Vice Squad

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1982

Embassy Pictures

Directed by Gary Sherman

Produced by Frank Capra, Jr./Brian Frankish/Frank Hildebrand/Sandy Howard/Robert Rehme

Written by Sandy Howard/Robert Vincent O’Neill/Kenneth Peters/Gary Sherman

Let’s be upfront about one thing right at the start of this review: there’s not a single thing original about the plot of VICE SQUAD. I’m willing to bet you that this same plot was used at least once by every single police and/or detective show during the 1970s and 1980s. Oh, they’d change it around some. Instead of a psycho hunting down a prostitute it would be a blind girl. Or a little black boy from the ghetto. Or an old man still grieving for his wife. And I do believe that there was an episode of “Hunter” which starred Fred Dryer as a Dirty Harry knock-off which was a loose remake of this movie. In fact, I further believe that Wings Hauser played a tamer version of his Ramrod character in that episode. But I’m working off memory here so don’t quote me, hear?

VICE SQUAD is one of those goofy 1980s movies that I had forgotten about until my friend Christofer Nigro recommend I watch it and about twenty minutes in I realized that I had seen this movie way back in the day in a 42end Street grindhouse. And it was the nuclear-hot performance of Wings Hauser that reignited those memories. And I’ll explain why in a couple hundred words. let’s get the obligatory plot summary out of the way first.

L.A.P.D. Vice Squad detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson) as his team are hot on the trail of Ramrod (Wings Hauser) a psychotic pimp known for his vicious treatment of the girls in his stable. Ramrod’s specialty in administering punishment involves a coat hanger and I’m not gonna go any further describing what he does with it. But he’s never killed a girl. Until now. Ginger (Nina Blackwood and yes, it’s that Nina Blackwood) calls her friend and sister prostitute Princess (Season Hubley who was still Mrs. Kurt Russell when she made this movie) for help. Ramrod is looking for her and she knows good and damn well what he’s going to do when he finds her. Princess advises her to stay low and stay out of sight until she can get to Ginger.

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When Princess does get to Ginger she’s in the morgue and Walsh isn’t happy about that. He’s even less happy that the uncatchable Ramrod has killed her. But he makes a deal with Princess. If she’ll wear a wire and record Ramrod saying something, anything incriminating, he won’t throw Princess in the slammer on bogus drug charges. And in the space of a couple of hours, Princess has indeed performed his mission and Ramrod is arrested and on his way to the hoosegow.

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I should mention here that events in this movie happen awfully damn fast. That’s because the events play out in what I think is roughly a 12-hour span of time from 6PM to 6AM. This is a movie that demands you keep up with what’s happening on the screen because it sure ain’t gonna slow down for you. Ramrod escapes from police custody with an easy savagery and then proceeds to go a horrendously violent hunt for Princess to exact revenge. Hunt is a mild term for what Ramrod does. He’s got the single-mindedness of a Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees married to the bloodlust of a Klingon grafted onto the survival instincts of a Comanche. Walsh and his team have to find Princess before Ramrod does but you get the definite feeling they’re fighting way out of their weight class.

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And that’s due to the performance of Wings Hauser. This is the performance that led to him playing whackos for the next two decades and its his own fault because he was so doggone outstanding doing it in this movie. Ramrod is a psycho but he’s even more dangerous because he’s a smart psycho. Combine that with his extraordinary animal cunning and he makes for a formidable adversary. And he steals the movie because it’s way more interesting watching Ramrod in his hunt for Princess than the cops hunting for him because we never know what this guy is gonna do next but we don’t want to miss a second of him doing it, whatever batshit insane thing it turns out to be.

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The rest of the acting in the movie is nothing to write home about. Season Hubley was never an actress that did much for me. She’s okay and that’s about it. Look for Fred “Rerun” Berry in a cameo and and our buddy Pepe Serna (from “Scarface” and “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai”) is here as one of Walsh’s team. And it’s too bad Walsh’s team wasn’t given more characterization as visually they’re an interesting crew and by giving them more quirky personalities and skills they might have presented more formidable opponents for Ramrod. But as given to us the way they are, they really don’t seem to present much of a threat to him.

VICE SQUAD, from left: Lydia Lei, Kelly Piper, 1982. ©Avco Embassy

So should you see VICE SQUAD? I would highly recommend it. It’s a fine example of 1980s exploitation trash that so joyously revels in it’s own sleaze, scuzz and seediness. It’s not a pretty picture and it’s not supposed to be. But if does have that terrific Wings Hauser performance and some really tight directing from Gary Sherman that insures you will not be bored. I’ve provided a link below where you can watch it on YouTube and my recommendation is that you save it for a Friday or Saturday night and make it your Midnight Movie then. Enjoy.

Heavy Metal

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1981

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Gerald Potterton

Produced by Ivan Reitman

Screenplay by Daniel Goldberg/Len Blum

Based on original art and stories by:
Richard Corben
Angus McKie
Dan O’Bannon

Thomas Warkentin

Bernie Wrightson

Music by Elmer Bernstein

Strictly for those of you weren’t around in the 1970’s here’s the thumbnail history of “Heavy Metal”, the magazine which served as the inspiration for HEAVY METAL, the movie. In France sometime around 1976 or 1977 there was this magazine being published called “Metal Hurlant” which featured extraordinarily illustrated stories of dark fantasy, horror, sword & sorcery and science fiction. Drug use, nudity, sex, extreme violence and mature language were major and welcome elements of these stories. “Metal Hurlant” was licensed by an American publisher who called the American version “Heavy Metal” and history was born.

“Heavy Metal” the magazine was where I discovered the incredible artistry of Jean Giruad aka Mobius, H.R. Giger, Phillip Druillet and many other European artists. Richard Corben I had already discovered thanks to Warren Publishing’s “Eerie” and “Creepy” magazines but “Heavy Metal” exposed me to a whole new dimension of Corben’s work and thank Odin for that.

HEAVY METAL the movie came along in 1981 and I have fond memories of seeing it during it’s original theatrical run. I went with about half a dozen friends and to enhance our enjoyment of the movie we took along quite a lot of alcohol and various recreational pharmaceuticals as well. Not that we were alone. We saw HEAVY METAL in a Times Square theater and as anybody who was a movie goer back then will tell you, booze and drugs went along with the movie going experience down in Times Square. But I have seen HEAVY METAL a number of times since then in a sober state so be assured that this movie review is one written by a reviewer only biased by his experience and opinion.

First of all, let’s cut to the chase: is HEAVY METAL a good movie? Not in the conventional sense. It’s a movie that is designed to just recreate the visual style of the various artists represented in animated form. The animation is married to the music of various musicians popular at the time. Check it out: Devo. Blue Oyster Cult. Journey. Stevie Nicks. Cheap Trick. Black Sabbath. Grand Funk Railroad. And many more besides. But the problem I have with the soundtrack is that we just get to hear snippets of the various songs and you never get the sense that they’re actually used to enhance and provide additional emotional content to what we’re seeing on the screen. The exception being Journey’s “Open Arms” which I think is used very well in the “Harry Canyon” sequence.

But what exactly is HEAVY METAL all about you ask? It’s an anthology of eight stories, all linked together by the MacGuffin of The Loc-Nar (voiced by an uncredited Percy Rodriguez) The Loc-Nar is a green glowing sphere that declares itself to be The Sum of All That Is Evil. In the framing story “Grimaldi” we see an astronaut launched from a space shuttle and landing on Earth via a vintage Corvette who takes The Loc-Nar to show his daughter. The astronaut is promptly killed in an horrific manner by The Loc-Nar who then proceeds to tell his daughter all about the havoc it’s wreaked across the universe in the following stories:

“Harry Canyon” is my favorite story and its about about a cabbie living and working in the dystopian New York of 2031(voiced by the great Richard Romanus) who gets caught up in a war between rival archaeologists fighting for possession of The Loc-Nar. I think the reason I like this story so much is that I’m convinced that it inspired Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element.” The animation is easy on the eye and while the story skimps on characterization (the girl who gets Harry involved in the plot is never even given a name) it’s pretty cool. It’s easy to see why Besson swiped it for his story. Be advised there’s animated nudity, mature language and sex in this segment. But then again, this whole movie definitely isn’t for the kidlets.

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“DEN” John Candy provides the voice for the main character in this John Carter knock-off about a dorkish Earth kid who is transported to the world of Neverwhere due to his finding in his backyard what he thinks is a green meteorite but is actually The Loc-Nar. On the world of Neverwhere, the dorkish kid is transformed into a seven foot tall bald warrior of Herculean proportions (and sexual stamina) who has to keep The Loc-Nar out of the hands of two rival wizards battling for it. The “DEN” segment is a lot of fun because of John Candy’s narration. Because even though as Den, the dorkish kid appears to be a mature man, mentally and emotionally he’s still a kid and his narration is indeed that of a kid who suddenly finds himself the hero in an adventure straight outta Edgar Rice Burroughs. And I absolutely love the closing scene of this segment: “On Earth, I’m nobody. But here, I’m DEN.

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“Captain Sternn” Oh, man, is this segment an absolute hoot. On a gigantic space station orbiting Earth, Captain Lincoln Sternn (Eugene Levy) is on trial in Galactic Court for 12 counts of murder in the first degree, 14 counts of armed theft, 22 counts of piracy, 18 counts of fraud, 37 counts of rape and 1 moving violation. But he’s confident that he’ll beat the rap. You see, he’s got an ‘angle’ in the form of Hanover Fiste (Rodger Bumpass) who has agreed to perjure himself as a positive character witness for pay. But under the influence of The Loc-Nar, Hanover condemns Sternn in court and transforms into a Hulkish monster that rampages through the space station trying to kill Sternn. This segment is played strictly for comedy and it’s done very well indeed. I especially love Hanover Fiste’s rant when he’s put on the witness stand. Hanover totally loses it and every time I see this part of the movie, I lose it as well.

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“B-17” is a straight-up horror story in the tradition of those classic EC horror comics or Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone.” I do believe that it is also the shortest segment. The pilot of a WWII B-17 bomber finds himself trapped on his damaged aircraft with his crew who have all been killed and turned into zombies.

“So Beautiful and So Dangerous” is another segment played strictly for laughs. Mysterious mutations are infecting the United States and a prominent scientist is summoned to the Pentagon to try and explain this. The cat spies The Loc-Nar which is being wore as a necklace by a bosomy secretary and attempts to rape her just before the both of them are sucked up into into a gigantic spaceship pilot by a couple of aliens voiced by Harold Ramis and Eugene Levy and whose chief engineer is a robot voiced by John Candy. There’s really no point to this segment except for the the human/robot sex and drug use but this is that kind of movie so what more do you need?

“Taarna” is the longest sequence and relates the legend of Taarna, last of the race of Taarak The Defender. Any of the race of Taarak has no choice but to answer the call when those who are unable to defend themselves ask for the aid of the Taarkaian. The Loc-Nar, which has now expanded to the size of a small moon crash-lands near a village and transforms the peaceful villagers into blood-thirsty ravagers who rampage throughout the land. It is up to Taarna, an Amazonian warrior woman, assisted only by her faithful avian steed to stop these ravagers.
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HEAVY METAL is an absolute blast of a movie if you don’t take it seriously. It’s a really goofy movie that’s just made for you to have a good time. The different styles of animation based of the art styles of the different artists ensures that you have a lot of eye candy to look at and the vintage 1980s soundtrack gives you just as much ear candy as well. HEAVY METAL isn’t a movie that I would call a masterpiece of animation but it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Pair it with Ralph Bakshi’s “American Pop” for a Friday or Saturday Night Animation Double-Feature.

90 Minutes

Rated R: This is NOT an animated movie for the kidlets so put them to bed before your and your spouse watch it. There’s plenty of profanity, nudity, sex , drug use and graphic violence in this one. Especially in the “Taarna” segment.


Lion

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2016

See-Saw Films/Screen Australia/Aquarius Films/Screen Australia/Sunstar Entertainment/Narrative Capital/The Weinstein Company

Directed by Garth Davis

Produced by Iain Canning/Angie Fielder/Emile Sherman

Screenplay by Luke Davies

Based on “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose

There are a number of movies that I’m glad I saw mainly because of the sheer emotional wallop they deliver. “Passion of The Christ” “Requiem For A Dream” “The Panic In Needle Park” and “Hard Candy” are the ones that pop into my mind right away. I recommend those movies because they are exceptional movies that reach right into your guts and give ’em a really good twisting. But I wouldn’t want to watch them a second time and I probably never will. I can add LION to that list. It’s an extremely well-made movie with solid acting from the cast and it does the same thing to me that most movies about India do to me: it makes me want to jump on a plane and go there because it’s a breathtakingly beautiful country.

But it’s also a country of intense despair and unrelenting poverty. And the situation the main character Saroo finds himself in is heartrendingly unhappy. It’s bad enough to make Charles Dickens weep and we all know what changes he put his characters through.

Five year old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) live in the town of Khandwa with their mother and sister, eking out a living as best they can. They’re so poor that church mice live better than they do but they’re happy and full of love for each other. One night Guddu gets up to leave, intending to catch the train to the next town over looking for work. Saroo insists on coming with him. The brothers end up on a train platform where Guddu leaves an exhausted Saroo who just wants to sleep. Guddu tells Saroo that he will be back and Saroo is to wait for him.

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Saroo wakes up on a deserted platform. He goes in search of his brother and ends up trapped on another train that due to mechanical malfunction is being taken out of service and being returned to it’s point of origin: Calcutta. Saroo is stuck on the train for three days and nights and once he gets to Calcutta and finally gets off the train he is in an unfamiliar city where he cannot even ask for help since he does not speak the Bengali language. Saroo spends a couple of months living on the street, stealing food where he can find it and constantly on the move, evading wolfpacks of men who snatch homeless children off the street and take them away for purposes it is best that we not imagine.

Eventually Saroo is taken to an orphanage and after three months is told that since no one has claimed him, he is to be sent to Australia where he is to be adopted by Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) There’s more than a strong hint that the orphanage really didn’t look all that hard to find Saroo’s mother and that some money may have changed hands in the adoption process but then again, I’m a suspicious so-and-so.

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When we pick up on Saroo he’s grown into Dev Patel who you may remember from “Slumdog Millionaire” and the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” movies. He’s got a sweet girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and is studying hotel management (which considering his role in the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” movies gave me a good laugh) and life is good. He is troubled by his inability to help Mantosh (Divian Ladwa) another Indian boy adopted by the Brierley who has not adopted as well to the Australian way of life as Saroo has. But soon Saroo will need help of his own. During a dinner party with Indian friends, the food triggers long suppressed memories of his life back in Khandwa with his brother, mother and sister. The emotions accompanying the memories are so overwhelming that Saroo drops everything, including his new job and his relationship with his girlfriend Lucy and his parents as he begins an obsessive search for his biological family, trying to find the town using maps and Google Earth.

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Like I indicated earlier, this isn’t exactly a fun date night at the movies kind of flick. The first half with the young Saroo living on the streets is especially harrowing and Sunny Pawar is totally believable. He’s plucky enough to survive on his own but his loneliness manifests itself through not only his facial expressions but his body language. It’s quite a piece of acting. The scenes between him and Abhishek Bharate playing his older brother are especially good. Sunny Pawar easily walks off with the movie’s MVP award.

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The ending of LION is one that I know is supposed to be uplifting and give us A Moment but it left me feeling sad and depressed for a number of reasons I can’t give away here because if I do…well, there goes the movie for you. Suffice it to say that I was not uplifted. I grieved for years wasted and lives lost and leave it at that.

118 Minutes

PG-13

Hidden Figures

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2016

Fox 2000 Pictures/Chernin Entertainment/TSG Entertainment/20th Century Fox

Directed by Theodore Melfi

Produced by Donna Gigliotto/Peter Chernin/Pharrell Williams/Jenno Topping/Theodore Melfi

Screenplay by Alison Schroeder/Theodore Melfi

Based on “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly

There are two stories of heroism running side-by-side in HIDDEN FIGURES. There’s the one we all know because it’s been so documented, told and re-told in so many ways (most memorably in 1983’s “The Right Stuff”) that it has become part of American legend. It’s the story of the 1960’s space race between America and Russia as NASA struggled to put a man in a spacecraft into orbit with the eventual goal of putting an American man on the moon before Russia.

Then there’s the other story that I myself had never heard of before in any way shape or form and I am just grateful that this story has at last been told. Because it’s just as much a heroic tale as that of those Project Mercury astronauts. In the 1960s, NASA did not as yet have electronic computers so they had to rely on women with extraordinary mathematical skills to calculate the data needed. These women were actually called “computers” and they were African-American.

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In 1962 the American space program is in trouble. Sputnik 1 has been successfully launched and is merrily orbiting the Earth. Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) is the director of the Space Task Group, the team primarily in charge of getting astronauts up into space. Hopefully without the rockets blowing up on the launch pad. Harrison is under a lot of pressure to get America into the space race in a big way and he needs someone who can do analytic geometry, do it quickly and do it right. The acting supervisor of the Colored Computers Group Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) says that there’s only one woman for the job; Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) who as a child was a mathematical prodigy, beginning college at the age of 15.

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Mathematical genius or not, Katherine is still a black woman in the Jim Crow South and as such is still looked at as being just that: a black woman. No more and no less. She can’t even drink coffee from the same pot as her co-workers and has to walk/run half a mile back to the building where she used to work to relieve herself as the building housing the Space Task group has no Colored restroom. Not to mention the harassment she has to deal with from her immediate supervisor Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) who gives her incomplete data, saying that she does not have the proper security clearances but yet he still expects her to make sense out of it and turn in accurate calculations.

Meanwhile, Dorothy engages in a battle of wills with her supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) who not only refuses to promote Dorothy but actively looks forward to the day when the technicians from IBM will finish installing an IBM 7090 that will replace Dorothy and her girls. But Dorothy has a trick up her sleeve: she’ll teach herself how to program the 7090. Their friend Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) who is working on the space capsule itself correctly identifies a flaw in the heat shield which impresses her boss, Dr. Zielinski (Oleg Krupa) to the point that he demands she go to school at night to get an engineering degree so that she’ll be fully qualified to work on the project. Problem is that engineering schools are segregated. But every problem has a solution and Mary’s is that she will go to court and petition for her right to go to school.

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The three stories of how these women work together and separately to accomplish their goals, achieve their dreams and oh, yes…help put American astronauts into space is an incredibly fascinating one told with an astounding amount of heart. And as much as I cannot stand anything having to do with math, if you had told me I’d be on the edge of my seat worrying about the fate of mathematicians I’d have thought you had lost your mind. But thanks to exceptionally strong acting and solid directing, HIDDEN FIGURES does turn out to be quite suspenseful at times, even though we all know that the space program was eventually a success. But this isn’t that kind of movie. It’s the revealing of a secret part of what up until now I had always thought was one of the most well documented periods of American history.

The cast is top notch. Kevin Costner recognizes that he’s got a supporting role here and so stays in his place, only taking center stage in one or two pivotal scenes but then quietly stepping back to let the real stars of the movie continue to do their thing. A couple of people I know upon hearing that Taraji P. Henson was one of those stars said to me; “You mean Cookie from ‘Empire?’ Can she act?” Which told me that they didn’t know a thing about her because Taraji P. Henson demonstrated years ago that she can act very well indeed. My wife Patricia pointed out something to me that I didn’t notice but upon reflection of certain scenes I can see exactly what she’s talking about. When you see the movie (and you will see it) notice how skillfully Taraji uses her glasses as a prop to enhance, disguise, amplify and demonstrate her emotional moods. And we all know Octavia Spencer turns in Academy Award performances like she invented them so there’s no reason to even go there. But I will say look for one pivotal scene she’s in which I’m convinced is a homage to a very famous scene in “The Right Stuff.” And as in his TV sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” Jim Parsons plays a brilliant manchild who’s a dick. But this one is way meaner in spirit than Sheldon Cooper. It’s a nice change of pace for him. Kirsten Dunst really surprised me in this one and she makes a fine adversary for Octavia Spencer to spar with.

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But it’s Janelle Monae who walks off with the MVP title for this movie. She was clearly born to be an actress and she never steps one foot wrong the entire running time of the movie, easily holding her own with her far more experienced co-stars. She’s a joy to watch anytime she’s onscreen, the rapport between her, Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson genuine and uplifting. I don’t say this very often about a movie but I’m pleased and proud to be able to say this about HIDDEN FIGURES: everything you’ve heard about it is true and if you haven’t seen it yet, please do so at your earliest opportunity.

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Rated PG

127 Minutes

The Right Stuff

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1983

The Ladd Company/Warner Bros.

Directed by and Screenplay by Philip Kaufman

Produced by Irwin Winkler/Robert Chartoff\

Based on “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe

Music by Bill Conti

Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel

One of the reasons why THE RIGHT STUFF stands out in my memory is because I saw it during its original theatrical run in the theater. And when the end credits played, a good 75% of the sold out audience I saw it with gave it a standing ovation. And I was right with them. I’ve heard felgercarb from modern day “movie fans” who are so very worldly and sophisticated and think it’s oh so very silly to applaud a movie. What’s the point? they say. The filmmakers can’t hear your applause. But in the case of THE RIGHT STUFF that isn’t the point. That audience and I stood and applauded because we’d just seen a three-hour epic about heroism done with style, respect, humor and grandeur. And we had to show our appreciation for how the movie made us felt. And the bottom line is that it made us all feel damn good. Was a lot of the movie made up? Sure it was. THE RIGHT STUFF is a great example of that magnificent line from “The Legend of Liberty Valance”: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

I say that to let you know right up front that there’s a lot of legend in THE RIGHT STUFF. Yes, it’s based on historical events involving real people but the filmmakers didn’t let them get in the way of telling a good story. Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) didn’t fly the X-1 on a whim as the movie would lead you to to believe but damn if it doesn’t make for a great scene. Especially when he breaks a couple of ribs chasing his wife Glennis (Barbara Hershey) on horseback in the desert surrounding the future Edwards Air Force Base and falls off his horse and still gets in the X-1 the next day to break the sound barrier.

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And it’s fun to see the friendly rivalry between Yeager and Scott Crossfield as they break each others speed records repeatedly. This is while hungry young pilots such as Gordon “Gordo” Cooper (Dennis Quaid) Virgil “Gus” Grissom (Fred Ward) and Donald “Deke” Slayton (Scott Paulin) are pouring into the base, looking to make their mark and prove they have “The Right Stuff.” Okay, maybe some of this is made up but if you want the facts, go look them up for yourself. We got these things called libraries. You might have heard of them. Make use of them.

But exactly what IS “The Right Stuff”? nobody ever says. It’s one of those grand and glorious Man Things That Cannot Be Given A Name. Chuck Yeager doubtless has it. In fact, he may have it more than anybody else even though he is deemed not worthy to be invited to join the space program. In one of the movie’s best scenes Gus Grissom is being ridiculed by the media and fellow pilots for his insistence that the explosive bolts on the hatch of his capsule exploded on their own during splashdown. The common consensus is that he panicked. But Yeager comes to Grissom’s defense;” You think a monkey knows he’s sittin’ on top of a rocket that might explode? These astronaut boys they know that, see? Well, I’ll tell you something, it takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that’s on TV. Ol’ Gus, he did all right.” Now, maybe Chuck Yeager said that or maybe he didn’t. But it matters in the context of the movie and the story that the movie is telling and that’s enough.

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The bulk of the movie is taken up with the 1960s Space Race, accelerated by the Russians launching Sputnik in 1957. NASA is tasked with putting an American in space and that initiates a near hysterical search for astronauts. Ironically, pilots like Yeager are excluded because he doesn’t “fit the profile” but after extraordinary grueling physical and mental tests, The Mercury Seven astronauts are chosen; Cooper, Grissom and Slayton along with John Glenn (Ed Harris) Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn) Walter “Wally” Schirra (Lance Henriksen) and Charles Frank (Scott Carpenter). But even though they are trained to be pilots, the engineers of the project (and it’s very clear that the majority of these engineers used to work for the Third Reich in WWII) see them as nothing more than passengers. You add to this is extensive publicity machine surrounding these proceedings and you’ve a situation as ripe for comedy as it is for drama.

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And one of the thing that takes people by surprise about THE RIGHT STUFF when they see it for the first time is that is a very funny movie. In fact, at times, it almost plays like a comedy, especially where Dennis Quaid is concerned. Those of you who have seen the movie know what I mean. But just about everybody gets their chance to be funny, even when they’re not being funny. If you know what I mean. Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum get a lot of laughs out their bit as a pair of recruiters looking for candidates for the fledgling NASA program. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of the cast don’t get their funny moments as well.

This movie may have just have the greatest cast of talent on screen since “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” Here we go: Fred Ward. Dennis Quaid. Scott Glenn. Ed Harris. Sam Shepard. Lance Henriksen. Scott Paulin. Barbara Hershey. Veronica Cartwright. Harry Shearer. Jeff Goldblum. Pamela Reed. Charles Frank. Donald Moffat. Scott Wilson. Kathy Baker. Royal Dano. John P. Ryan. William Russ. John Dehner. And Chuck Yeager himself. He shows up as the bartender at Pancho’s, the joint where all the pilots hang out. It’s an utterly extraordinary cast and what’s even more extraordinary is that the script and the director gives them all a chance to shine without detracting from the overall story the movie is telling.

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And the musical score by Bill Conti is absolutely magnificent. It won the Academy Award that year for Best Original Score and rightfully so. A large part of the reason why THE RIGHT STUFF is still so highly regarded is because of that heroically soaring score. The special effects are also worthy of note because they’re practical effects, done with models. I don’t have anything against CGI and fully understand that a lot of my favorite movies of recent years couldn’t be done without them. But practical effects have a weight and realism that can’t be duplicated. When Chuck Yeager is in that X-1 and says that it’s still going up like a bat outta hell, we believe him.

Chances are that most of you reading this have already seen THE RIGHT STUFF and agree with me. But for those you who haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favor and check it out at your earliest opportunity. THE RIGHT STUFF is one of the finest American movies ever made, period. And it’s a whole lot of fun to watch as well. Enjoy.

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192 Minutes

Rated PG

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foxy Brown

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1974

American International Pictures

Written and Directed by Jack Hill

Produced by Buzz Feitshans

Costumes for Pam Grier Created and Designed by Ruthie West

Music Composed, Conducted, Arranged and Produced by Willie Hutch

FOXY BROWN wasn’t the first Pam Grier movie I saw. That would be “The Arena” released that same year. It actually was a couple of years later that I saw FOXY BROWN. Every couple of years you could count on one of the grindhouses on Manhattan’s 42end St. hosting a Pam Grier Double or Triple Feature and that’s when I saw it. Right from the first time I saw it it became for me THE Pam Grier movie. At least until I saw “Jackie Brown” in 1997

But when people ask me which one of Pam Grier’s classic movies from the Blaxploitation Era they should watch first, I always say FOXY BROWN. It was made after “Coffy” which it shares a lot of similarities to and in fact, FOXY BROWN was intended at first to be the sequel to “Coffy” which was a tremendous hit for American International Pictures. But for me, there are scenes in FOXY BROWN which forever stamped Pam Grier as the first female action star and she pulled it off with not only her breathtaking beauty and unbelievably gorgeous body but true acting talent. This is why I think Pam Grier has had such lasting power in the film industry whereas other women, black and white working in the movies at the same period didn’t last. Right from the start Pam Grier had an earthiness, a believability to her performances, no matter the situation her characters were in.

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This is the movie that has the classic scene where Foxy Brown pulls a small automatic pistol right outta an afro wig big enough to make Angela Davis jealous and shoots two bad guys dead.  There’s something about the way Pam does it that makes you buy the scene with no doubt at all. And then there’s the scene where she gets into a brawl in a lesbian bar. It starts with a woman squaring off on Pam, claiming that she’s a karate expert with a black belt. Without batting an eye, Pam snatches up a bar stool and wallops the piss outta her. Pam stands over her downed opponent, throwing the stool over her shoulder, proclaiming; “I got my black belt in bar stool.” Again, the way she delivers the line and her body language more than sells the scene. You easily believe that Pam Grier knocks out lesbians with bar stools all the time.

Foxy Brown has got two men in her life that are both involved in drugs at opposite ends of the spectrum. Her brother Linc (Antonio Fargas) has gotten into deep trouble with a drug syndicate run by Steve Elias (Peter Brown) and Miss Kathryn (Kathryn Loder). Using a modeling agency as cover they run drugs and use prostitutes to keep local judges, police officials and other public servants off their backs with sexual favors. Michael Anderson (Terry Carter) is a DEA agent who has spent two years in deep cover trying to get the goods on Elias and Kathryn to no avail. Anderson is forced to have plastic surgery to change his appearance and with a new identity and face, he and Foxy make plans to go away and start a new life.

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But Linc figures out who Michael really is and in order to get himself off the hook, rats out Michael who is then killed by the syndicate. Linc is then himself killed by Elias and that sets Foxy off on her roaring rampage of revenge. Foxy infiltrates the drug syndicate by posing as a prostitute. But her true identity is soon found out and that’s when things really get cranked up in more ways than one.

You’ll hear some complain about FOXY BROWN as they don’t like the gratuitous nudity Pam Grier displays throughout the movie and that she’s raped at one point in the movie. They argue that those scenes as well as her posing as a prostitute contribute to the objectification of black women. Is it objectification? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Me, I take FOXY BROWN for what it is: an action adventure revenge yarn where it’s a black woman as the protagonist instead of a white man. And a very satisfying one at that. And it’s one of the true classics of the Blaxploitation Era. There’s a dozen movies that I think should be seen if you call yourself a student or fan of Blaxploitation and FOXY BROWN is definitely one of them.

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What I’ve always loved about her as with most of Pam Grier’s movies, she doesn’t wait for men to rescue her. She rescues herself, such as in the scene where she’s being held captive at a farm which is the drug manufacturing plant for the syndicate. She’s raped, drugged with heroin and still manages to turn the tables on her captors and blow up the farm. She does enlist the help of an all male neighborhood watchdog organization obviously inspired by The Black Panthers but that’s because they’ve got the guns and ammo needed to help her shut down the syndicate. And the scene where she asks the brothers for their help doesn’t rely on her sexiness or vamping the men into helping her. They quite wisely and intelligently ask her what her motivations are and she tells them. They talk as equals.

But in their supporting roles, the men are very good. You can’t ask for better than Antonio Fargas and Terry Carter. They build solid characters in a short amount of time and so we feel for Foxy when they’re killed. I also like how there’s different types of black men in this movie. We don’t just see pimps and pushers. Sid Haig also shows up near the end of the movie and it’s always a blast to see Sid Haig and Pam Grier together in a movie as they’re good friends in real life and it shows on screen. Their chemistry crackles that good.

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While Peter Brown is just your standard generic honky bad guy, I really like Kathryn Loder. She’s got this really strange expression in her eyes and her body language is such that you instantly get that Miss Kathryn may be a criminal genius but she’s got some bad wiring upstairs. Her performance is almost as much fun as Pam’s to watch. They make for well matched opponents.

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If you haven’t seen FOXY BROWN yet then you just oughta. Get yourself FOXY BROWN, “Coffy” (as for all intents and purposes they’re virtually the same character) “Jackie Brown” and make it a Pam Grier Night. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

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 Rated R

94 Minutes

Valley Of The Dolls

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1967

20th Century Fox

Directed by Mark Robson

Produced by David Weisbart

Screenplay by Helen Deutsch/Dorothy Kingsley/Harlan Ellison (uncredited)

Based on the novel “Valley of The Dolls” by Jacqueline Susann

Music by John Williams

Songs by Andre Previn & Dory Previn

People always give me The Look when during a discussion about movies I mention that VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is one of my favorites. You know The Look. It’s the one somebody gives you when they don’t know if they should pity you or laugh at you. Usually they’ll follow up The Look with something like; “But…isn’t that a bad movie?” Well, of course it’s a bad movie. In fact, it’s trash. But it’s a hell of a good bad movie. Some of you reading this review are now nodding your head in agreement. There is entertainment value to be derived from a movie that is total trash when it’s done with enthusiasm, talent and everybody involved throws themselves into the material with total abandon. Because they know the material is trash. That doesn’t mean they can’t have fun making the movie and as a result, we have fun watching it.

And I recommend VALLEY OF THE DOLLS not only as great trash entertainment but as a cultural artifact. When it was made back in the 1960s, the Soap Opera dominated daytime television and make no mistake; VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is nothing more than a two hour Soap Opera. Our three female leads go through success, failure, romance, infidelity, drug addiction, alcoholism, insanity, abortion, medical and emotional issues and true to The Rule of Three, one dies, one goes insane and one is left alive to tell the tale.

Based on the novel by Jacqueline Susann which probably is the greatest pop culture novel ever written it tells the story of three women who pursue fame and fortune in the entertainment field:

Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) is a pint-size earthquake of seemingly limitless talent. Put her on a stage and have an audience in front of her and there’s nothing she can’t do. She quickly makes an enemy of fading Broadway star Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward) who quickly assesses that Neely’s talent can soon make her obsolete.

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Anne Wells (Barbara Parkins) is a naive New Englander who comes to New York to gain experience of the world before settling down to married life. She gets a secretarial job with a theatrical agency and is soon having a romance with Lyon Burke (Paul Burke) one of the owners/partners of the agency.

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Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) is an Amazonian blonde of extraordinary beauty and a killer body. While she aspires to be an actress she is well aware she has limited talent and that she is only valued for her amazing physical beauty.

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Neely, Anne and Jennifer become good friends as they navigate the ups and downs of their chosen profession. As they all move up the ladder to success, the stress of their lives compound and they all cope with them in various ways: sex, alcohol and ‘dolls’. Uppers. Downers. Pills that is. Dolls to get you up in the morning. Dolls to keep you going through the day. Dolls to put you to sleep at night. And then you get up again the next day and the whole thing just keeps going and going and going.

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At its core, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is a Be Careful Of What You Wish For fairy tale for grown-ups. The three women think they know what the want out of life and go after it but once they have it they’re profoundly unhappy and dream of a simpler life where they can find true love and happiness. But for two of them they’re on a downward elevator to despair, madness and death with no Up button to press.

But enough of the doom and gloom. VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is indeed a lot of fun to watch simply as a cultural artifact of a style of movie and movie making that isn’t done anymore. Patty Duke and Sharon Tate share the MVP honors for this one. You watch Sharon Tate in this one and I defy you not to have a twinge of sadness for what might have been. I’ve always maintained that had she lived, Sharon Tate could very well have been like Jessica Lange who nobody took seriously as an actress when she first started out. There’s a real poignancy and pathos to Tate’s performance here and out of all the three lead characters, hers was the one I really felt for.

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Patty Duke is obviously having a ball playing Neely O’Hara who starts out as a truly sweet, talented kid full of hopes and dreams and transforms into an egotistical monster. Barbara Parkins (who also starred in the primetime Soap Opera “Peyton Place”) is a gorgeous woman but for my taste is bland and flat. She’s not very emotional in her dramatic scenes and it’s difficult for me to believe she can inspire any man to fall in love with her.

Not that the men in this movie come off as shining examples of manhood either. Most of them are in this movie simply as background. They only have one purpose far as I could tell; to keep the story moving along. But that’s okay because this movie is about the women; their dreams, their ambitions, their careers. The movie firmly keeps the focus on them where it’s supposed to be.

So should you see VALLEY OF THE DOLLS? Yes. It’s Great Good Trash that should be watched and enjoyed in that spirit. It’s the great-grandmother of “Showgirls” and in fact, the two of them would make a great Saturday night double feature with friends, pizza and drinks. Enjoy.

PG-13

123 Minutes