Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This could have been a first-class flick, except for some improbable plot features. It’s Out of Time, from 2003 from MGM and featuring Denzel Washington as Matthias Lee Whitlock, Chief of Police in Banyan Key, Florida. It’s now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I’m getting these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Watching the opening scene you’re going to get very suspicious. We see Whitlock pulling night duty at the station when a call comes in from a lovely maiden, Anne-Merai Harrison, played by Sanaa Lathan. She tells the chief somebody broke into her house, and he should come right over. The chief doesn’t ask the usual questions, such as is the person still there. He just comes right over. We suspect there is a pre-arranged connection between the two.

Sure enough. After verifying the maiden is, indeed, safe, the two of them start to get it on hot and heavy. The chief’s honor is saved by the bell as a phone call takes him away on official business.

The background is Chief Whitlock has previously seized $450,000 in a drug bust, and it’s safely ensconced in his office safe. He shows it to his drinking partner, Chae, the medical examiner, played by John Billingsley. Chae has all kinds of ideas about what the two of them could do with that money, but it stays in the safe, for now.

Tragedy looms. Anne-Merai wants the chief to go with her when she visits an oncologist, Paul Cabot (Alex Carter), on the doctor’s weekend off. The doctor has bad news for Anne-Merai. Her cancer has come back, and she has about six months to live. He gives her a list of clinics offering experimental treatments.

The two visit a company, The Living Gift, willing to purchase Anne-Merai’s life insurance policy, valued at $1 million. They will pay her $750,000 and collect the $1 million when she dies.

Anne-Merai figures to beat the odds by using the money to seek alternative treatments, but she needs cash now. Anne-Merai submits a change to the policy, making Chief Whitlock the beneficiary. For reasons I was unable to derive from the movie, Anne-Merai can’t get the money in time from The Living Gift. Whitlock gets the idea to lend Anne-Merai the $450,000 so she can go to Switzerland for treatment. Then, after some rigmarole involving Anne-Merai’s husband Chris Harrison (Dean Cain), a former NFL quarterback-turned security guard, Whitlock gets a phone call from Anne-Merai. She tells him to wait, and she will meet him. He waits. She does not come. He gets concerned. He goes to her home. Nobody is there, but a neighbor spots him as he leaves.

Minutes later the house is completely obliterated by a blaze that is obviously arson. Two bodies, burned to a crisp, are discovered in the residue. The money is presumed destroyed in the fire.

Whitlock’s sharp-looking wife is Alex Diaz-Whitlock (Eva Mendes), recently promoted to police lieutenant in the nearby Miami police department. She’s a homicide detective, and she is investigating the apparent murders. The two are in the process of getting a divorce.

As Mrs. Whitlock and other fuzz close in on Chief Whitlock, who is going to come off as the prime suspect once the facts come out, the chief works frenzied mechanizations to throw them off the scent. For example, the cops subpoena phone records, records that show Whitlock and Anne-Merai have been exchanging intense communications. As the incriminating FAX comes in, the chief intercepts the sheets from the machine. Then he scans them, edits the scans, removing his phone calls, and then substitutes reprints, minus his calls, for the FAX sheets.

In the meantime, the neighbor who spotted the chief at Anne-Merai’s house is brought in, and she identifies the chief. He laughs it off and points to other dark-skinned people in the office. The poor woman becomes confused and agrees she must have been mistaken.

Meanwhile, a check with Anne-Merai’s doctor, not the oncologist, discloses she did not have cancer. Puzzled, Whitlock goes to the oncologist’s office, only to discover a different doctor sitting in the office. The other “doctor” was obviously a fake.

Whitlock persuades the real doctor to hand over a desk pen the phony doctor had used during the previous visit. It’s a pen the real doctor had not touched since. Whitlock has the pen shipped off to a crime lab and tested for fingerprints. The prints come back as belonging to a known crook. Whitlock traces the crook to a nearby hotel, finding the crook there with the money. A fierce struggle ensues, ending with both hanging seven stories up from a broken balcony railing. Cabot takes the plunge, and Whitlock escapes with the money in a valise.

So, it all comes to a head when Whitlock figures Anne-Merai and her husband have pulled a fast one. Reality crystallizes when Whitlock receives a phone call from Anne-Merai. There is a final confrontation with the Harrisons in a lonely shoreline dwelling. Things have gone sour between the Harrisons, and Chris has been beating his wife, again. She shoots her husband, and then she shoots Whitlock, but not seriously. Just in time, Alex appears and shoots Anne-Merai.

Just in time the Miami police show up, demanding the money from the safe that the chief had promised to arrange to deliver to them. Just in time Chae shows up with the money, complaining to Whitlock that he was unable to deliver the money to the Miami police, because Whitlock gave him the wrong address.

Meanwhile, Alex has been getting it all figured out, and she reconciles with her husband. The chief wants to accept the payout from Anne-Merai’s insurance policy, but he cannot, because it was his wife who killed Anne-Merai. Insurance companies will not pay out on policies when the proceeds will go to the person who caused the death. Anyhow, the divorce is off, and things are going to look up for the Whitlocks.

Some good acting, some great action scenes, some hot sex. Most-improbable storyline. Watching through one time and then going back to review the plot, I never figured out Harrison’s scheme. Suppose they knew Whitlock had the money. How were they going to get it from him? Fake Anne-Merai’s cancer? That’s going to guarantee he’s going to get him to hand over the money? No.

And there is a fatal flaw. The policy had to be taken before the cancer was diagnosed. That was weeks prior to the start of the movie. The drug bust that raked in the $450,000 was still fresh news by the second scene. Again, no.

Advertisements

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Another from Amazon Prime Video, the go-to place for vintage movies. This is Blown Away, from 1994, and it’s amazing how time has passed. This is not to  be confused with the erotic thriller of the same name that came out the year before. This one is about a psychopathic serial bomber bent on vengeance. It’s from MGM, details are from  Wikipedia.

Tommy Lee Jones is Ryan Gaerity, a prisoner, breaking out of Castle Gleigh Prison in Northern Ireland. He has been convicted of a bombing that killed several people, and to bust out he kills his cell mate and uses the dead body to shield himself when he sets of a prison-made bomb to blow a hole in the wall.

Gaerity then travels to Boston, Massachusetts, to settle a score with a former protégé,  Liam McGivney, now known as Jimmy Dove (Jeff Bridges). Liam is the one who upset Gaerity’s Northern Ireland bombing scheme and left Gaerity to take the rap. Now McGivney is enjoying life as a bomb specialist for the Boston police, and he is celebrating the birthday party of his lady friend. She is Kate, later to be Kate Dove (Suzy Amis). Lizzie (Stephi Lineburg) is her daughter.

McGivney is called in to handle the trickiest of cases. Here he has to defeat a most ingenious contrivance. At M.I.T. an overwrought student has coupled a bomb detonator to a desktop computer, which his girlfriend must now continuously type on the keyboard to keep the bomb from going off. The bomb maker is dead on the floor from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, while McGivney works to get at the mechanism. It’s another glorious success for McGivney.

McGivney’s uncle is Max O’Bannon, played by Jeff Bridges’ father Lloyd Bridges. Max knows of McGivney’s past, having, himself, previously been in the trade. He advises McGivney to move on while he is still on top, and still alive.

McGivney takes a job as an instructor in the bomb disposal school.

But Gaerity initiates a rampage against the disposal squad. In the case pictured below he has set a phony bomb to lure the team to the site. Then he explodes the real bomb with devastating effect.

Gaerity goes after rookie bomb technician Anthony Franklin (Forest Whitaker). Franklin comes home and plugs himself into his hi-fi phones, only to discover his setup is wired to a bomb. McGivney comes to  the rescue.

McGivney sends Kate and Lizzie into seclusion on Cape Cod, but Gaerity stalks them and prepares a deadly future. When Max attempts to track down Gaerity, he runs into him at an Irish pub. But Gaerity kills Max and escapes.

McGivney tracks Gaerity to an abandoned ship, where Gaerity has prepared an elaborate trick bomb trap. But Franklin has been following McGivney, having learned of his nefarious past. Together they defeat the bomb trap, and the ship explodes, killing only Gaerity.

Now McGivney must defeat Gaerity’s final trap. Kate’s Jeep has been wired to detonate a bomb, but only when she applies the brakes after driving the car some distance. McGivney tracks her and Lizzie after Kate finishes performing at a concert, and he gives chase on his motorcycle. Of course he is able to jump aboard the moving Jeep and disarm the bomb.

Franklin decides not to reveal what he has learned about McGivney’s past, and we can assume life follows a happier course from there on.

And, yes, a lot of this is pure hokey. Get past the rogue, anti-British bomber from the days of the Northern Ireland unpleasantness. In Boston we see a bomb disposal squad on almost weekly calls. One would get the idea the infamous Mad Bomber has been resurrected and cloned. Ironically, George Metesky died the year this movie came out. I’m sure there was no connection. Aside from that, even Ted Kaczynski never generated as much business as this squad is shown to be handling.

The computer bomb is a script writer’s contrivance beyond believability. The closest that reality has come to such a scheme has been the case of the bank robber’s bomb of 14 years ago. Likewise, the headphones bomb is a stretch, although the Israelis once took out an enemy bomb maker with a cell phone that contained an explosive charge.

The bomb wired to the Jeep is right out of the plot from Speed, which came out the same year as this movie. The year 1994 corresponds to the peak of the Ted Kaczynski bombing frenzy, possibly a motivation for such scripts.

In the class room setting we see McGivney demonstrating a Bouncing Betty land mine of World War Two vintage. The movie characterizes the device as a bomb that spring-launches itself into the air before exploding. In fact, the mine used an explosive charge to propel itself into the air, rendering the classroom demonstration problematic.

I mention Wikipedia in almost all my reviews, as I pull heavily from this free Internet resource. In return, every year I log on and make a sizable contribution. You should, as well. Nothing like Wikipedia has come our way before, and everybody interested in the straight skinny, enlightened, and crowd-sourced should work to ensure it stays on-line and current. Here is the (shortened) link to contribute. You have to click on the link to get the contribute page:

https://donate.wikimedia.org/w/index.php

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I went into this thinking I was going to pick up another Bad Movie of the Week. It turned out to be not so bad. The title got me off track. It’s The Escort, showing a sleek-looking woman in a man-killer red dress. We all know this is going to  be that kind of movie. It’s more like Pretty Woman, which is, in fact, referenced in the plot. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, whence the screen  shots. It came out in 2015 from Cloverhill Pictures, among others. Details are from Wikipedia.

It features Lyndsy Fonseca as Natalie (aka Victoria), a drop-dead good-looking Stanford graduate. Natalie wasn’t able to get a job post-graduation, because earlier she listed on-line all the guys she had humped in her spare time. It seems that every job interview got hung up on the list and never went any further. Natalie was perceived as being better at something else than the position for which she was applying. Here we see Natalie entering a hotel room, where she proceeds to  strip down to her skivvies and treat her client like a naughty school boy so he can get his rocks off humping her in bed.

Enter Mitch (Michael Doneger), a journalist of sorts. He writes obits for a hard-copy rag. That’s not Mitch at the table with the two chicks. That’s Mitch’s brother, JP (Tommy Dewey). One of the chicks is JP’s. The other is a fix-up JP has brought to the party for Mitch, because JP knows how much his brother likes sex. In fact, Mitch likes sex so much that he is right now in the men’s room jerking off. Obviously Mitch has a problem. We can guess how the plot is going to resolve Mitch’s problem

But first Mitch’t boss resolves one of Mitch’s problems. Mitch has been diddling an intern on the job, and this is Mitch’s last day at the paper.

Mitch tries multiple interviews, but the answer is always the same. Hard print is dying, and there is not much need for somebody to write obits, or much of anything else. Mitch proposes to write an in-depth story, based on a hooker (escort) he met in a bar last night. The editor advises Mitch to go for it and to bring her something worth reading.

Mitch figures Natalie would make a great subject, and he is inspired by a high-minded review he reads on-line.

He tracks down Natalie and convinces her he is not a cop. He manages to do the convincing without having to show his balls. Typically that is something a policeman is not allowed to do when trolling for prostitutes.

In the meantime, Mitch is getting all the nookie he can handle through a mobile app called Climax, which hooks up pairs of horny people. You get the idea. Picture an egg timer.

A deal is struck, and Natalie and Mitch get to know each other. Since Natalie does not have a pimp to protect her, and since Natalie from time to time runs into rough customers and can use some protection, Mitch stands in where a pimp would normally provide the service.

In fact, Mitch takes Natalie to meet his family. Rather his father, Charles (Bruce Campbell), because his mother has long since moved on. Mitch’s father is an old-time song writer, living in a grand house somewhere in the Hollywood Hills. Natalie is impressed. Mitch’s father and Mitch’s young sister Emily (Rachel Resheff) are impressed with Natalie. Since Mitch’s father is a pot-smoking liberal, he is also OK with his son having a pro for a girlfriend.

The plot follows the usual ups and downs, as Mitch falls heavily for Natalie, but he finishes his piece for the hard-copy rag, and his career is starting to get back on track.

Natalie catches a copy of Mitch’s essay, and is impressed. Also, she has been accepted into an MBA program and is quitting her night job.

And that’s the end of the story, and yes, it is a remake of Pretty Woman.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I waited until I read the book before reviewing the movie. It’s John Grisham’s first novel, finally made into a feature-length film released by Warner Brothers in 1996. It’s A Time to Kill, starring Samuel L. Jackson as Carl Lee Hailey and Matthew McConaughey as small town lawyer Jake Brigance. The book was a long time finding a publisher and was not an immediate hit. It lacks the intense continuity of many of Grisham’s later works, including The Firm (his second book), The Pelican Brief, The Client, and The Racketeer. The movie is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Hailey is a working class black man living in fictional Ford County, Mississippi. One ordinary day in Mississippi two small-time crooks get juiced up and go looking for sport. They spot Hailey’s ten-year-old daughter walking home alone along a rural dirt road, and they scoop her up, using her for a sex toy and an object of scorn for a couple of hours. Their attempt to leave her dead is not successful, and she identifies the two white brutes who did it.

As the two bad guys are arrested and begin their process through the legal system, Hailey pays a visit to his friend, lawyer Jake Brigance. He announces his intentions.

While sheriff’s deputies are leading the pair in cuffs into court, Hailey springs from a hiding place and unleashes on them with an automatic assault rifle. A deputy is also wounded.

Now Jake must defend his friend the killer, who has no money for the expected $50,000 fee. Jake takes the case anyhow, and he gets unexpected assistance from a third-year law student, the idealistic, brilliant, and sexy Ellen Roark (Sandra Bullock). She works for free and is of enormous assistance, all the while complicating Jake’s married life.

This is post civil rights Mississippi, and the county has a black sheriff, played by Charles S. Dutton. The sheriff is popular in this predominately white county, but the idea of a black man gunning down two white dudes and expecting not to be lynched ires the KKK. Local recruitment surges, and the Kluxers march.

Black ire is up, as well, and Martin Luther King’s message of non-violence has since faded. A black man hurls a Molotov cocktail, burning a Kluxer to death. Things get uglier.

A phone call from a mysterious source alerts police and the bombing of Jake’s home is thwarted. A white man, husband of Jake’s secretary, is beaten to death, and Jake’s house is torched.

The governor calls out the state militia to maintain order, but a sniper (Kiefer Sutherland) misses Jake and kills a soldier.

The sniper is Freddie Lee Cobb, brother of one of the white rapists, now solid with the KKK. He and his cohorts kidnap Ellen and leave her naked, tied to a tree, torching her car. A mysterious figure emerges from the darkness, unties her, and places a phone call to the police.

Jake has only the defense of diminished capacity, and his expert witness is a drunken psychiatrist who is exposed on cross-examination to have been previously convicted of statutory rape. Jake’s final hope is his summation to the jury, and here is where the book diverges critically. In the book the jury is facing another weekend of deadlock and sequestration, and a woman jury asks jurors to imagine if Hailey’s daughter had been white.

During closing arguments, a deeply shaken Brigance tells the jury to close their eyes and listen to a story. He describes, in slow and painful detail, the rape of a 10-year-old girl, recalling the story of Tonya’s rape. He then asks the jury, in his final comment, to “now imagine she’s white.”

 

Without a doubt the jury never buys Jake’s contention of diminished capacity. In the end they only see what they consider to be justice is done.

The book never resolves the matter of Klan’s actions nor those of murder of the Kluxer. But we do see the sheriff arresting Freddie Lee Cobb and also one of his own deputies.

What’s wrong with the movie is inherited from the book. The idea that a black man would be able to obtain such uneven justice in the rural South (e.g., Mississippi) is beyond belief, as are a number of other aspects of the story.

History is solid on this. These actions by the KKK would, in real life, bring a flood of FBI and federal prosecutors down to Ford County. No sign of them in the move (or the book). The legal process related to Hailey’s trial swarms with overt violence, yet the participants act in a manner oblivious to the situation. This was barely twenty years since the murder of civil rights workers Andrew GoodmanMichael Schwerner, and James Chaney, yet a vulnerable young woman working for the defense attorney feels it’s safe for her to booze it up and then drive down a lonely Mississippi road late at night.

The movie does offer some salvation. The book has only the dynamite bomber getting justice, while the end of the film shows an additional serving up.

Performances are significantly above the bar. It’s interesting to see Oliver Platt in the role of a lawyer five years before reappearing as a White House attorney in  The West Wing.

Samuel L. Jackson caught my attention playing a deranged killer in Unbreakable with Bruce Willis. I probably need to review that one. He is also famous for asking the burning question, “What’s in your wallet?” He recently caught my attention regarding his off-key politics.

Sandra Bullock is always good to see.

Kiefer Sutherland appears with his father in this one. Donald Sutherland is Lucien Wilbanks, the cashiered, but rich, lawyer friend of Jake’s who helps bankroll the Hailey defense. The younger Sutherland held up the major part of the 24 TV series.

I previously reviewed Matthew McConaughey as Palmer Joss, Jodie Foster’s love interest in Contact. He made a bunch of movies before and since this one, but none other that I have watched. Some appear to fit the bill for one of these reviews.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I was shopping around for another Bad Movie of the Week, when I came across this one. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I usually go to look for BMotW, and it was a pleasant surprise. I could not find much wrong with it. It’s The Spaniard’s Curse, from 1958, and it’s a British production. distributed by Independent Film Distributors. To give readers a head’s up, I looked up the Spaniard’s curse. The movie appears to be based on a book by Ellis Peters, carrying the title The Assize of the Dying:

When Louis Stevenson is found guilty of murder, he leaves the dock loudly proclaiming his innocence. And he delivers, too, a chilling invitation to the four men responsible for his conviction: ‘You four, I summon to meet me at the time appointed, at the Assize of the Dying.’

Here is a brief rundown of the plot. The opening scene is innocuous on its face. A nondescript man saunters along a London sidewalk, keeping his eyes about him. He spots his prey, and as another man retrieves something from his jacket pocket, the ordinary man’s hand goes into the pocket, then out again with some treasure.

Cut to October 1st of some year, and citizens in the galley are awaiting the jury’s verdict in a murder trial. They are Margaret Manton (Susan Beaumont), Charlie Manton (Tony Wright), and Mark Brett (Lee Patterson), Judge Manton (Michael Hordern) is presiding. The judge is Margaret’s uncle and guardian, she apparently being without parents. Charlie is the judges son, and also a hotshot newspaper reporter. He’s covering the trial. Margaret is in to watch her uncle preside. Mark is half-brother to the murder victim, a Miss Zoe Trevor.

Basil Dignam is Guy Stevenson, the man on trial. The jury comes back with a guilty verdict, and an automatic death sentence is imposed. Asked if he has any comments, he invokes the assize of the dying (see above). It follows that all jurors, witnesses, and prosecutors will meet him in death within 30 days.

Margaret and Mark strike up an acquaintance, and they depart the court together. Disaster! At the bus stop the jury foreman is struck and killed by a car.

Margaret and her uncle have a close relationship, and he seems to  approve of her new acquaintance. Comes word that Stevenson has died of a heart attack.

But Margaret, Charles, and Mark set off to dig into the mystery of who really might have killed Zoe Trevor if Stevenson didn’t. They go to Zoe’s apartment, now vacant, and re-enact the murder sequence, using Stevenson’s testimony. Stevenson, a neighbor, came over to visit Zoe and also to borrow money. She had none. But Stevenson was arrested with some of Zoe’s jewelry. What happened to the remaining jewelry?

A pawn broker has some of it. They recover a broach and one ear ring of a pair. Who has the other? Perhaps a Mr. Arthur Jody (Roddy Hughes), the light-fingered fellow in the opening scene. He admits to pulling one ear ring out of somebody’s pocket, but not the other. That other was the person who pawned it.

To catch a thief, and a murderer, Margaret places ads in the newspaper personals under the heading “Speedwell” with the code “Other Half.” Mark shows up. Margaret thinks Mark is the perpetrator, and at first she runs. But he has only been following the same trail, and he expresses his love for her. The judge is in on the intrigue, as well, and he follows the fleeing couple, only to see them embrace and kiss in a doorway. Then the judge goes back to the meeting place, and he sees somebody waiting at the appointed place. A mysterious figure arrives and shoots the waiting person.

Back at his home a few blocks away, the judge finds his son, Charles, at home, already in bed. He was supposed to have been on a trip out of town. The judge finds the murder weapon in Charles’ jacket and throws back the bed covers to reveal Charles is still fully dressed. It also turns out that Charles and Zoe are secretly married, since 1944 when Charles was a combat pilot. Zoe had been squeezing Charles for money. When the judge attempts to phone the police, his son shoots him.

But Charles is undone. His alibi is trashed when the housekeeper comes back unexpectedly. Charles has but one recourse. He picks up the phone and calls his newspaper, giving them the last headline of his career.

This runs about 80 minutes, just about right for a good murder mystery. Alfred Hitchcock should have directed. There is not a lot of high drama, much of the plot focuses on the interaction between the three amateur sleuths. If you are expecting to experience the Spaniard’s curse, you are going to be disappointed. Only three of the principals from the trial wind up dead.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Trailers for this one started running last year. Now it’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. It’s Allied, from 2016, starring Brad Pitt as Wing Commander Max Vatan and Marion Cotillard as Marianne Beauséjour. It’s from a collection of production companies, none of them known to  me, including Huahua Media. Details are from Wikipedia.

Once the titles roll we see somebody descending from the sky by parachute into the Moroccan desert near Casablanca. It’s Commander Vatan, and he’s dropping into  German-occupied territory in 1942. Keep in mind it was later that year when Allied forces occupied all of Morocco.

Vatan is picked up by a car that comes along a desert road, and then he gets dropped off in front of a café patronized by foreigners, mostly French. It’s not Rick’s. Before going in Vatan deposits his valise into the trunk of a car waiting outside. Then he enters the room, searching for a woman wearing a purple dress and flashing a hummingbird code sign. He spots her, and she is absolutely stunning. She is Mlle. Beauséjour, who is supposed to be his wife for the duration of the mission.

They hit it off well as Vatan (from Canada) attempts to pass himself off as a Frenchman from Paris. There is attraction, and there is some good sex. Then they get down to business, which at one point has Vatan spotting a German officer who knows him. Vatan moves in and kills the German with his bare hands, and he and his “wife” set up for their real mission, the murder of the German Ambassador to Morocco. This they do by finagling an invite to a swanky party, at which place Sten guns have been secreted beneath one of the tables. At the appropriate moment there is an explosion in the street nearby, and Mr. and Mrs. Vatan upturn the table, grab the weapons, and unload on the ambassador and various others who attempt to interfere, including a number of German soldiers.

Surprise! They make a clean getaway, and the following year they are both in England, where Vatan has has managed to get the Mrs. brought into the country after proper vetting. They get married, and the following  year (must be 1944 by now) they have a sweet little girl.

Then their happy life ends as a Special Operations Executive (Simon McBurney) accuses Mrs. Vatan of being a German plant and not the real Marianne Beauséjour. He will test her worthiness by running a blue die test, planting fake intelligence where she can get at it, and then seeing whether it winds up getting sent to the Germans. Vatan is told if his wife cannot be cleared in 72 hours he must personally execute her.

This movie has great drama and heartfelt romance but also glaring plot defects. Where to begin.

First there is the Morocco mission. A special ops officer is parachuted into enemy territory on what is likely to be a one-way mission, and for what? To murder a German ambassador? No way. Ambassadors are not high-value targets. This makes no sense.

Vatan gets dropped off in front of the café, where his car is waiting. Says who? What better way to signal the Germans that a foreign agent is arriving in Casablanca than to have a car waiting for him? Real life spies would have him pick up the car at some other location, so he can be seen driving it to the café. Also, where did he get the car? He supposedly just arrived from France. Who saw him come into  the country?

Beauséjour is supposed to be a German plant, substituted in for the deceased Beauséjour, all for the purpose of convincing the Brits of her authenticity by executing the hit on the Ambassador. No. At any point in the operation either or both of the operatives could have caught a German bullet, and that would have been the end of the plot. Nobody does something like this in real life.

The British SOE informs Vatan that material which crossed his desk has been detected in messages transmitted  to Germany. His wife is suspected. No again. Crossing Vatan’s desk is not the same as passing beneath the eyes of Mrs. Vatan. This is not done. Classified material is not taken outside secure areas and especially is not taken home.

The SOE devises the blue die test by arranging to phone Vatan at home and giving him the sensitive information, which will then be picked up by Mrs. Vatan. Again no. Unsecured phones are not now and were not then used to transmit sensitive information.

While this is a beautiful and sensitive portrayal of love and loyalty, many of the plot devices are rude concoctions. But watch it if you you get a chance.

I mention Wikipedia in almost all my reviews, as I pull heavily from this free Internet resource. In return, every year I log on and make a sizable contribution. You should, as well. Nothing like Wikipedia has come our way before, and everybody interested in the straight skinny, enlightened, and crowd-sourced should work to ensure it stays on-line and current. Here is the (shortened) link to contribute. You have to click on the link to get the contribute page:

https://donate.wikimedia.org/w/index.php

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

If you don’t recognize the title, then you need some background:

Simon Templar is a fictional character known as The Saint. He is featured in a long-running series of books by Leslie Charteris published between 1928 and 1963. After that date, other authors collaborated with Charteris on books until 1983; two additional works produced without Charteris’s participation were published in 1997. The character has also been portrayed in motion picturesradio dramascomic strips, comic books and three television series.

I caught the TV series back in the 60s, where I must have been watching in black and white. Anyhow, it’s had a long go-round, now landing in some recent films. This is about the 1997 movie starring Val Kilmer in the title role. It’s The Saint, again, in a release from Paramount Pictures and co-starring Elisabeth Shue as his love interest, Dr. Emma Russell. I often get my bad movies from Amazon Prime Video, but this one is streaming on Hulu, where I obtained the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

The movie provides some background. In a Catholic school for unfortunate orphans there is one particularly recalcitrant boy, giving the ruling authority no end of grief. He gets confinement, but not before lifting a crucifix pin from the headmaster. From that meager acquisition he engineers a massive prison break, but sees a young girl friend fall, apparently to her doom. Thus is born a master criminal.

We next see The Saint in Moscow, stealing for hire a critical microchip.

That involves much adventure, and after he caches his fee in a financial account, he notices he’s about $3 million short of 50. He needs a round 50 million, then he retires. He goes over a list. Somebody wants the formula for cold fusion and will pay just the right amount.

Dr. Russell is the inventor, and she still has the secret. In disguise he attends her presentation and is severely smitten by her loveliness. The Saint is preparing to make his fall.

In  another disguise he romances Dr. Russell and lifts her notes. But she is at least as smart as he is, and she tracks him to Moscow, where he has come to hand over, and collect his reward, the formula to a Russian Billionaire, who in turn has plans to usurp the government and take over, using cold fusion as his ploy. To this end he has engineered a massive fuel shortage, and Russians are dying in the cold. It’s shades of the Siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) all over again.

But now the Russian Mafia is after them, and the remainder of the movie explores how they manage to elude capture and turn the tables on the gangsters. The trick is that Dr. Russell’s cold fusion actually works, and the legal Russian president uses it to save the people and to show up the ringleader.

 

Which results in The Saint and Dr. Russell back in bed again, and that is about all there is to the plot.

And that is what is mostly wrong with this movie. It’s a tale of cliff-hanging thrills, hair-raising escapes, culminating in a denouement that plugs along for another ten minutes before the credits begin to roll.

All that said, it is most satisfying to see classic Val Kilmer re-emerge. The signature smirk from Top Gun of ten years before is back, along with the dash and flair from Top Secret, two years before that.

Elizabeth Shue is always great to see, but she is best remembered as the kind of teenage girl who could make Roy Moore squirm in Adventures in Babysitting. I look forward to obtaining a copy of that.

Cold fusion has come and gone, never making the big time after splashing briefly in 1989. Interesting to see it turn up as the MacGuffin in this one. Maybe it will find a home in entertainment after all these years.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

And… Here’s another I saw before. Likely on TV. Right now it’s streaming on Hulu, where I got these screen shots. This is Under Siege, from 1992 and starring Steven Seagal as Chief Petty Officer Casey Ryback. With Seagal on board you know this is going to be a kick-ass plot with lots of ammo expended. Your expectations are exceeded. This is out of Warner Brothers. Details are from  Wikipedia.

The heavy action takes place aboard the USS Missouri, during its time the pre-eminent battleship in the American fleet. The story has it that the Missouri is being retired, and there is a ceremony at Pearl Harbor. We get to see a lot of what I presume to be file footage of the ship.

i

Aboard ship, Ryback is retiring, as well. He has been a top Navy SEAL operative,  and he’s winding down his active duty as cook aboard the ship. He and Captain Adams (Patrick O’Neal) go way back, and Ryback is the only one who is allowed to cook for the Captain.

It’s a special occasion. President Bush is coming aboard for the ceremony. This is file footage slipped into the movie to add realism.

The Missouri leaves Pearl, heading for San Francisco and retirement. But Captain Adams is not getting along well with his executive officer, Commander Krill (Gary Busey). And for good reason. Krill shows signs of cracking up, and now he has taken upon himself to have a helicopter land on the Missouri without the Captain’s knowledge. Krill assures the Captain it’s all right. The admiral is throwing a surprise birthday party for the Captain, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if anybody told the Captain about the part. Things are beginning to look shady.

Krill and Ryback do not get along. Krill does not know Ryback is more than a cook, but he does not like him, anyhow. He wants all  the mess crew to stand down for the upcoming festivities. Ryback is cooking up a load of bouillabaisse for the Captain, and Krill spits in the pot. That instigates a fight with Ryback, and Krill has Ryback locked in the meat cooler for the duration, he thinks.

Arrives the helicopter and the band and the waiters for the party. Also the Miss June Playmate, Jordan Tate (Erika Eleniak),  whose job it is going to be to pop out of a big cake half naked.

But the helicopter detail is in reality a gang of mercenaries infiltrating the ship to steal nuclear-tipped Tomahawk missiles. Tommy Lee Jones is William “Bill” Strannix, ex-CIA, the leader of the band and also the leader of the mercenaries. He is one bad dude. A might touchy, too.

At the given moment the infiltrators reveal themselves. They pull weapons and shoot critical members of the crew. Krill and an accomplice march to the Captains cabin and shoot him dead. Surviving crew members are herded into a forward compartment and held as hostages.

Meanwhile Ryback has overpowered and killed the two assassins sent to kill him. He roams the ship undetected neutralizing mercenaries in ones and twos. Meanwhile, Miss Tate has taken too many seasickness tablets and has missed all the festivities. She has been snoozing inside the giant cake. Snoozing, that is, until Ryback rolls the cake out of the way. At that point she awakens and pops out, to Ryback’s amazement and delight.

At first Tate plays the standard bimbo, wanting nothing to do with killing people. Ryback turns her around, and she becomes a kick-ass gunfighter. A stolen North Korean submarine comes alongside to take on the stolen missiles, but Ryback disables, temporarily, a forward diving plane. Then, after Krill goes aboard and supervises the fixing of the machinery, Ryback enlists some seasoned gunners to activate one of the ship’s 16-inch turrets. They load a few rounds and make confetti of the sub, and Krill. Tate helps hustle the powder bags.

In case you never saw any of these guns, here’s a night view. Could be studio mockups, or possibly guns aboard the USS Alabama, a museum piece at the time.

Yeah, you knew he would do it. Ryback and the surviving Missouri crew defeat the mercenaries, and Ryback has a final showdown with Strannix in the ship’s command center, here finishing him off by stuffing his face into a live battle status CRT, after stabbing him in the head with a knife.

But two missiles have been  launched at Pearl. An F/A-18 takes out one, but Ryback must disable the other using a key sent out from Pearl. Here we see the missile view as it flies toward Pearl with its nuclear warhead. Except, of course, Tomahawk missiles have no display system. Except for versions used in testing, they do not radio any video back to their base. It’s just for dramatic effect.

Commanding officers at Pearl are jubilant at not being vaporized.

The Missouri continues its journey to San Francisco.

It makes it final port call.

Ryback salutes in honor of the dead Captain.

And that’s all the movie, except that Ryback is going  to make some sack time with Miss Tate.

And that’s what this movie is all about. A plot involving devious and vicious people, lots of close order combat, but also a great stab at realism. Apparently the Alabama stood in for the Missouri, providing a realistic rendition of a Navy warship.

I mention Wikipedia in almost all my reviews, as I pull heavily from this free Internet resource. In return, every year I log on and make a sizable contribution. You should, as well. Nothing like Wikipedia has come our way before, and everybody interested in the straight skinny, enlightened, and crowd-sourced should work to ensure it stays on-line and current. Here is the (shortened) link to contribute. You have to click on the link to get the contribute page:

https://donate.wikimedia.org/w/index.php

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Here’s one I am sure I never saw before. It’s Castle Sinister from 1948, and even Wikipedia doesn’t have an outline, so I am getting details from IMDb. It’s streaming now in Amazon Prime Video, where I obtain most of my bad movies and also these screen shots. But here’s the story.

A Major Matthews (Hugh Arnald) is seen leaving lonely Glennye Castle, apparently in Scotland from the accents. He notices a lone figure by the seaside cliff and goes over to investigate. Somebody comes up from behind and gives him a push. He plunges two hundred feet to the rocks. So begins the mystery.

This is an unfortunate turn of events, and the British War Office sends Captain Neale (James Liggat) to investigate. Neale is told to contact a British agent, a Mr. McTavish (Alastair Hunter), a local innkeeper. A greater bulk of the plot involves McTavish providing Neale with the background.

Some time past, in 1939, at the castle there was a nice tea, hosted by the Marchioness of Glenye  (Mara Russell-Tavernan) and attended by Michael (John Gauntley), next in line to assume the barony. In comes her young son, Nigel (Robert Essex), newly joined the army. Now we know the principal characters, save one.

More happened later. Nigel has had an accident while riding a horse, and now he is unable to rejoin his unit. He spends all his time at home.

Still more. After Major Matthews was killed, another War Department agent, Captain Fairfax (Lucien Boré), was sent in to continue the investigation Matthews had been doing. He left the castle and vanished. There is a hunt going on for the missing Fairfax.

But wait! A mysterious figure prowls the grounds, wearing a monk’s robe and a mask. He frightens even the postal delivery person riding up on his bicycle.

Yet another character is introduced. He is Major Selwyn (Karl Meir), who seems to already be acquainted with young Nigel. When Captain Neale turns up at the castle to discuss the fate of Major Matthews, he is strongly rebuffed by Major Selwyn, and he departs forthwith.

As we should have known all along, Selwyn turns out to be Nigel’s real father, having previously been  married to the Marchioness. He is also a German spy, and he intends to use the Glennye estate as a launching point from which to transfer stolen war plans to a German plane. He instructs the masked figure tie up his former wife, and it is revealed that the masked figure really is Nigel, his son by the previous marriage. When the son reneges on the scheme, Selwyn shoots him. By now the war plans are in the fireplace, and the plot is rapidly unraveling.

Selwyn attempts to make his escape over the castle’s parapet wall, and Neale, having now been alerted, fires. Then Neale is out of bullets, and Selwyn aims his own piece at Neale. A shot from Michael, now revealed to be a secret British agent, puts the kibosh on that plan, and Selwyn plunges over the parapet to the ground below.

The Marchioness takes to her bed and succumbs to her delicate heart condition.

And it’s pretty hokey. Actors walk across the set and speak their lines. Aside from the meeting between Neal and McTavish, there is little real drama. Inconsistencies are obvious. The Germans send in a four-engine bomber to pick up the plans. The Germans had no such aircraft.

And this one does not appear to be streaming on YouTube, so you’re going to have to purchase the DVD. Sorry about that.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I have been  waiting for this to pop up on Amazon Prime Video, or else on Hulu. And here it is, on Hulu this month. It’s Ruthless People, featuring Danny DeVito in one of his headliner performances. There is also Bette Midler, for which performance I have nothing to compare. Screen shots are from Hulu, and details are from Wikipedia. This was produced in 1986 by Touchstone Films.

DeVito is ruthless Sam Stone, shown here in the opening frames with his sleazy mistress Carol Dodsworth (Anita Morris) having a little tete a tete in a swanky restaurant. Sam is detailing to the ever more breathless Carol how he plans to kill Mrs. Stone (Midler) to get access to her millions.

This heartwarming meeting breaks up, and Sam drives to his spacious home in Bellaire. But his wife Barbara is not there. Only her noisy little dog. Not having the opportunity to do in Mrs. Stone at the moment, he takes a rest. Then he receives a phone call. It’s from a kidnapper. They will kill Mrs. Stone unless Sam coughs up $500,000. If Sam calls the police or the press, they will kill her. It would appear Sam’s problem has solved itself.

The Stone mansion is  immediately flooded with cops and reporters.

Meanwhile, Carol makes plans to blackmail Sam. She sends her real boyfriend, Earl Mott (Bill Pullman), out to video-tape the murder. But Earl has never seen Sam and does not know what he looks like. Instead of getting a video of Sam killing Barbara, he gets a very clear shot of police chief Henry Benton (William G. Schilling) coupling with a prostitute in a parked car. It’s some raucous sex, which comes off as gruesome murder to Earl, and he cannot bear to watch the video. He advises Carol to skip it, as well.

Meanwhile the kidnappers, Ken and Sandy Kessler (Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater) are at wits end as Sam refuses to pay the ransom.

Oops, Carol finally gets to see the video and realizes it’s not Sam.

Meanwhile, Barbara is in the Kessler basement working out, shedding 20 pounds and starting to look really good.

Sandy has been designing some slinky outfits, and Barbara tries them on. She likes them, and the two decide to go into business together. She leaves to get some supplies, and Ken returns home. Their hostage has flown the coop, and Ken and Sandy need to get out of town before the police arrive. The police do arrive, but it’s an officer asking them to be on the lookout for the Bedroom Killer (J. E. Freeman).

Then the Bedroom Killer arrives. Then Barbara returns. They confront the Bedroom Killer, who is killed falling down the basement stairs.

That gives Ken an idea. They convince the police that Sam did kill Barbara, and Sam is charged, having to bail himself out Now he needs to pay the ransom and get Barbara back, else he’s in big trouble. He brings the $2.2 million to a designated place, and Ken shows up to make the exchange.

But the police are waiting. Ken threatens to have Barbara killed if the police try to stop him. The police force Sam to turn over the valise full of cash. Then Earl shows up, sent by Carol to steal the money. The police demonstrate their presence and arrest Earl. Ken sets off in the getaway car with the money, followed by half the police force in Los Angeles.

But Ken has had a plan all along. He drives off the end of what appears to be the Santa Monica Pier, and some money floats to the surface. When the police retrieve the car, it’s the Bedroom Killer inside. And no money.

The police figure all but a few thousand dollars went out with the tide. Barbara returns unharmed to Sam’s loving arms, now much attracted to the new Barbara. She pushes him off the pier and joins Sandy down the beach, where Ken wades ashore wearing SCUBA gear and carrying the valise full of money. The three of them engage in a celebratory dance, and the credits roll.

Classic DeVito, one of his best, maybe after The Jewel of the Nile. Performances by Reinhold and Slater are not up to snuff, especially with DeVito and Midler on the ticket.

The plot is complicated to satisfaction, what with intertwined scams and comical misunderstandings. In a bid to get Sam Arrested, Carol sends the police chief the incriminating tape, then phones him, demanding he arrest Sam, based on the evidence on the tape. The police chief, seeing himself hump a prostitute on the tape thinks he’s being blackmailed. And so on. It get complicated but not so much to make it impossible to follow.

Poetic ending, however.

I mention Wikipedia in almost all my reviews, as I pull heavily from this free Internet resource. In return, every year I log on and make a sizable contribution. You should, as well. Nothing like Wikipedia has come our way before, and everybody interested in the straight skinny, enlightened, and crowd-sourced should work to ensure it stays on-line and current. Here is the (shortened) link to contribute. You have to click on the link to get the contribute page:

https://donate.wikimedia.org/w/index.php

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I was sure I saw this one before on HBO, but when I caught it again this month on Amazon Prime Video I had the feeling I had missed some of it. Anyhow, it’s F/X from 1986, and it had a good run at the time, spawning a franchise. It followed a plot formula, familiar even back then. Here’s an outline.

It’s a dark and stormy night in Manhattan when a car pulls up to a swanky uptown restaurant. A man exits the car and comes in out of the rain. He doesn’t have a reservation. He pulls a machine gun and starts shooting up the place. It’s a mad house.

Bullets are flying, people are cut down at their tables, a bank of large fish tanks dissolves into a shower of glass, and a flood of water and fish wash across the scene. At the very last a blond floozy recoils from the mayhem and begs for her life. She is machine gunned and dies spectacularly.

Because, that’s what it’s all about. It’s a movie set, actually in Manhattan, and the brilliant special effects (hence the title) work of cinema artist Roland “Rollie” Tyler (Bryan Brown). It’s a successful shoot, and it’s a wrap. A crew begins scooping up fish and siphoning off water. “Killed” patrons get up off the floor and head to get out of their costumes and makeup. The blond floozy is actually Roland’s best girl Ellen (Diane Venora).

But in comes a “producer” who wants to hire Roland. He’s Martin Lipton (Cliff De Young).

It turns out Lipton is not really a producer. He’s with the United States Justice Department, and he wants Roland to stage a fake assassination on a mob boss, Nicholas DeFranco (Jerry Orbach). The scheme is being managed by a Col. Edward Mason (Mason Adams), who ultimately convinces Roland to work the scam.

So DeFranco is rigged with special gear and brought to a fancy Manhattan restaurant, almost a replay of the opening scene. Roland plays the part of the hit man, and he empties his weapon into the gangster.

Only, it’s not the gangster. It’s a person hired under false pretenses to impersonate DeFranco, and Lipton has substituted the blank cartridges in the pistol with live ammunition.

Roland makes his exit and gets in the waiting car with Lipton, who immediately pulls a pistol and attempts to shoot Roland. Roland turns the tables, the driver is killed, and Roland escapes into the rain. Remember, once again it’s a dark and stormy night in Manhattan.

From a phone booth (this was 1986) Roland calls Mason to tell him what just happened. You guessed it. Mason is in on it. He orders Roland to stay put. A police car will come to get him.

But somebody else wants to use the phone, and Roland watches from a doorway, out of the rain, as a police car rolls up, and two “cops” riddle the unfortunate in the phone booth.

Now Roland realizes the shit is deeper than imagined, and he takes it on the lam, spending the night with Ellen in her place.

But come the morning, when Ellen goes to open the blinds, a sniper’s bullet comes through the glass and kills her. Her second death in the movie.

Roland waits, and the sniper shows up. Roland kills the sniper and launches a scheme to turn the tables on the crooked federal agents. He has his own arsenal at his disposal—his bag of movie tricks. Thus develops the movie’s (and subsequent offshoots) theme. Special effects to defeat bad guys.

Enter two honest cops, Lt. Leo McCarthy (Brian Dennehy) and his partner (not readily identified). They figure out something is fishy about the whole business, and as they barge close to the truth McCarthy is relieved of duty. Of course he keeps working the case. That’s the formula.

Roland regains his van, which the police had impounded, and he leads the police on a chase through the streets and along sidewalks. More special effects.

Roland makes his way to Mason’s Mansion, protected by a mass of armed guards. He defeats the protection detail one at a time, by tricking one into touching an electrified iron gate and another by tricking a fellow guard into shooting him.

But DeFranco is alive and is about to leave the country with Mason. He has the key to a box in a Swiss bank, from which everybody plans to live a life of leisure. But Roland knows DeFranco wears a pacemaker, and when DeFranco touches a charged glass plate his pacemaker comes to a halt. That leaves only Mason, who attempts to bribe Roland with the key.

But Roland is again a step ahead. He places the Uzi he stole from one of the dead security detail on a table, after removing all the bullets and also after dousing it with crazy glue. When Mason picks up the Uzi and discovers it will not shoot and also that he cannot put it down, Roland shoves him outside where the police are waiting with guns drawn.

Roland fakes his own death and later joins McCarthy in Switzerland. Roland is a master of disguise, and he already has a DeFranco’s face in his bag of tricks. With the key, that’s all he needs to get at the box and the loot.

Closing title scenes are a tour through the Swiss Alps.

Jerry Orbach was already a Broadway legend when he played second fiddle in this movie. He later went to greater popularity as Lennie Briscoe for 12 years in the Law & Order TV series. He first came to my attention decades ago when he was one of the special people who drank Dewar’s Scotch.

From Wikipedia:

sequelF/X2: The Deadly Art of Illusion, was released in 1991. A spinoff TV series entitled F/X: The Series was produced from 1996 to 1998.

Even watching this for the first time you’re going to know Roland is being set up. You only need to figure out how they are going to do it. It’s not hard, either, to figure Roland is going to use special effects to defeat the conspiracy. Beyond that, there are gaps in logic.

The crooked feds need to spirit DeFranco out of the country along with his magic bank box key, and they need to make everybody think he’s dead. So they concoct an elaborate scheme and pull a phalanx of others in. What were they thinking? What keeps the coroner from taking fingerprints to verify the identity of the corpse? The conspirators got into trouble when they got all these other players involved.

They need to kill Roland. And they engage a sniper, yet another person, to take a shot into a high-rise apartment. And the hired gun shoots Ellen instead? Then he comes to the apartment and lets himself in, only to be killed by a movie special effects man? If he could let himself in, why didn’t he do that to begin with?

It gets mentioned that maybe Roland should squelch the plot right out of the gate by unloading to the New York Times. The Watergate episode is mentioned. People, if a bunch of crooked government officials are out to track you down and kill you, the quickest way to get them off your back is to notify some reporters. The bad guys are going to be spending all their time dodging questions and trying to get out of the country to have any opportunity to mess with you.

Roland is one slick operator. In fact, he is too slick. He drives up to Mason’s house, never having seen it before, and he is able to disable alarms and lights as though he had the schematics burned into his brain. Remember, this is night time.

Yes, the movie is like Roland’s life, all special effects.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

The title of this movie is Metro. The reason for that is under investigation. This is a continuing celebration of films that came out in 1997, 20 years ago. It was a period in my life when I had absolutely no time for viewing movies, so I’m seeing this for the first time. As I write it’s being streamed on Hulu, hence the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Eddie Murphy hit it big in the 1980s, first as the brash crook sprung from the clink for 48 hours by Nick Nolte. Murphy became so famous at catching crooks that they did another 48 hours worth. With that warm up, they decided Murphy ought to be a real Beverly Hills cop, and they made three of those. I think the franchise is beginning to wind down with this one. This is classic Eddie Murphy, brash and hyperbolic and in this case devoid of cohesive plot. It works like this.

Now Murphy is Inspector Scott Roper of the San Francisco Police, and he is not so much a crime solver as he is a specialist—a highly-regarded hostage negotiator. When there’s a tight situation that calls for a steely assessment of the situation and rapid response, it’s Inspector Roper they call. Here he is arriving at the scene of a bank heist that’s gone wrong.

Yeah, Earl really screwed this up. He shot a guard, and police have him boxed in. He wants a getaway car and an airplane. Else he’s going to start killing  people.

Instead, Earl gets donuts plus some distraction, followed by a well-placed bullet from Officer Roper, which takes him down and into custody.

Next we see Roper waiting down below while his partner, Sam Baffert (Art Evans), goes to the apartment of a suspected jewelry store robber, Michael Korda (Michael Wincott). Oh, bad news. Korda is disarming and hits it off well with Sam, and Sam leaves, feeling it was a blind alley. But then we see Sam taking the elevator down, where Korda waits for him at the bottom and slashes him to death on the elevator.

This puts Roper in a bad mood, and he’s not finished with Korda. He shortly encounters Korda in a jewelry store robbery gone south, producing another hostage situation. This time Korda out-foxes the cops by shifting his ski mask to a hostage and making his getaway after a sniper shoots the hostage.

Much excitement and the prize for protracted chase and mayhem on a San Francisco cable car. Korda gets captured.

Now it’s Korda’s turn to be pissed, and he sends his cousin and partner in  crime, Clarence Teal (Paul Ben-Victor), to work some havoc on Roper’s main squeeze, the good-looking Veronica “Ronnie” Tate (Carmen Ejogo). Bad news. Roper gets there in the nick of time, saving Ronnie. Clarence gets struck and killed in the street by a car.

Korda is now maximum pissed, and he escapes from the clink on a path to revenge. And also to get back the jewels he stole, now locked in police evidence room.

Roper and Ronnie are preparing to take a vacation to Tahiti and lie naked on the beach (Ronnie thinks) and in the bed (Roper thinks). But Korda takes Ronnie hostage, and he wants the jewels back, else he has unpleasant plans for Ronnie.

Roper steals the jewels from the police lockup and teams with his sniper sidekick Kevin McCall (Michael Rapaport) to undo Korda’s plan. The swap is supposed to take place in an abandoned facility at what appears to be the decommissioned Mare Island Navy Shipyard. Korda has rigged a sadistic arrangement that has Ronnie strapped to a rotating platform featuring a cutting knife and also a switch, which Roper must keep his finger on, lest the platform rotate and send sweet Ronnie to the knife.

I’m not going to spoil it for you, but just suffice to say that McCall comes into action, Roper rescues Ronnie, and Korda meets a fiery end.

And there is no real plot. This is just an exercise meant to show off Murphy’s bold as brass persona and also to wreck a bunch of cars and fire off a ton of ammunition. The ending is unbelievably silly, as Roper and Ronnie finally make it to Tahiti and talk about going naked. We don’t get to see Ronny naked, but there are bare breasts. Sorry, Steve. There was not enough there to be worth posting.

Murphy’s acting streak continues, with Hong Kong Phooey to be released.

Ejogo is going strong, as well, although her performance here does not predict that. She excelled portraying Coretta Scott King in Boycott and Selma.

In this production Rapaport (not pictured) is cool, deadly, and bland. His career is on a tear, stretching from 1992 to the present. I have not seen him in any other films.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I watched this first on the tube years ago. That was back when they had tubes. It’s The Final Countdown from 1980 and starring Kirk Douglas as Capt. Matthew Yelland, Commanding Officer, USS Nimitz plus Martin Sheen as Warren Lasky and Katharine Ross as Laurel Scott. Heads up, this is a Sci-Fi (almost) thriller. It’s from United Artists, and I viewed it back in September on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

Opening scenes show “civilian observer” Warren Lasky arriving port side at Pearl Harbor to go aboard the aircraft carrier Nimitz. The reason is not made clear.

Viewers are treated to some fantastic scenes aboard a modern warship in operation. Lasky comes aboard the Nimitz at sea by means of a helicopter ride. There is excitement everywhere. The hottest aircraft in the world are parked all over, and the flight deck is a scene of deadly serious business.

But quickly the scene turns dark, as an unanticipated storm engulfs the Nimitz. Then, just as suddenly, everything is bright and clear again. What happened?

What happened is the Nimitz encountered a quantum mechanical event that thrust it back to 6 December 1941, the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and right in the path of the oncoming Japanese fleet.

The first indication something is amiss is when radios quit working. Radio technology advanced considerably between 1941 and 1980, what with the development of single sideband transmission and such. Standard AM sets aboard the ship pick up a holiday atmosphere back on the island of Oahu, and the crew quickly determine they have been set back nearly 40 years.

Then they begin to encounter the approaching Japanese fleet. The private craft of a troublesome United States Senator is in the path. Charles Durning is Senator Samuel S. Chapman, shown here with his very attractive assistant Laurel Scott.

The Japanese are not about to allow their presence to be discovered by this civilian boat, and Zero fighters attack, sinking the boat and killing all but Chapman and Scott (and the dog). F-14 fighters make quick work of the Zeroes, and one of the Japanese pilots is pulled out of the drink.

Back on the ship, things go badly as the Japanese pilot counter-attacks, inflicting casualties before he is neutralized. James Farentino is Cmdr. Richard T. “Dick” Owens, Commander of Carrier Air Wing 8 and also an avid historian of World War Two. He takes a liking to the comely Miss Scott.

The senator demands to be taken to Pearl Harbor so he can warn American forces of the impending attack and also so he can become famous and win a spot on the presidential ticket. Captain Yelland instead has the senator and Scott deposited on a remote beach. But the senator rebels and pulls a flare pistol. It discharges in the aircraft, which is destroyed over the ocean, leaving Owens and Scott marooned. Their ultimate fate remains unknown.

Before the Nimitz can take action against the Japanese fleet it is again engulfed in the time storm and brought back to 1980. History proceeds on its preordained course. Lasky arrives back at Pearl Harbor, where his boss, industrialist Richard Tideman (James Farentino) and wife (Catherine Ross) wait. Events now become evident. Owens and Scott have survived their marooning, and Owens has parlayed his knowledge of future events into the construction of a vast industrial empire, which he share with the former Miss Scott.

Yes, it’s a feel-good story with lots of action, modern carrier operations, the drama of time travel and intersecting lines of history, and finally a romance of the ages. And that is about all. Otherwise, it’s a good watch. Catch it on Amazon if you can. It’s still on Prime Video as this is being posted.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Old as I am, I never heard of this one before. It really was before my time. It’s Wives Under Suspicion, from 1938 from James Whale Productions and viewable currently on Amazon Prime Video. Truth is, this is not a bad production. The print is well-preserved, the dialog is realistic and direct, and acting is on par. What gets this on BMotW (barely) is the trite story behind the plot. Here’s a summary and a critique.

Warren William is District Attorney Jim Stowell, a fire-breathing, give no quarter prosecutor. To make this clear, he brags about sending a killer hoodlum to the electric chair (which scenes I have omitted), and he keeps an abacus score tally that features human skull tokens. He gleefully slides another skull over to the win side as his faithful office manager “Sharpy” (Cecil Cunningham) watches in dismay.

For a prosecuting attorney, he enjoys a splendorous home life, with a fashion model wife, Lucy (Gail Patrick), and two family friends Elizabeth (Constance Moore) and Phil (William Lundigan). This movie also features the standard studio prop of the era in the form of the comical person of color, in this case the household maid Creola, played by Lillian Yarbo. I swear, Creola has been placed in this film wholly for comic relief, and she plays the part to the hilt with all the antics a white audience of those days looked forward to.

But D.A. Stowell’s first love is his job, and his work comes home when he comes home. Setting out for a night on the town with the lovely Mrs. Stowell, the D.A. is ambushed and shot by a gangster friend of the previously electrocuted. Down goes the D.A., his elbow never to be the same again, while his trusty chauffeur picks up the gun he had been carrying and dispatches the shooter as he speeds away in a car. Very dramatic and very unbelievable.

That settles it. Stowell and Mrs. are going on vacation, and it will be impossible to  reach him. Except at the very last moment a new case comes sailing in, and Stowell takes over. It’s kindly political science professor Shaw MacAllen (Ralph Morgan), who has devoted his life to providing for his beloved wife, only to discover that she, neglected, has sought passion with another man. He has followed her and watched through a window as she embraced her lover. In a rage he pulled his trusty pistol and laid her low. This he confesses to Stowell in  the D.A.’s office, which confession is dully recorded by others outside. Stowell is going to prosecute to the letter of the law and will seek the death penalty for premeditated murder.

But Stowell finds his own life spiraling onto the same path as Professor MacAllen’s. He comes behind Lucy, primping before her mirror and kisses her. She shrinks back, an echo of the professor’s recount of his own downfall.

The case goes to trial. The D.A. is well on  his way to getting a death penalty conviction. Meanwhile, his suspicions of Lucy grow, and he seeks her out after she leaves the house. Through a window he sees her with family friend Phil. He pulls the pistol from his pocket. He starts to point it. He pulls back. The pistol goes back into his pocket. He goes back home.

The following day before the court he informs the judge he will withdraw the premeditated murder charge and will substitute, instead, a charge of manslaughter. The defense attorney has previously agreed to a guilty plea for manslaughter, and the trial ends forthwith.

Back home after the trial, Stowell finds Lucy has packed her bags and is preparing to depart his life forever. He wants a restart, despite what he has witnessed. Just then, Phil and Elizabeth charge in. They are freshly married and are booked to Niagara Falls. Everybody used to go to Niagara Falls for a honeymoon in case you missed that bit of American  history.

Wait, there’s more. Phil reveals that Lucy was by to see him the previous night, and she convinced him to reconcile with Elizabeth, which relationship had been going south previously. Horrors! There was a grave misunderstanding. It’s a textbook, movie-ending kiss.

Yes, much too trite. The story is rote drama. Does leave one teary eyed, however.

One complaint. Since when did a prosecuting attorney get the job of cranking confessions out of suspects? We see an army of cops drag the limp professor straight to  the D.A.’s desk (while the D.A is out) and begin an interrogation. Don’t they have facilities for that sort of thing down at the police station? Who wrote this script, anyhow?

Warren William had a successful film career before and following this production, but he died in  1948.

Gail Patrick enjoyed an equally successful career, eventually serving as vice president of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. She was executive producer of the Perry Mason television series, which ran from 1957 to 1966.

There is no English Wikipedia entry for Lillian Yarbo, but there is one in French:

Lillian Yarbo est une actrice américaine, née courant 1905 à Washington (district de Columbia), morte courant 1996 (lieu inconnu).

I just returned from a month in France, and I will take a stab at translating this. It says she was born in 1905 in Washington, D.C. and died in 1996. The article goes on to list an impressive array of film credits:

I like the way foreign distribution sometimes makes play with titles, possibly to make them more marketable. I have seen They Drive by Night, and I am wondering how it becomes  Une femme dangereuse in French. I am guessing the French title is more to the point, since the core of the movie is not Humphrey Bogart and George Raft driving trucks by night, but is more about Ida Lupino murdering her husband and being tried for the crime, hence the dangerous woman.

This runs for an hour and eight minutes and is worth a watch if you have recently been overwhelmed by modern cynicism, for example immediately after watching Pulp Fiction. Wikipedia reminds me this is a remake of The Kiss Before the Mirror  from 1933, also directed by James Whale. This one entered the public domain in 1966, after Universal Pictures failed to renew the copyright. You can watch it for free on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bv1e5zNsKJw

If you do watch it, give me some feedback.

False Testament

Number 2 of a series

This is the second part of my review of the video “Is the Bible Reliable?” from Focus on the Family. In the first installment I reviewed creationist Stephen C. Meyer‘s presentation purporting to demonstrate the validity of the biblical story of the Patriarch. Next up, in episodes 2 and 3, Meyer seeks to validate the biblical story of the Exodus and the Conquest of Canaan by the Israelites.

By this time I have found Meyer’s justifications tiresome, and in response I am not going to produce a point-by-point rebuttal. I will post a few points of his presentation and conclude with what should be obvious.

Meyer discusses the skeptical view of the Exodus. He presents two different views.

The Exodus: The Skeptical Views

  • There was no exodus of the nation of Israel from Egypt.
  • The Exodus happened, but it happened later than the Bible indicates.

I hold to the first view. The Israelites were never in Egypt, and there was no Exodus. Archaeological evidence is that the Israelites always lived in region west of the Jordan River. From Daniel Lazare’s recount of the archaeological findings:

Finkelstein and Silberman concluded that Judah and Israel had never existed under the same roof. The Israelite culture that had taken shape in the central hill country around 1200 B.C. had evolved into two distinct kingdoms from the start. Whereas Judah remained weak and isolated, Israel did in fact develop into an important regional power beginning around 900 B.C. It was as strong and rich as David and Solomon’s kingdom had supposedly been a century earlier, yet it was not the sort of state of which the Jewish priesthood approved. The reason had to do with the nature of the northern kingdom’s expansion. As Israel grew, various foreign cultures came under its sway, cultures that sacrificed to gods other than Yahweh. Pluralism became the order of the day: the northern kings could manage such a diverse empire only by allowing these cultures to worship their own gods in return for their continued loyalty. The result was a policy of religious syncretism, a theological pastiche in which the cult of Yahweh coexisted alongside those of other Semitic deities.

For Meyer it is necessary first to demonstrate the Israelites were once enslaved in Egypt. Among other things, he puts up a graphic from the period that is supposed to  show an Egyptian master holding sway over Semite slaves.

Semitic Slaves in Egypt

Semitic slaves as builders and brickmakers with a quota to fulfill under the command of task masters in 16th to 13th century B.C. texts such as the Tomb of Rekhmire, Louvre Leather Roll and Papyrus Anastasi III.

“But the quota of bricks which they were making previously you shall impose on them”

Exodus 5:8

Meyer does not link to the mass of counter evidence, as he is not required to in this instance, it being a polemic seeking to counter denial of the Exodus. However, the Wikipedia entry for the Exodus has a lengthy rebuttal with links to authoritative sources:

The consensus of modern scholars is that the Bible does not give an accurate account of the origins of Israel.[26] There is no indication that the Israelites ever lived in Ancient Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula shows almost no sign of any occupation for the entire 2nd millennium BCE, and even Kadesh-Barnea, where the Israelites are said to have spent 38 years, was uninhabited prior to the establishment of the Israelite monarchy.[27] Such elements as could be fitted into the 2nd millennium could equally belong to the 1st, and are consistent with a 1st millennium BCE writer trying to set an old story in Egypt.[28] So while a few scholars, notably Kenneth Kitchen and James K. Hoffmeier, continue to discuss the historicity, or at least plausibility, of the story, arguing that the Egyptian records have been lost or suppressed or that the fleeing Israelites left no archaeological trace or that the large numbers are mistranslated, the majority have abandoned the investigation as “a fruitless pursuit”

Meyer pursues the same line as Kitchen and Hoffmeier, arguing the absence of records only enforces the validity of the biblical claim. He presses his case for the existence of Israelites in Egypt by displaying a graphic, depicting the reconstruction of a dwelling in the Nile Delta. This dwelling is in a style known only to the Israelites.

To the rankest of amateurs, that would include me, this is not evidence of in excess of 600,000 Israelite slaves in Egypt. At the most it indicates somebody, possibly from the land of the Israelites, constructed a home here on the plan of an Israelite style.

God, with the help of Moses, freed the Israelite slaves from their Egyptian masters and struck off to the east, where God promised them they could have the land of Canaan. Forty years later they arrived there, without leaving a trace of their 40-year habitation during the interim. Upon arriving at the east bank of the Jordan river, with Moses now dead, Joshua took charge and engaged, with God’s approval and connivance, in a war to obliterate the people already living west of the Jordan. This is the story of The Conquest.

The Israelite Conquest

  • Before entering Canaan, God commanded the Israelites to drive the Canaanites out of the land and to settle it (Numbers 33:50-53).
  • With Joshua as their leader, the Israelites began the conquest of Canaan by destroying and burning Jericho, on  the west side of the Jordan River (Joshua 6:1-21).
  • The next city the Israelites destroy by fire is Ai in the central hill country (Joshua 8:3-28).
  • The third and final city that the Israelites under Joshua burn and destroy is Hazor in the north (Joshua 11:10-14).
  • During the Judges period, the Israelites slowly gain control over more of Canaan.

The Israelite Conquest

And here’s the good part.

Joshua 11:10-13

“Then Joshua turned back at that time, and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword; for Hazor formerly as the head of all these kingdoms. They struck every person  who was in it with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them; there was no  one left who breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire.”

What I find so amazing is this is the same Stephen C. Meyer who in the previous video cautioned us against moral relativism.

Moral relativism, according to Meyer and also according to most who give thought to the matter, holds there is no fixed and true morality. Moral values are at best set by societies and in the worst cases are set by individuals. Individuals who set their own moral values may become social outcasts and usually do harm to themselves, with harm being a relative term.

How come this reminds me of ISIS? I have no better way to describe moral relativism than stories of God, the giver of moral absolutes, condoning, yeah facilitating, the slaughter of innocents. “If he does it to me, then it’s wrong.” I said that.

Meyer goes on to persuade us the Conquest, described in the Bible, has a factual basis. Readers are invited to scratch the surface of this argument and see what lies beneath.

The order of books in the Old Testament is:

  • Genesis
  • Exodus
  • Leviticus
  • Numbers
  • Deuteronomy
  • Joshua
  • Judges

And more. I’m thinking Meyer has now taken us through Judges, but there may be more. I have not previewed the video. In all this Meyer has presented what is surely his strongest case, but in doing so he has passed completely by the most onerous claims against the Bible. This book cites events and circumstances even Meyer would disavow. To cite some:

  • In Genesis the creation of the Earth a little over 6000 years ago.
  • The story of Noah and the flood that never happened.
  • The parting of the Red Sea.
  • The story from Joshua of the sun standing still in the sky.

Watching the video you will come to acknowledge that Meyer is a master presenter. He delivers faultlessly and with earnest commitment. If he suspects for a moment that what he is telling his student is a massive fraud, he never lets on. Look into his eyes as he presents, and you will see that if he knows it is not true, he also knows it has to be true.

The next review will start with Episode 4: “Israel’s Rise to Prominence through David and Solomon.” From Amazon:

Discover that if one can discount the historicity of the bible, its theological implications and message can also be dismissed. But if these stories prove to be true, then the message and meaning of the Bible must be taken seriously as well.

Keep reading.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Available on Hulu in September and worth the two+ hours it takes to watch it. It’s Shooter, released in 2007, and starring Mark Wahlberg as Force Recon veteran Bob Lee Swagger. This is going to be about sniper action, and you’re going to see more ammunition expended than in the Great North Hollywood Shootout of ten years before. A bunch of stuff gets blown up, as well, but there is a plot of sorts. Details are from  Wikipedia.

The opening scene shows Swagger and his spotter, Lance Corporal Donnie Fenn (Lane Garrison), perched on a ridge somewhere in Ethiopia, aiming at protecting the withdrawal of a force group of private fighters. Swagger fulfills his mission by taking out some technical vehicles rolling down the road, but then things go south. A helicopter gunship attacks them. The column escapes, leaving Swagger and Fenn to swing for it. Swagger downs the gunship with a well-placed shot but not before Fenn is killed. Bitter and disenchanted, Swagger makes it home on his own and retires to a mountain retreat.

Three years later his serenity is interrupted by the arrival of another group of privateers who want his expertise. The group is headed by Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover), and he makes a compelling case. There is a plot to assassinate the President of the United States with a sniper attack. They want Swagger to second-guess the sniper and help stop the attack.

But it’s a setup. Swagger figures out the sniper’s plan and sets up the team to take him down. But (we learn later) the President is not the target. It’s a visiting Ethiopian arch bishop who has come to give the President some critical information. Too late, Swagger turns and faces a local cop preparing to kill him. He dives out a window and escapes, but he’s been wounded twice.

Meanwhile, the conspirators are setting Swagger up for the fall.  They have his sniper rifle, and have used a bullet fired from it to kill the arch bishop with the real sniper’s rifle. Then they plant Swagger’s rifle in the sniper’s hide and fake the discovery, placing the blame on Swagger.

Swagger’s best bit of luck is running into rookie FBI Agent Nick Memphis (Michael Peña). He tells Nick he’s not the sniper as he disarms him and takes his weapon.

Nick can’t get anybody to believe what Swagger told him. For some reason he is pressured to toe the party line and go along with the fake story. A lot of stuff does not ring true. The cop who was supposed to kill Swagger claims he saw a rifle barrel out the window of a building, and charged up to kill the sniper. Nick knows better than that. A sniper never pokes the barrel of his rifle out the window. He sits back in the room where no sunlight falls on any part of himself or his weapon. See Silent Trigger.

Swagger makes it to the home of Fenn’s widow, Sarah (Kate Mara) in Kentucky. She was a nurse trainee, and she shelters Swagger and patches him up.

Nick works covertly with Swagger, and they figure out the plot. A clean bullet that had been fired from Swagger’s rifle was fitted with a paper wrapping and fired from the killer’s rifle. The killing bullet is now matched to Swagger’s weapon. Nike helps Swagger figure out the identity of the sniper, a Russian expert, Mikhaylo Sczerbiak (Rade Šerbedžija) previously crippled in a bombing attack. Swagger and Nick lay a plan to assault the safe house where Sczerbiak is held. They figure in advance it’s going to be an elaborate trap, so they plan accordingly. They successfully kill three armed guards, and Swagger penetrates the house, killing more guards. He confronts Sczerbiak , who reveals the entire plot, before killing  himself.

The retreating privateers that Swagger and Fenn had protected three years before were returning from a mission to annihilate an Ethiopian village in order to dissuade other villages from objecting to the construction of a pipeline. The Ethiopian arch bishop was coming to give this information to the President and needed to be eliminated. The whole mess is the work of Johnson and crooked Senator Charles F. Meachum (Ned Beatty).

Swagger and Nick fight their way out of the trap, wiping out just about the entire host of paramilitary intent on killing them.

Previously the conspirators figured out the connection with Sara Fenn, and they dispatched two goons to snatch her. She levels one with a shotgun blast, but the other, Jack Payne (Elias Koteas), gets the drop on her and grabs her. He promises the two of them will become very familiar before she sees the last of him. Swagger learns this from the soon dead Sczerbiak.

Swagger contacts Johnson and arranges a meeting to get Sarah released. The agreed upon place is a snowy mountain top. The idea is Johnson and Meachum want to be sure they can see Swagger coming from a long way off. Helicopters land, and the party wait for Swagger to appear. Payne holds on to a fearful Sarah, whom he has been using as a sex toy in the meantime.

Of course, Swagger and Nick are ahead of the game. They know snipers are going to be waiting, so Nick appears in the distance instead of Swagger,  and he’s wearing body armor. The first sniper shot knocks him down, but then Swagger proceeds to kill all three snipers. Payne puts a pistol to Sarah’s head, but Swagger shoots it. Then he shoots off Payne’s hand. Then Sarah scoops up Payne’s pistol and puts him away.

Meachum and Johnson. are undone, but they still have the upper hand. Swagger has left a message, and shortly two helicopters with FBI agents arrive. Swagger is arrested, and he makes an appearance before the United States Attorney General. He has asked that his sniper rifle, held as evidence, be brought. He confirms the rifle has been in FBI custody all the time and has not been fired. Then, given freedom of his hands, he loads a round, points it at Johnson, and pulls the trigger. Click. He previously disabled the firing pins in all his weapons before leaving to work with the conspirators. His weapon could not have fired the fatal shot.

Swagger is released, but the Attorney General tells him nothing legally can be done about Johnson and Meachum. Some other kind of action is needed. Hint hint.

Swagger assaults the mountain retreat of Senator Meachum, where he and Johnson are planning additional evil. Again Swagger deals out death and destruction. Senator Meachum’s last words are, “I’m a United States Senator.” Meachum’s mountain retreat dissolves in a fiery explosion as Swagger saunters away.

Swagger and Sarah drive off in a pickup truck to parts unknown.

About 26 minutes before the end of this movie I realized I had seen it before, but only the final 26 minutes. I picked it up previously, a few years back, at the point where Swagger was making arrangements to meet his nemeses on the mountain top. Now all the rest makes sense.

Cinematography, directing, and performances are spot on. The plot is 100% unbelievable. We see Swagger time and again running through storms of flying projectiles and never sustaining a scratch, all the while mowing down opponents left and right. And that’s just the beginning.

This is one of those conspiracy theory movies, and the lesson about conspiracies is that three is too great a number. This conspiracy has a legion of participants. Of course, one of these was the crooked cop, but he is shortly found shot to death in an alley. In the mean time they have helicopter pilots, mercenary fighters, any number of which could blow the entire business up on a moments notice.

This had a budget of $61 million and brought in $95.7 million, which means by Hollywood math it did not break even. From Wikipedia:

In 2016, USA Network picked up a series of the same name based on the movie, with Wahlberg as a producer and Ryan Phillippe as Swagger.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I waited 43 years to see this one. It’s The Conversation, from 1974, written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. As I write this (August) the movie is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia. My assessment draws from a single view-through. I did not go back and analyze it to pick up on items I missed the first time. For a deeper view check the Wikipedia entry.

Gene Hackman is Harry Caul, a master eavesdropper. Only he calls his art “surveillance.” It’s not apparent what is about from the opening scene, which shows what appears to be a master sniper drawing a bead on pedestrians in Union Square in San Francisco. It turns out (I had to look again), it’s a technician with a directional microphone taking aim at a couple strolling the mall in front of the City of Paris department story (defunct since 1976).

The pair are Ann (Cindy Williams) and Mark (Frederic Forrest), and they are walking around in circles, having a conversation, hence the title.

Harry has been engaged to record said conversation, and he is being paid $15,000 for the job. After a hard afternoon at the task, Harry and his team quit the field, and Harry goes back to his shop to make sense of the recording. This is 1974, so the recording is on magnetic tape. The next few screen shots show Harry and his associate Stan (John Cazale) at work cleaning up the recording.

What Harry gets out of the cleaned up audio is the conversation of two innocents fearing for their lives. At one point the conversation is clouded by noise from a street musician. Harry applies a filter circuit he has designed, and Mark’s words come out clearly, “… kill us if he got the chance.” Harry becomes alarmed.

As we learn later, on a previous assignment Harry was able to obtain a recording of two people conversing on a lone boat in the middle of a lake. The recording exposed the two to the retribution of a ruthless individual, and an entire family as murdered.

When Harry arrives at his appointment to deliver the recording (and some photos) to “the director” He is told the director is not in, and he should hand over the tapes to one Martin Stett. Harry refuses to make the exchange, and there is a tussle over possession of the deliverables. Harry departs without making the exchange. Stett looks remarkably like (Harrison Ford).

There is a convention of spy ware companies, and Harry attends, meeting old friends and rivals in the business. Harry is the acknowledged master of the eavesdropping art, developing his own devices and keeping his own counsel. He has no social life, deserting a romantic liaison when the woman becomes too inquisitive.

The crowd of operators at the convention retire to Harry’s shop for drinks, banter, and some horseplay. A hostess from the convention is Amy Fredericks (Teri Garr). As the party breaks up she leaps on Harry’s bones, but he only wants to sleep. She strips and gets in bed with him.

When Harry wakes up Amy is gone, and so are his tapes. He realizes he has been conned and becomes convinced something nefarious is afoot. The conversation told of a planned meeting in room 773 at the Jack Tar Hotel. Harry attempts to rent that room in advance of the date, presumably to plant bugs, but the room is not available. He rents the room next door and installs a microphone through a hole in the bathroom wall.

Then he records, but he can’t bear to listen, instead playing the TV and music.

It’s hard to figure out what happens next, because a lot of it might exist only in Harry’s fevered brain. But he has visions of violence in room 773 when he wakes up the following morning. Checking the room (picks the lock) he finds no evidence anybody has ever been there. Out on the sidewalk the newspaper headline tells of the violent death of (I presume) The Director (Robert Duvall). A plush limousine parked on the street reveals Ann, non the worse for wear, ensconced.

At this point I have to guess. Harry interpreted the conversation incorrectly. Ann and Mark were planning on getting rid of The Director.

Harry retires to his very private apartment and plays his saxophone and listens to a vinyl platter (1974). The phone rings, but nobody speaks. Then the phone rings again, and this time it appears to be Stett on the phone warning Harry to keep his to his own counsel. The phone plays back sounds from Harry’s apartment just prior to the second phone call.

Harry tears his apartment to shreds looking for the bug, but he can’t find it.

This is one of those movies that come close to stream of consciousness. There are long periods of introspection, with Harry going over the conversation again and again, often times when he’s not in his workshop but just riding the bus or sitting in his apartment. In his shop he plays, rewinds, plays again the audio, remembering what he was seeing at the time.

In the end it’s all about Harry, his own insecurity and self doubt. It also touches on personal privacy as a morality issue, how much is to be expected and how much is taken for granted. In the end we see Harry destroyed by the industry he championed.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

A reassurance they made quality movies 67 years ago. This one is The Man Who Cheated Himself, from 1950. All right. I said they made good movies, not good titles. It’s a nice view, featuring Lee J. Cobb and Jane Wyatt, but it still has a number of flaws. I caught it streaming on Amazon Prime Video, the go-to place for old movies. Details are from Wikipedia.

The opening scene shows a man unpacking a new handgun he has purchased for himself. We have to wonder what he plans to do with it. We see him loading it with six cartridges and secreting it on a bookshelf. Then he scoops up the packaging and tosses it into the fireplace, to be consumed. Except viewers see a piece of paper fall to the floor unnoticed. We will later learn this is the gun’s inspection ticket from the manufacturer.

Next the man goes outside onto the balcony and closes the French doors. Then he uses a tool to jimmy the lock and let himself in. Then he closes the door and puts away the tool. His suspicious wife is knocking on the other door and wondering why he has it locked.

The wife, Lois Frazer (Wyatt), has it out with her husband, Howard Frazer (Harlan Warde). We won’t be seeing him, because he’s going to get killed early in the film. Anyhow, Lois is the one with all the money, which is why Howard married her. Now all that is over, and divorce preparations are in  work. Howard is off to catch a flight to Seattle, where he expects to do some salmon fishing. Before leaving he advises Lois that she really should change her will so he won’t get all her money if something happens to  her. Heh, heh.

Now Lois spots the inspection ticket and realizes Howard has plans for her. She phones her friend, her very close friend, Police Lieutenant Edward Cullen (Cobb). But Edward does not answer the phone. Edward’s younger brother Andy (John Dall) does. He tells Lois Edward is out of the office. She says she will call back. Andy is moving into his new office as a police detective. He hopes to learn a lot from his brother. He does.

When Lois finally gets Edward on the phone, she tells him about the gun. She thinks Howard is up to something. She wants Edward to come over immediately.

Edward and Lois have something going together. Lois does this a lot. Howard is her second husband, and Edward is scheduled to be the third.

When Edward arrives at Lois’ sumptuous home, she tells him she found the gun. Edward tells her to go get it, and after she picks up the gun she hears somebody entering by way of the French doors. It’s Howard, and he lunges for Lois. She shoots him dead. That’s a big problem. Lois does not want to go to jail. Edward needs to help her cover up the killing.

Edward phones the airport and learns Howard’s flight is not until much later. He’s at the airport. Edward’s plan is to drop Howard’s body off outside the airport, take his wallet, and make it appear Howard was robbed and murdered at the airport.

That doesn’t go well. It’s dark when Edward dumps Howard’s body, and as he starts to drive away two tourists ask him for directions. He ignores them and drives away. Then they find Howard’s body and call the police. They can’t describe Edward, but the man describes the car.

Things go downhill for Edward, but Lois is not concerned. Her sweet butt is going to be safe. Please note that people smoked a lot in those old movies.

Edward has tossed the gun off the Bay Bridge. But shortly it is used to kill a liquor store clerk in a robbery. The bullets match with the ones that killed Howard. A fisherman’s net retrieved the gun, and the fisherman’s son is implicated. He cops to the liquor store caper, but he can prove he was not at the airport.

Much to Edward’s chagrin, Andy has been doing first class police work, and the evidence is pointing to Edward. The tourist identifies Edward’s car. An APB goes out for Edward and his car. San Francisco is a city with only six ways out, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Oakland Bay Bridge, and apparently four land routes. The city is sealed off.

But Edward knows a place where he and Lois can hide out. It’s an abandoned facility at Fort Point, the Presidio, adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge. But it’s a place that Andy knows about, as well, and he drives out there to look around. Edward and Lois have stashed their car, but Andy finds it. A note left on the windshield is meant for Andy. The note says they have left.

But Andy is suspicious. He climbs the heights, but does not spot Edward and Lois hiding in the upper tower. The notorious San Francisco wind blows Lois’ scarf away, and it floats down to  the compound court yard. Does Andy see it as he gets in his car and departs?

Apparently so. After dark, as Edward and Lois leave the fort and attempt to flee on foot across the bridge, the police spring their trap and arrest them.

The movie ends in the Superior Court where Edward is escorted out by a cop, his career shattered and facing prison time. Lois leaves on the arms of her new boyfriend, her high-priced attorney, hoping to be the next husband.

Yeah, the title is one for the books. The Man Who Cheated Himself? That does not even  make sense and is hard to relate to the plot. If you are going for a title that’s mildly evocative of the plot, how about something like One Lie Too Many?

It’s a clever plot, but a bit thin. A smart police detective like Edward does all the wrong things, and he never gets a break.

Lois shoots Howard in his presence, and that should have been the end of it. There is proof Howard bought the gun. There is proof he went to the airport and then returned, entering by way of the French doors, which he previously jimmied. A little white lie, and Edward and Lois could have made a perfect case of self defense. Instead, Edward goes way out on a limb to protect wicked Lois from scandal.

Carry Howard’s body back to the airport and dump it? It’s going to be obvious the body was moved. Any police detective would know that.

Giving the tourists the brush off? Why not just tell them which way to the parking lot and wait for them to leave before driving off. Then they would be long gone, and they would never connect Edward with the dead body.

Edward dumps the gun off the bridge. Last time I was in San Francisco, the airport was south of the city, in Burlingame. You don’t cross a bridge to get to and from the airport. Edward had to detour across the Oakland Bay Bridge, stopping at a toll plaza, where he could be and was recognized. Then back the other way across the bridge. I don’t know about 1950, but currently you pay tolls entering the city, and the bridges are free leaving.

Like I said, Edward doesn’t get a break. The gun is immediately found and used in a shooting.

Andy, his new bride beside him, drives through a red light and gets a ticket. The cop tells Andy about seeing Edward on the bridge.

Yes, this plot requires a string of improbabilities.

The print is sharp with a full range of tones, but a bit shopworn. There is a section containing a number of splices, losing a few seconds of back and forth between Edward and Andy.

Lee J. Cobb turns in the kind of top performance we have come to expect of him. Four years later he killed (really) in On the Waterfront. Jane Wyatt is the perfect classy bitch. I always saw her as the actress you signed when Jane Wyman wasn’t available.

This one never caught the full attention of Wikipedia and IMDb. Neither provides a plot synopsis. You can watch it for free on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZXsoLg88-o

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This is akin to beating a dead horse. Since Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out 38 years ago critics have been whipping it back and forth, the consensus being that it missed the Star Trek frame of mind from the 1960s. And it’s overly long. It’s from Paramount Pictures in 1979. Here’s a quick look and some personal comments. Everybody knows the characters. I’m only going to credit the newcomers. I just watched it on Hulu, but it’s also available on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

In the beginning we see Spock undergoing the Kolinahr ceremony, but he cannot complete it and accept the medallion. Apparently he returns to Star Fleet.

The movie is sprinkled with spectacular views of Star Fleet operations.

Admiral Kirk takes command of the Enterprise, displacing Captain Willard Decker (Stephen Collins), much to Decker’s displeasure.

Apparently Enterprise has undergone some refitting, and the shakedown is not going well. The scene moves to the Enterprise bridge, where much disarray is obvious.

Long expected, if you ever watched the original TV series, there comes the eventual transporter accident. Two people are lost when the transport malfunctions. Long faces all around.

Replacement crew comes in the form of navigator Ilia (Persis Khambatta) from Delta. She’s an old flame of Decker’s.

There’s eye candy in the form of graphics and visual effects. I could not help noticing the rounded corners of this display screen. Those are hold-overs of when display screens were CRTs.

The Enterprise‘s mission is a mysterious cloud approaching Earth. As the Enterprise draws near it encounters powerful forces, ominous warnings, and the invasion of the bridge by a plasma column and an arcing beam. The beam lands on Ilia, and she vanishes, clothing and all.

Ilia soon returns in the form of a mechanical reproduction, right down to Ilia’s personality. Except the mechanical Ilia has been sent as a communications device to the Enterprise. The source is also purely mechanical, and it wants to be connected to the Creator. Nobody can figure out who or what the Creator is. The alien life form (the cloud) refers to itself as V’Ger (veejer).

Penetrating deep into V’Ger, the Enterprise crew discovers at its heart the Voyager 6 spacecraft, a fiction reflecting on the Voyager spacecraft program of the 20th century. The spacecraft has lost its ability to send back its data, and developed V-Ger as a means to get our attention.

Decker melds with the mechanical Ilia, and both join V’Ger in its quest for knowledge. And it all could have been accomplished in little over an hour instead of two hours and 12 minutes.

This movie runs long scenes with nothing much happening. Too much attention is paid to atmosphere and not enough to the story.

Bad Moon Rising

Where did this come from?

I see the bad moon rising
I see trouble on the way
I see earthquakes and lightnin’
I see bad times today

So, what does this have to do with the Kecksburg conspiracy stories? First I need to bring you up to date. Plans are ramping up for a motion picture, and pitchmen are turning up the heat. From INDIEGOGO:

A mystery solved, Government lies exposed!

This feature film will help drive interest and solve a 52 year old mystery.  The US government has refused to tell the truth, even to the Clintons.  What is so secret that even they can’t know?  But to expose the truth, we can’t just depend on traditional film financing, we need your help.

The producer is Cody Knotts, originally from Taylortown, PA., and the above link leads to a pitch for crowd-funding to get the picture off the ground. The pitch, apparently penned by Knotts, stresses these additional points:

  • The public deserves to know the truth about Kecksburg. Our government has no right to continue to hide the truth.  Even Hillary Clinton can’t get the records, but this feature film can help keep Kecksburg in the public eye.  Even more important, this film can help drive tourism to the Pittsburgh region and Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Roswell gets $95 million annually and Kecksburg nearly nothing.
  • Are you tired of your government lying to you?  Then join our fight, help us make this film.  Help us expose the truth.
  • Do you care about Pittsburgh?  Would you like to help change a region for the better?
  • Films are forever.  They last beyond our lifetimes.  This is our chance to tell a story that has fascinated the public for decades.  Bryant Gumble, Ancient AliensUnsolved Mysteries and the History Channel  have all investigated Kecksburg but no one has brought the legend to life, until now.  We need your help and we want you to be a part of the legend.

There is a load of appeal to logic and reason here.

Actually, there is not, and a quick review of the story is worth considering.

On 9 December 1965 a significant fireball (meteor) was observed above the United States northern tier, roughly along the border with Canada. There are multiple accounts, giving differing conclusions. Here are two from the same Wikipedia entry:

Sky and Telescope

Several articles were written about the fireball in science journals. The February 1966 issue of Sky & Telescope reported that the fireball was seen over the Detroit-Windsor area at about 4:44 p.m. EST. The Federal Aviation Administration had received 23 reports from aircraft pilots, the first starting at 4:44 p.m. A seismograph 25 miles southwest of Detroit had recorded the shock waves created by the fireball as it passed through the atmosphere. The Sky & Telescope article concluded that “the path of the fireball extended roughly from northwest to southeast” and ended “in or near the western part of Lake Erie”.

Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada

A 1967 article by two astronomers in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (JRASC) used the seismographic record to pinpoint the time of passage over the Detroit area to 4:43 p.m. In addition, they used photographs of the trail taken north of Detroit at two different locations to triangulate the trajectory of the object. They concluded that the fireball was descending at a steep angle, moving from the southwest to the northeast, and likely impacted on the northwestern shore of Lake Erie near Windsor, Ontario.

Wikipedia points out the obvious. The two reports are contradictory. On one point they both agree. The object in question landed near the western end of Lake Erie. Something equally obvious is not pointed out. The western shore of Lake Erie is a long way from Kecksburg, PA. So, where does Kecksburg come into this? Your guess is as good as mine.

That notwithstanding, following the flash in the sky, there were reports of an object landing near Kecksburg. Again from Wikipedia:

However, eyewitnesses in the small village of Kecksburg, about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, claimed something crashed in the woods. A boy said he saw the object land; his mother saw a wisp of blue smoke arising from the woods and alerted authorities. Another reported feeling a vibration and “a thump” about the time the object reportedly landed. Others from Kecksburg, including local volunteer fire department members, reported finding an object in the shape of an acorn and about as large as a Volkswagen Beetle.

And the story devolved from there. There are claims that government officials came and cordoned off the area, confiscated photographic film and audio recordings, some of which were produced in preparation for reports on the incident. Anyhow, the sum total of the story is an amazing abuse of government power and of an attempt to cover up, something. Amazing, provided any or all of these reports are true.

In 1967 there was a follow-up investigation. From Wikipedia:

A 1967 article by two astronomers in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (JRASC) used the seismographic record to pinpoint the time of passage over the Detroit area to 4:43 p.m. In addition, they used photographs of the trail taken north of Detroit at two different locations to triangulate the trajectory of the object. They concluded that the fireball was descending at a steep angle, moving from the southwest to the northeast, and likely impacted on the northwestern shore of Lake Erie near Windsor, Ontario.

Again, others besides those involved in the story are pinpointing the site of the landing hundreds of miles from Kecksburg.

Nearly forty-four years after the event Space.com published a report on another investigation headlined “Is Case Finally Closed on 1965 Pennsylvania ‘UFO Mystery’?” and the essence of which is:

NASA’s resulting search, monitored by the court, was completed in August 2009. The outcome of the investigation is available in Kean’s paper, which was posted online this month to the coalition’s Web site.

Despite, “posted online this month to the coalition’s Web site,” no such report is found on the coalition’s Web site. Regardless, the conclusion of Kean’s paper is supposedly this:

The report, flatly titled, “The Conclusion of the NASA Lawsuit – Concerning the Kecksburg, PA UFO case of 1965,” explains how the process worked and the results of the search after the 2007 settlement in federal court.

The bottom line: No smoking gun documents were released, Kean notes, but many provocative questions and unresolved contradictions were raised by what was received, as well as by the fact that many files were missing or destroyed.

All this leaves ample room for the development of conspiracy theories and for the people who make them into a business. And business this appears to be. From the INDIEGOGO site:

Roswell generates $95 million annually, Kecksburg nearly nothing.  Although Kecksburg has more documentation, more witnesses and more mystery… it has never been commercialized.  This film is the key element in changing that dynamic, both shedding a light on the truth and jump starting the local economy of Pittsburgh, the Laurel Highlands, Westmoreland, Somerset and Fayette Counties.

As part of these efforts, we are working with local political leaders to bring this film to life. In addition, local Pittsburgh stars like Curt Wootton (Pittsburgh Dad), Shane Douglas (5 time world wrestling champion) and Richard John Walters (My Bloody Valentine 3D) are all part of the cast.

And more. There is additional language on the INDIEGOGO site concerning commercial appeal. For example:

You can be listed as an Abductee in the film, get cool alien statues and even be in the film.  Even better you could have a movie poster with YOU on it!  If you can make it to the premiere, you can hang with the cast, walk the red carpet and help shed light on a 52 year old mystery.

Apparently in return for helping to underwrite production.

Running throughout is the theme of government malfeasance and mysterious doings that might include contact with extraterrestrials. These kinds of themes find great appeal with a segment of the population. And that’s how I came to hear about it. A friend of Knotts posted a link to the INDIEGOGO site on Facebook, and that started a conversation. After a few exchanges I chimed in, posting a link to my review of the movie Fire in the Sky and comparing it to the Kecksburg production. I got this response:

…and you label “Kecksburg” as being based on fantasies by… having seen the script, perhaps? Having weighed witness testimonies in THAT incident?

..and “based on an actual event” still indicates fiction is involved, right?

Well, yes. Fiction is almost always involved in a dramatization. But there is more depth. I responded:

“as being based on fantasies” I know the Kecksburg story, and there is a load of fantasy involved. I have not read the script, but I see the promo headlining the following: “Kecksburg: It’s time for the truth! For 52 years the US Government has hidden what happened in Kecksburg. Now the truth will be known.”

I’m a reasonable person, not prone to jump to conclusions. But this has all the smell of a supposed expose of a supposed conspiracy. Stand by for an analysis of the Kecksburg story, coming soon to a blog post near you.

Hence this posting.

I cannot be sure my Facebook friend concedes to the theme of the  movie, but there are others who do, and they are legion. They are the drivers of a thriving  industry in this country and around the world. The movie JFK is unabashed in its proposal for an alternate theory of President Kennedy’s assassination. I have encountered at least one person who finds the movie to be evidence. I previously worked with some French researchers, and one remarked to me his amazement at learning many Americans believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Fact is, the French may be more inclined to accept these notions than we are. I have a book by Thierry Meyssan that goes to great length to fabricate a defiant version of the 9/11 attacks.

Full disclosure. The producer of Southern Fried Bigfoot approached me a few years ago and asked whether I would be willing to be interviewed on camera about cryptozoology. As a result I wound up with an IMDb screen credit. Also a copy of the video for those interested in watching it.  So I have contributed in a small way to this industry.

If and when the Kecksburg movie comes out I will do a review. There will be more. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.