In the Line of Duty: A Cop For The Killing (1990, directed by Dick Lowry)

When an undercover narcotics operation goes wrong, a veteran cop (Charles Haid) is killed.  While the cop’s killer goes on trial, the members of the undercover squad struggle to deal with their feelings about what has happened.  The head of the squad (James Farentino) struggles with how much emotion he can show while still remaining a leader.  As his ex-wife puts it, he’s so busy staying strong for everyone else that he hasn’t been able to deal with his emotions.  Meanwhile, the dead cop’s partner (Steve Weber) has the opposite problem and starts to take dangerous risks on the job.  When it looks like the killer might get a plea deal from the district attorney, both Farentino and Weber are forced to come to terms with Haid’s death and their own feelings of anger and guilt.

In the early 90s, there was several “In the Line of Duty” films made for NBC.  They were all based (often loosely) on true stories and they dealt with members of the law enforcement who died while on the job.  The best known of these was probably Ambush in Waco, which went into production while the Branch Davidian siege was still ongoing.

A Cop For The Killing was the second of the In The Line of Duty films.  Unlike the later films in the series, it didn’t deal with a nationally-known case.  Instead, it just focused on one squad of cops and how the death of a member of the squad effected them.  With its ensemble of familiar television actors and Dick Lowry’s efficient but not particularly splashy direction, it feels more like a pilot than an actual movie.  Even though this film features the cops opening up about their feelings, there’s not much to distinguish it from other cop shows of the period.  If someone digitally replaced Steven Weber with Fred Dryer, it would be easy to mistake A Cop For The Killing for a two-hour episode of Hunter.  As with all of the In The Line of Duty films, there are a few scenes designed to show the comradery of the members of the squad but it again all feels too familiar to be effective.  Before Charles Haid dies, he and Steven Weber hang out at a bar and wrestle.  After Haid dies, Weber hangs out at a strip club that’s safe for prime time.  Judging from 90s television cop shows, undercover detectives were solely responsible for keeping most strip clubs profitable.

The cast is adequate.  Farentino is believable as the emotionally withdrawn commander.  Charles Haid makes the most of his limited screen time.  Tony Plana plays a smug drug lord who smiles even when he’s being booked.  It takes a while to adjust to Steven Weber playing a serious role but his courtroom meltdown is the movie’s highlight.  In The Line of Duty: A Cop For The Killing may not have led to a television series featuring Farentino and Weber taking down the bad guys but it did lead to another In The Line of Duty movie that I will take a look at tomorrow.

Book Review: “My Ox is Broken!” Roadblocks, Detours, Fast Forwards and Other Great Moments from Tv’s ‘the Amazing Race’ by Adam-Troy Castro

I will be the first to admit that I probably watch too much reality television.

Of course, I will also defend myself by saying that I don’t watch as much as I used to.  I limit myself now.  The Bachelor, the Bachelorette, and Bachelor In Paradise are the only dating shows that I still watch and I have to admit that I find them less and less interesting with each passing season.  (Some of that, to be honest, is because I cringe whenever I see people talking about the “Bachelor Nation.”  Just because I watch the same show as you doesn’t mean that I want to come over to your house and watch you get drunk on box wine.)  I still watch Survivor but I have yet to watch any episodes of the Hulu Kardashian show.  The only reason that I recently watched Selling Sunset was because I was checking out the shows that had been submitted to the Emmys.  I haven’t really been emotionally involved with Big Brother for a while now, though I do still write about it because I love my readers.

That said, I still absolutely love The Amazing Race and I make no apologies for that.

The premise behind The Amazing Race has always been a simple one.  Teams of two are sent on a race around the world.  During each leg of the race, they have to complete tasks before they can continue on their journey.  At the end of each leg is a pit stop.  Finish first and you’ll get a prize.  Finish last and you’ll probably be eliminated from the race.  Each season has featured little tweaks to the formula but the basics have always remained the same, which is one reason why The Amazing Race‘s fans have remained loyal to it for over 22 years.

What is the appeal of The Amazing Race?  It’s more than just seeing who wins and who loses.  It’s seeing how the teams, who always start out very confident, handle being outside of their comfort zone.  I’ve lost track of how many athletic, cocky teams were eliminated from the race because they failed to properly communicate with their taxi driver.  How many teams have gone from being in first place to being dead last just because their flight was delayed?  The most recent season of the Amazing Race was actually put on hold due to COVID quarantines.  Filming stopped in 2020 and then resumed over a year later, with the remaining teams returning to their last pit stop.  The Amazing Race is unpredictable and it takes exactly the right mix of athleticism, intelligence, confidence, and luck to survive it.  The Amazing Race is about skill and communicating and seeing the world and I absolutely love it.  A good deal of the Race’s popularity is also due to host Phil Keoghan, who actually seems to be sincerely invested in the racers and their journey.  That’s quiet a contrast to most reality competition hosts.  Just as snarky Jeff Probst was the perfect host for Survivor (or, at least, he was before he decided to get all weepy and sincere these past few seasons), Phil Keoghan is the perfect host for The Amazing Race.

My Ox is Broken! is a perfect companion to The Amazing Race.  Admittedly, the book was published in 2006 and, as a result, it only covers the first 9 seasons of the Race.  But those were some truly great seasons and reading the book today is a wonderful way to relive the excitement of Rob and Amber going from dominating Survivor to nearly winning The Amazing Race, Colin and Christie narrowly losing the fifth season, and the dysfunctional couples who made up the sixth season.  Author Adam-Troy Castro takes a look at everything that made those first 9 seasons so much fun and he’s also honest about the show’s occasional missteps.  Full of recaps, interviews, and lists (you know how much I love lists!), this book is an essential for anyone who loves the Race.

Scenes That I Love: Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta Perform You’re The One That I Want From Grease

I just read that Olivia Newton-John passed away earlier today.  She was 73 years old.

Here she is, performing You’re The One That I Want with John Travolta at the climax of 1978’s Grease.  No matter what else you may think about this film (and, to be honest, it’s not one of my favorite musicals, just because of the way that director Randal Kleiser framed most of the dance numbers), you can’t deny that both Olivia and Travolta poured their hearts into this climax.

Film Review: Minamata (dir by Andrew Levitas)

In Minamata, Johnny Depp plays Eugene Smith, a real-life photographer who found fame taking pictures for Life Magazine.  Taking place in 1971, the film opens with Smith famous but burned out.  He spends most of his time in his run-down apartment or walking the streets of New York.  His camera is always with him, a tool of both his art and a symbol of his detachment.  Smith can capture the world in a photograph but he’s still not sure that he wants to be a part of it.  Smith is outspoken, eccentric, and ultimately a bit of an idealist who hides behind a cloak of cynicism.

When Smith is asked to come to the Japanese city of Minamata so that he can photograph the effects of Mercury poisoning on the citizens, he agrees to do so.  Armed with only his camera and aided only by his translator, Aileen (Minami), Smith discovers a community that has been ravaged by environmental pollution.  Smith tries to bring the story of Minamata to the world, despite the efforts of one of Japan’s largest corporations to silence him.

As far as films go, Minamata isn’t bad.  It feels a lot like a throwback to the old social problem films of the late 70s and the early 80s.  Watching the film, it was easy to draw comparisons to similar films like The China Syndrome, Silkwood, A Civil Action, Erin Brockovich, and even Promised Land.  Like the characters at the heart of those films, Eugene Smith is an unlikely crusader but when he sees a heartless corporation destroying lives, he feels that he has no choice but to act.  The film’s narrative momentum occasionally sputters and there are a few too many scenes of Smith haranguing his editor but the film’s heart is in the right place.  Johnny Depp gives a surprisingly sincere performance as Eugene Smith, playing him as someone who is a bit of a natural screw-up but who still wants to make the world a better place.  The film’s best scenes are the ones in which Smith tries to convince the camera-shy villagers to allow him to document what’s happening to them.  Minamata is at its best when it just allows Depp (as Smith) to interact with other people.

Of course, by this point, Minamata is probably best known for the drama that went on behind-the-scenes.  Minamata was filmed in 2019 and made its debut at the Berlin International Film Festival in February of 2020.  Distribution rights were eventually purchased by MGM and it was originally slated to be released in 2021.  However, after Amber Heard accused Depp of domestic abuse, MGM took the film off of its schedule.  Due to the bad publicity surrounding Depp, it appeared that the film would be buried.  Depp’s fans reacted by voting for Minamata to win the Oscars Fan Favorite contest.  Though Minamata ultimately came in third place, that’s a good showing for a film that hardly anyone had seen and which hadn’t even been distributed in the United States.  The victory of the Snyder Cut may have gotten all the attention but Minamata‘s strong showing served to remind Hollywood that, despite the accusations, Johnny Depp still had a strong fanbase.

It’s tempting to say that Minamata got its release due to the outcome of the Depp/Heard libel trial.  It was actually released on Hulu while the trial was still going on.  Though Minamata is probably destined to be mostly remembered as a footnote in Oscar history, it is a film that shows that Johnny Depp can still give a good performance when he has the right material.

Music Video of the Day: Seasons In The Abyss by Slayer (1990, directed by Di Puglia Gerard)

Yes, that is Slayer rocking out at the base of the Sphinx.

For their very first music video, Slayer traveled to Egypt.  At the time the video was shot, Iraq had just invaded Kuwait and the world was on the verge of war.  Despite all of the tension in the region, the members of Slayer said that they were warmly received by both the citizens of Egypt and the American soldiers who were preparing for Operation Desert Storm.  The Egyptian government was so eager to show that it wasn’t anti-American that it allowed Slayer access that the band might not have otherwise been given.  At the same time, back in the United States, the Satanic moral panic was still in force and Slayer was being accused of leading its fans into lives of sin and decadence.  Slayer was promoting diplomacy while Tipper Gore was still playing records backwards.