Sunday, June 30, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #1 - The Blues Brothers

Here we are at the top -- the film I consider the most influential on my life, as well as my favorite. The Blues Brothers is mishmash of music and mayhem, with some of the most memorable movie action sequences thrown alongside a cavalcade of classic rhythm and blues.

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Like so many great films, it's hard to fathom how this film got made, given the totality of what it does. Besides its two title stars, it gets the legendary James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Cab Calloway. It also features John Candy and Carrie Fisher (in her most memorable non-Star Wars role). It features some wild, over-the-top car chases. And it trashes a mall.

I could devote an entire blog post to the difficulty and danger of this one sequence, which added millions of dollars to the film's budget. (The film's total cost ended up around $30 million.) The mall torn up was an actual mall, the former Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, Illinois, which had been closed for about a year when the producers needed it. They were able to get many of the original tenants to come back and redecorate the storefronts, and they borrowed cars from a local dealer to fill the lots. Under the deals they worked out, they only had to pay for the things they broke.

The number of cars trashed in this movie is a testament to innovation and grindstone work. The production ran a 24-hour body shop to repair prop cars that were used over and over again, having been picked up cheaply in the first place.

If you love rhythm and blues, you'll love this picture. But my favorite number is an unforgettable rendition of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man."

I know people who can quote just about every line in this film. I'm one of them. I also met another while working at Six Flags Over Mid-America. Many people call this a classic cult film. I can't say that about a film that made more than $100 million at the box office despite production difficulties, budget overruns, and racism that kept this film from playing in wide release in the south. It's a film I never get tired of seeing. For me, it doesn't have any throwaway scenes -- except for the extended cut that came out on DVD with bonus material, proving some things on the cutting room floor belong there.

And it's my #1 favorite movie.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #2 - Ghostbusters (1984)

Seeing Ghostbusters was not my idea, nor was it my Mom's idea. That came from kid brother Michael, who was just itching to see it, and we were along for the ride. The Royal Father wasn't there; he was off on some business trip that nicely took him to a nice resort in the Ozarks without the rest of the family.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.

I'm now counting down the
films that left the biggest marks.
"I hope you're taking me to a good movie," the Queen Mother said in 1984 as we went to one our favorite movie houses in the Kansas City area: The Blue Ridge Cinema (now defunct and vanished into movie history).

What we didn't understand yet was that we were about to see one of the funniest movies of the decade, a movie that would leave a tremendous cultural landmark and propel the red circle-and-slash international "no" symbol to new popularity. Dad didn't know what he was missing -- yet.

But Ghostbusters did even more than that. It perfected the sci-fi action comedy. Men In Black, Guardians of the Galaxy, and to some degree, Iron Man all have the power of the proton packs in their DNA. You could be both highbrow and lowbrow with special effects added in.

I ended up seeing this film at least three times in theaters. The second time was with Dad, when he finally got back from that so-called business trip and we filled him in on what we saw.

I couldn't wait for this movie to make it to home video. Some relatives bought it, and we made a copy for ourselves (in a time when everybody who had multiple VCR's was doing that). I watched it while it copied, and then I rewound it and watched it all over again.

Halloween of 1984 had me dressing up as a Ghostbuster, complete with a toy machine gun and an emergency light flashing in a backpack wedged into a cardboard box for my proton pack, uniformed with my Dad's old Kansas National Guard attire.

My brother and I also got those famous "no ghosts" logo t-shirts. I wish I had held onto mine. I'm still looking for another one.

In the meantime, Ghostbusters is #2 on my list of favorites.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #3 - Any Which Way You Can

I was in the first or second grade when this film came out in 1980, and kids in my class who had seen it were saying, "You know when they were trying to kill Clint Eastwood? The money was manureing in all the cars!"

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That's something Roger Ebert picked up on right away in his review, which called this film a free-association exercise of several different elements. Not that I care; I like it that way. As Ebert notes, it still has charm to it, and I will tell you that's because it's a goofy drive-in flick, disparate elements and all. It's the kind of movie you can easily see yourself watching on a Saturday night sitting under the stars.

Let's leave the form and talk about the content. I love this film because it has some hardcore bare-knuckle fights, including this one in a bar:

This film, like many Clint Eastwood films, makes heavy use of what has become a trademark of any Clint Eastwood fight scene: a lot of shots of him punching into the camera and also from his perspective, something also found in this film's predecessor, Every Which Way But Loose.

I didn't care for Every Which Way.... I thought it was too serious to be a comedy, and too heavy in places to be fun. The sequel, just as the trailer promises, is faster and funnier. And we get a huge fight scene at the end which winds all over the town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I imagine people still visit and remember all the places they saw during that climatic fight scene.

Of course, Clyde steals the show.

Because of the the action, all the fun and all of it watchable over and over again, Any Which Way You Can ended up as number three on my list of favorites.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #4 - Tootsie

When my parents took my brother and your servant to see Tootsie in 1982, I went in thinking it was going to be one of those romantic comedies that the adults would get and kids my age would not. (The term "chick-flick" had not yet been invented.) Happily for me, I was dead wrong. I not only got it, I laughed out loud at Dustin Hoffman dressing up as a woman to get work on a TV soap opera and doing it so seamlessly and convincingly.

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Tootsie is one of those films where I remember whole chunks of dialogue from memorable scenes, like this one played between Hoffman's character, Michael Dorsey, and his cantankerous agent, George Fields, played by Sydney Pollack -- who also directed. Dorsey has just learned a role he was up for on a Broadway show has been taken by someone else, and he wants answers from his agent.

I love that line: "Who told you that, the agent fairy?"

Of course, Michael gets the role and then he has to break the news to George. And here they have another classic exchange in New York City's famous Russian Tea Room, the place where entertainment power brokers and stars go to wine and dine and make deals, all while being served by people in lovely blouses.

And I can remember times when I don't know what I want to wear to a historic ball, and I remember this scene in front of the closet.

The American Film Institute lists this film as one of the greatest screen comedies of all time, and I don't disagree. What's ironic is that Sydney Pollack had never directed a comedy before this one. Yet he created a classic that holds up so well over time, and it even spun off a smash Broadway musical. Tootsie is a movie I can watch over and over again and still laugh, and for that reason, it's in my top five favorites.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Francis' Favorites: #5 - Ray

I remember seeing Ray on a Friday night after work, a late show at the Foothills Loew's here in Tucson. I remember how deep, emotional and musical it was, and how Jamie Foxx (who would win an Oscar for his performance) disappeared into the role of Ray Charles so completely. As I pointed out in my original 2004 review, the film deserved better treatment from the beginning, having taken years to get made because of financing difficulties.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.

I'm now counting down the
films that left the biggest marks.
But when it did get made, and with Charles' blessing and cooperation, it turned out to be a highly musical, highly watchable breeze through this legend's life and times. It didn't gloss over the warts: his drug use and his womanizing. I also enjoyed -- even if the Arizona Daily Star reviewer didn't -- listening in on Charles' business savvy which had him owning his own master recordings and controlling his sound, mastering the piano and overcoming blindness. That control enabled him to glide effortlessly into country from soul and R&B. The only thing that wore on me was the film's surrealistic flashbacks to the death of Charles' brother as they were growing up in Georgia.

As the late, great Roger Ebert pointed out, Ray would be watchable alone for just the music and how Jaime Foxx nails Ray Charles' mannerisms and voice, even though he's mouthing Charles' original recordings on the soundtrack. It's so much more than that, however, and it's an inspirational film for me because of its soulful journey -- on more than one level.

At one point in the film, Charles says: "When I walk out that door, I walk out alone in the dark."

Your servant has felt that darkness, more times than I would like to remember. Perhaps that's why Ray has ended up on my list of five favorites.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Alive... It's ALIVE!

I love 1974's Young Frankenstein because it's not just a very funny movie -- it's also a very enlightened parody of a classic monster movie, even using some of the same props as the original. Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder starting working on this movie together as they were finishing up Blazing Saddles, and between the two of them, they came up with scenes and dialogue that is impossible to forget.

A look at the films
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"That's Frank-un-STEEN."

"Walk this way."

"Elevate me."
"Here? Now?"

And a stylish production number...

But let's admit it. You can't wait to whinny every time her name comes up...

Monday, June 24, 2019

Push The Button, Max

A favorite film of the Royal Father, the Royal Grandfather and Dear Auntie is this 1965 epic comedy, The Great Race, directed by the great Blake Edwards. In the tradition of great films, this one nearly didn't get made.

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The script called for shooting on three different continents, dozens of classic turn-of-the-20th-century cars, hundreds of period costumes (by the great Edith Head, no less), a huge bar fight, the biggest pie fight ever filmed, and an automobile race connecting all of it. It's not hard to see why a studio would pass on it, but United Artists took it only to pass it to Warner Brothers when costs spiraled beyond the original $6 million budget.

A large amount of cash went into that pie fight. Let's take a closer look at it.

Still, with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Natalie Wood attached to the picture, it had to be a surefire hit, right?

Despite all that money, all those stars, all those cars, and all those pies, The Great Race was a great disappointment -- even though it grossed double its negative cost of $12 million. Audiences found everything just too over the done, including the length: the film clocks in at 2 hours and 40 minutes.

When I was in the sixth grade, our teachers showed this movie at a rewards assembly. I had seen it at least twice before then, and I was the only one generally interested in it. All those other kids probably would have preferred Footloose.

About 15 years later, I had Tony Curtis on a 5:00 newscast I produced, live in the studio. I was stuck in the control room while our anchor got to ask him questions about his storied career. I never got to meet him or shake his hand... much less ask him about The Great Race, all those pies, and all those cars.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Beware The Flying Cannon

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching a standoff unfold in Los Angeles on live TV, and the news helicopters had the perfect vantage point to spot a suspect who had fired shots at the cops, lit a house on fire, and thrown fireworks out the window of another home.

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"Where's Blue Thunder when you need it?" I said.

In 1983, Blue Thunder was the coolest chopper movie I couldn't see due to its R rating. I later sneaked a look at it on cable. Not only could it blast the heck out of everything, it could see through walls, pick up the slightest whisper, stare down at you from 1,000 feet and get information on anything and anybody through its computer terminal -- years before Google and smartphones.

About a year later, a sanitized version of the movie (which still borrowed a lot of shots from the film) became an ABC series, starring -- among others -- Dick Butkus, Bubba Smith... and a then-unknown Dana Carvey in a serious role.

TV Guide said that the similarly-themed series Airwolf flew circles around this show. But I still give my vote to the Blue for all the cool AV gear.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Eastbound And Down

When Burt Reynolds passed away last year, I immediately knew I wanted to run a clip from Smokey And The Bandit in my newscasts, particularly the one showing Sally Field's runaway bride character tossing a bag into Bandit's Trans Am after he pulled over and said, "I don't want to get married."

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"Great, that makes two of us," Field replied before asking Bandit to unzip the back of her dress and adding, "Does this thing move?"

"Oh yeah," Bandit replied before speeding off.

I couldn't find that clip, but I did find one that I thought summed up Reynold's prolific film career.

I saw a documentary on this picture where Reynolds read the script and thought it was awful. But he still agreed to do it, and he had a lot of fun doing it. For Reynolds, it really wasn't so much about the money or the glory as much as it was the fun, and Reynolds seemed to have more fun making movies and TV shows (Evening Shade among them) than anybody I knew in Hollywood.

It's not just Reynolds who makes this picture work. Jerry Reed is unforgettable as the good-ol-boy trucker who can't hit the road without his basset hound friend Fred. But it's Jackie Gleason's bigoted, dimwitted sheriff Buford T. Justice who steals the picture.

I didn't get the full breadth of his foul-mouthed tirades until I saw the unedited picture instead of the version that aired on NBC which substituted "Scum Bum" in place of a more colorful term.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Men In Tights And The Ladies Who Love Them

We recently lost the great Franco Zeffirelli, whose colorful and lusty 1968 version of Romeo And Juliet is what I think of every time somebody quotes from this play. I saw it complete for the first time in high school, although it was an ABC Sunday Night Movie version which removed about 30 seconds of Romeo's bare buttocks, and one second of Juliet's bare breasts.

A look at the films
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My English teacher explained before pressing the play button on the ancient U-Matic VTR (what schools were using years before VHS took root) that you could tell who the Capulets were because they were "the real flashy dressers." She added, "Yes, the men do wear leotards."

Yes, in a way. They're wearing Renaissance-era Italian hose, multicolored tights with prominent codpieces.

"Hey, you gotta protect the goods," a colleague remarked when I explained how the movie aimed for historic accuracy in the crotch. But I don't think protection was the goal as much as showing things off.

And you know, any time there's a beautiful ball scene, I'm on it.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Puff And Stuff

Days before a Scottish dance in Flagstaff, I caught the end of Brigadoon on cable's TCM. Needless to say, I've never been more stoked to wear a kilt ever since.
A look at the films
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And above all things, I wanted to get a Highland shirt with extra puffy sleeves. And as the clip below shows, it wasn't enough for me to pine for merely that. I had to have some in different colors.

So now, I have extra-puffy shirts in white, blue, green, grey and brown. I'll get around to red, eventually.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Oh, If I Could Lift Your Burdens, My Lady!

You knew somewhere in this series I would have to talk about a historical movie or two. Here you are. The Duchess is a beautifully-adorned movie that shows how rotten 18th Century life could be when it came to power, privilege and marriage. When I reviewed this film in 2009 after seeing it on DVD, I lamented the burdens of the title character played so well by Keira Knightley and how she could take so much sludge surrounded by so much beauty. My friend Lady Elizabeth reminded your servant that ladies of the time married mainly for security, not love. True, but still unfair and sad.

A look at the films
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A fellow re-enactor put it to me this way: "Isn't it great we can grocery-shop the 18th Century?" For us here and now, yes. For them, they had no choice.

But shop, your servant will. I find it so ironic and hypocritical that gentlemen bowed to their ladies in this period while treating them like property. When I bow in my historical exploits, I mean it -- especially on the ballroom floor. And fortunately, this film has some beautiful dancing:

And here's another look at the dancing in this behind-the-scenes feature:

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Don't Call Me Shirley

Airplane! is one of those surrealistic comedies that takes a few moments for you to understand the very first time you see it, because it's a non-stop barrage of jokes akin to a TV sitcom or a sketch on the Carol Burnett Show. But once you figure out the formula, you sit back and enjoy the ride.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
I first saw Airplane on HBO when cable came into our home in 1981. For a PG-movie, it flirted with some very risque humor, in clips I can't show you on a blog that is determined not to make it into anybody's family-safe filters.

One of those scenes involves a very brief scene of a topless woman passing side-to-side through the frame. I remember seeing this with Grandma Lawson, who deadpanned, "That woman needs to put a bra on."

And who can forget Barbara Billingsley, Beaver Cleaver's mom, speaking jive?

Monday, June 17, 2019

"Ladies Are Unwell -- Gentlemen Vomit"

My Favorite Year ended up as one of my favorite movies the first time I saw it on HBO. It's a sidesplitting tribute to Hollywood's golden age and classic 1950's TV comedy. It's the kind of film Mel Brooks could've made -- and he did. He produced it, and although he didn't direct it, it's modeled after his time as a writer on Your Show Of Shows, with King Kaiser (Joseph Bologna) standing in for Sid Caesar, and the Errol Flynn-esque Alan Swan (Peter O'Toole) as a boozy guest star under the watch of young writer Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker, before Perfect Strangers).

A look at the films
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The film works so well because it breezes through so much of its material. Its characters are both funny and likable. The gags are fast and furious. The whole film feels like it could have been an extended version of Your Show OF Shows.

And it's not just the dialogue that's funny, as in this scene where a union boss confronts King Kaiser about the mobster parody sketch on his show.

I can still hear the Royal Father laughing his tail off when he heard the car horns.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Twisting The Screen Away

Twister is the only movie I recall getting a PG-13 rating for "intense depiction of very bad weather." And boy, is it intense, right from the prologue showing what it's like to go through a tornado warning at night. I remember having to go into the basement several times as a child when we heard the sirens blow in the Kansas City area.

A look at the films
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If I was excited watching severe weather coverage on TV, watching this movie changed all that. So did nearly getting hit by a twister on I-70 while driving through central Missouri.

I don't think I would ever want to chase a tornado on my own, not without some trained meteorologists in the car with me who knew what they were doing. I seriously considered taking a chase vacation a few years ago, before YouTube and live streaming made it easier to just peek in from the safety of home. What the movie doesn't show you is that bust chasing days can be as common as a thrill ride with a funnel in your rearview mirror.

Once you've seen the live coverage over the net, Twister starts looking more than a little hokey, especially with scenes like this.

I've seen roofs tossed around in news footage. Cows? Never.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Not For The Kids

I wanted to see Beverly Hills Cop as soon as it came out in the Christmas movie season of 1984. I thought it would be a scream. My parents thought otherwise, given the "R" rating.

A look at the films
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The closest I got to seeing it in theaters was on a Boy Scout trip to Omaha in January 1985. In addition to staying in a gym for the weekend at an Air Force base, with all the basketball we could play, we took a few side excursions -- mainly to the mess hall. We also decided to go see a flick. The base cinema was showing Supergirl, a dog of a film, so we went into town and found the nearest multiplex. While the guys who were 17 or over, or close enough, saw Eddie Murphy, I had to settle for seeing Jeff Bridges in Starman.

That "R" rating was mostly for nudity and probably some language, as Murphy and company checked out a strip club. If it had been for just violence, the Royal Father probably would have given me a pass. I also wanted to see what Murphy's Axel Foley did to the tailpipe of a car.

And it had action, a lot of it, including this over-the-top sequence that led off the movie:

I eventually would see this on cable more than a few years later. The wait was worth it.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Shall We Play A Game?

Next to Tron, the geek movie I liked to play over and over again on the VCR was 1983's WarGames, starring Matthew Broderick as a hacker who accidentally nearly starts World War III while trying to find software from a game company. Real-life hackers quickly dismissed this film, and NORAD reassured people it couldn't happen because their machines weren't tied to phone lines in the pre-home-internet cyberworld.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
That didn't stop amateur computer hobbyists from deciding they wanted to try a little online breaking and entering. (I wasn't one of them.) Now we had a new category of crime that the law hadn't caught up with. In the earliest days of illegal online computer use, the authorities could do little more than charge somebody with wire fraud, something might not cover things like, say, launching a Titan missile out of a silo in Nebraska.

Many hackers, as I knew them, were just tourists: people who got in, looked around, maybe played a little with the system, and then logged out without leaving any trace. I know this because I was a tourist on a computer bulletin board system devoted to hacking: The K.C. Hack Shack. But under an alias, I saw a lot more than hacking. Many people were there to illegally pass codes for long-distance telephone systems which, unlike today, were not unlimited and not free. Many people also engaged in something called "carding:" stealing credit card information and using it to fraudulently order things (usually computer gear), which would then usually be sent to an abandoned home to be picked up later. "Phreaking" was also common: hacking your way around AT&T's phone network to get free long distance, conference calls, and who knew what else. Occasionally, I'd hear about somebody changing grades, just like in the movie:

That computer Matthew Broderick is using is a tricked-up IMSAI 8080, a 1970's-era machine that originally didn't come with either a monitor or keyboard, so it was already obsolete by the time WarGames was released. However, it looked bulky and nerdy enough to fit the character of a hard-core hacker, so the choice made sense. What you don't see the star doing is actually booting this system up -- something complicated by the fact that the keyboard needed a bootloader!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Geek Free Or Die

Tron is one of my favourite nerd movies. You'll see another later in this series, but I liked it when it came out in 1982 because it wasn't afraid to be geeky in terms of a story arc where an operating system is portrayed as an evil overlord enslaving programs -- perhaps a premonitious dig at Windows?

A look at the films
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It also innovated in a lot of other gloriously geeky ways. Several sequences were rendered with graphics from a supercomputer, making the film one of the first to extensively make use of CGI. Other sequences had to be painstakingly laid out using optical mattes and backlit animation, a process that means a lot of passes through a film printer with a high potential for error.

But when it worked, it worked.

A warning to parents: don't let your kids drive a Recognizer.

Disney made this film as it was trying to segue into more adult-oriented entertainment, away from those wacky myriad movies starring Dean Jones. Their first attempt, The Black Hole showed promise, but turned out to be a dud. Tron performed substantially better, begetting a sequel in 2010.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Inside Story

Nothing will have you talking like Raquel Welch being attacked by antibodies. And this film has a lot to talk about, with so many special effects and sets resembling arteries and veins and capillaries. I first saw this film complete on WGN in the 1980's, after the Royal Father taped it. I would watch it again and again and again because I was fascinated with so much of it, especially the matte (bluescreen) techniques that put a miniature submarine inside a human body.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
The film follows the adventure of a surgical team aboard a submarine shrunk down to "about the size of a microbe" and injected into the body of a scientist left comatose by a blood clot from a failed assassination attempt. That scientist holds a powerful secret the Soviets want -- or at least want kept secret.

Brother Michael hadn't seen a frame of this film when he finally got around to watching it, and he was wowed by the antibody attack. I thought they looked more like seaweed than antibodies, but who cared?

One innovative touch: the title sequence, which is not accompanied by music -- just a rhythmic score of sound effects.

An interesting sidebar to this movie is that renowned sci-fi writer Issac Asimov penned the novelization at the urging of Bantam Books. Asimov wasn't thrilled with the screenplay, and he found it was full of plot holes. But with his clout, he was able to do the book his own way, fixing the problems in the process. Because of production issues on the film and Asimov's quick pace -- churning out the draft in less than two months -- the book hit stores before the movie did.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Here's Your Freebie (Just Don't Get Beaned)

People will tell you Lethal Weapon perfected the cop-buddy movie. That movie wouldn't have existed without this one, Freebie And The Bean from 1974, starring Alan Arkin and James Caan. The two are consistently over the top in a free-for-all of action scenes loosely tied to some plot about cops trying to bust a mob boss.

A look at the films
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Watching this film, it's amazing to see how it got made at all, given the number of crazy chases and go-for-broke stunts. Both Arkin and Caan threatened to quit the production because they thought too many stunts were getting in the way of their character development. In the following clip, we see a dangerous jump over a train, a marching band mowed down in the street, a chain reaction crash, and a run off a bridge into an apartment building.

No sane film insurer would sign off on a picture like this today unless CGI was added to take the risk out of the equation. Back in 1974, the only way to pull off stunts like this was to actually do them, and I scratch my head at why this film has gotten lost in the annals of action movies when it does so much of it so well. Perhaps it's because of a highly politically-incorrect plot element involving a cross-dresser, but again, that's a guess.

Monday, June 10, 2019

I Think A Monster Is In Here Somewhere

The Legend Of Boggy Creek is a cult film I first saw on local television, a Sunday afternoon movie on KMBC in Kansas City, back when that station had an extensive movie library -- and film projection systems to show them all. It has this grainy, authentic 16-millimeter look to it, the stuff of documentary films -- perfect for its faux-documentary format. Although it claims to be a true story, and it's inspired by true events, you can clearly see somebody in a gorilla suit doing their best in a freeze-frame at 1:31 in the above trailer.

A look at the films
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The legend behind Legend that an ad salesman borrowed $100,000 from a trucking company to help make the film, which has gone on to rake in more than $20 million at the box office, and probably a little bit more on DVDs. What's even more interesting is that this movie, with all its scary elements, still got a G rating and broke box-office records in its initial release.

This film also used to be available for free on the internet, but with the film going through a digital restoration, those sources have disappeared.

However, you can get a pretty good sense of it from the trailer. It's one of those low-budget horror films that doesn't look low-budget. You can make a great film for less than $2 million -- ask the producers of Rocky. You can make a stinker for $33 million -- ask Michael Cimino.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Have Guns, Will Film

Word of mouth still works for promoting movies. That's how the Queen Mother and Royal Father found out about Silverado, Lawrence Kasdan's 1985 western featuring your classic good-guys-versus-bad-guys matchup. Our next door neighbors saw it and recommended it. Then we stepped into the theater.

A look at the films
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I never had much affinity for Westerns as a kid, but this one at least held my attention. That's even though so much of this film seems to wander around. And when a Western does that, the action had better be good.

Fortunately, it is, right down to your skivvies.

You can watch it all -- with some commercial interruptions -- here on Crackle.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Zoom Across Town

I'm not ashamed to admit I like films with good car chases. Foul Play (1978) starring Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn has one of the funniest. Chase plays a bumbling detective protecting a shy San Francisco librarian. This was Chase's first film role, and it would set the table for what was to come.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
I never saw this film in the theater, but I watched it several times when CBS aired it on Saturday Night At The Movies, including one time when Grandma Lawson was babysitting us while The Queen Mother and Royal Father went on a royal outing for the dinner-and-movie date night.

Almost forgotten, Dudley Moore is loveable in this film -- his first American feature -- as a nervous swinger who's afraid of the cops.

But the centerpiece is the climactic chase scene, juxtaposed against Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Dead Men Don't Wear Kilts

One of the most underrated films of the 1980's is this Steve Martin vehicle from 1982, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, a film noir parody where Martin co-stars with Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Cagney and a host of other film legends through trick editing with classic movies. Making it work required careful lighting and camera work, along with several stand-ins to make it look like Martin is standing in the same shot with the legends. It's so seamless in pre-CGI Hollywood, you have to watch carefully to figure out how everything is stitched together.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
It's also the last film of legendary costume designer Edith Head, a fitting tribute (if you will excuse the pun) to motion-picture glamor, so much of it inspired and produced by her.

When this film came out while I was in elementary school, other kids who talked about it weren't marveling at the galaxy of stars or its novel concept. They were talking about Steve Martin saying, "They knocked your [bleep] out of whack!"

And we were laughing about this scene, which I saw when Martin promoted the film on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson:

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Say It Out Loud

Only a few movies have gotten the broadcast news industry right. Here's another one.

Paddy Chayefsky wrote 1976's Network as a satire. And now, looking back at it, it's prophetic. A fourth-rate fictional network among four networks suddenly hits the jackpot when their news anchor goes nuts as a self-proclaimed prophet of the airways. The film gave us a peek at the soul of tabloid TV and the cult of mass media personalities.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
I have never worked in a TV newsroom. The closest I ever got to a network news department was sitting in the control room for the CBS Evening News, when Bob Schieffer was anchoring and the operation ran like NASA's Mission Control.

Network is one of those films that doesn't turn up much on TV anymore, maybe because it excoriates its medium so thoroughly, maybe because it's one of those movies too cool for TV. Like all great parody, it draws in a chunk of reality. The network executive portrayed by Faye Dunaway was based upon Lin Bolen, an NBC topper in charge of daytime programming. So it's pretty funny hearing Dunaway's character complain about NBC's "lousy game shows." Bolen denied she was the influence, but you can believe what you want. Under Bolen, NBC had a powerhouse morning line-up anchored by Hollywood Squares.

The film gets overtly preachy more than once, but somehow, it all works because of what it has laid out from the beginning.

As I write this, CBS is navigating through another anchor change in the post-Dan Rather era of the evening news. Katie Couric, Scott Pelley and Jeff Glor have come and gone and we shall see whether Norah O'Donnell can move the needle out of third place. We'll also see whether the conglomerate that is CBS can stand strong under the pressure.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Moving The Needle

I consider The China Syndrome one the best thrillers ever made about a near-catastrophe. I also consider it one of the best movies about the TV news business. Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon -- along with the always-likeable Wilford Brimley -- turn in command performances.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
Although many people will tell you the film is about the dangers of nuclear power, it's really about the dangers of people who cut corners, suppress the truth, and compromise their integrity leaving others to deal with the consequences. But why should I try to describe it when you can watch it for yourself in this nail-biting scene:

As many of you know, this film came out 12 days before the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, giving it an eerie spotlight. The nature of the accident was also eerily similar.

First, here's CBS News explaining the Three Mile Island accident.

And here's a scene from the movie explaining what happened -- listen carefully for another eerie coincidence when the expert explains the China Syndrome:

Back to the journalism part. Jane Fonda plays Kimberly Wells, a soft features reporter. Her job is going off to do fun live shots which don't look so fun when they nearly don't come together. Watch this clip and you'll see what I have gone through in the control room as a news producer when these shots barely make it on the air.

Kimberly is hungry to do hard news. Her boss, however, prefers to keep her soft and pretty. The subtle sexism reeks in this scene:

Can you imagine any newsroom leader keeping his job in the MeToo age after a conversation reeking of chauvinism?

Still, Kimberly is getting to work on a special report which takes her into the heart of a nuclear power plant.

You can see how much those old TV film crews had to lug around. I remember having to lug around a 3CCD video camera, 3/4"-inch U-Matic tape deck and lighting gear when I got to go into the Callaway County nuclear power plant near Fulton, Missouri for a story on how re-fueling re-fueled the economy of the surrounding area.

Here's me in that 1993 report:

You didn't see it in the story, but I recorded all those shots inside the plant wearing a yellow radiation suit and badge along with a hard hat.

Fortunately, I didn't have to endure a turbine trip.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Feeling The Need For Speed

Six months after the Royal Father made the mistake of taking us to Iron Eagle in 1986, another fighter feature hit the screen -- this one much much better, one that would leave a cultural milestone.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
Top Gun made up the deficit in thrills and realism. The flight sequences pulsated with excitement minus the hokeyness from Dad's Iron Eagle mistake. And it had Tom Cruise. It had Tom Cruise's likeable manliness.

And it had him paired up with Kelly McGillis.

And those flying sequences -- who didn't want to go up in an F-15 Tomcat after this?

A sequel is coming, as of this posting. What can they do that they haven't done already?

Monday, June 3, 2019

"I'm Entitled To One Mistake"

Bad movies are a lot more fun to talk about than good ones, especially when the Royal Father makes the pick. That's what he did in 1986, when he took the Queen Mother, my brother, and your servant to see Iron Eagle, a critically-panned, laughably-horrible aviation actioner starring Louis Gossett, Jr. and Jason Gedrick as an aspiring teenage fighter pilot who uses rock music pumped into his headset to help hit targets. The two team up on a rescue mission when an fictional Middle Eastern nation kidnaps his pilot father from a flight exercise gone sideways.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
For hours after we got home from the theater, Dad said at least twice, "Boy that was a bad movie," admitting he was entitled to one mistake every so often.

But, it still had campy dialogue that sticks in my head.

"And play the right kind of music! These boys ain't no rookies -- they're the ones who brought down your dad."

"Now you may deal directly with me now; Colonel Nakir Nakesh!"
"And you can deal with me -- Doug Masters!"

The Air Force would not let the producers borrow actual U.S. fighters because the plot involves stealing a pair of them for a covert mission. The filmmakers borrowed Israeli aircraft instead, touched up a bit. They also used a sewage plant as a stand-in for a refinery, and a Saddam Hussein pastiche as the evil dictator-pilot of that fictional nation.

"It made it look like anybody could get away with it," the Queen Mother said after the showing.

And still, this film made enough money to beget three sequels. And it also made it into my DVD collection, albeit only because I found it in Walmart's $3 movie bin. Bad, but yet a bargain.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Getting Our Kicks

My brother and I liked watching karate movies after HBO and Cinemax came into our house. This 1981 film from South Africa got played a lot on cable, and I remember seeing it at least two or three times.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
The premise is a mash-up of James Bond, Bruce Lee and The A-Team -- which wasn't on the air yet. I wonder if show creator Stephen J. Cannell saw this film and ripped off the formula. A team of mercenaries has to save a good scientist from an evil man who's using him to create a mind-control drug so he can form "New Babylonia," a world full of mind-numbed karate-fighting slaves.

I remember reading the film had limited budget, even with all its action, so the crew had to come up with inventive frugality for some non-action shots -- including putting smoke from a lit cigarette down the barrel of a gun to simulate a shot in slow motion.

What my brother and I liked the most, though, was the film's cheesily memorable lines.

"You should have stayed with the lady, Poopsy!"

"Popsicle! Popsicle!"
"Don't call me Popsicle!"

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Dust Off The Trailer

I'm going to start this new session of 30/30 with a trailer for a film I've never seen, as of this writing. However, this is the first movie trailer I ever remember seeing as a kid, so that's why I'm starting here.

A look at the films
that have left a mark on my life.
I was amazed to learn Eat My Dust took only four weeks to shoot and made $5 million against a dirt-cheap $300,000 budget in 1976. It's not surprising though, given that the film is perfect for one of those Saturday nights at the drive-in. It also starred Ron Howard, who was riding high on the success of Happy Days. I have a distinct memory of watching a commercial for this film on the TV in our kitchen, one that Dad carted downstairs from the bedroom everyday until we got a second one.

I am a fan of car chase B-movies, which leads me to another movie I have seen, The Gumball Rally.

I remember first seeing this film on cable TV during a late 1970's -- or was it early 1980's? -- visit to St. Louis, while staying at the Breckenridge Inn. I only remember the opening credits though. I gather it was time for bed -- too much excitement for one night.

Your servant will talk more about films with car chases in them as I go through this month's selections, but I want to give some more honorable mentions to films that didn't quite make the cut.

I saw it on TV in the 1980's, on a Saturday afternoon movie. I haven't been able to find it on cable or DVD since.

Another TV movie, notable because it got Ed McMahon, along with game show hosts Jim Perry and Wink Martindale. And... you can watch the full film above, provided YouTube hasn't pulled it.