Scenes I Love: Robert Forster in El Camino


Today, I’m taking a break from sharing horror movie scenes that I can pay tribute to the great actor, Robert Forster.

Forster passed away on Friday, shortly after his final film — El Camino — dropped on Netflix.  Forster had a small but pivotal role in the film, reprising the Breaking Bad character of Ed.  Ed may look like a vacuum cleaner repairman but he’s actually the guy you want to see if you need to start a new life far away from New Mexico.

Admittedly, Forster doesn’t say a lot in the scene below.  Aaron Paul’s the one who does most of the talking but then again, Forster wasn’t an actor who needed a lot of lines to make an impression.  Forster excelled at playing down-to-Earth men who may not have said much but who still meant every word that they said.  Forster does so much with just his eyes and his taciturn expression here.  And when he does speak, the lines are killer.

Obviously, this scene is going to count as a spoiler if you haven’t seen El Camino yet.

Robert Forster, R.I.P.  He was one of the greats.

 

The Things You Find On Netflix: El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (dir by Vince Gilligan)


As one might expect from the sequel film to Breaking Bad, the shadow of Walter White hangs over very minute of El Camino.

Physically, Bryan Cranston doesn’t have a large role in El Camino.  Like many of the characters from Breaking Bad, he appears only in a flashback.  Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) spends a good deal of this movie dwelling on the past, perhaps because the only way that he can have a future is by mentally forgiving himself for all the stuff that went on while he was cooking meth with Walter White and, later, for the Nazi bikers who kept him chained up in a cage like an animal.  So, it makes sense that we would see a lot of flashbacks, the majority featuring characters who are no longer alive.  Cranston’s Walter White only appears towards the end of the film, when Jesse remembers the conversation they had at a diner about what Jesse was going to do with the money that they were making.  It’s a bit jarring to see them, largely because Walter still looks like an earnest and frail science teacher while Jesse is still young, loud, and more than a little obnoxious.  It’s quite a contrast to what we know will eventually happen to both characters.

For obvious reasons, Walter White isn’t in much of El Camino but his ghost seems to following Jesse through the entire movie. For that matter, so does the ghost of Tod Alquist (Jesse Plemons).  It’s not just that a good deal of the movie deals with Jesse trying to figure out where Tod hid all of his money.  (Jesse is planning on using the money to hopefully escape New Mexico and start a new life in Alaska.)  It’s also that Jesse has been scarred, both physically and mentally, by the Hellish time that he spent as Tod’s …. well, Tod’s pet.  Tod treated Jesse like a dog, keeping him on a leash, punishing him for being “bad,” and then offering Jesse pizza as a reward whenever Jesse did something right.  To be honest, the flashbacks with Tod take some getting used to, largely because Plemons has obviously aged quite a bit between the finale of Breaking Bad and the shooting of El Camino.  But, still, Plemons is absolutely terrifying as the unfailingly polite but definitely sociopathic Tod.  At one point, Tod casually brings Jesse over to his apartment so that Jesse can help dispose of the body of his cleaning lady.  Tod murdered her because she came across some money that he was hiding in a hollowed-out book.  Tod shrugs as he tells the story of her murder, as if his actions are as commonplace as waking up and going to bed.

Throughout Breaking Bad, Jesse spent most of the series being manipulated by evil men.  What was ironic, of course, was that Jesse was the only one of those men who must people automatically considered to be a criminal.  Everyone thought that Walter was a tragic family man.  Tod was largely anonymous and those who did notice him usually assumed he was just an eccentric weirdo.  Jesse, on the other hand, was the guy who was continually getting hauled in by the police and harassed by the DEA.  He was the one who was viewed as being a danger to society even though he eventually proved himself to be one of the few characters with anything resembling a conscience.  In El Camino, Jesse finally gets a chance to determine his own fate.  Will he embrace the lucrative but soul-destroying greed of Walter and Tod?  Or will he escape and try to make a new life for himself?

El Camino is a visually stunning tour-de-force, anchored by Aaron Paul’s empathetic performance as Jesse.  Jesse is no longer as loud as he may have been in Breaking Bad.  He’s a man haunted by the past and, watching the film, you know, regardless of whether he makes it to Alaska, the scars will never fully heal.  He has the haunted eyes of a man who is never going to be fully okay, regardless of where he ends up.  In fact, if we’re going to be realistic, he probably doesn’t have much of a future ahead of him.  Those ghosts are always going to follow him and, as Robert Forster’s Ed sagely explains it, much of what has happened is due to Jesse’s own poor decisions.

Still, whatever mistakes he’s made in the past, you can’t help but wish the best for Jesse Pinkman.

He’s earned it.

Everyone’s Crazy: Committed (1991, directed by William A. Levey)


After her lover and employer commits suicide, nurse Susan Manning (Jennifer O’Neill) needs a new job so she applies at an experimental mental hospital that is known as the Institute.  The director of the Institute, Dr. Magnus Quilly (William Windom), explains to her that he cures his patients by allowing them to live out their fantasies in a controlled environment.  He asks Susan is she’s prepared to “commit” herself to being a nurse.  Susan says that she is and signs the papers that Dr. Quilly hands to her.

Too late, Susan discovers that Dr. Quilly didn’t hand her an employment contract.  Instead, Susan has just signed her own commitment papers and is now a patient at the Institute!  Dr. Quilly tells her that, as he does with all of his patients, he will allow her to live out her fantasy of being a nurse.  After discovering than an electrified fence makes it impossible to escape, Susan starts working as a nurse but she soon discovers that she is not the first person to be tricked into working at the Institute and that almost all of her predecessors died under mysterious circumstances.

Committed is one of many films about what happens when the lunatics literally take over the asylum.  (This is a plot that was first used by Edgar Allan Poe in The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether.)  The film is hurt by its low-budget but veteran B-movie director William A. Levey does a good job playing up the claustrophobia of being trapped in one location and Committed features eccentric performances from actors like Robert Forster, Ron Pallilo, and Sidney Lassick.  Committed asks, “Who is actually sane in an insane world?” and answers, “Everyone’s crazy!”

The best thing about Committed is that it stars Jennifer O’Neill, a beautiful model-turned-actress who found brief stardom when she appeared as the war bride in Summer of ’42.  Though O’Neill’s career never lived up to the promise of her first film, she was a better-than-average actress and she’s pretty good in Committed.  Both she and the film keep it deliberately ambiguous about whether or not Susan is really a nurse or if her whole backstory is just something that she’s fantasized.

Committed is a well-made B-movie from the golden age of straight-to-video thrillers and late night HBO premieres.  Despite a low-budget, this movie shows the good work that a cast and a director can do when they’re fully committed.

Under the Sea: Goliath Awaits (1981, directed by Kevin Connor)


1939.  War is breaking out across Europe.  The British luxury liner Goliath is torpedoed by a German U-boat.  Presumed to be lost with the ship are a swashbuckling film star, Ronald Bentley (John Carradine), and U.S. Senator Oliver Barthowlemew (John McIntire), who may have been carrying a forged letter from Hitler to Roosevelt when the boat went down.

1981.  Oceanographer Peter Cabot (Mark Harmon, with a mustache) comes across the sunken wreck of the Goliath.  When he dives to check out his discovery, he is shocked to hear big band music coming from inside the ship.  He also thinks that he can hear someone tapping out an S.O.S. signal.  When he looks into a porthole, he is stunned to discover a beautiful young woman (Emma Samms) staring back at him.

Under the command of Admiral Sloan (Eddie Albert), who wants to retrieve the forged letter before it does any damage to the NATO alliance, Cabot and Command Jeff Selkirk (Robert Forster) are assigned to head an expedition to explore Goliath.  What they discover is that, for 40 years, the passengers and crew have survived within an air bubble.  Under the leadership of Captain John McKenzie (Christopher Lee), they have created a new, apparently perfect society within the sunken ship.  Cabot discovers that the woman that he saw was McKenzie’s daughter, Lea.

McKenzie is friendly to Cabot and his crew, explaining to them the scientific developments that have allowed the passengers and crew to not only survive but thrive underwater.  The only problems are a group of outcasts — the Bow People — who refuse to follow McKenzie’s orders and Palmer’s Disease, an infection that only seems to infect people who are no longer strong enough to perform the daily tasks necessary to keep McKenzie’s utopia functioning.   Even when people on the boat die, they continue to play their part by being cremated in Goliath’s engine room and helping to power the ship.

Everything seems perfect until Cabot announces that he has come to rescue the survivors of the Goliath.  Even though Goliath is starting to decay and will soon no longer be safe, McKenzie is not ready to give up the perfect society that he’s created.  McKenzie sets out to prevent anyone from escaping the Goliath.

Goliath Awaits is a massive, 3-hour production that was made for television and originally aired over two nights.  (The entire 200-minute production has been uploaded to YouTube.  Avoid the heavily edited, 91-minute version that was released on VHS in the 90s.)  It’s surprisingly good for a made-for-TV movie.  Because a large portion of the film was shot on the RMS Queen Mary, a retired cruise ship that was moored in Long Beach, California, Goliath looks luxurious enough that you understand why some of the passengers might want to stay there instead of returning to the surface.  Beyond that, Goliath Awaits takes the time to fully explore the society that McKenzie has created and what it’s like to live on the ship.  McKenzie may not be as benevolent as he first appears to be but neither is he a one-dimensional villain.

Mark Harmon is a dull lead but Robert Forster is just as cool as always and Christopher Lee is perfect for the role of misguided Capt. McKenzie.  The movie is really stolen by Frank Gorshin, who is coldly sinister as Dan Wesker, the Goliath’s head of security.  McKenzie may by Goliath’s leader but Wesker is the one who does the dirty work necessary to keep the society running.

Goliath Awaits also features several character actors in small roles, with John Carradine, Duncan Regehr, Jean Marsh, John McIntire, Jeanette Nolan, Alex Cord, Emma Samms, and John Ratzenberger all getting to make a good impression.  (Ignore, if you can, a very young Kirk Cameron as one of the children born on the Goliath.)

Goliath Awaits is far better than your average made-for-TV movie from the 80s.  With any luck, it will someday get the home video release that it deserves.

 

Scenes That I Love: Wally Brando Arrives In Twin Peaks: The Return


“My family, my friend, I’ve criss-crossed this great land of ours countless times. I hold the map of it here, in my heart, next to the joyful memories of the carefree days I spent, as a young boy, here in your beautiful town of Twin Peaks.”

— Wally “Brando” Brennan in Twin Peaks The Return: Part 4

Last year, there were many Twin Peaks moments that many of us could not stop talking about.  There was Cooper announcing, “I am the FBI.”  There was Matthew Lillard’s interrogation.  There was Naomi Watts telling off the loan sharks and Jim Belushi talking about his dreams.  There were the musical performances at the Roadhouse.  There was Laura’s scream at the end of the Part 18.  And of course, there was every single minute of Part 8.

And then there was the arrival of Wally Brando.

Played by Michael Cera, Wally Brando was the son of Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Deputy Andy (Harry Goaz).  They were obviously quite proud of their son and Wally … well, Wally really loved Marlon Brando.  (That probably has something do with the fact that Wally and Marlon Brando shared a birthday.)  Interestingly enough, in the scene above, Micahel Cera is speaking to Robert Forster, who co-starred with Brando in 1967’s Reflections in a Golden Eye.

(Of course, by imitating Brando’s look in The Wild One, Wally Brando reminds us that Twin Peaks took place in a world where pop culture and society’s darkest secrets collided.)

How big of a splash did Wally Brando make?  When Part 4 of Twin Peaks premiered, Wally Brando immediately started to trend on twitter.  People were reminded that Michael Cera was capable of doing more than just playing sensitive teenagers.  It was one of the first great moments of the Twin Peaks revival.  As much attention as Cera received for his performance, I also think that Harry Goaz, Kimmy Robertson, and Robert Forster deserved just as much credit for making this scene work.  Andy and Lucy were so proud and Sheriff Truman’s reactions were just priceless.

Today would have been Marlon Brando’s 94th birthday and I’m sure that, somewhere, Wally Brando is wearing a party hat, opening his presents from Lucy and Andy, watching Guys and Dolls, and smiling.

 

2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Final Post About Twin Peaks: The Return (for now)


“Nothing will die. The stream flows, the wind blows, the cloud fleets, the heart beats. Nothing will die.” — John Merrick’s Mother, quoting Tennyson, at the end of The Elephant Man (1980)

Was Twin Peaks: The Return a movie or a TV show?

As I sit here on January 9th, 2018, that’s a question that’s still on my mind.  There are many critics who insist that Twin Peaks: The Return should be viewed as being a 16-hour movie.  It’s a claim that I, myself, have made several times.  In order to support this argument, we point out that David Lynch and Mark Frost didn’t sit down and write 16 different scripts.  Instead, they wrote one 900-page script which they then filmed and subsequently divided into 16 different “chapters.”  It’s really not that much different from what Quentin Tarantino did with Kill Bill or what Peter Jackson did with both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  As well, Twin Peaks: The Return was such a monumental artistic achievement that calling it a TV show just seems somehow diminishing.

And yet, the fact of the matter is that Twin Peaks: The Return did air on television.  It aired in 16 different episodes, which were aired on a weekly basis.  To many, that fact alone makes Twin Peaks: The Return a television show.

It may all seem like a silly question to some readers.  However, for those of us who like to make best-of lists at the start of the new year, it is a legitimate issue.  Should I include Twin Peaks: The Return at the top of my list of the best 26 films of 2017 or should I rave about it in my list of good things I saw on television in 2017?

My solution is to do neither.  Twin Peaks: The Return was such a monumental achievement that it deserves a best-of entry of its very own.

(Of course, not everyone is going to agree.  For everyone who loved Twin Peaks: The Return, there was someone else who hated it with just as much of a passion.)

Months after the show ended, Twin Peaks: The Return continues to haunt many viewers.  As the Man From Another Place once told Agent Cooper, “She is full of secrets.”  When the show ended, many of the show’s mysteries were left unsolved.  Really, we shouldn’t have been surprised.  As a filmmaker, David Lynch has always been most interested in mysteries than solutions.  What happened to Audrey?  Why did Laura/Carrie scream?  At the end of the show, was Dale trapped in another world or another time?  Was BOB really destroyed?

Interestingly, David Lynch actually provided viewers with two endings.  The first ending, which occurred halfway through Part 17, was an ending that would have been perfect for a television show.  Dale Cooper, back to normal, defeated the bad guys and was reunited with all of his friends.  The second ending — also known as Part 18— was a much more Lynchian ending as two strangers took a road trip to nowhere.  Part 17 gave us hope for the future.  Part 18 ended with a dark reminder that the past cannot be changed, no matter how much we obsess over it.  For me, Part 18 was the most important chapter of Twin Peaks: The Return.  Part 8, of course, is the chapter that got and continues to get all the attention.  And Part 8 was probably one of the greatest stand-alone episodes in television history.  But, when considering the reoccurring themes of Twin Peaks: The Return and all of Lynch’s work, Part 18 was far more important.

What’s interesting is that, while the show ended on a dark note, Twin Peaks: The Return was often Lynch at his most optimistic.  For all the terrible things that happened, the show also featured a reoccurring theme of redemption.  Two of the original show’s most villainous characters — Dana Ashbrook’s Bobby Briggs and Richard Beymer’s Ben Horne — were reintroduced as two of the most sympathetic characters to be found in The Return.  Agent Cooper finally escaped from the Black Lodge and not only got a chance to redeem himself by destroying Bob but he also destroyed his evil Double.  He even got a chance to turn Dougie Jones into a good husband, father, and employee.

In the end, it would appear that Cooper’s only mistake was thinking that he could change the past.  He may have saved Laura but, in doing so, he just transformed her into Carrie, an unbalanced woman living in a house with a dead body on the couch.  As her final scream confirmed, he could save her life but he couldn’t erase her pain.  The past is the past but the future can always be better.

Of course, it wasn’t just the characters on the show who won redemption.  The cast of Twin Peaks: The Return was truly amazing and, by the time the show ended, my opinion of several performers had changed forever.  Who would ever have guessed that Jim Belushi would end up being one of my favorite characters?  Or that Michael Cera would turn Wally Brando into a minor cult hero?   Or that David Lynch would prove to be as good an actor as he is a director?  Or that Balthazar Getty would get a chane to redeem his less than impressive work in Lost Highway with a chilling performance as the newest face of Twin Peaks corruption?  Even the returnees from the original show — Dana Ashbrook, Wendy Robie, Sheryl Lee, Harry Goaz, Kimmy Robertson, Russ Tamblyn, Everett McGill, Peggy Lipton, Grace Zabriskie, James Marshall, Madchen Amick, and others — were given a chance to reveal new depths of character.  Veterans like Robert Forster, Ashley Judd, Laura Dern, Don Murray, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Naomi Watts and Tim Roth shared the stage with newcomers like Chrysta Bell and Eamon Farren and they all came together to create an unforgettable world.

You could even argue that Twin Peaks: The Return was a comeback of sorts for Kyle MacLachlan.  Hollywood has never seemed to really understand how to best use this appealing but quirky actor.  Twin Peaks: The Return provided him with a chance to show what he can do, giving him not just one but three characters to play.

 

Twin Peaks: The Return gave us one final chance to appreciate some talented people who are no longer with us.  Harry Dean Stanton was the face of old-fashioned decency.  Miguel Ferrer provided snarky commentary, letting the audience know that the show understood how strange it was.  Warren Frost returned briefly, still as reliable as ever as Doc Hayward.  And Catherine E. Coulson, who was so often Lynch’s muse, got to play the role one more time.

(Jack Nance, Don S. Davis, Frank Silva, and David Bowie all made appearances as well, a reminder that they may no longer be with us but they will never be gone.)

In the end, it seems appropriate to end this post with a picture of Ed and Norma, finally together.  The world of Twin Peaks: The Return was frequently a dark one but sometimes, love won.

Tomorrow, my look back at 2017 continues with my picks for my favorite songs of 2017.

Previous entries in the TSL’s Look Back at 2017:

  1. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Single Issues by Ryan C
  2. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Series by Ryan C
  3. 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Edition (Contemporary) by Ryan C
  4. 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Editions (Vintage) by Ryan C
  5. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Graphic Novels By Ryan C
  6. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I saw in 2017 by Valerie Troutman
  7. My Top 15 Albums of 2017 by Necromoonyeti
  8. 2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Picks For the 16 Worst Films of 2017

 

A Movie A Day #356: The Delta Force (1986, directed by Menahem Golan)


Last year, at this time, I set a goal for myself.

I decided that, in 2017, I would review a movie a day and I nearly succeeded. I didn’t review a movie on the day Chris Cornell died.  I missed a few days in March due to a sinus infection.  Including the review that I’m posting below, I reviewed 356 movies in 2017.  According to the year-end stats, my most popular reviews were for Heavy Metal Parking Lot, Slaughter, Body Chemistry 3, Body Chemistry 4, and Beatlemania.

Since tomorrow will be the start of a new year, this is going to be the end of my A Movie A Day experiment.  In 2018, I’ll still be watching movies and posting reviews on this site but this is my final daily review.  For my final Movie A Day, I picked the greatest movie of all time, The Delta Force!

Produced by Cannon Films, The Delta Force starts in 1980, with a helicopter exploding in the desert.  America’s elite special missions force has been sent to Iran to rescue the men and women being held hostage in the embassy.  The mission is a disaster with the members of Delta Force barely escaping with their lives.  Captain Chuck Norris tells his commanding officer, Col. Lee Marvin, that he’s finished with letting cowardly politicians control their missions.  Chuck heads to Montana while Lee spends the next few years hitting on the bartender at his local watering hole.

In 1985, terrorists led by Robert Forster hijack an airplane and divert it to Beirut.  Among those being held hostage: Martin Balsam, Shelley Winters, Lainie Kazan, Susan Strasberg, Kim Delaney, and Bo Svenson.  The great George Kennedy plays a priest named O’Malley who, when the Jewish passengers are moved to a separate location, declares himself to be Jewish and demands to be taken too.  Jerry Lazarus is a hostage who spends the movie holding a Cabbage Patch doll that his daughter gave him for luck.  Former rat packer Joey Bishop plays a passenger who says, “Beirut was beautiful then.  Beautiful.”  Fassbinder favorite Hanna Schygulla is the stewardess who refuses to help the terrorists because, “I am German!”

In America, General Robert Vaughn activates The Delta Force to rescue the hostages and take out the terrorists.  As Lee Marvin prepares everyone (including Cannon favorite, Steve James and, in a nonspeaking role, Liam Neeson) to leave, the big question is whether Chuck Norris will come out of retirement for the mission.  Of course, he does.  Even better, he brings his motorcycle with him.

Anyone who has ever seen The Delta Force remembers Chuck’s motorcycle.  Not only did it look incredibly cool but it was also mounted with machine guns and it could fire missiles at cowardly terrorists.  It didn’t matter whether you agreed with the film’s politics were or whether you even liked the movie, everyone who watched The Delta Force wanted Chuck’s motorcycle.  As the old saying goes, “You may be cool but you’ll never be Chuck Norris firing a missile from a motorcycle cool.”

The Delta Force is really three different films.  One film, shot in the style of a disaster film, is about the hostages on the plane and their evil captors.  The second film is Lee Marvin (in his final movie role) preparing his men to storm the airplane.  The third movie is Chuck Norris chasing Robert Forster on his motorcycle.  Put those three movies together and you have the ultimate Cannon movie.  The Delta Force was even directed by Cannon’s head honcho, Menahem Golan.  (Years earlier, Golan also directed Operation Thunderbolt, an Israeli film about the raid on Entebbe, which features more than a few similarities to The Delta Force.  Golan received his first and only Oscar nomination when Operation Thunderbolt was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.)

The Delta Force is also the ultimate 80s movie.  It opens with the Carter administration fucking everything up and it ends with the Reagan administration giving Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris the greenlight to blow up some terrorists.  There is not much nuance to be found in The Delta Force but it still feels good to watch Chuck beat the bad guys.  Top that off with a shameless score from Alan Silvestri and you have one of the greatest action movies of all time.

At the end of The Delta Force, as cans of Budweiser are being passed out to rescued hostages, an extra is clearly heard to shout, “Beer!  America!”  Then everyone sings America The Beautiful.

That says it all.