Blue Thunder (1983, directed by John Badham)


Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) is a Vietnam vet-turned-cop who pilots a police helicopter for the LAPD.  Every night, he and his partner, Richard Lymangood (Daniel Stern) fly over Los Angeles, helping to keep the peace and peeping on anyone undressing in a high-rise apartment.

Murphy is selected to serve as the test pilot for what is described as being the world’s most advanced military helicopter, Blue Thunder.  Blue Thunder is so advanced that the pilot can control the gun turrets just by turning his head and it’s also been supplied with the latest state of the art surveillance equipment.  The pilot of a Blue Thunder can literally spy on anyone while listening to and recording their conversations.  With the Olympics coming up, the city of Los Angeles wants to test out the Blue Thunder as a way to control the crowds and prevent crime during the Games.

Murphy may be impressed by the helicopter but he has his reservations about the program.  He immediately sees that Blue Thunder could be a dangerous tool in the wrong hands.  Those wrong hands would belong to Col. Cochrane (Malcolm McDowell), who was Blue Thunder’s first pilot and also Murphy’s commanding officer during Vietnam.  Murphy is still haunted by the atrocities that he saw committed by Cochrane during the war.

When it turns out that Murphy was right to be suspicious of Cochrane’s intentions, the movie turns into an exciting aerial chase above Los Angeles, with Murphy in Blue Thunder, trying to outrun F-16s, heat-seeking missiles, and eventually Cochrane, who enters the chase in a Blue Thunder of his own.

I’m always surprised that Blue Thunder doesn’t have a bigger following than it does.  It’s an action classic, with a gritty performance from Roy Scheider, a villainous performance from Malcolm McDowell, and comedic relief from the always reliable Daniel Stern.  Even Warren Oates is in the movie, playing Murphy’s LAPD commander!  The script actually does have something relevant to say about the militarization of America’s police forces (and it feels downright prophetic today) and the chase scenes are all the more exciting because they were filmed in the era before CGI and have an authenticity to them that is missing from most modern action films.

Blue Thunder is a perfect example of the “don’t do this really cool thing” style of action film.  The Blue Thunder helicopter is described as being a danger to everyone in the country and the movie even ends with a note saying that real-life Blue Thunders are currently being designed.  But I don’t think anyone who has ever watched this film has thought, “I hope they stopped making those helicopters.”  Instead, this movie makes you want to have a Blue Thunder of your very own.  They’re so cool, who wouldn’t want to fly one of those things?

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #15: Bugsy Malone (dir by Alan Parker)


Remember how, a few weeks ago, I said I was going to spend the month of June reviewing 30 gangster movies?  Well, I was doing pretty well but then I got distracted with some things and I ended up falling behind and now, it’s the last day of June and I’ve only reviewed 14 of the 30 films that I was planning on taking a look at.  It’s frustrating but, as any movie blogger can tell you, it happens.  Still, I’m not one to give up so easily!  I promised to review 30 gangster movies and I’m going to keep my word.  Or, at the very least, I’m going to try to…. like, definitely maybe try to….

Anyway, let’s get back to it with 1976’s Bugsy Malone!

Bugsy Malone is an homage to the old gangster movies of the 1920s and 30s.  It’s also a musical, featuring a lot of songs about wanting to make a lot of money, fall in love, and go away to Hollywood.  On top of all that, it’s also a children’s film.  Though they may be playing gangsters and going to war over who will control the rackets, the cast is entirely made up of children.  Though the film does feature a lot of guns, none of the guns fire bullets.  Instead, they shoot custard pies.  Once you get cornered by a rival gangster and you get “splurged,” your career in the rackets is over.  You’re humiliated.  You’re nothing.  You’re just another two-bit hood who couldn’t make it in the big leagues.  You’re just….

Well, you get the idea.

Basically, the plot of the film is that Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) and Fat Sam (John Cassissi) are two rival gangsters who want to take over the Lower East Side.  Fat Sam owns a speakeasy, which means that there’s always a lot of dancing and singing going on in the background.  Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio) is a tough boxer who wants Fat Sam to give a job to Blousey Brown (Florrie Dugger), who dreams of going to Hollywood and becoming a big star.  Tallulah (Jodie Foster) is Fat Sam’s gun moll but she used to go out with Bugsy and she still wants him back.  Bugsy get caught up in the middle of the war between Dandy Dan and Fat Sam and it all eventually leads to a big pie fight and a lot of children covered in custard.  “You give a little love,” the children sing as they realize that their lives don’t have to be defined by gang wars, “and it all comes back to you….”

So, I have to admit that I was absolutely dreading watching Bugsy Malone.  I mean, singing children and custard pie guns?  It all sound just unbearably cutesy.  But, to my surprise, Bugsy Malone actually turned out to be a fun and clever little movie, one that was full of smart dialogue, catchy songs, excellent dancing, and wonderfully non-cutesy performances from its cast.  Even though the film may be about a bunch of children dressing up as gangsters, all of the child actors take their characters seriously and director Alan Parker directs the film as if it were an actual gangster film as opposed to just a children’s musical.  The end result is a film that’s cute but never cutesy.  Believe me, there is a huge difference between the two.

To my shock, Bugsy Malone turned out to be an offer that you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband

Lisa Marie’s Oscar Predictions For June


Once again, even trying to predict the Oscars this year seems like a fool’s errand.

Our story so far:

  1. COVID-19 shut everything down, including both theaters and production on many of the films that were expected to be contenders for the 2020 Oscars.
  2. The Academy announced that, for this year only, VOD and streaming-only films would be considered eligible for the Oscars.  That’s good news for all of the films premiering on Netflix and Prime right now, right?
  3. It looked briefly as if theaters might start reopening in July.  Tenet awaits!
  4. Oh wait, there’s still a pandemic going on.  Keep those theaters closed.
  5. But what about Tenent!?  Tenet will open in July, no matter what!
  6. Tenet gets moved back to August.  Every other big production gets moved back to August and chances are they’ll get moved back again.
  7. The Academy, meanwhile, throws everything into even more disarray by announcing that they will be extending the eligibility window to the end of February of 2021.
  8. And now, we’re all waiting to see which films will be moved either back or forward to a January or February 2021 opening in order to qualify for the Oscars.

In other words, who knows what’s going to be eligible once the Academy finally gets around to selecting their nominees.  Personally, I wish they hadn’t moved the eligibility window.  It feels like a bunch of studios complained about the having to release all of their big movies via VOD so the Academy said, “Okay, we’ll give you an extra two months.”  With the way things are going, though, it’s totally possible that theaters could still be closed in January and February so joke’s on them.  ENJOY YOUR VOD OSCARS, YA BASTARDS!

Anyway, here are my monthly Oscar predictions.  I did the best I could with what little information is actually out there.  Normally, I would say that the Da 5 Bloods came out too early to be remembered at Oscar time but this is not a typical year.  Despite the best picture victories of 12 Years A Slave and Moonlight, no black director has ever won best director.  If there’s ever a year when the Academy is going to be motivated to rectify that, it will be this year.

Anyway, be sure to check out my equally useless predictions for January, February, March, April, and May!

Best Picture

Ammonite

Da 5 Bloods

The Father

Hillbilly Elegy

News of the World

Nomadland

On The Rocks

Respect

Soul

West Side Story

Best Director

Ron Howard for Hillbilly Elegy

Paul Greengrass for News of the World

Spike Lee for Da 5 Bloods

Steven Spielberg for West Side Story

Chloe Zhao for Nomadland

Best Actor

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Courier

Tom Hanks in News of the World

Sir Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods

Bill Murray in On the Rocks

Best Actress

Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Angelina Jolie in Those Who Wish Me Dead

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Kate Winslet in Ammonite

Best Supporting Actor

David Alvarez in West Side Story

Tom Burke in Mank

Richard E. Grant in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Mark Rylance in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Forest Whitaker in Respect

Best Supporting Actress

Abigail Breslin in Stillwater

Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy

Ariana DeBose in West Side Story

Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite

Helena Zengel in News of the World

Artist Profile: William Jacobson (1921 — 1992)


While I was searching for information about the artist William Jacobson, I came across 1992 Chicago Tribune obituary for an artist named William “Babe” Jacobson.  According to the obituary (and assuming that the William Jacobson who did the covers below is the same Jacobson who was written about in the Tribune), William Jacobson studied at at the Art Institute of Chicago, the American Academy of Art and the Chicago Academy of Fine Art.  After serving in World War II, Jacobson became an artist with the Stevens-Gross Studios before, in 1960, opening up a studio of his own, William Jacobson Illustration.

I could find much more information about Jacobson so, as often happens with the artists of the pulp era, his work will have to speak for him.  Here’s a sampling of it:

RIP, Carl Reiner


I just heard that Carl Reiner has died.  He was 98 years old and he was one of the funniest men who ever lived.

By creating The Dick Van Dyke Show, Reienr redefined the American sitcom and made writing comedy seem like the most wonderful and rewarding job that someone could hope to have.  Not only do you get to be funny 24 hours a day but you also get to marry Laura Petrie.  In many ways, Reiner was responsible for a generation of writers flocking to New York City with dreams of writing for Saturday Night Live and Norman Lear.

Reiner was also an actor, a film director, and an always-entertaining talk show guest.  For many, he will also be forever known as the man who interviewed the 2000 Year Old Man.  In these interviews, Reiner asked questions to a 2000 year old man, who was played by Mel Brooks and who would largely improvise his answers.  This was a skit that Reiner and Brooks developed (mostly as an inside joke) while they were both writing for Your Show Of Shows.  It went on to become a beloved comedy classic and it is often cited as being the ideal comedy sketch.  Though Reiner played the “straight man” in the 200 Year Old Man routine, his contribution was just as important as Brooks’s.  Brooks may have gotten the most laughs with his improvised answers but Reiner always instinctively knew the right questions to ask.

Here they are performing it in 1967:

Carl Reiner, R.I.P.

The Stratton Story (1949, dir. by Sam Wood)


Monty Stratton was one of the greats.

He was a Texas farmboy who knew how to throw a baseball.  Recruited by the Chicago White Sox, he spent five years in the majors.  From 1934 through 1938, he compiled a 36–23 record with 196 strikeouts and a 3.71 ERA in 487.1 innings.  In 1937, he won 15 games with a 2.40 ERA and five shout-outs.  The next season, he won another 15 games and completed 17 of his 22 starts.  For those of you who might not speak baseball, that all means that he was a really good right-handed pitcher.

When Stratton wasn’t playing baseball, you could find him down on his farm in Greenville, Texas.  He lived there with his wife, Ethel.  On November 27th, 1938, Monty Stratton was hunting rabbits when he accidentally shot himself in his right leg.  While Stratton survived the shooting, his leg was amputated, bringing Stratton’s major league career to an end.

No longer able to play in the majors, Monty Stratton spent the next few years as a pitching coach and helping to start a semi-pro team in Greenville.  With the help and encouragement of his wife, he continued to practice his pitching and he eventually trained himself to the point where he could transfer his weight effectively onto his artificial leg so that he could effectively throw a baseball.  In 1947, Monty Stratton made a comeback, pitching in the minors and ending the season with an 18–8 record and a 4.17 earned run average.  Stratton spent the next six years pitching in the minors before retiring from the game.  He went on to start the Greenville Little League program.  If you go to Greenville, you can still find Monty Stratton Field near Greenville High School.

The Stratton Story was made in 1949, shortly after Stratton’s comeback and while he was still playing in the minors.  James Stewart plays Monty Stratton while June Allyson plays his wife.  The movie follows Stratton from his early days on the farm through his major league career, his accident, and his eventual comeback.  Though the real Monty Stratton served as a technical advisor to the film, I don’t know how historically accurate it was.  The movie, for instance, seemed to condense the timeline so that it seemed like Stratton went straight from losing his leg to practicing for his comeback when it actually took ten years for Stratton to eventually get signed to a minor league team.  Even if it does take some liberties from the facts, The Stratton Story is still a good movie.  The baseball scenes are great and Jimmy Stewart is convincing when he’s throwing the baseball.  He’s also convincing in the scenes where Stratton sinks into a dark depression after losing his leg.  Stewart was so good in the role that, when Stratton finally started to practice his pitching again, I wanted to jump up and cheer.

I liked The Stratton Story.  It probably helps that I love baseball but it’s also a good movie about an inspiring story.

Music Video of the Day: We Are The Champions by Queen (1977, directed by Derek Burbridge)


“I was thinking about football when I wrote it. I wanted a participation song, something that the fans could latch on to. Of course, I’ve given it more theatrical subtlety than an ordinary football chant. I suppose it could also be construed as my version of ‘I Did It My Way.’ We have made it, and it certainly wasn’t easy. No bed of roses as the song says. And it’s still not easy.”

— Freddy Mercury on We Are The Champions

According to scientists, this is the most catchy song every written.

In 2011, a team of scientific researchers actually conducted a study to determine the catchiest song ever recorded and this is what they decided upon.  Don’t ask me how they actually made that determination.  Maybe they were all football fans.  If you’re fan of football — whether it’s American football or association football — you know this song by heart.  You also probably know what it’s like to hear the other team sing it after your team loses.  As great as it feels to be one of the champions, it really sucks to be one of the losers who they don’t have time for.

This video was filmed at the New London Theater.  The audience was made up entirely of members of Queen’s fan club.  The video was directed by Derek Burbridge, who also directed yesterday’s music video of the day.

Enjoy!