Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow (1994, directed by Alan Metter)

Russia has a problem.  Mob boss Konstantine Konali (Ron Perlman, slumming) has created a video game so addictive that the people playing it don’t even realize that it’s actually a sophisticated computer virus that allows Konali to take control of almost any security system.  As a result, Moscow has been hit by a string of robberies.  The Moscow police commandant, Nikolaivich Rakov (Christopher Lee, slumming even more than Perlman) knows that he doesn’t have the resources to stop Konali so, as so many have done before him, he decides to contact Commandant Eric Lassard (George Gaynes) and asks for help.

In others words: Police Academy Goes To Russia!

Well, some of the Police Academy graduates get to go.  After the box office failure of City Under Siege, there was a five year hiatus between that movie and the latest (and last) installment in the Police Academy film saga.  During that time, the juvenile boys who made up the franchise’s target audience all grew up and became too cool to admit that they had ever seen a Police Academy film.  By the time Mission to Moscow went into production, most of the stars of Police Academy had also either moved on or desperately wanted to create the impression that they had something better to do than go to Russia to take part in the final stand of an aging franchise.

As a result, Lassard only takes Tacklberry (David Graf), Sound Effects Machine (Michael Winslow), Callahan (Leslie Easterbrook), Harris (G.W. Bailey), and Cadet Connors (Charlie Schlatter) with him to the Russia.  Cadet Connors is a computer expert and he is obviously meant to be the new Steve Guttenberg/Matt McCoy style wiseass.  He ends up falling for a pretty Russian translator (Claire Forlani).  Cadet Connors tries his best but he’s no Carey Mahoney.

Give Mission to Moscow some credit for predicting both the rise of the Russian Mafia and the danger of computer viruses.  Otherwise, Mission to Moscow ends the Police Academy franchise in a desultory manner.  The cast looks old and even the usually reliable Sound Effects Machine doesn’t bring much energy to his shtickPolice Academy: Mission to Moscow was one of the first American movies to be filmed in Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union and it even features an actor standing in for Boris Yeltsin.  In the tradition of a family sitcom doing a special episode of Epcot Center, there’s plenty of footage of the cast standing in front of all of the landmarks but otherwise, Mission to Moscow doesn’t do much with its setting.  It’s interesting as historical trivia but forgettable as a movie.

10 years after the series began, Mission to Moscow brought the Police Academy films to a close, not with a bang but with a very exhausted whimper.  There was a syndicated tv series featuring the Sound Effects Machine that aired in 1997 but I never saw an episode and I was surprised to lean that it even existed.  It’s on YouTube so, someday, I’ll try to watch it.  Not today, though.


SXSW 2020 Review: Vert (dir by Kate Cox)

Happy 20th anniversary, Emelia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and Jeff (Nick Frost)!

Emelia and Jeff are the couple who are at the center of the 12 minute short film, Vert.  They are the one of those couples who you just like from the minute that you see them together.  They have that sort of easy rapport that one would expect a couple to have after managing to stay together for 20 years.  They both live in a nice house.  They both appear to be very happy with their lives.  In fact, everything about them seems to be almost perfect.

What anniversary present do you get for the perfect couple?  How about a virtual reality system?  Through the use of “Vert,” Emelia and Jeff can not only go to a virtual world but they can also get a glimpse of their “ideal selves.”  I know, that sounds like kind of a crazy idea, doesn’t it?  I mean, how does anyone truly know who their ideal self would be?  Well, Vert knows!

And soon, Emelia and Jeff know as well….

Vert is one of those films that I watch and I wonder if maybe people in movies just don’t watch Black Mirror.  If they did, they would surely know better than to enter any sort of virtual reality.  But, what makes Vert such a thought-provoking film is how Emelia and Jeff react to what they discover in that virtual world.  Just a few years ago, the plot of Vert probably would have been played for easy laughs but today, it’s played for poignant and emotional drama.  In its way, Vert is a film that shows how far society and culture have come and also how far it has yet to go.

Vert is a nicely shot film, full of atmospheric images.  The cast all give sincere and believable performances and Nikki Amuka-Bird, in particular, does a good job with her role.  Vert is currently available, for a limited time, on Prime.

SXSW 2020 Review: Summer Hit (dir by Berthold Wahjudi)

Summer Hit is a sweet-natured, 20-minute film from Germany.

Laia (Martina Roura) is from Spain.  She’s adventurous and free-spirited and also somewhat irresponsible.  For instance, when she accidentally leaves her wallet at someone else’s apartment, she reacts by running out on a cab fare and then stealing a salad.  And, really — can you blame her?  I mean, if you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money.

Emil (Atli Benedikt) is from Iceland, which he describes as being cold and miserable.  He is somewhat quiet and seems to be a bit shy.  Overall, he seems like a nice guy.  He’s the type who, when you see him staggering about after taking a hit from a bong, you want to help him out.


Well, no, actually, they don’t.  In fact, as we already discussed, Laia commits a few crimes after losing her wallet.  Instead, they’re both students who meet in Munich one summer and decide to have a commitment-free summer fling.  Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to say that you’re going to be commitment-free than it is to actually do it.  After they have sex five or six times (Laia says five while Emil insists that it was six), Emil tells Laia that he thinks he might be in love with her.  Laia flees his apartment, leaving behind her wallet….

It’s a good film, one that briskly tells a story to which everyone can relate.  We’ve all been there.  Martina Roura and Atli Benedikt are both such likable performers that you can forgive the fact that both Laia and Emil can occasionally be a bit self-absorbed.  Neither one is perfect but then again, who is?  You hope for the best of them, even if you never quite believe that they’ll really stay together.

Summer Hit is available, for a limited time, on Prime.

SXSW 2020 Review: Run/On (dir by Daniel Newell Kaufman)

Run/On is a 13-minute short film that opens with a shot of a young boy balancing a fidget spinner on his forehead.

It’s haunting shot, one that is beautifully composed and which also tells you almost everything that you need to know about the film.  Fidget spinners are very useful to those of us who have ADD and who sometimes find it difficult to focus in a chaotic world.  I carry a fidget spinner everywhere that I go and, as strange as it apparently seems to some people, spinning it really does provide me with some focus and comfort.  Whenever I start to feel the world overwhelming me, I concentrate on watching it spin and, by the time that it stops, I’ve usually managed to calm down a bit.

The rest of Run/On deals with a boy named Luke and his mother and the time they spend waiting in a believably filthy Greyhound bus station.  Luke doesn’t speak throughout the entire film, but he sees and hears all of the chaos around him.  His mother, on the other hand, can’t stop talking.  She’s got two trash bags full of clothes and two tickets for a Greyhound.  She also has a gun in her purse, something Luke obviously finds to be concerning.

It’s a scary bus station.  Speaking as someone who once spent the night at the Greyhound bus station in Dallas (long story, don’t ask), I can say that this film did a great job of capturing just how scary, menacing, and exciting a big city bus station can be.  When Luke goes to a vending machine, we’re aware of the two men sitting in a corner of the bus station and watching.  When he later walks around the station, he passes a seedy-looking man on a phone.  All around him are people living their own lives of desperation and it’s somewhat frightening to witness it all.  It’s enough to make you want to run and keep running.

Run/On, with all of its mysteries, is currently available on Prime for a limited time.