Monday, June 5, 2017

Let's Get Kraken! It's "Clash Of The Titans" 2010!

The cast of "Clash of the Titans" (2010) prepares for an onslaught of negative reviews.

Hail and hearty hello you and yours, movie lovers.

Today we set our cinematic sights on ancient Greece, a time of gods and monsters, humans and immortals, men in short skirts and over stuffed movies based on a mish-mash of Greek myths the screenwriters invariably screw-up, big time.

In 3-D.

"Clash of the Titans" (2010) is the completely unnecessary (but fitfully hilarious) reboot/remake/revamp/regurgitation of 1981's "Clash of the Titans."

In the original version, a pre-"L.A.Law" Harry Hamlin played Perseus, the son of Zeus, who rises to his destiny and saves cuddlemate Princess Andromeda from certain death.

"What's the matter with kids today?": Zeus (Liam Neeson) wonders what to do with his unruly brood of human children. 

In our 2010 version, Sam Worthington is Perseus, a crew-cutted nitwit who yammers endlessly that he could care less that Zeus is his father. In fact, Sam's Perseus is less interested in rising to his destiny and more interested in whining about how he wants no part of his destiny. In other words, he's a typical Millennial (rim shot).

Oh, and another thing: Perseus doesn't save the Princess Andromeda out of love. In fact, the two barely even know each other. This time around he's warm for the form of Io (Gemma Arterton), a mysterious gal who looks like Kendall Jenner and, unfortunately, acts like Kendall Jenner...if Kendall Jenner could act, which, she alas, cannot (see her ill-fated Pepsi commercial if you need further proof).

Now, movie lovers, if you are a bit confused by all this, well, wait until you watch the movie. Then you'll really be confused! Until then, please enjoy my witty and informative take on this bloated, budget-busting, 3-D, CGI charbroiled cheeseburger par excellence.

The action begins with the mighty Greek god Zeus (Liam Neeson) stomping around Mt. Olympus complaining that the mortals of Earth are a bunch of ungrateful, whiny brats. They refuse to honor their creator! They are slacking off on their prayers! Their offerings in the temples are puny! Sounding like an exasperated suburban dad fed up with his high school-age children ignoring their curfews and leaving all the lights on, Zeus screams that the mortals need to be taught a lesson and to start showing some respect.

Suddenly appearing in a puff of black smoke is Hades (Ralph Fiennes), Zeus' kid brother and ruler of the Underworld. He agrees that mankind needs a collective kick in the crotch and, what's more, he has the perfect means to achieve it: the Kraken, a fearsome, gigantic snapping turtle that Hades carved out of his own flesh (eww). Once the humans are threatened by this beastie, Hades promises, they will come rushing back the gods like ants to a sugar cube.

"All in the Family": Perseus (center) is surrounded by his happy, loving family...who in a few minutes will all be killed.

While all this is happening, the strapping young stud Perseus (Sam Worthington) is sailing to the city of Argos with his happy, loving sea-faring family: dad Sypros (Pete Postlethwaite), mom Marmara (a pre-"Downton Abby" Elizabeth McGovern) and kid sister Tekla. Although Sypros and Marmara found Perseus bobbing around the sea in an ornate casket many years ago, they insist he is their son through and through. Perseus finds great comfort in this, declaring at one point, "I have everything I need" as he watches his family peacefully sleeping.

As bad movie fanatics know, such a heart felt declaration only means everyone is a dead duck. As Perseus and family sail into Argos, the citizens of the city are toppling a gigantic statue of Zeus. As it crashes into the waters below, the family's boat nearly capsizes. Seconds later, out of the drink comes a battalion of winged, vampire bat lizard people. These beasties tear a few extras to shreds and then meld together to form a super-sized Hades. Hades then proceeds to cause a massive title wave, which sweeps the hapless citizens of Argos in every direction...and sends Perseus' happy, loving family to a watery grave.

(You may be wondering where Poseidon, god of the sea, is while this is going on. I wondered about that, too. I suppose Poseidon's silence means he's OK with Hades' behavior.)

Perseus survives the tidal wave and is fished out of the water by a naval ship. Nobody knows what to do with him, so the soldiers march him to the palace of the King and Queen of Argos. These randy royals are hosting a lavish "Stick It In Your Ear!" benefit to mock the gods, something their civic minded daughter Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) knows is a bad idea. No sooner does her booze chugging mom (Polly Walker) dare to say her daughter is cuter than Aphrodite, than Hades reemerges in his tell-tale black smoke. (Why Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, doesn't show up to avenge this insult is never explained.) "You are specks of dust beneath our fingernails," Hades rasps to the astonished party-goers. And to prove it, he turns the glamour-puss queen into a dessicated bag of bones, causing her to promptly expire. He then announces that "in ten days" he will "release the Kraken". If the people of Argos wish to save themselves, the god of the Underworld says they must feed poor Andromeda to the Kraken--nothing else will suffice.

"This is the will of Zeus--your father!" Hades says, starring straight at Perseus before he billows away.

"The Uninvited": Hades crashes the King of Argo's party, kills dozens of guests and vows to unleash the Kraken. How rude!

Perseus insists to anyone who will listen that he is not a demi-god (the offspring of Zeus and a mortal woman), he's a poor but honest fisherman. "I mend nets!" he screeches. "I don't wield a sword!" (Or act, I might add.)

That's when Io shows up. She proceeds to inform Perseus (in a droning monologue) that he is the son of Zeus. See, Zeus took the form of King Acrisius and visited the bedroom of his unsuspecting wife Danae. After the two did the wild thing, Zeus revealed himself, causing the king to go bonkers with rage (the wife wasn't very happy, either). Eventually, Acrisius sends mother and baby out to sea in a casket. It was Io who guided Perseus to his happy, loving but now dead family. When Perseus asks if Io is also a god, she replies, "There are gods, there are mortals and there are those in between." Suitably confused, Perseus presses no further.

Io then saves the best bit for last: Perseus "was born to kill the Kraken." She offers no examples to prove this, so we just have to take her word for it. Ninny that he is, Perseus insists that he doesn't want to kill the Kraken; he wants to avenge his family by killing Hades--ignoring that Hades, a god, is immortal and pretty much death-proof. Still, he signs on when Io explains that defeating the Kraken will hurt Hades, which is better than nothing.

Oh, and another thing: Perseus wants to kill the Kraken as a man, not a demi-god, so he plans on refusing all help his demi-god status could provide him. Perseus says this a lot.

To help Perseus in his noble quest (and to save his kid), the King of Argos sends him off with a crack team of untested pretty boys and grizzled vets just shy of retirement age--the ultimate Expendables. The head honcho in charge of this mission is Draco (Mads Mikkelsen), an unsmiling sourpuss who constantly badgers Perseus to accept his demi-god status for the good of the team.(We won't know until much later that Draco is mourning the loss of his daughter, which explains why he's so crabby.) Also tagging along are two comic relief mercenaries (brothers Ozal and Kucuk) and Io (with a vast array of outfits and never a hair out of place).

"Get my point?": Commander Draco takes issue with the perpetually whining Perseus.

It is decided that the Stygian Witches would know best how to defeat the Kraken. So our happy warriors trudge off through dense forests and burning deserts to find them. Along the way, Perseus and company met up with a passel of CGI scorpions forged from the toxic blood of, oh, never mind. Watch the movie yourself to get the details. Anyway, like so many CGI critters, these scorpions exist merely to pad out the film and kill off unnecessary cast members. Despite their size, these crustaceans are not especially frightening or awe inspiring; therefore, when they are later tamed and turned into pack mules, nobody bats an eye.

Another group of fun guys calling the desert home is a tribe of freaky warriors called "The Djinn." These gents are tall drinks of water who sport flowing robes and glowing blue peepers. Any resemblance to the Sand People in "Star Wars" is probably unintentional. One grizzled vet explains to a newbie that, when a Djinn's skin rots off or they lose a limb, they replace it with tree bark (eww). Charming as they are, the Djinn add nothing of significance to the proceedings, either, except they do manage to turn those computerized scorpions into pack mules.

Finally, Perseus and the gang locate the Stygian Witches, a trio of sightless, ugly, bickering hags. The gals share one slimy eyeball between them--and a taste for young men. According to them, the only way to defeat the Kraken is to show it the head of Medusa. Who is Medusa, you ask? She's a Gorgon cursed with such ugliness (and snakes for hair) that men turn to stone when the catch sight of her. Since it's highly unlikely Medusa will offer her services out of the goodness of her heart, Perseus et al must make the radical move of chopping off her noggin. This means a trip down to the Underworld (where Medusa calls home) and yet another tiresome encounter with a CGI beastie.

OK, so, Perseus and his dwindling crew converge on Medusa's lair. His inspiring words to the troops? "Don't look the bitch in the eye!" However, one by one, members of Perseus' team confront Medusa and make the fatal mistake of looking at her. And to be fair, Medusa doesn't look that bad. Yes, she has snakes for hair, but she's quite pretty. Medusa also has a taste for high fashion, as she sports a chic leather breast plate and opera gloves. It's only when Medusa flashes her peepers and screams in a guy's face that she turns ugly and they turn to stone. However, don't fret that our hero will fall prey to Medusa's charms. After a spirited sword battle, Perseus flashes his shield at Medusa, which temporarily blinds her. Perseus then slices off her head and the poor dear slithers off into a pit of fire. Yes, Perseus has won the day, but the movie still isn't over.

Because "Clash of the Titans" 2010 has spent so much time focused on Perseus and his quest to knock Medusa's block off, viewers might have forgotten about the besieged inhabitants of Argos. In the absence of inspired leadership from their king, the citizens of Argos have been whipped into a frenzy by a Milo Yiannopoulos-type and have decided to sacrifice Princess Andromeda to the Kraken-- Perseus be damned. A plucky gal, Andromeda accepts her fate ("No one should die for me") and calmly dangles over the Bay of Argos like a worm on a fish hook.

Princess Andromeda is surprising OK with being Kraken bait.

Now comes the moment we've (or some of us) have been waiting for: the emergence of the Hades' "child", the Kraken! A true diva, this bloody thirsty monster takes his own sweet time lumbering over to Argos and emerging from the ocean's depths. In his full CGI glory, the Kraken resembles a large, very pissed off snapping turtle with an impressive set of pointy choppers and a face only a father could love. I am sure a lot of time and money went into creating this CGI, yet, like so many CGIs, the Kraken comes off flat and fake. He's no match for the beasties in "Aliens", the high water mark of movie monsters. Or those wonderful skeleton soldiers in "Jason and the Argonauts." Instead, the Kraken resembles Gamora, the flying turtle (and "friend to all children") who starred in a series of Japanese monster movies in the late '60's and early 1970's. Not even Andromeda is afraid of him, and she's his designated snack.

No matter. As the Kraken waves its mighty flippers, as the citizens of Argos scream and shout, as the movie's soundtrack reaches ear-shattering decibels, "Clash of the Titans" 2010 finally reaches its frenzied climax. Just when it seems all is lost, the clouds part and Perseus appears on the winged horse Pegasus, Medusa's noggin in a burlap sack. After an aerial battle with those pesky winged vampire lizard people, Perseus yanks Medusa's head out of its sack and flashes her ugly mug at the Kraken. As promised, the mighty beast turns to stone. Slowly. Very slowly. Unfortunately, the Kaken also turns into rather cheap stone, because large chunks of him start falling off  immediately and flattening the people below--such as Andromeda's feckless father and that false prophet/Milo Yiannopoulos guy. The impact of these crashes sends poor Andromeda into the drink, but have no fear: Perseus with his demi-god lung power saves her bacon quite easily.

Washed up on the shores of a near-by beach, Andromeda and Perseus eventually come to. Acknowledging his bravery and loyalty, Andromeda asks Perseus to rule Argos with her. He declines. Later on, Zeus shows up and asks his son to join him on Mt. Olympus. This our hero also rejects. After everything that has happened, all Perseus wants to do is return to his quite life as a fisherman. This is granted, along with the resurrected Io, who died a couple of scenes back. Oh, did I forget to mention that? Well, she did, but she's OK now.

With Io at his side, Perseus begins his life anew...until he is contractually obligated to begin shooting "The Clash of the Titans" 2010 sequel "The Wrath of the Titans". That film will be EVEN WORSE than this one--trust me, I've seen it--but until that day comes, let's wish those crazy kids Perseus and Io a long and happy life together.

Want to go in on a wedding present?

"Open Wide!": The fierce Kraken bares her/his/its fangs, but proved no match for movie critics barbs.

While writing and researching about "The Clash of the Titans" 2010, I came upon a quote from a disgruntled movie-goer that describes the experience of enduring this flick: he called our featured presentation "a rectal probe of a movie."

Crude, perhaps, but accurate. Painfully accurate, I might add.

When you consider the source material the screenwriters (Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi) had access to, the talent of the actors cast in major roles and the budget ($125 MILLION) that the producers (Basil Iwanyk, Kevin De La Noy and Richard D. Zanuck) had to work with, it is not unreasonable to believe a rousing, thrilling adventure with compelling characters and feats of daring-do was possible. Instead, director Louis Leterrier churned out an epic failure that left movie patrons feeling as if a medical instrument had been shoved up their hinders.

Where did "Clash of the Titans" 2010 go wrong? Was it the less-than-charismatic hero, played by Sam Worthington? Was it the skimpy script that invested nothing in the human characters and failed to flesh out the immortal ones? Was it the blind faith that CGIs images would distract the audience from the hollowness of the film over-all?

All of thee above. But, hey, it made money, so who cares...except for the people who love movies and demand more of them than just CGI scorpions.

"Who are you?": One of the original props from "Clash of the Titans" 1981 makes an appearance--and upstages leading man Sam Worthington.

Sigh. I end this post with a heavy heart. For what is the point of a $125 million dollar movie budget if the resulting film is a noisy non-experience?

So help me stop the insanity and SAVE THE MOVIES!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves In "Angel's Revenge"

"Fools Rush In Where Angels Fear To Tread": The no-name cast of "Angel's Revenge" suit up for duty.

Hello and welcome, movie lovers.

If you need any more proof that the 1970's were a HORRIBLE decade, our featured flick should do the trick.

"Angel's Revenge" (1979) is a low budget, brain-optional "Charlie's Angel's" rip off that is filled-to-the-gills with feathered hair, Dr. Pepper lip gloss, polyester and, worst of all, disco music.

What's more, "Angel's Revenge" gave screen time to three--count 'em, three!--pasty-faced 1960's sitcom second bananas and--hold on to your hats!--Arthur Godfrey.

If all that isn't enough to make you gag on your Pop Rocks, future Oscar winner Jack Palance shows up, along with disgraced Kennedy in-law Peter Lawford--who was reportedly so stewed during production, all his scenes had to be shot with him sitting in a chair.

 Peter Lawford in one of his (very few) lucid on-screen moments.

Obviously, "Angel's Revenge" promises an embarrassment of bad movie riches. So let's take a deep breath and dive in, OK?

Our pain parade starts by introducing us to a diverse group of young women who are determined to blow up an illegal drug processing plant. They are:

April (Jacqueline Cole), a ditsy middle school teacher.

Michelle (Susan Kiger), a singer managed by Alan "Skipper" Hale, Jr. of "Gilligan's Island" fame. No wonder her career's going nowhere.

Keiko (Lieu Chinh), a martial arts expert and after-school tutor "newly arrived from Vietnam" who "knows well the problems young kids face." (Please ignore that Keiko is a Japanese name and that the actress portraying her is Chinese.)

Singing sensation Michelle belts out her disco anthem "Shine Your Love"...or she's in pain. I can't tell.

Terry (Sylvia Anderson), a super stunt woman and mechanics expert who also sports an impressive 'fro.

Maria (Noela Velsaco), an ex-junkie turned super model.

Elaine (Robin Greer), a policewoman who suffers from a bad perm.

And Trish (Liza Greer, Robin's kid sister), a student of April's who nags incessantly to become "one of the Seven."

Needless to say, none of these actresses was cast for their thespian skills. As long as they flipped their feathered locks on cue and remembered to ditch their bras, producer/director Greydon Clark was satisfied.

Maria gasps in horror when she realizes her perm didn't take.

Back to the action. Michelle, the rising disco diva, has just finished a rousing rendition of her hit "Shine Your Love" in Vegas when she learns her kid brother Bobby has been beaten and hospitalized. To her horror, Bobby is revealed to be a regular customer of a Christopher Atkins-ish pusher named Sticks (Darby Hinton). When the tween needed a fix, but was out of cash, he conked Sticks on the noggin with a beer bottle and made off with his stash.

The robbery forces Sticks to contact his superior, Mike (the growly/scowly Jack Palance). Mike calls Sticks "real dumb" for allowing a middle schooler to get the better of him--although "real dumb" is an accurate description of Sticks in general. Anyway, the two druggies manage to track down Bobby and Sticks gives the kid one hell of a hiding. Even worse, the pusher calls him "a little twerp" and leaves him on the street to rot.

Bobby, as it turns out, is a student of April's, so the teacher decides the time is right to approach Michelle. After digging through her junk infested purse, April pulls out her "highly detailed" map of the baddies' drug processing plant. Because Michelle is so famous, April believes she can help convince the necessary experts to join her team.

"Women can make a difference," April asserts.

Once the team members are duly assembled, the gals go shopping for a van. This is where they meet Mr. Haney from "Green Acres", Pat Buttrum (who frankly looks embalmed). Dressed in his best Roy Rogers outfit, Pat declares that our heroines are "prettier than a creek full of catfish" and promises to make them a deal "just as sure as a goose goes barefooted." Our savvy sisters have little time for Pat's barnyard analogies, so they quickly take their van and go.

Does Mr. Haney know he's not in "Green Acres" anymore?

Once Terry has their van fitted with such amenities as a turret gun and bazooka (don't ask), the girls realize they need ammo (D'oh!). Lucky for them, a right-wing paramilitary group headed by Jim Backus (Mr. Howell from "Gilligan's Island", who also looks embalmed) is in the area. Maria and Terry case out their compound disguised as a rich widow and her driver. Realizing that the poor, pasty Backus and his Laurel and Hardy-esque goons will be no problem, the gals stage a midnight raid that would embarrass The Three Stooges with its slap-stick incompetence. In fact, the sight of the obviously frail Thurston Howell III screaming orders and having a bowl of gumbo dropped on his head by Terry ("This turkey's mine!" she rages) is rather sad.

OK, the van's ready and the girls have enough ammo to throw a NRA Tupperware party, so our heroines put on their low-cut, spandex jumpsuits and high-heeled boots and prepare to give those illegal drug processing baddies a hit in the hinder they will never forget. You go, girls!

First, April April and Keiko cut through the plant's barb wire fencing and kick a couple of guards in the crotch.

Next, Maria approaches the guards at the front gate, claiming she broke her shoe. She also punches them with her brass knuckles and sprays them with mace.

Then, Michelle, Elaine and Terry burst in in their souped-up van, firing their turret gun.

"Hell Hath No Fury Like A Super Model With A Shot Gun": Maria takes aim at some baddies.

As the flunkies at the processing plant flail their arms and race around like penguins trying to fly, Terry hops on her motorcycle and begins lobbing hand grenades. April and Keiko, meanwhile, are busy dumping the drugs down the chimney of another building as explosions and gunfire consume the surrounding area.

Last but not least, April and Keiko jump from the roof of a building into the van. As the gals drive away, the illegal drug processing plant is a smoldering ruin and its employees are either dazed or dead.

You go, girls!

Our heroines need a break, so they stop off at a near-by water fall. Stripped down to their skivvies, the gals splash and simper over a job well done.

Unfortunately, the success of "the Seven"s maiden voyage into vigilante justice upsets drug king-pin Peter Lawford; it was his stash, after all. Sitting poolside at his mansion in a gated community, the obviously stewed Lawford slurs abuse at Jack Palance.

Teen Trish (Liza Greer) wonders how she can get out of this bad movie and into a good one.

"Control, baby," Lawford blathers, "If we don't control them, we will be controlled."

Palance takes this tongue lashing in stride; after all, in a few years "Ripley's Believe It Or Not!" and "City Slickers" will revive his career and save him from the indignity of appearing in flicks like "Angel's Revenge". For the time being, however, Jack agrees to track down the avenging angels and end their anti-drug meddling for good.

Will the "Angels" carry out another daring drug raid? Will street pusher Sticks get his comeuppance? Will Peter Lawford sober up? Will any of "the Seven" learn about the benefits of a jogging bras?

The answers to those queries are: "yes", "and how", "unfortunately, no" and "of course not." However, viewers will be happy to learn that Trish does finally make it into "the Seven", even though it nearly costs her her life--but not really. I don't want to unload any spoilers, but it's nothing fatal.

Of course, "Angel's Revenge" was just one of several productions that sought to copy/cash in the "Charlie's Angels" format. "Flying High" (1978) was a TV program dedicated to the jet set lives of flight attendants working for fictional Sun Airlines. "The American Girls" (also from 1978) was about two female reporters who traveled the country in a special van reporting stories for a "60 Minutes" type news show. Then there was "Velvet" from 1984, where a crack female team of international crime fighters disguise themselves as aerobic instructors. Honest. However, my favorite "Charlie's Angels" rip-off is "Ebony, Ivory and Jade" (1979). This one featured Bert Convey (best remembered as the host of "Tattletales") as a former Las Vegas tennis-pro-turned night club singer named Mike Jade who moonlights as a private eye. He solves crimes aided by his back-up dancer/singers Ebony and Ivory.

Where "Angels" go, trouble follows...for bad guys.

All things considered, "Angel's Revenge" is not be the only low rent "Charlie's Angels" knock-off featuring bad acting and bad hair, but it is the worst. That distinction is even more impressive when one considers how truly awful "Charlie's Angel's" is. Wherever he is, I hope director Greydon Clark (who's other credits include "Joysticks" and "Satan's Cheerleaders") is savoring his triumph.

Therefore, movie lovers, please always remember that stupid is as stupid does and to SAVE THE MOVIES.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Without A Wing Or A Prayer: "Ator, The Fighting Eagle"

He's ripped! He's ready! He's ridiculous! Miles O'Keeffe in his greatest(?) role.

Happy Spring, movie lovers.

Do you know when you've hit Junk Cinema pay-dirt? When the flick you're watching contains the following:

1) A big, beefy bald villain who loves to have spiders crawl all over him.

2) The movie's hero is Miles O'Keeffe, the poor, unfortunate soul who played the speechless Tarzan opposite Bo Derek in "Tarzan, The Ape Man"(1981).

3) An extra exclaims at one point, "The ground is trembling like a virgin drawn to the nuptial bed!"

"Can I get an amen, somebody?": The High Priest of the Spider God cult rallies his troops.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Ator, The Flying Eagle", a dumber-than-dirt "sword and sandals" epic from Italy, circa 1982.

Made in hopes of cashing in on the success of "Conan the Barbarian", "Ator, The Fighting Eagle" begins, as all mystical fantasy mush must, in a far away land. The average citizens toil under the yoke of "The Spider God"cult, whom the prophets say will rule for a thousand years. After that, an avenger will come forth to challenge their rule, inspiring the people to rise up and declare their freedom...No. That's not right. The Spider God cult will reign for a thousand years and then an avenger named Turren will rise up to challenge their rule..and promptly die. However, even in death Turren can't be stopped because (according to the narrator) "he (will) cast his seed upon the wind"(eww) which will allow some lucky gal to bear Turren's son. The tot will be named Ator and he will "bear the mark of Turren", which will be proof of his destiny to destroy the Spider God cult.

No, wait, forgive me, that's still not quite right. Turren does indeed "cast his seed upon the wind" (eww). And an unnamed village maiden does give birth to Ator. However, when the mid-wives notice that the bouncing baby boy bears "the mark of Turren", they don't joyously announce that their savior has arrived; instead, they head for the hills. This leaves Ator's ma rather confused and upset.

She's not the only one. Over at the palace of Dakar, the High Priest of the Spider God (played by an actor named Dakkar), a statue of a bird begins bleeding from the eye. The winds blow, the skies darken and an extra rushes in to declare, "The ground is trembling like a virgin drawn to the nuptial bed!" That can only mean one thing: the prophecy is coming true!

Refusing to have the son of Turren kick him off his spider throne, Dakar orders all baby boys and their mothers killed. As the troops merrily slaughter away, a mysterious fellow named Griba (Edmund Purdom) arrives at the hut of Ator's mom. He insists that the child be turned over to him for protection. A single parent with few options, Ator's ma agrees. Seconds later, a member of the High Priest's posse shows up and hacks off her noggin--proving the decision to hand her kid over to a complete stranger was a wise one, at least for the tot.

"Yes, Sir, That's My Baby": The infant Ator.

Well, on second thought, maybe not. Turns out Griba had no intention of raising the kid himself. Instead, he pawns baby Ator off on Bardak and Nordya, a poor couple in a poor village, who already have an infant of their own (a daughter named Sunya). To make sure nobody knows Ator's true identity, Griba rubs some powder on "the mark of Turren", making it disappear. Then he disappears for about half of the movie.

The years pass and Ator grows into the lean form of Miles O'Keeffe. He is a mighty hunter with abs of granite, buns of steel and the hair of Farrah Fawcet from "Charlie's Angel's". He's also in love...with his sister Sunya (eww) played by Ritza Brown. Current mores being what they are, Ator and Sunya can't marry, but that doesn't stop our plucky hero from broaching the subject with his dad. It's at this moment Bardak reveals to Ator that he's adopted. Overjoyed by the news--but ignoring the obvious psychological implications--Ator and Sunya marry in a goofy ceremony where they each sport floral head dresses. Then the happy couple is lead to a hut to consummate their marriage, while their fellow villagers mingle outside and cheer them on (eww).

Before the new Mr. and Mrs. so much as lock lips, the Spider God's army roars in and starts killing everybody. Turns out the High Priest of the Spider God has realized that his first mass slaughter did not kill Ator. Therefore, he orders a second mass slaughter, hoping that will finish the job. It doesn't. Ator is merely conked on the head, while his fellow villagers are toast. Meanwhile, poor Sunya is dragged off by the Spider God's soldiers, kicking and screaming all the way--and, really, who can blame her? The only wedding worse than hers was the "Red Wedding" on "Game of Thrones". I don't blame Sunya one bit for being upset.

Anyway, once Ator comes to and discovers his family dead, his bride gone and his village brunt to the ground, he puts on some furry Uggs and hits the road. Lo and behold, who should Ator meet but Griba? The mysterious mystic takes Ator under his wing and into his home. He also reveals to Ator his true destiny and begins training him in earnest to defeat the Spider God. Then, just like before, Griba disappears again, only this time he leaves Ator a special sword and shield that will allow him to kill the Spider God and rescue Sunya.

Ator's quest, however, gets off to a rocky start when's he's ambushed by a tribe of Amazons. Dragged before their Queen, Ator is poked and prodded like the prime cut of beefcake he is. The Queen then announces Ator will father the heir to their throne. She claps her hands and all interested Amazons line up to fight to the death for the privilege of being impregnated by Ator--who, after the deed is done, will be killed. The eventual winner is a sullen white-blonde archer named Roon (Sabrina Siani), who coolly announces to Ator, "Are you ready to perform the duty that is mine by right?"

Trembling like a virgin dragged to the nuptial bed, Ator prepares himself for victor Roon.

Actually, no. See, Ator explains that he's married to the love of his life and that he was on his way to rescue her (and defeat the Spider God) when he was shanghaied by her fellow Amazons. Roon could care less about Ator's sob story; however, she is interested in the treasure the Spider God has supposedly stashed in his castle. Before long, the two cut a deal: they will forget about siring the Queen's heir and give the Amazons the slip, venturing to the Spider God's castle together. Ator will save Sunya, Roon will help herself to the treasure in the Treasury. All they have to do is sneak out of the Amazon's heavily guarded encampment, traverse over uncharted territory, find food, water and shelter as needed, defeat the Spider God's troops, kill the High Priest of the Spider God cult and then off his furry, super-sized spider puppet. Should be a cinch.

As it turns out, escaping from the Amazon's encampment is a fairly easy task, thanks to a frisky bear cub (which Ator has adopted as a pet) and a tree with thick foliage. It also helps that the Amazons are really stupid (and terrible actresses). The problems begin when Roon and Ator stumble unwittingly into the clutches of an ancient Enchantress (Laura Gemser), who looks like Bangles lead singer Susanna Hoffs--only with more lip gloss and teased hair. While this hotsy-totsy traps Roon in a cave, she lures Ator into her boudoir with visions of Sunya. The Enchantress then slips him a Mickey and pants, "You will be mine until you have no strength left to gratify me." While Roon is busy digging herself out of the cave (with help from the bear cub), Ator and the Enchantress get busy, too ("Your touch is ecstasy," moans Ator). Taking a breather, the Enchantress shows Ator her pet owl. She explains he was "once a prince" who dared "opposed my will" so she "transformed him into an owl who has to stay upon this perch." Ator, however, is more interested in a huge mirror that is covered by heavy cloth. The Enchantress promptly orders him to never touch it. That said, they head back to bed for more whoopski.

Roon breaks free and locates Ator and the Enchantress. Helped once more by the bear cub, Roon distracts the evil one and shoots an arrow into her cave. By doing so, she uncovers the magic mirror. The Enchantress gets a good look at herself and is instantly transformed into an ugly hag. Ator snaps out of his drugged stupor and runs away to safety. The Enchantress, however, is really mad and screams, "I will be avenged!" I bet the owl (who was once a prince) is happy the Enchantress got her comeuppance, even if his situation hasn't improved.

Finally, Ator and Roon arrive at The Spider God's castle. Even though there are only two of them, our plucky duo manages to slay all the guards and sneak into the castle. Perhaps Ator's special sword and shield has something to do with that. While Roon is checking out the treasure in the Treasury, Ator comes face to face with the High Priest of the Spider God. They tussle a bit and Ator defeats him soundly. Then our hero hears Sunya shrieking like a dental drill, this time for real. Turns out the poor gal is tied to a giant spider web (yes, you read that right; she's tied to a spider's web. Wouldn't it be more logical for her to be stuck in the giant web, since spider webs are suppose to be sticky?). While Ator rushes to cut his bride free, who should show up but Griba--only this time, the mysterious mystic reveals his true colors. See, he was only pretending to protect and nurture Ator. What Griba really wanted was for Ator to kill the High Priest of the Spider God he could regain is his post as the High Priest of the Spider God Cult! The fiend!

While Ator and Griba duke it out, a giant spider puppet ambles on screen, causing Sunya to shriek even more. Finally, after a round of spirited sword fighting, Ator pushes Griba into the huge spider, who promptly bites his head off. Ator unties Sunya and they run away.

"Do you get my point?": Griba surprises Ator and Sunya.

Of course, "Ator, The Fighting Eagle" isn't over yet. The High Priest of the Spider God cult may be dead, but its super-sized spider mascot is very much alive. While Sunya watches from a safe distance, Ator--shield and sword at the ready--approaches the fearsome beastie. He takes several broad swipes at the critter, which wiggles and jiggles like a furry bowl of Jello. Then our hero plunges his sword into the spider's head/heart/stomach with a manly thrust. The spider collapses in a heap, simultaneously gushing red Kool-Aid, which splash all over Ator's Ugg boots (eww). However, that is a small price to pay for defeating an evil that terrorized people for a thousand years. Besides, Ator can probably find a new pair of Uggs on real fast.

Oh, by the way, Roon is dead, having been ambushed by guards while looting the Spider God's Treasury. So what.

When we next see them, Sunya and Ator are hand in hand, skipping merrily in a spring meadow dotted with flowers. They have every reason to celebrate, of course. The Spider God Cult is no more. The High Priest is dead and so is that spider mascot. Come to think of it, Sunya and Ator's parents are dead, too. And so are their friends. And Roon. They have no money. Their village has been burnt to the ground. An Enchantress has sworn to avenge herself on Ator for turning her into a hag. And somewhere out there is a tribe of Amazons spitting mad that their designated baby daddy gave them the slip. 

Hey, what are these two so happy about?! Their lives haven't improved at all! In fact, things have gotten worse!

Oh, yeah, the movie's over. Never mind.

Flower Power: Not really brother-and sister Sunya and Ator are now husband-and wife.

When a movie is as delightfully dense as "Ator, The Fighting Eagle", convention film analysis is beside the point. Therefore, lets focus instead on several key elements that helped make "Ator, The Fighting Eagle" the Junk Cinema messterpiece it is.

1) Despite its prominence in the flick's title, eagles are nowhere to be found in the movie. Spiders, yes. An owl (that use to be a prince). A tiny bear cub (who easily out-acted the human cast). Even a dog shows up. But no eagles. Go figure.

2) The flick's villain was a rather strange fellow, don't you think? Although he held the position of High Priest of the Spider God cult, he seemed more interested in frolicking with his pet spiders than over-seeing the organization he was in charge of. He presided over no meetings, passed no laws, didn't comment on cult doctrine and screwed up the execution of his rival twice. How did Dakar get this job? And how did he manage to keep it?

3) Twice in "Ator, The Fighting Eagle" Ator is forced to be a sex slave against his will. Was this because the film's producers wanted to reverse the tried fantasy movie trope of female characters constantly being forced into sexual servitude against their will? Or did the producers think the audience would get a kick out of seeing big, buff Ator at the mercy of a bunch of girls?

4) Pauline Kael once said the only flair in Ali McGraw's acting was in her nostrils. Poor Miles O'Keeffe can't even claim that. Despite his killer cheekbones and lean torso, Miles has all the screen presence of a department store dummy. He has the acting talent of a department store dummy, too. Movie heroes must have intelligence and personality. Think Russell Crowe in "Gladiator". Think Kirk Douglas in "Spartacus". Think Sigourney Weaver in "Aliens". Miles is just an empty vessel in contrast.

Miles O'Keeffe defends himself against the pointed barbs of film critics.

So why was he hired for all three "Ator" movies? Were the producers gluttons for punishment? Did Miles agree to work for cheap? Was the whole enterprise just a tax write-off? The world may never know.

5) The only decent plot twist in this movie was Griba turning out to be a secret baddie. I did not see that coming. So, half a point for team Ator.

I like to call bad movies "success stories in reverse." It's their failures we love, not their triumphs. If you want to watch an inspiring epic about a guy challenging an evil power, watch "Spartacus."

However, if you want to watch a semi-dubbed Italian rip-off of "Conan the Barbarian" complete with a himbo lead, a bleached-blond side-kick and a passel of "blind craftsmen" who have wet paper bags stuck to their eyes, boy, do I have a movie for you!

Until next time, movie lovers, please remember that a full loin cloth does not a movie hero make, and help me SAVE THE MOVIES!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Bette Davis, Susan Hayward And Joey Heatherton All Wonder "Where Love Has Gone"

"The Three Stooges" Meets "Family Affair": Mike "Mannix" Connors, Joey Heatherton and Susan Hayward.

Greetings, movie lovers.

Lana Turner was a glamorous Hollywood star as famous for her tumultuous love-life as she was for her close fitting sweaters--it couldn't have been for her acting.

However, in 1958, Turner was involved in a series of events that could have easily doubled as the plot of her latest potboiler.

One evening, Lana's teenage daughter over heard her mother arguing with her latest beau, underworld fixture Johnny Stompanado. When Stompanado threatened to kill Turner, Cheryl Crane (Turner's daughter) got a kitchen knife and raced to her mother's room. Stompanado, who had a violent temper, ran into the knife and died instantly. A jury later that ruled Stompanado's death was "justifiable homicide" and sent Crane (who was 15 at the time) to juvenile hall for treatment.

The story made headlines around the world, becoming one of Hollywood's best-known scandals. The Turner/Stompanado saga would inspire trash-master novelist Harold Robbins to write Where Love Has Gone, a trashy rehash of the whole sordid mess. Robbins' trashy novel was then made into an equally trashy movie called (what else?) "Where Love Has Gone"(1964)--which also happens to be our featured flick. What a coincidence!?

Valerie Hayden Miller screams as her latest boytoy is cut down in his prime.

While Jack Cassidy croons the Oscar nominated(?!) titled tune, "Where Love Has Gone" opens to panoramic shots of San Francisco before all those nutty hippies showed up. The title tune done, we swoop into an artist's studio where Susan Hayward is screaming "NO!" as Joey Heatherton scowls and swings a chisel. An unidentified male extra goes "ACK!" and falls to the ground with a loud thud as the screen goes dark...

When the lights come back on, we are in the midst of a city planning meeting in Phoenix, Arizona. Luke Miller (Mike "Mannix" Connors) is about to land a major government contract to build affordable houses. Everyone, including the mayor, appears to be delighted with the project. Suddenly a secretary buzzes in with a long-distance phone call for Luke. As he listens on his extension, his eyes glaze over and his jaw slackens. Without a word, Luke rushes out of the conference room, with his business partner close at his heels.

"Luke!" his partner sputters. "Walking out on the mayor is something you just can't do..."

"My daughter just killed a man," Luke tells him, slightly dazed.

"Your daughter?!" his colleague gasps. "I didn't even know you had a daughter!"

 "You want teeth gritting? I'll show you teeth gritting!": Joey Heatherton as Danny Miller.

Well, he does. Her name is Danielle (Danny) and she's played by Joey Heatherton in a mousy brown bouffant that must be crushing her skull. Danny is all pouty and sullen and she wails "Daddy!" about 10,000 times in the course of this flick. No wonder Luke kept quiet about her.

Anyway, off Luke darts to San Fran, where hot-shot, money-bags lawyer Gordon explains what led to Danny's arrest. The "Reader's Digest" version? Danny overheard her mother Valerie (Hayward), a socialite/sculptor and Luke's ex-wife, having a fight with her "business manager" Rick. In reality, Rick was just the latest in a long line of  Valerie's live-in cuddlemates. As lawyer Gordon explained it, poor Rick "knew nothing about double entry book-keeping, but he was a pro at double entry housekeeping." Trying to defend her mother, Danny picked up a chisel, "took a violent swing" and "hit a home run." Rick lived only "three minutes--painfully" before expiring.

Luke and Gordon are expected at the home of Mrs. Gerald Hayden, Danny's granny and Luke's ex-mother-in-law. As played by Bette Davis, Mrs. Hayden (we are never told her first name) is a cross between Barbara Bush, Cruella Deville and Satan, a high society Grande Dame who enunciates perfectly while biting off the heads of those around her.

"It is unthinkable that such a thing could happen in the Hayden family!" Mrs. Hayden complains while daintily sipping from a china tea cup. "To have one hundred years of social standing brought to Earth in a (she searches for the right word) a mass of scattered feathers is horrifying!"  The lady sips some more tea and then declares, "Somewhere the world has lost all it's standards and all it's tastes!"

Luke, lawyer Gordon and Mrs. Hayden all await the arrival of Danny's mother (and Luke's ex-wife), Valerie (Susan Hayward at her snarliest). It's clear all the adults hate each other.

The supremely self-satisfied and evil puppet master that is Mrs. Gerald Miller (Bette Davis, who else?).

"And all the birds come home to roost," sighs Valerie.

"I was invited in to help do the family dirty laundry," Luke snaps back

"And why not?" his ex-wife rejoins, "since so much of it is yours."

Of course, it wasn't always like this. Once upon a time, Luke and Valerie loved each other very, very much. Unfortunately, their union could not withstand the combination of Mrs. Hayden's meddling and their own considerable short-comings. An evil puppet master who has never allowed Valerie to live her own life, Mrs. Hayden denied her daughter the hugs she craved growing up, yet made pay-offs to ensure Valerie won a prestigious art award. Later, Mrs. Hayden hand-picked Valerie's future husband (Medal of Honor winner Luke) so convinced was she that her daughter was incapable of making a socially acceptable match. When Mrs. Hayden dares to remind Valerie of all the sacrifices she's made on her behalf as a mother, Hayward snarls, "You were never a mother! You were just a woman who had a daughter! You never loved me! You ruled me!"

Adding to Mrs. Hayden's obsessive interference were the "issues" our happy couple each dragged into their union--resulting in catastrophe all around.

Mike and Valerie enjoy a quiet moment in their otherwise stormy marriage.

 Valerie's "issue" is that she's what I call a "Revenge Slut". See, because she was disciplined and drilled so harshly by her ma, Valerie became desperate for physical affection. Once she hit her teens, Valerie started hitting the sheets with anything in pants, if you get my drift. Her promiscuity upset the socially-obsessed Mrs. Hayden, who was less concerned about her daughter, say, picking up an STD (or getting an ill timed bun in her oven) than seeing her banned from the drawing rooms of the elite.

 Meanwhile, Valerie quickly realized that being an easy lay not only got her the affection she was so starved for, it was a great way--perhaps the only way--to stand up to her ma (and drive her crazy, too).

"You have devoted your life to mud and filth," Mrs. Hayden declares at one point.

"Only to get back at you," Valerie replies.

See what I mean?

"I can't hear you! La, la la!": Valerie does her best to tone out her hectoring mom.

Luke's "issue"  is alcohol. Lots of it. See, after the war, Luke planned on going into the booming building market. However, when he married Valerie, Mrs. Hayden was determined that her son-in-law would accept the son-in-law job she had lined up for him at Hayden Industries. Luke tried to strike out on his own, but Mrs. Hayden made sure every bank and financial institution in the world would not give him a chance. Dejected and depressed, Luke agrees to accept his token position at Hayden Industries, but just for a little while. Sadly, as his job required nothing more of him than to drink with clients, Luke quickly turns into a wino. Her hubby's drinking upsets Valerie, especially when Luke repeatedly passes out at posh country clubs while she's stuck at home with their kid. (Did I forget to mention that Luke and Valerie had a baby? They did. Except for her christening, the tyke totally disappears until she morphs into Joey Heatherton.)

Fed up with monogamy and seeing Luke spike his orange juice with vodka, Valerie decides to resume her hectic pre-marital social life of sleeping around. When Luke stumbles home to find Valerie in the company of one of her male models, he screams, "You're not a woman! You're a disease!" Valerie, meanwhile, takes the time to call her husband "a kept man!" and a lush. After one too many of these nasty exchanges, Mrs. Hayden demands Valerie divorce Luke--which she does, because, well, Mrs. Hayden always get what she wants (and so does Bette Davis).

All of this, of course, is told in flashback. When the movie returns to the present day, the adults continue to bicker and bitch over who is really responsible for Danny killing Rick. Was it Luke, who lost his visitation rights because of his excessive drinking? Was it Valerie, who gave her daughter every material possession imaginable, but not the time and attention she really needed? Was it Rick, who Danny claims was threatening her mother--and possibly having an affair Danny as well? Or was it Mrs. Hayden, who had to have everybody in her iron grip at all times?

Paging Dr. Phil! STAT!

"Where Love Has Gone" ends in a big operatic showdown, where Luke accuses Valerie of trying to hide Rick's under-age affair with Danny ("You knew they were making love!") and Valerie screaming at her mother ("Would you just shut-up for once!") when Mrs. Hayden is awarded custody of Danny. Meanwhile, Danny wails "Please, mother, no!" when Valerie decides the court must finally hear the truth: Rick wasn't threatening her that fatal night. And, no, Rick and Danny were never having an affair. Instead, Danny had an unrequited crush on Rick, nothing more. She did, however, view him as a father replacement for the always absent Luke. When she learned her mother and Rick had decided to get married, the teen went ballistic, believing Valerie had yet again stolen another father from her. So as Danny grabbed a chisel, Valerie declared, "Rick stepped in front of me and got what I should have gotten! Because Danny was trying to kill me!"

"You are hereby charged with Overacting, Excessive Eye-Rolling and Shrieking Without A License": A stunned Valerie listens the court's decision.

Shock, gasp, horror all around.

Of course, it ain't over yet. After her courtroom outburst, Valerie races home. She runs pell-mell into her San Fran mansion, stopping long enough to slash her mother's portrait (which looked like it came straight off the set of "Night Gallery") and stab herself with a chisel. Valerie goes "Ack!" and promptly drops dead.

"Valerie was destined for tragedy," Mrs. Gerald Hayden shrugs.

 Gee, thanks, mom.

"Where Love Has Gone", meanwhile, was destined to become part of Harold Robbins' big screen Troika of Trash. Along with "The Carpetbaggers" and "The Adventurers", this soapy stew of high society, nymphomania, marathon drinking, parental neglect and bad seed kids allowed movie-goers an inside view of the Rotten Rich, while also encouraging them to feel morally outraged and/or superior at the same time. In this way, Robbins was no different than Cecil B. DeMille, who made all those puffed-up religious epics like "The Sign of The Cross" and "The Ten Commandments", which were jam-packed with sex, skimpy costumes, violence and naughty nobles. All that pagan hanky-panky, however, was deemed necessary to show how virtue triumphed over vice--at least according to C.B., anyway.

"When will this move be over?": Bette Davis struggles to keep her composure--and her sanity.

Of course, director Edward Dymtryk had none of C.B.'s lofty goals. "Where Love Has Gone" was promoted as an all-out trash wallow--and proud of it. "The explosive story of the violent world where a mother and her teenage daughter compete for the same lover!," the ads screamed. "Where Love Has Gone' goes where no motion picture has dared go before!" Adding to the P.R. mix was the Lana Turner/Johnny Stompanado angle. In fact, memories of that scandal were still so fresh that, at the flick's release, some critics congratulated the producers for not offering Lana the lead role.

Unfortunately, it was Oscar winner Susan Hayward who had that dubious honor. Never an actress known for her subtlety, Hayward portrays Valerie like a snorting dragon, barging into scenes and screaming her lines as if she was trying to yell over a wind machine. Although fairness, Hayward does have some peachy lines to shriek. When Luke tries to force himself on her, Valerie growls, "Take your rights! I want you to! Only this time don't be juvenile! You're not the first today! I'm just getting warmed up!" (He then calls his wife "a rich hooker!"). After Luke insists he doesn't drink that much, Valerie snaps back, "You can't wait for me to leave the room so you can hit the vodka!" However, my favorite line of Hayward's occurs when Mrs. Hayden and Valerie are arguing about Valerie's lack of morals. "You have made it publicly obvious that you have only one concept of love!" Mrs. Hayden rails. "A vile and sinful one!" To which Valerie snarls, "When you're dying of thirst, you'll drink from a mud hole!"

You go, girl!

 Hayward's snarly, fire-breathing performance in "Where Love Has Gone" is in many ways a dress rehearsal for her snarly, fire-breathing performance as Broadway terror Helen Lawson in "Valley of the Dolls." In both films, Hayward played women obsessed with their work. In both films, her character snacked on men like they were grapes. In action, both characters resembled a ravenous Tasmanian Devil devouring a wildebeest. And for their co-stars, it meant little or no scenery to chew for themselves. No wonder Joey Heatherton spends all her time in this movie pouting and whining.

Bette Davis, of course, was no slouch in the scenery chewing department, either--and wasn't about to let Susan Hayward upstage her. As Mrs. Gerald Hayden, Davis wields her tongue like a machete, swiftly dicing through co-stars like they were jungle weeds blocking her path. When Valerie's agent Deforest Kelly (of "Star Trek" fame) asks if Mrs. Hayden ever thought of letting her daughter live her own life, Davis replies, "Only in a moment of weakness." After Valerie bristles when she learns her mother has begun stage-managing her divorce from Luke, Mrs. Hayden explains that someone had to do something because, after all, "the history of your life has been one of indecision, petulance and deceit." Furthermore, Mrs. Hayden has no problem reminding her kid how lucky she was to be born into the illustrious Hayden family: "My dear, you inherited social position, wealth and a great talent. Anytime you would like me to take them back, just let me know."

"Take that! And that! And that!": Susan Hayward demonstrates how movie critics will react to "Where Love Has Gone".


So what is the moral of this story, kiddies?

Well, because "Where Love Has Gone" is based on a Harold Robbins novel, there is no moral. The people in Harold Robbins' novels--even if they are based on real folks--are a miserable lot of dumb, rich, socially prominent sex fiends with bad parents, bad habits, bad children and bad marriages who all come to bad ends. They dress nice, they have nice things, but they are bad to the bone. Happiness and spiritual fulfillment are always out of their reach. It may be a horrible way to live, but it often makes for wonderfully ridiculous movies where "over the top" is never an option.

Therefore, movie lovers, remember to hug your kids, cut back on the sauce and keep your in-laws at arms length. And of course, SAVE THE MOVIES!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Junk Cinema Salutes MaryTyler Moore And Her Nuttiest Role Ever

Opposites who were NEVER meant to attract: Dr. Elvis Presley and undercover nun Mary Tyler Moore.

Hello, movie lovers, wherever you are.

Boy, 2017 has gotten off to an...painful start, hasn't it? Travel bans that aren't "bans", "alternative facts" that aren't facts and a US president picking a fight with...Australia?!

Then came the sad news news that actress Mary Tyler Moore had passed away at age 80.

For millions, Moore will be remembered for two classic roles: as the perky yet perceptive Laura Petrie on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and the unflappable Mary Richards on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

MTM also triumphed on Broadway and earned an Oscar nomination for "Ordinary People" in 1980. This was one talented lady and she will be sorely missed.

"Trust me, I'm a doctor": Dr. Elvis meets with a patient.

However, for Junk Cinema Lovers, any reflection on Moore's memory must include her participation in one of the wackiest, nuttiest, most godawful movies EVER MADE: 1969's "A Change of Habit", where Mary played--hold on to your knickers!--an UNDERCOVER NUN working alongside Dr. Elvis Presley "In The Ghetto."

"A Change of Habit" is, in fact, one of the most (dis)honored flicks of all time--which has assured its place as one of the glittering gems in the Junk Cinema Tiara of Trash.

Consider this: the tomes Bad Movies We Love, Bad TV (which featured "A Change of Habit" in its bad movies "Bonus Section"), The Worst Movies Of All Time (which declared our featured flick to be "The Worst Elvis Presley Movie of All Time") and Video Hound's Cult Flicks and Trash Pics all featured pithy peons to this film's unintentional, unrelenting stupidity.

The casting of Moore as the conflicted nun, meanwhile, earned the actress "The Ecclesiastical Award For The Worst Performance By An Actor Or Actress As A Clergyman Or Nun" in The Golden Turkey Awards by the Brothers Medved. The contenders Moore bested to get this golden gobbler included Pat Boone in "The Cross and the Switchblade" (1970), Mickey Rooney in "The Twinkle in God's Eye" (1955), Frank Sinatra (!) in "The Miracles of the Bells" (1948) and Clark Gable (The "King" of Hollywood) as a minister who scandalizes his flock by falling in love with a carny in "Polly of the Circus" (1932).


"The Singing Nun": The relationship between Elvis and MTM is always out of tune.

And that's not all! The book Starring John Wayne As Genghis Khan! Hollywood's All-Time Worst Casting Blunders featured Moore in its "Out Of Their League" chapter alongside Diane Keaton, Bill Murry, June Allyson and other heavy hitters who took on totally nutsy roles and lived to regret it.

It's not everybody who can give an even worse performance than Elvis Presley in an Elvis Presley movie. Hats off to Mary Tyler Moore for doing the impossible.

The non-denominational fun in "A Change of Habit" begins when Sister Michelle (MTM) is given permission by her order to leave her convent and go out into the world to serve God's people where they live. Joining her will be Sisters Irene (Barbara McNair) and Barbara (Jane Elliot). However, because the church wants the gals to be accepted as regular folks and not holier-than-thou prissy-pants, the nuns will reveal their true identities to no one and dress like regular Janes.

So off the Sisters troop to the nearest department store, where they throw off their nun's habits and put on stockings, dresses and heels as the camera records every magic moment of their "transformation." If you think that sounds like a creepy strip show, that's because it is a creepy strip show.

Freshly dressed in their mod threads, the nuns arrive at their new lodgings in a run-down neighborhood filled with the least threatening gang members, hookers, junkies and wayward teens you're ever likely to meet. While Sister Irene remarks that she said "a thousand Hail Marys to get out of a neighborhood just like this" while growing up, Sister Michelle takes a more upbeat view of things. After taking a look at their depressing hovel, she picks up a broom and chirps, "Let's get this place next to godliness!"

 "Dazed and Confused": Jane Elliot, MTM and Barbara McNair report for duty.

Housekeeping done, the Sisters present themselves to Dr. John Carpenter, played by Elvis Presley and his sexy sideburns. He runs the local free clinic and the trio have been assigned to work for him. However, someone failed to notify the good doctor of their upcoming arrival, because Elvis assumes they are "Park Avenue types" looking for (gasp!) abortions.

"All three of you?" Elvis marvels. "Just out of curiosity, was it the same guy?"

The nuns struggle to convince Elvis that they are the real deal, causing him to exclaim, "The last three nurses they sent me couldn't take it. Two of them got raped--one even against her will." (Boo.) When MTM claims she and her colleagues "are very hard nosed", Elvis pushes on the center of her nose and says "Cute, but not hard enough."

Eventually these wacky misunderstandings get ironed out and the un-nuns plunge into their work at the free clinic. They help Dr. Elvis set the broken arm of a goofy grinning kid on "H" (that's heroin, by the way), provide speech lessons and even manage to cure an autistic child using Primal Scream Therapy. Sister Michelle and Elvis, meanwhile, begin to spend a lot of time together: they jog in the park, play touch football, treat disadvantaged kids to ice cream cones and visit the Merry-Go-Round. Soon enough, Elvis is making goo-goo eyes at MTM, something that happens quite a bit in movies--or haven't you seen "The Sound of Music", "The Sea Wife", "The Nun's Story" or "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison"?

Torn between her love for God and her love for Elvis, what will MTM do? "A Change of Habit" is a little fuzzy on this matter. However, when Sister Michelle shows up at the folk rock mass she and Elvis had organized and sees the Man from Memphis leading the congregation in a rousing rendition of "Let Us Pray" (and notices that one of the neighborhood tramps is wearing a prim dress and hat), it's clear that Elvis is edging out Jesus in MTM's heart.

"Give Me That Old Time Religion": Dr. Elvis rocks the house of the Lord.

What is it makes MTM's performance as Sister Michelle so bad? Could it be the sheer nuttiness of the situation? Could it be the unrealistic setting and plot contrivances? Could it be the desperate-to-seem-hip-and-happening dialog the cast is force to spew? Could it be that MTM had no chemistry with leading man Elvis and thus their friendship/romance was just not possible, yet alone not believable? Could it be that MTM was directed to play Sister Michelle as if Laura Pertrie had taken holy orders?

Junk Cinema Lovers could debate this issue until the cows come home, but it all boils down to this: MTM was badly miscast, the script was awful, her co-star was equally miscast and not even the direct intervention of the All Mighty could have saved this movie. To create a truly memorable Junk Cinema Jewel, all the right talent and anti-talents have to be in place--and in "A Change of Habit", they were. In short, MTM was given a golden opportunity to disgrace herself and she did. You go, girl!

As awful MTM was, though, she survived this cinematic stinker to triumph in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" a year later. She would go on to win other awards and critical raves for her work in both comedies and dramas, proving she had the talent and guts to overcome what could have been a career ending role. Elvis, mind you, was not so lucky; "A Change of Habit" was the last film he ever made.

Therefore, for turning the world on with her smile, for showing us that TV sitcoms could be funny and well-written, for co-starring with Elvis and surviving the debacle, Mary Tyler Moore, Junk Cinema salutes you!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia...And Sam Peckinpah

Wanted for crimes against cinema: Sam Peckinpah, co-writer and director of "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia."

El Jefe (Emilio Fernandez) is a very rich, very powerful man. He is not someone to be trifled with. That is very clear when he summons his young daughter before him.

The girl (who is never named) is preggers. Surrounded by family, associates, servants, flunkies and even members of the clergy, El Jefe asks his daughter, "Who is the father?"

Out of fear or defiance, she refuses to give him the man's name. El Jefe nods his head. One of his flunkies walks up and rips open the girl's blouse. She still refuses to divulge the father's name. El Jefe nods his head again. Another flunky walks up to the girl and breaks her arm, snapping it in two like a bread-stick. This time, she collapses in an agonized heap and gasps, "Alfredo Garcia!"

El Jefe is stunned. "He was like a son to me," he replies. Then El Jefe announces he will give one million dollars to whoever "brings me the head of Alfredo Garcia."

Seconds later, dozens of men scatter on foot, horse-back, motorcycle, car and air plane to track down Alfredo Garcia and relieve him of his precious noggin.

"Once I Had A Secret Love...": El Jefe's pregnant daughter is brought before him.

Welcome, movie lovers, to the world of tough guy director Sam Peckinpah and his "modern day western" "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia" (1974).

In the world according to Sam, cars slam into each other in super slow motion. Blood squirts out of people like grape jelly. When someone is shot, it takes them hours to fall to the ground, as if they existed in zero gravity. When characters talk, they...use...many...many...many...pauses. This is a harsh and unforgiving place and the movies Sam churned out were harsh and unforgiving, too.

They also sucked.

On toast.

"We are not amused": El Jefe.

And "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia" may be the suckiest of them all.

Now, I know this movie has it's fans. One of them was the late, great Roger Ebert, who called "Alfredo Garcia" a "bizarre masterpiece." I agree that the movie is bizarre, but "masterpiece" is a bit much. MESSterpiece is more accurate. I don't want to burst anyone's bubble or appear "uncool", but I disagree with Mr. Ebert's assessment AND with the critical plaudits "AG" has earned over the years on its way to becoming a "cult classic."

If there ever was a film designed to test an audiences' patience, this is it."Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia" moves at the pace of a drugged Siberian Yak. It appears to have been photographed through the front windshield of a 1967 Rambler that hadn't been washed in months. It has more pauses than a Harold Pinter play. The main characters are cruel, violent, hateful individuals who make certain gym teachers I had seem kind and benevolent in comparison. This movie dares you to watch it--and once you have, you can practically hear director Sam Peckinpah snickering, "Suckers!" from the great beyond.

We will continue the discussion of "AG"s considerable demerits at a later time. For now, let's return to the plot, OK?

After El Jefe issues his command, two contract killers (Robert Webber and Gig Young) wander into a dive bar/bordello in a dead-end town. There they find Bennie (Warren Oates), an American expat/loser playing piano. The gentleman (who are also a couple) flash some bills and ask Bennie if he has seen Alfredo Garcia recently. He says no. The gangsters leave info about where they can be found if the elusive Mr. Garcia does show up.

 Robert Webber and Gig Young are just two of the no-good-nicks searching for Alfredo Garcia.

Bennie is intrigued by the gangsters and their quest. But he wasn't completely honest with them. It turns out that Bennie knows more about Alfredo Garcia than he let on. See, Bennie has an off-and-on "thing" with a sad-eyed hooker named Elita (Isela Vega). She was deeply in love with Alfredo at one time, but he had "commitment issues" and kept sleeping with other women. Bennie bets that Elita has the inside scoop about Alfredo.

Indeed she does, but the news isn't good: Alfredo Garcia is dead, the victim of a drunk driving accident. This doesn't bother Bennie one bit. Why? Because Bennie has a plan. He will track down Alfredo's grave, dig up the body and chop off Alfredo's noggin. It's not like he needs it anymore, right? Then he will deliver the head to El Jefe and collect the million bucks. What could possibly go wrong? The plan is fool-proof!

However, when Elita expresses misgivings about the project, Bennie snarls, "He's dead! Shut up!" A little while later, he points out, "The church cuts off the feet, fingers and any other god-damned thing from the saints, don't they? Now Alfredo is our savior--he's the saint of money! And I'm going to borrow his head!"

Before Bennie does, he and Elita decide to go on a picnic. They find a nice secluded spot under a large, shady tree. Bennie plays the guitar. Elita rests her head in his lap. The two talk about getting married. This romantic interlude is suddenly interrupted when two bikers roar up. One of these gents is played by actor/singer/songwriter/Rhodes Scholar Kris Kristofferson. He grabs Elita with the clear intention of assaulting her. Bennie remains behind at the picnic site, guarded by the other biker, who helps himself to Bennie's guitar. "You guys are definitely on my shit list," Bennie scowls.

The biker and Elita face each other in a field. The biker takes out his knife and rips Elita's shirt off. She slaps his face. He does nothing. She slaps him again. The biker slaps her back. Poor Elita is resigned to what's about to happen...but nothing happens. His victim's stoicism so completely discombobulates the thug that, well, he experiences impotence. This is so embarrassing that he hangs his head in shame and wanders off.

"I Wear My Sunglasses At Night": Warren Oates is Bennie.

What happens next is also pretty discombobulating. Elita seeks out the biker/rapist and finds him sitting on the ground, ashamed of his inability to carry out his assault. How will he face his friends and family? Elita (still topless) feels sorry for the thug and--I am not making this up, in the words of Dave Barry--decides to have sex with him in order to cheer the creep up. Naturally, when Bennie finds these two rolling around in the brush, he's not happy about it and, naturally, does a very Sam Peckinpah thing: he shoots the biker and his buddy.

Putting that disturbing interlude behind them, Bennie and Elita hit the open road to find Alfred's noggin. What they don't anticipate is that A) other people have similar ambitions and B) Mr. Garcia's family, friends and neighbors are very determined that his head will remain on his shoulders, no matter what.

Of course, the more insistent Bennie is about finishing his gory chore and collecting his reward, the more bonkers he becomes and the higher the body count grows. The casualty list includes various Garcia family members, neighbors, fellow gangsters (including Webber and Young) and poor Elita. Soon it's just Bennie and the bloody, rotting head of Alfredo Garcia. Truth be told, these two unfortunates get along really well. "Have a drink Al!" Bennie declares at one point, pouring some hooch on the head. "It wasn't your fault, Al," he assures the noggin after some commotion. Every now and then, Bennie stops at gas stations and flea bag hotels to give Al a shower and change his burlap bag. I'm sure Al appreciated that.

When Bennie and his precious cargo finally arrive at El Jefe's fortified compound, everybody is celebrating the baptism of the strong man's grandson (the boy's ma, who had her arm broken by grandpa's flunkies, seems less happy). Taking leave of the party, Bennie and the young mother follow El Jefe into his panelled study. "I knew you would come," the strong man mutters, sliding a suitcase full of money at Bennie.

This the pay-off Bennie has been waiting for...and, yet, the whole thing feels kind of hollow. El Jefe seems more interested in his baby grandson than Al's head. "Throw it to the pigs," he shrugs.

"Alfredo Garcia, I presume?"

That does it. Bennie's long, long fuse finally ignites. He explains to El Jefe that lots of people died so he could bring him the head of Alfredo Garcia "and one of them was a good friend of mine!" Nobody likes it when their hard work and dedication are ignored and dismissed, and Bennie is no exception. So what does he do? Bennie whips out his gun and begins shooting. And shooting. And shooting. The body count includes El Jefe (to his daughter's satisfaction), various guards and flunkies. Possibly even some party guests. When Sam Peckinpah is behind the camera, everybody's a target.

The final death, of course, is Bennie's, who drives away as El Jefe's goons shoot the hell out of him. He'll never get a chance to spend all that loot or retire somewhere in comfort, but Bennie is beyond caring about that. He finished what he started, which is the main thing. And isn't a job well done it's own reward?

When "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia" was released in 1974, it was met with deep--although well earned--critical scorn.

"An all out preposterous horror," said Esquire magazine.

"An exercise in manic machismo so witless," charged Vincent Canby of The New York Times, "you can't believe it was made by the man who directed 'The Wild Bunch.'"

"Don't worry, Al! I'll protect you!": Bennie guards his precious cargo.

"A private bit of self-mockery," observed Time's Jay Cocks.

Meanwhile, Joy Gould Boyum of The Wall Street Journal stated, "The only kind of analysis it really invites is psychoanalysis."


Now, you might be asking yourself, "Auntie Bee! If 'Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia' is so awful, why even review it?"

Good question. Why review such an ugly, turgid, slow-moving celluloid asteroid?

Gangster Gig Young really loves his job.

I wanted to give the movie a fair chance.

When I first saw it many years ago, I hated it, but I wondered if that was because I have never been a fan of Westerns. Also, I thought maybe I was too young to appreciate Sam Peckinpah's directorial style and how revolutionary many considered it. Finally, "Alfredo Garcia" had undergone a critical "reassessment" in the ensuing years and, just maybe, with time and age, it had become a better film.

My Aunt Fanny.

"Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia" is a bad, bad, BAD movie. That's a bold statement, but I'm standing by it.

Of course, just because "Alfredo Garcia" is bad doesn't mean we can't gain some powerful insights after viewing it. Among the powerful insights "Alfred Garcia" imparts are:

 Warren Oates shows us how he was able to get through the filming of "Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia."

1) The old saying "If you are going to seek revenge, you had better dig two graves: one for your victim and one for yourself" is very true. However, in the case of "Alfredo Garcia", digging two graves wouldn't be enough; you'd need a whole graveyard.

2) When delivering a severed head, plan for any and all contingencies. Bring a cooler, plenty of ice and lots of burlap bags. You want your merchandise to be as fresh as possible.

3) Gangsters have very weird ideas about everything. They demand loyalty, yet back-stab each other all the time. They read the Bible and attend church, but think nothing of killing people or breaking their daughter's arm. They value virginity and fidelity, but only in females. They order someones head to be chopped off and then forget all about it. See? Weird.

4) We never learn a lot about Alfredo Garcia personally, but his family and friends were willing to protect his noggin at the cost of even their own lives. He must not have been such a bad egg after all.

5) If you have gone through hell and high water to bring a volatile strong man the bloody head of the guy who put a bun in his daughter's oven, don't get testy if acts less than grateful. Just take your cash and go.

"Geez, there has got to be a cash machine around here somewhere...": Bennie hits a rough patch of road.

So movie lovers, please always remember and never forget, keep your head on your shoulders and SAVE THE MOVIES.

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