Sunday, January 22, 2023

Hey, Mr. "Postman"! Mark This Movie "Return To Sender"!

"You're such an ass!": Kevin Costner gets acting tips from his co-star Bill the mule.

Hello, movie lovers.

Kevin Costner. A national treasure, to be sure. Handsome, talented, affable, athletic, an Oscar winner, a box office draw, star of the wildly popular series "Yellowstone".

In a career that began as Alex, the late campus radical in 1983's "The Big Chill", Costner has appeared in some fine films, including "No Way Out", "The Untouchables", "Silverado", "Field of Dreams", "Dances with Wolves", "Open Range", "The Upside of Anger", "Let Him Go" and (my favorite) "Bull Durham".

Alas, he has also appeared in some...shall we say...not so fine flicks: "The Bodyguard", "Swing Vote", "Revenge", "Water World", "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" and "The Postman".

Strangely enough, "The Postman"(1997) is the subject of today's article. Isn't that lucky?

The shades make the Postman look like a bad ass.

To get straight to the point, this movie sucks. On toast. If it was more of a dog, it would have fleas. This flick makes about as much sense as a knitted condom. This movie is about as believable as a Kardashian virginity pledge. It's stupid, awful, dunder-headed, smug and down right offensive--and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. The best character in the cast is played by a mule named Bill, who wisely kept his real name out of the credits.

Although "The Postman" is based on a dystopian novel by Brian Drin, it's really just the same old saw about an eccentric loner wandering aimlessly among the remains of a once-great-nation, who inadvertently starts a movement that inspires the downtrodden to throw off the yoke of their oppressors and reclaim their freedom and dignity.

For our purposes, the eccentric loner is played by Kev, who wanders aimlessly among the ruins of a once-great-nation, visiting knots of villages, performing bits of Shakespeare with his mule Bill, who out acts him at every turn.

Of course, eccentric loner Kev doesn't think much about the people he meets or their sad lives; he just does his thing, gets his money and trudges off into the sunset, leaving behind only the great smell of Brut. However, one day a nasty, fascist, violent, megalomaniac thug named Gen. Bethlehem (Will Patton) rides into a village. He orders Kev and the other guys to join his "army"--an "army" called "The Holnists" who are obsessed with the number 8. An "army" that considers itself the law of the land. An "army" that steals Kev's mule and then later eats him. 

It's clear our eccentric loner isn't going to put up with this nonsense for very long, so he ditches the Holnists and finds safety in an old mail truck. Besides lots of old, unopened mail, the eccentric loner finds the skeletal remains of a postal worker. Kev slips on the stiff's jacket, puts on his cap, grabs his satchel full of letters and heads off into the great wide somewhere.

"Don't you know it's illegal to read other people's mail?" smart ass Bill reminds Kev.

The eccentric loner's first stop is the village of Pineview, where he convinces the town's mayor that he is indeed a mailman and that the government has slowly gotten up and running. The villagers are delighted, especially when Kev gives them actual letters from real family members that folks haven't heard from in ages. That evening, the town has a hoe-down to celebrate and our eccentric loner meets up with a lady person named Abby (Olivia Williams). As they dance, Abby asks Kev some very personal questions, like if he's married, if he's ever been sick, if he's ever had the Clap and if he has healthy man juice. Then Abby introduces Kev to her husband Michael (Charles Esten). See, hubby's man juice is kaput (due to a bout of "the bad mumps") and Abby would like Kev to get her pregnant. Michael is perfectly OK with this, by the way--said no sane husband ever born on God's Green Earth. Always a gentleman, our eccentric loner agrees, to the couple's delight.

As nothing can keep a postman from his appointed rounds, our eccentric loner heads off to the village of Benning, lugging a whole batch of letters from the folks of Pineview. Unfortunately, Gen. Bethlehem and his fanatical fascists arrive shortly thereafter. See, they fear an independent postal system will threaten their power over the population. So they shoot everybody in sight, torch the post office a plucky dude named Ford Lincoln Mercury (Larenz Tate) has restored and take Abby hostage. The Holnists also catch up with Kev and he surrenders (don't ask). But have no fear: Kev and Abby manage to escape and even find a cute cabin to spend the winter.

While Kev and Abby nest, word continues to spread about the postal service and villagers everywhere start writing letters. To deliver the letters, people of all ages sign up to be postal carriers. Soon, mail routes have been established, linking once isolated villages. Even more important than the letters, however, is the hope the mail carriers are spreading. The government has been re-established! The president is a good guy! They no longer have to fear the Holnists! Civilization is being restored!

No one is more surprised by this than our eccentric loner. He only donned the mail carrier's uniform to escape the Holnists. He only wanted to find his old home/neighborhood/village called Rosewood (or something like that). He never intended to spark a social uprising. He's an eccentric loner who has only ever thought about himself, for Pete's sake! Does he look like Gandhi?

Fearing that his reign of terror might be coming to an end, meanie Gen. Bethlehem orders any and all mail carriers shot and redoubles his efforts to find the Postman, as he's now called. Kev, learning that the mail carriers are being killed, feels things have gotten out of hand and tries to disband the postal service for everyone's safety. Nothin' doing'. Neither rain, snow, sleet, hail or murder will keep these mail carriers from their appointed rounds. What's more, the Postman's message of hope has traveled as far as (what once was) California, which drives Gen. Bethlehem batty. Who will rid me of this troublesome Postman?! wails the general.

"You got Lucky": Mayor Tom Petty (yes, he's really the mayor!) of Bridge City happily agrees to help the Postman on his appointed rounds.

Meanwhile, Abby and Kev, guided by mail carriers Eddie, Ponytail (Costner's real daughter Annie) and Billy head off to Bridge City. It's at this site that the Postman hopes to escape via a cable car. In order to do that, Kev will need the help of Bridge City's mayor who happens to be and ,no, I am not kidding, Tom Petty! The real Tom Petty! He's not playing a character! Tom Petty is the REAL mayor of Bridge City! How do we know this for sure? Because Kev gives the mayor a hard stare and says, "I know you." Pause. "Your...famous."

"I was once," the good natured Petty replies. "Not anymore."

Later, when the people of Bridge City converge and realize Kev is the Postman, Tom says, "I heard of you, man. Your famous!"

Tom Petty is one of my favorite artists. It's great to know he had such a healthy perspective on the true nature of fame. I bet he was a good mayor, too. I mean, not every rock star is cut out for public office. As much as I love George Thorogood, for example, I just don't see him in a position like that. Also, Bridge City's nightly campfires must have beeen wild, with Tom belting out "Free Falling", "Don't Come Around Here No More", "The Waiting" and other hits. The scenes with Tom are the highlight of this film; Petty totally steals the flick--he's even better than Bill! (May they both rest in peace. Tom left us in 2017, remember).

Anywhooo, Kev and Abby hitch a ride on the cable car and Mayor Petty urges the Postman to keep up the fight for freedom and justice, which he does.

The Postman and his Carriers are ready to deliver mail and kick ass. And their out of mail.

In a scene that would give AP English teachers the vapors, "The Postman" stages the final confrontation (there's always a final confrontation in these type of movies) between the Carriers and the Holinsts as a replay of Henry V's Siege of Harfluer. Kev even rallies his troops with Henry's (actually Shakespeare's) famous speech, "Once more unto the breech dear friends, once more...!" (You can read the rest of the speech yourself; it's pretty rousing). Unfortunately, Kev, talented as he is, isn't an Olivier or a Kenneth Branagh. Not since Millard Coody (of the Wichita Mountain Pageant) who appeared as Jesus in H. Kroger Babb's "The Prince of Peace" (1948) uttering in his flat, mid-western twang, "Which one o' you is gonna betray me?" has there been a greater mismatch between an actor and their dialogue--unless some genius gets the idea to cast Tori Spelling as Cleopatra ("I'm, like, fire and air; My other elements I totally give to, you know, baser life or something", I can hear Tori warble).

I don't want to spoil the ending for you, but Gen. Bethlehem and his fascist fiends are defeated, just not in the way you'd expect. Never the less, with Bethlehem gone, freedom returns to the once-great unnamed nation and everybody lives happily ever after. In the-not-to-distant future, the daughter of the Postman and Abby, all grown up, gives a speech at the unveiling of a statue of the Postman from a grateful nation. The statue is a recreation of a moment when Kev (on horse back, mind you) snatched a letter from a young boy so it could be delivered. Among the throng at the unveiling is that very boy, now all grown up.

"That was me," he whispers, holding back tears as the music swells.

If director Costner wanted this moment to pack the kind of punch of ,say, the ending of "Saving Private Ryan" or "Spartacus" ("Here's your son, Spartacus and he's free!") or "Brian's Song" ("I love Brian Piccolo. And I want you to love him, too. And tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him...")  he was very, very mistaken. Even a single-celled organism would know what's coming, especially when they saw the statue and the camera pans to a blond guy tearing up, with his wife offering up wifely support. 


"A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!": The entertainment starved citizens of Pineview sit through the Postman's version of Richard III and over look the fact that Bill (far left) is a mule, not a horse.

Of course, "The Postman" was a box office bomb and the critics weren't too impressed. USA Today called the movie a "futuristic folly", while Film Journal International  said it was a "bloated spectacle with leaden attempts at humor." The Movie described it as "a miserable failure in just about every respect." The New York Times, meanwhile, took issue with the flick's "bogus sentimentality" and "mawkish jingoism." My favorite review of "The Postman" comes courtesy of Paul Tatara of He felt "The Postman" was "about as inspiring as a movie about a vengeful meter reader." Director/star Kevin Costner, however, defended his MESSterpiece insisting "I always thought it was a good movie!", but admitted he "probably started it wrong." Probably? 

However, to the Golden Raspberry Awards (aka the Razzies), "The Postman" was catnip. It earned Costner both the Worst Actor and Worst Director honors for 1998. It also won Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay and it's entire soundtrack won Worst Song. That's an impressive basket of berries, considering "Water World" (an equally bad movie dubbed "Fishtar"--after the megaflop "Ishtar"--and "Kevin's Gate" after "Heaven's Gate") was nominated for four Razzies in 1995 and only brought home one: Worst Supporting Actor for Dennis Hopper.

While it's true "The Postman" ended up delivering useless junk mail instead of, say, an IRS refund check of $50,000 dollars, the flick did finally convince Kev to move on from playing selfish loners who discover they have untapped wells of greatness in them. "The Postman" also showed us the value of the written word over, say, texting, and how vital our postal service is. And then there is the Tom Petty cameo. And the Peggy Lipton cameo. Both of these folks are gone now, so it's a real treat to see them on screen. And Kev's daughter Annie (as Ponytail) showed promise as a young actress (she was 10 or 12 at the time). And the flick swept the Razzies, which is impressive in itself, considering "Batman and Robin" and "Speed 2" were also in contention for Worst Picture (just for the record, I find "Batman and Robin" utterly unwatchable; therefore, for "The Postman" to bring home the Worst Picture basket of berries has to stand as one of the highlights of Kev's career).

So, for being the best thing in this rotten, nasty chain-letter of a movie, Tom Petty, Junk Cinema salutes you!

The mayor of Bridge City tells the Postman that freedom-loving citizens everywhere are "Counting on You" to continue the fight against fascism. 

Saturday, January 14, 2023

The People Who Inspired The Characters In "Babylon"

 Greetings, movie lovers and happy 2023.

By now you've probably all heard and read about Damien Chazelle's take on 1920's Hollywood, "Babylon".

The film has received mixed reviews and so-so box office.

However, instead of posting another review of the flick (which I may still do), I thought it might be more interesting to discuss the real life inspirations fueling Chazelle's three in a half hour epic.

Sound like fun? Good! Let's begin!

Theda Bara was the premiere "vamp" (short for vampire) of early Hollywood. She's considered a "truly silent star" because there's no recording of her actual voice. Although she's not featured in "Babylon", Bara is one of the silent eras most iconic figures.

Who is Who

 "The Wild Child" Nellie La Roy (Margot Robbie) was clearly based on 1920's super star Clara Bow.

Presented as the ultimate fun loving flapper, Bow appeared in such films as "Mantrap" (1926), "The Plastic Age" (1925) and "It" (1927). However, it was novelist Elinor Glyn who dubbed Clara "The It Girl", not her studio.

"There are few people in the world who possess 'IT'", Glyn declared. 

The lucky ones were Rex "the Wild Stallion star", Spanish actor Tony Monero, "the Ambassador Hotel doorman" and Clara Bow.

Like Nellie, Clara had an awful childhood. Her mother was mentally ill and her father was abusive. Also like Nellie, Clara was a natural on camera and, yes, she did allow her father to handle her money (which he lost). When the talkies arrived, Bow struggled to meet the demands of the new medium, just as Nellie did. Although it's true Clara liked to party, the rumor she had sex with the entire USC football team--as reported in the underground classic Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger--is false. And mean.

"She has IT": Clara Bow was the personification of a 1920's flapper/good time girl.

"Babylon" contains a scene where actress Constance Moore pitches a fit because Nellie is stealing her movie. However, the flick has this wrong. Samara Weaving was suppose to be Colleen Moore; actress/singer Constance More didn't make her film debut until 1930.

Along with Louise Brooks, Colleen helped popularize the bob haircut. Her screen image was that of a flirty flapper, but not as rambunctious as Bow. Like Clara, Moore didn't make the jump to talkies, but she came out way better financially: Colleen invested her movie earnings wisely and became a millionaire. Later on, she'd write a book about investing. Edith Davis, the mom of Nancy Reagan, was a life long friend.

Moving right along, we have the doomed matinee idol Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt).

The inspiration for Conrad is John Gilbert. Not only was he one the eras biggest stars, John had a very public romance with his co-star Greta Garbo. Like future super couples Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton or Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, John and Greta's doings were written about in papers cost to cost. One movie theater, hoping to cash in on their popularity, advertised their latest flick (conveniently called "Love") with the tag line "Garbo and Gilbert are in 'Love'."

 Greta Garbo and John Gilbert were hot and heavy on and off the screen.

Although Hollywood lore has it that John Gilbert's voice didn't jibe with his looks, his speaking voice was fine. Still, his career faded anyway, helped along by alcoholism and feuds with Louis B. Meyer. On the other hand, Greta's career only got bigger with the arrival of sound. To promote her talking debut "Anna Christie" in 1930, her studio MGM merely said "Garbo Talks!" and the audience arrived in droves (for the 1939 film "Ninotchka", MGM did the same thing, declaring "Garbo Laughs!"). To help her ex-boyfriend out, Garbo insisted Gilbert be cast opposite her in "Queen Christina" (1933). This was the the couple's fourth pairing (their other films were "Flesh and the Devil" (1926), "A Woman of Affairs" (1928) and the already mentioned "Love" (1927), but John's last film. He died in 1936.

After the failure of her film "Two Faced Woman" in 1941, Garbo left Hollywood for New York City. She shunned all publicity, refused to give interviews and wouldn't consider a comeback. She passed away in 1990.

Li Jun Li portrays the alluring singer/actress/writer Lady Faye Zhu. Her character is a mix of Anna May Wong and Marlene Dietrich.

Wong was one of the first Chinese-American actors to become a movie star. However, racism kept her from more prestigious roles. Anna seemed the natural choice to play O-Lan in the big screen adaptation of "The Good Earth" (1935). However, the studio gave the part to Luise Rainer, who was Austrian. MGM, who was producing the movie, said audiences wouldn't accept an Asian actress playing opposite a leading man (Paul Muni) who was white. Despite winning several Oscars, "The Good Earth" has become a prime example of "yellow face": using extensive make-up and costumes to make white actors appear Asian. 

In "Babylon", Lady Faye wears a tux and sings a racy number about her "girlfriend's pussy". Later on, she kisses a female audience member on the lips. This is where the Dietrich influence comes in. Several of Marlene's films had her performing in white tie and tales--which was considered quite daring back in the day. The scene where Faye kisses a woman is copied directly from the movie "Morroco" (1930), where Marlene did the same thing. A "pre-code" Hollywood movie, "Morocco" has Marlene playing a world weary cabaret singer and Gary Cooper as the French Legionnaire who loves her.

"Mind if I smoke?": Lady Faye Zhu (Ji Lun Ji) is based on Anna May Wong with a bit of Marlene Dietrich thrown in for good measure.

Marlene Dieteich as Mademoiselle Amy Jolly in "Morocco": "Mind if I smoke?"

Later on, "Babylon" shows Nellie and Faye having a romance. (Early in the flick, Lady Faye, writing titles for one of Nellie's first films, asks a co-worker, "I wonder if she swings both ways."). Nellie's studio believed the relationship would jeopardize La Roy's career, so Lady Faye is fired. With the arrival of talkies, Faye goes to Europe to work for Pathe' (a French film and distribution company started in the 1890's) and seek out other opportunities. Wong did this, too.

Once movies got the sound-thing under control, producers and directors decided to add singing and dancing to the mix. This allowed JoVan Adepo's character Sydney Palmer to branch out into "Soundies": mini movies that featured music, singing and dancing. Some film historians believe Soundies were the inspiration for the music videos of the 1980's (when MTV played nothing but music videos).

Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Count Basie are just a few of the black artists who appeared in Soundies. Sydney Palmer is a composite of these men. Just as racism kept Lady Faye from a bigger Hollywood career, Sydney is also denied the chance to star in movies--even though his Soundies are huge hits. Later on, Sydney is asked to wear make-up so he will appear "more black" in his latest short subject. Unfortunately, this really did happen. Hollywood studios were worried that the lighting needed for film production made certain black performers "look white". In order to release their movies in the south, and to ensure audiences didn't think the bands were "mixed", black artists were asked to darken their skin.

SPOILER ALERT: disgusted by the practice, and everything else, Sydney leaves Hollywood and returns to playing nightclubs. Of all the "Babylon" characters, he's the luckiest, and it's clear he's happier playing live music than making movies.

Another "Babylon" character based on a real person is the drug dealer known as "The Count" (Rory Scovel). 

Musician Sydney Palmer (JoVan Adepo) wails away at a Hollywood party. His character will turn his back on Tinsel Town for good.

Rumor has it The Count was based on an actor who worked for Mack Sennett. He's mentioned in the underground classic Hollywood Babylon directly as "The Count". Described as a "quiet, gentlemanly actor", he supposedly supplied drugs to actors Wallace Reid (who died of an over dose), Mabel Normand, Barbara La Marr and others.  Hollywood Babylon, of course, is the most reliable source. Since its publication in 1959, most of the "scandals" detailed in the book have been debunked.

That said, another inspiration for The Count could be Captain Spalding. He was a military man who smuggled and sold drugs to silent film stars. He was implicated in the over dose/suicide of Olive Thomas in 1920, although he denied it. What is true is that struggling actors often did peddle drugs on movie sets in hopes of getting parts. In "Babylon", The Count is seen reminding studio exec Manny Torres (Diego Calva) that he wants "a monologue" in his next picture in return for getting the cash needed to pay off Nellie La Roy's gambling debts.

The final "based on a real person" character is Jean Smart's Elinor St. John, the ever-present gossip columnist. She's patterned after Sheilah Graham (who was British) and Louella Parsons.  Together along with Hedda Hopper, these gals were syndicated in hundreds of newspapers across the country and exercised considerable power. The film studios often supplied the gossip columnists with stories to keep potentially more damaging items out of the press. Getting on their bad side could be hazardous for your career. For example, when Gene Tierney failed to tell Louella Parsons she was pregnant, Parsons was so mad, she told Tierney not to expect anything good about her next film from her (I read this story in Ingrid Bergman's autobiography My Story).

When Orson Welles released "Citizen Kane", he so enraged Hedda Hopper that she organized a campaign to discredit the movie--and it worked.

Strangely enough for a movie set during the 1920's, "Babylon" didn't mention Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks or Lillian Gish. Of course, the movie was a fictional account of roaring twenties Hollywood, not a documentary, but leaving them out seems odd.

Mary Pickford was known as "The Little Girl with the Golden Curls" even though she was an adult.

Charlie Chaplin as "The Little Tramp". He based the character on a man he saw at a mental institution. 

Oh, and one more thing: the drug abuse shown in "Babylon" was pretty accurate. What? You think great grandma and great grandpa didn't know how to party? Movie sets in the '20's were teaming with drugs, especially cocaine, because it allowed the actors to work long hours and stay thin. The popularity of coke in the movie industry inspired something called "Cokie Comedies", the Cheech and Chong flicks of the day. Perhaps the most famous Cokie Comedy was "The Mystery of the Leaping Fish" from 1916 and starring Douglas Fairbanks (!). Doug was suppose to be a send-up of Sherlock Holmes, who was so crazy for coke that he wore a belt with syringes on it and had a clock that had "Dope" and "Drink" etc. instead of numbers. There is also a big can labeled "cocaine" on his desk, in case you missed the point. Just for the record, Fairbanks didn't like this movie.

This is where I leave you movie lovers. My next post, hopefully, will be about the real events depicted in "Babylon". Until next time, SAVE THE MOVIES.

Friday, December 2, 2022

A Young Bride Realizes "I Married A Monster From Outer Space"!

 Marge (Gloria Talbot) reacts in horror when she realizes she's been given three cheese boards for wedding gifts in "I Married a Monster from Outer Space" (1958).

Author's note: No, this is NOT the "Melania Trump Story"--but it comes pretty close (rim shot).

Who doesn't love a wedding?

The beautiful bride, the beaming groom, the adorable flower girls and page boys. The first dance, the heartfelt toasts and the priceless moment when the newly married couple smash wedding cake into each others' face. Or when the bridesmaids duke it out for the bouquet. Or when the in-laws start demanding, "When am I gonna get some grandkids? I mean, Tic-Tock goes the clock. It's not like she's 21 or anything..."

No doubt bride-to-be Marge Bradley (B movie regular Gloria Talbot) is counting on experiencing all of thee above when she marries true love Bill Farrell (Tom Tryon). It's the 1950's, after all, and living happily ever after in the suburbs is the order of the day.

Once Marge and Bill tie the knot, however, things don't go as planned. Hubby Bill suddenly seems distant and evasive. He and Marge have yet to have sex; in fact, Bill doesn't show any physical interest in his perky wife at all. He stays out late at night, ignores (and eventually kills) the puppy Marge gives him and seems to prefer spending all his time with his friends. Male friends.

"Don't worry, darling": Marge feels a growing alienation from hubby Bill (Tom Tryon).

Hmmm. What's going on? How could Marge's dreams of perfect love and domestic bliss shatter so quickly?

Unfortunately, the reason hubby Bill has become so alien to Marge is because he is an alien. Instead of a red-blooded, God-fearing, sport coat wearing regular guy, Marge realizes, "I Married a Monster from Outer Space!"

Which is also our featured flick.

Inspired no doubt by "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", "I Married a Monster from Outer Space" (1958) centers on a bunch of aliens who come to Earth via the small town of Norrisville. Their mission? To relocate here. Why? Their planet got too hot to live on or their sun exploded, something like that. Anyway, the residents were building space ships to evacuate, but this ended up taking longer than expected (red tape and price over-runs?). In the mean time, the sun's rays killed off all their females. Now the aliens must not only find a new home, but new mates.

However, once the aliens land on Earth, they realize they can't breathe our air. To mix and mingle, the aliens kidnap human guys and hook them up to some kind of sound system/coat rack in their space ship. This allows the aliens to assume their victims' appearance--for a while, anyway. At some point during the day, the aliens must return to their mother ship in order to recharge and assume their regular form.

Bill's inner alien reveals himself.

However, if the aliens expected to blend seamlessly into daily Earth life, boy, were they wrong. See, while the aliens may look human (for a while, anyway), they don't know the first thing about acting human. On the aliens' home planet, the genders were strictly separated and only came together for "breeding purposes". Possessing superior technological skills, yet emotionally barren, these ETs are a race of Elon Musks. No wonder the lady aliens were happy to keep their close encounters limited to their once-a-year obligation (they must have viewed it like paying taxes--not fun, but necessary).

While Bill's sudden lack of  savior faire tips Marge off that something isn't right, nobody else believes her. It's the '50's, remember, and nobody believed women in the 1950's. It's just nerves, she's told. Or maybe post-honeymoon let down? Or perhaps Marge has read an early draft of The Feminine Mystique and realizes the domestic goddess perfection she's been spoon-fed since childhood is all a sham? 

Whatever the cause, Marge grows increasingly desperate. She wakes up in the middle of the night and finds Bill gone. She goes out looking for him and finds him deep in the forest. That's not all Marge finds: she sees the alien's space ship and gets a gander at the alien inhabiting Bill's body. He's not a looker, that's for sure. In fact, he's an ungainly mixture of Big Foot, an octopus and a robot. He sports breathing tubes sprouting from his head, connecting to his chest via electrical (or UBS) portals. His hands are hairy paws with 3 fingers each. Like I said, not a looker.

The hysterical Marge runs back to town seeking help. She stops at the local bar and approaches two men.

"I've just seen a monster!" she gasps.

"The problem isn't that I'm drunk; it's that you're sober!": Marge gets little help from the patrons at the local bar.

"Who hasn't?" one of the men replies.

Marge then rushes out into the street, where she's picked up by the police.

"Take me to Chief Collins," Marge says before passing out. "He's my Godfather."

Meanwhile, back at the bar, one of the men Marge spoke to muses, "Funny, she doesn't look like a lush..." causing his buddy to retort, "Well, they don't wear badges, you know!"

"I've got a secret": Chief Collins has become alienated from his fellow humans.

Marge tells kindly Chief Collins what she saw. He tells her to calm down. If the other folks in Norrisville hear her wild tales, Collins says, she'll spend the rest of her life in an insane asylum. Marge reluctantly trudges home. When the camera pans back to Chief Collins, he's looking out his office window. A storm's raging outside and when a streak of lightening flashes, it reveals--say it isn't so!--that Marge's Godfather has been taken over by an alien, too!

Poor Marge. Fearful her gal-pal Helen (the gravel-voiced Jean Carson) is also marrying an alien, Marge takes her aside during her wedding rehearsal.

"Oh! I just love rehearsing for weddings!" Helen exclaims. "Especially when it's my own!"

 Marge begs her not to marry Sam, at least not right away.

"After all the years it took me to land him?" Helen barks.

Try as she might, Marge just can't spit it out that Sam might've been replaced by an alien.

"Marge, honey, I don't know what's bothering you," Helen sighs, lighting a cigarette. "But it's not going to keep me from marrying Sam. I love him!"

Marge's news about groom-to-be Sam will wipe that smile off bride-to-be Helen's face.

So the wedding commences--but tragedy follows. The gang (including Marge and Bill) have a picnic by a lake. Sam and Helen, meanwhile, go boating. Suddenly Sam tumbles into the drink, but nobody's  worried; Sam "can swim like a fish." Only now he can't. Seeing Sam flailing about, the men frantically drag him out of the water and give him CPR. However, when the paramedics give Sam oxygen, he dies on the spot. Realizing the aliens can't breathe our air, Marge fears the alien invasion is moving faster than expected.

Finally, Marge tells alien Bill the gig is up. She knows everything: what they really look like, where their space ship is, that they can't breathe our air. 

"Aren't you afraid to be saying this?" alien Bill asks.

"Yes", Marge admits. "Does your race enjoy frightening women? Does that make you proud? Or do monsters have no pride?"

Alien Bill looks hurt. "We understand pride," he says. "But we can't afford it."

"I think we should start seeing other people": Alien Bill and Marge realize they are incompatible.

Alien Bill regurgitates the sob story of what happened to his planet. Marge is sympathetic, but still wonders, "Why did you have to come here?"

"You have no idea how rare life is in those cold, countless miles of space," alien Bill somberly replies.

So the aliens invaded Earth because they were lonely and tired of space travel? And they'd gone so long without S-E-X they were willing to take their chances on a planet with un-breathable air (for them) so they could get some nooky? Talk about desperate...

Marge asks alien Bill, "Did you (pause) love your women before they died?"

"No", alien Bill states.

This romance novel is far out (rim shot).

Then alien Bill launches into a bonkers monolog about how when they took over human bodies, the aliens began experiencing human "emotions and desires" which was something "they hadn't foreseen." The longer alien Bill inhabited human Bill's body, the more alien Bill wanted to get in touch with his own feelings. And because there was no love on his home planet, alien Bill declares, "I want to know what love is!"

Marge is dumbfounded--I mean, the aliens were listening to Foreigner during their space voyage? EWW!

Anyway, Marge tells alien Bill to find another planet to invade; Earth is already taken. Without their female counter-parts, they "can't have children" and "your race will die out!"

Alien Bill retorts, "Eventually we'll have children with you."

 "What...kind...of...children?" Marge asks. 

"Our kind of children," alien Bill declares.

"Look dear! He has your eyes!": Alien Bill and Marge's first born?

Naturally, Marge is repulsed by the thought of giving birth to three-fingered hairy robot alien babies, but what can she do? The roads out of town are closed. The phone lines are always mysteriously busy.  And the aliens are taking over more and more men. Mother of Mercy, is this the end of humanity?

Not so fast! Marge finally finds someone who believes her: kindly Dr. Wayne (Ken Lynch). "We've got to destroy their ship!" Marge bleats. "Otherwise, they'll over run the Earth and we'll be baring their children!"

Dr. Wayne wonders how they'll round up a posse that isn't full of alien imposters. Then he has a brain wave: "I know where to get our men!" They'll gather up all the guys whose wives have recently given birth! The aliens couldn't have gotten to them yet!

So Dr. Wayne and what's left of Norrisville's human men get their guns and go out to kick some serious alien booty. One of the guy's brings his German Shepherds along, which proves to be a stroke of genius. See, Earth dogs know an alien when they smell one. When the human men quickly realize their bullets are of no use, the dogs simply pounce on the aliens, rip out their breathing tubes and--Presto!--no more aliens. What good boys!

Once the dogs have dispatched the enemy, the human men venture into the aliens' spaceship and find their buddies hooked up the coat rack/sound system described earlier. Kindly Dr. Wayne unhooks the men from their batteries and they resume consciousness. The aliens aren't so lucky. Their vital link for survival on Earth severed, the aliens start breathing oxygen and collapse en masse. They gasp, roll around and quickly die, turning into chunky goo along the way. 

"Paw Patrol": Invading aliens are no match for man's best friend.

Marge races to the aliens' hiding spot. There she runs into alien Bill, who is slowly dying. He laments that he was just learning to feel and love and enjoy life, but Marge could care less. She's reunited with Bill--the real Bill, the human Bill--and they embrace. The aliens call off their invasion and fly away. Yes, they're doomed to endure another long, lonely, cold journey out in space, but think of all the Frequent Flyer Miles they'll accumulate.

Unlike a lot of flicks profiled here, "I Married a Monster from Outer Space" was a hit with both audiences and critics (it ran on a double with "The Blob", a movie starring a guy named Steve McQueen). It's plot was direct and compact, not drowning in sub-plots, although the pace could get pokey at times. The F/X is good and sparingly used. The acting, especially from Gloria Talbot as the desperate Marge, is unusually effective. In other words, an all-around A-OK flick. So what's it doing here?

Because "I Married a Monster from Outer Space" is yet another example of the double standard in Sci-Fi when it comes to alien/human relations.

Simply put, when Earth men come upon alien females, the said femmes are almost always attractive young gals who dress like Miss America contestants and can't wait to marry and/or do the nasty with the human visitors. "The Queen of Outer Space", "Fire Maidens from Outer Space", "Cat Women on the Moon", "Forbidden Planet", "Barbarella", "Star Man" and "The Phantom Planet" are just a few examples of this. And don't forget Captain Kirk got more ass than a toilet seat on "Star Trek" or that nurse Christine Chapel had the hots for Mr. Spock (as did guest star Jill Ireland, the future Mrs. Charles Bronson).

However, whenever aliens come upon Earth females, the aliens are always ugly, hairy, creepy monsters and the women recoil at the thought of doing the deed with them--and their fellow Earth men aren't too happy about the idea, either.

"Bachelor in Paradise"?: "The Fire Maidens from Outer Space" are out-of -this-world in the looks department. Male aliens aren't so lucky.

And if the Earth gals and the aliens do have contact, it's usually because the aliens have forcibly impregnated them. 

 Consider the flick "Village of the Damned", where aliens impregnate the local ladies of child-bearing age. The result is super albino alien kids who have telepathic powers and plan to take over the world. In the movie "The Demon Seed", poor Julie Christie gets pregnant by her hubby's super computer--and experiences a climax that resembles a laser (Pink) Floyd Omni Max show. Then there's the TV movie "The Stranger Within". Starring TV's "I Dream of Jeannie"s Barbara Eden, it's another tale of a gal impregnated with an alien fetus. Soon the nasty little bugger is forcing Barb to drink tons of coffee, put salt on everything, turn the house into Ice Station Zebra and forget to do her house work. According to my calculations, the only alien/Earth woman who came together successfully as a couple are Mr. Spock's parents, Ambassador Sarek and Amanda Grayson.

Why the double standard? Why are female aliens always hot-to-trot and the male aliens ugly freaks?  I'm not suggesting human females would want to mate with ugly, hairy robot aliens. However, what if the male aliens were nice looking, had good personalities and were genuinely interested in commitment? I bet there'd tons of human gals who would give it a whirl. After all, if countless women are willing to humiliate themselves on "The Bachelor", "Love Island" and "Married at First Sight", how could hooking up with an alien be any worse?

And considering the male specimens on those above mentioned shows, hooking up with an alien might even be better.

Of course, I can't discuss aliens and human females close encounters without mentioning "Mars Needs Women" (1967). In this crack-pot classic, Tommy Kirk leads an alien unit down to Earth to rustle up some gals so they can repopulate Mars. Dop (Tommy's character) ends up falling for scientist Marjorie Bolen (Yvonne Craig, Bat Girl herself)--who won the Noble Prize for Medicine for her ground breaking work in "frozen surgery techniques." However, Tommy becomes repulsed at the idea of using his new cuddlemate as "a test case for artificial insemination!" and calls the whole mission off. Before he leaves for home, Dop tells Marjorie that, even though Mars dispensed with the word "love" a long, long time ago, he knows it's love that he feels for her.

"Meet the Parents": Mr. Spock's mom and dad share the love.

Awww, that's so sweet. I wonder if Dop watches Hallmark movies in his spare time.

OK, kiddies, what have we learned today?

We learned that space travel is really lonely and boring, so bring along plenty of magazines and cross word puzzles to distract you.

We learned that '50's women were so determined to get married, they'd marry an alien-infected man if it meant avoiding spinsterhood.

We learned that low-budget sci-fi can beat the pants off big-budget sci-fi, artistically, anyway.

And we learned that clean air is our best defense against an alien invasion.

So, until next time, lets do all we can to end pollution--and SAVE THE MOVIES, too.

"Screw fate. I'll tear down the stars for you."* Dop and Marjorie say goodbye.

* That quote is from Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston, in case you're wondering.

Monday, November 7, 2022

If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Read...

Author Penny Junor believes Camilla Parker-Bowles is misunderstood. She says this over and over and over again until you want to SCREAM. 

How-dee, movie lovers.

Have you ever woken up one morning and felt the entire world was against you? Have you ever felt you were unjustly blamed for some high crimes or misdemeanors? Have you ever felt caricatured, excluded, lampooned, criticized, bullied and mercilessly poked fun of?

If so, well, welcome to middle school! But seriously, folks, Camilla Parker-Bowles can relate--and so can Junk Cinema. That's why this blog has the semi-regular feature called "If You Think Your Life Sucks, Please Watch/Read..." where a book or flick is suggested to lighten your mood, if only momentarily.

Back in the day, Camilla was one of the most hated women in Britain for supposedly breaking up the marriage of Charles and Diana. But Camilla is a really good egg. She's warm, funny, down-to-earth, a great cook ("her roast chicken is legendary") and a doting grandma. The view that she's a nasty, chain smoking home wrecker is just wrong, wrong, wrong.

At least, that's the view point of author Penny Junor. And she states it over and over and over again in her book The Duchess: Camilla Parker-Bowles and the Love Affair That Rocked the Crown. If, by the end of this tome, you are not convinced that the Duchess of Cornwall--now the Queen Consort-- has been the most maligned person the planet, you are hereby sentenced to read this book until you agree one-hundred percent that Camilla has indeed been the most maligned person on the planet ( Melania Trump, who once claimed she was the most maligned person on the planet, really should read this book. Junor makes a pretty good case that in the most maligned person sweepstakes, Camilla has it all over Melania). 

Melania Trump, "I'm the most bullied person on the planet!" Camilla Parker-Bowles, "No! I'm the most bullied person on the planet!" Stop! You're both bullied!

How did Camilla end up in this situation? Princess Diana. That's because Di, almost from the beginning of her relationship with Charles, never, ever trusted Camilla. Nor did she believe hubby Charles when he insisted he had ended it with Camilla. So, when the Wales marriage began to crumble, Diana instantly knew who to blame.

 According to Junor, this was all so unfair to Camilla; to paint her as a scheming home wrecker was so wide of the mark it was ridiculous. At least according to Junor, anyway. 

 In her earnest portrayal, Camilla Shand came into this world a nice, horse-loving daddy's girl; she grew up among the wealthy British gentry. Camilla attended socially acceptable schools, which taught her to read and write, but little else. No matter, because Camilla possessed one talent you can't teach: how to talk to boys. This talent--along with her "laughing eyes"--made Camilla the hit of every party and ensured her future success among the smart set.

After boarding school, Camilla was sent to finishing school abroad, where she learned to "lay a table" and cook that legendary roast chicken. Then it was back to Britain to make her formal debut into society, lose her virginity and live the life of a well-connected deb. It was during Camilla's life as an "It Girl" that she met the love of her life, the man she longed to marry: Andrew Parker-Bowles. 

Andrew Parker-Bowles: "I really wanted my wife...but I wanted everyone else's wife, too."

Andrew was a wealthy, semi-aristocratic military officer, horse lover and polo player par excellance. He was also a love 'em and leave 'em cad who went through women like a hot knife through butter. Never the less, Camilla was determined to marry him and was willing to put up with an on-and-off relationship for several years until Andrew came to his senses...or, rather, his father and Camilla's father placed an engagement notice in The Times behind Andrew's back, forcing him to propose, which he eventually did.

It was while Camilla was waiting for cuddlemate Andrew to propose that she was introduced to Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. It was love at first sight, at least for Charles. He loved the fact that Camilla was a laid-back country gal who didn't fuss over her hair and clothes, that she loved horses and polo and that she laughed at the same things he did. The couple's idyll ended when Charles (then in the Royal Navy) went back to his ship. For someone so head-over-heels in love, however, Charles was pretty tight-lipped about it, and failed to share this information with Camilla. Author Junor believes that Charles' failure to do so was based on several factors: A) He was a boob, B) He wasn't ready to marry anyone at that time, C) He feared Camilla would turn him down and that D) Camilla wouldn't be considered "pure and posh" enough to be Britain's next queen, at least according to the royal family. Never mind that Charles wasn't exactly "pure" (aka a virgin) or really even "posh" himself.

As the 1970's slowly wound into the 1980's, Charles and Camilla went their separate ways. Except they didn't. See, Andrew Parker-Bowles was a polo pal of Charles, and a relative of Charles' beloved granny the Queen Mother, so he and wife Camilla soon became part of "the Highgrove set" that surrounded Chuck. This also kept the Charles/Camilla flame on a continual low simmer.  Andrew, meanwhile, didn't find marriage or fatherhood (he and Camilla had two kids) any reason to stop sleeping with other women. Thus, the Parker-Bowles' union quickly became one where Andrew lived in London during the week and screwed various women, while Camilla stayed with the kids in the country. Everybody met up on weekends to ride the hounds and shoot ducks and stuff. Then Andrew would return to London and his latest cuddlemate and the whole cycle would begin again. 

This type of "open marriage" is considered quite normal in high society circles; as long as everybody stays "discrete" and polite about things, of course. Fidelity and monogamy are boring middle/working class virtues for boring middle/working class people, not the country's grandees. So who would raise an eyebrow when poor Camilla, fed up with hubby's serial sleeping around, turned to good friend Charles for some understanding and, well, one thing led to another and soon enough Charles and Camilla were mattress mates once more.

Unfortunately, Charles wasn't an anonymous aristocratic; he was heir to Europe's best known throne. Sure, he could sleep around all he wanted (his beloved "Uncle Dickie" actually encouraged him to do so), but the fun and games would have to end (or least pause) long enough for the Prince of Wales to collect a wife and sire some kids to secure the Windsor line. After innocently proclaiming that "about 30" was a good age to marry, the British press, the public and his parents started hammering Charles to get a move on, especially as the big three-oh was starring him in the face. 

"Don't worry, dear. Charles and I are just good friends.": Lady Diana Spencer and Camilla at the races.

That's when Lady Diana Spencer enters the picture. The apple-cheeked aristocrat came from the wealthier and infinitely more British House of Spencer. She was young, pretty, photogenic and, at 19, hadn't had the time to accumulate much of a "past". She also seemed "besotted" with Charles--and he with her, up to a point. Everybody agreed that Lady Diana was right for the job of Princess of Wales, including Camilla. 

The glorious "Wedding of the Century" (July 29, 1981) was the sort of spectacle the British do so well: lots of horses, carriages and soldiers, cheering crowds, soaring choirs and big, goofy hats. It may have been the happiest day of Charles and Diana's marriage, because problems were already starting to appear. As author Junor puts it, the Prince and Princess of Wales were a "classic mismatch". Even with the arrival of two sons (William and Harry, coming in 1982 and 1984, respectively), the too-young for her age Diana and the-too-old for his age Charles had little or nothing to build a marriage on (Camilla and Andrew at least had polo in common).

More importantly, despite her breezy Sloane Ranger exterior, Junor explains that Diana suffered from serious mental health issues. Unfortunately, neither Charles nor the royal family understood the complexities of mental illness. Charles, to his credit, did encourage Diana to seek professional help and this did give her some relief. However, her position as the future queen, the press scrutiny that attended her every move, upper class distrust of psychiatry and Diana's own unwillingness to admit her problems (especially her eating disorder) for fear of being labeled, made effective treatment nearly impossible.

So the "Wedding of the Century" devolved into the "War of the Wales". There would be separations, palace denials, awkward photo calls, tell-all books, tell-all interviews, embarrassing leaked phone chats, his-and-hers affairs and eventually the Wales' historic divorce. A year later, a tragic accident in Paris would claim Diana's life.

Alas, "The Wedding of the Century" became "The War of the Wales" very quickly.

However, The Duchess doesn't end there. Although the major principals in this saga would soon be free to remarry, C & C couldn't make things legal--or even appear in public together--because of  one very harsh and unflinching reality: people didn't like them.

This unpopularity, Junor believes, came from press manipulation, pure and simple. The Barrons of Fleet Street sensed right away that the public was more sympathetic to Diana, so they portrayed her as a wronged innocent betrayed by the cold royal family and the unfaithful Prince Charles. Because every soap opera needs a villain, Camilla morphed from a happy-go-lucky country wife into a cynical, scheming, chain-smoking mantrap.

 The unexpected death of Diana and the out-pouring of grief that followed made the couple even more unpopular than they already were. So the PR department of Buckingham Palace rolled up its sleeves and got to work. First, they had to brush up Charles' image as a good dad and worthy future king. Next came an extensive (but largely secret) campaign to not only make Camilla palatial to the British public, but also to the royal family. See, Charles' beloved granny refused to even "receive" Camilla and Queen Elizabeth wouldn't even be in the same room with her--strange behavior, since both ladies attended Camilla's wedding to Andrew years before. Various palace flacks urged Charles to give Camilla up, which he stoutly refused to do. It was years before princes William and Harry agreed to meet her. Meanwhile, Camilla did her part by giving up smoking, having her teeth straightened, enduring a chemical peel, freshening up her hair and make-up and doing charity work--all in hopes of proving her worthiness as Charles' cuddlemate. Finally, mummy QEII began to fear her heir might pull an Edward VIII and abdicate. So she allowed Charles and Camilla to marry--but she didn't attend the ceremony and gave a firm "no" when Charles wanted to have an all-organic sit-down meal to celebrate the nuptials.

Once Charles and Camilla are Mr. and Mrs., The Duchess switches gears from an impossible love story where the devoted couple vanquish all their foes to a run-down Camilla's royal duties, which includes family literacy projects and visiting battered women's shelters. These chapters are Junor's earnest attempt to show that Camilla is just as kind, loving and caring as the late Diana was. She may well be, but the author's breathless tone and gushing prose soon become tiring. By the end of the book, you want to scream, "OK, you've convinced me! Now will you please shut up?"

The Duchess ends with Charles and Camilla happily married, enjoying their growing brood of his-and-hers grandchildren and hoping one day to rule as King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla, which, by the way, they will in 2023 (The Duchess was written before QEII's passing).

The late Queen Elizabeth on Charles and Camilla's wedding day.

What's the point of all this, you ask?

Maybe the point is The Duchess proves that bad times don't last forever. Even if an entire country believes you're a frumpy, chain smoking home wrecker with bad hair, with enough time, patience and money (his, not yours), you can turn your image around and be, if not exactly embraced or loved, at least respected for your work ethic and applauded for giving up the cancer sticks.

Or maybe the point is that lasting love isn't based on social pedigrees or press approval, but having common interests and values that help you weather the storms of life.

Or maybe it's that Britain's royal family is great throwing glitzy spectacles, but totally sucky when it comes to male/female relationships.

 This is especially true in the case of Prince Charles and the search for his future queen. The Windsors insisted the heir to the throne find a wife using impossible standards more in line with the 19th century than the 20th. What Camilla Shand may have lacked in dress sense or "dignity", she more than made up for in understanding Charles and what he needed to be happy. Diana, for all her charms and aristocratic lineage, didn't. Perhaps if the Windsors had realized times (and morals) had changed since the 1840's, they wouldn't have pushed Charles into marrying a girl simply because she was "posh and pure". 

Charles and Diana after a reporter asks them if they are "in love."

Or maybe The Duchess proves that the best princesses aren't pretty young things who think the Copernican Revolution is a science fiction show on Netflix, but mature, intelligent women who understand the realities of a very difficult and often thankless job.

Or maybe I've over-thought the whole business. Perhaps The Duchess is just a bland book that states REPEATEDLY that Camilla Parker-Bowles is a good egg. With all the upheaval the world is going through at the moment, you could do worse than devote a couple hours to this fan fiction, because it may, just for a short time, distract you.

I like that one best.

So movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, fairy tales only exist in Disney films and SAVE THE MOVIES.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Now, An Update From The "Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction" Department

"Would you believe...": Trump has endless excuses about how those top secret documents ended up at Mar-A-Lago.

As you probably know, the FBI raided Donald Trump's Florida resort/home Mara-A-Lago in early August to retrieve top secret and classified documents.

Many of Trump's devoted fans have given some interesting answers as to why he did this. For example:

*Trump had already declassified the documents because, you know, presidents can do that.

*President Biden arranged the FBI raid to distract people about Hunter Biden's laptop mess.

*Mr. Biden rescinded Trump's ability to declassify documents without telling him.

"Don't worry, be happy": A peek inside the secure room Trump created for the top secret docs he took.

*Trump had a secure room at Mar-A-Lago and was even getting more locks for it!

*Trump was writing (!) a biography/autobiography and he needed the docs for "research".

As the scandal has grown and deepened, the excuses have continued to pile up. To inject a little light hearted humor into this very serious situation, I present my own reasons why Trump took the documents.

 In no particular order, they are:

*Disgusted by all the typos, run-on sentences and misspelled words, Trump took the documents home to correct the errors.

*He was using the backside of the docs for his high stakes "Tic Tac Toe" games with Eric.

A sample of Trump's Origami skills.

*Ever since Trump took up Origami, he's needed tons of paper to do his projects.

*He was trying to "save some trees" by recycling the documents as copy paper for Mar-A-Lago.

*Hey, Trump can't read, remember? So how was he suppose to know they were top secret?!

*Know that secure room Trump had at Mar-A-Lago? Trump was in the process of buying more locks, but every time he went to Home Depot, they were sold out. Not his fault!

*Hillary Clinton had top secret docs on her private email! What about that, tough guy?!

"I know what I am, but are you?: Hillary and Hannity face off.

*Seriously? Like you've never taken anything from work?

*The National Archives are run by a bunch of prissy, pushy geeks who've been totally unreasonable about Trump returning these documents! I mean, they've been nagging him for, like, a year! Geez, what's their problem? Sad!

*Because Melania used up all the tissue paper, what was Trump suppose to use to make sure his clothes didn't wrinkle while he packed them?

* You mean Presidents of the United States don't get to keep all that top secret stuff? What a rip-off!

As this investigation continues, expect even more crazy reasons why highly classified and top secret documents were at Mar-A-Lago. Stay tuned!

And save the movies, too.

"They're mine! They're all mine!": Trump explains why Mar-A-Lago had top secret documents lying around.