Vigilante (1982, directed by William Lustig)

The year is 1982 and New York City has gone to Hell.  While honest, hard-working people try to make a living and take care of their families, the streets are ruled by gangs and drug dealers.  The police and the legal system impotent in the face of intimidation and corruption.  Maybe it’s time for the citizens to take the streets back, by force if necessary.

That’s what Nick (Fred Williamson) and most of his friends believe.  Eddie Marino (Robert Forster) disagrees.  He says that people taking the law into their own hands will just lead to more violence and death.  The vigilantes will become just a bloodthirsty as the criminals.  While Eddie is debating policy with Nick, Eddie’s wife (Rutanya Alda) is threatening to call the police on a Che Guevara look-alike who she spots trying to set a gas station attendant on fire.  Eddie’s wife is stabbed.  His son is killed.  And when the man responsible is allowed to walk by a crooked judge, Eddie’s courtroom outburst leads to him being sent to jail.

Eddie spends 30 days in jail, fighting off predators and befriending a mysterious inmate named Rake (Woody Strode).  When Eddie is finally released, his traumatized wife no longer wants to be married to him but Eddie has found a new purpose in life.  Working with Nick, Eddie tracks down and murders the men who have destroyed his family.

One of the many films to be inspired by the success and enduring popularity of the original Death Wish, Vigilante is a classic of its kind.  Director William Lustig wastes no time in establishing New York City as being a graffiti-decorated war zone where good is fighting a losing war against evil and most of the victims are just innocent bystanders.  The New York of Vigilante looks even worse than it did in Lustig’s previous film, Maniac.  (Maniac’s Joe Spinell plays one a crooked lawyer in Vigilante.)  The action is brutal and bloody.  While Forster fights for his life in prison, the people who killed his son are allowed to run free.  It’s not subtle but, by the time Forster finally walks out of jail, you’ll be more than on his side and ready to see him get his revenge.  With his trademark intensity, Robert Forster is believable as someone who goes from aborhing to violence to being a stone cold killer who doesn’t even flinch when he shoots a defenseless man.  As Nick, Fred Williamson is his usual confident self.  Williamson may not have much range as an actor but he has such a forceful screen presence that he dominates any scene in which he appears.

Vigilante is a grim film, with Eddie ultimately going further than almost any other screen vigilante before him.  It’s also a deeply satisfying film because it appeals to everyone’s desire for revenge.  In the real world, vigilantes are often as dangerous as the people they’re trying to keep off the streets.  In the movies, though, they’re easy to root for.  They present easy and direct solutions to complex problems.  Even a film as dark as Vigilante works as a sort of wish fulfillment.  With crime on the rise and the constant news reports about innocent victims who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s easy to root for Nick and Eddie as it once was for Paul Kersey.

Retro Television Review: Hang Time 1.7 “Let’s Get Ready To Rumble” and 1.8 “The Candidate”

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Mondays, I will be reviewing Hang Time, which ran on NBC from 1995 to 2000.  The entire show is currently streaming on YouTube!

The season continues!

I hate to say it but this terrible theme song is starting to get stuck in my head.  Takin’ my shot …. something something something …. Hang Time …. flying like glockmock …. running with big screen tee ayyy …. Hang Time …. okay, those may not by the exact lyrics but that’s what it sounds like to me.

Episode 1.7 “Let’s Get Ready To Rumble”

(Directed by Howard Murray, originally aired on October 21st, 1995)

Just in case the viewer needed a reminder that this show is from the mid-90s, this episode opens with Sam lustfully comparing her boyfriend, Danny, to Mel Gibson.  Needless to say, Danny looks nothing like Mel Gibson but, at the same time, it also seems like he’s a bit more emotionally stable so I guess it all works out in the end.

This episode was all about relationships.  Mary Beth’s frustration with Chris’s refusal to act like a rich snob led to her being tempted by her childhood friend Charles Landingham (Trey Alexander).  Apparently, Charles used to be overweight but now he’s lost the weight and he wears a sweater over his shoulders and Mary Beth accepts a kiss from him.  Unfortunately, Julie sees Mary Beth kissing Charles and she now has a dilemma.  Should she tell Chris the truth or not?  Considering that Mary Beth and Charles are an adorable couple, a true friend would be encouraging them to get together.

Meanwhile, all the boys head over to Coach Fuller’s house to watch a Mike Tyson fight.  Unfortunately, this means that Danny has to break his regularly scheduled date with Sam.  He claims to be sick and then heads over to Fuller’s house.  However, Sam shows up at the house and it turns out that she’s a fight fan as well!  She gets so into the Tyson fight that she forgets to slap Danny for lying to her in the first place.

Eventually, Mary Beth tells Chris the truth and they have the most peaceful break-up ever.  They agree to be friends, which frees Chris up to date Julie.  It’ll be a relationship based not only on basketball but also the sound of the audience applauding every time one of them gets the ball in the basket.

As I’ve said before, Mary Beth is the only character to whom I can relate on this show because she’s the only character who doesn’t spend all of her time talking about basketball and who shops whenever she gets upset.  This was a good Mary Beth episode and it was the first to really give Megan Parlen a chance to show off her comedic skills.  Still, it’s hard not to be disappointed at how predictably the Chris and Julie relationship is playing out.  It seems obvious that Chris and Julie are going to be a fairly boring couple.  What are they going to do after basketball season ends?

Episode 1.8 “The Candidate”

(Directed by Howard Murray, originally aired on October 28th, 1995)

Mary Beth is running for school president on a platform of doing away with the Future Farmer’s Club and replacing it with the Gold Card Girls Club.  “Membership will be open to anyone, as long as you’re a girl, you have a gold card, and we all like you,” Mary Beth explains.  Having been profoundly moved by reading The Grapes of Wrath for English class, Michael runs against Mary Beth on a platform of saving the Future Farmer’s Club.  (Doesn’t this show take place in Indiana?  Isn’t every student at the school a member of the Future Farmer’s Club by default?)  Danny manages Mary Beth’s campaign.  Sam manages Michael’s campaign.  “I’m running on the issues,” Michael announces.

Oh, get over yourself.  It’s a student council election.  Saved By The Bell, California Dreams, and City Guys all featured the same stupid storyline.  So did Boy Meets World, if I remember correctly.  (“Hold on,” Topagna announced, “we still need to do something about the black mold in the cafeteria!”  Isn’t that the job of the adults?)  Eventually, after all of the usual nonsense that always happens in episodes about student council elections, Michael is elected but declines to accept the office because he’s ashamed of his campaign.  Mary Beth becomes president but promises to be the type of president that “Tom Joad would be proud of.”  Good luck with that.  IT’S JUST THE FREAKING STUDENT COUNCIL, PEOPLE!

While the school picks a new president, Chris and Julie continue their painfully dull courtship and Coach Fuller looks for date to a wedding.  Chris and Julie finally kissed at the end of the episode.  “Woooo,” the audience dutifully responded but even they didn’t sound particularly excited about it.

Anyway, this episode is almost as dumb as suggesting that a high school student is going to be obsessed with John Steinbeck.  To Hell with your grapes of wrath!

Book Review: The KGB Candidate by Owen Sela

Two weeks ago, I returned to my project of going through all of the paperbacks that I inherited from my aunt and I read The KGB Candidate.

(My aunt, by the way, is fine.  She just moved to a new place and couldn’t take all of her books with her.)

Published in 1988, The KGB Candidate is a brisk read.  It opens with CIA agent Drew Ellis losing most of his men and his lover in Germany and then switches focus to the United States and a presidential election.  Looking to continue their time in the White House, the Republicans have nominated  a decent candidate who happens to be named after Abraham Lincoln but everyone knows that the Democrats have got the momentum.  However, the Democrats also have several candidates competing for the spot at the top of the ticket and, as the convention approaches, none of them has won enough delegates to claim the nomination outright.

Who will win the nomination?  Will it be the woman who announces early on that she has no interest in being vice president?  Will it be the veteran civil rights activist?  How about the dour, bow-tie wearing academic, the one who speaks about nuclear disarmament?  Will it be the veteran politician, the one who feels that it’s his turn to run?  Or will it be the young and charismatic dark horse, the one who no one initially gave much of a chance but who stunned the establishment by becoming a contender?

It’s an important question, not just because the winner of the nomination will probably win the election but also because one of the candidates is secretly pro-Russian!  KGB agent Boris Pomarev is determined to get his candidate into the White House.  He’s even stolen a computer program that can correctly predict how people are going to vote and what answers a candidate should give to the tough questions of the day.  However, Pomarev is responsible for the death of Drew Ellis’s team.  Along with wanting to protect democracy, Ellis is looking for revenge….

The KGB Candidate was an entertaining read.  Author Owen Sela does a good job with the action scenes and the characters are memorable without being particularly deep.  I have to admit that I was amused by the debate scene, in which all of the potential KGB candidates introduced themselves to the convention delegates.  Each candidate represented a different stereotype that most readers would associate with the Democratic Party and the American Left and one gets the feeling that Sela wasn’t particularly impressed with any of them.  Of course, in real life, there’s very little chance of any of us ever seeing a contested convention.  The primary system is designed to force each party to quickly coalesce around whoever has the momentum.  Still, contested conventions are always fun to read about.

For me, the most interesting part of the book dealt with the computer program that could predict who would win the election.  In the book, everyone is shocked that a program could do such a thing and I guess, in 1988, it might have been a shocking idea.  But today, that’s the sort of thing that people take for granted.  I remember that, all through 2016, all I heard was that Hillary Clinton was guaranteed to win because her entire campaign was based on data analysis and algorithms.  At the time, I thought that was kind of a hubristic way to run things and it turned out that I was right.  I also felt it was a bit of a depressing way to look at the world, if just because it assumed that people would always behave in the same way and that it wasn’t even necessary to actually listen to the voters or even ask for their votes.  Algorithms have their place but, in the end, people are more than just data points.

Here’s The Trailer For Smile

To be absolutely honest, I would probably be dismissive of the trailer for Smile if not for the effort that Paramount Pictures has put into promoting this damn thing.  Apparently, this weekend, they sent people out to sporting events and had them sit motionlessly in the stands and smile for the entire game.  Not only did it look creepy but it probably ruined the experience of everyone who was sitting near them.  Of course, the people sitting near them actually paid money to get good seats for the game.  Imagine spending a few hundred dollars, just to have to deal with this:

Or this:

I mean, seriously, that’s a bold move!  I thought re-releasing Morbius just because people on twitter were making fun of it was going to be the boldest studio move of 2022 but Paramount might take the title.  Now that we’ve annoyed you, come see our movie.  That’s an interesting gimmick.

Anyway, here’s the final trailer for Smile.  The movie comes out on the 30th.

HBO showcases The Last of Us Teaser Trailer!

Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us was one of the first modern videogames to gain my younger cousin’s interest in playing. Although I finished it the normal difficulty, she was able to complete it on its hardest settings and went on to continue with the sequel. So, we’ve been looking forward to HBO’s Live Action adaptation. What I didn’t realize was that Craig Mazin was involved in this, whose work on Chernobyl was amazing. Mazin is handling the writing along with the original author, Neil Druckman.

The Last of Us takes place in a world torn apart, where Joel & Ellie (Pedro Pascal & Bella Ramsey, both featured in Game of Thrones) have a difficult mission to accomplish. The show looks as if it’s keeping most of the elements from the game. The Fireflies and the Clickers, they’re all there. The cast listing even includes some of the voice cast from the game. I’m curious to see how they’ll incorporate that into this.

The Last of Us is set to premiere next year, on HBO and HBO Max.

Film Review: I Came By (dir by Babak Anvari)

In this British crime thriller, George McKay plays Toby Nealy, a self-styled revolutionary who breaks into the homes of the very rich and paints “I Came By” on their walls.  His actions have made the I Came By Tagger something of an underground legend but no one knows his true identity.  In the real world, Toby is 23 years old and still lives at home with his long-suffering mother, a psychologist named Lizzie (Kelly MacDonald).  Toby’s best friend and partner-in-activism, Jay (Perecelle Ascot), wants to retire from tagging and devote his time to repairing his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend.

Still, Toby is determined to continue with his activities.  His latest target is Hector Blake (Hugh Bonneville), a retired judge who has a reputation for being a progressive but who Toby suspects is actually a hypocrite.  (Toby notices that Blake has an ivory sculpture in his home and that’s all it takes to convince him that Blake is being insincere.)  Working alone, Toby breaks into Blake’s home and discovers that not only does Blake have nice taste in furniture but he also has a half-naked man chained up in the basement.

Unfortunately, try as he might, Toby can’t get anyone to believe him.  Jay is too busy with his personal problems.  Lizzie, who doesn’t know about her son’s secret life as a graffiti artist, is upset that Toby doesn’t seem to understand how much privilege he has compared to the rest of the world.  Toby makes an anonymous call to the police but, when they visit Blake’s home, they don’t find his torture dungeon.  Besides, Blake is a respected member of the establishment and everyone also knows that Blake has been outspoken in his defense of refugees.  Why would he have a man chained up in his home?

Though the film starts with Toby and his discovery of Blake’s crimes, the action is evenly divided between him, Lizzie, and Jay.  All three of them are drawn into investigating Blake.  Toby is outraged but he soon discovers that trying to expose Blake is far more dangerous and difficult than just spraying a pithy slogan on the wall.  Lizzie goes from believing in the system to discovering that the system only exists to protect certain people and, unfortunately, neither she nor her son are considered to be among them.  Meanwhile, Jay is very much aware that, as a black man, investigating Blake will be even more dangerous for him than it will be for Toby and his mother.

It’s an interesting idea and Hugh Bonneville is appropriately sinister as Blake.  Indeed, while watching the film, it was hard not to think about the number of rich, self-declared “progressives” who have recently been exposed as exploiting those who they claim to be helping.  (Hector Blake has much in common with Ed Buck.)  Unfortunately, as intriguing as the idea may be, the execution is lacking.  This is one of those films that would have worked well as a compact, 80-minute B film but instead, I Came By runs for nearly two hours.  The action unfolds at a slow pace and the story is told with a heavy hand, as if the filmmakers were worried that the man chained in the basement would not be enough to convince us that Hector Blake was an evil dude.  When Hector first appears, he’s grimly listening to Henry Purcell’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, a detail that will immediately remind most viewers of the opening of A Clockwork Orange.  A word of advice to all filmmakers: Don’t invite comparisons to Stanley Kubrick unless you’re sure you can back them up.

The Adventures of the Masked Detective

From 1940 to 1943, Rex Parker starred in his own pulp magazine!  He wore a mask and he was a detective so, of course, he was known as the Masked Detective.  On a quarterly basis, he battled criminals and spies and saved kidnapped women.  He was a popular detective but not even he could survive the World War II paper shortage.  Though his magazine was discontinued in 1943, Rex will live forever on the covers.

Here are a few of the adventures of Rex Parker.  When known, the artist has been credited.

Fall, 1940, by Jerome Rozen

Winter, 1941, artist unknown

Spring 1941, artist unknown

Summer, 1941, by Milton Luros

1941, December, Artist Unknown

Spring, 1942, artist unknown

Summer, 1942, artist unknown

Fall, 1942, by Milton Luros

Spring 1943, artist unknown

Winter 1943, artist unknown

Monday Live Tweet Alert: Join Us For Exterminators of the Year 3000 and Police Academy!

As some of our regular readers undoubtedly know, I am involved in hosting a few weekly live tweets on twitter.  I host #FridayNightFlix every Friday, I co-host #ScarySocial on Saturday, and I am one of the five hosts of #MondayActionMovie!  Every week, we get together.  We watch a movie.  We tweet our way through it.

Tonight, for #MondayActionMovie, the film will be 1983’s Exterminators of the Year 3000!  Selected and hosted by me, this Italian film is one of the many rip-offs of Mad Max to come out in the 80s.  It’s non-stop action, with a futuristic motorcycle gang trying to control a world where rain is unknown!  The movie starts at 8 pm et!  Here’s the playlist!

Following #MondayActionMovie, Brad and Sierra will be hosting the #MondayMuggers live tweet.  We will be watching 1984’s Police Academy, the classic comedy that inspired a franchise!  The film is available on Netflix!

It should make for a night of fun viewing and I invite all of you to join in.  If you want to join the live tweets, just hop onto twitter, start the Exterminators of the Year 3000 playlist  at 8 pm et, and use the #MondayActionMovie hashtag!  Then, at 10 pm et, start Police Academy, and use the #MondayMuggers hashtag!  The live tweet community is a friendly group and welcoming of newcomers so don’t be shy.  And reviews of these films will probably end up on this site at some point over the next few weeks. 

Music Video of the Day: Reach Out For Me by Olivia Newton-John (1989, directed by ????)

Today would have been Olivia Newton-John’s 74th birthday.  Today’s music video of the day is for Newton-John’s cover of the song Reach Out For Me, which appeared on her fourteenth studio album, Warm and Tender.  As an album, Warm and Tender was a mix of cover turns and children’s lullabies.  That is a theme that is certainly present in this music video.