Murder Me, Murder You (1983, directed by Gary Nelson)


When two employees of an all-female courier service are murdered, Private Investigator Mike Hammer (Stacy Keach) is on the case.  The service was owned by his ex-girlfriend, Chris (Michelle Phillips), and she wants him to protect her while she testifies in front of a grand jury.  It turns out that her courier service has gotten involved in some shady business, transporting deliveries between a helicopter company and a South American dictator.  Chris fears that she’ll be murdered to keep her from testifying.  Hammer agrees to protect her and she tells him that he has a 19 year-old daughter who he’s never met.

While Chris is testifying, she suddenly dies on the stand.  The doctors say that it was a heart attack but Hammer knows that it was murder.  Hammer sets out to not only get revenge for Chris but also to find his daughter, who has disappeared into the world of underground pornography.  It’s all connected though, as is traditional with Mike Hammer, it can sometimes be difficult to keep up with how.

Murder Me, Murder You was a pilot film for a brief-lived but fondly-remembered Mike Hammer TV series that aired in the 80s.  Murder Me, Murder You takes Mickey Spillane’s famous detective into what was then the modern age but it allows him to remain a man of the hard-boiled noir era.  Hammer’s narration is tougher than leather, he’s more interested in listening to swing music than new wave, and he still dresses like an old-fashioned private eye, complete with a fedora on his head.  As played by Stacy Keach, he’s also just as dangerous and quick to kill as Hammer was in Spillane’s original novels.  In the novels, Hammer was an unapologetic brute who often bragged about how much he enjoyed killing criminals and communist spies and whose closest associate was his gun, which he nicknamed Betsy.  When Spillane’s novels were filmed, the violence of Hammer’s character was often downplayed.  (A notable exception was Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, which suggested that Hammer was such a fascist that he would eventually be responsible for the end of the world.  The Mike Hammer of Spillane’s novels would probably dismiss Kiss Me Deadly as being red propaganda and set out to deliver American justice to the Hollywood communists who wrote it.)  In Murder Me, Murder You, Mike Hammer is just as brutal an avenger as Spillane originally imagined him to be.  With his hulking frame, grim eyes, and his surly manner, Stacy Keach is the perfect Mike Hammer.

Murder Me, Murder You is a convoluted and often difficult-to-follow murder mystery but with Keach’s bravura lead performance, a strong supporting cast (including notable tough guys Tom Atkins and Jonathan Banks) and good direction from TV movie vet Gary Nelson, this movie comes about as close as any to capturing the feel of Mickey Spillane’s original novels.  Murder Me, Murder You was released on DVD fourteen years ago.  Though it is now out-of-print, copies are still available on Amazon.

Automotive Stardom: The California Kid (1974, directed by Richard T. Heffron)


In 1973, a customized 1934 Ford three-window coup appeared on the cover of the November issue of Custom Rod.  The car had been created by legendary customizer Pete Chapouris and it was called The California Kid.  The cover caught the attention of television producer Howie Horowitz, who thought that maybe the car could become a star.

A year later, the car starred in it’s own made-for-TV movie.  Naturally, that movie was called The California Kid.

The California Kid takes place in 1958 in the small town of Clarksberg.  Clarksberg is known for being a town that does not tolerate speeders.  Sheriff Roy Childress (Vic Morrow) lost his wife and daughter to a speeder and, ever since, he’s become a fanatic about making sure that people respect the speed limits.  He’ll give a ticket to anyone who he sees going too fast.  He’ll even impound your car.  And if you don’t learn your lesson or if you try to outrun him, he’ll get behind your car, give it a push, and send both you and your vehicle plunging over the side of a mountain.

That’s what happens to Don McCord (Joe Estevez), a Marine who was just trying to get back to back to his base on time.  After Don and his car go over the side of a cliff, the official ruling is that it was an accident.  However, Don’s brother, Michael (Martin Sheen, real-life brother of Joe Estevez), doesn’t buy that.  Determined to prove that his brother was murdered, Micheal rolls into town, behind the wheel of the California Kid.

The California Kid is a typical 70s car chase movie.  There’s not much going on other than the sheriff chasing the Michael and the California Kid.  Martin Sheen coasts through the movie, doing the James Dean impersonation that he perfected in the previous year’s Badlands and Vic Morrow plays his thousandth sadistic authority figure.  The supporting cast is full of familiar names who don’t get to do much.  Michelle Phillips plays the waitress who falls in love with Martin Sheen.  (It’s always a waitress.)  Stuart Margolin is Morrow’s deputy and keep an eye out for Nick Nolte, playing a mechanic.  Interestingly, The California Kid was written by Richard Compton who, a year later, would direct Notle in his first starring role in the 1975 car chase film, Return to Macon County.  Of course, the real star of the movie is the car and the California Kid earns its star billing.  The movie might not be anything special but there’s no way you can watch it and not want to drive that car.

This is a made-for-TV movie so you won’t hear any profanity and the characters are all as simple can be.  However, there are enough shots of cars going over cliffs to keep chase enthusiasts entertained.

A Movie A Day #197: Scissors (1991, directed by Frank De Felitta)


This is another dumb movie starring Sharon Stone.

In this one, Stone plays Angela Anderson.  Angela is a sexually repressed artist who is obsessed with scissors.  When she is attacked in an elevator by a man with a red beard, her neighbor, Alex (Steve Railsback), comes to her rescue.  Alex is an actor who lives with his twin brother, the bitter and wheelchair-bound Cole (Steve Railsback, again.)  When Angela finds herself locked in an apartment with a dead man (who has been stabbed with a pair of scissors and who has a red beard), who is responsible?  According to the dead man’s pet raven, it’s Angela.  “You killed him, you killed him,” the bird keeps saying.  But could it also have something to do with Angela’s obviously evil psychiatrist (Ronny Cox) and his politician wife (Michelle Phillips)?

This extremely ill-thought attempt at Hitchcockian suspense came out after Total Recall increased Sharon Stone’s profile but before Basic Instinct made her (briefly) a superstar.  Scissors, much like the later Intersection, is a film where Sharon Stone attempts to show that she really can act by playing a repressed character.  Instead, Scissors just reveals how limited Sharon Stone’s range was.  For all of the film’s attempts to duplicate Repulsion, Stone is never believable as someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  To her credit, Stone does try really hard, which is more than can be said for anyone else in the cast.  Railsback, normally a good actor, can barely summon up enough interest in the material to play one character, let alone two.  To buy what Scissors selling, it is necessary to believe that someone would come up with an elaborate scheme to drive Angela crazy but would still be careless enough to accidentally leave a door open at a key moment.

Dumb.  Just dumb.

Back to School Part II #33: No One Would Tell (dir by Noel Nosseck)


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Do you remember when Chris Brown performed The Man In The Mirror at the 2010 BET Awards?  It was during a tribute to Michael Jackson and Brown broke down crying while singing the song.  Afterwards, he accepted an award and he said, “I let you all down before, but I won’t do it again.  I promise you.”

This, of course, was about a year after Brown had pled guilty to physically abusing Rihanna.  I remember being on twitter during Brown’s performance and seeing literally thousands of tweets from people talking about how brave Chris Brown was and how amazing his performance had been.  Chris Brown was looking at the man in the mirror and asking him to change his ways.  Chris Brown was promising not to let anyone else down by nearly killing any future girlfriends.  A lot of people on twitter claimed this was amazing.  I thought it was disgusting and I tweeted out my opinion.  I really didn’t give a fuck if Chris Brown was asking the man in the mirror to change his ways.  The man in the mirror was (and is) an abusive asshole.  The man in the mirror beats women.  The man in the mirror is not capable of changing his ways.  “FUCK THE MAN IN THE MIRROR!” I tweeted.

And, oh my God, the reaction my little twitter rant inspired.  What was especially disturbing was that the majority of people who tweeted me in Brown’s defense were other women.  Yes, they all agreed, Chris Brown had beat Rihanna but he admitted what he had done, he was asking the man in the mirror to change his ways, and hey, Rihanna probably deserved it.

My favorite excuse — and this was used by quite a few of Brown’s defenders — was this: “Only God can judge Chris Brown.”  Well, you know what?  I asked God and he says Chris Brown’s an abusive asshole.

I’m tempted to say that it amazes me that Chris Brown still has fans but actually, it doesn’t.  Sadly, when it comes to a celebrity, people are willing to make excuses for almost anything.  If you ask most people, they’ll say that they’re against domestic abuse and they think abusers should suffer the worst punishment imaginable.  But when the abuser is someone who they know (or, in the case of a celebrity like Chris Brown, someone who they feel they know), the excuses start.  The equivocations are heard.  The blame is assigned to everyone but the abuser.  We start hearing bullshit about how people make mistakes and only God can judge.

In short, people are willing to talk but when it matters, they rarely act.

That’s also the theme of a powerful and sad movie called No One Would Tell.  No One Would Tell was originally made for television in 1996 and it still shows up fairly regularly on Lifetime.  Though the names and certain details have been changed, it’s based on a true story.  In fact, the film feels like it’s based on several true stories.  The plot of No One Would Tell is one that has occurred and continues to occur on far too regular of a basis.

Stacy Collins (played by Candace Cameron, before she added the Bure to her name) is a 16 year-old high school student.  She’s quiet, shy, and insecure.  When she first starts to date a popular jock named Bobby Tennison (Fred Savage), it seems like a dream come true.  But soon, Bobby starts to show another side.  He’s controlling and possessive.  He grabs her wrist hard enough to leave bruises.  He shoves her into a wall when they have an argument.  When she wears a skirt that he thinks is too short, he grabs her in the school hallway and demands that she change immediately.  When she isn’t home to answer his calls, he assumes that she most be cheating on him.  And, when she finally breaks up with him, he kills her.

What’s infuriating is that, throughout the film, Bobby’s abuse is witnessed by all of his and Stacy’s friends.  Everyone sees him push her.  Everyone sees the bruises.  Everyone knows that Bobby is unstable and that Stacy is afraid of him.  And yet, nobody says a word.  Nobody does a thing.  Instead, they just make excuses for Bobby’s behavior.  Some of them even blame Stacy.  No one is willing to get involved and it eventually costs Stacy her life.

For a TV movie from the mid-90s, No One Would Tell holds up surprisingly well.  Admittedly, Fred Savage overacts in the role of Bobby (and maybe it would have been better if the role had been played by Eric Balfour, who appears as Bobby’s best friend) but Candace Cameron does a perfect job as the tragic Stacy, capturing both her insecurity and her vulnerability.  Some of the film’s best moments are the ones shares by Cameron and Michelle Phillips.  In those scenes, we see how Stacy learned how to make excuses for Bobby’s behavior from watching the way that her mother made excuses for the men who similarly abused her.  No One Would Tell is a powerful film, one that offers an unflinching look at abuse and one that dares to demand that its audience take a stand.

No One Would Tell is a film that should be watched by anyone who thinks that the man in the mirror can change his ways.

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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