A Blast From The Past: Lucy (dir by Paul Glickman)

In the picture above, you can see Lucy (played by Olga Soler), the title character of the 1975 educational short, Lucy.  Lucy is 15 years old and she spends almost all of her time with her boyfriend, Joe (Michael D’Emidio).  As Lucy herself explains her narration (which is provided by an actress named Marilyn Gold), her entire life revolved around Joe.  Since Joe dropped out of school, Lucy dropped out of school too.  Since Joe wanted to spend all of his time walking around New York City, Lucy did the same.  They thought they were in love.  One discreet sex scene later and Lucy’s pregnant!

Lucy is a bit different from some of the other educational films that I’ve seen about teenage pregnancy.  Though initially shocked and angered, Lucy’s parents are eventually supportive.  Joe doesn’t run away but instead promises to do whatever he can to help, though Lucy ruefully acknowledges that it won’t be much as Joe doesn’t even have a high school diploma.  Though a friend offers to help Lucy get an abortion, Lucy decides to have her baby and social services shows up to help her.  At the end of the film, Lucy is still not sure whether she’s going to keep her baby or give it up for adoption.  She just knows that her life will never be the same.  Compared to just about every other educational film that I’ve seen about this subject, Lucy takes a rather low-key and matter-of-fact approach to its story.  It’s well-made but rather depressing.

It’s also a rather obscure film.  I couldn’t find much about the film on the IMDb.  Is the Paul Glickman who is credited as the film’s director the same Paul Glickman who edited some of Larry Cohen’s best films?  Who knows?

Now, I know I’ve probably made this film sound really depressing to sit through but there is a dance scene towards the start of the film.  That helps.

Book Review: Death’s Running Mate by John D. Revere

Having previously taken on mutant chickens and barnyard sex, the fourth Justin Perry novel takes on the American political system!

First published in 1985, Death’s Running Mate is all over the place.  Author John D. Revere plays with time in Death’s Running Mate, which means that the book opens minutes before the climax of oversexed super assassin Justin Perry’s latest mission and then flashes back to how Perry and the readers arrived at that moment but the flashbacks themselves contain their own flashbacks and even the occasional flash forward.  It leaves the plot so jumbled that it would probably require keeping extensive notes to really understand everything that happens and jotting down notes is a bit more effort than a Justin Perry novel deserves.  The previous three Justin Perry novels were surreal but the fourth one plays out like an extended fever dream.  And yet, because it’s so strange, it’s also probably the most compelling of all of the Perry novels.  You keep turning page after page, just to see how much stranger it can get.

The book deals with politics.  A 36 year-old woman named Andrea McKay has come out of nowhere and is running for President as the candidate of the Federalist-Liberal Party.  She’s running on a platform to “throw the rats out” and she proves her sincerity by eating rat meat at her campaign events.  Those who have read the previous volumes of the Justin Perry series will not be a surprised to learn that Andrea McKay is actually being backed by SADIF, an evil conspiracy that previously infiltrated the Vatican and developed mutant chickens.  And since a major theme of these books is that Justin Perry is somehow at the center of everything that happens on the planet, most readers will not be surprised to learn that Andrea’s political platform was developed by SADIF abducting Justin during an orgy, holding him captive in a mental hospital for several months, and then interviewing him about his thoughts on politics.  Justin is not only an expert killer who literally can’t leave the house with getting laid.  He’s also so in touch with the American people that his vague political opinions can serve as the basis of a successful third party presidential campaign.  Interestingly enough, it turns out that Andrea McKay is being as manipulated by SADIF as Justin is by The Old Man, his boss at the CIA.  The suggestion, of course, is that Andrea, Justin, and the voters are all in the same situation.  They’re all being manipulated and used like pawns on a chessboard.

As strange as the Andrea McKay presidential campaign is, it’s not the strangest part of the book.  This is a novel that starts with Justin bragging about how he’s going to kill the population of an entire town in Illinois and then flashes back to Justin disguising himself as a psychologist so that he can prevent SADIF from breaking into a mental hospital and releasing all of the patients.  (It turns out that the mental hospital uses sex therapy and, of course, Justin has to be carefully examined before he’s allowed to work there.)  Among other events, Justin gets attacked by a woman driving a pumpkin truck and then later, he discovers the truth of his parentage.  And I’m not even getting into the scenes of teenage Justin learning how to make love with a girl named Thelma who later turns out to be a spy herself.  Did Justin Perry ever know anyone who didn’t turn out to be a spy?

To be honest, I’m probably not communicating just how weird this book is.  I haven’t even gotten to the stuff about Illinois or the author’s apparent belief that a presidential vacancy is filled by a special election.  (I laugh out loud at that part of the book, if just because it reminded me of Sally Kohn’s theory that impeaching Trump and Pence would lead to a special election between Paul Ryan and Hillary Clinton.  “Straight forward from here,” as Sally put it.)  Earlier, I described the book as being a fever dream but it’s really like several hundred fever dreams, all crammed together to form one big epic.  Not a bit of it makes sense but the total lack of coherence is undeniably fascinating.  Justin’s as much of a sex-crazed misogynist as he was in the previous books but, at least in this case, it nearly leads to collapse of the United States (which, I might add, leads me to suspect that these books were meant to be satirical).  Will Justin learn a lesson from this?  I’ve read the final book in the series and no.  He does not.

Speaking of that fifth book, I’ll be reviewing that one on Saturday!  And then, we’ll be done with Justin Perry.

AMV of the Day: Teeth (Scissor Seven)

Today seems like a good day to share another anime of the day!

(See how that all kind of rhymes?)

Anime: Scissor Seven

Song: Teeth (5 Seconds of Summer)

Creator: Itzzly 爱 (as always, please subscribe to this creator’s channel)

Past AMVs of the Day

Film Review: The Stranger (dir by Fritz Kiersch)

In the desert of Arizona, there sits a town.

That town is named Lakeview, despite the fact that there is no lake nearby.  There aren’t many buildings in the town.  There’s a service station.  There’s a diner.  There’s a sheriff’s office.  There’s a general store.  There are a few houses.  Lakeview is a place that people rarely visit and which no one can escape.

There is a sheriff.  His name is Cole (Eric Pierpoint) and he spends most of his days in an alcoholic stupor.  He’s been depressed ever since his girlfriend, Bridget, was murdered.  Now, Bridget’s younger sister, Gordet (Robin Lyn Heath), is living like a feral animal while the local shopkeeper, Sally (Ginger Lynn Allen), is determined to have Cole for herself.  Cole’s deputy (Ash Adams) is in love with Sally and wants Cole’s job for his own.  That’s a lot of drama for a small town.

Of course, the real drama in Lakeview comes from the fact that the town is run by a group of bikers!  The head biker is named Angel (Andrew Divoff).  By terrorizing the citizens, Angel and his gang make their own wishes come true without ever asking anyone else if that’s something they would be interested in.  Cole is too drunk and depressed to stand up to them.  The other townspeople are …. well, I don’t know what their problem is.  One assumes that they have to be tough, as they’re living in a harsh and inhospitable desert.  But none of them them are willing to stand up for themselves.  Maybe they’ve recently moved to Arizona from California and they’re not used to the idea of self-defense.  But, for whatever reason, Angel controls Lakeview.

But then the Stranger (Kathy Long) rides up on her motorcycle.  Dressed in black leather and wearing a corset that looks like it would actually be really uncomfortable in the desert heat, The Stranger has no name but she does know how to kick ass.  She has come to kill all the members of Angel’s gang.  Unfortunately, the majority of the gang is out-of-town when The Stranger arrives.  So, the Stranger waits in Lakeview and kills who she can.  The townspeople, led by Sally, want her to leave before things get too violent.  Meanwhile, Cole comes out of his drunken stupor just long enough to notice that the Stranger looks a lot like his dead girlfriend….

1995’s The Stranger was an attempt to a modern-day spaghetti western, with a woman playing the type of mysterious figure who would traditionally have been played by Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson.  That, in itself, is a pretty good idea.  Unfortunately, The Stranger itself is abysmally paced and the filmmakers seem to have overlooked that, in the best spaghetti westerns, the silent, nameless heroes were usually paired with a more talkative (and often much more amusing) partner.  The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly had Eli Wallach.  Once Upon A Time In The West had Jason Robards.  In The Stranger, there’s not really anyone around to fill that role.  (Cole is too full of self-pity to be amusing.  Gordet spends most of the movie running from one abandoned car to another.)  As such, The Stranger becomes fairly grim and slow.  Things are only livened up when The Stranger beats people up.  Kathy Long was a kickboxing champion and she’s strong enough in the action scenes that it makes up for the fact that she doesn’t have a particularly compelling screen presence.  She and Eric Pierpoint also have next to no romantic chemistry, making the whole question of whether or not she’s Bridget’s ghost seem a bit moot.

The best reason to see the film is to watch Andrew Divoff play Angel.  Divoff is always a good villain and he’s memorably unhinged in The Stranger.  Unfortunately, he’s not in the film as much as the viewer might hope.  Watching the film, I half expected the Wishmaster to ask if I wanted Andrew Divoff’s role to be larger.  I would have said no while thinking yes.  You know how that Wishmaster is.

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.

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.

Book Review: Born to Kill by John D. Revere

Published in 1984, Born to Kill is the third volume in the Justin Perry saga.

This time, the CIA’s most sex-obsessed assassin is on assignment in Jamaica.  There have been a series of mysterious chicken attacks in both Jamaica and Florida and Justin’s boss, the Old Man, is sure that it is somehow connected to the upcoming launching of a space shuttle in Cape Canaveral.  However, it’s not only chickens that have been making trouble.  Someone has been beheading government officials across Europe.  Justin’s assignment is to solve the mystery behind the chicken attacks and make sure that SADIF doesn’t interfere with the shuttle launch.  The Old Man has decide that he doesn’t want any SADIF operatives taken alive so, naturally, Justin Perry is the man to send.

Of course, Justin is more concerned with his latest girlfriend but she’s apparently blown up while driving to the airport.  Now, Justin not only has to solve the mystery of the killer chickens but he also has to get vengeance for his latest murdered lover.  But, before he does that, he has to spend a few days at the local brothel with another CIA agent because he’s Justin Perry.

Anyway, Born to Kill moves along at a decent enough pace, up until we get a flashback to the time that an 8 year-old Justin Perry had sex with a chicken and was then traumatized when his grandparents possibly served him the same chicken for dinner and then …. wait, what?  Justin Perry did what?  Yes, you read that correctly.  The action in the book stops so that Justin Perry can remember the time that he had sex with a chicken.  First off, ew.  Secondly, does this guy even have any good childhood memories?  Third, why is this even in the book?  It certainly doesn’t make Justin Perry into a sympathetic character.  Later on, when Perry was attacked by several mutant chickens, I was rooting for the chickens.

When I read the first two books, I assumed that they were meant to be a satiric and that Justin Perry was meant to be a parody of the heroes who appeared in other pulp paperbacks.  But I have to say that the book treats the chicken incident very seriously and, just as Perry spent Vatican Kill debating the existence of God, he spends a good deal of this book thinking about the decline of morality in society.  (He blames the sexual magnetism of John F. Kennedy.)  What I’m saying is that I’m getting the feeling that the author may have meant these books to be taken seriously.  If so, agck!

Anyway, to be honest with you, the whole chicken thing was really gross and I nearly stopped reading at that point.  Because I’m a completist, I did continue with the book but I have to admit that it was more skimming than in-depth reading as I was kind of worried to find out what other barnyard animals Justin Perry may have had sexual relations with.  And really, I think that might be the best way to read these books.  Skim over it all as quickly as possible and don’t make the mistake of thinking about what any of it means.  Justin Perry saves the day and kills a lot of people and, at one point, watches as a woman he’s just had sex with gets eaten by a shark.  He’s fascinated by the fact that the shark is eating a bit of him along with her.  The main theme of the series seems to be that Justin Perry really needed to get help.  Let’s just put it like that.

Film Review: Fortress: Sniper’s Eye (dir by Josh Sternfeld)

Fortress: Sniper’s Eye is a sequel to the 2021 film, Fortress.

If you haven’t seen Fortress, the plot goes something like this.  A group of mercenaries take over a resort that is populated by retired spies.  Robert Michaels (Bruce Willis) and his son, Paul (Jesse Metcalfe), have to set aside their difference and work together to defeat Frederick Balzary (Chad Michael Murray).

Meanwhile, the plot of Fortress: Sniper’s Eye goes something like this.  A group of mercenaries take over a now-closed resort that was once populated by retired spies.  Robert Michaels (Bruce Willis) and his son, Paul (Jesse Metcalfe), have to continue to set aside their difference and work together to defeat Frederick Balzary (Chad Michael Murray).

Now, to the film’s credit, Sniper’s Eye does admit that it’s largely recycling the plot of the first film.  When Balzary and his henchmen show up for a second time, Paul exclaims, “Didn’t any of you die!?”  It’s a funny line and one that shows that Sniper’s Eye is aware that it’s all a bit ludicrous.  Whatever other faults the film may have, you can’t complain that it’s not self-aware.

Unfortunately, when Balzary and his people invade for the second time, Paul is hosting a gathering with his fiancée and his future mother-in-law.  They’re all taken hostage.  Because Robert was wounded while rescuing Balzary’s wife from some killer Russians, he spends most of the the movie providing encouragement from a hospital bed.  Fortunately, towards the end of the movie, he is able to get out of bed and help out his son.  Paul is obviously happy to see his father and the viewers are happy to see Bruce Willis actually doing some action stuff.

Needless to say, Willis is going to be the main attraction for most viewers.  (I imagine a few One Tree Hill fans will be watching for Chad Michael Murray.)  Sniper’s Eye was one of the film that Willis completed before announcing his retirement from acting.  Knowing what we now know about Willis’s health and the conditions under which he made his final films, watching something like Fortress: Sniper’s Eye can feel awkward.  I cringed when I saw Willis in the hospital bed, looking tired and talking about how he was getting too old to play the hero.  At that moment, it felt as if the character and the actor became the same and it was a bit difficult to watch.

That said, Bruce Willis gives a convincing performance in Fortress: Sniper’s Eye.  He may not have the same charismatic swagger that he had when he was healthy but Willis does still look credible sneaking down a hallway while carrying a gun.  Even though the action scenes all use a rather obvious stunt double, Willis is still convincing in his role.

As for the rest of the film, the pacing is abysmal and the performances are uneven, with Jesse Metcalde making a bland hero and Chad Michael Murray going overboard as the main villain.  This is another film with a jumbled timeline so I feel sorry for anyone who is looking away from the screen whenever the “Two weeks later” title card flashes by.  On the plus side, the resort scenery was nice to look at and Natali Yura gave a convincing performance as Balzary’s wife.  As far as Bruce Willis’s later films are concerned, Fortress: Sniper’s Eye is superior to American Siege but comes in far below both Gasoline Alley and A Day To Die.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Robert Aldrich Edition

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

On this date, 104 years ago, Robert Aldrich was born in Cranston, Rhode Island.  The first cousin of New York Governor and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Robert Aldrich eschewed business and politics to pursue a career in film.  Though his wonderfully melodramatic films were often undervalued when first released, Aldrich is now seen as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time.  Tarantino loves him.

In honor of Aldrich’s career and legacy, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Robert Aldrich Films

Kiss Me Deadly (1955, dir by Robert Aldrich, DP: Ernest Laszlo)

What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962, dir by Robert Aldrich, DP: Ernest Haller)

The Dirty Dozen (1967, dir by Robert Aldrich, DP: Edward Scaife)

Hustle (1975, dir by Robert Aldrich, DP: Joseph Biroc)