Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Samuel Snoek Brown's "Hagridden" is Bone Rattling.

Several years back, a man I greatly admire, film critic Roger Ebert turned to the internet to explore how others reacted to a film. He described their quotes as "dealing with their feelings"


That's what Hagridden will do.  Make you deal with your feelings.  

Hagridden is a simple construct wrapped in complexities built around two female primary characters, who by being victims of circumstance, have to do horrible, reprehensible things to survive in the Louisiana marsh as the Civil War is flaming out. 

And Sam Snoek-Brown makes you feel empathy, even sympathy for them as they murder without restraint. 

It takes a hell of a writer to do that. 

Much like the Japanese horror film, "Onibaba", the story centers on a woman, and a girl, and they go by no more for names than that, living alone and like feral animals.   This after the loss of both their husbands, one in the war.  They are mother-in-law and daughter-in-law which complicates things as "the girl" wants to shirk loneliness with a returned soldier.

Things get darker as they struggle to survive, drowning in fear, paranoia, and hatred, particularly the woman, who's only real tie to the world and reality is the girl.   Characters with malicious intent and dripping hatred wander this landscape, and Hagridden really makes you come to terms with the concept of "the lesser of two evils" as you try to hash out your understanding of these poor souls while they do what you would never consider.  Snoek-Brown's book creates a nature of lethal violence becoming as easy as you or I would buy something we take for granted.  

You become immersed in the Hagridden world as you are repelled by it and one of the reasons that is so easy is Snoek-Brown's attention to detail.  He's steeped in his knowledge of individual locales as well as real characters and battles of the back end of the civil war.  Equally as sharp is  his vivid and detailed, yet at times wistful descriptions of the day to day minutiae of surviving the unforgiving beauty of delta swamp life and second nature gruel of existence in this time and place, that seems alien to us now. 

Just as real is his grasp of human loneliness and sadness and how they tie to desperations within.  Snoek-Brown details how quickly those emotions lead to free-wheeling lust and need, and just as quickly to greed, suspicion, betrayal and murder. 

Hagridden isn't just a story, it's an experience. And as Ebert described "Halloween", you're not just reading it, it's "happening to you."  Sam Snoek-Brown has created a quietly violent world, enhanced by the lack of quotation marks in it's dialogue, where the silence of it's brutality is just as unsettiling as it's reality. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Where All That Stuff Comes From

I know way too much about Lombardi's Packers for never having been there for their glory, or for that matter, not even having been born yet.

 I know a ton about Milwaukee Brewers players and teams that I never watched.  My favorite all time Milwaukee Brewers bubble gum Card is of a guy I never got a chance to see play, The Boomer, George Scott.  I remember seeing another kid on the schoolyard who had it in his stack of gems and being jealous as hell.  He would accept no trade offers for it..


 It would be years before I was able to get it.

I have too much working knowledge of recording artists that were before my time or before I discovered the power chord and Blue Oyster Cult.

 I know who it was that starred in and the release years of flicks that came out when my parents were kids.

How?

TV Guide, Reading the backs of Baseball & Football cards, (yes, kids, there once was more to them than air-tight sealing, prospecting, grading and getting maximum value for them!!) borrowed library books on film history devoured as a kid, and too much time spent reading (and absorbing) the backs of album covers.

I still remember before the days of cable and non-stop ESPN media-blasting, being shocked by reading on the back of Frank Taveras' 1982 Topps card that the dude somehow stole 71 bases in a season?

71!!!

Or that Bill Kenney passed for over 4000 yards for Kansas City once!

Really?  To Who?

Did you know (back of a Dokken album cover) that Juan Croucier played for Don's boys before Ratt?


Was there a trade worked out there?

It's amazing where all that clutter came from, let alone that I remember learning it.

Hope I have some GB left....

Anyway, there's some comfort drawn from that old stuff from which I gleaned my knowledge. A simpler time, indeed.  Information gleaned from hard work, microfiche, a library card, and memory instead of a lightning fast Google search.  Old dusty cardboard baseball cards and comic book pages that yellow with time, not the high gloss, freaky bright stock that blasts at you today.  Giant lyric sheets and musician rosters that were readable without needing to squint to see on the opposite side of some pretty dynamic (or cheesy, better yet) artwork on the front of an album cover as opposed as to the less tactile jewel case and inlay card of a CD.

Or worse, in all cases, just a computer download you never actually prove exists other than a e-receipt and a cold icon on desktop or mobile device.

As I'll point out in a future somewhat related post, are we moving too far too fast?  Technology for even life's minutiae has grown far more in my lifetime, or even last 30 years, than it did in the previous 70.  There's something scary and impersonal in that.

I like where my trivia came from.  


Friday, July 25, 2014

Back When Cartoons Scared the Crap Out Of You.

Being terrified as a kid is not difficult. But cartoons aren't supposed to do it, damn it.

Two culprits:

One is hard to find. An episode of "Cool Cat" that featured a character needing to be bodyguarded known as "Smilin' Ed Solvent"

This is all I can find.
 The Next is a bona fide animation legend, a Porky Pig cartoon called "The Case of the Stuttering Pig"

I remember it being in color for some reason, but the damn thing marked me. The commentator on this video feels the same way.


The Case of the Stuttering Pig (Commentary) by CarlStallingEnthusiast

Anyway. One is from 62, the other from 37, and it's proof positive that in the old days they knew how to lay on the Jeebs.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Movies I Stayed Up Late For: The Fury


As a kid without cable there were quite a few movies of the week, and they were what we had.

These were the limits of our lives.


Quite often, the CBS Saturday Night movie, capper of the weekend, kept me up at night because I couldn't wait to see what the hell happened next....

I have pontificated on many of these celluloid diversions right here on my very own corner of the internet.

There's one that I still have tons of rock solid memories of seeing some 30 years ago.

Let's discuss early Brian DePalma. And "The Fury".

He made the incredibly faithful Stephen King adaption, "Carrie" two years prior, and seemed the man for the job here.  I remember this movie blowing my doors off in the very early 80's when it was being run on over-the-air TV, and the lovely Frani and I sat down to take it in off of the DVR just the other evening.

Well, it's a bit uneven.  There's a story to be told here, make no mistake, as a very young Amy Irving and Andrew Stevens are two teens with powerful telekinetic abilities that The Gubmint (led by a greasy Mr. Rosemary's Baby, John Cassavetes) wants to possess and make more dominant.

Kirk Douglas, looking svelte and strong for his age, is the lead as Stevens' father and I get the feeling the studio liked that he was in it. Unfortunately you can really feel that fact, as his character is on screen almost constantly for the first hour, on the hunt from the second scene on to find Stevens and that becomes the onus of the film.  The scenes with Douglas, many that do not accomplish much when factoring in screen time, suck running length from what should have been more exposition into the potentially interesting link between Irving and Stevens, as well as what was being done by the shady Goverment Agency to the latter kiddo.  Instead there's overextended comic exchanges between Douglas and Gordon Jump's family and a pair of cops, one of which is a young and somehow still-coiffed Dennis Franz.

The action and visual effects, on the other hand, are top notch.  A young Rick Baker did the FX, and DePalma was not suffering from a lack of need to create slow-motion set pieces either, as there are a few.  The closing moments are pretty slick, and put the money shot from David Cronenberg's "Scanners" (which came later, and is much more ballyhooed now) to shame.  Cronenberg's film told a better story, and that's why it's deservedly more fondly remembered, but it shouldn't be forgotten that this little pic here tread the ground first.   That said,  Michael Ironside is intimidating as the heavy in "Scanners", while you just feel like slapping Cassavetes with a brick and telling him to shut up in this one.

Overall, it wasn't as good as I remember it, but it still elicits fond memories of the living room floor, that old Sylvania console model TV, and the Late Movie.  It's neat to see "then unknowns" like Franz and Daryl Hannah, Kirk Douglas being Kirk, some nicely done DePalma camera tricks, and to remember when Andrew Stevens was gonna be "big".

Friday, March 28, 2014

Movies I Stayed Up Late For: MAGNUM FORCE



Yeah, I'd need both hands to count how many times I stayed up into the fog of pre-dawn for the second film in the "Dirty Harry" Callahan film series, "Magnum Force".  Many nights I sat in front of the age-old Sylvania console television, rubbing the sleep out of my overworked peepers. I forced myself to stay alert with the single minded purpose of catching good old Clint himself as he blows away half of the crooked San Francisco police force, a single-handed, one man walking death warrant for the corruption that had infiltrated the SFPD, under the evil guidance of one Hal Holbrook.

Hal's soldiers included a then unknown Tim Matheson who went on to some fame in "Animal House", "Fletch", and as a side note, I believe I've caught his name on the small screen once or twice as a director of an episode or two of "Psych". Here we find a young David Soul, a few short years before "Starsky & Hutch" and the mini-series that had me defecating in my pants, "Salem's Lot". Mr "Don't Give Up On Us" was also one of the "dirty" cops that spent much of their time pulling over known pimps and drug dealers for one reason, and one reason only, and that was to shoot them in the face.

You might question why 'ol Harry, a damn-near vigilante himself, would have a problem with this sort of thing. That gets answered succinctly late in the film in a dust-up with  a spiteful Lieutenant Briggs, Mr. Holbrook's character.  He  asks Harry about his "hypocrisy" and the Inspector's frequent "bucking of the system".

His response is genuinely twisted and hypocritical: "I hate the goddamn system! But until someone comes along with changes that make sense, I'll stick with it."

Kind of clunky spoken and thought out logic, there, Harry. I prefer a quote from earlier film:
"Nothing wrong with shooting, as long as the right people get shot."  That's honesty.

Actually, "Magnum Force" is an infinitely quotable movie.  After all, it's where I learned the life lesson that "a man has to know his limitations."

....and how to spot "salty lookin' dudes".

Ah, the 70's....We all love David Soul, despite his character's evil nature, and here's a reminder of why....






Monday, March 24, 2014

MOVIES I STAYED UP LATE FOR: Silent Rage

Mad Scientists. Mad Slashers. Kung Fu fury.

Chubby Comic Relief.

"Silent Rage" has it all. It also boasts examples of all 4 of what I feel are the 4 integral ingredients of a great "B" movie.

1."What the Hell?" dialogue: "Look at that cell structure!!!"

2.Out of Place Martial Arts mayhem: Chuck Norris takes apart a bar full of bikers and the antagonist at the end of the film with his high kicking antics.

3. Hey, It's that guy!!!!: Steven Keats, Stephen Furst (Flounder from "Animal House"), and Ron Silver (!), who sadly passed away early.

4.Overacting alert!!! Steven Keats in his mad scientist rage of cellular and biological superiority spews venomous f-bombs at eventual Oscar winner Ron Silver (in an early role for him)

Ron Silver's patient, Brian Libby (referenced in "Hot Fuzz", Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright are geniuses) is on the edge and medicated at the beginning of this classic.
His landlady's noisy children drive him over the edge and he murders two people with an axe before Mr. Norris and Silver show up. After much violent struggling and a temporary handcuffing in brief police car incarceration, our soon to be slasher, John Kirby, is gunned down.

After he kicks the squad door off from the inside.  Roll eyes here.

Shortly thereafter in a Texas hospital, biological scientist Keats, for reasons unknown to the audience works as a surgeon with psychiatrist Silver. They try unsuccessfully to save the life of Kirby, played well nearly worldessly by Brian Libby. Keats then tries to play God by injecting an experimental chemical into Kirby, (who is an excellent choice for such a thing by the way, to the film's credit, Silver's character DOES make that point), turning him into an indestructable version of the psycho he already was.

The rest of the film is a generic slasher movie, although skillfully executed to some degree with the use of some tension, and an eerie synthesizer created soundtrack. The odd addition of Norris as the hero (this was post indy-"A Force of One", "Octagon" Norris, but pre-Cannon--"Missing in Action" Norris.) is truly weird, and Furst as Norris' silly sidekick doesn't really work for the most part. I kept expecting him to ask "So, you guys playing cards?"  Chuck doesn't act here as much as "exist", while the pros around him being Silver, Keats, Furst and Toni Kalem, as his love interest, do the heavy lifting.

 If you can call it that. Give them credit, they do well with what material they have.

"Silent Rage" obviously is a mess, but an entertaining one, however, with a decent genre climax. Norris was obviously an excellent cinema martial artist, and it shows here. He doesn't do much else right. When he's not throwing his trademark standing spin kicks and jump crescents, he's cringe-inducing.

But overall, it is what it is (I hate that phrase).  A good "B" grade horror/sci-fi/karate move.

Friday, March 7, 2014

MOVIES I STAYED UP LATE FOR: The Food of the Gods


My current foray into "Movies I Stayed Up Late For" is the 1976 drive-in late night TV staple, "The Food of the Gods".

It's an absolute Godawful piece of claptrap that did nothing upon it's cinematic release but induce projectile vomiting and groans of disdain. It starred former child-evangelist (you read that right) Marjoe Gortner.  There was even a wide-release documentary made on that topic entitled "Marjoe!" At one point, je was being ballyhooed by some in the cinematic press in the early 70's as "the embodiment of cinematic masculinity" (!) but never amounted to much more than a B-movie semi-icon.

This cinematic achievement was a quaint little story about chemical corruption. It seems there's these jars labelled "FOTG" sitting on the shelves of some elderly farmer's barns. (elderly farmers barns in 70's movies, always seem to have great things hiding inside them) Some animals and insects start to eat some of the mystery juice that was accidentally spilled causing them to grow awful damn huge, develop nasty dispositions and wreak general havoc all over the rural area. (You know, eating people and stuff).

The movie was forgettable (and regrettable) beyond this great cliffhanger ending: The final shots show some of the dumped compound running off into a river. Through snappy editing, the river flows downstream (where else does a river flow, Rob?) and (gasp) some cows drink from the river. The next shots are composed in a dairy, then show a child (hold on to your butts!) drinking from a milk carton in her school lunch. Oh My God! Wait a tic, what's gonna happen? Is she gonna be a pro wrestler or an NBA player or what?

Not to mention they forgot to take the hyper-complex scientific theory of dilution into consideration. How effective would the substance be when broken down into parts per million, and several miles of riverflow? Not well thought out, boys, but yet again, how well thought out was the concept of this movie?

Wait a minute, I'm the guy who stayed up late for it.
 Heh, I was a kid, right?......right?

I'm sticking by that.


ADDENDUM: In 1988, I remember breezing through the daily information colossus known to those "in the know" as THE WAUSAU DAILY HERALD, and seeing the cineplex, if it could be called that, down by the mall showing (probably on the screen downstairs that's no bigger than my living room TV where I saw "Good Morning, Vietnam" in it's 347th week of release) "Food of the Gods 2", a Canadian opus trying to cha-ching in on the 12 year old success of the original.

Wait a minute here, the first did absolutely nothing. This makes no sense. How did this North-central Wisconsin theatre manager get horranged into carrying this stupid movie anyway?
Did the distributor offer him a "Food of the Gods 2" baseball hat?   These filmmakers tried to pull of the cinematic equivalent of a sequel to oh, say, "Frogs",  (I'm sure Sam Elliot is proud) or "Grizzy"....

....wait, that was attempted.  Sorry, there,  George Clooney, Laura Dern, and Charlie Sheen. (Were you winning then, Mr. Estevez?)

 Go figure. I should fund and release a sequel to "Satan's Cheerleaders". It would be as intelligent.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Movies I Stayed Up Late For: IT IS THE CAR



It was long before James Brolin became Mr. Streisand. It was long before he put on his overacting clinic in "The Amityville Horror".  Decades before he played Pistachio Disguisey's father in "Master of Disguise".  It was years before the novel, "Christine" by Stephen King and the John Carpenter masterpiece adaptation that followed.

It was "The Car".

For some reason a very large vehicle that is of a rather nondescript and largely unidentifiable design is possessed by the devil. Why? You got me there. Maybe it's nickname is Regan.

It is "The Car"

It hangs around peoples houses and revs it's satanic engine and honks it's rather non-intimidating devil-horn. It's future victims walk around in the dark and appear shocked and make stupid phone calls. For some reason, when it's headlights, accompanied by a synthesizer "sting", explode into brightness, these morons get frightened beyond all help.

Because it's "The Car".

It waits outside metal graveyard fencing for the innocents hiding inside to come out, for it cannot enter hallowed ground.

It's metal. It can wait.

What's with that horn?  I know options are limited, but isn't there something more intimidating than that "honk"?

Oh, well.
It is "The Car."

At the end, the car falls off a cliff and blows up, and a devilish face can be seen in the rising conflagration that becomes the emanation from it's detonation.

It is "The Car".

And I stayed up late for it.

And slept like a baby.

Hey! There's Ronny Cox!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

MOVIES I STAYED UP LATE FOR: DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY

In the late 70's in the Will household, it's obvious, as I previously lamented, to say there was no cable. You get your listings from the paper. A solid week's worth of scheduling on about 4 pages of a "PARADE"--sized publication insert. Don't lose it, or you'll be forced to flip the dial searching for your show until it breaks.


 So, it was easy for a little chap like myself to scan the black and white newsprint, hopefully to find out if "White Lightning", "Eat My Dust", "Vanishing Point", or my personal fave, "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry" were going to be aired anytime that week. It was more miss than hit, as far as programming goes,(Hey, "Paper Tiger" is on!! Is that a kung-fu movie? Who the hell is David Niven?) but one of the local Milwaukee or Chicago stations would pop one of those redneck classics on more than once a month, giving me a decent reason to scan the publication.

I'm no gearhead now, not even close, but as a boy I loved the car-chase movie. The roar of the engine, the endless action shots of Burt Reynolds, Barry Newman, Ron Howard, or yes, Peter Fonda whipping the steering wheel around like Devo on Acid.

 So, "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry"..... Who needs plotline. Fonda, (Henry's son) playing Larry, and his partner rip off a grocery store, (in a surprisingly disturbing sequence involving an uncredited Roddy McDowall) to fund their racing career. They pick up an idiotic airhead, Mary, (Melissa George's mom, Susan) along the way, and run for it. Vic Morrow, (Jennifer Jason Leigh's Dad, what the hell is going on here!) some kind of helicopter pursuit expert, is put on the case, and the chase, one that may be the longest ever filmed, ensues. Longest until Tarantino and "Death Proof anyway. In a creepily sad bit of irony, Morrow was killed in real life by a helicopter during the filming of "Twilight Zone: The Movie".

 Some banter, which makes Adam Roarke the only sympathetic one of the three running from the law, is juvenile and poorly executed. Although there is a nice moment where Roarke befriends Mary, when Fonda's character lets his incredible assholeishness get way out of control and pushes her down. As far as emotional content, that's about as far as this one goes.

 I gotta say, I showed this movie to my son earlier this summer, and he disagrees with me on the ending. That's ok, he's entitled. There's a TON of c.b. chatter in the second half of this flick, and a lot of it is dialogue between Morrow and Fonda in the final chase segment. Just when it looks like the rogues have it made, and Morrow appears to be backing off as evidence by the dying of his Oscar-worthy repartee, Fonda's Charger crashes right into a train.

 Credits roll.

 Greatest. Ending. Ever.

I don't remember how many times we and Mr. Will, (that's my Dad. I'm just Rob) watched this one....

Thursday, February 20, 2014

YES, THERE'S THAT MANY.

I didn't even know there were that many shark movies, let alone that many shitty ones.

Thanks, James Rolfe.


SPECTRUM: Late Night Viewing Gets A Boost.








In the early 80's the fam lived in rural Kenosha county in Southeastern Wisconsin. No HBO, no cable, satellite was in it's infancy. We had no VCR save for the gigantic Quasar Boat Anchor model we borrowed from a friend periodically. The answer: Spectrum, a monthly pay affair, that broadcast uncut first run movies using air time purchased from a VHF Channel in Chicago.

Needless to say, this greatly enhanced my late night viewing. I'll be doing periodic posts about the great and not so great of Spectrum TV, and there's a lot of both.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

MOVIES I STAYED UP LATE FOR: GRIZZLY

 

GRIZZLY

 


It's no secret that this movie is a blatant rip off of the "Jaws" formula, so I'm gonna get the hows out of the way right off the bat.

Locale: State forest in the West, subbing for Amity Beach, being ravaged by unusually aggressive Grizzly bear, is on brink of being closed down for the busiest holiday time of the year. Needless to say, the Superintendent is not thrilled. This is damn near plagiarism so far.

Hero: The Park Ranger (Christopher George, a low rent Roy Scheider, having all the snark and none of the class) who happens to be sick of being muscled by the bureaucrats, is bent on stopping the horrific bear killings.

Grizzled Naturalist: Although, unlike Hooper of "Jaws", he's not a rich kid with lots of high-tech toys, he's still a freakin' weirdo. This particular goofball lays around in strange woodland disguises trying to record information on the local wildlife.  Hello, Richard Jaeckel. 

Pilot with war stories: Andrew Prine (yes, the future nightime soap hearthrob) plays a helicopter pilot who helps in the search for the bear.  He even spins an apparently ad-libbed campfireside yarn about Vietnam bloodbaths, paling in huge comparison to Robert Shaw's lengthy (and also reportedly ad-libbed) USS Indianapolis monologue in "Jaws".


No attempt at a replacement for "Farewell and Adieu, my wee Spanish Ladies"

However, the exploding rampaging creature is replaced.

The whys. To make money. "Grizzly" was the highest grossing independent film of it's year, which I believe was 1976. A surprising amount of blood for a PG-rated movie makes the movie still maintain  occasional shock value, but the FX are terrible, and some of the acting is even worse.

Lots of nice scenery though. Gorgeous woodland locales. I stayed up late for this one many times. Therefore it qualifies, it's a true crap classic.

Incidentally, a sequel was made, which finished prinicipal photography, and a workprint even exists. It features a young Charlie Sheen and George Clooney, and was entitled "Grizzy II: The Concert".   I wonder why it was never released with that set-up.

Monday, February 17, 2014

MOVIES I STAYED UP LATE FOR: WHITE LIGHTNING

 

 

WHITE LIGHTNING


Bogan County, Arkansas is a terrible place. It's hot, it's sticky, and it's run by a murderous sherriff. The locals spend a lot of time transporting illegal alcohol, or as they put it, "runnin' licka". So much of this lawless liquor manufacture and transport takes place apparently, that Bobby "Gator" McCluskey (Burt Reynolds) has made himself an arrangement with the feds. Said arrangement is a deal to get out of prison a year early to go undercover, and while he's at it,  avenge the murder of his baby brother Donny at the hands of the affore-mentioned crooked sherriff, JC Connors.

Can I get an amen?

This movie represents a high water mark in the career of Burt Reynolds, who plays the lead, Gator, with verve. "White Lightning" is just after "Deliverance" and right before "The Longest Yard", and well before "Smokey & the Bandit" and the careeer derail that followed shortly after. In Burt's canon, his career at this point was, artistically at least, at it's absolute peak, in my opionion. Reynolds is subtle here, pefectly selling his grief over the loss of his brother, but growing a dull cold behind his eyes when it comes to dealing with the sherriff. He is surprisingly effective in just using facial expressions in this film. For example, in a nicely done moment, shortly after his prison release, he gradually unwinds as he discards his tie and suitcoat while simultaneously pressing ever so much harder on the accelerator of his hyper-tuned 1971 Ford Ltd. You can see the stress lift as the pedal goes down. There are other points in the movie as solid as that, which have you wondering at times, What's Gator thinking?

Director Joseph Sargent keeps things brisk, yet tense, with the help of a solid score by Charles Bernstein. The soundtrack veers between schticky banjo jams augmented with jew's harp during the extended car chase scenes, to a downright diabolical sounding blues slide guitar in the movie's heavier moments. As a kid, I would play these tunes in my head while recreating the car chases using matchbox cars. Ah, the whimsy of childhood. All nostalgia aside, the score is great, pulling off being jolly whimsical, and at the right moments, damned ominous.

Sargent also surrounds Reynolds with a fine supporting cast of character actors such as Matt Clark, Bo Hopkins, and the legendary RG Armstrong. Burt is reunited with his "Deliverance" co-star Ned Beatty as the crooked sherriff, JC Connors. (In one scene, Gator references "Deliverance". When he's asked by a young woman what happened to him to cause the bandages covering half of his face, he replies "I was hurt trying to save two of my buddies from being knocked up by a homosexual." He is of course lampooning that obviously nightmarish sequence from John Boorman's classic thriller.)
Beatty manages to pull off the difficult combination of sinister, intelligent, and good ol boy sarcastic all at once. The heated tension in the scenes involving both Beatty and Reynolds is palpable. So palpable, you'd almost believe there was a personal grievance between the two in real life.

The only true weakness to me is Jennifer Billingsley in the female lead role, as she's not a particularly strong actress here, and comes off as more annoying and painfully dumb than anything else.

"White Lightning" has a definite southern feel, as it was shot on location in Arkansas. It comes across like a piece of rebel Americana as everybody appears to be coated in a layer of perspiration and living in a haze of humidity. It looks every bit like the deep south it was shot in.

This is little more than a cult film now, (one of Quentin Tarantino's faves, he even lifted one of Gators lines, "I'm only afraid of two things: women and the police", to which he gave no credit, in an interview with Jay Leno, as well as passages of the score used later by Quentin in "Kill Bill" and "Inglourious Basterds".   It was cause for celebration on those late 70's summer nightson TV 18 WVTV in Milwaukee, or WFLD 32 out of Chicago. My Dad would pop a quarter ton of popcorn, bust out the Sparco soda bottles,  and it was "White Lightning" time.


Watch for further "Stay up Lates" inspired by my late Pops, "Vanishing Point" & "Freebie & The Bean", as well as "Bedrock for relationship" flicks hearkening back to my early days with my Stepdad, "Silent Rage" &  "The Lords of Discipline".

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

MOVIES I STAYED UP LATE FOR:BILLY JACK



This piece is dedicated to the memory of Milwaukee's own Tom Laughlin who died in December of cancer at age 82.  He wrote, directed and starred in "Billy Jack" and it's subsequent films, and proved that you could head out west with little more than a belief system and launch a franchise. 



This one is a pure classic in almost every sense of the Late Night word. In the later 70's and early 80's this one was constantly being aired on UHF, VHF, monthly pay, and some sporadic signals being picked up from other solar systems. I saw it many times, one because I was so heavily exposed to it, between repeat broadcasts, and two because my siblings dug it so much. 

But why did I love it so much in my pre-adolescent mind? It wasn't the political messaging, which was hamfisted, because I wasn't ready for that yet. It wasn't the special effects, because there were none. It wasn't completely the martial arts scenes, though that helped. 

It was the bullying.

As a kid I attended several elementary schools, one parochial, and it seemed like someone was always geared up to knock me off whatever good mood I may have been fortunate enough to wake up in that day. It got to the point of ridiculousness, and made me not want to go to school some days. Now I know being bullied is nothing new to many, but maybe that's why "Billy Jack" was so big with a lot of folks, not just the political views subscribed to by "dirty hippies" that were so much of the film's focus.

Billy Jack was the voice of pent up outrage at those who feel they are in control, and have to force that fact down the throats of everybody else. Tom Laughlin played Billy as a half-breed green beret Vietnam vet who wanders his Arizona locales becoming one with various natures, and protected the put-upon refugees from everyday life that comprise the student body of the "Freedom School", which is operated by Billy's friend, Jean. A local land baron, Posner, rapes the natural resources of the countryside for profit, while his spoiled rich son rapes  the women of "Freedom School". It's a recipe for disaster.

It's Billy as vigilante that was the selling point for me. For a character that has the ultimate goal of peace for all mankind however, he does spend more than enough time whipping ass. As a bullied kid, that appealed to me. I was sold the moment Billy lands that vicious reverse crescent kick (terminology gleaned myself from two years of Tae Kwon Do study) to the smirking jowl of Mr. Posner, and leaves him laying in the grass of the town square, an embarassed, beaten (and fat) soul.


The film however lingers far too much on the school and it's inhabitants, and those sequences can seem to drag on forever.  Despite the presence of a young Howard Hesseman (looking a lot like Foghat's "Lonesome Dave" Peverett,  It doesn't help the story. "Billy Jack" himself as a character wasn't what it could have been, either. He could have been more a sledgehammer than a ball peen variety.  I'm not saying Laughlin had to engage in a kung fu battle every 8 minutes, but the run time overall could have been trimmed to streamline the film into a more flowing narrative, giving it a brisker pace. The characterizations are there, but it seems like experimentation at times. 

Nevertheless, a legend was born with the unexpected box office success and public endearment for the character, and there is a heavy nostalgia factor in it for me, as it is a leader in the MISULF (Movies I Stayed Up Late For) lexicon. It makes the Late Night Hall of fame. It's many flaws aside, I still have warm feelings for "Billy Jack".
Thanks to my sister Linda, for staying up with me to watch it.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

True Detective: Existential Crime Drama? The McConnaisance continues.....


As it progressed,  the Matthew McConaughey/Woody Harrelson show “True Detective” posed a horrifying question that has danced lightly across my subconscious before, albeit briefly…..

McConaughey posited the theory that during evolution we, as homo sapiens, became accidentally self-aware, and saw ourselves as more important than we are…..

Yes, his character saw us humans as unintentionally programmed beyond mere survival instinct,  yet no more necessary than “the animals” we feed in pet dishes or consume at fast food joints.  Just painfully and with futility nursing the frustrating impression that we are, umm...

"playing out the string" as George Carlin depressingly put it in the prologue to his first book.

Is life like they taught us in Sunday School?  

Is there a loving god looking down on us throwing us waves of warming light and reinforcing love, keeping us safe and guiding us toward a path of true enlightenment & happiness, where we’ll find that soulmate that is also wandering the Earth seeking the same things as we are?   Inevitably children will follow, career goals may be met, then retirement, then Florida?

Is life Hello Kitty, the Everly Brothers, and the Care Bears?

Or are emotions simply secreted brain chemicals? Is love merely Dopamine, anger adrenaline, and lust a combination of them both?  Are Earth and our species simply a winning lottery ticket in a universe large enough to host the odds, and can easily be flippantly wiped out with a random passing comet?

 Or is there an even worse case scenario that can be tossed upon us with no malice or ambivalence from anyone?  Could our planet be damaged irreparably, reducing us to the apocalyptic survival monsters in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” through the folly of man’s warfare or by a volcanic eruption that’s decided the credit on our borrowed time account has come past due?  No supreme being stopping this with his love, or creating it with his wrath? Is it all merely random happenstance in an outer space too large for me to fathom?

Could the universe be ignoring our little terrarium by the Sun flashing out in a microscopic apocalypse because 99.9% of it wasn’t even aware it was happening?

The former is nicer.  The former is what I can cope with.  The latter is something I thank whoever may be out there that I’m glad I’m not quite smart enough to wrap my head around.

And yes, Matthew McConaughey got me thinking like that.

 

Before you think McConaughey's character is necessarily preaching to the converted, I submit this:
Read the Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter.....

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My two cents on Richard Sherman


Okay, let's get this out of the way. Richard Sherman is a smart man and the best corner in the league.

Good. I feel better now.

He's still an ass, and here's why:

 The reason he blew a gasket on national television is because, and he stated it in his pants-crapping, Napoleon Complex-fueled tirade on Erin Andrews, he was insulted because Michael Crabtree was talking about him.

Excuse me, sir Richard......but isn't that what you do?  Talk crap. Every day?  Incessantly?  To the point of nausea?  Insulting people online, in the national media and on the football field. Constantly?  Which is fine, I have no problem with trash talk.  It's part of the game, but for a true purveyor of the craft, and some may say a master, you seemed a wee bit hypocritical getting all jacked up for Crabtree doing likewise.

Some may call it, in the era of the web, butthurt. 

But there are those that tout Mr. Sherman and not only forgive, but endorse his yammering because of his humble beginnings, coming Straight Outta Compton, getting into Stanford, and then the NFL, eventually becoming the best at a very difficult position. He deserves credit, yes.  

But, there are tons of poor kids who get into the NFL and shine their stars who don't draw this kind of WWE "I'm the best!" attention to themselves constantly.  Look at Donald Driver.  Poor kid from Houston, who sold drugs, once lived in a U-Haul, 7th Round Choice out of tiny Alcorn State, and became the Packers all time leading receiver, Super Bowl champ, Dancing With the Stars winner, and never lost his humility in the process.  

He surely never took the attention off of his teammates at the apex of their success like Sherman did as soon as the final second ticked off the damn clock. 

And those on line and in print who act like he is some spokesman for all that's right (or wrong) in America just make me laugh. Canonizing someone because of their mouth?  Please don't get started on the race card. It's insulting to everybody.

And don't you dare compare him to Muhammad Ali. Yeah, he was the greatest, and said so. But what truly made Ali the greatest was what he said and did AFTER he said so.