Cleaning Out the DVR #16: Keep Calm and Watch Movies!


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All last week, I was laid up with sciatic nerve pain, which begins in the back and shoots down my left leg. Anyone who has suffered from this knows how  excruciating it can be! Thanks to inversion therapy, where I hang upside down three times a day on a table like one of Bela Lugosi’s pets in THE DEVIL BAT , I’m feeling much better, though not yet 100%.

Fortunately, I had a ton of movies to watch. My DVR was getting pretty full anyway, so I figured since I could barely move, I’d try to make a dent in the plethora of films I’ve recorded.., going all the way back to last April! However, since I decided to go back to work today, I realize I won’t have time to give them all the full review treatment… and so it’s time for the first Cleaning Out the DVR post…

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A Movie A Day #335: Ruby and Oswald (1978, directed by Mel Stuart)


The year is 1963.  The month is November.  The city is Dallas.  The President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, is coming to visit and two very different men have very different reactions.  An eccentric and lonely strip club owner, Jack Ruby (Michael Lerner), worries about an anti-Kennedy ad that has just appeared in the Dallas Morning News.  Another loner, a strange man named Lee Harvey Oswald (Frederic Forrest), is busy making plans of his own.  When Kennedy is assassinated, history brings Ruby and Oswald together in a way that a shattered nation will never forget.

This is a curious one.  It was made for television and, according to Wikipedia, its original running time was 180 minutes.  The version that I saw, on VHS, was barely 90 minutes long so obviously, the version I saw was heavily edited.  (In the 70s, it was common for made-for-TV movies to be reedited for both syndication and overseas theatrical release.)  Maybe that explains why Ruby and Oswald felt do disjointed.  In the version I saw, most of the emphasis was put on Jack Ruby running around Dallas and getting on people’s nerves.  Very little time was devoted to Oswald and the film was almost entirely stolen by Lerner. Michael Lerner is a familiar character actor.  You may not know his name but you will definitely recognize his face.  Lerner was convincing and sometimes even sympathetic as the weaselly Ruby.  Ruby and Oswald supported the Warren Commission’s findings, that Oswald killed Kennedy and Ruby shot Oswald out of a sense of loyalty to Jackie Kennedy.  Michael Lerner’s performance was so good that he almost made that theory plausible.

One final note, for fans of WKRP in Cincinnati: Gordon Jump and Richard Sanders, best known as Arthur Carlson and Les Nessman, were both in Ruby and Oswald, though they did not share any scenes together.

A Movie A Day #33: Two-Minute Warning (1976, directed by Larry Peerce)


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For the longest time, I thought that Two-Minute Warning was a movie about a gang of art thieves who attempt to pull off a heist by hiring a sniper to shoot at empty seats at the Super Bowl.  As planned by a master criminal known as The Professor (Rossano Brazzi), the sniper will cause a riot and the police will be too busy trying to restore order to notice the robbery being committed at an art gallery that happens to be right next to the stadium.

I believed that because that was the version of Two-Minute Warning that would sometimes show up on television.  Whenever I saw the movie, I always through it was a strange plan, one that had too many obvious flaws for any halfway competent criminal mastermind to ignore them.  What if the sniper was captured before he got a chance to start shooting?  What if a riot didn’t break out?  The sniper spent the movie aiming at empty seats but, considering how many people were in the stadium, it was likely that he would accidentally shoot someone.  Were the paintings really worth the risk of a murder charge?

Even stranger was that Two-Minute Warning was not only a heist film but it was also a 1970s disaster film.  Spread out throughout the stadium were familiar character actors like Jack Klugman, John Cassevetes, David Janssen, Martin Balsam, Gena Rowlands, Walter Pidgeon, and Beau Bridges.  It seemed strange that, once the shots were fired and Brazzi’s men broke into the gallery, all of those familiar faces vanished.  When it comes to disaster movies, it is an ironclad rule that at least one B-list celebrity has to die.  It seemed strange that Two-Minute Warning, with all those characters, would feature a sniper shooting at only empty seats.  For that matter, why would there be empty seats at the Super Bowl?

That wasn’t the strangest thing about Two-Minute Warning, though.  The strangest thing was that Charlton Heston was in the film, playing a police captain.  In most of his scenes, he had dark hair.  But, in the scenes in which he talked about the art gallery, Heston’s hair was suddenly light brown.

Recently, I watched Two-Minute Warning on DVD and I was shocked to discover that the movie on the DVD had very little in common with the movie that I had seen on TV.  For instance, the television version started with the crooks discussing their plan to rob the gallery.  The DVD version opened with the sniper shooting at a couple in the park.  In the DVD version, there was no art heist.   The sniper had no motive and no personality.  He was just a random nut who opened fire on the Super Bowl.  And,  in the DVD version, he did not shoot at empty seats.  Several of the characters who survived in the version that I saw on TV did not survive in the version that I saw on DVD.

What happened?

The theatrical version of Two-Minute Warning was exactly what I saw on the DVD.  A nameless sniper opens fire and kills several people at the Super Bowl.  In 1978, when NBC purchased the television broadcast rights for Two-Minute Warning, they worried that it was too violent and too disturbing.  There was concern that, if the film was broadcast as it originally was, people would actually think there was a risk of some nut with a gun opening fire at a crowded event.  (In 1978, that was apparently considered to be implausible.)  So, 40 minutes of new footage was shot.  Charlton Heston even returned to film three new scenes, which explains his changing hair color.  The new version of Two-Minute Warning not only gave the sniper a motive (albeit one that did not make much sense) but it also took out all of the violent death scenes.

Having seen both versions of Two-Minute Warning, neither one is very good, though the theatrical version is at least more suspenseful than the television version.  (It turns out that it was better to give the sniper no motive than to saddle him with a completely implausible one.)  But, even in the theatrical version, the potential victims are too one-dimensional to really care about.  Ultimately, the most interesting thing about Two-Minute Warning is that, at one time, an art heist was considered more plausible than a mass shooting.

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Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #38: The Baby (dir by Ted Post)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Thursday, December 8th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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On October 30th, I recorded The Baby off of TCM.

First released back in 1973, The Baby is a seriously strange little movie.  It’s about a 21 year-old man named Baby (played by David Manzy).  Why is he called Baby?  Because he lives in a crib.  And he wears a diaper that occasionally needs changing.  And he sounds exactly like a baby.  (Whenever he opens his mouth, the sound of an actual baby is dubbed in.)  When he’s alone with his babysitter, he eagerly sucks on her breast, half-nursing and half-perving.

Baby is the only son of Mrs. Wadsworth (Ruth Roman, giving a chillingly evil performance).  Mrs. Wadsworth was abandoned by her husband shortly after Baby was born and the film implies that she’s taken a lot of her hatred towards her ex out on her son.  Despite not liking her son, Mrs. Wadsworth is determined to hold onto him.  She gets a weekly welfare check from the state.  The money is supposed to be used to take care of Baby but Mrs. Wadsworth uses it to take care of herself and her two daughters.

Who are her daughters?  Alba Wadsworth (Suzanne Zenor) is an implied nymphomaniac who has a way with a cattle prod.   Germaine Wadsworth (Marianna Hill) is an actress and model who, it’s suggested, has incestuous designs on her brother.

That’s right — they’re a messed up family!  However, they do throw great parties, the type that are full of all the typical characters who you would expect to appear in a low-budget film from 1973.  Hippies, hipsters, aspiring disco dancers, they all show up.  Michael Pataki shows up as well!  You my not know the name but if you’re a fan of 70s exploitation films like me, you’ll immediately recognize Michael Pataki.

In order to continue receiving money from the government, the Wadsworths have to impress their case worker.  They’ve moved through several social workers and, for the most part, they’ve survived by being so strange that no one wants to spend too much time dealing with them.  However, their case has just been assigned to Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) and she actually takes an interest in Baby and his life with the Wasdworths.

Ann says that she thinks Baby could benefit from going to a special school.  The Wadsworths suggest that she mind her own business.  Ann, however, has no intention of doing that.  Ann refuses the give up on giving Baby a chance at a better life.

Sounds heart-warming, right?

Well, no.

At first, Ann seems like just another concerned do-gooder.  But, at the film progresses, we start to suspect that Ann might have some secrets of her own.  We’re told that she lost her husband in a car accident but the details are left intentionally vague.  What we do know is that Ann lives in a huge house with her mother-in-law (Beatrice Manley Blau) and we find ourselves wondering why, if her husband is gone, are the two of them still living together.

We also fin ourselves wondering: Does Ann have Baby’s best interests in mind?  For that matter, does anyone?

Being a 70s movie, it all ends with a violent home invasion that’s followed by a surprise twist.  The twist caught me totally off-guard and forced me to reconsider everything that I had previously seen.  It was shocking, it was borderline offensive, it was just a little bit ludicrous, and it was rather brilliant in its odd way.

The same can be said for The Baby as a whole.  This is one weird movie and you’ll never see another like it.  For that reason alone, The Baby is worth seeing at least once.

Horror Film Review: Zoltan, Hound of Dracula (dir by Albert Band)


Were you aware that Dracula owned a dog?  And that dog was a vampire?  And that dog’s name was Zoltan?

It’s true!  Or, at least, it’s true according to a low-budget 1977 film called Zoltan, the Hound of Dracula.

Zoltan opens with a bunch of Russians unearthing an underground tomb that, we’re told, once housed Dracula.  Inside the tomb, they find two coffins.  One contains a man with a stake in his chest.  The other contains the body of a dog that has a stake in its chest.  Foolishly, the Russians remove the stakes and bring back to life both Zoltan and Veidt Smit (played by a very creepy-looking actor named Reggie Nalder, who also played the vampire in the made-for-tv adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot).  Veidt is a former servant of Dracula who can walk around in the daylight.  As for Zoltan — well, he’s Dracula’s dog.  His eyes glow.  He has gigantic fangs.  He’s a vampire dog!

It turns out that, in order to survive, Veidt and Zoltan have to find the last human descendant of Dracula and turn him into a vampire.  So, Veidt and Zoltan had to Los Angeles and start to stalk family man Michael Drake (Michael Pataki).  Drake (and yes, his last name was shortened from Dracula) has little knowledge of his heritage.  Oddly enough, we’re told repeatedly that he’s the last member of the Dracula bloodline but he has two kids so it seems like they would actually be the last descendants of Dracula and…

Oh, who cares!?  Why are we worrying about logic when it comes to reviewing a film called Zoltan, the Hound of Dracula?

Michael and his family leave Los Angeles so that they can spend the weekend at a campground and, needless to say, they are followed by Zoltan and Veidt.  Soon, Zoltan is turning every other dog in California into a vampire and chasing Michael and his family.

Fortunately, a vampire hunter (played by Jose Ferrer) shows up and offers to help Michael survive.  But will his help be enough?

Okay, so Zoltan, the Hound of Dracula is technically a pretty bad film.  The budget is very low.  Director Albert Band doesn’t really bother much with things like subtext or suspense.  With the exception of the genuinely intimidating Reggie Nadler, the actors pretty much just go through the motions.  But, with all that in mind — how can you not love a film called Zoltan, the Hound of Dracula?  It’s fun because the film is just so ludicrous.  Criticizing a film like this for being bad ultimately feels like being way too much of a scold.

Add to that, there’s a vampire puppy!  And yes, he is just adorable!

I have to say that I am very disappointed that Zoltan did not make an appearance in last year’s Dracula Untold.  Hopefully, any future Dracula movies will make room for Zoltan. He may have been a vampire but seriously, Zoltan was a good dog!


Embracing the Melodrama Part II #78: American Anthem (dir by Albert Magnoli)


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“He’s thrown a tripus!  Steve Tevere has thrown a tripus!  The most outstanding dismount tonight, or any night!” 

— Really Excited Announcer In American Anthem (1986)

Way back in March, I dvr’d a movie called American Anthem off of Encore.  I did this for two reasons.  First off, the film was described as having something to do with gymnastics and that’s always been my favorite part of the Summer Olympics.  Secondly, any film from the 1980s that has the word “American” in the title is sure to be fun or, at the very least, achingly sincere.

When I finally got around to watching American Anthem, I wasn’t expecting much.  The film turned out to be largely what I expected it would be: the story of gymnasts hoping to qualify for the Olympics and find some personal redemption along the way.  All of the stock characters were present.  We had Steve Tevere (Mitch Gaylord), the brooding rebel who had to decide between pursuing his Olympic dreams or working in a garage for the rest of his life.  We had Steve’s girlfriend, Julie (Janet Jones), who had to learn to be humble before she could be great.  We had Kirk (Stacy Maloney), Steve’s best friend and fellow gymnast.  We had kinda bitchy Becky Cameron (Maria Anz), who was Julie’s friend and rival.  And then there was Arthur (Andrew White), Julie’s crippled, musician cousin.  And let’s not forget Tracy Prescott (Jenny Ester), the 12 year-old gymnast with the impressive afro.  And, of course, there was Coach Sarnoff (Michael Pataki) who was tough, compassionate, and Russian.  The majority of the cast was made up of real-life gymnasts and, with the exception of the genuinely charismatic Stacy Maloney, they all gave performances that suggested that they should stick with gymnastics.

And yet, despite all of that, I absolutely loved American Anthem.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  For the most part, I loved it for all the wrong reasons.  My love for the film is not the type of love that would lead to me being quoted on the back of a Blu-ray case.  American Anthem is a thoroughly bad film but it’s also compulsively watchable.  From the minute that I started watching it, I became obsessed with American Anthem‘s bizarre ineptness.  Since that first night in March, I’ve rewatched American Anthem a few dozen times.  I’ve lost track of how many times that I have grimaced at the cutesy music that Sarnoff tried to force Julie to use for her floor routine.  I can imitate Becky’s squeal of pain when she’s tries to compete with an injured knee.  Whenever Julie and the girls start to chant, “Kirk!  Kirk!  Kirk!,” I chant with them.  And don’t even get me started on how much I love hearing, “He’s thrown a tripus!”

American Anthem is pure style.  This is one of the few films that I’ve seen that has absolutely no subtext.  There is literally nothing going on beneath the surface.  It’s almost as if somebody dared director Albert Magnoli to make a film that was just one big montage.  This is one of those films where the camera is always moving, the colors are always bright, and the soundtrack is always soaring.  Hardly anyone in the film can actually act but oh my God, everyone looks so good (in a 1986 sort of way, of course).

The other “great” thing about American Anthem is that there’s not a single cliché that the film doesn’t include and, as a result, you really don’t have to pay that much attention to the film to understand what’s going on.  To its credit, this film doesn’t even pretend to be anything other than a collection of clichés.  It’s almost as if the characters themselves realize that they are in a film and understand that they have no choice but to conform to what the audience has been conditioned to expect.

(Hmmm…I guess American Anthem does have a subtext.  And kind of a disturbing one at that!)

For instance, within minutes of meeting and despite having no chemistry, Steve and Julie are in love.  Why?  Because the only reason that they are in the film is to fall in love.  It has to be done.

Steve fights with his father (John Aprea) and we’re never quite sure why, beyond the fact that all brooding rebels fight with their fathers.  When his father shows up to watch his son compete, the triumphant music soars and it no longer matters that he’s been portrayed as being an abusive rageaholic up until that moment.

All of the characters tell us that Coach Sarnoff is the best, despite the fact that we don’t actually see any evidence of that fact.  But Sarnoff has to be the best because nobody ever makes a movie about athletes training under a merely adequate coach.

When Becky suddenly shows up at the final competition with a bandaged knee, it doesn’t matter that we don’t actually see her get injured beforehand or, for that matter, hear anything about it.  All that matters is that, in films like this, someone has to compete with an injury.  Becky is simply playing her part.

American Anthem.  It’s not a particularly good film but it sure is watchable.  And, as I’ve come to realize while writing this review, it’s a bit of an existential nightmare as well!

I don’t think I’m ever going to erase it from my DVR.

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #32: The Sidehackers (dir by Gus Trikonis)


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Why the Hell am I reviewing The Sidehackers, a rather terrible film from 1969?

A lot of it is because The Sidehackers is famous for being featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and my boyfriend absolutely loves that show.  And, after I watched The Sidehackers, I viewed the Mystery Science 3000 version of the film.  Seriously, if any film deserves to be mocked by two robots and a possibly stoned space traveler, it’s The Sidehackers.

Another reason that I agreed to watch The Sidehackers is that it’s included in one of my many Mill Creek box sets and, as I’ve stated in the past, I always enjoy seeing what I can find hiding in those compilations.  Sometimes, you find a surprisingly good film.  And sometimes, you find The Sidehackers.

Finally, The Sidehackers is a Crown International production and, as of late, I’ve become a bit obsessed with seeing as many Crown International films as possible.

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Anyway, The Sidehackers is one of those films that’s built around a sport that was probably never popular with anyone other than the guy who produced the film.  No, I’m not talking soccer.  I’m talking about sidehacking!

Let’s see if I can explain this.  You’re going to have to forgive my limited knowledge of just what the Hell this sport was all about.  Basically, sidehacking is a former of motocross where all the motorcycles have a sidecar attached to them.  So, when racing, one person steers the motorcycle and then his teammate stands in the sidecar and spends the entire race adjusting his body and providing balance whenever the motorcycle has to make a sharp turn.

Or something.

All I know is that it looks extremely silly and kinda stupid but everyone in The Sidehackers is just fascinated by it.  The Sidehackers features two full races and I have to admit that, as hard as I tried, I could not keep up with who was on which motorcycle or how much help the guy in the sidecar really was.  I found myself wondering why someone would decide they wanted to race as a part of a team instead of as an individual.  At one point, the film’s main character says that sidehacking is all about “teamwork” but seriously, who needs that crap?  Individual glory all the way!

Anyway, surly Rommel (Ross Hagen) is the greatest sidehacker in the world.  However, he makes a mistake when he agree to show cult leader J.C. (Michael Pataki) how to sidehack.  J.C. loves the sport but he can’t handle the fact that he’s not very good at it.  He gets jealous of Rommel and his amazing sidehacking skills. J.C.’s girlfriend, Paisley (Claire Polan) is also impressed with Rommel’s sidehacking.  It looks like this sidehack might end in tragedy!

(To be honest, I just like using the word “sidehack” and I will probably use it a few more times before this review ends.)

When he’s not busy sidehacking, Rommel likes to go on picnics with his wife Rita (Diane McBain) and think about how happy they are and how much they both love sidehacking.  It’s a life so perfect that an American Idol style ballad is heard whenever Rommel and Rita are together.  However, then Paisley claims that Rommel assaulted her so J.C. briefly abandons his sidehacking obsession so that he and his gang can beat up Rommel and murder Rita.

Rommel handles the tragedy not by sidehacking but by walking along the highway.  Rommel no longer cares about sidehacking.  Sidehacking is J.C.’s thing now.  Rommel, instead, is out for revenge.  He recruits a few random people from around town and they go off to kill sidehacking J.C. and his gang.

And it should be easy enough to accomplish all of this because it’s not like J.C. is a particularly intelligent murderous cult leader but since this film was made in 1969, it has to end on a down note.  Let’s just say that the film ends with a close-up of a dead body while the Sidehackers love theme plays on the soundtrack.

The Sidehackers is incredibly bad and pretty boring.  Michael Pataki deserves some credit for giving a good performance as J.C. but Ross Hagen is amazingly surly.  Even before Rita dies, Hagen seems to be in a generally pissed off mood.  If anything, I doubt Ross Hagen’s performance did much to increase the popularity of sidehacking.

I searched YouTube and most of the clips of The Sidehackers was taken from the Mystery Science Theater episode.  Unfortunately, those clips tends to make The Sidehackers look more interesting than it actually is.  I really wanted to find some sidehacking footage so you could see how stupid it really does look but unfortunately, I couldn’t find any.  However, I did find this clip of one of Rommel’s men telling a stupid joke that has nothing to do with sidehacking.

Enjoy!