The King of Love (1987, directed by Anthony Wilkinson)

From the depths of the 80s comes this soapy film about a publisher played by Nick Mancuso whose father issues fuel not only his rise but also his fall.  When the movie starts, Mancuso is dying because he’s been shot by an unknown assassin but he still needs someone to give him some answers before he can give up the mortal coil.  Much like Dutch Schultz deliriously babbling about his dog Biscuit after getting fatally wounded, Mancuso spends his last minutes flashing back to how he became America’s most controversial magazine publisher.

In a ruthless and methodical fashion, Mancuso rose up the ranks from being just a lowly photographer to being the publisher of Love, a magazine that may remind you of Playboy and Penthouse but which is definitely not either one because it’s called Love.  Because sex and nudity sells, Love grows to be a billion dollar empire but, along the way, Mancuso uses and alienates everyone who gets close to him.  With his outspoken views on politics and his advocacy for free love and personal freedom, he also become the number one enemy of anti-pornography crusaders everywhere.  Only his partners, Nat (Michael Lerner) and Annie (Sela Ward), are willing to stay with him, mostly because they’re both in love with him.

Mancuso is obsessed with running a rival publisher out of business.  Jack Kraft (Rip Torn) is just a ruthless as Mancuso and he also might be his father.  In fact, everything that Mancuso does is because he wants to get revenge on Jack for not being there for him as he was growing up, even though he doesn’t have any definite proof that Jack is actually his father and Jack refuses to say whether he is or isn’t.  As Mancuso lies on his death bed, Jack stops in for one last visit.  Mancuso finally asks Jack flat-out if he’s his father.  “I don’t know,” Jack answers, as the film draws to a close.  I know that’s a big spoiler but it probably does not matter because this film has never been released on video and it probably never will be.  My mom has a copy on VHS tape, which she recorded when it originally aired in 1987.  It even has the original commercials.  It’s possible my mom may have the only copy of this film in existence, I don’t know.

The King of Love‘s attempt to be daring and racy is sabotaged by its origin as a made-for-TV movie from the 80s.  There may be a lot of talk about sex but you’re not going to see or hear anything that could have gotten ABC fined by the FCC.  What’s most interesting about The King of Love is the way that the film combines the personas of the three most famous adult magazine publishes.  Mancuso dresses like Bob Guccione, spouts Hugh Hefner’s philosophy, and ultimately suffers Larry Flynt’s fate.  Otherwise, the movie’s not very interesting at all but it is also ways enjoyable to watch Rip Torn play an arrogant bad guy and Michael Lerner manages to overcome a bad script and give an effective performance as Mancuso’s conflicted second-in-command.

18 Days of Paranoia #1: The Flight That Disappeared (dir by Reginald Le Borg)

Way back in the early days of the site, I did a series of reviews called 31 Days of Paranoia, in which I reviewed films about mysteries, cover-ups, and conspiracies.  Unfortunately, because I wasn’t all that disciplined about posting during the early days of the Shattered Lens, my 31 Days of Paranoia ended up being something like 24 days.  Still, it was a lot of fun and, historically, it was important because it was the very first “themed” series of reviews that I had ever done.  Shattered Politics, Embracing the Melodrama, Back to School, Sprin Breakdown, and all the rest started with 31 Days of Paranoia.

So, with this being the 10-year anniversary of the Shattered Lens’s founding and Spring Breakdown wrapping itself up tomorrow, I figured why not return to where it all started.  From now til April, please enjoy …. 18 Days of Paranoia!

We begin with:

The 1961 film, The Flight That Disappeared, deals with an airplane that …. wait for it …. disappears!

What’s happened to Trans-Coast Airways Flight 60?  When it first took off from Los Angeles, everything seemed fine.  It was carrying a small but well-behaved group of middle-aged people to Washington D.C.  The pilots all seemed like good professionals.  The two flight attendants were busy serving people coffee and having conversations about whether or not one of them would ever get married.  She had every right to be concerned, of course, seeing as how she was in her 20s and still unmarried and childless, despite the fact that this film was made in 1961.

It doesn’t take too long for something strange to happen.  The plane suddenly starts to climb upward, eventually going up over 10 miles high in the sky.  The pilots can’t do anything to get the plane to come back down.  Due to the lack of oxygen, some of the passengers start to pass out.  One passenger panics and opens a door, out of which he promptly falls.  Oddly, this doesn’t create the whole vacuum effects that we always see in other movies where a window or a door is opened while a plane is in the air.  Stranger still, no one thinks to close the door afterwards.  Was this intentional or was it just crappy filmmaking?  It’s hard to say.

Why is the plane being lifted up into the air?  Could it have something to do with the three atomic scientists who are all on the plane?  One of them, Dr. Morris (Dayton Lummis), is wearing glasses and has a van dyke beard so you know he’s smart!  It turns out that Dr. Morris has been working on the Beta Bomb, which is apparently the most powerful atomic bomb ever built.  I kept waiting for someone to ask Dr. Morris why it was called the Beta Bomb and not the Alpha Bomb or the Omega Bomb or the Big Scary Bomb or the …. well, seriously, anything would be better than Beta Bomb!  Everyone in the movie says, “Beta Bomb,” in a tone that’s meant to communicate reverence but it just sounds too much like “Beta Male” for me to really take it seriously.

But, again, who is responsible for the flight climbing?  Is it the Russians?  Is it aliens?  Is it some enemy of the American way?  While everyone else on the plane is passed out, the three scientists find themselves awake.  Their watches are no longer running and, despite the fact that they appear to be alive, their hearts are no longer beating.  Are they dead?  Or have they been transported to the future where they will now be put on trial for the crime of developing the Beta Bomb?

Of course, the thing with being put on trial in the future is that it provides the perfect defense for making weapons in the present.  “Hey,” a smart defense attorney would say, “you’re still alive in the future and you’ve got time travel technology so what are you bitching about?”  But the jurors explain that they’re actually the ghosts of the people who would have been born in the future if not for the Beta Bomb which …. what?  So, is the plane in the future or is it in the afterlife?  The film itself doesn’t seem to be sure.

I’m probably making it sound like this is a more intriguing film than it actually is.  This movie is about 72 minutes long and all the stuff with the people in the future takes place during the final 10 minutes.  That means that the film is essentially just 60 minutes of people saying, “We’re still climbing.”  From a historical point of view, it’s an interesting example of people being paranoid about the arms race.  (If the film were made today, the future the ghostly jurors would be the souls of people who were not born in the future due to climate change.)  From an entertainment point of view, it’s a forgettable dud.

4 Shots From 4 Bloody Films: Special Michael Caine Edition

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today is the 87th birthday of the great actor and icon of all things British, Michael Caine!

Caine is famously prolific and, when it comes to picking shots from his films, it’s hard to narrow them down to just four.  At a certain point in his career, the big joke about Michael Caine was that he would appear in literally everything.  He even missed accepting his first Oscar in person because he was busy filming Jaws: The Revenge.  Not surprisingly, it was after Jaws: The Revenge that Caine started to become more discriminating when it came to picking his films.

Despite the fact that he’s now a bit more careful about picking roles that allow him to show off his considerable talent as opposed to just supplying him with an easy paycheck, Caine remains a busy actor.  In his autobiography, Blowing the Bloody Doors Off, Caine wrote that he plans to keep acting as long as he is physically and mentally able to do so.  I look forward to seeing what future, great performances Michael Caine is going to give us.

For now, here are:

4 Shots From 4 Films

Get Carter (1971, directed by Mike Hodges)

The Man Who Would Be King (1975, directed by John Huston)

A Shock to the System (1990, directed by Jan Egleson)

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, directed by Christopher Nolan)


Weekly Reading Round-Up : 03/08/2020 – 03/14/2020

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Image Comics dominated my admittedly-small pull list this week, so let’s have a look at all four of their books that I picked up and see which ones are worth your time and money —

Jonathan Hickman is back with another typically ambitious and expansive creator-owned project, but the best thing about Decorum #1 is Mike Huddleston’s wildly varied, and in some cases quite experimental, art. Yeah, there’s some intriguing “world-building” going on here — hell, it’s more than that, it’s “universe-building” — but, as with all things Hickman, we’ll have to see how fully he develops all that, or even if he fucking sticks with it. For my money, the only one of his Image projects where the steak matched the sizzle was East Of West, but let’s be fair : they’ve all started out well enough, and this tale of the universe’s most purportedly polite assassin…

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