise upon himself. On a pretext, he picks her up in his car and takes her back to his place. But Mitchell is already there. When the evil Sir Richard takes Mary back to his study for a final drink he turns on the lights and sees to his shock that the wooden panels covering the stolen paintings have been pulled back. Mitchell confronts Sir Richard with the hard evidence of his crime, and Sir Richard responds by pulling a pistol from a desk drawer.

Mitchell responds with a brilliant bluff. He holds up a vial of acid and threatens to destroy the Madonna. Besides, a missed shot will perforate the priceless work. Mary to the rescue. She knocks the gun away and foils Sir Richard’s evil intent.

Mitchell follows through with his threat and dashes acid on the painting. The paint dissolves and runs down the canvas. Mitchell has previously put the fake in place of the real Madonna.

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It’s the end of the line for Sir Richard. Later we see the real painting on  exhibit at the museum, and Paul Mitchell stops by to take Mary out the door, supposedly to matrimonial bliss. The strains of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition wind down, as they have been playing off and on throughout the drama.

A few plot absurdities blind-side this production.

  • The theft of the fake painting at the dock is crude beyond what is required. The thieves think a longshoreman’s brawl is going to distract security enough to cover up the switching of the crates. No way. Any number of people present would have spotted the subterfuge. In fact, Mitchell does.
  • The murder of Weston is also an unbelievably clumsy affair. Slipping your henchman a poisined drink right there among your collection of stolen art, and then expecting him to walk away and die, which he does? No. Just no.
  • Mitchell figures out Sir Richard has the stolen works behind the panels in his study. He goes to the museum, gets the fake, takes it to Sir Richard’s house, replaces it for the real Madonna, and then waits for Sir Richard and Mary to arrive. Really? There was no indication Sir Richard would be coming home soon. Sir Richard has gone off to set in motion a sequence of events to end Mary’s life. He tells her he is taking her out of town. Apparently he takes her back to his study with the idea of slipping her a poisoned drink. Nobody else knew he would be taking this round about way. And Mitchell waits and waits for Sir Richard to arrive, and he never calls for backup. When Sir Richard becomes threatening, only sweet Mary is on hand to save his life. Unbelievable.