Film Review: One Potato, Two Potato (dir by Larry Peerce)


The 1964 film, One Potato, Two Potato, is the story of two people who fall in love.

Julie Cullen (Barbara Barrie) was previously married to Joe (Richard Mulligan).  She’s divorced now and raising her daughter, Ellen (Marti Mericka), on her own.  Ellen was barely a year old when Joe abandoned his family and she’s never known her father.  Perhaps that’s for the best because, as we later see firsthand, Joe was an immature and abusive man.

Frank Hamilton (Bernie Hamilton) is quiet, responsible, and mild-mannered.  For the majority of the movie, the only time that we see Frank show any emotion is when he’s playing football with coworkers.  However, he’s obviously a sensitive and intelligent man.  He and Julie begin a relationship, tentatively at first.  But soon, they’re very much in love and planning to get married.

And really, there’s nothing unusual about either one of them.  They’re two genuinely nice people who met and fell in love.  The only thing that sets their romance apart from so many other romances is that Julie’s white and Frank’s black.  For that reason, Frank and Julie get harassed by the police when they try to enjoy a romantic stroll at night.  For that reason, Frank’s parents (played by Robert Earl Jones and Vinette Carroll) object to their relationship, saying that all the love in the world can’t overcome prejudice.  For that reason, when Frank and Julie do get married, hardly anyone comes to the wedding and the one bridesmaid glares at them throughout the ceremony.  Frank and Julie end up living on a farm with Frank’s parents, in love but practically isolated from the world.  (Tellingly, the “friend” who first introduced them doesn’t want to visit them after they marry.)  When Joe suddenly shows up and discovers that Julie has not only remarried but that her new husband is black, he goes to court and demands custody of his daughter.

It’s interesting think that, in 2019, it’s very easy to take interracial relationships (not to mention interracial marriages) for granted.  And yet, it wasn’t until 1967 (three years after the release of One Potato, Two Potato), that the U.S. Supreme Court officially ruled that laws against interracial marriage were unconstitutional.  One Potato, Two Potato was an early independent film, precisely because none of the major studios were willing to deal with an issue as controversial as interracial marriage.  (When the studios finally did deal with it, the end result was Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, a film that was as safe and mild as One Potato, Two Potato was brave and angry.)  Barbara Barrie did win the best actress award at Cannes and the film itself received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay but otherwise, it’s a sadly neglected piece of film history.  If I hadn’t recorded it off of TCM, I probably never would have seen or even heard of this film.

And that would have been a shame because, along with being a valuable historical document, One Potato, Two Potato is a compelling and heartbreaking drama.  The film approaches its subject matter with a maturity and an honesty that probably stunned audiences back in 1964.  This film refuses to give into any of the well-intentioned clichés that often dominated films about racism in the 60s and 70s.  There are no sympathetic whites (à la Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird) willing to argue for Frank and Julie’s right to raise Ellen.  (In fact, the lawyer that they hire gets angry when Frank first approaches him and advises them to leave the state.)  It does Frank no good to be dignified and patient.  The racism in One Potato, Two Potato does not come from a handful of ignorant souls.  Instead, it’s built into the very system to which Frank and Julie are now having to appeal.

One Potato, Two Potato is also a rarity in that it’s a film that allows a black man to get angry about the way he’s being treated, even if it means making whites in the audience uncomfortable.  One need only compare the hopeful ending of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner with the heart-breaking conclusion of One Potato, Two Potato.  Whereas Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner highlighted Sidney Poitier saying, in his dignified manner, that he has no interest in fighting the battles of the past, One Potato, Two Potato finds a distraught Bernie Hamilton watching a western and finally breaking down as he yells, “Kill that white bastard!”

One Potato, Two Potato ends with a title card that informs us that the story that we’ve seen is fictional but that the laws and the issues discussed in the film are real.  55 years after it was released, One Potato, Two Potato remains a compelling drama and an important historical document.

 

Film Review: Fit To Kill (dir by Andy Sidaris)


1993’s Fit To Kill opens with the most incompetent secret agents in the world on a training exercise in the desert.  All of the Andy Sidaris regulars are present.  There’s Donna (Dona Speir).  There’s Nicole (Roberta Vasquez).  Bruce (Bruce Penhall) and Shane (Michael Shane) are still with the organization, despite the fact that, over the course of four films, neither one of them has really added much to the mix.  For some reason, these agents still don’t know better than to hide whenever they see a remote control helicopter.  Seeing as how every Andy Sidaris film features someone being blown up by either a remote control helicopter or remote control boat, you would think that these experienced government agents would no longer be shocked when it happened.

Anyway, we quickly go through all of the usual Sidaris stuff.  There’s a meeting in a hot tub.  The team’s boss, Lucas (Tony Peck), shows up and acts like a prick.  Coded messages are still being sent out via the Hawaiian radio station.  Shane Abilene still can’t shoot a gun to save his life.  Eventually, the film gets around to revealing the latest mission.

Chang (Aki Aleong) is the owner of a valuable Russian diamond.  As he explains in a flashback that’s full of stock footage, the diamond was originally stolen by a Nazi general.  On his deathbed, the general gave the diamond to Chang.  And really, in defense of Sidaris, it must be said that the flashbacks are actually handled fairly well.  Maybe the flashbacks were Sidaris’s attempt to show that he actually could be a good director when he felt like it.  Anyway, Chang is planning on returning the diamond to the Russian ambassador (Rodrigo Oberon) during an official ceremony.  The problem is that the diamond is extremely valuable and, as a result, certain international criminals want to steal it.

Criminals like Martin Kane!

That’s right.  Martin Kane is back and he’s again played by RJ Moore.  Just as in Hard Hunted, RJ Moore is handsome, stylish, and charismatic.  RJ was the son of Roger Moore and, when he shows up wearing a tuxedo, it’s hard not to regret that RJ never got a chance to play James Bond.  Kane is determined to steal the diamond but it turns out that he’s motivated by more than just pure greed.  What’s this!?  A complex character in an Andy Sidaris film?  Believe it or not, it’s true.  And Moore gives a good performance in the film, perhaps the best performance to ever show up in a Sidaris film.

If Moore gives the best performance in the film, he’s closely followed by Julie Strain, who plays Blu Steele.  Blu Steele is the mercenary/assassin who is hired by Kane to steal the diamond.  However, Blu Steele has schemes of her own.  Strain, to her credit, appears to understand the exact type of movie that she’s been cast in and she responds with a totally over-the-top performance.  Both she and Moore are so memorably berserk that Donna, Roberta, Bruce, and Shane are even more forgettable than usual.

Fit To Kill is stupid but entertaining.  The plot makes no sense and the dialogue is full of the usual bad puns and regrettable jokes.  Still, it’s entertainingly stupid, thanks to Moore and Strain.  Plus, there’s a scene in which two hitmen get into a passionate debate about whether Homer Simpson’s a better actor than Fred Flintstone.

Of course, it all ends with a hot tub party.  The Fast and the Furious franchise has Vin Diesel saying grace before everyone eats.  Andy Sidaris films have hot tub parties.

Film Review: Hard Hunted (dir by Andy Sidaris)


 

Uh-oh!  A master criminal is trying to sell a nuclear device to terrorists and it’s up to the most secret law enforcement agency in the world to stop him!  How secret is this agency?  It’s so secret that it’s based in Dallas but most of its agents live in Hawaii.  It’s so secret that there’s an entire Hawaiian radio station that exists for the sole purpose of broadcasting heavily coded messages.  It’s the type of agency that continues to employ an agent who can’t shoot a gun and where the completion of successful mission is celebrated with a hot tub party.

As you probably guessed, 1992’s Hard Hunted is an Andy Sidaris film.

Hard Hunted picks up where Do Or Die left off.  Master criminal Kane is still at large and planning to do various evil things.  It’s up to Donna (Dona Speir) and Nicole (Roberta Vasquez) to catch him but their search for him mostly seems to mostly amount to spending a lot of time sunbathing in Arizona.  Fortunately, there are two other agents, currently working undercover as members of Kane’s operation.  Considering how dangerous and evil Kane apparently is, you have to wonder why the agency never just takes out Kane.  I guess that wouldn’t be ethical or something.

In Do Or Die, Kane was an elderly Japanese man who made a big deal about fair play and his code of honor.  In Hard Hunted, Kane is suddenly a young and handsome British man.  He’s played by RJ Moore, who was the son of Roger Moore.  Kane is now charming and sexy and that’s good.  If you’re the type who continually threatens to destroy the world, you should definitely be hot because otherwise, people are going to get sick of you.

Anyway, Kane has a nuclear trigger device that he wants to sell to terrorists.  He keeps the device hidden in a jade Buddha.  One of the undercover agents manages to run off with the trigger so Kane sends his number one henchman, Raven (Al Leong), to retrieve it before it gets into the hands of Donna and Nicole.

There are two things to notice about Raven.

First off, as you can tell from the picture above, Raven wears a jacket with a lion’s hand emblem on it.  Kane is apparently big into branding because all of his henchmen wear clothing with the lion’s head emblem.  It would seem to me that, when you’re a global supper villain, it might be a mistake to advertise yourself but Kane apparently feels differently.

The other good thing about Raven is that he’s played by Al Leong.  Leong, who got his start as a stuntman, is a character actor who has been playing evil henchman since the 1980s.  Leong always brings a lot style to these roles and he does so again in Hard Hunted.  In fact, he’s the second best thing about this largely misbegotten movie, right behind his helicopter.

Anyway, as for the film itself, it’s stupid even by the standards of Andy Sidaris.  This time, most of the action takes place in Arizona.  The biggest plot development is that Donna strikes her head on a rock and spend the latter half of the film suffering from amnesia and being held hostage by Pico (Roberto Obregon).  While Donna’s out-of-commission, it’s up to Bruce (Bruce Penhall), Shane (Michael Shane), and Nicole to step up and take care of the situation.  It’s all typical Sidaris mayhem, with stuff blowing up and final justice being meted out with yet another rocket launcher.

It may not make any sense, but at least it has Al Leong and a helicopter!

Film Review: Do or Die (dir by Andy Sidaris)


So, imagine this.

You and your BFF are at a luau in Hawaii.  Fires are being spun.  People are dancing.  Drums are being beaten.  It’s almost time to eat the pig and suddenly, you discover that a mysterious old man wants to speak to you.  The man is surrounded by armed guards but you’re used to that.  Both you and your BFF work for the government.  You blow things up and save the world for a living!

Anyway, the old man informs you that he is a master criminal named Kane.  He’s one of those “I’m going to take over the world” types but apparently, you keep thwarting his plans.  He’s a little bit upset about that and why not?  It’s hard enough trying to conquer the world without having somebody continually blowing up all of your friends.  He says that he’s going to have you killed.

Uh-oh!

But fear not!  Kane isn’t going to kill you right there and then.  It turns out that Kane has a code of honor that he lives by.  He may be evil but he believes in fair play.  So, Kane says that he’s going to kill you later.  Apparently, he’s hired six different teams of assassins.  Over the next couple of days, they’re going to try to kill you.  Fortunately, the team’s aren’t going to work together or anything intelligent like that.  That wouldn’t be fair.  Instead, they’re going to come at you one at a time.  Once one teams fails to kill you, they’re out of the hunt.

How would you react?  What would be the first thing that you and your BFF would do?

Would you make sure your guns were loaded, lock the doors, and then wait for the first team to make their move?

Would you try to make the first move, maybe trying to take out Kane right then and there?

Or maybe you would leave the country and try to start a whole new life under a new identity?

I’d probably go with the third option but that’s not what Donna (Dona Speir) and Nicole (Roberta Vasquez) do when Kane (Pat Morita) tells them that they’ve been targeted.  Instead, they get topless and relax in the hut tub while discussing how much it sucks that someone wants to kill them.

Honestly, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  The 1991 film, Do or Die, was directed by Andy Sidaris.  In a Sidaris film, a topless hot tub party plays much the same role as the family get togethers that often end the Fast and the Furious movies.  Still, it’s hard not to be a little bit disappointed by their sudden passivity.  After all, Donna is the same agent who previously used a rocket launcher to blow up Erik Estrada at the end of Guns.

Speaking of Erik Estrada, he’s back.  However, he’s playing a different character than he played in Guns.  Now, he’s a heroic agent named Rico.  When Donna and Nicole finally get around to letting their boss, Lucas (William Bumiller), know what’s going on, Lucas recruits Rico to help protect them.  Bruce Christian (Bruce Penhall) and Shane Abilene (Michael Shane) are also brought in as well.  Shane still has terrible aim.  I know that’s a running joke in all of the Sidaris films but you really do have to wonder why the government continues to employ someone who sucks at a huge part of his job.

Anyway, Donna and Nicole eventually head for the mainland but that doesn’t do much good because Kane put a tracking device on her watch and Donna apparently lost several IQ points between the end of Guns and the start of this movie.  At first, they go to Vegas but eventually, they end up in Louisiana.  This leads to the usual remote-controlled boats and helicopters, the same ones that appear in nearly every Sidaris film.  Needless to say, a lot of stuff gets blown up.

And it’s all pretty boring, to be honest.  It sounds like it should be fun, what with all the different assassins showing up and Kane getting more and more frustrated as Donna and Nicole continue to survive.  But, unfortunately, none of the assassins are that interesting.  Most of the film takes place in Caddo Parish.  My family lived in Shreveport for a year and a half.  I like Caddo Parish.  But it really can’t compare to Hawaii as far as photogenic locations are concerned.

Do or Die had potential but it got lost in the hot tub.

Film Review: Guns (dir by Andy Sidaris)


As you can probably tell by looking at the poster at the top of this review, the 1990 film Guns was Andy Sidaris’s attempt to make a Bond film.  Not only does the poster feature a man in a tuxedo and two gun-wielding women but the tag line even reads, “James Never Had This Kind of Help!”

(Of course, that’s not really true, as anyone who has seen Dr. No, Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me, or For Your Eyes Only can tell you.)

Much like a Bond film, Guns features a secret agent fighting to defeat an international conspiracy.  The agent’s efforts lead her and her allies to several different cities in several different … well, really only one country.  Being a Sidaris film, it’s doubtful the Guns really had the budget to film anyplace other than the United States but still, the action does move from Lake Huvasa, Arizona to Hawaii to Las Vegas.  That’s about as close as a Sidaris film ever gets to featuring exotic locations.

(If Lake Havusa sounds familiar, that’s because Jimmy Kimmel gave away at trip to Lake Havusa during the Oscars.)

And like any good Bond film, Guns has a flamboyant and almost comically evil villain.  Juan “Jack of Diamonds” Degas (telenovela star and future reality tv mainstay Erik Estrada) is an international gun dealer and an all-around sociopath.  He’s the type who shoots someone and then smirks about it.  He’s so evil that he’s even got Danny Tejo working as his main henchman!  That’s really evil!  Estrada gives a surprisingly good performance in the role.  Especially when compared to the forgettable villains who appeared in Sidaris’s previous films, Juan Degas feels like a worthy opponent.  It’s not just that he’s evil.  It’s that he’s so damn smug about it.  You can’t wait to see him get taken down.

Degas is planning on smuggling a bunch of Chinese weapons into America through a base on Hawaii.  The only problem is that Donna (Dona Speir) and her new partner, Nicole Justin (Roberta Vasquez), are based in Hawaii!  Degas knows that he has to get rid of them if he’s going to have any hope of succeeding.  (For whatever reason, it never occurs to Degas to smuggle the weapons through Guam or American Samoa. I mean, there are other islands out there.)  When Degas sends two cross-dressing assassins to kill Nicole, they end up not only shooting the wrong woman but also killing a friend of Dona’s as well.

Now, it’s personal!

Except, it was already personal.  In a typical example of Sidaris’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along style of  plotting, it turns out that Degas previously killed Donna’s father.  And now, it appears that it might get even more personal because Degas has kidnapped the Attorney General of Nevada, who happens to be Donna’s mother!

Obviously, this means that it’s time to gather together another group of misfit agents and take down the bad guys.  That means that Savage Beach‘s Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane) and Bruce Christian (Bruce Penhall) both show up again.  It also means that a lovable magician named Abe (Chuck McCann) gets to help out as well.  Unfortunately, one member of the team is eventually blown up by a remote control boat.

That’s right!  A remote control boat!  For some reason, remote control vehicles were a Sidaris obsession and it’s not a Sidaris film without someone getting blown by either a remote control boat or helicopter.

Anyway, there’s a lot of explosions to be found in Guns but the good thing is that it’s women blowing stuff up and it’s women who are in charge of the entire operation.  That’s the thing with a Sidaris film like this one.  For all of the nudity and the double entendre-filled dialogue, Guns was an action films where women got to shoot the guns, beat up the bad guys, and ultimately save the world from a smirking misogynist.  When Donna picked up that rocket launcher, it was both ludicrous and empowering at the same time.

Guns is one of Sidaris’s better films.  For once, despite all of the usual Sidaris red herrings, the plot can actually be followed and Estrada is an appropriately hissable villain.  While the film may not be able to compete with the best of the Bond films, it’s still more fun that SPECTRE.