A Movie A Day #227: Silk Degrees (1994, directed by Armand Garabidian)


Actress Alex Ramsey (Deborah Shelton) may have become a star as a result of playing the lead role in a cop show but she still worries that her show is not realistic enough.  When a fight with her director (Gilbert Gottfried) leads to her walking off the set for the hundredth time, Alex stumbles across a real-life murder.  Now being chased by terrorists and gun smugglers, Alex is forced to go into hiding.  FBI agent Baker (Marc Singer) is assigned to protect her but how can he hide one of the most famous women in America, especially one who does not appreciate being told what to do? Making things even worse, there is a traitor in the bureau.  Shelton is going to have to use all of her tv crime-fighting skills to survive.

Though it featured enough Deborah Shelton nudity to win it a place in the regular Skinemax rotation, Silk Degrees is basically a standard 90s direct-to-video action film but it has a cast that will be appreciated by any B-move fan.  Along with Body Double‘s Shelton, Beastmaster’s Marc Singer, and everything’s Gilbert Gottfried, Silk Degrees also features Charles Napier as Singer’s boss, Mark Hamill as Singer’s partner, and Katherine Armstong as a duplicitous femme fatale.  The main villain is played by singer Michael Des Barres.  Even Adrienne Barbeau shows up in a tiny role!  Silk Degrees is not a great movie but with a cast like this, it does not have to be.

A Movie A Day #226: Citizen X (1995, directed by Chris Gerolmo)


How do you solve a crime in a society that refuses to admit that crime exists?

That is the dilemma faced by Viktor Burakov (Stephen Rea) in the fact-based film, Citizen X.  Burakov is a forensic expert in the Soviet Union.  In 1982, when a dead body is found on a collective farm, Burakov is assigned to investigate.  When seven more bodies are discovered, Burakov is convinced that he is dealing with a serial killer.  The problem is that the official Soviet position is that crime and, especially, serial murder are a product of western decadence.  With his superiors refusing to accept that a serial killer could be active in the USSR, Burakov is driven to the point of insanity as he both tries to stop the murders and keep his job.  Fortunately, he has the Machiavellian Col. Fetisov (Donald Sutherland) on his side but, even with Fetisov’s protection, Burakov is no closer to tracking down the murderer.

Citizen X is based on the crimes of Andrei Chikatilo.  From 1978 to 1990, Chikatilo committed at least 57 murders, with several of his victims being young children.  Though many were suspicious of him, Chikatilo was protected by both his membership in the Communist party and the government’s refusal to allow most of his crimes to be publicly reported.  It was only during the reforms of Perestroika that authorities were allowed to thoroughly investigate Chikatilo’s crimes.  Chikatilo was arrested in 1992 and executed, via a gunshot to the back of his head, in 1994.  In Citizen X, Chikatilo is played by Jeffrey DeMunn, who gives a very good and disturbingly plausible performance as the monstrous killer.

Made for HBO, Citizen X is a low-key but thought-provoking recreations of not just Chikatilo’s crimes but the atmosphere that allowed him to go undetected,  Along with DeMunn, both Rea and Sutherland give great performances.  (Sutherland won an Emmy.)  Max Von Sydow also appears, playing a psychologist who is given the unenviable task of trying to enter Chikatilo’s mind.

A Movie A Day #225: Behind The Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Mork & Mindy (2005, directed by Neil Fearnley)


The year is 1978.  A television producer named Garry Marshall (Daniel Roebuck) teaches America how to laugh again by casting Pam Dawber (Erinn Hayes) and a hyperactive stand-up comedian named Robin Williams (Chris Diamantopoulos) in a sitcom about an alien struggling to understand humanity.  Despite constant network interference, the show makes Robin a star but, with stardom, comes all the usual temptations: lust, gluttony, greed, pride, envy, wrath, and John Belushi.

The Behind The Camera films, which all dramatized the behind the scenes drama of old television shows, were briefly a big thing in the mid-aughts.  Because they were lousy, they never got good reviews but they did get good ratings from nostalgia-starved baby boomers and gen xers.  I think The Unauthorized Mork & Mindy Story was the last one produced.  It probably would have been better if there had been any sort of drama going on behind-the-scenes of Mork & Mindy but, according to this movie, everyone got along swimmingly.  Williams may get hooked on cocaine but the film squarely puts the blame for that on John Belushi.  The script, which was obviously written with one eye on avoiding getting sued, is sanitized of anything that could have reflected badly on anyone who was still alive when the movie aired.

Stuck with unenviable task of having to play one of the most famous people in the world, Chris Diamantopoulos was not terrible as Robin Williams.  Considering how sanitized the script was, not terrible is probably the best that could be hoped for.  There was not much of a physical resemblance but Diamantopoulos nailed the voice and some of the mannerisms.  Erinn Hayes looks like Pam Dawber but, just as in the actual show, the movie gives her the short end of the stick and focuses on Williams.

For aficionados of bad television, this is mostly memorable for Daniel Roebuck’s absolutely terrible performance as Garry Marshall and a scene in which Williams is heckled in a comedy club but an overweight man who steps out of the shadows and announces that he’s John Belushi!  Roebuck’s performance as Garry Marshall begins and end with his attempt to impersonate Marshall’s familiar voice.  He was much better cast as Jay Leno in The Night Shift.  As for Belushi , since he was not around to sue or otherwise defend himself, the movie goes all out to portray Belushi (who was played by Tyler Labine) as being an almost demonic influence on Williams.   The film’s portrayal of Belushi is even worse and probably more inaccurate than Wired and that’s saying something!

To quote Mork himself: Shazbot!  This movie is full of it.

A Movie A Day #224: Armed and Dangerous (1986, directed by Mark L. Lester)


John Candy and Eugene Levy make a great team in the underrated comedy, Armed and Dangerous.

John Candy plays Frank Dooley, a member of the LAPD.  One of the first scenes of the movie is Frank climbing up a tree to save a little boy’s kitten and then getting stuck in the tree himself.  When Frank discovers two corrupt detectives stealing televisions, Frank is framed for the theft and kicked off the force.

Eugene Levy plays Norman Kane, a lawyer whose latest client is a Charles Manson-style cult leader who has a swastika carved into his head.  After being repeatedly threatened with murder, Norman asks for a sidebar and requests that the judge sentence his client to life in prison.  The judge agrees on the condition that Norman, whom he describes as being “the worst attorney to ever appear before me,” find a new line of work.

Frank and Norman end up taking a one day training course to act as security guards and are assigned to work together by their tough by sympathetic supervisor (Meg Ryan!).  Assigned to guard a pharmaceutical warehouse, Frank and Norman stumble across a robbery.  The robbery leads them to corruption inside their own union and, before you can say 80s cop movie, Frank and Norman are ignoring the orders of their supervisors and investigating a crime that nobody wants solved.

Armed and Dangerous was one of the many comedy/cop hybrid films of the 1980s.  Like Beverly Hills Cop, it features Jonathan Banks as a bad guy.  Like the recruits in Police Academy, all of Frank and Norman’s fellow security guards are societal misfits who are distinguished by one or two eccentricities.  There is nothing ground-breaking about Armed and Dangerous but Mark Lester did a good job directing the movie and the team of Candy and Levy (who has previously worked together on SCTV) made me laugh more than a few times.

Armed and Dangerous was originally written to be a vehicle for John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.  It’s easy to imagine Belushi and Aykroyd in the lead roles but I think the movie actually works better with Candy and Levy, whose comedic style was similar to but far less aggressive than that of Belushi and Aykroyd.  One of the reasons that Armed and Dangerous works is because John Candy and Eugene Levy seem like the two last people to ever find themselves in a shootout or a car chase.  With Belushi and Aykroyd, it would have been expected.  After all, everyone’s seen The Blues Brothers.

 

A Movie A Day #223: The Texas Rangers (1936, directed by King Vidor)


Sam (Lloyd Nolan), Jim (Fred MacMurray), and Wahoo (Jack Oakie) are three outlaws in the old west.  Wahoo works as a stagecoach driver and always lets Sam and Jim know which coaches will be worth holding up.  It’s a pretty good scam until the authorities get wise to their scheme and set out after the three of them.  Sam abandons his two partners while Jim and Wahoo eventually end up in Texas.  At first, Jim and Wahoo are planning to keep on robbing stagecoaches but then they realize that they can make even more money as Texas Rangers.

At first, Jim and Wahoo are just planning on sticking around long enough to make some cash and then split.  However, both of them discover that they prefer to be on the right side of the law.  After they save a boy named David from Indians, Jim and Wahoo decide to stay in Texas and protect its settlers.

The only problem is that their old friend Sam has returned and his still on the wrong side of the law.

Made to commemorate the Texas centenary (though it was filmed in New Mexico), The Texas Rangers is a good example of what’s known as an oater, a low-budget but entertaining portrayal of life on the frontier.   King Vidor does a good job with the action scenes and Fred MacMuarry and Jack Oakie are a likable onscreen team.  The best performance comes from Lloyd Nolan, as the ruthless and calculating Sam.  Sam can be funny and even likable but when he’s bad, he’s really bad.

Jack Oakie was better known as a comedian and The Texas Rangers provides him with a rare dramatic role.  Four years after appearing in The Texas Rangers, Oakie would appear in his most famous role, playing a parody of Benito Mussolini in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

A Movie A Day #222: Secret Service of the Air (1939, directed by Noel M. Smith)


When a secret service agent’s investigation into a supposed counterfeiting ring instead leads to him discovering a plot to smuggle illegal aliens into the United States via airplanes, the agent ends up plummeting several hundred miles to his death.  Realizing that they need someone who can go undercover and infiltrate the smuggling ring, the Secret Service recruits Lt. Brass Bancroft (Ronald Reagan).  Bancroft is a war hero who is now a commercial airline pilot.  He is also good with his fists, has an innate sense of right and wrong, and a sidekick named Gabby (Eddie Foy Jr., giving a very broad performance as the movie’s comic relief).  But before Brass can win the trust of the smugglers, he will have to establish a firm cover story and that means allowing himself to be arrested on fake charges.  In order to save the day, Brass will have to first survive prison.

If Secret Service of the Air is remembered today, it is because it featured future President Ronald Reagan in an early starring role.  In the role of Brass Bancroft, Reagan gives a performance that can be best described as being amiable.  He may not be anyone’s idea of a good actor but he is likable, a trait that served him well when, 26 years later, he ran for governor of California.  As for the rest of the movie, it was obviously cheaply made but it is also only an hour long, which means that there is rarely time for a dull moment.  It plays out like as serial, with a new cliffhanger ever few minutes.  Though Reagan was dismissive in the film in his autobiography, Secret Service of the Air was enough of an unexpected success that he would play Brass Bancroft is two sequels.

A Movie A Day #221: Scorned (1994, directed by Andrew Stevens)


“In an hour, I promise, you’ll be able to beg in two languages.” — Patricia (Shannon Tweed) in Scorned

If anyone could pull that line off, it would be Shannon Tweed at the height of her Skinemax stardom!

In Scorned, Shannon plays Patricia, the beautiful wife of executive Truman Langley (Daniel McVicar).  Truman is desperate to land the Wainwright account, thinking it could be the key to getting a huge promotion.  To help him out, Patricia sleeps with Mason Wainwright (Stephen Young).  Truman gets the account but Alex Weston (Andrew Stevens, who also directed) gets the promotion.  After Truman kills himself, Patricia shows up at the Weston house, disguised as a tutor for their son, Robey (Michael D. Arenz).  Like clockwork, Patricia seduces not just Alex and Robey but Marina Weston (Kim Morgan Greene) as well.

Of the many direct-to-video films that Andrew Stevens and Shannon Tweed made together in the 90s, Scorned is one of the best.  Of course, Shannon Tweed looks good.  Of all the regular 90s direct-to-video vixens, Shannon was the sexiest.  What is often forgotten is that Shannon could also actually act and she shows that here with her ferocious performance.  Andrew Stevens does a good job too, giving an above average performance and, as a director, staying out of Shannon’s way.  He knows that everyone watching the movie is watching to see Shannon and this film does not disappoint.

It does stretch credibility that no one in the household realizes that Shannon is trying to destroy them but, then again, what parents would actually hire their hormonal, teenage son a live-in tutor who looks like this?

It is all about maintaining a healthy suspension of disbelief.