Allan Quatermain and The Lost City Of Gold (1987, directed by Gary Nelson)


Having previously discovered and escaped King Solomon’s mines, Allan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain) and Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone) are now living in a domestic bliss in Africa.  They’re planning on eventually returning to America so that they can get married but it turns out that Allan has one more quest that he has to complete before he can truly settle down.

When Allan receives information that his long last brother is not only still alive but has also discovered a fabled Lost City of Gold, Allan sets out to discover the city for himself.  Traveling with Jesse and an old friend named Umslopogaas (James Earl Jones!), Allan makes his way across the Sahara, survives a battle with a group of native, and manages to find both the city and his brother!

However, all is not well in the City of Gold.  Queen Nyelptha (Aileen Marson) is on the verge of going to war with Queen Sorais (Cassandra Peterson, a.k.a Elvira, Mistress of the Dark!!).  Manipulating both of the queens is the evil high priest, Agon (Henry Silva!!!!).  To save the City of Gold and his future marriage, Allan will first have to figure out a way to defeat Agon.

Allan Quatermain and the Lost City Of Gold was filmed back-to-back with King Solomon’s Mines.  The two films were released within a year of each other and, while King Solomon’s Mines was a minor box office success, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold was not.  I wasn’t expecting much when I watched the film but, believe it or not, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold is not that bad.  It’s a definite improvement on King Solomon’s Mines.  Richard Chamberlain is more believable as Quatermain in the sequel and he and Sharon Stone share the minimum amount of chemistry to be somewhat believable as a couple in love.  If that sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, it’s still an improvement over King Solomon’s Mines, where the two of them often seemed as if they couldn’t stand to be anywhere near each other.  Best of all, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold has Henry Silva in a ridiculous costume and that automatically makes the film worth watching.

Henry Silva, everyone.

Like King Solomon’s Mines, Allan Quatermain and The Lost City of Gold adds a large dose of intentional humor to its adventure story.  Fortunately, the comedy here is better executed than in the previous film.  There’s less mugging on Chamberlain’s part and some of the dialogue is genuinely amusing.

Of course, Allan Quatermain and The Lost City of Gold is not without its flaws.  This is a low-budget Cannon film that often tries too hard to duplicate the success of the Indiana Jones films without ever showing much understanding of what made those films successful in the first place.  Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold can’t hold a candle to the classic adventure films of the past.  But, for a low-budget Cannon film starring Richard Chamberlain as a rugged, jungle explorer, it’s actually a lot of fun.

Plus, did I mention Henry Silva?

King Solomon’s Mines (1985, directed by J. Lee Thompson)


After her archaeologist father disappears while searching for the fabled mines of King Solomon, Jesse Houston (Sharon Stone) hires famed explorer Allan Quartermain (Richard Chamberlain) to help her find him.  After walking around in the jungle and exploring a nearby village, Allan and Jesse discover that her father has been kidnapped by a German military expedition who want to use King Solomon’s treasure to fund their war effort.  Working with the Germans is Allan’s old enemy, Dogati (John Rhys-Davies).  Allan and Jesse find themselves in a race against time to find the mines before the Germans.  Along the way, they steal an airplane, fight German soldiers on a train, and nearly get cooked alive in a giant cauldron.

Because this is a Cannon film and it was made at the height of Indiana Jones’s popularity and it stars John Rhys-Davies and it has a score that sounds like it was written by someone trying too hard to be John Williams, you might be tempted to think that King Solomon’s Mines is a rip-off of Raiders of the Lost Ark.  However, there are some crucial differences between Raiders and King Solomon’s Mines.  For instance, Raiders of the Lost Ark took place during World War II.  King Solomon’s Mines takes place during World War I.  Raiders of the Lost Ark had angels that melted a man’s face.  King Solomon’s Mines has a lava pit that makes you explode if you fall into it.  Raiders of the Lost Ark has a big fight in an airfield while King Solomon’s Mines has a big fight at an airfield …. well, wait, I guess they do have a few things in common.

Probably the biggest difference between Raiders of the Lost Ark and King Solomon’s Mines is that Raiders had Harrison Ford and Karen Allen while King Solomon’s Mines has to make due with Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone.  (If the imdb trivia section is to be believed, Sharon Stone was cast because Menahem Golan mistook her for Kathleen Turner.)  Along with generating zero romantic sparks, neither Chamberlain nor Stone come across as if they’ve ever even seen a jungle, much less explored one.  The only time that the two of them are credible as anything other than actors slumming on Cannon’s dime is when they’re yelling at each other.  There’s also a scene where they’re trying to steal an airplane and Chamberlain tells Stone to “reach between your legs and grab it.”  That was funny, I guess.

Along with trying to be an adventure, King Solomon’s Mines also tries to be a comedy.  As a general rule, Cannon films are great when they’re unintentionally funny but not so much when they actually try to be funny.  The film’s idea of comedy is Richard Chamberlain having to do an impromptu jig while someone shoots at his feet.  Add in a healthy dose of casual racism as Allan and Jesse run into a tribe in Africa who want to cook them in a giant stew pot and you’ve got a film so bad that you’ll hardly believe it could have been produced by the same people who gave us Delta Force, which is, of course, the greatest film ever made.

Golan and Globus had enough confidence in King Solomon’s Mines that they shot a sequel before the first film was even released.  Tomorrow, I will force myself to watch and review Allan Quartermain and The Lost City of Gold.  And, after that, I’ll probably go sit in a corner and think about what I’ve done.

Action Jackson (1988, directed by Craig R. Baxley)


Jericho Jackson (Carl Weathers) is the tough Detroit cop who everyone calls “Action” because I guess Jericho was just too normal a name.  He’s a legend in the department and on the streets of the Motor City.  “Some people say his mother was molested by Bigfoot,” one patrolman says but the truth is simpler.  Jackson was a high school football star before he went to Harvard Law and got his degree.  He could have been an attorney but he decided to become a cop instead.

Unfortunately, Action Jackson is currently Desk Duty Jackson.  When he arrested Sean Dellaplane, the pervert son of auto manufacturer Peter Dellaplane (Craig T. Nelson), Jackson “nearly ripped off the boy’s arm.”  (“He had a spare!” Jackson snarls.)  Everyone says that, since his son’s arrest and his marriage to the beautiful Patrice (Sharon Stone), Peter Dellaplane has turned over a new leaf and is now an honest businessman.  Action Jackson doesn’t buy it.  In fact, he suspects that Dellaplane is responsible for the brutal murder of a union rep.

Though he may be married, Dellaplane still has a mistress.  Sydney Ash (Vanity) is a heroin-addicted singer.  After Dellaplane watches her sing a song, Sydney tells him, “I was expecting a standing ovation.”  “You’re getting one,” Dellaplane replies.  Jackson knows the best way to get to Dellaplane is to get his hands on Sydney.  He better hurry because Action Jackson has been framed for a murder that he didn’t commit and now he’s got every cop and criminal in Detroit after him.

A lot of people will tell you that Action Jackson is a bad movie but I like it.  It’s a tribute to the classic blaxploitation films of the 70s and though the violence may be excessive, it’s all played tongue-in-cheek.  Carl Weathers first suggested the movie to Joel Silver while the two of them were filming Predator and, from the start, Action Jackson is proud to be a B-movie.  There’s no subtext or deeper meaning involved, beyond Action Jackson cleaning up the streets.  Taking it seriously would be a crime.  This is probably the only film where you will ever be able to see Apollo Creed and the dad from Poltergeist face off in hand-to-hand combat.  Of course, whenever Craig T. Nelson throws a punch or a kick, the scene cuts away to disguise the fact that a stuntman is doing most of the work but even that becomes fun to watch for.  Some B-movie have a visible boom mic.  Action Jackson has a stuntman disguised to look like Craig T. Nelson from behind.

If I do have a complaint, it’s that the script is heavy on the one-liners, which makes sense as this film was made shortly after Schwarzenegger revolutionized action film dialogue with “I’ll be back.”  Unfortunately, Weathers wasn’t as good at handling one-liners as Arnie and Bruce Willis were.  As anyone who has seen the first four Rockys can tell you, Carl Weathers was an actor who could create art from a monologue of non-stop trash talk.  As I watched the film, I kept wishing that Action Jackson would do some Apollo Creed-level trash-talking whenever he was fighting the bad guys.  Maybe if he had, there would have been an Action Jackson 2.

The Things You Find On Netflix: The Laundromat (dir by Steven Soderbergh)


To say that Meryl Streep gives a bad performance in The Laundromat actually does a disservice to your average, run-of-the-mill bad performance.

Meryl Streep instead gives an absolutely terrible performance in The Laundromat, playing not one, not two, but three characters.  One of the characters is Ellen Martin, a middle-class widow from Michigan whose attempts to collect a fair settlement after the death of her husband provides a portal in the world of shady con men and corrupt financial institutions.  One of the characters is a secret, which means that Meryl wears a lot of make-up and frumpy clothes.  That said, from the minute the character appeared on screen, I went, “Oh, there’s Meryl again.”  Then, in her third role, Meryl plays herself, demanding campaign finance reform and striking a Statue of Liberty pose while holding a hairbrush instead of a torch.

Really, it’s the type of horrendous performance that could only be delivered by a truly great actress.  (If Meryl Streep is the modern Norma Shearer, this is her Romeo and Juliet.)  Watching Meryl Streep play the role of Ellen, It occurred to me that Meryl is one of those actresses who is incapable of being authentic but who can certainly act the Hell out of pretending to be authentic.  You never forget that Meryl Streep is acting and that’s one reason why her best performances are usually the ones where she’s playing theatrical characters, whether they’re politicians like Margaret Thatcher, celebrities like Julia Child, or the Witch in Into the Woods.  But when you cast Meryl as someone who is basically supposed to be a member of the “common people,” it just doesn’t work.  Laura Dern, Laurie Metcalf, Allison Janney, even Annette Bening probably could have done a decent job playing Ellen Martin but Meryl is just too Meryl.  As for her other two performances in The Laundromat, they don’t work because one is meant to be a joke on the audience and the other is just a retread of her standard “I’m just a middle class woman from New Jersey and I love the little people” awards show speech.

Of course, The Laundromat itself is a remarkably bad film.  Again, it takes a lot of talent to make a film this bad.  Watching the film, I found myself wondering why, at this point in his celebrated career, Steven Soderbergh would decide to become a second-rate Adam McKay, especially when McKay himself is just a third-rate Jean-Luc Godard?  The film is structured so that, while Ellen is obsessing on why she’s getting screwed over by the insurance companies, we’re also treated to scenes of Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas talking directly to the camera and explaining to use why the poor are always going to get screwed over by the rich.  That’s probably true but the film gets so heavy-handed in its execution that the resulting migraine is going to be due less to outrage and more due to the sledgehammer that Soderbergh takes to your head.

Along with Ellen’s story, we also get to see several other stories featuring people and their money.  Jeffrey Wright is a crooked accountant who has two families.  And then there’s an African businessman who bribes his wife and daughter with shares in a non-existent company and then we take a trip to China, where we learn about cyanide and organ harvesting. And yes, I get it.  It shows how a crime committed in China is ultimately felt by a widow living in Michigan.  But one can’t help but wish that Soderbergh had just focuses on one story, instead of trying to imitate the worst moments of The Big Short.

Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas are technically playing the film’s villains but they’re both so charming that The Laundromat at times seems like more of a recruiting film for aspiring money launderers than anything else.  (To continue the Adam McKay comparison, it’s a bit like how Vice actually left audiences feeling sympathy for Dick Cheney as opposed to writing petitions to send to The Hague.)  It desperately wants to leave us outraged but Soderbegh gets so caught up in his own cutesy storytelling techniques that it just leaves us feeling somewhat annoyed.  Watching the film, one gets the feeling that the perfect directors for The Laundromat would have been the Coen Brothers, who are capable of outrage but whose detached style would have kept them from bludgeoning the audience with it.  Soderbergh is too angry to be effective.

As I said, there’s a lot of talented people involved in The Laundromat.  It’s full of people who have done great work in the past and who will do great work in the future.  As for The Laundromat, it’s a legitimate contender for the biggest disappointment of the year.

A Herman Wouk Double Feature: The Winds of War (1983, directed by Dan Curtis) and War and Remembrance (1988, directed by Dan Curtis)


When the great American novelist Herman Wouk passed away earlier this month at the age of 103, he left behind a rich and varied literary legacy.  From 1947, the year that his first novel was published to 2016, the year that he published his memoirs, Wouk wrote about religion, history, science, and even the movies.  However, Wouk will probably always be best remembered for the three novels that he wrote about World War II.

Based on his own Naval service during World War II, The Caine Mutiny was published in 1951 and was later adapted into both a successful stage play and an Oscar-nominated film.  It also won Wouk a Pulitzer Prize and established him as a major American writer.  Nearly 20 years later, Wouk would return to the history of the Second World War with two of his greatest literary works, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.  (Originally, Wouk was only planning on writing one book about the entire war but when it took him nearly a thousand pages to reach Pearl Harbor, he decided to split the story in two.)  Beginning in 1939 and proceeding all the way through to the end of the war, the two books followed two families, the Henrys and the Jastrows, as they watched the world descend into war. Along the way, the book’s fictional characters rub shoulders with historical characters like Hitler, Churchill, FDR, and even Stalin.  Carefully researched and meticulously detailed, the books were both critically acclaimed and popular with readers and, despite some soapy elements, they both hold up well today.

Given their success, it’s not a surprise that both The Winds of War and War and Remembrance were adapted for television.  Today, HBO would probably give the books the Game of Thrones treatment, with 8 seasons of war, tragedy, romance, and Emmys.  However, this was the 1980s.  This was the age of of the big-budget, all-star cast network miniseries.  Wouk’s epic history of World War II was coming to prime time.

With a total running times of 15 hours, The Winds of War originally aired over seven evenings in 1983.  Produced and directed for ABC by Dan Curtis, The Winds of War had a 962-page script, a 200-day shooting schedule, 285 speaking parts, and a then-record budget of $35,000,000.  It also had Robert Mitchum, starring as Victor “Pug” Henry, an ambitious naval officer who somehow always managed to be in the right place to witness almost all of the events leading up to America’s entry into World War II.  Jan-Michael Vincent played Pug’s son, Byron, while John Houseman took on the pivotal role Aaron Jastrow, a Jewish scholar though whose eyes the home audience would witness the rise of fascism in Europe.  Terribly miscast as Natalie, Aaron’s niece and Byron’s lover, was 44 year-old Ali MacGraw.  Among those playing historical figures were Ralph Bellamy as FDR, Howard Lang as Churchill, and Gunter Meisner as Hitler.

I recently watched The Winds of War on DVD and, despite some glaring flaws that I’ll get to later, it holds up well as both a history of World War II and a tribute to those who battled Hitler’s evil.  Like Wouk’s novels, the miniseries does a good job of breaking down not only how Hitler came to power but also why the rest of the world was often in denial about what was happening.  Watching the entire miniseries in one setting can be overwhelming.  It’s a big production and it is also unmistakably a product of a time when the major networks didn’t have to worry about competition from cable.  It takes its time but, in the end, you’re glad that it did.  All of the little details can get exhausting but they’re important to understanding just how Hitler was able to catch the world off-guard.

Jan-Michael Vincent and Ali MacGraw in The Winds of War

The miniseries does suffer due to the miscasting of some key roles.  Both Jan-Michael Vincent and Ali MacGraw were far too old for their roles.  Vincent was 38 and MacGraw was 44 when they were cast as naive and idealistic lovers trying to find themselves in Europe.  It’s perhaps less of a problem for Vincent, who had yet to lose his looks to alcoholism and who looked enough like Robert Mitchum that he could pass as Mitchum’s son.  But MacGraw is simply terrible in her role, flatly delivering her lines and looking more like Vincent’s mother than his lover.  It’s particularly jarring when she mockingly calls diplomat Leslie Sloat “Old Sloat,” because Sloat was played by David Dukes, who was six years younger than MacGraw.

67 year-old Robert Mitchum was also much too old to play an ambitious junior officer, one whose main goal in life is still to ultimately become an admiral.  When he ends up having an affair with a younger British journalist played by 30ish Victoria Tennant, the difference in their ages is even more pronounced than in Wouk’s novel.  (Pug was in his 40s in The Winds of War.)  However, Mitchum overcomes his miscasting by virtue of his natural gravitas.  With his weary presence and authoritative voice, Mitchum simply is Pug.

A ratings hit and a multiple Emmy nominee, The Winds of War was followed up five years later by War and Remembrance.  Like its predecessor, War and Remembrance set records.  The script ran 1,492 pages and featured 356 speaking parts.  The production employed 44,000 extras and filming took nearly two years, from January of 1986 to September of 1987.  With a budget of $104 million, it was the most expensive television production to date.  The final miniseries had a 30-hour running time, which was divided over 12 nights.  War and Remembrance not only made history because of its cost and length but also as the first major production to be allowed to film on location at the Auschwitz concentration camp.  For many members of the generation born after the end of World War II, War and Remembrance would serve as their first introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust.

Director Dan Curtis returned and with him came Robert Mitchum, now in his 70s and still playing a junior naval officer.  David Dukes once again played the hapless diplomat, Leslie Sloat.  Ralph Bellamy also returned as FDR as did Victoria Tennant as Mitchum’s lover, Polly Bergen as Mitchum’s wife, and Peter Graves as Bergen’s lover.  However, they were the exception.  The majority of the original cast was replaced for the sequel, in most cases for the better.  With John Houseman too ill to reprise his role, John Gielgud took over the role of Aaron Jastrow while Hart Bochner replaced the famously troubled Jan-Michael Vincent.  Robert Hardy took over the role of Churchill while Hitler was recast with Steven Berkoff.  Best of all, Jane Seymour replaced Ali MacGraw in the role of Natalie and gave the best performance of her career.  Other characters were played by a mix of up-and-comers to tv veterans, with the cast eventually including everyone from Barry Bostwick and Sharon Stone to E.G. Marshall and Ian McShane.

Jane Seymour and John Gielgud

With a stronger cast and (ironically, considering the running length) a more focused storyline, War and Remembrance is superior to The Winds of War in every way.  That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect, of course.  The scenes featuring Barry Bostwick as a submarine commander feel as if they go on forever and Robert Mitchum still seems like he should be preparing for retirement instead of angling for a promotion.  But none of that matters when the miniseries focuses on Aaron and Natalie Jastrow and their struggle to survive life in the Theresienstadt Ghetto and eventually Auschwitz.  At the time that War and Remembrance was initially broadcast, the concentration camp scenes were considered to be highly controversial and many viewers complained that they were so disturbing that they should not have been aired during prime time.  (This was four years before Schindler’s List.)  Seen today, those scenes are the most important part of the film.  Not only do they show why the war had to be fought but they also demand that the world never allow such a thing to happen again.

Though it was considered by a rating disappointment when compared to its predecessor, War and Remembrance was still a multiple-Emmy nominee.  Controversially, it defeated Lonesome Dove for Best Miniseries.  Both Winds of War and War and Remembrance have been released on DVD and, like the books that inspired them, they both hold up well.  They pay tribute to not only those who fought the Nazis but also to the humanistic vision of Herman Wouk.

Herman Wouk (1915-2019)

Music Video Of The Day: God’s Gonna Cut You Down (2006, dir by Tony Kaye)


This is a case where I like the song more than the music video.  This video was actually filmed three years after Johnny Cash’s death.  As far as “official” music videos are concerned, I always feel like a musician should have some sort of say into how their music is visually interpreted.  Obviously, Johnny Cash wasn’t around to have anything to say about the video for God’s Gonna Cut You Down.

Since Cash wasn’t available, director Tony Kaye filled the video with cameos from other actors and musicians, a few of whom (though not many) were previous Cash collaborators.  Among the celebs who make an appearance in this video: David Allan Coe, Patricia Arquette, Travis Barker, Peter Blake, Bono, Sheryl Crow, Johnny Depp, the Dixie Chicks, Flea, Billy Gibbons, Whoopi Goldberg, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Hopper, Terrence Howard, Jay-Z, Mick Jones, Kid Rock, Anthony Kiedis, Kris Kristofferson, Amy Lee, Adam Levine, Shelby Lynne, Chris Martin, Kate Moss, Graham Nash, Busy Philipps, Iggy Pop, Lisa Marie Presley, Q-Tip, Corinne Bailey Rae, Keith Richards, Chris Rock, Rick Rubin, Patti Smith, Sharon Stone, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Brian Wilson, and Owen Wilson.  Some of the celebs — like Dennis Hopper and Kris Kristofferson — seem like they naturally belong there.  Others seem so out-of-place that you’ll want to throw something.  You know how that works,

God’s Gonna Cut You Down is a traditional folk song.  I’ve heard countless versions of it.  I prefer Cash’s version to the more traditional gospel arrangement but, then again, I tend to find gospel music to be dull in general.  Cash’s arrangement brought new life to an old song.

Enjoy!

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1990s


Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1990s.

Dazed and Confused (1993, dir by Richard Linklater)

 An ensemble cast that was full of future stars, including future Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck.  A killer soundtrack.  A script full of quotable lines.  Dazed and Confused seemed like it had everything necessary to score a Best Picture nomination and perhaps it would have if the film had been set in Los Angeles instead of the suburbs of Atlanta.  Unfortunately, Richard Linklater’s classic was overlooked.

Casino (1995, dir by Martin Scorsese)

Martin Scorsese’s epic gangster film had all the glitz of Vegas and Joe Pesci to boot!  Despite being one Scorsese’s best, the Academy largely overlooked it, giving a nomination to Sharon Stone and otherwise ignoring the film.

Normal Life (1996, dir by John McNaughton)

Life, love, crime, and death in the suburbs!  John McNaughton’s sadly overlooked film featured award-worthy performances from both Ashley Judd and Luke Perry and it definitely deserves to be better-known.  Unfortunately, the Academy overlooked this poignant true crime masterpiece.

Boogie Nights (1997, dir by Paul Thomas Anderson)

Paul Thomas Anderson first made a splash with this look at the porn industry in the 70s and 80s.  Along the way, he made Mark Wahlberg a star and briefly rejuvenated the career of Burt Reynolds.  Though both Reynolds and Julianne Moore received nominations, the film itself went unnominated.  Oh well.  At least Dirk Diggler got to keep his award for best newcomer.

Rushmore (1998, dir by Wes Anderson)

Though the film was nominated for its screenplay, the Wes Anderson classic missed out on best picture  Even more surprisingly, Bill Murray was not nominated for his funny yet sad performance.  Murray would have to wait until 2003’s Lost In Translation to receive his first nomination.  Meanwhile, a Wes Anderson film would not be nominated for best picture until Grand Budapest Hotel achieved the honor in 2015.  (That same year, Boyhood became the first Richard Linklater film to be nominated.)

10 Things I Hate About You (1999, dir by Gil Junger)

This wonderful take on Shakespeare not only introduced the world to Heath Ledger but it also proved that a teen comedy need not be stupid or misogynistic.  Because it was viewed as being a genre film (and a comedy to boot!), it didn’t get any love from the Academy but it continues to be loved by film watchers like me!

Up next, in an hour or so, the 2000s!