Saturday, September 29, 2012


"Noooooo, Colleen Camp!  Don't get into that car!  Your
career will be wrecked for years afterwards!"
"What good is the roadrunner without the coyote? What good would the fox be without the hound? What good is the Bandit without the Smokey?"

1) As shocked as I am to admit this, but this may very well be the single worst film I have ever seen. I don't think I can think of a single thing in this misbegotten ninety-three minutes that is even in the same state as amusing. I did not laugh once during this film, just sat there with my mouth agape in astonishment as the crude, sad and nonsensical parade of crap passed before my eyes.

2) ...and I think the filmmakers figured this out, because the movie takes what seems like forever to start. First we get a sepia-toned clipshow of the previous two films, then a scene that seems somehow retrofitted from the original trailer (since Burt Reynolds had refused to return except for a cameo, the original concept was that Gleason would play both Buford T. Justice and the Bandit), then a montage title sequence of Gleason 'enjoying' retirement before the actual plot begins.

3) One of the major reasons why this is a cinematic form of torture is how Buford is saddled with Mike Henry's Junior throughout the entire movie....and since Buford is the central character, that means the highly annoying, simpering Junior is in almost every single scene. And Junior just sucks any sort of amusement from every one of the sad little scenes. But then, people who just are incapable of being amusing are the bane of this movie.
"Sir, I know the Bandit.  I watched the Bandit.  And you, are no Bandit."

4) Take Colleen Camp's Dusty, for example. Now I know Colleen Camp is a good actress, and can be funny...but not here. A large part of the reason for this is that she's been given a character that's a cipher. She's not even given a sketch card of a background like Sally Fields' Carrie was in the first film; she's given a rant in her first moment on screen that I think is supposed to be her back story, but it says almost nothing about her. I particularly like how she has a line about how she moved to this area--most likely to explain her noticable New York accent--but at no point does where she came from comes up. She's thoroughly wretched.

5) But then, it might have worked better if Colleen had Burt Reynolds or Jackie Gleason to play off of as Bandit...but instead we've got Jerry Reed's Snowman, who in some nonsensical twist designed to cover up the fact that Gleason was supposed to play both roles, disguised himself as The Bandit to impede him on his trip. And a little Reed goes a long way...and a lot of Reed is interminable, especially when he's bantering with Colleen Camp. He just won't. stop. talking.

6) You know who else there's way too much of? The Enis family. In the first two films Pat MacCormick and Paul Williams were kinda fun--but they only showed up in small scenes. In this film, we're treated to the two of them enacting all these goofy coyote-like tricks to delay Buford (they're the ones who call in Snowman and get him to dress up like Bandit), and their welcome wears out long before the film is done. And when we get to that bizarre and unfunny sequence in the hotel where they dress up as women...well, it plunges past unfunny into shockingly painful.
"Sir, I'm going to write you a ticket for participating in a movie
so bad it's disgusting...."

7) This movie features some of the most unexciting, nonsensical and boring chase scene not only in the franchise, but maybe ever. They're made all the more unexciting for the way they just happen with no logical reason whatsoever except that director Don Lowery wanted to see Buford jump through a canon or a wall of fire. And even worse is how each of these chase scenes is accompanied by voice over conversations between Buford and Junior which is nowhere near as funny as anyone who made this film think they are.

8) I'm still trying to figure out why some of the scenes, like the one where Snowman, after assuming his Bandit disguise, marries off his dog Fred, even made it to the final shooting script. They stop whatever sad little excuse this film has for momentum absolutely dead...and even with all the overstuffed chase scenes and comedy bits this film has, the momentum is slow enough that they can't afford to have it stopped.

9) That fucking hot sheet motel scene...sigh. Not only does it go on for what seems like forever, not only does it have this smarmy, disapproving tone to simply isn't funny whatsoever. It, like the sequence with the nudist colony, wants you to ogle the nudity and the weird folks parading around (midgets! bodybuilder! Tall nypmhos! girls riding guys like horses!), and yet wants to act all shocked about the goings on. And it features our main characters behaving oddly (in addition to the sight of the transvestite Enises, there's the whole physical business with the fish Buford has been tasked with transporting from Miami to Texas) for no logical reason except that there was some belief it would result in a funny gag.

Uhhhhh, no.

10) I'd like to say that Burt Reynolds cameo is a little better than the shit that precedes it, but Burt appears sad and puffy, and the rationale for the cameo is as poorly thought out as the rest of the film. He's here solely to set up Smokey And The Bandit IV...but thank God that didn't happen until Universal decided to revisit the franchise as a series of TV movies as part of its Action Pack syndication package several years later.

Overall...God, no. Your life will be shorter and sadder for exposing yourself to this.

Friday, September 28, 2012


"You're complaining about your scarf?  Look at me, sah.
"You commit mass destruction and murder on a scale that's inconceivable and you ask me to appreciate it just because you happen to have made a brilliantly concieved toy out of the mummified remains of planets?"
"Have some care, Doctor. It is not a toy!"

1) This, the second serial for the 'Key To Time' season, is the first of two (three if you count 'Shada,' the story that was meant for Season 17 but never finished due to a strike) written by Douglas Adams. And as such, it is all over the place, and features gags being set up just for the sake of gags. I have grown to not appreciate Mr. Adams' brand of humor, although I will admit that it is less intrusive in its cleverness than some of his other works.

2) Like the previous story, this serial features an over-the-top bad guy in Bruce Purchase's Captain. Unlike that previous story, Purchase's over-the-topedness is marginally more entertaining...and when we learn that his bluster is a conscious choice to conceal a deeper motivation, it adds a level of depth that Paul Seed's Graff Vynda K lacked. That being said...

3) ...there are story elements in this story, especially involving The Captain and his assistant, Andrew Robertson's Mr. Fibuli, that mirrors the previous story so closely there's a fierce sense of deja vu. It makes me wonder if both stories would have benefitted from being separated by another, less similar stories.

4) This is the second story featuring Romana, and we're still at the point where Romana is a Very Good Idea Indeed. This is the first time where the character separates from The Doctor for some scenes, and Mary Tamm's mixture of slight innocence and haughtiness plays well when contrasted with The Captain.

5) And of course we continue to see the kiddification of the series under Graham Williams. For every element that seems kinda horrific and adult (the ultimate fate of these planets that The Captain mines to obsolescence is particularly terrifying, especially given The Captain's intention of using Earth next), there's stuff obviously put in to amuse the children like the electronic parrot that engages in a battle with K-9.
"Tell us more about your affair with Churchill, grammy!"

6) Okay, I know that the big reveal involves who really is the big bad of this serial is supposed to be the main shock....but it's telegraphed . There are so many prominent shots of this person that we know there's something wrong. Plus when that person's true nature is reveal, the actor's performance is pretty, well, bad. It's almost as if you wish The Captain remained the villain of the piece.

7) I truly wonder if David Warwick's Kimus and Primi Townsend's Mula are necessary to the plot. When all is said and done, they don't really do much, as The Doctor and Romana is the one who does the heavy lifting. Kimus in particular seems useless save to spout some anti-Captain rhetoric and provide some mild exposition about Queen Xanxia...but there's no reason not to collapse his character into Mula, who at least has the excuse of being the sister of one of the Mentiads.

8) And speaking of the Mentiads, while I will agree they do have a purpose in the story, they are indicative of one of the many problems I have with Adams as a scriptwriter...namely that he doesn't know when to stop throwing new ideas into the mix. As with pretty much everything he wrote, this serial at times come off as an sausage so overstuffed that it's exploded. There's so many ideas thrown into this pot, a number of these things leak out and just sit there messily.
"Ahhhh, this is boring...let's go watch TWILIGHT:

9) While this story has not aged well in my eyes, there is one magnificent moment that almost redeems it all. The scene where The Doctor confronts The Captain over the display case of destroyed planets, debating whether it is a marvel of science or an abomination, stands out. The way Baker tries to rationally explain why he won't applaud the Captain's efforts, then explodes in righteous, overpowering anger when the Captain rebukes him shows us a Doctor we won't be getting much for the bulk of the Williams era.

10) Reasons why I am no longer endeared by the vaunted Douglas Adams humor #42: after three and a half episodes of carefully constructed plotting, or building up the mystery and getting all our ducks in the row, we get this torturous set up so that Adams can spring a play on the phrase 'throwing a spanner in the works.' That the climax is a joke blunts the impact of said threat, and makes the entire story up to that point several gradients of irrelevant.

Overall...a well-constructed story for the most part that frequently gets derailed by Adams' tendency to reach for a laugh. Some good performances redeem it somewhat, but the fact that this is one of the better stories of this season says more about the season and not the story itself.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ten Statements About....THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE (1967)

60's mod fashions took a weird turn towards the end...
"Have you ever known meteors to land in formation?"
"These did. In a perfect 'V'."

1) The fascinating thing about this Amicus-produced science fiction thriller is that even though it is made in the mid-60's, it feels 100% like a B movie from the 50's. The look, the feel, the dialogue all seem to indicate that this would not be out of place in a Drive-In circa 1957, directed by Roger Corman filtered through a decidedly British sensibility.

2) Of course, there's another influence that seems to have been overlaid on the proceeding in its set design and the way main character Temple is a punching, kicking foo'--namely, 60's spy culture. There are many, many moments that has definite echoes of The Avengers and other spy television series, especially when it comes to the sequences where Robert Hutton's Temple finds his way into the aliens' secret base. And speaking of Hutton....

3) ...throughout the film I couldn't help but think that the script was written with a much, much younger man in mind. The physicality of Temple, the way he seems to be a hit with the female leads, the way the script refers to his recklessness and love of sports cars, looks odd with the almost 50 year old Hutton doing it all, especially since in many scenes he's noticeably older than everyone around him. It's a weird sense of frisson that sometimes pulls you out of the film.

4) What the Hell was the point of Luanshya Greer's Gas Station Attendant? They give her quite a build up, flirting furiously with Temple (which is akin to your best friend in high school coming on to your grandma), saving him at a key point, being around when the Crimson Plague hits...and then is seen as a corpse later as an afterthought.

5) There's a good reason that Zia Mohyedden's Farge doesn't work as a sidekick--not only does he not come into the film until very late into the proceeding (well into the third act), but he has no characterization whatsoever...and no, showing us all his horse riding trophies doesn't count, as those trophies end up as a punchline that leads to the resolution of the hour and change of running around after alien-possessed scientists.
6) And while we're on the subject of those weapons that Farge and Temple devise to combat the, are they goofy. The trio running around with Silver motorcycle helmets and those big goofy goggles that seem made out of cardboard and aluminum foil is as ludicrous a sight as we can see in any of those Drive-In classic.
"Oh, that thing overhead?  It's my career, trying to escape the
awfulness of this film."

7) And then we get Michael Gough's embarassingly named 'Master Of The Moon,' another alien-possessed human....but my question is why, oh why did he and his pals on the moon swap their normal clothes for the cast-offs from a high school production of Flash Gordon? It's not as if these aliens have shown any concern for style or fashion or anything like that. And it's a pity that these bargain basement costumes detract, because Gough is his usual reliable self in his brief appearance.

8) Even though it's wildly inappropriate, I got a kick out of James Stevens' jazz score. There's something so of its time about the way that score just jumped in at strange points in the plot, seeming so at odds with the staid stuff that's being depicted on screen.
"I know, I know...whatever you do, don't mention the
collander on his head."

9) There's a decided lack of consistency in the plot--first we've got this whole 'Crimson Plague' thing that's referred to by Temple as the 'Scarlet Plague,' which then is dropped after a bit because we never know why or how the Plague has been introduced by the aliens, and then we've got all these intimations of something sinister going on with the aliens, only for them to drop all pretensions when confronted with Temple and confess they just wanna go home. This is a script that should've had another pass or two before it was shot.

10) I understand that they couldn't have used the original name of the novel this film was based on--The Gods Hate Kansas--but couldn't they have come up with something in the same vein? Just saying is all.

Overall...a not-very-good film that probably proves why Hammer stayed far away from science fiction after looking at what little brother Amicus wrought with this, it still has its moments as a goofy, so-bad-it's-funny (notice I didn't say good) curio. And it's available on for free!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE BULLET VANISHES (2012)

Song may be Hong Kong's answer to the Robert Downey Jr.
Holmes, but his motivations and curiousity proves very, very
1) It's obvious that this film in its look and feel is emulating the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes film; the soundtrack in particular seems to be ripping whole pages out of that franchise. And yet, because this is a Hong Kong film set on mainland China in the 30's, there are subtle changes in tone, in characterization and in pace that makes this film feel unique.

2) And one of the more interesting variations lie in the presentation of our Holmes stand-in, Ching Wan Lau's Song. Right from from when we first see him--attempting to hang himself as an experiment to prove that an inmate was wrongly accused--we get the sense that he's motivated by curiousity and the need to know, but those qualities have redirected his attentions elsewhere. He's a very enigmatic figure, not as dynamic as Downey's Holmes but at times much more intriguing.

3) And while we're on the subject of Song, perhaps the most amazing aspect of his character is this strange relationship he has with a female prison inmate that we learned committed the perfect murder, then confessed after a few years. There might be this tendency to write the prisoner off as Irene Adler to Song's Holmes, but there's something that's not romantic, but loads more intimate about their relationship with each other...especially when they correspond during his investigation of this case.
"I ain't no Nigel Bruce, muthafucka!"

4) If Song is subdued and not as flashy as Downey, Nicholas Tse's Guo makes up for it. There are large stretches where Guo comes off less like a police detective and more like a gunslinger, shooting first and acting later. And that tendency to act first makes his ultimate fate all the more logical.

5) While the plot is flawed and suffers from a degree of OCD, I find it fascinating that as Song and Guo unravel this mystery, each level of the solution reflects a different subgenre in detective fiction. Through the film's hour and forty-five minute running time, the plot transforms from a deductive film to a locked room mystery to a police procedural....and on and on until you realize finally that what we've been watching is a hardboiled detective thriller that Sherlock Holmes somehow wandered into.

6) I very much appreciated how Song's confrontation with the ultimate culprit is not clear cut. Since Director Chi-Leung Lo refuses to give us a concrete indication as to who did what, we can make our own decisions. And also, I suspect that Lo isn't interested in giving us simple answers, just more questions.

7) And I also appreciate how most everything Lo lays out in the first act pays off in the third--especially the hanging experiment in Song's first scene. And the moments where we see how far in advance Song has figured so much of this case out throws his intelligence and deductive reasoning into sharper relief.
I wish I knew who the actress was who played the character
between our two protaganists, because she's the closest
Song has to a girlfriend...and is loads of fun!

8) While I realize that we're suppose to respond to Yang Mi's Little Lark, who is Guo's love interest, I was rather more taken with the pathologist friend of Song (If you're wondering why I can't identify the actress, it's because trying to find a complete cast list for this film with the character names has proven to be damn near impossible) who examines the body and discovers a key clue to the solution. This is what a 'character actor' is supposed to do--advance the plot while also giving us some flavoring to the proceedings....and some of the flavor she adds, like the ostrich she keeps in her lab, is loads of fun.

9) I'll admit--while some of the aspects of the solution are cool (the revelation of what the 'phantom bullet' is, for example), it's frustrating that those aspects are brought up, then forgotton. Part of the fun of a mystery is the demystification of the crime, and I needed a little more elaboration for these revelations to be truly satisfying.

10) Even though there's an element of 'is the crime supernatural or not' in Sherlock Holmes, in this film there's a little bit more verisimilitude to the angle thanks to the culture in which it takes place. Because the culture of China at that time accepted the presence of ghosts, the idea this is revenge being enacted upon the boss of a munitions factory by a wrongfully accused woman is a plausible angle even if we know it can't be true.

Overall...Even with its derivative nature, a film that may not be 100% successful but has enough differences in tone, plotting and characterization from its American inspiration to be watchable.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ten Statements About....SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977)

" got some weird looking hair there, Sally..."
"I'll be driving this one blocker. You'll be driving the truck. This is Bandit One and that is--"
"Bandit Two. Together Again."
"Oh, yeah. Like Fred and Ginger and Lester and Earl."

1) I would really like to know how much of this film was scripted, and how much of it was improvised. There are great big gouts of this film's ninety-three minute running time which seem to be just Burt Reynolds, Jerry Reed and Sally Reed riffing...and that oddly enough creates a strange veracity that reinforces this world the movie takes place in.

2) ....which is fortunate, because this film manages to be virtually plotless without us noticing. With all the talk up front about Enos and Little Enos betting Bandit he can't bootleg a bunch of Coors, this is just a skeleton that director Hal Needham can use as an excuse for the vehicle-oriented slapstick comedy that follows. Later on, when Reynolds becomes lazier and lazier, it becomes his downfall, but here it's surprisingly successful. That being said...

3) I always appreciate a film that knows how to set up its plot, and this film manages to get through its high concept in less than ten minutes without the scenes ever sounding like an info dump. This allows for us to hit the ground running for all the car spills n' thrills.
All his friends were concerned when Jerry Reed started having
detailed conversations with his dog...

4) This is another one of those movies made during this period where the soundtrack actually acts as a Greek Chorus commenting on the action as it develops. The three Jerry Reed tunes serve as narrator at key points, filling in the information we might have to, you know, stop for a few minutes and have it explained to us. Thus, we don't have any actual plot getting in the way of the fun of watching Bandit leading silly cops on merry chases throughout the Bible Belt.

5) You know how good an actor Jackie Gleason was? In this movie he takes a caricature in Buford T. Justice--a caricature we've seen in similar comedies previously--and turns him into not only a livid character, but a livid character who is tenacious and formidable without losing his buffoonishness. There are moments, particularly when he shouts down a particularly ornery highway patrolman for his foul mouth, when you realize this isn't a clown. And it makes the grudging sense of respect he and Bandit admit to each other at the end highly credible.

6) It's a rather small aspect of the film, but I really appreciated the sense of community that Needham conveys throughout. There's a solid feeling for CB culture as Bandit communicates with and receives various degrees of aid from other truckers and CB enthusiasts. These small cameos may not be very good (some of the other CB'ers sound like they're first time actors), but they add to the veracity of the film's world, and capture a snapshot of a culture that seems to have disappeared in recent years.

7) I find it astonishing that Sally Field and Burt Reynolds were an item at this time, because I don't feel any chemistry between their characters at all. Hell, I suspect the only reason she's here is because they needed a romantic subplot to distract from all the car wrecks and chases. They do have some good exchanges, but overall Fields' Carrie leaves me cold.

"What do you mean you want me to reprise my role in
something called Dukes of Hazzard?"
Plus, apparently Hal Needham and/or Reynolds was obsessed with Fields' ass, which gets more screen time than some of the other characters.

8) Actually, to me the real chemistry is between Reynolds and Jerry Reed's Snowman. There are moments where Reynolds and Reed have a sense of patter and comic timing that rivals some comedy teams of the 30's and 40's. They, along with Gleason, are the ones who take this film and carry it on its back through its sallow moments.

9) Really, what was the point behind Snowman being beat up by some bikers and thrown out of a truck stop? Was it just so he can run over the motorcycles? The whole sequence is the only moment (and yes, that includes the moment where Bandit and Carrie walk around the woods) where the film just stops dead in its track. It's the single mood killer in an otherwise smooth-as-silk entertainment.

10) Outside of Justice, the legion of cops and highway patrolmen...well, they're really useless, aren't they? They provide no sort of impediment of obstacle to Bandit's efforts. I just wish that Burt had to, at least once, break a sweat or something.

Overall...if you can take it for what it is--a slapstick pie fight with cars replacing the pies--this is an entertaining, brief little window into 70's trucker culture bouyed by great comedic performances by Reynolds and Gleason.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ten Statements About....FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)

This is one of the tensest exchanges in a Bond film...and it's
about wine and fish....
"Red wine with fish. Well that should have told me something."
"You may know the right wines, but you're the one on your knees. How does it feel old man?"

1) One of the many, many things I love about this film is how this, more than any other Connery Bond, is a true spy movie. Even with its super-spy trappings and the presence of SPECTRE, the operation to retrieve the Lektor and SPECTRE's plan to grab the Lektor for themselves while discrediting MI-5 are legitimate espionage schemes carried out like legitimate espionage operations. This is one of the purest espionage capers we'll see until we get to For Your Eyes Only in the 80's.

2) Of course, part of the reason this film is such a success is the vivid characterizations...and none are more vivid than my favorite of the 'sacrificial lamb,' Pedro Armandariz' Ali Karim Bey. Bey is such a wonderful character who's so colorful I almost wish we got a film entirely about him. Armandariz was dying from cancer, which makes his joyous, lustful and vibrant performance even more remarkable. Add into it a legitimate chemistry between him and Connery, and you have a magnificent character.

3) I'm pretty sure this is the only Bond film where the henchman thoroughly overshadows the main villains, but it's with good reason--Robert Shaw's Red Grant is the first of the true elite of the Henchmen characters. It's not for nothing that my great friend and partner Derrick Ferguson once said that 'Robert Shaw played the shark in Jaws years before he hunted it'; director Terrence Young frequently has Grant hovering around the fringes of the action, stalking Bond silently. Shaw is so effective as this silent monolith that it's almost a disappointment when he opens his mouth in the third act. Grant is one of the best creations of 60's spy culture, and he should be justifiably celebrated.

4) You know, one of the things that I think makes this film stand out amongst the early Bonds is Young's direction. Young seems to delight in these sequences with multiple planes of action--there are numerous moments where one of the actors is doing something either in reaction to the main actor or in contrast to it that adds a little flavor to the composition. Perhaps my two favorite moments like when Bond is walking alongside the train--and we watch Red Grant stalking him from inside, and the scene on the same train where Karim Bey and Bond are going over their plan while Daniela Bianchi is trying out her new cover name. These moments give an extra touch of life to the proceedings.

Ahhhhhh, the 60's...where men were frightfully hairy and a
woman could show up dressed in just a ribbon in his bed just
5) And while we're talking about Ms. Bianchi, I know many people look upon her as a minor Bond girl, but I always found her rather appealing. Maybe part of it is because she is integral to the plot--the film doesn't work without her cooperation with Lotte Lenya's Klebb--but there are these moments of physical acting (as with Ursula Andress before her, Bianchi was dubbed) that seem to indicate she could have been a good lil' actress if she had decided to pursue the craft further. And I do think she's really hot, but that might just be me.

6) Earlier I made reference to how Shaw's Red Grant overshadows the main villains here...and a small portion of that may very well be how little screen time the main villains do get. Vladek Shaybel's Kronsteen, in particular, is a ghost of a presence, only showing up in two scenes before Lenya's Klebb kills him. And Lenya gives it her all, but the character doesn't have the vivid life the others around her have.

7) I find it fascinating how it seems that Roger Maibaum's script doesn't want to let go of some of the tawdrier aspects of Fleming's novel, but can't fully express it in the language of 1963's pop culture. This results in scenes such as the one where Klebb, a lesbian in the novel, seems to drool over Bianchi's Tatiana Romanova without it being expressedly said. To tell the truth, I'm not sure if I prefer this treatment to what would surely be an obverse statement of her sexuality if the film was made today.

8) Even I admit freely that this film loses loads of steam once Red Grant is dispatched. Both the helicopter sequence and the boat chase are somewhat lacking in speed, pacing and zest. It was almost as if Young lost interest in the story once the most interesting of the bad guys is gone.

"Yes, yes, I know.  I am supposed to be a major villain, but I'm
actually irrelevant.  Just go with it...."
9) The puttering around with what will become the James Bond formula continues, resulting in us witnessing the first pre-credit sequence and the first 'last attempt' sequence. The pre-credit sequence is real suspenseful and gives us a great hook with Bond being killed only for it to be a training exercise for Grant...and thankfully the 'last attempt' sequence doesn't reach the ludicrousness of the 70's ones, although Lotte Lenya being pinned to the wall by a comfy chair is a little silly.

10) I guess I was too busy enjoying the fun of the 'training island' sequence in the first act to realize that the man running said island was played by Walter Gotell, who will go on to play Gogol in a number of Moore Bond films (ending his tenure with the first Dalton). It's an interesting little performance that's very unlike the ones I associate Gotell with.

Overall...arguably my favorite of the Connery Bonds thanks to some great characters and a spy plot that's a genuine spy plot before the crazier elements take off. Recommended.