Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

After there was Batman (1966) and before there was The Dark Knight, there was Batman (1989). This was streaming on Hulu in October, giving me the opportunity to watch it for the first time. It’s from Warner Brothers. Details are from Wikipedia.

The setting is, of course, Gotham City, a thinly-disguised New York City. We get this early on when the opening scene shows some out-of-towners wandering into the wrong neighborhood. The father says this way to 7th Avenue. The kid says 7th Avenue is the opposite direction. They are obviously on 8th Avenue, now heading the wrong way, toward 9th Avenue, a region previously known as Hell’s Kitchen. Of course they get mugged.

But Batman comes to the rescue. Sort of. After the muggers pistol whip the husband and take his money and credit cards, Batman comes upon them and gives them a thrashing they will never forget. This in the early day’s of Batman’s career, and people are still trying to figure out what sort of crooked scheme he’s working.

Enter diabolical crook Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson). He’s about to transform how crooked deals are done in Gotham.

The big boss is the godfather-like Carl Grissom (Jack Palance). Jack notices that Carl is muscling on on Jack’s main squeeze Alicia Hunt, played by Jerry Hall. Jack aims to level the field.

Meanwhile, sizzling hot news photographer Vicky Vale (Kim Basinger) has teamed with ace reporter Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) to get an exclusive story, with photos, on Batman. She gets invited to dinner at his sprawling mansion with reclusive billionaire Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), whose alter ego is Batman. If you’re like me you’re wondering who does her hair. She spends the night.

Carl schemes to  have Jack murdered in a setup safe-crack caper at a chemical company. That fails, but Jack falls into a vat of unidentified chemicals, requiring skin treatment and resulting in a clown-like countenance. The episode also unleashes Jack’s true nature, and he becomes The Joker, master criminal with a twisted persona.

Bruce Wayne’s secret is not for long. His trusted butler, Alfred (Michael Gough), sees that true love is withering on the vine, and he brings Vicky to the Bat Cave to  learn Bruce’s secret.

There ensue multiple encounters involving Batman, Bruce Wayne, Vicky, and The Joker, culminating in  The Joker’s master plan to  hijack the Gotham bi-centennial parade, throwing out wads of cash to the gathering throng, before activating the valves to unleash poison gas from a giant clown balloon.

Of course, Batman intervenes, introducing the Batwing  (we already witnessed the Batmobile), and there is a protracted battle to the finish between Batman and The Joker, during which Vicky repeatedly comes under menace. And I’m not going to tell you how The Joker meets his end.

This movie suffers from an unimaginative plot. The main characters are introduced, they exercise a sequence of sketches, each involving menace, intervention, rescue, retreat. Until the final, for which there is no retreat phase.

Jack Nicholson turns in a stellar performance, providing that’s not a stand-in recapitulating Malcolm McDowell from A Clockwork Orange, prancing around inside a museum, vandalizing priceless works of art. “Tell me something, my friend. You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?”

Keaton continues to find regular film work, but nothing that makes the Earth move. Much the same with Basinger. More’s the pity.

Jerry Hall is originally from Mesquite, Texas, (born in Gonzalez, Texas) and most famous as Mick Jagger’s squeeze for many years.

There is an interesting final scene with the dead Joker lying in the street. All that survived his fall from a great height was a little mechanical laugh box, but you have to imagine hearing “Ha ha, ha ha ha ha…” to the cadence of “ Ne Ne Na Na Na Na Nu Nu.”

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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 of the Week

One of a series

Apparently I’m never going to run out of bad movies. This is another from Amazon Prime Video, a treasure vault of bad movies. It’s Bank Alarm , from 1937 out of Grand National Pictures. And it’s in decent shape for being 80 years old. A notice up front informs that this has been remastered, but that may be only the sound. The notice talks of unavoidable dips in sound level. Details are from Wikipedia.

This features Conrad Nagel as FBI Special Agent Alan O’Connor and Eleanor Hunt as Bobbie Reynolds, Alan’s sharp looking assistant. They are trying to track down a gang of bank robbers. The FBI investigates bank robberies. They’re not having a load of luck. They captured gang member O’Hern, but then a hit man disguised as a lawyer rubbed him out inside the jail and then got clean away.

Despite their desperate need to corral the robbers, the FBI duo takes time out to greet Alan’s pretty sister, Kay O’Connor, played by Marlo Dwyer, as she arrives on a flight. Apparently on the flight, Kay has met the infatuating Jerry Turner (Frank Milan). This scene also introduces bumbling photographer Clarence ‘Bulb’ Callahan (Vince Barnett), who’s going to provide comic relief for the next 53 minutes of run time.

So urgent is their need to catch the bank robbers, that everybody takes the night off to dine, drink, and dance at Club Karlotti. Spoiler alert: Karlotti is the ring leader of the bank robbers. You can tell  he’s Italian by his name, except the Italian alphabet doesn’t have the letter K. You figure it.

Jerry excuses himself for a few minutes as he leaves the festivities to go into the club’s back room to confab with ring leader Karlotti.

Another heist is coming up. Jerry gets in on this one. It’s in the core of the Great Depression, and sheriffs around the country make an effort to  keep their districts clear of hobos, who roam the land looking for work or handouts. Jerry and his pal pretend to be hobos to get themselves thrown in the pokey overnight. The pokey is where they want to be, because in this small town, where a Nevada tunnel project is in work, the workers’ payroll is being stored in the same building as the jail. While the sheriff (Henry Roquemore) sleeps the pair pick the lock on their cell, grab the cash, and stash it under their mattresses. Come next morning the sheriff sends them on their way, with the cash stuffed in their shirts. Pretty slick.

In the meantime, Police Inspector J. C. Macy (William L. Thorne) vows mightily to catch the bank robbers.

But when Jerry and his pal departed the jail with their loot, they bummed a ride in a Cadillac, conveniently close by to pick them up. And somebody got the plate number. So when agent Alan goes to check on the Cadillac, it turns up at a farm. The farmer tells them some people drove up in the car, left it, stole his Ford, and drove away. He gives a description of the perps. The driver was a notably short person, he says.

The cops take the Caddy back to the police garage to check it for fingerprints. It’s clean, but when agent Bobbie gets in the driver’s seat, the first thing she notices is her feet don’t reach the pedals. Bobbie is a a short woman. No amount of adjustment will do. The farmer was lying. The driver was not by any means short. Further checking turns up the farmer does not own a Ford. The fuzz conclude the farm is a base for the robbers.

Meanwhile, the Second National Bank is held up,  and this time the robbers get away clear after bank workers attempt multiple time to activate the bank alarm. Hence the title of the movie.

Agent Alan questions bank employees. The man sitting with his back to the wall is the alarm company service man. He was in just prior to the robbery to test the alarm. It worked fine. They call in the head cashier, Leon Curtis (Phil Dunham). He’s the one who schedules alarm testing. He said he called for the test, because it was time, according to the testing schedule. But Alan has additional information that there were two men in to test the alarm. One came after the scheduled test. Things are looking suspicious. The robbery was an inside job.

Meanwhile, Inspector Macy is shown holding two bills in his hand. He is saying he is going to bust this case wide open. Later, those outside his office hear multiple gunshots. They rush in. Macy has been murdered.

Alan studies the two bills. One has been altered. It has the same serial number as another. Suspicion focuses on bank teller Curtis. He’s an immigrant from Serbia, and a master engraver. An attempt at counterfeiting? The robbers figure they must get those bills back. Jerry gets on the phone, and with a pencil gripped between his clenched teeth to disguise his voice, he phones Alan. He warns that if Alan doesn’t deliver the two bills by mail, the robbers are going to rub out Alan’s sister.

The fuzz respond by moving Kay to a safe apartment and substituting Bobbie at Kay’s hotel room. Bumbling photographer Clarence Callahan is sent over to keep Kay company, provide protection, and also to provide additional comic relief.

But Kay phones Jerry, not suspecting he is in with the robbers. She reveals where she is. Next we see, Clarence is recovering from a knock on the head, and Kay is gone, taken by the robbers.

Then there follows a bunch of round and round, which I will not detail, and the robbers are taken in a shootout, Kay is rescued, and Alan and Bobbie have plans to make the partnership permanent. They pose as Clarence takes a photo.

There is little not wrong with this movie. Start with the lukewarm acting and the dialog, which is beyond redemption. Get to the plot’s banality and some noticeable lack of continuity.

I only watched this through one time before skipping around to pick up details, but one thing was immediately obvious. The two robbers, posing as hobos, are in jail, on purpose, to grab the payroll cash while the sheriff is sleeping. They take the bills and stuff them under the mattresses in their cell. Later we are told the payroll is new bills, fresh from the Federal Reserve. But the bills the robbers are manhandling in their cell are obviously much used and not clean, crisp, and in tight bundles.

Alan and Bobbie pick up Kay and Jerry at their airport. Where do they go that night to celebrate (apparently in Los Angeles)? Why Karlotti’s club, of course. How much greater a coincidence can their be? And the friend that Kay meets on her flight? Why, one of the bank robbers. Amazing!

The robbers need to get the incriminating bills back. Why? Think about that for a few seconds. How are they going to get the bills back? They are going to threaten Kay. But they don’t have their hands on Kay at the time, giving the feds ample opportunity to stash her away in a safe place, which turns out to be of no help, since Kay spills to Jerry.

The robbers promise to release Kay after the bills are recovered. But Kay has by now already laid eyes on Jerry and the others as members of the gang. The gang has previously murdered Macy in his office after word gets out he’s going to crack the case. But when Karlotti gets his hand on Bobbie during the hunt and roundup, he does not use the opportunity to put a few rounds into her. Good news for Bobbie, but a prize for lame plots.

Conrad Nagel had a long and successful motion picture career, even if this production give no clue as to why. He started with Little Women  (silent) in 1918 and finished with The Man Who Understood Women in 1959. IMDb shows Eleanor Hunt’s last movie was in 1940. Grand National Films is one of those companies I have mentioned previously. The period 1936 to 1939 saw multiple startup studios come and go during this period. Grand National was purchased by RKO in 1940.

And you figured it out already. You don’t need to subscribe to Amazon Prime to watch this movie. It’s available to watch on YouTube. Here’s the link.

 

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.

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 of the Week

One of a series

I was twelve when this came out in 1953, and I’m sure it was big back then. All right, not really big, but impressive. It’s Invaders from Mars, and it does not feature anybody famous, unless you count Leif Erickson, whom I recall seeing around in various movies, always confusing him with a Viking explorer. Amazon Prime Video is streaming it as I write, but YouTube has subscription offerings. Details are from Wikipedia. Actually, this has a decent plot. It’s just not well-produced. I will sketch the plot for those thinking about blowing a nickel.

The MacLean family is Ozzie and Harriet Nelson on steroids. Dad George (Erickson) is a scientist-engineer type who works on secret projects for the government. Mother Mary (Hillary Brooke) is one cute bundle, and we are sure she keeps a smile on George’s face. Their only kid is David (Jimmy Hunt), and he’s a budding scientist. We know he’s going to get the family in trouble, the way he’s so inquisitive and probing. Here David is up in the wee hours peering through his telescope at the sky when he should be sleeping. Dad joins in, but Mom breaks up the party, insisting that everybody go back to bed.

But it’s a dark and stormy night, and something wakes David. He gets out of bed and goes back to looking out his window. He sees a space ship land, and he tells his parents about it. Dad goes out to investigate and does not return.

By morning Mary is panicked, and she phones for the police. Two officers show up, and David insists they go investigate where he last saw his dad. The officers go, and they disappear, as well. We see one drop out of sight, straight into the ground. Presently the two policemen come back, and they are acting strangely. They leave to file their report.

Then Dad returns, and he is much changed. He’s curt and bossy with David and Mary, and he shoves people around. David notices something sticking out the back of Dad’s head. Later Dad takes Mary out to the place where we saw the two policemen disappear into the ground.

Davie keeps a watch on the place where his dad went to investigate. He lies in the bushes and watches through his telescope. He sees a young girl, Kathy Wilson (Janine Perreau,) disappear into the ground. He runs to Kathy’s house to tell her mother (Fay Baker). But she doesn’t take him seriously. Then Kathy appears, and she is much changed. Just like David’s dad.

As David leaves he notices a fire in the Wilson basement. Somebody has poured gasoline, and the house is a total loss.

David goes to the police station to tell his story. The desk sergeant, Mack Finlay (Walter Sande), wants to hear David’s tale, but with all the stuff going on, David insists on talking to Police Chief A.C. Barrows (Bert Freed). When the chief comes out of his office, he has the same strange look, and he insists David be held for observation. A doctor is summoned to examine David, and she is Dr. Patricia Blake (Helena Carter), a real knockout—enough to earn a starring role and a place on the movie poster. She believes David’s story enough so that when David’s parents come to take him away, she tells everybody he has symptoms of polio and must be kept isolated. By now David’s mother has gained the strange look. The plot is beginning to unravel.

Dr. Blake removes David from the police holding cell on the pretext of taking him for testing, but instead she takes him to see Dr. Stuart Kelston (Arthur Franz), another scientist working on secret government projects. Dr. Kelston listens to David’s story and develops a theory of beings from Mars coming to Earth to disrupt the government work being performed. He alerts authorities. Kelston works at an astronomical observatory, and he trains the telescope at the site where the people have been disappearing. He observes an Army general being led to the spot by David’s father and disappearing into the sandy soil.

Too bad for little Kathy Wilson. When she was taken in for examination she died suddenly of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Somebody remarks it is as though she had been poleaxed. And that’s when I realized I had seen the movie before, because it was the first time, long ago, that I ever heard the term poleaxed. I made a note to keep in mind so I could use it later.

That’s enough. the conspiracy is busted wide open. A full-court press is instigated, and all manner of military assets converge.

An armored battalion makes its way to the scene.

As the military prepares to move in, Dr. Blake and David, standing nearby, are sucked into the ground. There they meet a Martian (Luce Potter)in a glass globe. He’s just horrible.

So are the grotesque Martian giants (Lock Martin and Max Palmer). One of them snatches up Dr. Blake and prepares to place her on the table to have one of those things implanted in her head. This is the scene that makes the movie. The sweet, beautiful, and sexy Patricia Blake being manhandled by that horrible monster—that’s really what the audience came to see this movie for.

But the military moves in, infiltrating the Martians’ underground chamber and rescuing David and Dr. Blake. They plant charges in the alien space craft and set a timer to blow the whole business sky high. But they must escape the underground hideout first, and David saves the day by blasting a way out using a heat ray gun he has discovered, and we see David’s face as they all run, putting as much distance between themselves and certain destruction as they can. All the time David is having flashbacks of the events of the past few hours, and finally the sound of the giant explosion wakes him up.

It’s thunder from the storm outside, and it’s all been a dream stirring in his young brain. Yeah, we suspected that all along.

The plot is sound, if completely amateurish. John Tucker Battle wrote the story and collaborated with Richard Blake on the script. They could have turned this into a serious production rivaling H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds with a bit more serious effort. As an added bonus, here is the movie poster

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 of the Week

One of a series

What apparently happened, and this was 40 years ago in 1977, somebody said, “Here’s two million dollars. Go make a bad movie.” So the response was, “They already made a bad movie.” Then, “Well, go make a spoof of a bad movie.” “You mean a movie that makes bad movies look good?” “Yeah, that kind of movie.” “So, what do you want me to call it?” “How about The Happy Hooker.” “That’s already been done. How about The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington.” “Max, you’re a genius.”

And I watched it. Oh sweet Jesus, I watched it. It’s streaming this month (September) on Amazon Prime Video. Wikipedia doesn’t have much of an entry for it, but then there’s not much of a plot. So I had to be satisfied with getting details on the players.

So it’s got to be about Washington, and we know what goes on in Washington. Well, that’s how this starts out. The cleaning woman, then the security guard, discover a member of Congress and a woman staffer in flagrante delicto, and that riles lawmakers to the point there needs to be an investigation. And a movie.

 

The scene switches to the office of corporate madame Xaviera Hollander (Joey Heatherton) in Los Angeles. Besides her undercover work, she runs a sexual advice column. And that’s about all the setting this movie needs, because this is going to be about junior high school sexual innuendo and bare tits. At every opportunity we’re going to see bare tits. Everything else is a distraction.

For example, Ms. Hollander conducts profitable sexual orgy sessions.

And more. But the United States Senate has other ideas. Ms. Hollander is subpoenaed to testify, since her line of business is certainly the root cause of all this sexual corruption. The hearings get underway, and a flustered TV censor bemoans the vulgar language he has been required to strike from scripts. He can’t say the words out loud, so he passes along a list to the committee, explaining, “It’s amazing what some of the cock-suckers will try to get away with.”

Juvenile, humor, of course, and the chamber erupts into school yard snickers. It gets stretched. Senatorial secretary Miss Goodbody (Cisse Cameron) is taking notes, and she is confused. Is cock-suckers one word or two? She has to repeat the phrase a number of times, each time drawing gasps from underage boys who have sneaked in to watch the movie. It’s finally decided that cock-sucker is hyphenated. But we all knew that.

To keep you from having to guess, before the movie is out you are going to get to see Miss Goodbody’s tits.

Ms. Hollander testifies.

The Senate panel brings up some of Ms. Hollander’s previous projects. She has worked to help advertisers push their products, using the product that she sells best.

Any excuse (I’m not complaining) to show bare tits. Here’s a scene in a diner (a product commercial) where newly-weds are itching to show everybody something they learned the previous night. The product being advertised is a paper towel strong enough to clean up the mess the two make humping on the counter.

Yes, there is something for the ladies in  the audience. Here’s George Hamilton, as Ms. Hollander’s lawyer. With his clothes on. Sorry.

More advertising pitches. This time it’s a car company in Detroit. Can you do it in this model? Yes, you can, three couples at a time.

She pops out the top of the mock-up car. What a ride!

There is one segment of actual drama. Ms. Hollander is kidnapped by a CIA dwarf played by Billy Barty. He sends her on assignment to Miami Beach, where her duty to her country is to seduce an Arab sheikh and prevent him from attending a crucial business conference.

For Ms. Hollander, it’s all in a days’ work.

What she learns from the sheikh is that the senators on the panel have connected with him to supply women for their sexual fantasies. Back on the stand she details the exploits of each of them.

And that’s the end of the movie. In case you waded all the way through it in hopes of seeing Heatherton’s tits, this is about as close as you’re going to get.

If I were drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs, I would have an accurate count of bare breasts appearing in this movie. Just take my word for it. This film has more bare breasts than Kentucky Fried Movie. More than double to be sure.