A Movie A Day #70: Wired (1989, directed by Larry Peerce)


Sometimes, you watch a movie and all you cay say, at the end, is “What the Hell were they thinking?”

Wired is one such movie.  Based on a widely discredited biography by Bob Woodward, Wired tells two stories.  In the first story, John Belushi (Michael Chiklis, making an unfortunate film debut) wakes up in a morgue and is told by his guardian angel that he has died of a drug overdose.  Did I mention that his guardian angel is Puerto Rican cabbie named Angel Vasquez (Ray Sharkey) and Angel drives Belushi through a series of flashbacks?  Belushi meets Dan Aykroyd (Gary Groomes, who looks nothing like Dan Aykroyd).  Belushi gets cast on Saturday Night Live.  Belushi marries Judy (Lucinda Jenney).  Belushi uses drugs, costars in The Blues Brothers, dies of a drug overdose in a sleazy motel, and plays a pinball game to determine whether he’ll go to Heaven or Hell.  While this is going on, Bob Woodward (J.T. Walsh) is interviewing everyone who knew Belushi while he was alive.

There are so many things wrong with Wired that it is hard to know where to even begin.  I haven’t even mentioned the scene where Bob Woodward travels back in time and has a conversation with Belushi while he’s dying on the motel room floor.  Wired tries to be a cautionary tale about getting seduced by fame and drugs but how seriously can anyone take the message of any movie that features Ray Sharkey as a guardian angel?  The scenes with Woodward are strange, mostly because the hero of Watergate is being played by an actor best known for playing sinister villains.  (Seven years after playing Bob Woodward, J.T. Walsh was actually cast as Watergate figure John Ehrlichman in Nixon.)  Considering that this was his first movie, Michael Chiklis is not bad when it comes to playing a drug addict named John but he’s never convincing as John Belushi.  He never captures the mix of charisma and danger that made John Belushi a superstar.  Wired wants to tell the story of Belushi’s downfall but never understands what made him special to begin with.

Wired tries to be edgy but it only succeeds for one split second.  During the filming of The Blues Brothers, a director who is clearly meant to be John Landis walks over to Belushi’s trailer.  Listen carefully, and a helicopter can be heard in the background.

As for the rest of Wired, what the Hell were they thinking?

Pure 80s Hokum: Let’s Get Harry (1986, directed by Alan Smithee)


Lets-get-harry-movie-poster-1986-1020362350Let’s Get Harry opens deep in the jungles of Columbia.  The newly appointed American Ambassador (Bruce Gray) is touring a newly constructed water pipeline when suddenly, terrorist drug smugglers attack!  The Ambassador, along with chief engineer Harry Burck (Mark Harmon, long before NCIS), is taken hostage.  Drug Lord Carlos Ochobar announces that both the Ambassador and Harry will be executed unless the U.S. government immediately releases Ochobar’s men.  However, the policy of the U.S. government is to not negotiate with terrorists.  As grizzled mercenary Norman Shrike (Robert Duvall) explains it, nobody gives a damn about a minor ambassador.

Nobody in a small blue-collar town in Illinois gives a damn about the ambassador either.  But they do give a damn about their friend Harry!  When its obvious that the bureaucrats up in Washington are not going to do anything, Harry’s younger brother, Corey (Michael Shoeffling, Sixteen Candles), decides that he and his friends are going to go to Columbia themselves and get Harry!  Helping him out are Bob (Thomas F. Wilson, Back to the Future), Kurt (Rick Rossovich, Top Gun), Spence (Glenn Frey!), and Jack (Gary Busey).  If Jake Ryan, Biff Tannen, Slider, Buddy Holly, and the guy from the Eagles who wasn’t Don Henley can’t get Harry, then who can!?

There were a lot of these “American rescue mission” movies made in the 80s, everything from Uncommon Valor to The Delta Force to the Rambo films.  Plotwise, Let’s Get Harry adds little to the genre.  It’s about as simplistic and implausible as a Donald Trump campaign speech.  A bunch of terrorists are holding American hostages and making us all look bad while the establishment refuses to do anything about it?  Don’t worry!  Here come a bunch of heavily armed, no-nonsense American citizens to save the day and make America great again!

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There are two things that distinguish Let’s Get Harry.  First, Let’s Get Harry is one of the many films to have been credited to Alan Smithee.  From 1968 to 2000, Alan Smithee was the official pseudonym used by directors who wanted to disown a project.  Smithee has been credited as directing everything from Solar Crisis to Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home to The O.J. Simpson Story.  In the case of Let’s Get Harry, Smithee was standing in for veteran director Stuart Rosenberg (probably best known for Cool Hand Luke).  Rosenberg originally only planned for Mark Harmon to be seen only at the end of the film, much like Matt Damon in Saving Private Ryan.  When TriStar Pictures demanded extra scenes featuring Harmon being taken and held hostage, Rosenberg took his name off the film.

(Before Rosenberg signed on to direct, Let’s Get Harry started out as a Sam Fuller project and he received a story credit on the film.  With the exception of some of the scenes with Harmon, which may have been shot by a different director, Rosenberg’s direction was adequate but Let’s Get Harry really does cry out for a director like Sam Fuller.)

Secondly, there is the cast, which is a lot more interesting than would be typically found in a low-budget, 80s action film.  Not surprisingly, by respectively underplaying and overplaying, Duvall and Busy give the two best performances.  Meanwhile, lightweight Mark Harmon gives the worst.  Perhaps because of the conflict between Rosenberg and the studio over his character, Harmon spends the entire movie looking lost.

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As an exercise in patriotic wish fulfillment, Let’s Get Harry is pure 80s hokum.  It may be dumb but it is also entertaining.  After all, any film that features not only Robert Duvall, Gary Busey, and Ben Johnson, but also Glenn Frey is going to be worth watching.  Let’s Get Harry has never been released on DVD and is currently only available on VHS.  Somebody needs to do something about this.

Let’s get Harry on DVD!

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Review: Bates Motel 1.10 “Midnight”


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(Have you seen this episode yet?  If not, you might not want to read this review.  Spoiler warning!)

Well, we all knew that was going to happen, didn’t we?

To recap: During last night’s episode of Bates Motel , Norman (Freddie Highmore) asked Emma (Oliva Cooke) to attend a school dance with him.  Emma bought a really pretty dress and was obviously very excited to finally go out on a real date with Norman.  However, before Emma showed up for their date, Norman was upset by 1) Bradley (Nicola Peltz) showing up at the motel so that she could talk to Dylan (Max Thieriot) and 2) Norma (Vera Farmiga) telling him that she had been sexually abused as a child.  Once they got to the dance, Norman wouldn’t stop staring at Bradley and Emma finally lost her temper, told Norman to get a ride of home from someone else, and then left.

(And allow me to just say, “You go, girl!”  Seriously…)

After getting punched out by Bradley’s boyfriend, Norman started to walk home in the pouring rain.  As always seems to happen whenever Norman is walking home, someone drove up and offered him a ride.  In this case, it was his overly concerned teacher, Miss Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy).  Miss Watson took Norman back to her place and, after washing the blood off his face, then said that she’d give Norman a ride home after changing clothes.

It was at this point that Norman started to hallucinate.  Norma suddenly appeared, sitting on a couch and demanding to know what type of teacher would actually take a student home with her and then go into her bedroom to change clothes without bothering to close the door first.

“You know what you have to do,” imaginary Norma told Norman.

One jump cut later, Norman was again walking in the rain and, as was revealed in the episode’s final scene, Miss Watson was lying dead in her bedroom with her throat cut.

This, in itself, wasn’t really a shock.  Simply by the fact that the show’s main character is Norman Bates, we already knew that he would have to end up killing someone by the end of last night’s season finale and Miss Watson, as an established character who wasn’t really central to any of the show’s storylines, was the obvious victim.  As such, what happened on last night’s episode wasn’t exactly surprising but it was still effectively handled.  While the show is often thought of as being a showcase for Vera Farmiga, Freddie Highmore has done such a good job of making Norman into a sympathetic character that it’s still somewhat upsetting to be reminded of just what Norman Bates is destined to end up doing.

Up until Norman and Emma left for their date, last night’s episode was dominated by both Norma and Vera Farmiga’s ferocious performance.  If I haven’t said it before, Vera Farmiga deserves (at the very least) an Emmy nomination for bringing Norma to such memorable life.  During last night’s episode, Norma enlisted the suddenly rather mysterious  Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell)  to help her deal with Jake Abernanthy (Jere Burns).  In his calmly intimidating way, Romero confronted Abernanthy, told him that nobody did any business in his town without his permission, and then proceeded to gun Abernanthy down.  It was a moment that was as surprising as the death of Miss Watson was predictable.

And so concludes the first season of Bates Motel.  It’s been a frequently intruiging and occasionally frustrating season but, perhaps most importantly, it ended strong.  I’m still not totally convinced that there’s all that many stories available to be mined from a prequel to Psycho but I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what happens when this show returns next season.

Random Observations:

  • “SCREW OFF, SHITHEAD!”  Seriously, if Vera Farmiga didn’t already deserve Emmy consideration, she deserves it for her delivery of this one line.
  • I wonder if Eric (the guy that Miss Watson was on the phone with) will show up next season.
  • One of the best scenes last night: Norma and Dylan bonding over target practice.
  • Everyone online seems to be obsessed with hating on Bradley and hoping that Emma and Norman get together.  However, doesn’t Emma have enough to deal with without the addition of a psychotic boyfriend?
  • Speaking of Emma and Norman, their “fight” at the school dance was handled pretty well by both Olivia Cooke and Freddie Highmore.  The contrast between Cooke’s anger and Highmore’s blank expression was a definite highlight of the episode.
  • How many times, this season, was Norman offered a ride while walking down the street?  Seriously, it seems like it happened at least once every episode.
  • I’ve really enjoyed reviewing the first season of this frustrating but frequently intriguing show and I look forward to continuing to do so during the second season.

Review: Bates Motel 1.9 “Underwater”


Bates Motel Underwater

This week’s episode of Bates Motel was all about marijuana.

No sooner has Norma  (Vera Farmiga) recovered from finding the decaying corpse of Deputy Shelby in her bed then she’s having to deal with the hippies openly smoking weed out on the motel’s porch.  Now, I have to admit that some of my best friends are hippies but, for the most, they’re a lot more charming than the Bates Motel hippies.  The Bates Motel hippies are all incredibly dirty and rather rude.  Even worse, one of them has a guitar and insists on both playing and singing The Goo Goo Dolls’ “Slide” during all hours of the night.  Seriously, I thought Dylan (Max Thieriot) ran off the guitar-playing hippie last episode.  Maybe he came back.

However, as one of the hippies explains to Norma, the town’s entire economy is pretty much dependent on that huge marijuana farm in the woods.  So, the hippies can pretty much do anything they want without having to worry about being strung up in the town square and being set on fire.  In one of my favorite moments from last night’s episode, Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) drives up to the motel, calmly glances at the pot-smoking hippies, and then pretty much ignores them for the rest of his visit.

One of the hippies takes a liking to Emma (Olivia Cooke) and gives her a pot cupcake.  To the show’s credit, Emma doesn’t have a melodramatic freak-out or anything else that we’ve come to expect from television whenever a character tries drugs for the first time.  Instead, she gets rather realistically spacey and paranoid.  Hilariously, Emma’s stoned paranoia isn’t all that different from Norma’s natural paranoia.

Speaking of which, this week’s episode was also dominated by Vera Farmiga and her performance as Norma Bates.  Throughout this season, Farmiga has proven that she’s an actress who knows just how much scenery she can chew before losing credibility.  One the joys of this show is watching Farmiga continually take Norma to the edge of becoming a caricature and then pulling back at just the right moment.  Last night, we got to see Norma confront one of the annoying hippies about “smoking a doobie” on the motel’s front porch and physically attack a sleazy real estate agent for refusing to help her sell the motel.  And, of course, we can’t forget about the tres creepy scene where she climbs into bed with Norman (Freddie Highmore).

Norman, as always, is having issues of his own.  After having a dream about drowning Bradley (Nicola Peltz), he writes a short story about it.  Ms. Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy) is so impressed by the story that she volunteers to help Norman edit it.  When Norman tells her that he’s not sure if his mother would approve, Ms. Watson tells Norman that maybe they don’t need to tell his mother.  In fact, maybe it can just be their little secret.  As Ms. Watson talks to Norman, it becomes apparent that she’s interested in more than just being his teacher.

This leads, of course, to an interesting question.  Is there anyone in the town of White Pine Bay who isn’t crazy?

No wonder Jake loves this place!  Yes, despite having checked out of the motel, Jake Abernathy (the wonderfully creepy Jere Burns) is still around.  First he sends Norma flowers and then, at the end of the episode, he pops up in the back seat of her car and tells her that if she doesn’t pay him $150,000, he’s going to kill both her and her sons, therefore setting us up for next week’s season finale.

If there’s been a reoccurring theme running through my reviews of Bates Motel, it’s that this is a show that has struggled to define itself.  This first season has been spent trying to find a consistent theme and tone.  Over the past 9 episodes, whenever Bates Motel has attempted to be a straightforward thriller, the show has struggled.  However, when the show has accepted the inherent oddness of being a weekly prequel to Psycho, Bates Motel has succeeded.  Bates Motel is a show that benefits from going over the top.  Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed this week’s episode, Underwater, as much as I did.  Underwater was Bates Motel at its over the top best.

Random Observations:

  • I have to admit that I’m not really all the interested in finding out who Bradley’s father’s girlfriend was.  However, I do think that Bradley and Dylan make a cute (if doomed) couple.
  • It’s hard for me to pick an absolute favorite moment from last night’s episode.  Certainly, Romero’s nonchalant reaction to the hippies and Emma’s reaction to the cupcake were contenders.  However, I think my favorite moment had to be the sleazy real estate guy saying, “Oh shit!” and running for the back of the office when he saw Norma approaching.
  • Only one more episode to go in this season and nobody’s taken a shower yet…

Review: Bates Motel 1.8 “A Boy and His Dog”


Bates Motel A Boy and His Dog

Last night’s episode of Bates Motel featured Norma (Vera Farmiga) trying to flirt her way to prosperity and out of trouble, Norman (Freddie Highmore) dealing with a therapist, Emma’s Dad (Ian Hart) waxing poetic about taxidermy, Dylan (Max Thieriot) pulling a gun on a pushy hippie, and Jake (Jere Burns) being brilliantly sleazy.  It was a lot of fun and a definite improvement over last week’s dour episode.

For those of us who are still invested in the idea of this show being a prequel to Psycho, last night’s episode was important because it opened with Norman learning about taxidermy from Emma’s dad, Will. Norman is getting his poor dog stuffed and mounted and, no offense to any taxidermists out there, but it’s all a bit creepy.  No wonder that, when Norma drops her son off at Will’s shop, she tells him that she’s not sure if Norman should be spending all of his time with dead things.  Despite the fact that Will points out that taxidermy makes Norman happy, I can actually see Norma’s point.  No mother looking forward to someday being able to play with her grandchildren is going to be happy about seeing her son taking up taxidermy or ventriloquism.

However, that’s the least of Norma’s problems.  Despite her attempts to first flirt with and then blackmail Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell), Romero refuses to use his influence to help Norma get a seat on the town’s planning commission.  Instead, Romero, in that wonderful way that Nestor Carbonell has of being enigmatically threatening, tells her, “We’re not friends.”

Even worse, Norma can’t get Jake to leave the motel.  In one of the best scenes of the entire first season, Norma follows Jake when Jake drives out to Deputy Shelby’s boat.  (Or was it Keith’s boat?  Sometimes, I have a hard time keeping all the dead perverts of Bates Motel straight.)  When Jake discovers Norma watching him, Norma attempts to convince him that she hasn’t been following him.  Speaking in a chillingly child-like voice, Jake replies, “Where’d you hide it?”  (“It” being that sex slave who was last seen running off into the woods.)  Norma finally finds the strength to order Jake out of her motel and, despite the fact that Jake leaves, it’s pretty obvious that he’s not gone.

Meanwhile, at the high school, poor Emma is hiding in the girls room stall and using her inhaler (which brought back a lot of asthmatic memories for me) when she overhears a group of mean girls talking about how weird Norman is and how there’s no way Bradley (Nicola Peltz) would ever sleep with him.  This leads to Emma stepping out of the stall and telling them that Bradley did just that.  Words get back to Bradley, Bradley gets mad at Norman, and Norman ends up up having a mini-breakdown at school.  This leads to two scenes, a hilarious one where Norman and Norma attend a meeting with a therapist and a truly touching one in which Emma apologizes to Norman and tells him that she likes him.  Awwwwwwwwwwww!  Seriously, Norman and Emma are such a cute couple that it’s really a shame that one of them is destined to grow up to be a cross-dressing voyeuristic serial killer.

Finally, Dylan and Remo go on a road trip to pick up some hippies to work at the marijuana farm.  One of the hippies is a really obnoxious guy with a guitar and I spent the last half of the show worried that he was going to be a new regular character.  However, fortunately, he got on Dylan’s nerves so Dylan pulled a gun and left the guy and his guitar on the side of the road.  Yay, Dylan!

Since it first started two months ago, Bates Motel is a show that has struggled to find an identity.  That, in itself, is not surprising.  Few succesful TV shows look the same during their final season as they did during their first.  I recently rewatched the pilot episode of Lost and I was surprised at how different it felt from the show that Lost eventually became.  The fact that Bates Motel is struggling to find itself is not surprising.  What is surprising is just how different Bates Motel can feel from week to week.  Whereas last week’s episode felt a bit forced and melodramatic, this week’s episode felt a lot more self-aware.  This week’s episode was deliberately over-the-top and campy, in a way that acknowledged how ludicrous the series can occasionally be without ever descending to self-parody.  Bates Motel has already been renewed for a second season and hopefully, season 2 will look a lot like last night’s episode.

Random Observations:

  • Tonight’s episode ended with Norma finding Shelby’s mummified body in her bed.  I’m assuming that was a message left for her by Jake, since I don’t think Norman has quite reached the grave robbery stage just yet.
  • The episode started out with clips from last week’s episode so, once again, I had to watch that poor little dog get hit by that car.  I wanted to cry all over again.
  • Was it just me or did Sheriff Romero’s secretary sound like she had a bit of an atittude while she was talking to Norma on the phone?  Speaking as an administrative professional, I thought that was a bit unprofessional.
  • Vera Farmiga’s scene with Nestor Carbonell was definitely Bates Motel at its best.
  • God, that guitar-strumming hippie was annoying.
  • “Actually…I’d like my room made up now…” Agck!  Jere Burns is soooo creepy!
  • “Are you supposed to be putting your hands on the students?”
  • “Not many people write poetry but we still have to have poets, don’t we?”

Review: Bates Motel 1.7 “The Man In Number 9”


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Really, Bates Motel?

After all that build-up and all the dramatic cliffhangers, that’s how you resolve the Deputy Shelby subplot?

Last week’s episode of Bates Motel ended with the evil Deputy Shelby (Mike Vogel) getting shot by Dylan (Max Thieriot) and ending up lying dead at the feet of Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman (Freddie Highmore).  How, we wondered, would the Bates Family get out of this one?  How would they handle the suspicions of Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell)?  How could they possibly get anyone to believe what had happened, especially since Shelby’s sex slave had disappeared into the woods?

Well, that was all resolved in the episode’s first five minutes.  Romero showed up, believed everything that Norma told him, and agreed to help cover up the truth.  Problem solved.

Oh, and the missing sex slave?

Well, who knows?

To be honest, nobody seems to be too concerned about her.

Despite the fact that the rest of the episode was actually pretty well-done, it was all overshadowed by the anti-climatic resolution of the whole Shelby subplot.  (Or, as it was referred to in this episode, “The Deputy Shelby scandal.”)  So far, Dylan, Norman, and Norma have — individually and together — murdered four people and they’ve managed to rather easily get away with it despite the fact that they live in a town where criminals are burned alive in the town square.

(Are we ever going to hear about that again?)

Anyway, once Romero let the Bates Family off the hook, Bates Motel got back to normal.  In preparation for the grand opening of the Bates Motel, Norma attempted to pass out some brochures at a few local businesses but was told that nobody wanted anything to do with the Bates Motel because of the “Deputy Shelby scandal.”  I have to say that I laughed out loud when I heard that phrase.  I just imagined people driving by the Bates Motel and saying, “Did you hear about the Deputy Shelby scandal?”

However, there is a glimmer of sordid hope on the horizon when a guy named Jake (played by Jere Burns) shows up at the motel.  As Jake explains, he had a standing reservation with the motel’s former owner for a block a rooms every few weeks.  It’s pretty obvious from the first minute Jake shows up that he’s evil and creepy but Norma needs the money…

Meanwhile, Norman has perhaps the worst week of his life.  He discovers a stray dog and starts feeding it.  He even names it Juno.  (At first, I assumed that he had named it after the Ellen Page movie but I doubt Norma would have allowed him to see that film.)   Then, Bradley (Nicola Paltz) rejects him, explaining that their sexual encounter was a one time thing.  An upset Norman walks back to the motel and arrives just in time to see Juno get run over by a passing car!

Picking up his dead dog, Norman announces that he’s going to see Emma’s father the taxidermist and that’s where this episode ends.

There was a lot to like in last night’s episode.  Jere Burns gave an appropriately creepy performance as Jake and Vera Farmiga continues to find the perfect balance between melodrama and camp.  However, the rather convenient resolution of the “Deputy Shelby scandal” overshadowed the entire episode.  Normally, I enjoy the melodramatic shifts on tone that have come to define Bates Motel but, during last night’s episode, it was all just a bit too much.

Random Observations:

  • Jere Burns certainly is a creepy looking guy, isn’t he?  He looks and occasionally sounds like he could be Christopher Walken’s younger brother.
  • I say this nearly every week but Olivia Cooke really does deserve her own show where she plays a high school student who solves crimes in her spare time.  Her scenes with Vera Farmiga were a lot of fun.
  • Norma’s sex talk with Norman was performed to squirm-inducing perfection by Farmiga and Freddie Highmore.
  • It looks like Bradley might like Dylan and who can blame her when Dylan’s played by Max Thieriot?
  • When Norman was imagining being in bed with Bradley early in this episode, I briefly thought the show was acknowledging what I initially suspected — that Norman and Bradley’s earlier encounter took place solely in Norman’s mind.  However, it turns out I was wrong on both counts.
  • I wanted to cry when Norman’s dog got run over.