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Host of "Metal Mountain" on WBME
On Twitter: @HandsomeRandall
Bridge of Spies (2015)
History written with excellence
History comes alive with Bridge of Spies. Mark Rylance is excellently cast as Rudolph Able, by all appearances, a kindly man who just wishes to be alone with his paint set. Appearances are deceiving, as we learn he is actually a Russian spy. Playing out as a secondary story, we watch as Francis Gary Powers is selected to fly a US plane in order to gather intelligence on Russia. Given a poison to take should he be captured, Powers realizes how dangerous a mission he was about to undertake.
James Donovan is charged with the task of providing Able a suitable defense, not unlike John Adams had been called to do nearly two hundred years before with the Red Coats who fired into the crowd at Boston. Donovan loses in court, but is able to spare Able's life, citing that killing him would only incite hostilities against the US by Russia.
Powers' mission is a failure as he is shot down, and tortured by the Russians. To add to the events, the Berlin Wall is going up in Germany, causing strife in that country as well. Fredric Pryor, an American college student studying abroad, is taken prisoner. Sent under orders to do an even change, Able for Powers, Donovan doesn't like the idea of leaving an American behind.
To the dismay of the US Government, Donovan begins to set negations to get both Pryor and Powers, telling the Russians that they won't get Able if the US doesn't get both of their citizens back. The drama intensifies as it appears Germany may balk at the suggestion of giving up Pryor.
The events come to ahead on a snowy bridge, as Able and Powers stand on opposite sides of the bridge, not knowing if they would step foot on the homeland again. At the last second, the Germans show up at Checkpoint Charlie with Pryor, and the exchange is made, and Donovan is happy with his success, yet worried about Able's fate, as the two have become friends amongst the madness of world politics.
The brisk pace of the movie, as well as the engaging characters make this a must see movie. Alan Alda proves he still has it, even though he appears briefly in the film. Both Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance both forth such amazing performances, that both should be considered Oscar worthy.
It's next to impossible to make a suspenseful film about a historical event of which you already know the outcome. Yet Spielberg is able to do just that. This is a true must see film! 10 out of 10.
Funny send up the Warriors is a home run
While the living conditions at the Springfield Retirement Castle are a part of the story, the best is the parody of the cult classic movie "Warriors. Bart is wrongly accused of attacking the leader of the Bullies, leaving him, Nelson, Jimbo, Kearny, and Dolph to make it back to their home turf. As in the movie, Bart and the boys encounter many themed bully gangs, including the Furries. In order to save his friends, Nelson sacrifices himself, flinging himself at the lone standing furry and they roll down the hill, and out of view. Bart and the crew trudge home.
There they encounter the main bully that set him up, Luther. Bart and friends are out numbered until Homer and Grandpa Simpson ride in and save the day.
The show does well to parody Warriors, exchanging the violence for some really good laughs. The story and jokes are proof that The Simpsons still have a lot of life left, and the writers can still come out with some good plots.
Somewhere in Georgia (1917)
Terrible early baseball fluff
Often cited as the worst baseball movie ever made, time hasn't exactly been kind. Noted only for Ty Cobb's appearance as the film's hero, the movie suffered badly from choppy editing, and a terrible plot.
The film is a about a baseball player (Cobb) who is a star. He's approached by gamblers about throwing a few games. When he declines, the gamblers kidnap and hold hims hostage. They bet large sums of money that Cobb's team will lose.
He manages to escape, and rides to the game on a donkey (yeah, you read that right) in order to get into the line up in the ninth inning, and save the day for his team.
Hard to watch, with a plot that had to seem silly, even in it's time.
The Simpsons: Sky Police (2015)
I have to say I was impressed with Sky Police. The writers managed to get more mileage out of the destroy the church gag. Last time it was Homer and an off course rocket that destroyed the church, which led to Mr. Burns buying the church, and changing it, which in turn, led to Lisa adopting Buddism as her religion. There was also the time Homer was injured on Church property, and won the church itself in the settlement.
Chief Wiggum receives a jet pack was had been destined for Clancey Wiggins, a military officer. We quickly get a funny montage of Wiggum singing Sky Police (Which includes a terrible fate suffered by two spray painting punks) until Clancey Wiggins arrives to claim his jet pack. Wiggum tries to escape, but events lead to the unmanned jet pack crashing into the church.
What happens next is a plan to recoup the money by card counting at the local casino. Thanks to help from Apu, Marge, Rev. Lovejoy and his wife Helen, along with Ned Flanders and Skinner's mom take the casino for as much as they can, returning at times dressed in various outfits.
This leads to one of the best gags of the show, when Marge arrives at Rev. Lovejoy's house to get the money back. The pit boss has taken Homer hostage until the money is returned. Marge is shocked to see Rev. Lovejoy still dressed in one out the outfits. He explains that role playing has added zest to his and Helen's love life. Helen, hearing Marge's voice, replies that if there is a woman at the door, that Rev. Lovejoy should bring her inside, implying that she is looking to have a swinging three way bisexual experience. Marge escapes from the Lovejoy love nest, and goes to the Casino. The Pit boss agrees to let Homer go, and Homer goes on a rant on how Card Counting isn't really against the rules.
Without a doubt this was a return to the envelope pushing that the show had been known for in the past. And yes they do overlook Marge's previous addiction to gambling that still doesn't take away from the humorous story.
M*A*S*H: The Billfold Syndrome (1978)
One of the best shows of the entire series, bar none
Without a doubt, this is one of the best episodes in the entire run. The story is acting with amazing brilliance, and Kevin Geer does an outstanding job as the ill-fated Sergeant Nielson.
In the subplot, Charles is upset that his post in Korea as port of the M*A*S*H unit has resulted in him missing a dream job in the states. During this time we are introduced to a fresh faced, yet seasoned Sergeant Jerry Nielson. Nielson is very much like Radar. On the outside, he seems like a miscast kid in a war who is able to handle things with such skill, you can only marvel. This is n display as Hawkeye compliments Nielson on the way the wounded have been bandaged and cared for. During a scene in the OR, Nielson admits that he wanted to be a doctor, but had to take care of his mother and younger brother.
Charles, the victim of a prank telegraph, vows to never to speak to anyone in camp again. The 4077 is again overrun with wounded. Neilson returns with the wounds, but Hawkeye and BJ realize via the poor job bandaging, that something is amiss. They soon learn that Neilson has zero memory of who he is.
Dr. Freedman is recruited to help, and gets BJ and Hawkeye to agree to react elements that may have led to Neilson losing his memory.
What occurs next is one of the most dramatic, engaging, and possibly tear jerking scene through the show's entire run. As BJ and Hawkeye react the sounds of bombs falling, and the voices of Neislon's comrades, that make a startling discovery to what led Neilson to lose his memory. Neilson had discovered the body of his brother, dead in a fox hole. As Neilson comments about his promise to look after him, because he's the oldest, Hawkeye grimly comments "Not that too!", giving the viewer an insight to the fragile existence of Neilson's family life.
Once the session is over, Freedman brings Neilson out of his hypnotic state. After realizing what happened, emotions overwhelm Neislon, and he leans forward, crying on Freedman's shoulder.
There have been many one and done characters through the shows run, but Jerry Neilson remains one of the most memorable. The story here is well told, and the viewer should a box of Kleenex handy for the pay off of the tale of Jerry Neilson.
One the most engaging documentaries of all time.
This was more than a documentary, it's many things on many different levels. It's about keeping a dream alive, it's about coming to terms with a friends death. It's about forging on when others tell you to quit, it's about the loyalties of the fans.
The film features posthumous comments from the late Kevin Dubrow, and it examines the close bond that he and Frankie Banali had. The seeds to Quiet Riot to tour again where sown, until Dubrow's unexpected death. After first saying that Quiet Riot will cease to exist, Frankie decides to resurrect the band, to keep Kevin's spirit alive.
After auditioning several hopefuls, the band settles on Mark Huff, a former lead singer from a band that never went anywhere. And while Mark's stay in the band starts off promising, it quickly nosedives into oblivion, as Huff routinely gets lost on stages, or forgets the lyrics to such well known songs like "Bang Your Head". The band quickly decides Huff is not the right guy, and he's fired from the band.
What's left is some soul searching from Frankie, we he is forced to not under come to terms with the possible demise of the band, but his anger issues with Kevin over his death. In one of the most emotional scenes of the movie, Frankie visits Kevin's grave, and is finally about to let go of the emotions that he'd been bottling up.
The band meets Scott, a professional singer who auditions for the band, and to everyone's amazement, is able to hit the high notes like Kevin. The band has several successful shows, and the future of Quiet Riot is bright. Though it's not explained why, Scott exits the band, and is replaced by Jizzy Pearl.
There are some comedic moments, such as Chuck Wright getting into a disagreement with a fan who doesn't believe Chuck when he tells him that he played bass on a few tracks of the album Metal Health. Chuck is the source of one the humorist themes as they poke fun at all of the times Chuck has joined and left the band.
Another memorable moment comes when a fan enters the sound check, and meets Frankie. After their conversation, Frankie gives the young fan both of his drum sticks, and promises him a meet and greet with the band after the show.
All and all, this is truly one of the better documentaries in a long time, and I highly recommend it.
The U.S. vs. John Lennon (2006)
Lennon was one of a kind.
There is a line in the movie from a former FBI agent. He said "If Lennon had just kept his mouth shut, and made his music, there never would have been a problem." And there is the fundamental issue. Here was John Lennon, who had fame and fortune as a member of the Beatles. Does he continue to write disposable pop tunes, or does he use song to uncover some of the injustice in the world? Thankfully for us, he chose the later.
John Lennon used his platform for the greatest good. He gave a voice to those who were shunned. He allowed Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers to have his say, and refute how the news media had portrayed him. Lennon was a man of peace, which made him a threat to men like Richard Nixon, who dedicated their lives to war.
The film goes into great depth Lennon and his views, as well as the infamous fight by the Nixon Administration to deport Lennon as an "undesirable alien" simply because he spoke out. The film features interviews with both Yoko and the attorney who fought the deportation and won.
The documentary focuses heavily on his activism, and reveals many details not generally known, even to the most hard core fans. The film makes great use of home movies and news clips as well.
One of the strongest uses of news clips comes at the end. The public display that went on for John Lennon was unmatched by anyone up to or since then. The raw emotions of the fans gathered for the tribute to him was grim, it was real, and it brought home how beloved John Lennon was to a people tired of war.
John Lennon isn't simply portrayed as a musician turned social activist. He's not portrayed as a superhero either. He's portrayed as a man who looked upon the world, and asked why. Why must there be so much death and destruction? And looking at the state of affairs in the world now, we really could use John Lennon.
The Hangover Part III (2013)
If you ever want a blue print for killing off a series
It's hard to fathom why this ever got green lighted. Even though The Hangover II wasn't as good as the first, it still had its charm. Stu hooking up with the transsexual stripper was truly one of the highlights of that movie.
Hangover III offers no highlights. The humor was cruel and crude below any level of laughter. Ken Jeong's Mr. Chow is pretty much the highlight of the movie, even if some of the humor seemed force and stupid on a Police Academy level. Alan always had a stupid Homer Simpson charm. In this one, he's pretty much an unlikable jerk. He lost that childlike persona that made him so likable in the first 2. Not even the return of Mike Epps as "Black Doug" saves this clunker.
The film starts off badly with the death of Alan's father, which was a terrible plot device for the film. Maybe having Sid pay Stu, Doug and Phil to take Alan and try to find him a woman would have been a better choice, if clichéd. Sid's the lucky one, he gets to drop dead and not live though this mess.
John Goodman is wasted as the main villain in the movie. Melissa McCarthy as Cassie is perhaps the most unlikable character in a film since Jar Jar Binks. To have Alan fall for her not only derailed the film off the cliff, but made zero sense. It seemed like they were forced together.
The Hangover series limped out to the back, and like Old Yeller, it was put out of its misery. Or was it put out of our misery. The only way The Hangover IV could ever be made is if the directors decided that this was all a drunken stupor dream by Alan at Mr. Chow's wedding.
I'd go more into detail about some of the funnier jokes, but outside the bit with Mr. Chow and Stu in Gangster Goodman's house, I really can't remember any, and indictment on the writers more than the viewer like me.
Over all, it's best to ignore The Hangover III like it never happened. Just stick with the first two, and treat the Hangover II like it was the final movie in the series.
However, if you seek a blueprint on how to truly kill off a movie series beyond all possible repair, please, watch The Hangover III till your hearts content. The rest of us will blissfully ignore it as if it never happened, sort of like a really bad date or job interview.
Alien Nation (1988)
New twist on buddy-cop film excels on all levels
This movie manages to marry several genres; Sci-Fi, buddy-cop films, and even has a blend of comedy and social commentary to it as well.
When the film starts off, we are introduced to a new race of beings whose ship has crashed on Earth. These beings were originally bred as slave labor. Once on Earth, the find new worlds opened to them they never imagined, and they also find the ugly side of bigotry from the humans.
So they begin to adapt to everything in the new world. From displaying intellectual strength, to falling victim to some of mankind's worse vices. And that is where this story comes into play.
Matt Sykes is a grizzled, jaded police Sargent played to perfection by James Caan. He's estranged from his daughter, despite her efforts to mend their relationship. He's also not a fan of the newcomers, often referring to them as "slags". One night, he long time partner on the force is killed in a shoot out by one of the new comers. Ordered not to investigate the crime, but looking for justice, Sykes plots away.
He agrees to team with Sam "George" Francsico (Mandy Patinkin), a police officer promoted to Sargent as part of a new policy implemented by the mayor. Sykes uses a partnership with George to investigate the death of his long time friend and partner.
Soon, he realizes he in for more than he bargained for as a seeking of revenge as turned into a fight against an illicit drug that if put on the streets, could make the newcomers slaves all over again. The man at the head of this crime wave, the same one that played a role in the death of Sykes partner, is newcomer William Harcourt, played by Terrence Stamp. Stamp plays a role just as evil as his classic General Zod from Superman II.
The issue is that Harcourt is a man held in high regard by Los Angeles society and powerful. He's won several awards for his charitable work. Now it's up to Sykes and Francsico to expose Harcourt for what he really is.
The climax of the film is a well staged and intense fight that takes place on a boat. Sykes dispatches Harcourt by shoving him into the water, seeing how the newcomers' bodies react fatally to salt water.
This was clearly one of the best sci-fi movies of the 80's and perhaps, one of the best all-time. It gives a flawed hero in Sykes who manages to overcome his own bigotry and forges a new friendship with his new partner, and friend, Francisco. The movie spawned a short lived TV series that become a cult classic.
I highly recommend this movie to any serious movie fan, because this film is so well crafted, it has appeal that reaches beyond any specified genre.
A Football Life: Jerry Smith (2014)
A life that should be known by all.
This episode of the NFL Network on going series focused on the life and playing career of Jerry Smith.
Smith was a star tight end for the Washington Redskins from the late 60's and into the 70's. The documentary tells the secret life Smith hid from many. Jerry Smith was a gay man in the NFL at a time when an openly gay player would not be warmly welcomed. The documentary focuses on Smith's life, his struggle to hide his secret life, and the ultimate price he would pay. Dave Kopay, who was a one time teammate of Smith's and the first NFL player to "come out of the closet", is interviewed. Kopay expands well on the friendship he had with Smith.
The show also focuses on Smith's life post career, and his continued struggles. Sadly, Smith would become the first American athlete to contract and die from the AIDS virus.
This gripping and tear-jerker stands out as well of the most emotional shows of the series. In the A Football Life extra. which aired after the show, two of Smith's former teammates are interviewed. Calvin Hill, and Brig Owens. Owens stated in no uncertain terms that if Jerry Smith had been a heterosexual man, he would have already been enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It's not often that one can write a review of any special involving the NFL, and use the term "tear jerker." This well produced documentary will tug at your heart, and give you plenty to think about.