26 09 2012

Originally posted on eclectic antics:

Street Law is a 1970’s Italian “Eurocrime” film starring Franco Nero and Barbara Bach.  Eurocrime films have often been classified as little more than Italian Death Wish clones, but this is an unfair dismissal.  While its true that the success of films like Dirty Harry and Death Wish was at the heart of the mentality behind these low-budget, European crime films, directors like Enzo G. Castellari took their films to a level beyond a cheap vehicle to cash in and created unique films of their own which are different enough in style to make them more than knock-offs.  The grim, crime-ridden streets of Death Wish are not merely transplanted to 1970’s Italy, but transformed in the process.  Italy was dealing with a lingering wartime legacy, political incompetence (or outright corruption), and crime on an unprecedented scale.  In other words, there was genuine discontent and anxiety over the unchecked spread of criminality informing films…

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New Site

16 09 2012

I’ll still be posting here from time to time, but for the moment I’ve begun writing on a wider range of topics. The first post on the new site is a review of the latest Before Watchmen: Comedian, which is…well, you can read the review. As always, thanks for reading!

Branching Out

25 08 2012

Phew, on again, off again. That’s me. Going to try something new over the next month or so because I am finding that I just don’t have the time required to watch and review films on any semblance of a regular basis.

I’ll have some more details about this in the next few days, but suffice it to say that I’ll be writing on a much broader range of topics (still movies, but also comics, books, television, and what ever else grabs my fancy). To those of you who have been following the site and my film reviews I hope you stick around for what’s next. I also hope you aren’t too disappointed by the changes coming along. Expect a link to a new WordPress site in a few days. This site will stay up and I’ll post here too from time to time. I’m looking forward to some fresh topics to write on since I feel I was getting stuck in a rut here.

Anyway, keep an eye out for another post with a link (most likely tomorrow evening).

The Clone Master (1978)

17 07 2012

The Clone Master (1978)


Science buddies!

The second entry in my FILMS OF THE CARTER YEARS marathon is 1978’s The Clone Master.  While you might assume this is a movie about the dangers of allowing Art Hindle to make duplicates of himself and proclaim himself CLONE MASTER (of the Universe), the plot is considerably more prosaic and certainly less awesome.  Basically, the entire story revolves around two grant-grubbing professors: Simon Shane (Hindle) and Ezra Louthin (Ralph Bellamy).  Their whole deal is that they are SCIENTISTS doing SCIENCE despite “the interfearin’ gubment” getting Dr. Louthin’s old man diapers in a bunch by constantly demanding progress reports and apparently refusing to throw piles and piles of money at them without any kind of oversight.  (Admittedly, this is uncharacteristic of the government, but more on that later!)  All you really need to know is that Shane and Louthin are best science bros.  They hang out together all the time in their secret lab hunched over the “artificial uterus environments” dreaming about seeing the real thing as they make tadpole people.  Their May/December a-sexual bromance is going great until a certain Mr. Huberman  shows up at their offices demanding that they hand over the project notes before he and his bosses will give them any further funding.  Enter the obnoxious Shane/Louthin double act, in which Louthin acts like a crotchety old douche while Shane unleashes his smarmy, faux reasonableness.  In the end they agree to give him a report later in the week (Thursday, specifically, which means nothing to the audience since we have no idea what day of the week in which this scene is taking place) and celebrate having messed with a low level bureaucrat.  Louthin actually states that this is his reason for being a total jerk in the scene, because yanking around people is what the government does best, so he’s got to give them a taste of their own medicine?  I guess?  Old man logic!

“Luke, you were right. You were riiiiight about me.”

And this is where the trouble begins because Huberman works for a shady guy with an indeterminate accent (probably European) and not a government agency, which passes for a shock in this flick, considering how certain Louthin and Shane were about their employers being part of the public sector–hence their dicking with Huberman.  And poor Huberman can’t catch a break, as twelve minutes into the movie he’s being rendered brain-dead by some kind of nerv agent in a 1977 Datsun.  His Euro-boss isn’t pleased with Huberman because Huberman bugged the scientists’ office without his permission.  So, to prevent possible discovery or embarrassment, he stages an elaborate, public spectacle of a murder on a beach in a bright silver sports car with an exotic nerve gas.  Huberman’s only apparent symptoms of distress are an overabundance of make up.  Louthin and Shane, for some reason, decide to visit the man they tormented endlessly.  Perhaps in revenge, Huberman is intentionally vague, hissing only one word: “Salt.”

“Oh why the hell not?” – A Scientist’s opinion of cloning.

At this point in the movie the audience is about as clueless as Shane and Louthin, which is to say, absofuckinglutely clueless.  And it doesn’t get much better.  The best example of not telling the audience anything in The Clone Master is why the clones are being made at all, or what social or economic benefit a bunch of Art Hindles will be to whoever is funding this program (we find out at some point that his name is Salt, and he’s the accented gent that made Huberman’s life even shittier than it already was as a low-level messenger boy).  They’re just making clones, man, which would be a good enough explanation if we were talking about a YouTube video of two stoned teens making Creepy Crawlers in the basement, but with clones in a multi-million dollar lab funded by an international consortium of white dudes who wear sunglasses indoors (not to be confused with Corey Hart who wears them at night), you need to give a little more motivation than simply “because we felt like it.”  However, whoever wrote the script felt that “international consortium,” briefcases of cash, kidnappings, and clones were reason enough and required no contextualization whatsoever linking them.

Art Hindle’s MySpace profile picture,

To be fair, the movie does do one thing right and bumps off Louthin fairly early on, which is a relief for anyone who despises pedantic, misogynistic asshats, which is Dr. Louthin in a nutshell.  Also, probably a relief for “Gussie,” Shane’s young, impressionable, and mildly attractive grad student, who Louthin spent a good five minutes harassing earlier in the film.  Presumably this is because she was “in science” and “was asking for it,” or so I suspect based on his logical, cogent, and well-articulated reasons behind counter-productively badgering their only source of funding, Huberman.  Anyway, I really didn’t like Louthin.  With Louthin gone, Dr. Shane and Gussie have to prepare for the birth of their clones all on their own.  We also find out that they undertook this experiment without telling anyone, leading everyone to believe they were still doing theoretical work.  Oh, and by the way, neither scientist bothered to check what government agency they assumed they were working for.  Not even so much as a request for some ID, apparently.  Just took the briefcases of cash and assumed one of the many, many government agencies was behind the project, which provides some unintentional humor when Shane goes to Washington to ask them who he’s working for.

Oh man, worth 93 minutes of this crappy film for that shot.

Anyway, long story short, the clones are born and they are exactly like Dr. Shane.  Not just physically, mind you, they also share his memories, level of education, and an intimate knowledge of cloning.  I don’t need to tell you how hilariously wrong this is, scientifically, but wait, it gets better!  The clones also share a telepathic link with Dr. Shane, who they refer to as “papa.”  The clones take the fact that they are clones remarkably well, which is a bit of a let down.  But Papa Clone Master knows that his clones (who have adopted the numbers 1-13 as their designations) are in danger from that not-at-all-government agency that he assumed was a government agency that kidnapped Louthin, bugged his office, and now wants the clone data for themselves.  He hatches an elaborate scheme involving hilarious disguises for his clones, a trip to Washington, a staged fire, his own faked death, and the flight of the clones across the globe like a band of fleeing war criminals (right down to the questionable facial hair and over-sized sunglasses).  Miraculously it works and the clones escape, the data is destroyed, and the mysterious Mr. Salt…apparently just throws in the towel and let’s Dr. Shane live.  Kind of lame, but no where near as lame as the final moments of the film where Shane has telepathic conversations with his numerous clones across the globe as they fret about things like old age, sexuality, and being mistaken for Canadian character actor, Art Hindle.

Trick-or-Treat in a Whitesnake video?

Verdict?  Pretty dodgy stuff here.  Not as awful as the last film I watched because The Clone Master at least tries to have an interesting premise, but its completely buried beneath shoddy script writing and a whole lot of weird, uncomfortably long internal monologues (Art Hindle to other Art Hindle, Ralph Bellamy to Hindle).  It’s a rambling mess in the end that misses a lot of opportunities for interesting tension by electing to make the clones perfectly cooperative and the international cooperative behind the scheme, really just one old white guy and some lawyers.  Not very menacing.  And I still can’t believe they not only went with telepathy as a by-product of cloning, but then proceeded to make it a central plot element.  It makes it virtually impossible to take any part of the film seriously, which would work if the film were self-aware enough to make fun of itself, but its deadly serious.  There’s hardly any (intentional) humor as the film is intent on being a taut, political thriller.  But the conspiracy itself is too lame to be taking seriously.  Especially considering that its mostly through the scientists’ own inept actions (such as just taking some guy’s word that he worked for the government and wanted to develop cloning rather than, you know, actually asking him any questions, starting with “ID please?”) that the conspiracy even exists.  At the end of the day a pretty insipid effort, but worth it for all the silly disguises they made Art Hindle wear.

The Acting of Art Hindle

16 07 2012

What’s next for Cheap As They Come?  Here’s your hint, it stars multiples of this guy:

Art Hindle: Canada’s greatest contribution to the acting world.  The only actors working harder in an Art Hindle movie are Art Hindle’s Eyebrows.  In this case they star along with the rest of Art in a made-for-TV movie from the 1970’s called The Clone Master.  Other than Ed Lauter and a doddering Ralph Bellamy, there’s really no one of note in this one.  Or, at any rate, they’re the only two faces remotely recognizable from other films (even if you can’t recall their names).  Seems I’ve got a theme of late-70’s, made-for-TV movies going here, so I’ll keep rolling them out until the crushing weight of Carter-era television prevents me from going any further.

Be ready for all Art Hindle all the time because about 75% of this movie is Art Hindle talking to…ANOTHER ART HINDLE (thanks to clones and jump cuts).

Captain America (1979)

13 07 2012

Captain America (1979)


Your hero, everyone.

In 1979 CBS decided to recruit their best writers and actors to make a TV movie of The Six Million Dollar Man Captain America.  Basically they took the premise of a previous hit show and swapped out the main character for Steve Rogers, except this Steve Rogers has never fought Nazis, been faced with the guilt of losing his partner, or battled the evil Red Skull.  So, basically, he’s just this guy and the government is kind of interested in him.  They aren’t the only people interested in Rogers.  The first five and a half minutes of Captain America are all about dudes wanting to get on Reb Brown’s dick (not that there is anything wrong with that), and this theme persists throughout the movie to encompass every single character, but mostly its dudes because this movie is kind of a sausage fest (and not just because of all that clingy, late-seventies polyester).  Surfer dudes, police stakeout dudes, mid-level corporate dudes who might be carrying Steve’s child maybe????  Reb is tender to them all, giving them drawings, telling them he’s always there for them, and not awkwardly staring at the one guy’s weird man tits under his tank top.  Toss in a pulsating soft-core porno soundtrack and you’ll want to take a shower.  I encourage you to see for yourself, because the strange sexual undercurrents are all there, conveyed to you, the audience, despite the junior-high drama production level of acting going on in these scenes:

Every moment sits on the razor’s edge between just bad costuming and dialogue and soft-core porn.

I mean, Reb does have a cool van and his art abilities would really take off among the van driving crowd, so I guess they’re setting up Reb as this cool, happenin’ dude in a loose mood who gets all the dudes in and around his pants.  He’s so close to surfer guy, that surfer guy lets him use his phone, which might be a metaphor for something????  He then drives off into a place called “Thousand Oaks,” which is definitely a metaphor for something.  And there’s a car chase, and an oil slick and some giant government conspiracy, but the movie still can’t shake the “about to burst into a saucy porno vibe,” right down to the construction workers sashaying about in orange caution vests.

Reb took shirt ripping lessons from Bill Shatner.

So, this movie is all kinds of 1970’s.  Conspiracy theories abound, polyester clings to everything, and shag carpeting coats the inside of Steve’s Econoline van.  Steve Rogers just wants to be free, man, to tool around America in his van and “see the faces of America,” but the government (in typical, 70’s government paranoia fashion) seeks to inject him with “the ultimate steroid, synthesized from his own [father’s] adrenal gland.”   This is the logical thing to do when a guy suffers from spontaneous shirt ripping all the time.  The chief scientist, Dr. Simon Mills (played by Len Birman), admits that they only want Steve because they’ve already killed all their lab rats with the serum and a new shipment won’t arrive until next Tuesday.  To complicate matters they’ve also run out of unpaid interns.

Reb’s acting career is on its deathbed throughout Captain America.

Steve shows a shocking amount of intelligence and refuses to be injected with FLAG, though he admits that the idea of a super-crazy steroid appeals to him and his pecs.  But seeing as Dr. Mills’ explanation of FLAG, why the rodents underwent cell rejection, and how Steve’s dad “passed his cells directly to his son” are completely and hopelessly scientifically wrong, refusal really was the obvious choice. But hey, it sucks to be Steve because he has an unnatural affinity for falling off of rocky cliffs in motor vehicles.  The first time is when the van slides in an oil slick trap laid for him (because he’s…his dad’s kid, I guess?) and he careens off the road.  Luckily the 3,000 cubic feet of brown, shag carpet tacked to the walls of his van protect him from injuries more extensive than a ripped shirt ala Kirk.  The second time is the charm though when he does it on a motorbike and everyone is pretty much certain he’s dead.  Dr. Mills sees his chance an injects him with FLAG, which saves Steve’s life, but pisses off Steve because “now for the rest of [his] life [he]’ll be wondering how much longer [he’s] got left to live,” which I’m pretty sure is a moot point since, PRO-TIP: Steve, you were clinically dead before FLAG was administered.  Even if you die five minutes after the injection, you’re coming out ahead by five minutes!  By all means though, worry about how much EXTRA TIME you have left from CHEATING DEATH AND GAINING SUPER POWERS.

Worthy of Q Branch, Cap’s gadgets are not.

Anyway, the film’s approach to the plot is to tell the audience as little as possible about what’s going on at any given moment, and heaven forbid they indicate the motivations of the film’s central villain Red Skull some drab corporate accountant played by the younger brother of Dana Andrews(????) before the concluding twenty minutes of the movie.  This is despite the fact that about 99.9% of this movie is cheerless banter about FLAG, government agencies, some sort of nuclear(?) bomb, Steve’s dad being made fun of for being a patriotic guy (seriously?), and motorcross.  It would’ve killed them to use all of that boring talking to advance a plot, apparently.  Instead they use the first 73 minutes of a 97 minute film for lots of talking about everything other than the central villain’s intentions or motives (we eventually learn its gold and that this whole scheme is plagarized verbatum from the film Goldfinger).  Similarly, no effort is made to explain why Lou Brackett (the mid-level corporate guy who is insultingly passed off as a villain for Cap) should be taken seriously as a villain, or, better yet, how an unremarkable, fifty-something man is in any way a threat to Cap.  Brackett doesn’t even have some secret serum or anti-Cap weapon going for him, let alone some technology-created supervillain powers of his own.  He’s just this guy who wear suits with brass buttons and probably has erectile dysfuction.

This is textbook “looking like a dork.”

Steve Forrest has no leading villain gravitas whatsoever, so he can’t even talk the talk of supervillain, let alone physically pass himself off as one.  You’re telling me Jack Palance was too busy in 1979 to play the part of a sneering corporate executive, so you had to hire the younger brother of Dana Andrews instead?  Because you can’t claim it was pride that kept him from being in this movie, since he was making Angel’s Brigade that same year.  And if he’s working alongside the likes of Peter Lawford, Alan Hale Jr., Jim BackusArthur Godfrey, and Pat Buttram, he clearly isn’t demanding much in the way of salary.  In fact, he was probably literally working for peanuts and the silent dignity that comes from appearing alongside former cast members of Gilligan’s Island was merely a bonus.

The thrilling final showdown!

I digress.  The point is that Captain America is a movie that is about a super hero in name only.  There’s no worthy villain to match wits, strenght, or even technology with.  The only thing “super” about Cap is that he can kind of jump high and some of the things he does are accompanied by sound effects from the prestigeous Scooby-Doo wing of the Hanna-Barbera vaults.  There’s barely any action and the culminating fight between Cap and the villain (something that one would think is a requirement of the superhero genre) doesn’t actually happen.  Instead, Cap has to prevent the villain from having a coronary and asphixyating.  No punches are thrown, but we do get to see Cap use some First Aid skills.  Hell, he doesn’t even disarm the bomb someone does it off screen.  It’s like whoever wrote this film was determined that there not be a single moment of tension in it(though I did find the eight minute, silent helicopter flight over California scrub land to be making me tense, but for the wrong reasons).  I can’t even bring myself to give Reb Brown a hard time for his performance since he, and the rest of the cast, were given absolutely sweet-fuck-all to work with here.  The dialogue is godawful and delivered with zombie-like emotionlessness.  Some of the line readings are downright cringe-worthy (such as random silent beats between words, almost as if the actor momentarily forgot the second half of the line) and at least offer up a few laughs.  But all told this movie has nothing going for it.  The real villains are the suits, but not Brackett and his cronies, but those at CBS who basically grafted Captain America and some red, white, and blue polyester onto the existing (and previously successful) formula used in The Six Million Dollar Man.  I suspect they chose Captain America as their subject matter precisely because he was the superhero they felt would be easiest to drop in the middle of a prexisting formula they had already lined up in the hope that audiences would be similarly enthralled and not notice how cheap and demeaning such a move ultimately is, nor the blatant contempt they showed for their audience in doing so.  Worse yet, they made a sequel.

Bad, bad, bad.  I’m going to need a rubber monster suit, or at least something Corman-esque to recover from this.

Starring(?) Reb Brown

29 06 2012

Can anything really be said to “star” Reb Brown?  Isn’t that a bit like saying your MLB team “stars” Steve Balboni? (But, I suppose the Kansas City Royals are a bit like the TV movie of the MLB.  Though, as you can see, he spent some time musing about his record strike outs while on the NY Yankees.)

Reb Brown, like “Bye Bye”, is one of those guys who can only do one thing well and at the utter and total expense of nearly every other aspect of his career.  Reb’s one skill?  He can smack the unintelligent meat head role right out of the park.  As for other aspects of his acting, let’s just say they are as impressive as a .229 career batting average.  This  much is apparent if you’ve seen Space Mutiny, where Reb’s greatest achievement is getting to third base with some octogenarian woman with a fondness for tutus and Santa for a father.  He probably went in head first, like Pete Rose:

The point of all this being: 1) baseball metaphors quickly become tiring and 2) everything Reb Brown has ever done has been complete shit.  However, Reb has performed consistently well in one category throughout: he’s been a big, hulking pile of gristle that, on occasion, can over-emote and will probably hit on your grandma.  His casting as Cap is both baffling and oddly appropriate at the same time because, let’s face it, Cap is a bit like Reb Brown.  He’s a meat head and, to be quite frank, more than a little two-dimensional (a perfect fit for Reb’s only skills: over-emoting and flexing his thighs), but, at the same time, he is absolutely unconvincing as a superhero.  Could he play the part of some guy who likes to wear too-tight graphic tees?  Absolutely.  Someone whom villains are afraid of?  Probably not, unless said villain’s weakness is frat boy behavior  or male camel toe.  Which brings me to my Friday night, where I’m slogging through this 1979 TV movie which is everything you’d expect of a late-70’s TV movie with below-average acting and a contrived, but ultimately boring plot.  (The 70’s were big on contrived but ultimately boring, especially if it involved a highly improbable conspiracy theory.)   I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for a review, but I’ll leave you with another image of the Steve Balboni of the acting world, Reb Brown:

Cherish it.  I’ll be back soon with a review.