Vigilante (1982, directed by William Lustig)


The year is 1982 and New York City has gone to Hell.  While honest, hard-working people try to make a living and take care of their families, the streets are ruled by gangs and drug dealers.  The police and the legal system impotent in the face of intimidation and corruption.  Maybe it’s time for the citizens to take the streets back, by force if necessary.

That’s what Nick (Fred Williamson) and most of his friends believe.  Eddie Marino (Robert Forster) disagrees.  He says that people taking the law into their own hands will just lead to more violence and death.  The vigilantes will become just a bloodthirsty as the criminals.  While Eddie is debating policy with Nick, Eddie’s wife (Rutanya Alda) is threatening to call the police on a Che Guevara look-alike who she spots trying to set a gas station attendant on fire.  Eddie’s wife is stabbed.  His son is killed.  And when the man responsible is allowed to walk by a crooked judge, Eddie’s courtroom outburst leads to him being sent to jail.

Eddie spends 30 days in jail, fighting off predators and befriending a mysterious inmate named Rake (Woody Strode).  When Eddie is finally released, his traumatized wife no longer wants to be married to him but Eddie has found a new purpose in life.  Working with Nick, Eddie tracks down and murders the men who have destroyed his family.

One of the many films to be inspired by the success and enduring popularity of the original Death Wish, Vigilante is a classic of its kind.  Director William Lustig wastes no time in establishing New York City as being a graffiti-decorated war zone where good is fighting a losing war against evil and most of the victims are just innocent bystanders.  The New York of Vigilante looks even worse than it did in Lustig’s previous film, Maniac.  (Maniac’s Joe Spinell plays one a crooked lawyer in Vigilante.)  The action is brutal and bloody.  While Forster fights for his life in prison, the people who killed his son are allowed to run free.  It’s not subtle but, by the time Forster finally walks out of jail, you’ll be more than on his side and ready to see him get his revenge.  With his trademark intensity, Robert Forster is believable as someone who goes from aborhing to violence to being a stone cold killer who doesn’t even flinch when he shoots a defenseless man.  As Nick, Fred Williamson is his usual confident self.  Williamson may not have much range as an actor but he has such a forceful screen presence that he dominates any scene in which he appears.

Vigilante is a grim film, with Eddie ultimately going further than almost any other screen vigilante before him.  It’s also a deeply satisfying film because it appeals to everyone’s desire for revenge.  In the real world, vigilantes are often as dangerous as the people they’re trying to keep off the streets.  In the movies, though, they’re easy to root for.  They present easy and direct solutions to complex problems.  Even a film as dark as Vigilante works as a sort of wish fulfillment.  With crime on the rise and the constant news reports about innocent victims who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s easy to root for Nick and Eddie as it once was for Paul Kersey.

Film Review: Avalanche (dir by Corey Allen)


The 1978 film Avalanche tells the story of a beautiful resort that’s been built in the mountains of Colorado.  Self-righteous photographer and activist Nick Thorne (Robert Forster) keeps insisting that it’s not environmentally safe to build a resort up in the mountains.  According to him, there’s too much snow building up and it’s inevitably going to lead to an avalanche.

The owner of the resort, David Shelby (Rock Hudson), insists that Nick doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  Sure, David may have had to cut a few ethical corners to get his resort built and he may currently be under criminal investigation but that doesn’t make David a bad guy.  All he wants is to have a nice and expensive resort located in the most beautiful and dangerous place on Earth.  Does that make him a bad guy?

Unfortunately, if David was watching the film with the rest of us, he would be aware of all the shots of snow ominously building up on the side of the mountain.  However, David would still probably be distracted by the presence of his ex-wife, Caroline (Mia Farrow).  David would love to get back together with Caroline but Caroline finds herself growing attracted to Nick.  When David isn’t chasing after Caroline, he’s trying to keep his mother, Florence (Jeanette Nolan), from drinking all of the liquor in the resort.  Good luck with that!  Florence is an eccentric old person in a disaster film so, of course, she’s going to be drunk off her ass for the majority of the run time.

There are other dramas occurring at the resort, of course.  TV personality Mark Elliott (Barry Primus) is upset because his ex, Tina (Cathey Paine), is hooking up with arrogant skier Bruce Scott (Rick Moses).  Bruce is upset because Tina expects him not to cheat on her.  Ice skater Cathy Jordan (Pat Egan) is hoping to conquer her insecurities.  Rival ice skater Annette River (Peggy Browne) is …. well, she’s there.  To be honest, I’m not really sure what the whole point of the ice skating rivalry was since they all end getting buried in snow regardless.  Then again, maybe that is the point.  An avalanche doesn’t care about your personal dramas.  All it cares about is destroying tacky resorts that overuse wood paneling.

Yes, the avalanche does come crashing down the mountain eventually.  It takes a while, though.  There’s almost an hour of Rock Hudson walking around with a pained look on his face before the snow finally comes crashing down.  For all of Nick’s talk about how the avalanche would probably be the result of too many people skiing, it actually happens because someone crashes a plane into one of the mountains.

Obviously, the avalanche is the main reason why anyone would want to watch a movie called Avalanche.  Anyone with any knowledge of the disaster genre knows that no one watches these movies for the human drama.  They watch them because they want to see at least 10 minutes of solid destruction.  A disaster movie can get away with almost anything as long as the disaster itself looks good.

The disaster in Avalanche does not look particularly good.  This film was directed by Roger Corman and, despite being one of the most expensive films that Corman ever produced, the avalanche effects are definitely a bit cut-rate.  At the same time, the cheapness of the special effects does provide the film with its own odd charm.  Just consider the scene where one of the ice skaters gets covered in snow while spinning around with a triumphant smile on her face.  (Sure, she might be dead and she’ll certainly never make it to the Olympics but at least she finally mastered a fairly basic skating move.)  The avalanche effects are super imposed over the image of the skater spinning but it’s obvious that it didn’t occur to anyone to tell the skater, “Hey, act like there’s a gigantic amount of snow crashing down on you!”  It’s so inept as to be charming, like when a child draws a really ugly picture but it’s cute because at least they tried and, as a result, you wait until the child leaves your house before you throw it away.

The thing I love about Avalanche is how everyone is even more ineffectual after the avalanche than they were before it.  Usually, in a movie like this, the disaster leads to unexpected heroism and the villains getting the comeuppance.  In this one, the avalanche just inspires more stupidity.  Fire trucks and ambulances literally collide with each other while heading for the resort.  At one point, a group of fireman set up a net directly underneath someone falling out of a ski ramp chair just for the person to somehow land a few inches to the left of them.  Though the film sets David Shelby up to be the villain, it’s hard not to feel that everyone at the resort is just an idiot.

Listen, I love Avalanche.  It’s terrible but it’s a lot of fun and the less-than special effects go along perfectly with the overheated (or, in some cases, underheated) performances.  Rock Hudson wanders through the movie with a strained smile on his face that has to be seen to be believed while Mia Farrow and Robert Forster both try so hard to make their underwritten characters credible that you can’t help but kind of appreciate their devotion to a lost cause.  If nothing else, the shots extras reacting to superimposed shots of the avalanche makes this film worth a look.  This is a cheap and silly movie and if you don’t enjoy it, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Here Are The Major 72nd Emmy Nominations!


Usually, when it’s time for the Emmy nominations to be announced, I’ll post what I personally would have nominated.  I didn’t do it this year because, for whatever reason, I didn’t watch as much TV last season as I have in the past so I felt like, if I had done a Lisa Has All The Power post for the Emmy nominations, I would have ended up just nominating a bunch of shows that I hadn’t actually watched and that would just be wrong.

I will say that I was hoping to see nominations for Bad Education and Unbelievable.  Both did receive nominations, though not as much as they should have.  Bad Education was nominated for Best TV Movie and Hugh Jackman received a nomination but it deserved so much more.  (It’s the best film that I’ve seen so far this year and it bugs the Hell out of me that it was sold to HBO and not Netflix because Bad Education is the type of movie that should get Oscar recognition.)  Unbelievable was nominated for Best Limited Series but Kaitlyn Dever and Merritt Weaver deserved nominations as well.  I was also disappointed that neither Aaron Paul nor Robert Forster were nominated for El Camino.  I’m also upset that my favorite comedy series — Medical Police — was totally snubbed but I’m not really surprised.  Medical Police is hilarious but it’s not self-important enough for the Emmys.  Still, considering that Curb Your Enthusiasm was kind of terrible this year, it’s a shame that Medical Police couldn’t sneak in there.

(This year still isn’t as bad as the year that Twin Peaks: The Return was snubbed in all the major categories.)

Anyway, here are the major nominees.  At least The Mandalorian got some recognition.  GO BABY YODA!

Drama Series

“Better Call Saul” (AMC)
“The Crown” (Netflix)
“The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
“Killing Eve” (BBC America/AMC)
“The Mandalorian” (Disney Plus)
“Ozark” (Netflix)
“Stranger Things” (Netflix)
“Succession” (HBO)

Comedy Series

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO)
“Dead to Me” (Netflix)
“The Good Place” (NBC)
“Insecure” (HBO)
“The Kominsky Method” (Netflix)
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon Prime Video)
“Schitt’s Creek” (Pop TV)
“What We Do in the Shadows” (FX)

Limited Series

“Little Fires Everywhere” (Hulu)
“Mrs. America” (Hulu)
“Unbelievable” (Netflix)
“Unorthodox” (Netflix)
“Watchmen” (HBO)

Televison Movie

“American Son” (Netflix)

“Bad Education” (HBO)

“Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings: These Old Bones” (Netflix)

“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” (Netflix)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend (Netflix)

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Jason Bateman (“Ozark”)
Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”)
Steve Carell (“The Morning Show”)
Brian Cox (“Succession”)
Billy Porter (“Pose”)
Jeremy Strong (“Succession”)

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Jennifer Aniston (“The Morning Show”)
Olivia Colman (“The Crown”)
Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve”)
Laura Linney (“Ozark”)
Sandra Oh (“Killing Eve”)
Zendaya (“Euphoria”)

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”)
Don Cheadle (“Black Monday”)
Ted Danson (“The Good Place”)
Michael Douglas (“The Kominsky Method”)
Eugene Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”)
Ramy Youssef (“Ramy”)

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Christina Applegate (“Dead to Me”)
Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Linda Cardellini (“Dead to Me”)
Catherine O’Hara (“Schitt’s Creek”)
Issa Rae (“Insecure”)
Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”)

Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

Jeremy Irons (“Watchmen”)
Hugh Jackman (“Bad Education”)
Paul Mescal (“Normal People”)
Jeremy Pope (“Hollywood”)
Mark Ruffalo (“I Know This Much Is True”)

Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

Cate Blanchett (“Mrs. America”)
Shira Haas (“Unorthodox”)
Regina King (“Watchmen”)
Octavia Spencer (“Self Made”)
Kerry Washington (“Little Fires Everywhere”)

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Giancarlo Esposito (“Better Call Saul”)
Bradley Whitford (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Billy Crudup (“The Morning Show”)
Mark Duplass (“The Morning Show”)
Nicholas Braun (“Succession”)
Kieran Culkin (“Succession”)
Matthew Macfadyen (“Succession”)
Jeffrey Wright (“Westworld”)

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Laura Dern (“Big Little Lies”)
Meryl Streep (“Big Little Lies”)
Helena Bonham Carter (“The Crown”)
Samira Wiley (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Fiona Shaw (“Killing Eve”)
Julia Garner (“Ozark”)
Sarah Snook (“Succession”)
Thandie Newton (“Westworld”)

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Andre Braugher (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”)
William Jackson Harper (“The Good Place”)
Alan Arkin (“The Kominsky Method”)
Sterling K. Brown (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Tony Shalhoub (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Mahershala Ali (“Ramy”)
Kenan Thompson (“Saturday Night Live”)
Dan Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”)

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Betty Gilpin (“GLOW”)
D’Arcy Carden (“The Good Place”)
Yvonne Orji (“Insecure”)
Alex Borstein (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Marin Hinkle (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”)
Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”)
Cecily Strong (“Saturday Night Live”)
Annie Murphy (“Schitt’s Creek”)

Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

Dylan McDermott (“Hollywood”)
Jim Parsons (“Hollywood”)
Tituss Burgess (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend”)
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (“Watchmen”)
Jovan Adepo (“Watchmen”)
Louis Gossett Jr. (“Watchmen”)

Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

Holland Taylor (“Hollywood”)
Uzo Aduba (“Mrs. America”)
Margo Martindale (“Mrs. America”)
Tracey Ullman (“Mrs. America”)
Toni Collette (“Unbelievable”)
Jean Smart (“Watchmen”)

Reality Competition

“The Masked Singer” (FOX)
“Nailed It” (Netflix)
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” (VH1)
“Top Chef” (Bravo)
“The Voice” (NBC)

Variety Sketch Series

“A Black Lady Sketch Show” (HBO)
“Drunk History” (Comedy Central)
“Saturday Night Live” (NBC)

Variety Talk Series

“Daily Show with Trevor Noah” (Comedy Central)
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (TBS)
“Jimmy Kimmel Live” (ABC)
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (HBO)
“Late Show with Stephen Colbert” (CBS)

Demolition University (1997, directed by Kevin Tenney)


Terrorists have taken over the local power and water plant and are threatening to poison the water supply if their demands are not meant.  Among those that they are holding hostage is a group of college students who were on what would have otherwise been the most boring field trip of their lives.  While Colonel Gentry (Robert Forster) tries to negotiate with the terrorists, one college student, Lenny Slater (Corey Haim), takes matters into his own deadly hands.  Lenny also finds time to ask track star Jenny (Ami Dolenz) to go to the homecoming dance with him.

How many times can the exact same thing happen to the same person?  That’s what you might expect Lenny Slater to ask as he finds himself sneaking around and taking out terrorists one-by-one.  Demolition University is a sequel to Demolition High, with Lenny Slater now in college and a member of the school’s football team.  What’s strange is that, even though Haim is playing the same character from the first film, no one mentions the events of Demolition High.  No one mentions that Lenny not only blew up his old school but he saved the entire midwest from being bombed into a nuclear ash heap.  When Lenny tries to tell Prof. Harris (Laraine Newman!) that it’s obvious that terrorists have taken over the power plant, she ignores him because he has a history of playing pranks.  But he also has a history of tracking down and killing terrorists!  I would listen to him.

Demolition High wasn’t good but it was watchable.  Demolition University is just dull.  Haim actually gives a better performance here than he did in the first film, if just because it’s easier to buy him as a college student instead of as a high school student.  But he’s actually barely in the film.  Most of the running time is taken up with Robert Forster trying to negotiate with the leader of the terrorists.  That’s kind of cool because Robert Forster was the man but the movie still seems like what Die Hard would have been if it had just been two hours of Paul Gleason standing outside the tower while Bruce Willis killed people offscreen.  Even when we do get Lenny fighting the the terrorists, the action scenes feel flat and interchangeable.  There’s nothing to really distinguish them from every other 90s action film that you’ve ever seen.

Demolition University has higher production values than Demolition High and it actually looks like a real movie but it’s just not much fun.  I’m not surprised that there was never a Demolition Grad School.

Film Review: Cover Me, Babe (dir by Noel Black)


 

I don’t know if I’ve ever come across a non-horror film that featured a more off-putting lead character than Tony, the protagonist of 1970’s Cover Me, Babe.

A film student, Tony (Robert Forster, even in 1970, who was too old for the role) aspires to make avant-garde films.  Everyone in the film continually raves about how talented Tony is.  The footage that we see, however, tends to suggest that Tony is a pretentious phony.  The film opens with footage of a student film that Tony shot, one that involves his girlfriend, Melisse (Sondra Locke) sunbathing in the desert and getting groped by a hand that apparently lives under the sand.  It was so self-consciously arty that I assumed that it meant to be satirical and that we were supposed to laugh along as Tony assured everyone that it was a masterpiece.  And, to be honest, I’m still not sure that Cover Me, Babe wasn’t meant to be a satire on film school pretension.  I mean, that explanation makes about as much sense any other.  (Hilariously enough, Tony’s film had the same visual style as the film-within-a-film around which the storyline of Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind revolved.  At least in the case of Welles, we know that his intent was satirical.)

Tony is not only pretentious but he’s also a bit of a prick.  He treats Melisse terribly and he manipulates everyone around him.  He wanders around the city with his camera, filming random people and then editing the footage together into films that feel like third-rate Godard.  He answers every criticism with a slight smirk, the type of expression that will leave you dreaming of the moment that someone finally takes a swing at him.  Tony’s arrogant and he treats everyone like crap but, for whatever reason, everyone puts up with him because …. well, because otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie.  Of course, eventually, everyone does get sick of Tony because otherwise, the movie would never end.

A Hollywood agent (Jeff Corey) calls up Tony and offers to get him work in Hollywood.  Tony is rude to the guy on the phone.  Tony meets a big time producer who could get Tony work.  Tony’s rude to him.  Guess who doesn’t get a job?  Tony has to get money to develop his latest film from one of his professors so he’s rude to the professor.  Guess who doesn’t get any money?  Tony cheats on his loyal girlfriend.  Tony’s cameraman (played by a youngish Sam Waterston) walks out when Tony tries to film two people having sex.  By the end of the movie, no one wants anything to do with Tony.  Tony goes for a run on the beach.  He appears to be alienated and disgruntled.  We’re supposed to care, I guess.

The problem with making a movie about an arrogant artist who alienates everyone around him is that you have to make the audience believe that the artist is talented enough to justify his arrogant behavior.  For instance, if you’re going to make a movie about a painter who is prone to paranoid delusions and obsessive behavior, that painter has to be Vincent Van Gogh.  He can’t just be the the guy who paints a picture of two lion cubs and then tries to sell it at the local art festival.  You have to believe that the artist is a once-in-a-lifetime talent because otherwise, you’re just like, “Who cares?”  The problem with Cover Me, Babe is that you never really believe that Tony is worth all of the trouble.  The film certainly seems to believe that he’s worth it but ultimately, he just comes across as being a jerk who manipulates and mistreats everyone around him.

That said, from my own personal experience, a lot of film students are jerks who treat everyone them like crap.  So, in this case, I think you can make the argument that Cover Me, Babe works well as a documentary.  The fact of the matter is that not every film student is going to grow up to be the next Scorsese or Tarantino or Linklater.  Some of them are going to turn out to be like Tony, running along the beach and wondering why no one agrees with him about George Stevens being a less interesting director in the 50s than he was in the 30s.  As a docudrama about the worst people that you’re likely to meet while hanging out on campus, Cover Me, Babe is certainly effective.  Otherwise, the film is a pretentious mess that’s done in by its unlikable protagonist.  Everyone in the film says that Tony has what it takes to be an important director but, if I had to guess, I imagine he probably ended up shooting second unit footage for Henry Jaglom before eventually retiring from the industry and opening up his own vegan restaurant in Vermont.  That’s just my guess.

The poster has little to do with the film.

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.