In The Line of Duty: Mob Justice (1991, directed by Peter Markle)

The fourth of NBC’s In The Line of Duty movies, Mob Justice opens with the murder of an undercover DEA agent by a low-level gangster who has just been released from prison.  While the gangster goes into hiding, the DEA mobilizes and starts to make life so difficult for all of the other mobsters in New York that soon, the Mafia is as determined to get justice as law enforcement.

This was the first In The Line Of Duty film not be directed by Dick Lowry.  Lowry’s fast-paced style is missed as Mob Justice takes forever to get going and regularly gets bogged down with scenes lifted from other mafia movies.  The old mobsters talk about the importance of family, play cards in the backroom, and eat big dinners.  Opera blares on the soundtrack when the DEA starts to harass them.  For a movie that is supposed to honor the work and the sacrifice of federal law enforcement, the DEA actually comes across as being thoroughly incompetent in Mob Justice.  A dumb mistake leads to the first murder.  A series of other misjudgments lead to the Mafia dispensing the own type of violent justice before the DEA can arrest their man.

The most interesting thing about Mob Justice is the cast.

The trigger-happy gangster is played by Tony Danza, who I guess was trying to prove himself as a dramatic actor after spending years on Taxi and Who’s The Boss but who still comes across like Tony Micelli having a bad day.  His best friend is played Nicholas Turturro, who later played a straight arrow detective on NYPD Blue.  Frank Vincent and Leonardo Cimino plays the mob bosses who knows that murdering a federal agent is bad for business.

The head of the investigation is played by Ted Levine, who has had a long career but will always be remembered as the killer from The Silence of the Lambs.  Working under him is Dan Lauria, who a generation will instantly recognize as being the long-suffering and frequently angry father from The Wonder Years.  You know that this is a big case is Buffalo Bill and Jack Arnold are working together.  (Dan Lauria actually appeared in several In The Line of Duty films, always playing different characters.)

And finally, the murdered DEA agent is played by none other than Samuel L. Jackson.  It’s never a good thing when the best actor in a movie is killed off after the first fifteen minutes.

The cast is great but Mob Justice is forgettable.  The main problem is that, after Jackson is taken out of the picture, the rest of the movie is just Danza hiding in different apartments while Levine and Lauria annoy Frank Vincent.  Danza’s murderer is never smart nor interesting enough to be a compelling antagonist and there’s never any doubt that, one way or another, he will pay for his stupidity.  There is one memorable scene where Danza freaks out while wearing a blonde wig but otherwise, Mob Justice doesn’t leave much of an impression.

Two Looks at the Office: The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History by Andy Greene and Welcome to Dunder Mifflin: The Ultimate Oral History of The Office by Brian Baumgartner and Ben Silverman

The American version of The Office was so good that it has led to not one but two oral histories!  And I’m such a fan that I’ve got both of them.

The first oral history that I read was Andy Greene’s The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s.  First published in 2020, Greene’s book was full of interesting facts and anecdotes, though a careful reading revealed that a lot of the “oral” part of the oral history was lifted from old interviews, DVD commentaries, and an article that Greene had previously written.  The book was notable for 1) establishing that Steve Carell is one of the nicest guys in show business, 2) putting the blame squarely on Jeff Zuker for Carell not returning after Season 7, and 3) getting some of the behind-the-scenes people to talk about why seasons 8 and, to a lesser extent, season 9 were so uneven.

The other oral history, which was published earlier this year, was Welcome to Dunder Mifflin.  It was written by Brian Baumgartner (who played Kevin Malone on the show) and Ben Silverman, one of the show’s producers.  Probably because Baumgartner and Silverman were both involved in the show, they apparently were able to get a lot more people to talk to them personally.  Unlike Greene’s book, which relied heavily on previously published interviews, Welcome to Dunder Mifflin features recent interviews with people like Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson, Angela Kinsey, Craig Robinson, Ed Helms, Amy Ryan and many others.  In fact, nearly the entire cast seems to have been interviewed for Welcome to Dunder Mifflin.  Presumably because their schedules wouldn’t allow it, neither BJ Novak or Mindy Kaling are interviewed and their absence is definitely felt.  Also not interviewed is James Spader but that’s not really a surprise.  (Spader played Robert California during the season of The Office that everyone seems to agree was the worst, Season 8.)  While everyone in both of the oral histories is quick to compliment Spader as an actor and a person, there’s a general agreement that the show never figured out what to do with the Robert California character and that Spader’s vibe didn’t quite meld with the show.  One gets the feeling that his time on The Office is something that Spader is more than happy to put behind him.

(Personally, of all the celebrities who were brought in to “interview” for the management position after Steve Carell left the show, I thought Ray Romano was the one who seemed like he would best fit in with the show’s ensemble.  Then again, I always felt that the best solution would have been to cast some total unknown for as Michael’s replacement and then keep him off-screen as much as possible.  But I’m getting distracted.  Someday, I’ll post my big ‘What the Office Should Have Done’ screed.  Of course, it’ll be like 20 years too late but whatever….)

The books are both full of love for The Office but they each take a somewhat different approach.  The Untold Story takes a very structured and very chronological look at the show and focuses a lot on what went on behind the scenes, both on set and with the network.  (If you didn’t already dislike Jeff Zucker, you will after reading Greene’s book.)  Welcome to Dunder Mifflin takes a far looser approach to the material and focuses more on what it was like to be a part of television’s funniest ensemble.  Welcome to Dunder Mifflin is full of interviews of people gushing about how much they loved working together and how proud they were to work on The Office and what’s interesting is that, even though you’re just reading their words on the printed page, you never doubt that they’re totally telling the truth.  Perhaps because it was Baumgartner who was doing the interview, the cast seems to let down their guard in a way that you really don’t see very often when it comes to performers talking about their time on a classic show.

Welcome to Dunder Mifflin focuses on the positive aspects of being on the show.  Whereas The Untold Story spends a lot of times on Seasons 8 and 9 and on the difficulty of integrating James Spader and Catherine Tate into the main cast, Welcome to Dunder Mifflin devotes only a few pages to those seasons and instead focuses on the Carell years.  One thing that both of these oral histories have in common is that Steve Carell comes across as being the nicest guy who ever lived.  How nice is Steve Carell?  I’d rather live next door to him than Tom Hanks.  Actually, I take that back.  I would want Carell next door and Tom Hanks living across the street.  It’s a big neighborhood.

Both of these oral histories nicely compliment each other.  If you want a chronological history of the show, Greene’s book is for you.  If you want a book that focuses on what it felt like to be a member of The Office crew, Welcome to Dunder Mifflin has you covered.  I would recommend buying both and getting the full Office experience.

And remember, there’s no party like a Scranton party.

Artist Profile: John A. Coughlin (1885 — 1943)

March 1936

John A. Coughlin was born in Chicago in 1885 and was educated at Notre Dame and the Art Institute of Chicago.  Like many of the artists of the pulp era, he got his start in advertising.  He first started painting covers in 1913 and, for the next thirty years, he was a busy illustrator.  Among his credits: The Popular and Detective Story, Argosy, Complete Stories, Detective Fiction Weekly, Detective Tales, Real Western, Short Stories, Top-Notch, and Wild West Weekly.  He was only 58 when he died in 1943 but he left behind a long legacy of pulp art.

Here is a sampling of Coughlin’s work.

September, 1924

September, 1926

May, 1929

April, 1931

May, 1931

September, 1931

October, 1932

August, 1933

October, 1933

August, 1934

February, 1936

October, 1937

August, 1938

Film Review: Running Red (dir by Jerry P. Jacobs)

I have to admit that I feel a little bit cheated by the 1999 film, Running Red.

I figured that, with a name like Running Red, the film would be about a redhead who did a lot of running.  Since I am a redhead that does a lot of running, I figured that I would be able to relate to this film.  Unfortunately, while it’s true that the film does feature a redhead, she doesn’t get to do much running.  In fact, she doesn’t really get to do much of anything.  Katherine (Angie Everhart) is mostly just there to support her husband, except for those moments that she thinks he’s cheating on him because he’s lied to her about being a former mercenary.

Her husband, who is played by Jeff Speakman, goes by the name of Greg.  He’s got a beard and he sells real estate and he has to go on a lot of business trips.  However, before he grew the beard, Greg’s name was Grigori and he was apparently a Russian even though, even in the flashbacks that open the film, he never had a Russian accent.  Grigori was a part of some sort of weird Russian military unit but he grew disgusted with the ruthlessness of the unit’s leader, Alexi (Stanley Kamel).  After one particularly brutal mission, Grigori dropped his submachine gun to the ground.  In the movie, this is shown to us in slow motion so we know what that this isn’t just a standard shot of a soldier carelessly dropping a loaded weapon.  No, this shot is significant.  This is the …. SLO MO OF DISILLUSIONMENT!

Anyway, a few years pass and Grigori is now Greg and he’s married to Katherine and they have a daughter.  When two meth addicts steal Greg’s SUV (with his daughter in the backseat), Greg promptly steals an ambulance and chases them down.  Using his Russian combat training, Greg beats up the two men.  He thinks that no one has seen him but it just so happens that some old busy body was outside with a video camera.  Greg makes the news!

Unfortunately, the news report is seen by Alexi.  Alexi tracks Greg down and demands that Greg help him out with a few more missions.  Wishing to protect his family, Greg agrees.  He winds up not only lying to his wife about why he suddenly has to go to Detroit but he also misses her high school reunion!  (She even had her old cheerleading outfit cleaned for the special occasion.)  Greg really should know better than to lie to a redhead.  He also should have known better than to think Alexi was ever going to leave him alone.  Greg soon discovers that Alexi isn’t going to be satisfied with just a few missions.  In fact, Alexi wants Greg to assassinate a city councilman who either supports or opposed the construction of a stadium.  To be honest, I kind of had a hard time keeping straight how everyone felt about the stadium.

It may seem as if the filmmakers weren’t that concerned with coming up with a coherent plot and that’s because they weren’t.  The entire film has a make-it-up-as-you-along feel to it.  That makes the plot impossible to follow but it also leads to a few moments that are so over-the-top and weird that you can’t help but kind of love then.  At one point, Jeff Speakman steals a bus and uses it for a high-speed chase.  A little later, he ends up getting into multiple fights on a luxury yacht.  I’m not sure who he was fighting or why they were fighting but it really didn’t matter.  All that matters is that most of the fights were well-choreographed and the action was quick-paced and didn’t have too many slow spots.  Jeff Speakman was a professional martial artist.  Judging by this film, he couldn’t act worth a damn but he could throw a convincing punch and he looked good hitting people.  It’s best not to demand too much from a film like this.  After all, Running Red never said it was going to be anything other than a silly action movie.

That said, I’m a bit disappointed that Katherine didn’t get to do more because, as played by Angie Everhart, she had the potential to be an interesting character and, like me, she was lucky enough to be one of the 2% of the population that has naturally red hair.  That said, Running Red is both frequently dumb and often entertaining.  It delivers what the majority of viewers will be watching it for (i.e., mindless action) and there’s something to be said for a film that is at peace with what it is.

On a personal note (and yes, I’m aware that it’s kind of silly for me to say that when all of my reviews are, more or less, personal notes), I watched Running Red on YouTube as a part of this week’s #MondayActionMovie live tweet.  The version that I saw featured French opening credits and the first few minutes of dialogue were also in French before abruptly switching over to English.  I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when everyone suddenly started speaking English.  I was looking forward to tweeting along in French!  Oh well!

Scenes I Love: Billy Jack Defends Children And Other Living Things

Today would have been the 91st birthday of Tom Laughlin, the independent film pioneer who gave the world Billy Jack.

In honor of the day of his birth, here’s a scene that I love from Billy Jack.  The townspeople think that they can get away with humiliating the students from the Freedom School.  Well, Billy Jack’s got something to say about that and, as always, it starts with him taking off his shoes.

Music Video of the Day: The Wicker Man by Iron Maiden (2012, directed by ????)

In the year 2000, Iron Maiden proved that they still had it with a song based on the movie The Wicker Man.  The song became one of their late career hits, earning the band another Grammy nomination.  This was the first song that the band rehearsed after the return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith.  Dickinson later said the song was an attempt to capture the feeling of being on stage and watching the audience chant along to what you’re singing.

This video features the band performing the song live in 2012, in Santiago, Chile.  An earlier video, which was released at the same time as the song and which was directed by Dean Karr, featured the band performing the song on a stage while a fire raged behind them.