Better In The Dark #122: Director’s Court–The Case of Zack Synder

Episode 122: DIRECTOR’S COURT–THE CASE OF ZACK SNYDER (Special Guest: Joel Mangrum)

Court is back in session, as Tom and Derrick welcome special guest judge Joel Mangrum as they put the latest target of geekdom’s rage in the docket! Join the Boys Outta Brooklyn (and the One Outta Cali) as they evaluate the reasons behind the recent backlash, whether Snyder should have done Sucker Punch when he did, his reliance on certain cinematic tropes, and his impending reworking of Superman, Man of Steel. Plus old gals who are still hella hot, an investigation into why writer/artists circa 1980 have become hopelessly insane, and a classic BiTD rant–and it’s not from Tom! You don’t want Emily Browning to dance for you (or maybe you do…)…so get to clicking!

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Miami Blues


Orion Pictures

Directed and Written by George Armitage

Produced by Fred Ward and Jonathan Demme

Based on the novel “Miami Blues” by Charles Willeford


You ever watch a movie then see it years later and it in no way resembles the movie you saw years ago?  I had that feeling while watching MIAMI BLUES.  I know I saw this movie years ago at a 42end Street grindhouse mainly because I’m such a Fred Ward fan.  But I remember the movie as being more of a comedy and not quite so dark and violent.  Maybe it’s me that’s changed and not the movie.  After all this time I should hope I’ve changed.  But it was still disconcerting to me because I’m usually pretty good at remembering movies I’ve seen even as far back as 1989.  My wife Patricia says she can’t understood how I can’t remember the names, phone numbers and birthdays of 75% of my relatives but I remember casts, plots and lines of dialog from movies I’ve seen 20 years ago.  There’s an obvious answer but we won’t go into that now.  Let’s get on along with the movie review.

Frederick J. Frenger Jr. (Alec Baldwin) flies into Miami wearing the suede sport coat of a man he’s killed in San Francisco.  Fifteen minutes after he’s touched down Junior has broken the finger of a Hare Krishna just trying to offer him celestial enlightenment and stolen a suitcase.  Junior’s a killer, a con man and thief.  He’s successful at all three but only God knows how.  He never plans his crimes, just seizes whatever opportunity he happens upon and through a combination of nerve, luck and bravado manages to pull them off.   Junior quickly shacks up with the extremely dim witted hooker Susie Waggoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is totally captivated by Junior.  She dumps her pimp for him as well as empties her bank accounts to give to Junior.

In the meantime, Detective Hoke Moseley (Fred Ward) is assigned to the case of the Hare Krishna with the broken finger.  Seems as if the poor bastard died from shock so now it’s an active homicide investigation.  Neither Moseley nor his partner (Charles Napier) seems very interested in solving the crime.  But Moseley gets lucky enough to actually track down Junior to Susie’s apartment and rattles Junior with a couple of quite astute observations while they’re having dinner.  Just the scene where Fred Ward manages to get himself invited to dinner is a quirky enough scene.  It’s not funny enough to be comedy yet it’s not serious enough to be drama.  After chowing down Susie’s pork chops and drinking all of Junior’s beer, Moseley retires to the run-down hotel he calls home.  And is yoked the very next day by Junior who has followed him there.  Junior beats the ever-lovin’ tar outta Moseley.  He then steals Moseley’s gun, badge and his false teeth (don’t ask) and proceeds to go on a one-man crime wave using Moseley’s badge and pretending to be a cop.  Moseley, now the laughing stock of the department lies in a hospital bed, getting fitted for a new set of choppers and planning his revenge on Junior once he gets released.

MIAMI BLUES is a strange sort of crime thriller in that when I first saw it I remember laughing a whole lot more but having watched it recently after such a long period of time there were scenes where I was wondering if I should be laughing or cringing.  The scene where Moseley is having dinner with Junior and Susie qualifies as comedy until the moment when Moseley offhanded asks Junior where he did his time.  Junior replies that he’s never done time and Moseley casually notes that Junior protects his plate as if somebody is going to take his food from him.  The same way cons in the joint protect their plate.  Suddenly the mood and tone of the scene changes gears just that fast and you get the feeling that Junior just might do something nobody is going to like.  Especially since we’ve seen that he can commit mayhem as easily as other men put on their pants in the morning.

It’s got a nice cast.  Alec Baldwin has a lot of fun playing the psychotic Junior Frenger.  Baldwin is really good at playing guys like this; guys with more good looks and charm than any one man should have but who can turn into a cold-blooded bastard in a heartbeat.  And you can’t help but have a sort of admiration for the sheer nerve Junior has in pulling off his crimes.  This is one of those movies where the bad guy is actually more appealing and sympathetic than the good guy.  Jennifer Jason Leigh is a hoot as the slow-witted hooker Susie.  I’m so used to seeing her play really smart roles that it was actually very funny seeing her play a character so dense that even other characters in the movie ask each other if it’s possible Susie can be that dumb.  Fred Ward is one of my favorite all time actors and I’ll watch him in anything.  His Hoke Moseley is a cop who really doesn’t seem all that motivated or interested in doing his job.  At least not until Junior starts running around Miami pulling stickups while waving his badge and shooting people with his gun.  I could do without him taking out and putting in his false teeth every five minutes but the teeth are a running gag in the movie so maybe you’ll get more of a laugh out of it than I did.  And I was pleasantly surprised to see Shirley Stoler appear in this movie.  She co-starred with Tony Lo Bianco in “The Honeymoon Killers” a terrific crime suspense thriller based on a true story.  Charles Napier, Paul Gleason and Nora Dunn are also very good in their supporting roles, especially Nora Dunn who plays a detective Moseley pressures into helping him find Junior after Moseley gets out of the hospital.

So should you see MIAMI BLUES?  It depends on your mood and your tolerance for quirky semi-comedic/dramatic movies and how much of a fan you are of Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Fred Ward.  I happen to like all of them so just on that basis I’d say yes.  Alec Baldwin has plenty of scenes where he walks around with no shirt on so he’s eye candy for the ladies and this is a chance to see him in his early in his career when he was hailed as the next big thing in movies.  If you’re a fan of crime thrillers I’d say give it a rental.  But as I said earlier, there’s a lot going on in this movie that might have you thinking that it’s a comedy.  At least until you get to the violent bits.  And the violence in this movie is unexpectedly brutal so consider yourself warned.

97 minutes

Rated R: And it most certainly is.  There’s free use of adult language, brutal violence and two mildly graphic sex scenes so make sure the urchins are in bed before you watch this one.

Better In The Dark #120



The Guys Outta Brooklyn once again steps out of the film room to examine the theaters they’re shown in, as Tom and Derrick discuss such things as the influence of 3D and Blu-Ray on filmmaking, the switch from film to digital projection, the film as product and other matters. But don’t worry…in the last few moments, you’ll witness the most startling moment in BiTD history, as your beloved hosts defend not only Michael Bay and Brett Ratner…but Uwe Boll! You can either apologize to Ben Folds or get to clicking!

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A Boy And His Dog



Written and Directed by L.Q. Jones

Produced by Alvy Moore

Based on the novella by Harlan Ellison

Science Fiction movies made today may be a lot of flash and spectacle, stuffed full of plastic characters with shallow motivations and even shallower personalities, backed up by a ton of CGI effects but give ‘em this: at least they’re optimistic.  Science Fiction movies of the 50’s/60’s and 70’s were dour, apocalyptic, doom-laden eulogies predicting The Downfall of Mankind.  More often than not these movies predicted the end of the world through Man’s Own Fault.  Nuclear holocausts was practically a given.  If you watch a movie made during that period you get the distinct impression that nobody thought we’d make it out of the 20th Century.  A BOY AND HIS DOG is a good example of what I’m talking about.  It’s a post-apocalyptic Science Fiction action/adventure with just enough social satire thrown in to give you a chuckle, set in one of the most depressing future worlds you can think of and the ending takes black comedy to a new level.

In the year 2024 Earth has not only seen World War III but World War IV as well and America is a burned out, burned up wasteland.  There’s no civilization to speak of unless you want to try your luck in one of the near mythical underground cities of Downunder.  But above ground Vic (Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog Blood (played by Tiger/voice by Tim McIntire) like it just fine.  They enjoy pitting their wits against roving bands of marauders and scavengers, stealing food from them when they can and hunting up women for Vic to rape.  One of these women Blood hunts up is Quilla June (Susanne Benton) who lives Downunder in a city called ‘Topeka’ but sneaks up to the surface from time to time for a little sexual excitement with the savages.  Blood telepathically sniffs her out and Vic captures her.  But he doesn’t have long to enjoy his prize before he and Blood are forced to defend her against a band of scavengers in a brutal battle that leaves Blood badly hurt.

Quilla June escapes Vic and goes back Downunder.  Vic is determined to follow her and leaves Blood on the surface while he makes his way Downunder.  It’s not what he thinks.  Under the guidance of The Committee and Mr. Craddock (Jason Robards) Topeka is like Norman Rockwell on crystal meth.   There’s marching bands 24/7, parades, dances, hoedowns and everybody has their faces disturbingly painted like circus clowns.  Vic is scrubbed down and cleaned up and informed that Quilla June deliberately lured him to Topeka to help with their population problem.  It’s a problem Vic is happy to help them with until he finds out he’s not going to be able to do it the old fashioned way.  Quilla June and some of the young members of Topeka want to enlist Vic’s help to overthrow The Committee and Mr. Craddock so they can establish a New World Order.  The revolution doesn’t go as Quilla June planned and both she and Vic are forced to return to the surface where Vic and Blood are reunited and that leads into the resolution of the relationship between Vic, Blood and Quilla June.  And what a resolution it is.  One that drives home the title of the movie in more ways than one.

A BOY AND HIS DOG probably won’t have much to offer most of today’s CGI happy movie going crowd but then again, it’s not that type of movie.  It was made during a time when a Science Fiction Movie didn’t mean Big Explosions, half a billion dollar budgets, Big Stars and CGI effects every 30 seconds.  A BOY AND HIS DOG relies on the characters and the story to engage viewers.  It’s a film that has acquired Cult Movie status over the years and I think it earned that status honestly.  You’re going to be amazed at how young Don Johnson looks in this one.  He made this movie about 10 years before “Miami Vice” and even in this early work of his you can see flashes and hints of what made him a star later on.  Considering that most of his emotional scenes are with a dog, Don Johnson does a pretty good job.  A lot of their dialog is done with him speaking and Blood ‘speaking’ back telepathically and between the two of them they convinced me that they actually had a psychic rapport.

Blood is played by Tiger, whose major role everybody remembers him in is playing the family dog of “The Brady Bunch”.  But here he actually gets a chance to act and I don’t say that lightly.  A lot of the movie hangs on how Blood reacts to Vic and to give Tiger his credit; he’s just as much of an actor as Don Johnson.  There are a lot of great scenes between them where the dog actually looks as if he’s really ‘talking’ telepathically to Johnson and having a psychic conversation with him.  And Johnson adds to the realism because he treats Tiger just as he would any other actor.  It’s really some nice acting here.  Not great.  But just enough to get across the reality of the situation.  Jason Robards really doesn’t have much to do in this movie and during my research for this review I found out that he really just did the movie as a favor to the director, L.Q. Jones.

Speaking of L.Q. Jones, he’s much better known as an actor.  He’s been in a ton of westerns including two of my favorites: “The Wild Bunch” and “Lone Wolf McQuade” (yes, “Lone Wolf McQuade” is a western) but he occasionally directed movies and TV shows with A BOY AND HIS DOG as his best known directorial effort.  And with good reason.  It’s a really good movie.  Low budget, high enthusiasm, minimum SFX, high concept.  The performances are good and there’s a down-and-dirty realism that you just don’t see in Science Fiction movies today.  I have it in my DVD library and I realize that it may not be to everybody’s taste but I think you ought to at least give it a viewing.

One thing I think I should advise you of, though: In our (shudder) PC obsessed society, the character of Vic may not be to everybody’s liking as no punches are pulled as he’s portrayed as a rapist and a killer.  And then there’s that ending.  So if you think you would be offended watching a movie with such a character as the lead, by all means pass this one by.

91 Minutes

Rated: R