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Uneasy Allies, A Strong Obligation, 24 May 2016

Take A Hard Ride is both a spaghetti western and a black exploitation film. In this film Jim Brown takes a really large sum to Sonora in Mexico where his dying employer Dana Andrews has started what sounds like a Utopian like settlement. Brown takes on the mission because as a former slave Andrews treated him like a human being. He's feeling a strong obligation there.

But when you're carrying $86,000.00 and that's in 19th century dollars it's not something you keep a secret. Brown has all kinds of people after the money up to and including bounty hunter Lee Van Cleef and even the law itself in the person of Barry Sullivan.

His allies are an uneasy group. Gambler Fred Williamson who is a fast gun and has a way with snakes goes along with Brown with Brown knowing full well Williamson could turn on him. They also pick up a mute Indian played by Jim Kelly who's learned a lot of good karate moves with his tribe.

Take A Hard Ride is a pretty good western for a spaghetti western. I'm not a real big fan of the genre thinking that westerns are to be made in the USA as its our art form. Still with all the Americans in the cast, none of that ridiculous dubbing is here. Brown and Williamson have a good chemistry in their scenes.

Should please devoted western fans.

A sad catatonic state, 24 May 2016

Eileen Baral became the second little girl that the Cartwrights found wandering after a tragedy. There's A Christmas episode at the beginning of the run of the show where they find blind little Diane Mountford in the Sierras. But Baral is found by Hoss and and it's after a stagecoach holdup where everyone including here parents are killed except here.

She's in a sad catatonic state, but Dan Blocker brings her to the Ponderosa main house to stay temporarily. But as Lorne Greene points out the Ponderosa man cave is no place for a little girl. Still she does bond with Blocker, the big guy certainly did have a way with kids throughout the run of the series.

There's skulduggery afoot however engineered by her uncle Gerald Mohr in from San Francisco to claim her. What it is I won't reveal, but it was worth a lot of bloodshed in Mohr's eyes.

One of Dan Blocker's best episodes from the series.

A loss leader Bashi Bazook, 24 May 2016

I think Stanley Baker was starting to show some of the ravages of the cancer that eventually killed him. Still as always he's tough as nails starring in Innocent Bystanders.

Baker stars as a compromised spy who spymaster Donald Pleasance feels will crack under the pressure. So he sends him out as a sort of decoy while a couple of other agents are to do the real assignment which is getting a hold of a defecting Russian scientist who has escaped from a Siberian gulag and is now in Turkey somewhere.

Of course when Baker finds out he's a British version of a Bashi- Bazook, expendable troops you put in the front line expecting them to be killed, he doesn't take it kindly and goes into business for himself. Along the way Baker acquires Geraldine Chaplin who is in the title role of the Innocent Bystander.

I'm told in the book that Innocent Bystander the lead character does have the exaggerated mustache that Baker sports. I really can't buy that since part of espionage is the ability to blend into the background.

Pleasance who is always in his films having evil intent is no different here. Dana Andrews makes an appearance here as the American spy chief who has contracted out this assignment.

As it turns out there are others who want the scientist for more than matters of geopolitics.

Fans of Stanley Baker will like Innocent Bystanders.

Promise (1986) (TV)
The options aren't good, 24 May 2016

James Garner was very proud of his work in Promise and deservedly so. He was quoted as praising to the skies the work of James Woods in this film, but Garner himself should have gotten more kudos for not playing his usual kind of laid back character.

Promise is both the title of this film and the obligation Garner feels toward his late mother. Woods is his much younger brother and since his teen years has been in a mental institution for schizophrenia. Now mom has passed on and Garner inherits the responsibility for her heavily mortgaged house and his institutionalized brother.

In this film and in life the options for the mentally ill just aren't good ones. Garner can't cope living with him and the places to put him are either horribly run or too expensive. Think of having Woods coping with some Ms. Ratched in some institution.

Garner and Woods play beautifully off each other. Garner extends his range in this, he's not Bret Maverick or Jim Rockford here. Woods is really outstanding here playing in his life an astonishing range of quirky characters, but he really outdoes himself in this part. There's also a nice performance from Piper Laurie as a sympathetic neighbor.

There are some similarities here to Rainman in the reverse relationship between the brothers. In Rainman it's the younger brother caring for an older brother. I'd be hard pressed to split the difference between them. It's only Rainman had a big screen release and Promises is a made for TV film.

It's one of the best of its kind though and should not be missed.

Staged forensics, 24 May 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

An Irish Mafia gangster and his son are murdered and the bodies left to look like it was a murder/suicide. But the perpetrators never figure on having a detective like Robert Goren who has a Monk like ability to see through the staged forensics.

The older man had a fugitive warrant on him and reports on him surfaced in all parts of the globe. So it had to be really something for him to come to New York City to risk capture. Try a draining of his hidden loot which law enforcement was also after.

The arrest of Sean Dugan who was the gangster's son by a different marriage and who was using his mother Karen Black's last name was fairly easy for Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe. But the two suspect there's a lot more to the story. Dugan gives up the confession easy enough, but the loot, no way.

It all has to do with a self help guru played by John Benjamin Hickey under whose sway Dugan has fallen. Hickey's got an oily charm about him and Dugan is so frighteningly mousy and ordinary that him committing these homicides of a father and half brother are just not computing. But no doubt he did them.

Some of these cults can really be frightening to what they can do to the human soul.

Flat Earthers, 23 May 2016

This time it's Lorne Greene doing a bit of romancing in this Bonanza story with Ina Balin who is traveling with a bunch of Holy Rollers on a small wagon train to California. She's a doctor's widow who is also the brother-in-law of the head roller John Doucette. Doucette's wife Adrienne Marden is an even worse case of arrested development.

This particular Bonanza story went a way over the top as these religious folks become caricatures. Granted that a lot of these people are real backward, but objecting to Balin teaching the little ones that the earth is still flat was a bit much for the 19th century American west.

On the plus side are compelling portrayals by Doucette and Marden of religious fanaticism. These two would be leading the American Family Association today. But even they haven't repudiated the round earth.

Interpretations, 23 May 2016

It's the year 2054 and mankind through the good graces of pioneering criminologist Max Von Sydow we're about to abolish crime all together. Von Sydow employs three psychics, no doubt the three best in the world and while it looks life is a pretty dull thing for them, spending all that time in water the better to receive images they're doing yeoman service to mankind anticipating murders to come. Right at the beginning of the film we see them in action as police are dispatched to capture Arye Gross as he's about to murder his wife and her boy toy.

But some disturbing images come in regarding police chief Tom Cruise murdering a man who he doesn't even know. Now Cruise is a Richard Kimble like fugitive and he hasn't done the terrible deed he's supposed to do. But one of the water bound psychics turns in a different interpretation of the images she sees. It's that Minority Report that Cruise is interested in so Samantha Morton is taken by Tom who wants very much to find out what's going so he can alter his destiny if possible.

I won't say more other than destinies can be altered and images can be manipulated and wrongly interpreted by some malevolent forces at work.

Cruise and Von Sydow and the rest of the cast turn in some fine performances for Steven Spielberg. And Spielberg's own vision of the future is fascinating. I did love those images of horses making a comeback as a method of transportation. I'm guessing that fossil fuels had polluted the planet enough and we wanted biodegradable waste once again.

Science fiction is always interesting, even the worst future films offer us someone's vision of the future be Steven Spielberg or Ed Wood. Spielberg at least has the talent to bring it off.

And maybe crime prevention taken to its ultimate is not such a good thing. Watch Minority Report and see how you feel.

Lizzie goes to Rome, 22 May 2016

The entire cast of the Lizzie McGuire Disney Channel television show got parts in this film one way or another as Lizzie's cast goes to Rome. But Lizzie got the adventure of a lifetime there romantically speaking. She gets wooed by Yani Gellman playing an Italian teen idol. The poor girl almost forgets her ideal teen hunk Clayton Snyder.

Lizzie McGuire was one of the nicest of the Disney teen comedy shows in the history of the Disney Channel. Hilary Duff was an appealing and wholesome teen role model. And I did like the way that they used to break into those cartoon vignettes very Strange Interlude like when Lizzie wanted to tell us her inner feelings.

Definitely a must for fans of the show.

Nancy Drew (2007)
Her sleuthing ways., 22 May 2016

Stepping into the shoes of Bonita Granville, Pamela Sue Martin, and others who played Carolyn Keene's famous teenage sleuth, Emma Roberts now steps into the role with a nice innocence in her persona that is most refreshing. She and her lawyer father Carson Drew played here by Tate Donovan go to Hollywood for an extended bit. So much so that Nancy is enrolled in some posh Tinseltown high school for the term, her father's business will take that long.

Unlike other Nancy Drew incarnations here Carson Drew is not terribly supportive of his daughter's sleuthing ways. He has her promise not to be doing that and just enjoy the movie colony. But Roberts gives a promise that's as good as drunk's promise not to imbibe.

How could she resist when she's in the house of a late movie queen who was done in in a still unsolved murder case. Do you doubt that Nancy Drew isn't going to solve it. Let's put her to work on what happened to Thelma Todd?

Max Thierot plays her supportive boyfriend Ned Nickerson from the teen novels and there's a nice part for Barry Bostwick as a Hollywood lawyer and powerbroker. Bruce Willis even appears as himself as Roberts crashes one of his sets.

This is an enjoyable family film, recommended highly.

Evangelizing kept to a minimum, 22 May 2016

With overt evangelizing kept to a minimum Abel's Field is not too bad of a family film produced under Christian auspices. Kevin Sorbo has the title role in the film playing a janitor and an unlikely role as mentor to young Samuel Davis. Davis is all of 17 years old and the unlikely guardian of his two 7 year old twin sisters.

Working 2 jobs and then three courtesy of the football team and their idiot coach Davis becomes an assistant to Sorbo as they fix up the sprinkler system for the center of the town, the high school football field. All over the bible belt high school sports, most of all football is the other religion these people follow.

I was actually pleasantly surprised that a film marketed for this area could portray high school sports so negatively.

Sorbo and Davis have some nice scenes together. Abel's Field is good family entertainment.

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