Film Review: Ladybug Ladybug (dir by Frank Perry)


Long before he played the long-suffering Mr. Feeney on Boy Meets World, William Daniels made his film debut as another school principal in the 1963 film, Ladybug Ladybug.

In Ladybug Ladybug, Daniels plays Mr. Calkins and he’s got a lot more to worry about than just some unstable student with an unhealthy fixation on a girl that he’s gaslighted into loving him.  No, Mr. Calkins has to deal with the very real possibility that a nuclear war might break out at any second.  One day, when an imminent nuclear attack warning signal goes off, no one can be sure whether or not it’s real or if it was an accident.  However, Mr. Calkins takes no chances.  He dismisses school for the day and tells all of the students to go home.

However, there’s a problem.  The school is in a rural area and most of the students live several miles away.  Because it’s early in the day, there aren’t any school buses running.  The children will have to walk home.  To make sure that the kids get to safety, they’re divided into groups.  A teacher is assigned to each group, tasked with keeping the children calm and making sure they reach their houses.

It’s a long walk and the countryside is deathly quiet.  Some of the children talk about what’s going to happen if there really is a war.  Others, being too young to understand the seriousness of the situation, treat it all like a game.  As each child reaches their house, they have to deal with parents who are more concerned about why their child has come home early than the fact that there might be a war about to break out.

Back at the school, Mr. Calkins and a few remains teachers wait.  One teacher tries to clean up her classroom, all the while realizing that there’s a chance that the classroom will never be used again.

And we, the viewers, keep waiting for a bomb to drop or, at the very least, some sort of clarification about what’s really happening.  We wait in vain.  The film’s ending is harrowing but, at the same time, ambiguous.  Is the world ending or are the children going to wake up in the morning and head back to school?  It all depends on how you interpret the film’s final few moments.

Of course, by the time we reach that ending, a group of children has already taken cover in a bomb shelter.  Unfortunately, their self-appointed leader has decided that there’s not room for all the children, which means that one girl ends up getting kicked out.  Wandering around outside, she finds an old refrigerator to hide in.  Your heart sinks as you watch her climb in and close the door behind her….

Ladbybug Ladybug is a grim film.  At times, it runs the risk of being a bit too grim.  The film definitely gets across its point but it’s so relentlessly depressing that it’s a bit difficult to sit through.  Of course, Ladybug Ladybug was filmed around the same time as the Cuban Missile Crisis so, for many viewers in 1963, the film was less an allegory and more just a record of the feelings and fears that they had to deal with every single day.  Towards the end of the film, when one of the children desperately starts to yell, “Stop!  Stop!  STOP!,” he was undoubtedly speaking for an entire generation that grew up under the shadow of mutually assured destruction.

Ladybug Ladybug was one of the many nuclear war-themed films to be released in the early 60s.  One could easily imagine it as being a companion piece to Fail Safe.  While President Henry Fonda is debating whether or not to sacrifice New York, the children are simply trying to get home.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.4 “The Vampire” (dir by Don Weis)


On tonight’s episode of Kolchak….

Kolchak is on assignment in Los Angeles and he’s shocked to discover that the town is turning into a city of vampires!  This episode is a sequel to the made-for-TV movie that first introduced to Carl Kolchak to the world.  Not only does this episode feature a vampire but it also features the great character actor, William Daniels.  William Daniels is one of those actors who plays astonishment quite well so his scenes with Kolchak are a lot of fun.

This episode originally aired on October 4th, 1974.

Enjoy!

An Olympic Film Review: Blades of Glory (dir by Josh Gordon and Will Speck)


All good things must come to an end and the Winter Olympics have done just that.  Tonight, here in the States, NBC will wrap up their coverage of the Games and they’ll broadcast the Closing Ceremonies.  As NBC tends to do, they’ll pretend that they’re broadcasting live but the truth of the matter is that the Winter Games are over and now we’ll have to wait two years for the far-less exciting Summer Games.

I enjoyed the Winter Olympics this year.  I was one of those obsessive people who would watch all of the recaps at one in the morning.  Medal-wise, Norway dominated with a total of 39 medals.  The United States came in fourth with only 23 medals but that’s still 22 more medals than Latvia got!  (Just kidding, we love you, Latvia!)  Overall, though, it was a pretty good Olympics.

That said, there were a few things missing.

For instance, no one attempted to recreate JFK’s affair with Marilyn Monroe on ice.  I thought that was definitely a missed opportunity.

There weren’t any frantic chase scenes.  No mascots were injured over the course of the Olympics.  I guess we should be happy about that, all things considered.  Still, it’s hard not to feel that this break with Olympic tradition left something lacking in the games.

Finally, none of the skating routines featured the risk of decapitation.  Again, I guess this is a good thing.  I mean, we really don’t want to see anyone lose their head, especially not when the games are being broadcast across the world.  But again, it was hard not to feel that lack of the Iron Lotus was unfortunate.

In short, the Winter Olympics may have been good but they were nothing like the 2007 film, Blades of Glory. 

Blades of Glory tells the story of two very different ice skaters.  Jon Heder is Jimmy McElroy, who was adopted by a hyper-competitive, kinda creepy millionaire (William Fichtner) and practically raised to become a gold medalist.  Will Ferrell is Chazz Michael Michaels, who is a hard-drinking, hard-living, sex addict.  Jimmy is all about technical perfection.  He’s a non-threatening, almost child-like celebrity, the type who has earned himself his own obsessive stalker (Nick Swardson).  Chazz is, on the other hand, is a self-styled rock star, as well as being something of an idiot.  In 2002, when they both tie for the gold, they get into an argument that 1) leads to a mascot getting set on fire, 2) brings shame upon the “World Winter Games,” and 3) leads to them getting banned from men’s single competition.

But, as Jimmy’s stalker figures out, that doesn’t mean that they can’t compete in pair skating!  The former rivals may loathe each other but it’s either that or a future of skating in cheap ice shows and working in retail!  Under the guidance of their burned-out coach (Craig T. Nelson), Jimmy and Chazz learn to work together.  And what better way to win the gold than to do an extremely dangerous maneuver that could potentially lead to one of them losing his head?

However, not everyone is happy to see Chazz and Jimmy return to competition.  The reigning champions — Straz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, who were still married when they played creepy siblings in this film) — have no intention of allowing themselves to be upstaged.  And if that means using their younger sister (Jenna Fischer) to try to drive a wedge between Chazz and Jimmy, so be it…

So, obviously, Blades of Glory is not a serious look at the world of ice skating.  The plot is really just an excuse to highlight the absurdity of putting people who clearly don’t belong there on the ice.  This is another Will Ferrell comedy where the majority of the laughs come from the absolute dedication that Ferrell brings to playing an almost absurdly stupid human being.  Ferrell has the ability to deliver even the most nonsensical of dialogue with total sincerity and conviction.  In Blades of Glory, he’s well-matched by Jon Heder, who brings his own odd style to the role of Jimmy.  If Ferrell is all about aggressive stupidity, Jon Heder is all about impish stupidity and it becomes surprisingly compelling to see whose stupidity will ultimately win it.

While it never quite reaches the highs of Anchorman, Blades of Glory is still a funny movie.  It made me laugh and that’s always a good thing.

A Movie A Day #255: Her Alibi (1989, directed by Bruce Beresford)


Tom Selleck is Phil Blackwood, a best-selling mystery author who is suffering from writer’s block.  Paulina Porizkova in Nina, a beautiful Romanian who has been accused of murder.  When Phil sees Nina being arraigned in court, it is love at first sight.  He provides her with a false alibi and invites her to stay with him while he writes a book based on her case.  At first, Phil thinks that she is innocent but he soon has his doubts, especially after Nina shows off her skills as a knife thrower.

1989 was a strange year for Australian director Bruce Beresford.  On the one hand, he directed Driving Miss Daisy, which went on to win the Oscar for the best picture.  On the other hand, he also directed Her Alibi, a disjointed comedy that feels like an extended episode of Magnum P.I.  (Even Sellecks’ narration feels like a throwback to his star-making role.  But if Phil is a best-selling writer, why does his narration sound so clunky and clichéd?)  Her Alibi is a predictable film, not really bad but just very bland.  It tries to duplicate the style of a classic screwball comedy but it lacks the bite necessary to make much of an impression.  On the plus side, the great William Daniels was given a few good lines as Phil’s caustic agent and Paulina Porizkova was absolutely beautiful.  The scene where Nina gives Phil a haircut almost makes the movie worth it.

One final note: When watching Her Alibi, be sure to pay attention to the scene where Phil holds up his latest novel.  The book is so thin that it looks like it is only 20 pages long, at the most.

Confessions of a TV Addict #1: It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… No, It’s CAPTAIN NICE (NBC-TV 1967)


cracked rear viewer

Yes, that’s distinguished actor William Daniels in those long-johns as CAPTAIN NICE, which aired Monday nights on NBC-TV for eight months and fifteen episodes during the height of the superhero camp craze in 1967. Similar in theme to MISTER TERRIFIC on rival CBS, I preferred this one as a kid because of it’s MAD Magazine-level of jokes and gags – which ain’t a bad thing, in my book! The silly superhero series was created by Buck Henry, who also (along with pal Mel Brooks ) was responsible for another campy sitcom, the 60’s spy spoof GET SMART!

Mild -mannered chemist Carter Nash works for the Big Town Police Department, and invents a super-secret super-formula that transforms him into Captain Nice. His domineering mother (Alice Ghostley) sews him up a super-suit and tells him to go out and fight crime like a good boy. Carter’s got all the powers of Superman, except he’s a bit…

View original post 303 more words

A Movie A Day #145: The Incredible Hulk: A Death In The Family (1977, directed by Alan J. Levi)


Following the events of The Incredible Hulk and with the world convinced that he is dead, Dr. David Banner (Bill Bixby) is hitchhiking his way across California, hoping to reach a hospital where research is being done on the effects of gamma radiation.  When he stops off in an orange grove, he spots a young, crippled woman named Julie (Laurie Prange).  When Julie faints, David carries her back to her mansion.  It turns out that, after the mysterious death of her father, Julie stands to inherit millions.  David suspects that her doctor (played by William Daniels) may be poisoning her and he gets a job working on the grounds of her mansion.  At first, David thinks that his biggest problem is going to be the head groundskeeper (Gerald McRaney), who is jealous of David’s relationship with Julie.  But, actually, it’s Julie’s stepmother (Dorothy Tristan) that David has to watch out for.  When David tries to protect Julie and a bitter hermit (John McLiam) from the stepmother’s evil plans, he soon finds himself being pursued through the swampland by both men with guns and tabloid journalist Jack McGee (Jack Colvin).  They are all making David Banner angry and they’re about to discover that they wouldn’t like David Banner when he’s angry.

This was the second pilot for The Incredible Hulk.  It aired a week after the first pilot and, like that one, it was also given a theatrical release in Europe.  While the first movie established David Banner’s backstory and explained why he transformed into the Hulk whenever he bumped his head on a door frame or twisted his ankle, A Death in The Family is more typical of the series that would follow.  Like every subsequent episode, A Death In The Family opens with David Banner finding an odd job and ended with him walking down the road with his thumb stuck out.  In between, Banner helps a special guest star.

Watching the second pilot, it’s easy to see why CBS took a chance on The Incredible Hulk even though, at the time, comic book adaptations were considered to be a risk.  Both Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno really throw themselves into playing Banner and his alter ego and the show takes the idea seriously.

There’s nothing special about the pilot’s story.  The stepmother and the doctor are obviously guilty from the start.  But the plot (and the 90 minute running time) does allow for four appearances by the Hulk.  David Banner even gets attacked by a grizzly bear, which brings the Hulk right out.  David Banner always had the worst luck with wild animals and barbed wire.  The Hulk, though, just throws the grizzly bear over into the next pond.  The bear is not harmed.  The Hulk may have been angry but he was never really dangerous.

Finally, for the record, Death In the Family featured the first of many aliases that David Banner would assume over the next four years.  This time, he’s David Benton.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: A Thousand Clowns (dir by Fred Coe)


thousand_clowns

The 1965 film A Thousand Clowns is one of the most annoying films to ever be nominated for best picture.

I know what you’re thinking.

Really, Lisa — even more annoying than Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?

Well, no.  No movie is as annoying as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  In fact, even if it didn’t particularly work for me, I can kind of understand why A Thousand Clowns was apparently a box office success in 1965.  To be honest, part of my annoyance with the film comes from the fact that not only can I understand why other people would love it but I probably would have loved it if I had been alive to see it when it was first released.  A Thousand Clowns isn’t an awful film but to say that it has not aged well is a bit of an understatement.

It tells the story of Murray Burns (Jason Robards).  Murray lives in a cluttered New York apartment with his 12 year-old nephew, Nick (Barry Gordon).  Seven years ago, Nick’s mother abandoned him with Murray.  Murray views Nick as being his own son.  Nick worships his Uncle Murray.  Murray randomly sings Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby.  Nick picks up on the habit and is soon wandering around and humming Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby.  By the end of A Thousand Clowns you will be so freaking sick of hearing that song.  (Fortunately, Murray never sings Send In The Clowns.  The film dodged a bullet on that one.)

Murray’s a nonconformist, the type who starts his day by standing outside and mocking everyone who is getting ready to go to work.  Murray used to have a job.  He was a TV writer.  He wrote jokes for a detestable entertainer known as Chuckles The Chipmunk (played by noted Broadway director Gene Saks).  Five months ago, Murray quit his job.  He’s now unemployed and proud of it.  He swears that he will never again sacrifice his freedom for a paycheck.  He raises Nick to take the same attitude towards life.

Two social workers, Albert (Williams Daniels) and Sandra (Barbara Harris), show up at Murray’s apartment.  They say that unless Murray gets a job and proves that he’s a good guardian, Nick will be taken away from him.  Murray explains that he’s a nonconformist and that he’s raising Nick to reject anything conventional.  Albert is offended.  Sandra is charmed.  Soon, Sandra and Murray are going for bike rides through New York City.  Murray sings Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby some more…

And it all sounds good but the film just didn’t work for me.  First off, I’ve actually experienced what it’s like to grow up with a frequently unemployed father and, sorry, it’s not all studio apartments and cheerful trips to Central Park.  Secondly, A Thousand Clown‘s message of carpe diem might have seemed groundbreaking in 1965 but today, it just seems like a cliché.  I mean, everyone claims to be a nonconformist today.

Watching the film, it’s hard not to feel that it doesn’t really play fair.  It’s easy for the film to always portray Murray as being enlightened when the only people who ever disagree with him are humorless strawmen.  Albert is a self-righteous prig while Chuckles The Chipmunk is a heavy-handed caricature, the type of TV star who could only be created by a writer who is resentful that more people are watching TV than reading his latest masterpiece.  Martin Balsam appears as Murray’s brother, Arnold, and gets a chance to defend his decision to lead a normal, conventional life.  When it comes to the brothers, the film obviously want us to side with Murray but instead, you feel more sympathy for Arnold, largely because Martin Balsam was such an authoritative actor that your natural tendency is to assume that he must know what he’s talking about.  It’s interesting to note that it was Balsam, as the voice of mainstream conformity, that won the film’s only Oscar.

Jason Robards was not even nominated, though his performance is often better than the material.  He and Barbara Harris have a sweet chemistry, even though Harris is stuck playing a rather demeaning role.  (When we first meet Sandra, she is dating Albert and assuming that he’s correct about anything.  Then she falls for Murray and assumes that he is the one who is correct about everything.  What the film never bothers to really explore is what Sandra herself thinks about anything.)  But then you’ve got Barry Gordon, who, in the role of Nick, comes across as being a bratty know-it-all weirdo.  Nick is so obnoxious that it undercuts the movie’s claim that Murray deserves to be his guardian.

Also not nominated, despite the film winning a best picture nomination, was the director, Fred Coe.  (Nominated in his place were William Wyler for The Collector and Hiroshi Teshigahara for The Woman In The Dunes.)   His omission is less surprising than that of Jason Robards.  If you didn’t know that A Thousand Clowns was based on a stage play, you’d guess it after watching the first ten minutes of the film.  Despite a few shots of Murray and Sandra in New York City, A Thousand Clowns never breaks free of its stage origins.  Taking place on largely one set, it feels rather confining for a film meant to celebrate nonconformity.

As I said, I didn’t care much for A Thousand Clowns but I can understand why it was probably a hit with 1965 audiences.  Murray’s a transitional figure, standing between the Beats and the Hippies.  With America’s confidence shaken by the Kennedy assassination and growing social unrest, I’m sure a lot of people wanted to drop out of society just like Murray.  To be honest, a lot of people feel like that right now.  I just hope that, if you do decide to follow Murray’s example, you’ll sing something less annoying than Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby.

A Thousand Clowns was nominated for best picture but it lost to a film that Murray probably would have hated, The Sound of Music.