Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Amazon Prime Video to the rescue again. Always a good source when I need a bad movie to review. This is Streamline Express from 1935, before many of us were born. It was during a time Hollywood was making some very bad movies on the scale of a major industry. It stars Victor Jory as playwright – director Jimmy Hart. The production company is not identified. Details are from Wikipedia.

Jimmy is having problems with his current Broadway production. The run is due to start in a few days, and dress rehearsals are going badly, because leading lady Patricia Wallace (Evelyn Venable) is a no-show. Back in Elaine’s dressing room Jimmy earholes maid Fawn (Libby Taylor), who tells him the reluctant Patricia has absconded aboard the Streamline Express, hence the title.

The Streamline Express is a train 20 years ahead of its time. Besides not being an actual train (only one car), it’s a 120 miles per hour monorail and is scheduled that day to start its maiden run from New York to Santa Barbara, California, non-stop. Much ado is made about it, but Jimmy manages to sneak aboard the train, whose maiden  run is sold out.

Jimmy confronts Patricia, who rings for the steward and has him tossed from the train, luckily still at the station. But Jimmy is not to be denied. He pays the steward to switch places with him, and he spends most of the trip to California working to win Patricia back to the theater. She is eloping with her new fiancée, Fred Arnold (Ralph Forbes), fabulously wealthy and promising to keep Patricia sedentary in Santa Barbara. I almost wrote sedimentary.

There are others on the train, of course. There is husband John Bradley (Clay Clement) and his mistress, the blonde Elaine Vincent (Esther Ralston). Rejected wife Mary Bradley (Erin O’Brien-Moore) sneaks aboard after she learns her husband is leaving her for a hussy.

Also aboard is the balding Mr. Jones (Vince Barnett). Mr. Jones must get his pregnant wife to California, and quickly. If the baby is born in California, said baby will inherit $10,000, a lot of money in 1935.

The plot is a mangle of intrigue and double dealing, and everybody gets justice. The troubled marriage gets patched up. Two Jones children are born, one in Arizona and one in California. Jimmy realizes he is madly in love with Patricia, and Patricia has loved Jimmy from the beginning. They will be married in Santa Barbara and hurry back to New York for the opening of their new play.

Yes, and the performances barely register. This one runs for slightly more than an hour, but I kept looking at my watch all the time. You don’t have to subscribe to Amazon Prime to watch it. It’s available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74Z18UELYs8. Enjoy.

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Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I first caught a glimpse of this while sitting through a long airplane ride. I didn’t plug in the ear buds, opting, instead, to try and get some sleep. I opened my eyes from time to time and kept seeing the same thing as before. I knew at the time I would need to see this movie some day, for free.

And here it is, Spider-Man, from 2002, now streaming on Hulu. All right, I did not actually watch it for free, because Hulu is a subscription service. However, I did not have to pay extra to watch Spider-Man after watching all that other stuff on Hulu, including Elementary, which I watch a lot. Spider-Man was distributed by Columbia Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

Anybody not just now climbing out of a World War Two Nazi bunker knows the Spider-Man story. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is a nerdy high school senior who has the hots for Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), also a senior and in Peter’s class. Actually, with a lot more class. Anyhow, at a school outing at Columbia University, Peter gets bitten on the finger by a mutant spider.

Returning from the outing and feeling mighty fatigued, Peter sleeps the remainder of the night. The next morning he awakes to an amazing transformation. He has developed the spiders’ quality of strength and agility, plus the ability to shoot spider web stuff. He shows his macho by defeating the perennial school bully.

He wins a pro-wrestling contest, only to be stiffed by the manager. His favorite uncle is killed by a mugger, and “Spidey” goes on the prowl for bad guys, in his made-to-order super hero costume.

A nemesis appears in the form of Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), billionaire father of Peter’s high school friend Harry. From there through the remainder of the movie it’s Spider-Man versus the Green Goblin (Norman Osborn transformed). All the while Peter watches from the side as Jane cuddles with Harry.

In the end, Spider-Man defeats the Green Goblin. Actually, the Green Goblin defeats himself when his robotic craft runs him through and through. And the plot consists of Spider-Man doing great deeds and the duet of Peter and Jane never connecting. It ends with Harry vowing to avenge his father’s destruction at the hands of Spider-Man. There will be a sequel.

And I will not be watching. It’s a small miracle this movie did not qualify as a Bad Movie of the Week.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Here’s one older than I am, barely. It came out in 1939, about the time world headlines were cooling after news the British gave the German navy a thrashing off the coast of Uruguay. It’s Slightly Honorable, featuring Pat O’Brien in the lead role. The distribution company was United Artists. Details are from Wikipedia, which entry is a mere shell, listing only the cast of characters. This production has been saved from oblivion and now rests peacefully among the Amazon Prime Video archives.

Films like this are the reason I created the Bad Movie of the Week series. It has a mystery plot which barely registers among all the other drama going on around it. Here is a short breakdown.

O’Brien is prominent attorney John Webb, and there is a major plot diversion involving a state highway corruption scandal. For example, there is a detour in the story line featuring a lab test of two samples of asphalt paving, one being from Oklahoma. Anyhow, ignoring the numerous side shows, I will give the bare bones narrative.

Dispense with some preliminaries, including the funeral of a corrupt politician, and get to the main plot. We see Webb confabbing with some acquaintances before heading into a cabaret club. One of the acquaintances Alma Brehmer (Claire Dodd), a sparkling blonde. Apparently everybody winds up inside the club.

On comes the show, featuring a firecracker singer-dancer. She is never given a name, but the part is played by Ruth Terry. She dogs the remainder of the plot, as will be seen. Webb comes to call her Puss. That’s the name I will use. Anyhow, following her act, Puss attaches herself to Webb, possibly twice her age (she’s 18, “and three months”).

But there’s trouble. As a viewer I am amazed to see the kind of rough stuff going on amongst such a crowd of upscale clientèle. One customer puts the move on Puss, rips her dress, and knocks her to the floor. Webb comes to the rescue, pulling this mere child to the safety outside after a standoff in force with some well-heeled thugs. This later on turns out to have nothing to do with the main plot.

Back at his office, Webb conducts business with his attractive and efficient secretary. She is Miss Ater, played by the bubbly Eve Arden. I show this image so readers can appreciate Ms. Arden’s appreciable qualities. Her film career spanned from  1929 to 1982, but it was her on-air persona that first caught my attention. For a long time she had her own television program, Our Miss Brooks, that cast her as a high school teacher. I can watch an old movie, and I can tell immediately when she enters the scene. It’s that brash and brittle voice. Nobody ever duplicated it. Sadly for viewers, she is a casualty of this movie’s multiple homicides.

But Puss barges in. Since Webb has previously rescued her, she is his forever, purchasing a new wardrobe on his credit. That does not appear to alarm him much (he talks of million dollar business deals). What does alarm him is when she begins to show off her new duds by changing costumes in his office. There has got to be a future in that.

But somebody has murdered the provocative Ms. Brehmer. Webb vows to avenge her untimely death, becoming immediately a suspect, himself.

In fact, most of the cast becomes suspect. Police attempt to sort out who was on first, and the session takes on aspects of a three-ring circus. In fact, that is a termed used in the movie to describe it.

Then there is the disappearing murder weapon. It turns up in Webb’s desk drawer, just as the police are coming to search. Webb can only think of one place to  hide it. The cop never looks up to see the knife stuck in the ceiling above his head.

I have to insert this, as well. Art, the elevator operator in Webb’s apartment building, is played by Willie Best. He comes on twice in the film, and each appearance opens showing him doing a small shuck and jive dance. Eighty years ago this was expected behavior of a black character in the plot. Interesting thing is, this was the same year Hattie McDaniel was putting in an Academy Award appearance in Gone With The Wind. It was going to take another fifteen years before Hollywood grew up and cast Sidney Poitier in a major dramatic role in Blackboard Jungle.

Tragedy! Webb returns to his office to find Miss Ater sitting at his desk, skewered by the infamous missing murder weapon.

Cutting out remaining details, Webb figures it was his partner, Russ Sampson (Broderick Crawford), doing the murdering to cover up a crooked past. By now Puss has so grown on the middle-aged Webb that he cannot live without her. He proposes in the back seat of a cab, and they get hitched.

Yes, this has some top tier talent, but they do not deliver much in the way of performance. The plot is a mishmash of unrelated themes. This might have done for a 30-minute TV drama, but it runs for 85 minutes. Wikipedia reports it made $386,116 at the box office under a production cost of $434,874. And  this was back when the Great Depression was pushing wages down. You can watch it for free on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKBWyqM_S8o. Let me know if you do watch it, and let me know what you think.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I’m celebrating 20th anniversaries, and here is another from 1997. I first caught it on broadcast TV many years back, and a noticeable difference is they cleaned up the language for home viewing. The movie features a bunch of tough-talking truckers and situations of intense emotion. It’s Breakdown, from Paramount Pictures and featuring Kurt Russell as ordinary guy Jeff Taylor, caught in critical circumstances. It’s a fairly well written and produced film, so there is not much to complain about, except for obvious plot contrivances. As I  write this, Breakout is streaming on Amazon Prime video where I go when I am desperate for a bad or not so good movie to review. Details are from Wikipedia.

Jeff and his sweet wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan) are on a drive from Boston to San Diego in their new Jeep 4X4. A bit of preamble: Jeff has a close encounter with roughneck Earl (M. C. Gainey), then at a fuel stop a bit later it gets face-to-face. The reason this is important is that shortly after Jeff and Amy get out on the road the Jeep stops completely. Complete electrical failure, apparently. Earl comes by in his pickup truck but does not stop. Except, he drives a bit down the road, turns around, stops for a while, then keeps on going. Things are getting suspicious. Next a semi rig stops, and the driver, Warren “Red” Barr (J. T. Walsh) offers advice and help. He will drive them to Belle’s Diner, where they can call for a tow truck.

Critical here is that Jeff elects to stay with the Jeep, and Amy hitches a ride with Red. It’s the last we see of Amy until the end of the movie.

Yeah, Jeff discovers the Jeep’s problem is a loose electrical connector, and he fixes that. But when he gets to Belle’s Diner, Amy is nowhere to be found. Red did not stop at Belles. Things are getting mighty suspicious.

The local police are no help. Jeff catches Red’s truck out on the highway and forces Red to stop. The sheriff comes by about then, and Jeff explains the matter. Red denies ever having seen the Taylors before. Jeff can’t get any additional help from the local police, so he backtracks. Outside Belle’s, an apparent retard named Billy (Jack Noseworthy) advises Jeff that he knows what’s going on, and he instructs Jeff to head off along a specific road.

Jeff follows that advice and runs straight into a trap. The road is blocked by a locked gate, and Earl drives up from behind in his truck. Earl is loaded for war.

Jeff guns it out of there, crashes the gate, and takes the Jeep into  the river. Gunfire from the cliff above follows him.

The upshot is Jeff is captured by what is obviously a band of kidnappers. He is ordered, if he wishes to save his life, the recite the exact sum in his bank account, which sum Red tells him Amy has already told them. Jeff survives to live another day by remembering an earlier conversation he had with Amy about a $90,000 prize offered by a donut company. $90,000 is the magic number, and the crooks order Jeff to go into the town of Brackett (down below) and have the bank wire the $90,000 to Jeff, in cash.

But the Taylors never had $90,000 in the bank. It was just small talk. Jeff stalls and withdraws $5000 and bulks it up to look like more. Outside town, Earl stops his truck beside the  road and orders Jeff and the money inside. But Jeff has prepared for this, and he defeats Earl in hand-to-hand combat. Binding him with duct tape and taking his gun. Wouldn’t you believe it, about then the sheriff comes by. But the situation turns out badly for Jeff.

Since Jeff is the one with the gun, the sheriff draws down on him. Meanwhile, Earl gets himself free and pulls his spare gun. He shoots the sheriff and goes after Jeff. But the sheriff has one last shot in himself, and he kills Earl. The sheriff is dying, and the police are alerted. Jeff starts out on the quest to meet up with Red at the place Earl coughed up after being punched vigorously about the face and body.

Jeff spots Red’s rig at the truck stop and hitches a ride as it pulls out. In a great feat of daring-do he works his way along the side of the moving truck and finds a place to hide between the tractor and the trailer. He spends the night there as Red drives back to the family spread, where the kidnappers have their base of operations. Apparently this has been an ongoing family business for a number of years.

By then it’s dark and getting to be time for breakfast. Jeff watches from hiding as a bobtail truck drives up, and the robbers extract Amy, still alive and kicking. But they place her into a freezer chest beneath the floor of a shed and head in to breakfast. Jeff can’t break the lock to the cellar beneath the shed but he finds a pistol in the truck cab and enters the house, ready to confront the kidnappers.

There is a minor exchange of gunfire, and Jeff comes out on top, freeing Amy from the freezer and locking the kidnappers in the cellar. All but one, who escaped out the house when the shooting started.

Jeff and Amy steal a truck and make their getaway, and here comes the interesting part of the movie. The kidnappers give chase in  two cars and the semi rig. There is a running gunfight along a stretch of desert highway.

One after another, two of the kidnappers meet tragic ends. One rolls his car, which is consumed by flames.

The big rig trailer breaks loose and takes out the other car.

The cab of the big rig crashes through a bridge railing and hangs above an eye-popping drop. I forget how Jeff came to be on top of the cab, but he climbs hand over hand toward safety. Red, from atop the cab, attempts to finish off Jeff with a length of chain, but Jeff grabs the chain and pulls. Red plunges off the cab and lands on the rocks below.

Jeff and Amy notice that there is still some movement in Red’s body, so Jeff puts the tractor transmission into neutral, and the whole business lands on top of Red. They admire their handiwork from the bridge.

Of course, that is some wild adventure, and it is way too much to be believed. Stretch your credulity a lot, and this can be an enjoyable movie.

Lots of people killed, no nudity, no gentle, romantic scenes. Just some hair-raising adventure. This was written by Jonathan Mostow, who also directed. Producers were Dino De Laurentiis and Martha De Laurentiis. It runs for 93 minutes. Just about right. It made $50.2 million with a production  cost of $36 million. Location shooting was in the desert Southwest, including Moab, Utah, and Sedona, Arizona. A map shown in the title sequence shows U.S. 60 crossing IH-15, but I was unable to find such a place.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Keeping up the pace, this week I’m reviewing one or more movies each day so I can get ahead of the curve and take some time off. Praise Jesus for Amazon Prime Video, the mother-lode of bad movies. This is One Body Too Many from 1944 by way of Paramount Pictures, and I am dead sure I never  saw it on the big screen. Details are from Wikipedia.

This one has promise, what with Jack HaleyJean Parker, and Bela Lugosi. You know it’s going to be spooky with Lugosi in the lead.

So, we have Haley as Albert L. Tuttle, insurance salesman par excellence. He’s about to score a big policy sale. He’s waited 30 days for his appointment with millionaire Cyrus J. Rutherford, who’s taking out a $200,000 life policy. Why a multi-millionaire is banking $200 K on his own life is never explained.

But Albert is a few days short. Rich Mr. Rutherford’s policy has already expired, and heirs are sitting around as attorney Morton Gellman (Bernard Nedell) reads the will. It’s a strange will. Somebody will get $500,000, and somebody will get $1.50. Except…

Except everybody has to stay in the house, cannot leave, until the body is interred. And the body must be laid to rest in peace under a glass dome, exposed to the stars. Else, the will be reversed. Who was to get the most will now get the least, etc. Anybody leaves before the interment, a few days hence, gets nothing. Attorney Gellman calls for a detective to come and guard the body and ensure it is not interfered with in the meantime.

Meanwhile, Merkil the butler (Lugosi) makes coffee for everybody. He has handy in the kitchen a bottle of rat poison. “There are too many rats in this house. They should be done away with,” he announces, ending the sentence with an preposition.

Blanche Yurka is Matthews, the cook.

Throughout the movie Merkil keeps offering everybody coffee, but each time there is a reason they decide not to drink any.

The detective arrives and never makes it to the front door. He’s chopped by somebody and secreted away so he can’t cause trouble. Albert arrives and is mistaken for the detective. When he realizes he is expected to babysit a stiff he makes plans to depart post haste, visions of a huge policy fee having evaporated.

But pretty Carol Dunlap (Parker) urges him to stay. There’s chemistry.

Skipping all the plot details, attorney Gellman talks Albert into hiding out in the casket, this after the body mysteriously goes missing.

Meanwhile, a fearsome threesome plot to  dispose of the body, coffin and all, not realizing Albert is in the coffin.

More intrigue. There is much going in and out and through secret passageways and winding up in strange bedrooms. Gellman is murdered, Albert is accused of another murder and is locked inside the observatory atop the sumptuous Rutherford mansion. He gets rescued by Carol.

The real killer scoops up Carol and carries her to the top of the observatory, planning to dump her several stories down. Albert climbs to the rescue. The dome rotates, the killer is swept off and to his doom.

Carol coaxes Albert, against his better judgment, into one of the secret passages and closes the door. Merkil and Matthews drink the coffee.

Yes, it’s one of those comedies where people die. This should get bad marks due to its poor print quality, but I will let that pass. Obviously the plot is a complete contrivance, devolving into a sequence of episodes. It’s chances of becoming a cult classic are dim.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Yep, saw this one before, and I was most gratified to see it pop up on Amazon Prime Video. It’s Miss Congeniality, from the year 2000 and released through Warner Brothers. Details are from Wikipedia.

The title role goes to Sandra Bullock as Gracie Hart. Here we see Gracie as a schoolyard girl kicking ass when a bully picks on her favorite fella. She’s not going to outgrow that attitude.

We next see sweet Gracie as a kick-ass FBI field agent, here taking down a gang of Russian mobsters.

But a new crisis develops, else there wouldn’t be a movie. It goes like this. There is a domestic terrorist who calls himself “The Citizen,” and he always telegraphs his next move by sending a cryptic note. Problem is, it’s only after the deed is done that the feds take another look and say, “Yeah, that’s what he was saying all along.” Comes another letter, and Gracie figures out the target is going to be the Miss United States pageant in San Antonio, Texas. FBI intelligence comes to the same conclusion, and a squad of agents prepares to infiltrate the event and catch “The Citizen” before he can cause mayhem.

Needing a beauty queen agent to infiltrate the lineup, they select Gracie as a last resort. It’s likely she does not even  own a dress. Some preparation is going to be needed. Washed out makeup specialist Victor Melling (Michael Caine) is contracted to make rough and ready Gracie into a svelte beauty contestant. The FBI requisitions an airplane hanger, and a gang of specialists goes to work on the monumental task.

Success! The hanger doors roll back and the new Gracie struts out. She is hot.

The pageant organizers go along with the scheme, and Gracie begins to learn what it’s like to be one of the girls. Her secret heartthrob is Agent Eric Matthews (Benjamin Bratt), who keeps close tabs on her. Their lips never quite touch.

Meanwhile the terrorist practices his attack. A department store mannequin is set up on a vacant parking lot, and its head is blown to pieces by a remote-controlled bomb. Everything is ready for the big night.

Location filming in San Antonio features familiar places. This is obviously the Arneson River Theater, where I have captured numerous such photos.

Meanwhile, “The Citizen” has been captured. His target was not the pageant, after all, and the FBI crew packs up and leaves. But Gracie is convinced from what she has picked up at the pageant that an attack is planned, aimed to appear to be the work of “The Citizen.” Gracie surrenders her gun and badge and stays behind to complete the competition.

Surprise, surprise! It turns out that pageant director Kathy Morningside is scheduled to be scuttled from the pageant, and she is most vengeful. Eric also learns that Kathy’s son Frank (Steve Monroe) has a violent past and a criminal record. Eric stays behind to back up Gracie. We see Frank substituting the victory crown  with another packed with explosives. He plans to blow the head off the winner at the height of the ceremony. Gracie spots Frank preparing to fire the charge remotely.

At the climactic moment, Miss Rhode Island is crowned Miss United States, and Gracie snatches the crown off her head and throws it into the upper reaches, where it explodes, to the astonishment of all.

Their lips finally touch. They practically eat each other’s faces. There’s going to be some heavy necking after the movie.

But first Gracie is called back in to the pageant, where the other contestants crown her Miss Congeniality, hence the title.

Yeah, this is a whole lot smarmy. Nobody gets humped, no bare breasts. And nobody dies. It made $212.8 million at the box office after spending $45 million in production. Not bad.

Take note. We see William Shatner as pageant MC Stan Fields. Beam him up, Scotty!

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

I sometimes mention I watch these movies so you won’t have to. Actually, some of these movies you wouldn’t watch if they pointed a gun to your head. This is one. It’s Alien Outlaw, otherwise titled RiffTrax: Alien Outlaw, from 1985 and currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry, so I’m getting details (there are few) from IMDb. I’m not going to list everybody you see in these screen shots. I’ fairly sure you won’t recognize them.

We have to get this started anyhow, so we see Wes, who works for sharpshooter Jesse Jamison (Kari Anderson). He’s leaving his girlfriend’s elegant home in the backwoods, preparing Jesse’s equipment for her next show. Actually, I’m not showing you Wes. I will do that in the next screen shot. Wes’s girlfriend is worth a look right now. He asks her to go around back and make sure the trailer door is latched. We are led to suspect this is merely a director’s device to give us the opportunity to view her very excellent rear end.

This print features a running voice-over, courtesy of RiffTrax, a company that does these commentaries. This movie would not be all that much worth watching without the assistance of RiffTrax.

Wes starts off on his drive, only to encounter a flash in the woods. Everybody is shouting at the screen (I presume). “No, Wes. Don’t stop. You are going to die!”

He does.

Cut to the following morning. Sweet Jesse is giving a shooting exhibition to a gunslinger dressed in black cowboy attire. He is impressed. She is absolutely deadly with that six gun. The thigh-length boots and the buckskin minidress don’t hurt, either.

Jesse is not pleased with the bookings she is getting for her show. She visits another talent agency and signs on. Then she phones her current agent to give him the bad news. He’s in bed in a cheap motel after a hard night checking out some new talent. Here is the obligatory bare breast scene. Every one of these movies is required to have one.

Cut to two rednecks out for a day of fishing and shooting off firearms. One of them is absolutely gun happy, until he meets one of the aliens. End of one of the rednecks.

Cutting out a lot of senseless drama, the word gets out about the three aliens from outer space on the loose in redneck country. Jesse figures it’s time to take action. She shucks off her outer skirt and straps on her trusty six gun. Somebody is going to die.

She arrives at the farmhouse where one one of the aliens is pursuing an enormously fat person named Luger. Jesse finishes off the alien with a deadly shot to part of the alien’s gear, which explodes impressively, sending alien parts flying to places unknown. Jesse tracks down and kills another alien. Just one left.

Meanwhile the surviving fisher has teamed with his uncle to dynamite the surviving alien. But the alien turns the tables and takes the fisher hostage. It’s a standoff. Jesse versus the alien. End of movie.

And that’s all there is to it. The uncle is played by movie legend Lash LaRue. It’s a name I knew well in my childhood, watching western serials Saturdays at the theater on the town square. Lash LaRue was a character in the films, and he was famous for using his bull whip to defeat the bad guys. Hence the name. I always wondered at that name, “Whip the Street.” But I figured if your name is going to start with “Lash,” then what has to come next? Has to start with L, and “LaRue” sounds exotic. It follows from there.

Believe me, Jesse Jamison prancing around in that skimpy mini-dress is the best thing this movie has going for it. Take second place, Mars Needs Women. This is number one.

A trailer is on-line on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIeaPElIHdQ

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I put off watching this on Hulu a few weeks back when I took a peek and figured it was a spoof or somewhat. Of course, there was Tina Fey in the lead role, being more famous for her spoofs of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Then there was the title, which I will get into once I figure out WTF it stands for. But, the pressure of time—I’m taking a few days off—and the better production quality, drew me in, and I watched it through. By the time I was finished watching it was hard to get another movie, Up Close And Personal, out of my mind. This is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, out of Paramount Pictures last  year. Here’s a walk through:

Tina Fey is real-life Kim Baker, a TV journalist based in New York, but the opening scene shows her and a gang of journalist in Kabul covering the ongoing story in Afghanistan. It’s 2006, and all the westerners are holed up in the Kabul bubble, enjoying a rave party. Than there is a terrific rumble, and everybody understands that a massive bomb has gone off in the street close by. They are all out immediately to cover the aftermath.

Roll back the clock three years, and it’s 2003. Kim is in her New York offices, where she is producer of News Division 1. The organization needs volunteers to cover Afghanistan, since all the first stringers have been shifted to the new story in Iraq. Kim goes, and in doing so meets her boyfriend passing through the airport in the opposite direction.

In Kabul it’s a different life. She teams with Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott), driver, translator, protector.

Inside the bubble, she meets the other journalists and is informed that here is a place where anything goes, and everything does. She becomes friends with Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), who discusses with Kim her plan to divvy up the available men between them. There are many.

Kim soon gets her legs and embeds with some Marines. When the patrol comes under attack from some Taliban in a technical, Kim hauls out of her ride, camera in hand, and charges to the forward line of defense, catching the scene as a Javelin missile destroys the truck.

This is an amusing episode. The Marine general (Billy Bob Thornton) in charge chews out the Marine for wasting an $80,000 Javelin on a 1989 pickup.

Kim’s romance back home gets strained by the separation and finally broken when a Skype video call reveals another woman in the background. She hooks up with photojournalist Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), who saves her groceries when she gets stranded alone on the streets of Kabul at night, not a healthy place for a European woman, or any woman, alone.

Years go by, and Tanya undertakes a meeting with a Taliban group, which goes horribly wrong. At the same time the American military is tracking the Taliban vehicle and launches a Hellfire missile on it. Nothing was going to turn out well, anyhow. Just before the missile strikes, the Taliban fighters open up with their weapons on the journalists. People are killed. Tanya is hospitalized.

Called back to New York, Kim learns that Tanya has been groomed to take over her job there. Iain is taken by the Taliban and sold to others, who hold him for ransom. Kim returns to Afghanistan and blackmails the Attorney General of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan into revealing the whereabouts of Ian. Kim convinces Marine General Hollanek  it would be worthwhile for his men to stage a rescue mission, covered by Kim’s cameraman. She comes back with the story, and the movie ends with the possibility of Kim and Iain meeting in New York.

There is intrigue and battle action in  this movie, but it draws out as a single-threaded narrative. It’s one episode after another, and then it ends. The movie didn’t make back its $35 million budget.

Wikipedia points out some items I noticed. The character of Marine General Hollanek seems out of place (he starts out as a colonel). What’s an officer of flag rank doing observing combat with the enemy at pistol range?

Hollanek  mentions the cost of a Javelin. I found that curious. This weapon was developed by Texas Instruments Defense Systems and Electronics Group in Lewisville and Denton, Texas in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I worked the program off and on and remember the target cost was pegged a lot lower. Surprise! The Wikipedia entry lists a unit cost of $246,000. Inflation?

Another surprise is seeing a Javelin fired at such close range. It was designed to engage tanks at long distance, using two-stage launch and leave. A booster kicks it out of the launch tube, and the main motor fires when the missile is well clear, to avoid roasting the gunner. One requirement is to be able to fire out the window of a small room. So watching the movie I was surprised to see the Javelin fired in this mode, and then I recalled one feature is the direct-fire mode. You just point and shoot.

The movie is based on Kim Baker’s memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It might be worth reading. A Kindle edition is available for about $6. There could be a review in the future. It’s always interesting to see how Hollywood renders an author’s original work.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

I will have to admit I couldn’t figure this one out with a single viewing. Some explanation was needed. It’s Devil Girl from 2007, and it features Jessica Graham as Fay a young woman taking a road trip from Hell. There is a lot of symbolism here, which I don’t get, but an upfront note in the title sequence provides a definition:

ar·che·type n. In Jungian psychology, an inherited pattern of thought or symbolic image that is derived from the past collective experience of humanity and is present in the unconcious [sic] of the individual.
Also called Imago.

It’s currently available on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Highway signs provide additional symbolism.

Fay is a free spirit, and she takes off in her Chevrolet muscle car. I haven’t figured out why. She picks up spare cash hustling in pool rooms and challenging for speed on the open road.

As the song goes, “There’s a killer on the road.”

We see Joe Wanjai Ross as The Clown, who ditches a stolen motorcycle and looks around for another vehicle to high jack.

We see The Clown take a pickup truck at gun point and then take over a lonely service station using a menacing pistol. Fay runs low on gas and stops, unaware.

Yeah, this is dumb. She leaves her wallet in the car while she goes inside,  and The Clown slips out the back, steals the wallet, and skedaddles.

So Fay is stuck in this dusty burg along Route 66, out of gas, a broken fuel pump, and no wallet. She picks up extra cash showing her wares at a local trucker’s joint.

The town comes equipped with wall-to-wall TV evangelists and a whacked out in-the-flesh holy roller (C.J. Bake)

Then, there is the Devil Girl (Vanessa Kay), who menaces the highway by night and vanquishes the preacher man.

In the end it all appears to  be one of The Clown’s hallucination, and Fay is a nurse. But the Devil Girl is real.

This is a collage of episodes, flashbacks, vignettes, and some scenes shot straight. It includes some very artful cinematic symbology. Also good views and flashes of naked breasts. No dead bodies, as Joe Bob Briggs used to say. If you don’t count the preacher.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This one has been hanging out on Amazon Prime Video for a while, and this week (July) I decided to give it a look. Interesting thing is I didn’t watch it on the big TV, just brought it up on my computer and sat through the showing at my desk. It’s π, as spelled in the title or rather Π if you want to capitalize it. As you can guess, there’s going to be some math involved. It came out nearly 20 years ago (1998). Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s a hodge-podge of images and scenes, and it’s in monochrome. Think Last Year At Marienbad brought forward 37 (now 56) years, and substitute technology and math for sex and social conflict, and you get the idea. Only Pi doesn’t have all that endless repetition. I will show some screen shots and skim the plot.

Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) lives alone, and he’s a mental aberration. Due to an early medical convulsion his brain is an organic computer, and he performs amazing feats of mental calculation and sees (or at least looks for) patterns everywhere, including within the decimal representation of pi. In fact, that’s how the movie starts out:

3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679821480865132823066470938446095505822317253594081284811174502841027019385211055596446229489549303819644288109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091456485669234603486104543266482133936072602491412737245870066063155881748815209209628292540917153643678925903600113305305488204665213841469519415116094330572703657595919530921861173819326117931051185480744623799627495673518857527248912279381830119491298336733624406566430860213949463952247371907021798609437027705392171762931767523846748184676694051320005681271452635608277857713427577896091736371787214684409012249534301465495853710507922796892589235420199561121290219608640344181598136297747713099605187072113499999983729780499510597317328160963185950244594553469083026425223082533446850352619311881710100031378387528865875332083814206171776691473035982534904287554687311595628638823537875937519577818577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989380952572010654858632788659361533818279682303019520353018529689957736225994138912497217752834791315155748572424541506959508295331168617278558890750983817546374649393192550604009277016711390098488240128583616035637076601047101819429555961989467678374494482553797747268471040475346462080466842590694912933136770289891521047521620569660240580381501935112533824300355876402474964732639141992726042…

And some more. You get the idea.

Max lives alone, and he’s built this rude computer that does amazing things, although I was never able to figure out by watching the movie what made the computer so special. There is talk about finding patterns everywhere, including in π.

Hold it right there. Full disclosure: I have a college degree in mathematics, and my information is there is good logic to conclude π and other irrational numbers do not contain any patterns. Irrational numbers are numbers that are not the quotient of two integers, and this includes numbers like √2, √3, √5, √10, cube root of 15, and so on. Irrational numbers also include the transcendental numbers, such as π, the natural logarithm of 6, the sine of a 61° angle, and also the ever popular e. There are no patterns. But that’s what this movie is all about.

Max spends his days getting  the computer to spit out a special number, which significance I was never able to determine during one watch-through. He sits at a lunch counter and scribbles numbers on stock market listings. He has the idea the fluctuations of the market have a deeply-embedded pattern he will be able to deduce, once he has solved his riddle.

He is constantly beleaguered by migraine headaches and convulsions, requiring periodic dosing and injections.

At the lunch counter Max is besieged by Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman) a Jew (Max is a non-religious Jew), who pries into what Max is doing.

He plays go with his friend and mentor Sol Robeson (Mark Margolis). Sol urges Max to quit the hopeless quest. There is no pattern. Max’s work borders on numerology.

Max interacts with neighbors in his apartment building, one being Devi (Samia Shoaib) the woman who lives next door and who flirts with him. He pays her no mind.

A big concern is to predict the stock market, a goal of many and a factor that brings intrigue and danger into Max’s life.

A persistent woman, Marcy Dawson (Pamela Hart), keeps trying to get face time with Max to a point he can no longer put her off. Things begin to take on a sinister tone.

Marcy’s friends offer Max the use of a special computer chip, and he uses it to recompute a 216-digit number he previously produced and then threw away. This number is the secret to predicting the stock market. Max is unable to print the number, but he has memorized it. Marcy and her friends want the number, and they put the squeeze on Max.

Lenny’s Jewish friends rescue Max and attempt to force him to reveal the number. It will unlock the secrets of the Torah and restore the Ark of the Covenant. Max refuses to cooperate.

He despairs of the whole business and uses an electric drill to perform a trepanning on his head, since shaved.

At the end, in the park, when the young girl living in his building asks him for various mathematical computations, he is unable to do them, while she performs the operation using her hand calculator.

There are parts I left out, mostly stuff I didn’t understand, such as the squishy thing Max finds on the steps in the subway, said squishy thing that responds amazingly when Max prods it.

This is all about number theory. There no sets, no cosets, no differential equations, and no topological congruencies. There’s lots about Fibonacci series and spirals and golden ratios. Probably a semester’s worth of pure math is lost somewhere in here.