Music Video Of The Day: I Love Rock N Roll by Arrows (1976, directed by ????)


Though everyone is probably most familiar with Joan Jett’s cover of the song, I Love Rock N Roll was originally recorded by a London-based group called Arrows.

Though Arrows were only together for three years (from 1974 to 1977), they were popular with British teenagers and they even had their own TV show on Granada Television, where they would play their own songs and introduce other acts.  This video for I Love Rock N Roll comes from that television show.  This is probably from the same episode of the show that Joan Jett saw in 1976 while she and the Runaways were on tour in the UK.  She liked the song so much that she covered it when she made her first solo album.  Her version, of course, went on to become a huge hit.

(As popular as they were in the UK, Arrows were basically unknown in the United States.  During the time they were together, they only performed in the U.S. once and that was for an episode of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in 1975.  When Jett released her version of I Love Rock N Roll, most American listeners were unaware that it was a cover.)

The song was written by Alan Merrill, who was the lead singer for Arrows.  Sadly, Merrill, who was sick with COVID-19, died on Sunday.  Today’s music video of the day is dedicated to his memory.

Fast-Walking (1982, directed by James B. Harris)


Frank Miniver (James Woods) is the prison guard that everyone calls Fast-Walking.  He’s involved in almost every vice that a man living in a small town in Oregon can be involved in.  He takes bribes.  He usually shows up for work stoned and what he doesn’t smoke, he sells to the prisoners and the other guards.  He’s got a second job, running a trailer park brothel behind his cousin’s general store.

Frank’s cousin, Wasco (Tim McIntire), has been incarcerated and he expects Frank to help him take over the prison.  At first, Frank has no problem working with Wasco and letting his cousin have free reign of the cell block.  Wasco has soon established himself as the most powerful man behind bars.  When a black power activist named Galliot (Robert Hooks) arrives at the prison, Wasco wants to arrange for him to be assassinated.  Meanwhile, Galliot has offered Frank even more money to help him escape from the prison.

While Frank tries to keep both sides happy and make off with some money for himself, he’s also sleeping with Wasco’s accomplice on the outside, Moke (Kay Lenz).  Originally, Wasco ordered Moke to seduce Frank in order to keep Frank in line but, as Moke and Frank’s relationship continues, Wasco starts to get jealous and starts plotting to put Frank back in his place.

Fast-Walking is a gritty film that features a good deal of dark humor.  Unfortunately, the film’s many different parts never really come together and the film never strikes the right balance between comedy and drama.   James Woods is perfectly cast as Frank and the underrated Kay Lenz does wonders with an underwritten role but Tim McIntire is a less than ideal Wasco.  McIntire was a good actor but, physically, he’s all wrong for a character who is supposed to be so intimidating that he can walk into a prison and automatically take it over.  Wasco is written and played as being such a cartoonish character that it’s difficult to take him or his plots seriously.  The movie works best when it’s just focuses of James Woods’s nervy performance and Frank’s attempts to keep the other prison guards (including M. Emmett Walsh) from discovering his own racket.

Guilty As Charged (1991, directed by Sam Irvin)


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Kalin (Rod Steiger) is a crazy old religious fanatic who is rich enough to own a meatpacking plant and hire goons to work for him.  Underneath the meatpacking plant, he has a secret prison and an electric chair that he uses to electrocute people who he feels have escaped justice.  Helping out Kalin is a crazy preacher, played by Isaac Hayes (!), who waxes philosophically about how much he loves the smell of burning flesh.

While Kalin and the gang are executing people below ground, parole officer Kimberly (Heather Graham) is above ground and wondering why so many ex-cons are mysteriously vanishing.  Kimberly is worried that someone may be executing them but then she gets distracted by a politician named Stanford (Lyman Ward).  Stanford wants Kimberly to work on his campaign because she looks like Heather Graham and he’s a sleazy politico.

Meanwhile, a man named Hamilton (Michael Beach) has escaped from prison.  Hamilton claims that he was framed for a murder that he didn’t commit but no one is willing to believe him.  However, Hamilton is telling the truth and the murder was actually committed by Stanford!  The only people who know that Stanford is the murderer are Stanford, his wife (Lauren Hutton!!), and his maid (Zelda Rubinstein!!!).

It all leads to one question: How did all of these talented people all end up in this crappy film!?

The strange thing about Guilty As Charged is that, even though the film is centered around the death penalty, the film itself doesn’t seem to have any opinion on the issue.  Kalin and his followers are crazy religious fanatics who claim that they’re doing God’s work by executing people and Hamilton is an innocent man who has been marked for death so you would think that the movie is against the death penalty.  But then, in a twist that makes no sense, Kalin reveals that he knows that Hamilton is innocent and he’s only using him to get to Stanford and suddenly, the film is for the death penalty.  Kimberly is worried that someone is targeting ex-cons but, by the end of the movie, she’s targeting ex-cons herself even though nothing’s happened that should have made her change her mind.

Guilty as Charged is technically a comedy, though most of the jokes are too thuddingly obvious to provoke even the slightest of a smile.  Hayes wins some laughs, just because he seems like he’s having fun.  Rod Steiger bellows as if he’s getting paid by the decibel and doesn’t seem to be having any fun at all.  Guilty as Charged isn’t funny and it’s not thought-provoking but at least it’s got Isaac Hayes.

Cinemax Friday: The Rowdy Girls (2000, directed by Steve Nevius)


When I started watching The Rowdy Girls, I had high hopes for it because it was a western starring two of my favorite actresses, Shannon Tweed and the late Julie Strain.

Unfortunately, that hope vanished as soon as I saw the words “Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz presents.”  Yes, The Rowdy Girls is a Troma film and it begins with the dreaded Troma skyline.  Even among connoisseurs of crappy films, the Troma logo is often considered to be troubled.  Lloyd Kaufman may be one of the most likable and interesting people working in the indie film world and he deserves credit for being a pioneer of sorts but he and his company are also famous for distributing films that are often so bad as to be nearly unwatchable.

Rowdy Girls takes place in 1886.  Shannon Tweed, Julie Strain, and Deanna Brooks play three different but often unclothed women who all end up on the same stagecoach.  Tweed plays Velvet McKeznie, a prostitute who is disguised as a nun because she’s just ripped off one of her clients.  Brooks plays Sarah Foster, who is trying to escape from an arranged marriage.  And finally, Julie Strain plays Mick, the ruthless girlfriend of the outlaw Billy Poke (Daniel Murray), who is about to hold up the stagecoach, kill the local sheriff, and take everyone hostage.  Fortunately, the dead sheriff’s brother is close by so he sets off in pursuit of the outlaws and their hostages.  Throughout it all, a minstrel (Mark Adams) wanders through the film, playing a guitar and singing songs about the women and the old west.  The film also uses old school title cards to inform us of certain plot developments, which would make more sense if the rest of the film was shot in any way like a silent western.

The Rowdy Girls is a cheap Troma production through-and-through but, when compared to some of the other films that Troma has forced on the world, it’s not that bad.  It’s a cheap and abysmally-paced film but, at the same time, it also features Shannon Tweed dressed like a nun and Julie Strain playing an evil, whip wielding outlaw.  This is not a film for anyone looking for a serious or believable western but fans of Shannon Tweed and Julie Strain will get their money’s worth.  Tweed even gets to do a little bit of serious acting, when Velvet explains to Sarah why she’s pretending to be a nun.  As always, Tweed proves herself to be better than her material.

 

The Octagon (1980, directed by Eric Karson)


A ninja named Seikura (Tadashi Yamashita) is running a training camp where he shows mercenaries and terrorists how they can use martial arts to assassinate their enemies and disrupt the political system.  Someone has to stop him.

This looks like a job for CHUCK NORRIS!

In this one, Chuck plays Scott James, a retired karate champion who, though a massive series of apparently unrelated coincidences, is drawn into the fight against Seikura’s terrorists.  (Speaking of coincidences, Seikura just happens to be Scott’s half-brother.)  One of the fun things about The Octagon is that there’s no real rhyme-or-reason as to how Scott gets involved.  He just keeps running into people who want him to fight terrorists.  His former mentor (played by Lee Van Cleef) tries to recruit him.  Immediately after turning him down, Scott just happens to run into a woman (Karen Carlson) who is having car trouble and the woman tries to recruit him.  Scott’s old friend, A.J. (Art Hindle) tries to recruit him.  Even a dancer (Kim Lankford) who goes out on a date with Scott is more interested in talking about the terrorists than anything else.  Even when the terrorists decide to go after Scott, it’s mostly just because he keeps talking to their enemies.

Scott does eventually get involved.  He goes undercover, which means that he gives everyone a fake last name while asking them if they know where he can sign up for the terrorist training camp.  (But he doesn’t shave his mustache or anything else so he’s still obviously Chuck Norris.)  Eventually, Aura (Carol Bagdasarian) defects from the terrorists over to Scott’s side and the two of them launch an assault on the terrorist camp.  While this is all going on, Scott has doubts about whether or not he can really defeat his half-brother and we hear them in voice over.  It’s an interesting attempt to show what’s going on in an action hero’s head but, because Chuck was such an inexpressive actor early in his career, the contrast between his worries and his stone face creates a strange effect.

It doesn’t matter, though, that Chuck wasn’t an expressive actor or that the film’s plot is needlessly convoluted.  The fight scenes are frequent and they all rock and that’s what really matters.  Chuck throws a lot of punches and kicks in this film and, as opposed to some of his other early films, the director of The Octagon made sure that we could see every single one of them.  Whether he’s fighting in a small hotel room and fighting off a dozen enemies in the terrorist camp, Chuck’s exciting to watch.  Also exciting to watch is Carol Bagdasarian, who makes her role more than the typical action movie love interest.  At times, she seems like she might even be a deadlier opponent than Chuck himself!

Finally, Lee Van Cleef!  In this one, he drives a truck with a “Have You Hugged Your Gun Today?” bumper sticker.  No film featuring Lee Van Cleef can be that bad.  In fact, most, like The Octagon, are pretty damn entertaining.

Cobra (1986, directed by George Pan Cosmatos)


“You’re the disease.  I’m the cure.”

When a madman pulls out a gun in the middle of a supermarket, he starts out by firing at the produce department.  He doesn’t shoot at anyone who works in the produce department.  Instead, in slow motion, he blows away cabbages and apples.  Then he shoots a shopping cart.  He finally gets around to shooting one innocent bystander after telling him to walk down an aisle.

Outside the supermarket, a 1950 Mercury Monterey Coupe pulls up.  The personalized license plate reads Awsum 50.  The car’s driver (Sylvester Stallone) steps out of the car.  His name is Lt. Cobretti but everyone calls him Cobra.  Detective Monte (Andy Robinson, who played the killer in Dirty Harry) tells Cobra to stay out of it.  Cobra ignores him and goes into the store.

The guman raves that he’s a part of the “new world.”

“You wasted a kid for nothing,” Cobra says.  “Now, I think it’s time to waste you.”

And then Cobra does just that.

After getting yelled at by his superiors, Cobra drives back to his apartment, throws away his mail, and uses a pair of scissors as an eating utensil.  Just another day in the life of Cobra.

If you hadn’t already guessed, Cobra is the ultimate Sylvester Stallone-in-the-80s Cannon film.  In 1985, Stallone could do any film that he wanted to and, even if he wasn’t the director, the job was usually given to someone who wouldn’t stand in the way of letting Sly achieve his vision.  (That vision usually involved Stallone getting all of the good shots while everyone else dove for cover.)  Stallone is credited as the writer of Cobra and whatever else you can say about the man and his films, Stallone the screenwriter knew exactly what Stallone the actor was good at.  There’s not much meaningful dialogue in Cobra and most of it is made up of either Stallone threatening to shoot people or characters like the Night Slasher (Brian Thompson) bragging about how Cobra can’t touch him because of the constitution.  There is more intentional humor in Cobra than I think most people realize and there are a few scenes that only make sense if you accept that Stallone was poking fun of his own monosyllabic image.  For the most part, though, Cobra is nonstop violence from beginning to end.

Amazingly, Cobra started out as Beverly Hills Cops.  Before Eddie Murphy was cast as Axel Foley, Beverly Hills Cop was briefly meant to be a Sylvester Stalllone film.  Stallone, however, rewrote the script and took out most of the humor.  After the film’s producers reminded Stallone that they were trying to make a comedy, Stallone left the project and most of his ideas ended up in the script for Cobra.  The film features a murderous cult, led by the knife-wielding Night Slasher, that is determined to destroy anyone who they think is standing in the way of the “new world.”  Only Cobra can both stop them and also protect the life of their latest target, a model named Ingrid Knudsen (Brigitte Nielsen).  It’s hard to imagine Eddie Murphy dealing with any of this but it’s perfect for Stallone.

Cobra is a live-action cartoon and Cobra’s battle with the Night Slasher should be taken as seriously as He-Man’s battles with Skeletor.  The Night Slasher has no motivation beyond just being evil, Cobra never runs out of bullets or takes even a piece of shrapnel despite having hundreds of cultists shooting at him, and there’s an extended sequence where Ingrid poses with life-size robots.  Cobra chews on a toothpick and wears dark glasses and that’s all the personality he needs.  After all, crime is the disease and he’s the cure.

 

Tom Horn (1980, directed by William Wiard)


Today would have been Steve McQueen’s 90th birthday.

Sadly, McQueen died in 1980 at the absurdly young age of 50.  In life, McQueen never got as much respect as he deserved as an actor but in death, he’s been rediscovered as not just an icon of cool but also as an underrated actor who, much like Clint Eastwood, could say a lot without uttering a word.  (Be sure to read Marshall Terrill’s biography of McQueen.)  When Steve McQueen (as played by Damian Lewis) showed up in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, it seemed appropriate.  McQueen and Tarantino both seem made for each other, even if McQueen died long before Tarantino even wrote his first screenplay.

McQueen made two films shortly before he died, The Hunter and Tom Horn. Unfortunately, neither one of them was a hit with audiences or critics.  The Hunter, which was McQueen’s last film, is a forgettable movie that features McQueen as a bounty hunter who can’t drive.  Tom Horn, however, was an underrated western that features one of McQueen’s best performances.

In Tom Horn, McQueen plays the title character, a legendary frontier scout who is known for the role he played in the capture of Geronimo.  When the film opens, Tom Horn has seen better days.  With the frontier changing and the old west being replaced by the modern age, Horn has been reduced to being almost a vagrant, wandering from town to town in search of work.  When the film begins, Horn has found employment as a “stock detective.”  He’s employed by the local cattlemen to keep rustlers from stealing their stock.  Horn uses the same violent methods that he’s always used, gunning down rustlers and often doing so in public.  What Horn doesn’t realize is that times have changed and the methods that previously made him a legend are now making him a pariah.  When the cattlemen realize that the townspeople are turning against them because of Horn’s activities, they conspire to take out Horn themselves.

Tom Horn is based on a true story.  In 1903, Tom Horn was hung for shooting a 15 year-old boy.  While it is agreed that Horn killed many men over the course of his life, he was undoubtedly framed for the murder for which he was executed.  While sitting in his jail cell, waiting to be executed, Horn wrote the autobiography upon which this movie is based.  The movie makes the argument that Horn was executed because he was a reminder of what the West used to be like.  In order to prove that they were now ready to be members of civilized society, the cattleman had to sacrifice Horn in the most public way possible.

The film does a good job of capturing the final days of the old west and Steve McQueen does an even better job of playing a man who doesn’t realize that his time has come to a close.  Horn often seems to be the only man who doesn’t understand that the time of outlaws and the gunslingers is coming to a close and that leaves him defenseless when he’s put on trial.  Even after found guilty, Horn remains confident that he will somehow escape the hangman’s noose.  Tragically, it’s not until time is up that Horn truly comes to understand that the world has changed and civilization no longer has place for men like him.  The same people who used to depend on men like Tom Horn now just want to forget that he ever existed.  McQueen took a long break between making The Towering Inferno and Tom Horn and dropped out of the public eye.  The only film he made during that period was a barely released version of Enemy of the People.  When McQueen made Tom Horn, he was also a man out of time and he brings a sense of resignation and loss to the role that he might not have been capable of doing earlier in his career.

Sadly, it was while filming Tom Horn that McQueen first started to show symptoms of the cancer that would eventually kill him.  Tom Horn was released in 1980 and never got the attention that it deserved.  It’s a minor western classic and features Steve McQueen at his best.