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No Mercy (1986)
Standard Stuff: Metro Cop Takes Revenge against Evildoers
At the opening, "Shotgun" by Jr. Walker and the All-Stars is being played in the background as a sloppy police bust at a Chicago car- wash transpires. The two involved policemen wring from one of the captured drug dealers a potential hit; someone wants a Cajun kingpin in New Orleans bumped off. The two policemen Eddie Jillette (Richard Gere) and Joey Collins (Gary Basaraba) decide to pose as the hit men. It ends badly as the New Orleans' Cajun kingpin strikes first. Among the dead is Collins in a hotel room; a blonde with a parrot tattoo on her right shoulder may be implicated. Wounded, Eddie is chased in the Chicago Stockyards but somehow escapes.
After recovering and obtaining permission from his superior tough cop Capt. Stemkowski (George Dzundza) Eddie is off to New Orleans to track down the bad guys who murdered his partner. The Deveneux family is totally non-co-operative; Paul Deveneux had been one of the shady guys killed in Chicago. Eddie's next step is to find a parlor that tattoos blue parrots on people. Next he works his way into a rough club in Algiers, a dangerous section of New Orleans. There he finds the blonde dancing and sweating. He extricates her as his captive with difficulty: There is a car chase as Eddie and the blonde, Michel Duval (Kim Basinger), wind up underwater with the Cajun kingpin Losado (Jeroen Krabbe) and his gang desperately shooting at them. Eddie and his bait Michel escape for the moment. He soon learns that she was given to Losado by her mother when she was just thirteen years old; she has never been with another man. So she is a victim, not a hooker. Eventually Eddie is captured and escapes again, Michel is left to Losado. Eddie did figure out that Losado smuggles in cheap labor, which he sells to the Deveneux clique.
In the denouement Eddie is alone in the Algiers Point Hotel waiting for the confrontation with Losado and his gang of thugs. Only a cat hangs there. Michel arrives as she has fallen in love with him. But one does wonder how an out-of-state cop can set everything up without police help. And during the shootout no one seems to hear anything: No alarm appears to sound, no fire trucks arrive despite the large fire, no police arrive to stop anything. Nope, not until the absolute end! And then the crowd finally congregates as various rescue vehicles arrive.
There are some nice sets, as when Stemkowski shows up at the NOPD and is appalled at Eddie's treatment. There is also the steamy love scene between Michel and Eddie. Then again, it is strange that Eddie uses a rifle shot to break the handcuff chain tying Michel to him, an action that easily alerts his captors. He could have used heavy stones or tools in the house where he and Michel stayed alone.
Gere seems to take control of the movie and is believable as a sufficiently tough cop. Basinger finds her niche, playing a sympathetic and abused woman. The two have genuine chemistry together, and filming on location is always a plus.
The Lost Bird Project (2012)
They Were Erased from the Earth
The Lost Bird Project is a compelling and touching documentary about the efforts of sculptor Todd McGrain's efforts to place his memorials of five extinct birds in the places where they were last seen in the wild in North America. These bronze statues are over six-feet tall, colored black, and metal-poured from a Newburgh, NY foundry. Although we do not learn much about McGrain, he appears to be very sincere and decent in his mission. He is certainly low-key and rational, and places no blame on any particular person. His inspiration emanates from the book, "Hope Is the Thing with Feathers" by Christopher Cokinos, who wrote about extinct birds.
One of the extinct birds is the heath hen (extinct, 1932), of which there was only one in 1928. An island celebrity of sorts, he spent his last years booming out his mating call on Martha's Vineyard, a haunting image, as there was no longer any mate for him in the world! The other birds are the Carolina parakeet (extinct, 1918), the Labrador duck (extinct, 1878), the great auk (extinct in 1844, not 1888 as the movie testifies), and the passenger pigeon (extinct, 1914).
The demise of the passenger pigeon, the most abundant bird species on earth, was especially callous. It numbered perhaps three to five billion birds in 1800, but was reportedly reduced to one in the wild in 1900, when it was shot by a farm boy in Pike County, Ohio. The last passenger pigeon in captivity died in a Cincinnati zoo in 1914. These migrating birds were once so numerous that they darkened the sky for two or three days as they flew overhead. But hunting and man's destruction of its habitat doomed them. Coveted mostly for their meat and secondarily for their feathers, they were regularly shot at as they flew overhead. They were also trapped by many methods. One of these was the "stool pigeon" decoy. A pigeon was tied to an object, like a stool. When it flapped its wings, it would attract flying birds, which were ambushed as they flew below to investigate. The slaughter was especially appalling at their nesting sites: fully one billion passenger pigeons were said to have been destroyed at Petoskey, Michigan in 1878. The shootings were unremitting until the end.
Not covered in the movie is that final act in the destruction of the great auk in 1844 on Eldey Island. The last male and female pair was attacked and strangled by three men from Iceland. The couple's incubated egg was stepped on and crushed by a man's boot.
Eventually McGrain is successful in his project. For instance, in front of the local population on rocky Fogo Island off Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, we see McGrain's dedication of the installation of the great auk memorial, secured in place with four large bolts and epoxy.
As I sadly write this review I note that the Eskimo curlew, which flies from the northern tip of North America to the southern tip of South America, may be extinct as it has hardly been seen in this century.
All the Right Moves (1983)
Those Steel Mills Are Largely Gone Now
Ampipe (Johnstown, PA), a depressed and gritty steel town located just outside of Pittsburgh is in obvious decline. It had been founded long before by Ampipe Pipe and Steel when steel was big. In the old days young men left high school, acquired a job at the mill, married, fathered children, and bought a house while they were still young. Most of the local men still work at Ampipe, but layoffs are increasing. Enter Stef Djordjevic (Tom Cruise), a cornerback for his Ampipe High School football team (The Bulldogs), who wants a college scholarship to an engineering college, his ticket out of town. He displays his Penn State pennant on his bedroom wall. Stef resides with his father (Charles Cioffi) and older brother, Rick (Gary Graham), both of whom work in the mill.
Stef doesn't always act in a nice way but is generally likable. His problem is his attitude, which drives his Coach, Nickerson (Craig T. Nelson), mad as a hatter. Stef does not always listen to his coach's teachings. Stef maintains a B average at Ampipe High, not good enough for a college scholarship. So he needs football as his meal ticket. Stef happens to be a very good defensive player, although he is not the star of his team. Meanwhile Coach Nickerson too is looking for a way out of Ampipe, as he has a chance to become defensive backfield coach at Cal Poly. The coach is tough and no-nonsense, and really works his players hard during the practices. He is less than perfect, and when players make mistakes, he considers them as quitters on the team.
Even though the movie revolves around high school football, it is more about inter-personal relationships than about the gridiron. In fact, the big game against the Knights of Walnut Heights, a richer school undefeated and ranked number three in Pennsylvania, occurs only half-way through the movie, not at the denouement. And yet an interesting well-filmed piece does involve the road game: the long bus journey to Walnut Heights with the players thinking their individual thoughts, the tensions in the locker room, the pre-game prep talk, the long spiral football spinning through the air, the hard hits and grunts in the rain, and the eventual heartbreaking loss.
Nevertheless, the important matter is the story of life, as when the two teen-aged protagonists (Stef and Lisa, Lea Thompson) finally get around to expressing their true feelings. Secondary characters have their stories to tell. There are the men, laid off from work, who drown their sorrows in the local gin mill. One young man in financial difficulty becomes desperate enough to commit a robbery. A life-changing event involves a cheerleader who becomes pregnant. Then there are the antics of a bar room bully. Stef himself becomes tense as his expected football scholarships fail to materialize.
In summary the plot is decent, and even though the movie is not a great one, is still worth watching.
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Based upon the Autobiography of Susanna Kaysen
In 1967, 18 year-old neurotic and volatile Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder), who attempted to commit suicide by downing a bottle of vodka and a bottle of aspirin, is rushed to a local hospital. Not only is her family life an unhappy one (despite the family's influence), but also she is confused as what to do with her life. She is in denial about her motives, and is also promiscuous. After she has survived emergency medical care, she is sent to Claymoore, a psychiatric institution in Belmont, Massachusetts. As Susanna stays for one and one-half years, her outside life has become interrupted. (Actually the title emanates from Vermeer's 17th century painting.)
The hospital staff is headed by an administrator who appears to be a caring and decent man, Dr. Melvin Potts (Jeffrey Tambor) and an intelligent but detached psychiatrist Dr. Sonia Wick (Vanessa Redgrave). The supervisor on the ward is hardened nurse Valerie Owens (Whoopi Goldberg). Valerie calls Susanna "a lazy, self- indulgent little girl who is driving herself crazy."
Placed in a women's ward, Susanna eventually receives her diagnosis: "borderline personality disorder." She is ambivalent and seems to deserve what she gets even though one knows that she does not really belong in Claymoore. When she tells boyfriend Toby (Jared Leto) that she has friends there, he replies, "They are eating grapes off the wallpaper." But Claymoore seems to give her the structure that she needs. Earlier, a nurse had warned her, "Do not drop anchor here." When tragedy ultimately strikes one of the inmates, Susanna seriously begins to self-examine herself and begins to cooperate with the therapists. Mentally she becomes less confused and healthier, and starts writing about her experiences. Although her book became the basis for the movie, the latter unfortunately takes many liberties. The movie, about behavior and character, is told dramatically via a series of episodes. These events include: female patient interactions; the girls breaking into the main office after hours and reading individual files; the Christmastime trip to the ice cream parlor; exercise classes; the attempt to escape; the final melodramatic confrontation in the basement. In reality, some of these events never really happened but were added in by Hollywood for dramatic effect.
The other women Susanna meets at the hospital include:
Lisa Rowe (Angelina Jolie) a rebel misfit, sociopath, and reckless; manipulative and cruel; doesn't care whom she hurts; becomes Susanna's friend.
Georgina Tuskin (Clea Duwall) a shy and withdrawn person; suffers from schizophrenia; lives in the Land of Oz; doesn't really want to leave Claymoore; diagnosed as "pseudologica fantastica," a pathological liar; Susanna's roommate.
Polly Clark (Elizabeth Moss) a schizophrenic but kindly burn victim who is also depressed with her face; will never leave Claymoore; called "Torch" by Lisa.
Daisy Randone (Brittany Murphy) a deeply troubled individual with an anxiety disorder; harbors a dreadful secret.
Janet Webber (Angela Bettis) an anorexic ballerina; easily irritated; called "Fatso" by Lisa.
Cynthia Crowley (Jillian Armenante) a mentally-disturbed lesbian; severely depressed.
Winona Ryder, who bears more than just a physical resemblance to the author of the book, is expressive and skillful at projecting mental states. She is always good. Angelina Jolie drives the movie and gives it life. Her demeaning of those around her left her a cold heart, dead inside. Jolie's haunting performance won her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Despite some film flaws, there are the strong presentations by an impressive cast of highly talented young actresses. Also, the script contains some sharp insights into the complexities of mental illness.
The Long Riders (1980)
Early Post-Modern Western
The western is not what it once was. Remember that the first American movie (1903) was a western, "The Great Train Robbery." Not long after, heroes like Tom Mix and William S. Hart dominated the silent screen of the Old West. In 1928, "In Old Arizona" became the first talkie western. Over the next several decades, the genre continued to attract audiences. Even though the peak probably occurred in the early 1960s, the 1950s decade became the best decade of the brand, and not only because John Wayne and Randolph Scott were at their crests. In the 1959-1960 television season, no fewer than 26 westerns appeared on prime time.
There had always been a major distinction of who were the good guys and the bad guys. Each had their roles, and audiences knew who was who. It should be noted that even in some earlier westerns like "Jesse James" (1939) the outlaws were given sympathetic treatment. The characters were made likable. But beginning in the mid-1960s, the format of the western changed. Revisionism and anti-westerns were the vogue as they became more cynical and darker. European westerns made an impact, and the anti-hero was born. The code of the former good guys changed: Sometimes there was little to distinguish who was good and who was bad. Unlike those well-spoken and compassionate good guy cowboys like Hart, Mix, and Gene Autry, the newer "heroes" (like Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman) were often flawed. Empathy abated, and some broke the law; a few were even murderous. Likewise, the language of the good guys turned crude. Throughout the 1970s the old-time western was obviously in decline; John Wayne's final movie was "The Shootist" in 1976. The days of "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1955-1961) had long passed. Just compare "Rio Grande" (1950) or "Warpath" (1951) with "The Wild Bunch" (1969) or "Soldier Blue" (1970), or try to equate any Gene Autry western with "Cry Blood, Apache" (1970).
"The Long Riders" gives us an early aspect of the post-modern western, a style that tended to choose atmosphere over form and still sometimes blurred the distinction between good and bad. The heroes may or may not be anti-heroes. So were the "protagonists" of "The Long Riders" working-class heroes or just bad guys? The answer is that they were outlaws, but not sadistic villains. The focus of "The Long Riders" is on the highlights of the James-Younger gang of the nineteenth century Midwest (not the Far West). The supporting population was mostly sympathetic to the James-Younger gang as they were looked upon as rebelling against the hated Yankees.
In summary, the film highlights their train and bank robberies after the Civil War; the acceptance of danger by the James-Younger women; the Pinkerton National Detective Agency methods of hunting down the gang; the killing of John Younger by a Pinkerton detective (1874); the exploding flare thrown into the James home that maimed Jesse/Frank's mother and killed his half-brother Archie (1875); the disaster at Northfield, Minnesota that finished the Youngers and destroyed the gang (1876); and the traitorous act of Bob Ford (1882), the dirty little coward that shot Mr. Howard.
Four sets of real life brothers play the four historic families of the Wild West: the Keaches are the James, the Carradines are the Youngers, the Quaids are the Millers, and the Guests are the Fords. James and Stacy Keach play Jesse and Frank James, respectively; David, Keith and Robert Carradine are Cole, Jim and Bob Younger (and since there are not enough brothers, Kevin Brophy plays 4th brother John Younger, although he is a cousin in the movie) James; Dennis and Randy Quaid are Ed and Clell Miller; and Christopher and Nicholas Guest play the backstabbers Charlie and Bob Ford. Bob plugged Jesse in the back of the head as he adjusted a framed copy of the saying "God bless our home." Actually Jesse was just dusting the picture.
The movie does some romanticizing of the gang, although the early murderous act of Ed Miller is portrayed brutally. Then again, Jesse dismisses Miller for his action against an innocent civilian. What ultimately makes the movie watchable is its favorable aspects. These positives include the (already explained) imaginative casting, top-notch acting, remarkable period detail, outstanding editing, and great photography. But also note there is violence and that the history is not always accurate (like the confrontation between Cole Younger and Sam Starr that never happened). Then again it is accurate enough. For instance, the gang did wear dusters at Northfield and Frank James did turn himself in to the law; he was later acquitted.
Alone in the Wilderness (2004)
Surviving in the Wild Requires Planning, Hard Work, and Skill
In July 1967 Iowan Richard ("Dick) Proenneke cut down sturdy log poles from a stand of white spruce in a remote southern Alaskan valley known as Twin Lakes (Now in Lake Clark National Park). He moved them 300 yards and left them to dry. On 21 May 1968, he returned determined to carve out a new and solitary life for himself at age 51. He brought along a tripod-mounted camera to record his experiences. The result is a treasure on film.
Dick had made arrangements to utilize a friend's unused cabin nearby until his own was completed. From the spruce log poles, Dick fashioned sturdy handles for the hand tools that were imperative to his survival. It had been so much easier to transport the tools without the extra weight of their handles. Selecting a twenty foot square area for his proposed log cabin site (the exterior part of the cabin was planned at 15' by 11') with the front door facing northwest, Dick spread out gravel (taken from the lake bed) several inches thick. The planned bay window would thus overlook the nearby lake from the southwest. Dick then began the task of chiseling out notches on each log so that he could carefully fit them together to form the cabin walls. In June 1968, his friend, Babe Ellsworth, flew in needed supplies with his seaplane. Dick then proceeded to plant 15 hills of potatoes plus onions, peas, carrots, beets, and rutabaga (turnips).
With the cabin walls completed, Dick trimmed the log ends and constructed a sawhorse work bench. He proceeded to fashion a window frame and sill. Oakum was applied between wall logs for tight seals. As Dick worked on his roof, the mosquitoes came out in force. Using his ax and draw knife with skill, Dick prepared wood hinges for his door. With his leftover log poles, Dick was skilled enough to construct his own furniture. While construction took up most of his time, Dick took a stretch here and there to explore the surrounding countryside. He observed many animal types, like beaver, moose, bear, wolves, loons, and magpies. Dick expressed his compassion for animals when he discovered a defenseless bull caribou beleaguered by flying insects in an area with no blowing breeze. The caribou appeared helpless. Dick scared away the caribou from the annoying bugs.
Before applying peat moss on his roof, Dick used tar-paper and polyethylene as sealers. He felt almost remorseful that they are not true wilderness materials, but rationalized correctly that they are very effective for keeping out bad weather. When he constructed an outhouse, he even chiseled out a crescent for the door. Dick made by hand his tin storage containers for his cabin kitchen and outside storage area below ground. With extra wood he prepared a large serving spoon. He especially relished one of his meals: fried fish, potatoes, and onions. On 31 July he noted, "I will go up high today." In the high country, the camera in use is not a tripod. But one slip and it would be curtains for the survivalist. In fact, one realizes that Dick had to stay healthy and not risk any type of injury. Being alone, it could have been fatal. Now the frost began to kick in. On 6 September it was time to begin the fireplace (and chimney). Dick had already gathered stone that was representative of the entire area. The task of pacing and mortaring stone took two weeks to complete. In late September there were four inches of snow on the ground; the temperature read 23 degrees Fahrenheit. On the last day of sheep season, Dick brought down a ram and made the 100-pound pelt for his smokehouse. November brought the beginning of lake and river freeze-ups. Dick had to shovel constantly to keep open his path to the lake and water supply. On 31 December 1968 the temperature read minus 33 degrees.
On 2 January 1969 it was minus 45 degrees with 28 inches of thick ice. On 9 January Babe flew in more precious supplies: beans, sugar, and dried apples. Dick even received a belated Christmas present: two warm pairs of knitted socks. On 21 February it was 26 degrees with 27 inches of snow on the ground. Dick commented that a wolverine frolicking in the snow belied his dreadful reputation. By late March the snow was finally on the wane. Dick made a large wooden bowl from a spruce burl. In April the caribou became abundantly visible again. Dick had planned many more projects, like his highly-perched food cache.
The film ends before an hour is up. Dick had survived his first full year, and would eventually stay in Alaska for thirty years, leaving in 1998 at age 82. Dick's cabin is now an American National Historic Site. Enough shots were filmed to prepare two more programs; one of these parts was released in 2011. Although additional footage may have been later added to the original, and although another person did some of the filming (Bob Swerer Sr. / Jr.?), the film is fascinating and wholeheartedly recommended. Three facts are learned: living alone in the wilderness requires hard work, skill, and thorough planning!
Whispers in the Dark (1992)
Kinky Psychological Mystery Thriller
On the silver screen, psychological mystery thrillers kinky or otherwise, whether major studio or independent have always been popular, and the early-to-mid 1990s produced more than their fair share. For example, recognize the following: "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991), "Basic Instinct" (1992), "Jennifer Eight" (1992), "Sliver" (1993), "Color of Night" (1994), "Knight Moves" (1995), and "Copycat" (1995).
In "Whispers in the Dark," Ann Hecker (Annabella Sciorra), who is ending her rocky relationship with her boyfriend Paul, practices as a psychiatrist in Manhattan. She is told by one of her patients, Eve Abergray (Deborah Unger) attractive but sexually perverted about her sexual sado-masochistic/bondage practices with her boyfriend. Ann seems to take it all in with high interest. As Ann seems turned on by her own dreams of sexual bondage, she consults with her former therapist (when she attended college) and friend Leo Green (Alan Alda). Another of Ann's patients, Latino Johnny Castillo (John Leguizano), a sadist, likes to paint sexual fantasies (as opposed to acting them out). Both Eve and Johnny are unbalanced, to say the least, and Ann does not seem to have solutions. On one of the office visits, Eve removes most of her clothing and masturbates in front of Ann. The bewildered psychiatrist can only ogle. Later on Johnny C. breaks into Ann's apartment and hogties her for a short time before freeing her and jumping outside her window ledge. Talk about being just a bit troubled!
One day Ann sees airplane pilot Doug McDowell (Jamey Sheridan) on the elevator in her office building. Before long the two are dating, but Doug has some dark secrets. One of these is that he is Eve's sexual partner in bondage! When Eve discovers that Ann is dating Doug, she becomes intractable; she steals some files and tapes from Ann's office that she plans to use against the psychiatrist. When Eve is found dead, hanging nude, Ann's suspicions focus on Doug. Enter Detective Larry Morgenstern (Anthony LaPaglia). Morgenstern tries to get Ann to release her office files to him, but Ann will not agree. Nevertheless, Morgenstern is insistent and dogs Ann at every turn. He tells her that he has found the tapes that Eve had stolen. "Those tapes are my property. I'd like them back," she demands. "No! Material evidence in a murder investigation," sneers Morgenstern.
After Johnny C. falls from the window ledge to his death, Ann seeks solace with Leo Green, as she did not realize that the sadistically deranged artist had previously tortured many women. "Oh come on," retorts Leo, "a bright psychopath can fool anybody." What! Later this line will make some sense. When Doug takes Ann to visit his mother, Mrs. McDowell, she tells Ann that Doug was once married. His wife Jenny hanged herself after sustaining severe depression. Doug admits that there was violence in the marriage: Jenny attacked him because of his affair with another. Shocked, Ann confides this information to Leo, who in turns relays it to Morgenstern. Ann is disappointed in Leo's action. Before that, Morgenstern had told Ann that as Johnny C.'s alibi checked out with regard to Eve's death, the unhinged artist could not have killed her. Right after Morgenstern is found dead in the airplane hangar of McDowell Aviation. Suspicions continue to focus on Doug. Meanwhile Ann has returned to get solace from Leo and his wife at the Nantucket seashore. There is no reason to expose the last one-fifth of the feature and major twist to the movie. But it can be stated confidentially that there is one turn too many.
The main charters here psychiatrists, patients, and police are not particularly likable. But the movie features excellent performances by Alan Alda, Anthony La Paglia (the Italian Aussie), and Deborah Unger; Annabella Sciorra is good enough. Jamey Sheridan is hardly appealing: note his large head. Actually his character is quite dubious. The Manhattan camera-shooting is not really used to any specific advantage; there is an aerial shot of Nantucket. Although panned by critics, the feature is still nicely filmed and is attention-getting despite some script weaknesses and a ludicrous double-twisted ending. Just watch it for its entertainment value.
An Early Comedy about the Post-Vietnam Army
Within several hours, John Winger (Bill Murray) has lost his job, girlfriend Anita (Roberta Leighton), automobile, and apartment. Going nowhere, he convinces his friend Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) to enlist in the US army with him. The two buddies wind up in Ft. Arnold (Get it?), where the focus is on basic military training: hiking, running, rope climbing, grenade throwing, shooting, mortar firing, etc. The drill instructor is Sgt. Hulka (Warren Oates), who teaches about "discipline, duty, honor, courage." But as the brash and outspoken Winger gets under his skin so often he gets to do many push-ups.
Of course, much of the dialog and happenings are fanciful. Winger's group, the 3rd platoon, Bravo Company, features more than a few misfits and includes the heavy-set Ox (John Candy), Psycho (Conrad Dunn), dimwit Cruiser (John Diehl), stoned Elmo (Judge Reinhold), and others. Hulka's superior is the inept captain, Stillman (John Larroquette). The commanding general at the fort wants a crack platoon to man the latest project, the army's prototype, the Urban Assault Vehicle (EM-50, which looks like an armored motor home). Captain Stillman is assigned the task; if he fails, he will be sent to a post north of the Arctic Circle. Meanwhile Winger's troubles continue and he tries to desert before he is foiled by Ramis. When our heroes finally escape KP, they go to town; the situation at the local bar ends in a brawl. Along the way, Winger and Ramis hook up with two WACs, Louise (Sean Young) and Stella (P.J. Stoles). A minor miracle occurs when the men of the platoon finally graduate from basic training.
They eventually wind up in Europe. When the platoon blunders into Czechoslovakia, then still occupied by Russians since the end of World War II, they are captured. So it is up to John Winger, Russell, and their girlfriends (hard to believe) Louise and Stella to rescue them with the EM-50. Why World War III did not start there and then is . . . well it's a comedy. Will anybody get promoted? HINT: See the title. One of the movie's last images is the press cutting of the Newsworld Magazine article: "The New Army: Can America Survive?" One does wonder.
The plot is thin and the comedy spotty, but the film has its moments, such as the slapstick basic training scenes at Ft. Knox (not Arnold!). Then again, jumping the girls' bones in the general's house, the mud-wrestling match, and the skirmish with the Russians? Hmmm . . . Bill Murray's humor is sardonic and effective; it suits his personality well. Some will be turned off by his self-centeredness (and his haircut). This is an early effort by many actors, including John Candy, John Diehl, Judge Reinhold, and Sean Young. Late in his acting career, Warren Oates does very well as Hulka, whom he plays so straight that he can practically pass as a real DI. The women are all very attractive. By the way, the striking blonde girl with those gorgeous legs in Stillman's convertible at fictitious Ft. Milano in Italy is Lois Areno (née Aurino, a/k/a Hamilton). Note that in later years the movie director included an Extended Cut, which is almost 18 minutes longer than the released version, and includes several nude scenes. The movie was so popular that it made millions at the box office.
"Do-wah diddy-diddy dumb diddy-do . . ."
A Dubbed Danish Dud
The movie's setting is 2001, when according to the opening monologue, "the planet earth is no longer racked by wars and threats of annihilation. Man has learned to live with himself." Really? A bit optimistic there! Anyway, the United Nations, the world's governing body (Yikes!), has undertaken missions to determine if life exists on the planets of the solar system. So far there has been no luck. The current rocket mission is to explore the surface of planet Uranus (pronounced as Ur-ah-nus), which has a cloud-top temperature of 200° Centigrade. After all, it's almost 1.8 billion miles from the sun! It emits a "strange radiation" and is not very dense, being composed of ammonia and methane. These facts do not faze the five men in a rocket ship who seem to land in a forest (actually an icy surface). It is obvious that little or no pre-landing preparation was accomplished, for there were no orbiting satellites, no unmanned probe, and no specific information gathering. Ah, details, details . . .
After boring dialogue that consumes nearly one-half of the picture, the explorers finally depart their spacecraft with their rubber suits and headgear. They find weird happenings, like green plants that do not belong there; they lack root systems. Houses and windmills automatically appear when the spacemen think about them. It seems that the planet is using mind control to dominate the spacemen. The memories of the men are used to format illusions instead of the realities of the planet. They include the Danish pastries, er, alluring earth women who do not really exist on Ur-ah-nus. When Captain Graham (John Agar) is rescued after sinking in a quicksand-like substance (ammonia snow particles), he says rather haltingly, "I . . . am . . . glad . . . you were here . . . to pull me out." "Be careful," the boss wisely utters. The men do encounter a one-eyed Allosaurus they think it's a rodent. It seems that one of the crew has a fear of rats. "That's it," utters the commander, "Our deepest and greatest fears are being dug up by our subconscious by whatever the power is out there and pitted against us!" The novice astronaut chimes in that it is not only the fears that are used but also the desires (cute chicks) as part of mind control. Oh, the tension! What to do?
Before long the space heroes are smooching on the Danish pastries (Ingrid, Greta, Ann, Mimi). But time is running out for them to blast off from their optimum orbital position. If they miss it there will not be enough fuel to return to earth. Oh, the horror! Then they encounter other oddities, like the giant tarantula. They soon (not soon enough) encounter the telepathic Big Eye-on-Brain, which is exposed without any covering! Big Eye's sinister plan is to conquer the earth (HA HA HA HA HA). "You will submit, and I shall possess you." Oh, the pressure! Can they stop this maniacal alien? The ludicrous ending will not be revealed here. Darn!
Directed and produced by the incomparable Sid Pink, who gave us "The Angry Red Planet" (1959) and "Reptilicus" (1961), this Danish honey was made on the cheap ($75,000). Filming could not have taken more than a few weeks. It shows: wretched dubbing, laughable dialogue, wooden acting, cheap sets, and meager production values. The film was sent to American International, who reportedly made several special effects changes before the American distribution to theaters. So aging is not an issue with this stinker, as it was awful at the very beginning! Hard to believe it was even worse than it is! John Agar, that creature from Earth, made such films as "Tarantula" (1955), "The Brain from Planet Arous" (1957), and "Attack of the Puppet People" (1958). Surprisingly he is only the second-in-command here. The other actors are better left unnamed.
The Jazz Singer (1927)
Al Jolson Shines in a Warner Brothers Classic
"The Jazz Singer" may not have been the first film featuring sound, as there had been several experimental short films with sound earlier. For instance see the Theodore Case Sound Test: "Gus Visser and his Singing Duck" (1925), which is easily found online in YouTube. But "The Jazz Singer" was the first feature length film to use real sound, although dialog is limited as most of the film is silent (at least three-quarters) with Title Cards (intertitles). It is accompanied by a Vitaphone Orchestra score and features singing sequences by Al Jolson, America's favorite entertainer. The success of this film transformed the movie industry from the silent to talkies.
The story begins in the Lower East Side of the New York City Ghetto. Bearded cantor Rabinowitz (Warner Oland) tells his wife, Sara (Eugenie Besserer) that his ambition is for their son, Jakie (Bobby Gordon) to continue in the family tradition and succeed him as cantor at the Orchard Street synagogue. Sara, though, knows differently, as young Jakie really wants to be an entertainer, a jazz singer. Not long after, Cantor Rabinowitz catches young Jakie singing popular (ragtime) songs like "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee" in Muller's neighborhood bar- café. Outraged that Jakie is defying Jewish tradition, the cantor promptly takes him home to give him a whipping. To Sara's detriment, Jakie responds by leaving home. Nevertheless, Cantor Rabinowitz proceeds with the services at the synagogue, telling another cantor that he has no son.
The years pass, and three thousand miles away Jakie Rabinowitz has become well-known entertainer Jack Robin (Al Jolson) at Coffee Dan's nightclub in San Francisco. The audience is aroused by his singing when Jolson says those famous words: "Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain't heard nothing' yet. Wait a minute, I tell ya, you ain't heard nothing'! Do you wanna hear 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie!'? All right, hold on, hold on. Lou (band leader), listen. Play 'Toot, Toot, Tootsie!' Three choruses, you understand. In the third chorus I whistle. Now give it to 'em hard and heavy. Go right ahead!" Jack makes an impression on Mary Dale (May McAvoy), an attractive theatrical dancer with clout who decides to give him an opportunity to appear in an upcoming show. It develops into a successful run on vaudeville circuits at all major western cities. He writes to his mother, but Sara is chagrined to learn that he now has a non-Jewish name and has fallen in love with a non-Jewish girl. Later, he receives news that he is to star in a major Broadway revue.
Back in New York, Jack decides to return home to see Sara and to participate in celebrating his father's sixtieth birthday. Sara welcomes Jack home with open arms, but when Cantor Rabinowitz returns home to find Jakie singing "Blue Skies" to his mother, father and son have another brouhaha, causing Jack to storm away once more. "Leave my house! I never want to see you again, you jazz singer!"
During a dress rehearsal before opening night on Broadway, an important public performance, Sara comes backstage to Jack, telling him that his father is ill and might be dying, and he must return home for Yom Kippur and take his father's place at the altar to sing "Kol Nidre." Now he's faced with the difficult decision to eschew his big break to be at the synagogue. If only opening night could be postponed. In the end, Al Jolson eventually sings "My Mammy" (in blackface).
Although Al Jolson was a plodding actor, his vibrant voice brings enthusiasm to the silver screen. "The Jazz Singer" is not a great movie by any means, but it is entertaining and its influence was far-reaching. After 1927, talkies became the norm. For instance, Alfred Hitchcock saw the writing on the wall and filmed his "Blackmail" in both silent and talkie versions; the latter is what we see today. "The Jazz Singer" does present a slice of Jewish life in the early twentieth century. Note that blackface entertainment, which had been popular since the mid-nineteenth century, was not considered inappropriate then. It came into public disfavor by mid- century.