Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"Dynasty"s Royal Disaster

Big hair! Big sleeves! Big mistake! The cast of "Dynasty" relocates from Denver to Moldavia, with disastrous results.

Hi ho, movie lovers.

The TV series "Dynasty" was by far the glitziest, glossiest show ever to appear on network television. Supposedly set in the worlds of high finance and oil production, it was really about the scheming and double-dealing ways of the very rich, principally the Carrington clan. And because "Dynasty" was produced by the Sultan of Schlock Aaron Spelling, everything on this show was way, way over the top. Everyone's hair was pouffed sky high; the shoulder pads gave every frock worn the wing-span of a 747; the ladies all swished around in Nolan Miller gowns, while all the gents paraded about in Nolan Miller tuxes; people traveled via jets, rolls and spiffy sports cars; and the entire cast played musical beds with friends, enemies, rivals, employees and the occasional spouse (not necessarily their own).

The main characters were patriarch Blake Carrington (John Forsythe), his devoted second wife Krystal (a pre-Yanni Linda Evans), his vengeful ex-wife Alexis Carrington Colby Dexter (camp tramp expert Joan Collins) and a rotating cast of supporting players with names like Fallon, Dex and Sammy Jo.

My favorite among the sprawling "Dynasty" cast was Amanda Carrington, the "secret", quasi-illegitimate daughter of Blake and Alexis. She was played by the frozen-faced Catherine Oxenberg, an English/Serbian blue blood whose mom was born Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia.

Despite her tony accent and exotic lineage, Oxenberg's acting skills were rather pedestrian. That was no problem on "Dynasty", where bugging one's eyes, flaring one's nostrils, tossing your head, throwing drinks in someone's face, slamming down the phone and marching off in a huff were the order of the day, not acting.

Catherine Oxenberg runs the gamut of emotions from A to B as Amanda Carrington.

As Amanda, Oxenberg changed her outfits more than her facial expressions. Her most common pose was to stare into space with the look of dull surprise. She could on certain occasions pout and even squint her eyes. Thus, for her entire stint on "Dynasty", no matter what crisis befell our heroine, Catherine displayed the emotional range of a very over-dressed crash test dummy.

True to the show's over-the-top soapy histrionics, where characters painted their rival's offices with poisoned paint and tossed each other into fish ponds, the "Dynasty" scriptwriters gave Oxenberg a suitably daffy story line. After flouncing into Denver announcing her connection to Alexis via a tell-all newspaper interview ("You little bitch!" mommy Alexis hissed before slapping her), Amanda searches for her "real" father (it's Blake, of course) and develops a fixation on mummy's latest hubby, the gravelly-voiced Dex Dexter. Dex, naturally, insists he only has eyes for Alexis. In hopes of making her step-daddy jealous, Amanda begins an on-and-off flirtation with Prince Michael of Moldavia (a real country in Eastern Europe, although for the show's purposes, it was relocated to somewhere in the Mediterranean). 

Alexis, of course, is delighted that a genuine royal is taking an interest in her daughter. Turns out Michael's pa King Galen (don't you love these names?) had a romance with Alexis years ago that his parents put the kibosh on when it got too serious.

Poor Amanda can't decide if she loves or hates Dex or if she truly loves Prince Michael or just enjoys using him to annoy Dex. In due time she hops between Michael's royal bed covers (which, we were lead to believe, were quite crowded) and even takes a shower with him. Looks like true love to me! Then at breakfast, Prince Michael lowers the boom: he's engaged to the Duchess Elena of Brana. Amanda reacts to this news in true "Dynasty" fashion: she bugs her eyes, juts out her chin and stomps off to get dressed.

What's a poor girl to do? Well, in Amanda's case, not much. It's mom Alexis who springs into action, convincing her ex-cuddlemate the king to allow Michael to marry Amanda in exchange for some hefty financial investment in Moldavia. This wheeling and dealing is interlaced with the push-me-pull-you drama between Dex, Amanda and Michael. At one point, Amanda arranges to meet Dex, where she informs him that Michael has proposed. Dex encourages Amanda to accept, which causes her to wail, "How can I when it's you I love?" The granite-faced Dex insists for the hundredth time that he loves Alexis. Amanda then scrunches up her face and screams, "I hate you!" and runs off. Of course, Amanda decides to marry the prince, but that only leads to more complications and conniptions.

"Can you pass the shampoo?" Prince Michael and Amanda enjoy a steamy moment.

Remember the Duchess of Brana? Well, no sooner has the royal wedding been announced than ex-fiance Elena begins throwing her aristocratic weight around. She insists on telling anyone who will listen that Prince Michael loves her and that Amanda isn't cut out for the royal drill. Elena even slinks into the prince's bedroom, declares her love for him and promptly strips naked. Who should suddenly stumble in but Amanda? Horrified, she pulls off her pricey engagement ring and stomps off.

Things get ironed out, after a fashion, because the show is heading for "The Moldavian Massacre", the ultimate "Dynasty" season-ending cliff-hanger. Amanda and Michael no sooner say "I do" than a platoon of commandos burst into the church and shoot up the wedding party, invited guests, dignitaries and possibly even the catering crew. Who survived? Who didn't? In those pre-Internet days, magazines, newspapers, tabloids and TV morning shows endlessly debated this state of affairs. "Dynasty"s ratings and popularity were at its peek. Unfortunately, the long awaited season premiere was a total let down. Only two cast members (Ali McGraw and Billy Campbell) and the predictable posse of the extras were offed; everybody else was just fine, thank you. That included Amanda, who had neither a hair out of place nor a smudge on her puffy gown.

Concerning "The Modavian Massacre", I have always had a few questions.

Question #1: Why wasn't the Moldavian royal wedding televised, at least in Moldavia? When the Crown Prince of Greece married heiress Marie-Chantal Miller in England, the wedding was televised in Europe and in Greece, even though the Greeks threw their royals out in 1969.

Question #2: How come "Dynasty" had Michael and Amanda have their religious wedding first and their civil wedding second? It is always the civil wedding first, and then the religious wedding the next day. Didn't the producers watch tapes of Grace Kelly's wedding?

"With this ring I thee dread..." Prince Michael and Amanda make it legal.

Question #3: How could all those commandos spray all those bullets into a church and only two people die?

Question #4: What kind of government did the revolutionaries in Moldavia want to replace the monarchy with? Communist? Socialist? A republic? A junta? Military dictatorship?

Question #5: Didn't anybody think it was a bit odd that the king's head of security was a weaselly guy named Yuri who sported a black eye-patch?

Naturally, the marriage of Michael and Amanda doesn't survive the upheaval in Moldavia and they divorced. Catherine Oxenberg didn't stay with the show much longer, leaving over a contract dispute. Although she appeared in several TV movies (including a badly received remake of "Roman Holiday") and the feature "In the Lair of the White Worm" (co-starring Hugh Grant), appearing on "Dynasty" became Catherine's best known role.

Of course, it's only in the wonderful, funderful world of Junk Cinema that a show like "Dynasty" could exist--and Catherine Oxenberg is one of the many interesting personalities you will find there. Her mom, born Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia remember, would marry four times and become engaged to Richard Burton. Catherine is also related to every royal house in Europe and can claim Catherine the Great as a relative. Where else but in Junk Cinema would a real European blue blood end up on a prime time soap opera cast as "the secret daughter" of Joan Collins (now herself a Dame) who marries and divorces a prince? In fact, Catherine would play a princess a total of four times in her career: twice as Princess Diana, once in "Roman Holiday" and then on "Dynasty". Later on, Catherine would appear in a reality show titled (what else?) "I Married a Princess".

The flag of Moldavia

Will wonders never cease?

Until next time, Save The Movies!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Enjoy This Holiday Cheese Platter Courtesy Of Candice Bergen (And Junk Cinema)

Big hair, big name: Candice Bergen in her modeling days. 

Happy holidays, movie lovers.

Before she won our hearts (and five Emmy Awards) as the take-no-prisoners TV journalist Murphy Brown, before she co-starred in the quirky drama series "Boston Legal", before she earned an Oscar nomination for her turn as a tone-deaf disco singer in "Starting Over" and before she published two best-selling memoirs (Knock Wood and A Fine Romance), Candice Bergen was one of the premiere cheese whizzes of her generation.

Starting off as the ice cold "Lakey the Lesbian" in 1966's "The Group", Edgar Bergen's little girl (and Charlie McCarthy's kid sister) accumulated an astonishing array of cinematic stinkers to her credit. Some were big budget bombs, a few were European flavored art house flops, others were just dumb duds. The net result was that before Ms. Bergen showed the world she could act, she showed the world that she couldn't...repeatedly.

Firmly enshrined now as a national treasure, let's take a long, loving look at the celluloid cheese Candice churned out over the years--a Junk Cinema rap sheet that would eventually earn her a nomination as "The Worst Actress of All Time" by the esteemed Golden Turkey Awards (fellow nominees were Vera Hruba Ralston, Maime van Doran and the eventual winner, Raquel Welch).

"The Day The Fish Came Out" (1967)-- This totally mental "satire" about missing H-bombs on an obscure Greek island featured Candice as the go-go boots-and-hot pants wearing "assistant" to a visiting archaeologist. No more than 21 or 22, Bergen is thoroughly upstaged by her wacky wardrobe and the on-going on-screen hysterics of this over-the-top oddity. Previously reviewed on this blog ("Cowabunga, Dudes! It's, Like, Nuclear Catastrophe!"), "The Day The Fish Came Out" has since become "a cult failure" and a prime example of cinematic over-indulgence on a massive scale. Bergen herself has describe her performance as "terrible."

Candice Bergen as a futuristic dental hygienist (actually, a professor's assistant) in "The Day The Fish Came Out."

"The Magus"(1968)-- Based on the novel by John Fowler and starring Michael Caine, Bergen is cast as Lily, the cuddlemate companion of puppet master Anthony Quinn. She spends the whole movie changing into weird costumes and acting even weirder. The movie also takes place on a Greek island, but that hardly matters. In its review of the flick, the New York Times opined that Candice was "not a remarkable actress." Ouch. Bergen herself called the movie "awful" and recalled, "I didn't know what to do and no one told me. I couldn't even scrape together the semblance of a performance."

"The Adventurers"(1970)--With a cast that included Ernest Borgnine, Olivia de Havilland, Fernando Rey, Charles Aznavour and the sensational newcomer Bekim Fehmiu (as the lead "Dax"), this south-of-the-border potboiler is based on the Harold Robbins trash classic. A schlockbuster of epic proportions, Bergen is cast as "poor little rich girl" Sue Ann, who is based (very unsubtly) on the much married Barbara Hutton.

A world famous but broke playboy, Dax deflowers Sue Ann on her 21rst birthday and puts a bun in her oven. The duo marry and Bergen asks her rent-a-hubby to push her on a rickety swing--with disastrous results. Sue Ann and Dax divorce and the jaded jet-setters spend the rest of the movie shedding spouses like a snake sheds skin. At one point, Bergen marries fashion designer-turned-lush Tommy Berggren, but that marriage ends when he finds Candice making out with another woman at a swanky party.  "Well," her husband shrugs, "at least we have something in common."

Candice admitted she did "The Adventurers" "for the money" adding, "Selling out wasn't as hard as I thought it would be."

Bekim Fehmiu consoles Candice Bergen about appearing in "The Adventurers": "Remember, Candy, we're getting paid."

"The Hunting Party"(1971)--Ugh. This is a very brutal, very nasty western where cattle baron Gene Hackman abuses his young wife (Bergen), various hookers and the audience.

 Outlaw Oliver Reed kidnaps Candice, believing her to be a schoolmarm. He wants her to teach him to read; she wants to escape, as well as avoid getting beaten and raped. She doesn't make it. Hubby Hackman, meanwhile, heads up a posse to track everybody down. He intends to knock-off the outlaws, of course, and his wife. Why his wife? Because Gene figures the kidnappers will have assaulted Candice and he isn't about to pass off their "little stranger" as his kid. Plus he's just mean.

It all ends, as violent nonsense like this must, with everybody dying in the dust in a hail of bullets. Off screen, Candice was bullied by co-star Reed, who was miffed she wouldn't have an affair with him. In fact, he wouldn't talk to her except when the cameras rolled. Bad form, Mr. Reed.

"Oliver's Story"(1978)-- If you thought "Love Story" was a bad movie--and it was--its totally unnecessary sequel "Oliver's Story" is even worse.

Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O'Neal) appears to be affecting a mourning even more prolonged for his wife Jenny than Queen Victoria did for Prince Albert. He mopes at work, he mopes around friends, he mopes on blind dates and he even mopes at singles bars with his father-in-law. Everybody tells him to stop moping and get on with his life, but Oliver can't stop moping. Then he meets peppy department store heiress Candice Bergen...and mopes around even more. Wasn't Candice suppose to help O'Neal move on? Guess nobody told the filmmakers. Or the cast.

Candice Bergen and Ryan O'Neal try to laugh off the rotten reviews for "Oliver's Story."

It's not often that a bad movie is preceded by a sequel that is even badder, but "Oliver's Story" pulls it off. The shame and the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of Ryan O'Neal, who gives a performance that makes Ali McGraw's obnoxious Jenny look good. Interesting tidbit: film critic Pauline Kael once said the only flair in Ali McGraw and Candice Bergen's acting "was in their nostrils."

"Hollywood Wives"(1985)-- Made during the Golden Age of TV mini-series and based on the best seller penned by the High Priestess of Potboilers (the late Jackie Collins), Candice is cast as the wife of a fading movie star. Fretting that her hubby's dwindling box office appeal will fatally impact her cushy life style, Elaine (that's her character's name) becomes a compulsive shopper to cope. She's even arrested for shoplifting! The horror, the horror.

Featuring more big hair, puffed sleeves, bugle beads and frosted eye shadow than you can shake a stick at, "Hollywood Wives" also co-starred Stephanie Powers, Suzanne Sommers (as a bimbo star who wants to be taken seriously), Roddy McDowell (as a decorator), Angie Dickinson as a big-shot agent and (say it isn't so!) the future Sir Anthony Hopkins.

"The Mayflower Madam"(1988)-- Sydney Biddles Barrow (Candice Bergen) was an upper crust lady who could trace her family back to the original passengers on the Mayflower, which should earn her the never-ending respect of right winger Ann Coulter. A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, Syd was all set for a career in high fashion...that, sadly, never materialized. Things got so bad, in fact, that she had to accept a job as the phone scheduler for a paid escort service. Eww!

Realizing she was bred for better things, Sydney decides to start her own escort service, but she'll do it with class. Is such a thing possible? Of course not!

Sisters are doin' it for themselves? High class madam Sydney Biddle Barrows teaches her "girls" how to be "real (80's) ladies".

As the woman dubbed "The Mayflower Madam" sets out to work, she recruits pre-med students and acting hopefuls into her operation--no skanky, chain-smoking, disease ridden crack whores for her! Sydney tutors them on etiquette, takes them shopping, screens her clients and always pays her taxes. Business at "Cachet" is booming and the madam rewards her employees with fun picnics (complete with balloon rides) in Central Park. Sydney is such a super boss, in fact, she even helps one hooker prepare for an important acting audition! (Needless to say, she gets the part.)

But the good times can't last. Soon the police get into the act and Sydney is busted. The uproar over her high class call girl business costs Sydney the love of her rich beau (Chris Sarandon) and her mom is drummed out of the social registrar. In real life, Sydney paid a fine and was unapologetic. The TV movie, of course, had to have Sydney suffer for her sins, which meant her fellow high society snoots gave her the cold shoulder and struck her name off their guest lists.

As Sydney, Bergen has no problem carrying off her character's upper crust poise. Unfortunately, her acting is stiff and wooden, like she didn't have time to rehearse. And her working girls are all standard-issue TV Tropes, all planning on hooking part-time until something better comes along.

"The Mayflower Madam" was Candice Bergen's final hurrah in Junk Cinema, because the next year saw the premiere of "Murphy Brown" and the rest is history. But one could argue that her years churning out cheese were what made Bergen's break-out role possible. A true late bloomer, Candice finally started acting lessons, began accepting scripts for reasons other than money or the location and realized what she did best was comedy, not drama. This hard won knowledge totally turned her career around and her status today reflects that. Candice Bergen: Junk Cinema salutes you! Or, better still, Junk Cinema: Candice Bergen salutes you!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

You Won't Believe Your Eyes...Or The Movie. Faye Dunaway Strikes Again In "The Eyes of Laura Mars"

Primal Scream Therapy? No, it's just Faye Dunaway at her most understated in "The Eyes of Laura Mars", a bonkers thriller that's a real fashion fail.

Hi keebah and hello, movie lovers.

When Faye Dunaway made "Mommie Dearest" in 1980, she dealt her career a body blow it has yet to recover from. Hard to believe that four years earlier the gal shrieking, "No wire hangers!" had won the Best Actress Oscar for "Network"--where, admittedly, Dunaway did plenty of shrieking as well. In fact, the entire cast did nothing but shriek. "Network" is one movie that did not need Dolby Surround Sound or any kind of sound system; you could hear it a mile away. But I digress...

How did such a turn-around happen? Not by accident, I assure you. Ever the perfectionist, Dunaway prepared for her over-the-top "Mommie Dearest" hysterics by performing over-the-top hysterics in "The Eyes of Laura Mars" (1978), a totally bonkers slasher flick/romance where the beleaguered heroine must fight off the horrors of a murderous stalker, deadly visions and disco music--all without mussing her hair or smearing her make-up, mind you.

Laura Mars (Dunaway) is a world famous photographer who specializes in sexy, brutal fashion photos where models in fishnets and furs punch each other in front of burning cars. Of course, her work is highly controversial, but Laura doesn't understand why. She's merely chronicling the chaos of the times, after all. When she's pressed by reporters about her photos glamorizing violence or demeaning women, an impatient Mars sighs, "Doesn't anyone have anything positive to say?"

Then comes the night of her big splashy book launch party, where the fashion crowd and the Beautiful People sip champagne and boogie to the melodious strains of KC and the Sunshine Band. Harshing everyone's buzz is the arrival of the police. Turns out Laura's book editor has been fatally poked in the peepers. This unnerves the star shutter-bug because she'd recently had a bad dream which depicted that very thing. Less upset than annoyed is Laura's publisher Ellen (Rose Gregorio), who can't believe someone would have the nerve to get killed on such an important night.

"Laura Mars, I presume?" Det. John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) and Laura engage in a staring contest.

"Why does everything have to happen to me?" Ellen fumes.

Unfortunately, Ellen is offed right quick and in the same way. Laura was busy shooting a lingerie spread in Columbus Circle when suddenly the whole grisly scene played before her eyes from the killer's POV. How is this possible? Beats me. The movie doesn't explain how this phenomenon could possibly take place, even though it's a major plot point. Anyhoo, the photog freaks out and soon the whole fashion crew are cooling their high heels in the police station.

That's where Laura meets investigating police detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones). Sporting Shaun Cassidy's feathered locks and a unibrow, Jones is confused by Dunaway's explanation of how she "saw" the murder of Ellen without being there. He's also rather keen on finding out why some of Laura's recent fashion photos so closely resemble unreleased crime scene snaps.

"You think I committed the murders and then recreated them as photographs!?" Mars sputters. "I don't buy it!"

Well, OK, fine, suit yourself. Alas, that pesky problem of Laura's friends and co-workers getting fatally popped in the peepers just keeps getting worse. After Ellen, bimbo models Lou Lou and Michelle meet the same fate. Then Laura's flamboyant agent Donald (Rene Auberjonois) is knocked off. His death, however, is a partial case of mistaken identity, as he was wearing Laura's hat and coat. Why was Donald doing this? Because Laura's louse of an ex-husband (Raoul Julia) was having an affair with Ellen and he's wanted for questioning by the cops and he's afraid and on the run and could Laura please meet him? Inexplicably Laura says yes, but she has police protection and where Laura goes the police follow. Thus Donald dresses up as Laura to fool the police...oh, look, just watch the movie yourself if you think I'm making this up. Although Donald's drag act does fool the killer, I bet the baddie was mad when he realized he'd been duped.

Separated at birth? Brother and sister? Laura and her agent Donald (Rene Auberjonois) share the same horrified expression (and hair).

Still with me? Good. Because as if things weren't getting nutty enough, the movie decides to have John and Laura fall in love. Deep, deep love. How do the principals come to this conclusion? After attending a double funeral, John and Laura take a walk in the woods. Pacing around with the urgency of two people needing to find a bathroom, John and Laura suddenly declare that they can't stop thinking about each other.

"This is highly unprofessional!" John declares. "I'm supposed to be catching a killer!"

"I don't have time for this!" Laura gasps between sobs. "I'm completely out of control!"

Then our two smitten kittens make whoopskie and wax philosophical about how one minute "you're doing OK" and the next minute Mr. or Ms. Perfect waltzes into your life and suddenly you're happy and complete and your food tastes better and the sun shines brighter and you vomit up flowers etc., etc.

"It's terrifying," Jones admits.

"This is unprofessional!"--and unrealistic! Fun couple Tommy Lee Jones and Faye Dunaway.

Established now as cuddlemates, John and Laura plan on living happily ever after that ding-dang slasher is caught. Sure enough, the police suddenly announce they have ample evidence that points to Tommy (the twitchy Brad Dourf) as the trouble maker. Who is Tommy? He's Laura's ex-con of a personal driver, did I forget to mention that? Of course, knowledgeable bad movie fans understand that the Tommy revelation will lead to a police chase, which will lead to a shoot-out, which will lead to Tommy's death. Bad movie fans also know the movie is nowhere near finished.

Once the presumed killer is (allegedly) out of commission, John announces to Laura, "I want to take you away from here!" So she begins packing her bags when--oh no!--Dunaway has one of those gruesome visions from the killer's POV! How could that happen if the killer's dead?! In fact, he's in Laura's building! He's banging on her front door! Laura screams for him to go away! Then, CRASH! The maniac throws himself through the sliding glass doors on Laura's balcony!

No, wait! It's not the killer! It's John! Laura throws herself into his arms, sobbing hysterically. John tries to console her, insisting that Tommy is dead. When Laura asks why Tommy had it in for her, John explains that Tommy thought her work trivialized death. "Death is sacred," John says. Then the detective launches into a monologue about Tommy's sordid life. See, his mother ("a hysterical woman") was a hooker who left her son without clean underwear while she plied her trade on street corners. One day Tommy's dad came home and "upset by the state of the child", slit the mother's throat.

"I watched the blood turn to the color of your hair," John reveals.

Oh, no! Gasp! Shock! Horror! John is the killer! And he's got multiple personalities! The most dominant of these personalities tells Laura, "I don't know what you see in that SOB"--and then proceeds to catalog all of John's short-comings, which include forgetting to pay the light bill, neglecting to answer Christmas cards and failing to finish his college dissertation even though he's been at it for three years.

One of the many faces (or personalities?) of Det. John Neville.

"See this body?" Tommy says. "That's my work. If it weren't for me, he'd weigh 98 pounds."

Then Jones fixes Dunaway with a look and announces, "I'm the one you want."

Well, Laura is so dumbfounded by John's revelations that she can only bug her eyes in astonishment. Then John (or one of John's personalities) peeks out and asks Dunway to kill him. She refuses, so he pulls the trigger himself. When we last see Laura Mars, she's numbly dialing the police and repeating over and over again, "He loved me, he really loved me..."

Well, hmmm, I don't know about that...

There is an old saying that goes like this: "No matter how much lipstick you put on a pig, it's still a pig."

Vampira takes up photography? Troubled shutter-bug Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) on the set of her latest for her latest fashion spread.

In the case of "Laura Mars", one could easily say: "No matter how much lipstick the filmmakers put on this turkey, it's still a turkey."

Consider this: The budget for "Laura Mars" was impressive; John Carpenter of "Halloween" fame co-wrote the script; A-lister Jon Peters produced; an Oscar winner had the lead; a future Oscar winner was the co-star; fancy-pants photographer Helmut Newton supplied the film's still photos and Barbra Streisand warbled the title tune. Does all this mean "The Eyes of Laura Mars" couldn't possibly be a turkey? Of course not!

As I have frequently mentioned throughout this blog, Junk Cinema isn't only produced by incompetent amateurs with little or no money, talent, taste or experience--although it helps. Supposedly seasoned professionals are just as capable of stuffing a cinematic turkey that will delight bad movie fans for years to come.

In the case of "Laura Mars", the linchpin is Faye Dunaway's bug-eyed scenery chewing. Simply put, Dunaway is either screaming hysterically, sobbing copiously or staring dumbfounded into space as if someone had smacked her in the back of the head with a skillet. Hard. Many times. Meanwhile, co-stars Julia, Dourf and Auberjonois appear to be in competition to see who can portray the most over-the-top stereotype of a rotten ex-husband, twitchy ex-con and flamboyant fashionista, respectively. Real life models Lisa Taylor and Darlanne Fluegel play Laura's favorite mannequins, with predictably wooden results. Only Tommy Lee Jones manages to hold on to his dignity--but just barely.

Back in 1969, Dunaway made a movie titled "A Place for Lovers" opposite Marcello Mastroianni. Robert Greenspun of the New York Times was to write that he "sincerely hope(d) 'A Place for Lovers' will be the worst movie" of Faye's career. No such luck. Besides "A Place for Lovers" (and "The Eyes of Laura Mars"), Dunaway would appear in "The Champ", "Mommy Dearest", "Super Girl", "The Wicked Lady", "Don Juan De Marco", "The Temp", "The Arrangement", "The Hand Maid's Tale", "Beverly Hills Madame" and "The Happening". All of these films helped scuttle a very promising career before (and after) "Mommy Dearest" blew it to bits. No doubt, Dunaway is a talented lady, and when one contemplates her long line of impressive stinkers, you can't help thinking, "What a pro."

The "Eyes" Have It: This movie stinks!

Therefore movie lovers, please always remember, there a cheap turkeys and there are expensive turkeys, but they all gobble just the same. Happy Holidays and Save The Movies!


Friday, November 27, 2015

Let's Watch "The Day The Earth Froze" In Glorious "SovoColor"!

"Peek-a-boo-I-see-you!" Nature girl Anniki frolics in the forest before the big chill arrives in the Finnish-Russian epic "The Day the Earth Froze".

Tervehdys, elokuvan ystaville! That's "Greetings, movie lovers!" in Finnish (Thank you, ImTranslator).

Today we travel to the ancient shores of (yes!) Finland, to the town of Kalevala to be exact, where true love, magic, trolls, an evil witch and the timeless allure of a Sampo take center stage in "The Day the Earth Froze" (1959).

A joint Finnish-Soviet Russia production photographed in glorious "SovoColor" (whatever the hell that is), "The Day the Earth Froze" is based on the Finnish epic Kalevaia , sort of their version of The Odyssey. No doubt this is indeed a stirring tale, and perhaps someday it will be captured in the cinematic glory it deserves. Until then, movie fans will have to suffer through the badly dubbed and totally nutsy "The Day the Earth Froze" instead.

Also known under the title of "Sampo" upon its release, our feature presentation takes us to the aforementioned Kalevala, a prosperous town where the hard working citizens are either employed in the fishing, lumber or goat herding industries. Legend has it that if the people of Kalevala stay honest, humble and true, they will someday receive a Sampo.

What, pray tell, is a Sampo? Well, it is a cross between a slot machine and a water fountain. It gives forth salt, grain and gold, so you can see why they are a big deal. What's more, Sampos are very hard to come by, so you can understand why the town of Kalevala would be delighted to have one on the premises.

Prince Valiant out pole vaulting? No, it's our hero Lemminkainen (Andris Oshin).

Also coveting a Sampo is the witch Louhi (Anna Orochko). She has an army of scruffy trolls working over time to produce one, but, unfortunately, these dopes are just not up to the task. So when the witch learns super blacksmith Ilmarinen could make her a Sampo, she connives to kidnap his sister Anniki (Eve Kivi) and then force him to make her the contraption.

Anniki is no ordinary girl, of course. That's because on the day she was born the angels got together and decided to make a dream come true. So they sprinkled moon dust in her hair and starlight in her eyes of blue. That's why all the boys in town follow her around, because they long to be close to Anniki*.  Anniki, however, is a picky girl and she refuses to come across to just anybody until she meets Lemminkainen (Andreas Oshkin).

Lemminkainen is a lumberjack who stumbles upon Anniki when she's out doing the laundry. Of course, it's love at first sight and their first exchange plays like Dumb Enchanted Evening, except it's taking place in broad daylight.

"Who's gold is that?" Lemminkainen asks. "Can this be the daughter of the rosy dawn? Or the radiance of the moon?"

"It's not the moon! Nor is it the sun! I am just a simple maiden," twitters Anniki.

"Call Me Maybe?" Heroine Anniki shortly after meeting Lemminkainen.

Having met Mr. Right at last, Anniki scampers home to tell her bro and exclaim about her true love, "His eyes sparkle like the sun light glittering on the sea foam!" Delighted his kid sister will finally be off his hands at last, Ilmarinen agrees to the marriage. However, before the happy couple can make it legal, witch Louhi kidnaps Anniki and locks her in a cave.

Lemminkainen and his soon-to-be-in-law go off to rescue her, but first they seek the advice from wise old sage Vainamoinen. It is he who tells the guys they must fashion a special boat out of a special tree to survive the voyage to save Anniki. Lem and Ilm dutifully cut down the tree and carve out their vessel. They then sail off for Louhi's place, which is a cold and dark wasteland way off the bus line.

Being a crafty old blister, Louhi isn't about to hand over Anniki without forging the best deal for herself. Thus, she insists that Lem plow a field of snakes. To do this, Ilmarien crafts a horse out of metal. Soon the field is plowed. In the mean time, Louhi's evil Smurfs have smashed the guys' boat to bits. Not to worry; Ilm simply makes another boat out of steel (which has a moose figure at its prow). Then witchie-poo plays her trump card: she wants her visitors to make her a Sampo.

By this time you'd think Lem and Ilm would have had enough to Louhi's nonsensical demands. But no. True to their basic decency, Lem and Ilm (with the help of the trolls) do indeed make a Sampo. To do so, the blacksmith needed some special ingredients: "a wisp of lambs wool, a feather from a swan and a barley of corn." Once all that is rounded up, the blacksmith and the lumberjack get to work and in due time the Sampo is created. The contraption starts gushing salt, grain and gold right on cue. so the witch is finally satisfied. Anniki, Lem and Ilm are soon on their way home.

End of story? Not quite. You see, Anniki remembers that the Sampo was promised to their village as a reward for their piety. The bride-to-be feels guilty that Lem and Ilm had to build a Sampo for Louhi in order to rescue her. Anniki feels--and quite rightly so--that the mean old crone won't share the bounty of her Sampo fairly. In fact, when Louhi catches one of her trolls pocketing some gold coins, she sends the poor bastard off to the snake pits for punishment.

"Let's Make A Deal": Evil witch Louhi lists her demands to Ilmarinen and Lemminkainen

So Lem decides to swim back to Louhi's and steal the Sampo for the village. This leads to all sorts of complications and the end result is Lemminkainen is believed to be dead. This totally bums out Lemminkainen's ma (Ada Vojtsik), which is completely understandable. However, Ada is a plucky Finnish gal and refuses to give in to her despair.

Soon enough she's traveling all over town asking for help to find her son. First Ada asks a birch tree if she has any news about Lem. Unfortunately, the birch tree is only interested in discussing her own problems, which includes people stripping off her bark and kids snipping off her branches to make brooms. OK. Moving right along, Ada next asks the road for some info on locating her son. The road, frankly, could care less about Lem's where-abouts. In fact, the road is supremely pissed off that people are constantly trampling on him day and night. However, what really makes the road mad is all the horses shitting on him and their owners not cleaning up after their nags. OK. Sorry to have bothered you! Finally, Ada asks the sun for help in locating Lem and the sun comes through. Lem is indeed found safe and sound, but the Sampo is toast.

The news that Lem is alive so delights the village of Kalevala that nobody gives two hoots that the all important Sampo is wrecked. Instead, the happy Finns join together to throw Lemminkainen and Anniki a grand wedding. This features much dancing, singing and merry-making and everybody does indeed seem happy. Not so happy is witch Louhi. Whether that is because she wasn't invited to the wedding or because the groom stole (and ruined) her Sampo is anyone's guess. It could just be Louhi is a mean old blister who likes to stir up trouble. Anyway, while the citizens of Kalevala are partying like its 1099, Louhi steals the sun and locks it up in her cave.

This plunges the world into total darkness, of course, as well as perpetual snow and wind. Even for a people used to a harsh climate, this deep freeze is too much. Things get so dark and dismal, in fact, Lem can't tell what color his wife's eyes are anymore! So he decides to gather an army and march on Louhi to free the sun.

That's when old sage Vainamoinen steps in. He tells Lem that fighting witchie-poo with swords won't work. Instead, he orders the young men of the village to chop down a bunch of trees in order to make a passel of Kanteles, a string instrument that is plucked, much like a Dulcimer or a Zither. The women, meanwhile, were asked to give up all their jewelry to be melted down to make the Kanteleses strings. When the instruments are finished (no pun intended!) and tuned, the army marches to Louhi's lair.

"May the road rise up to meet you..." The Road gives grieving mother Ada an earful of complaints when she asks for help in finding her son Lem.

"The Day the Earth Froze" climaxes with Lemminkainen's army playing their Kanteles en masse. Their music puts the trolls to sleep. Louhi, getting desperate, sends her cloak over to strangle Lem. It's pulled off and drowned in the water. Then Lem marches up to Louhi and cuts her in half. The sun is promptly set free and the citizens of Kalevala rejoice and begin to thaw out. Lemminkainen and Anniki, meanwhile, go on to live happily ever after. The movie doesn't say this; I'm just assuming it happens. After all, there is no reason to think these two crazy kids wouldn't have a long, happy life together. They seem well suited to me, and even their hair colors match! Huzzah!

Despite its poor dubbing, moments of nutty surrealism and my good natured ribbing, there is much to admire about "The Day the Earth Froze": its bright use of color, its imaginative special effects, the spirit of cooperation that exists among the people of Kalevala, the chance to learn about another country's literary heroes.

Indeed, "The Day the Earth Froze" is a rare example of "artistic detente": during the dark days of The Cold War, the East (in this case Russia) and the West (Finland) would get together on some cultural project to show how the world's super powers could cooperate for the betterment of mankind. The results were often mixed, yet these periodic exchanges did provide a glimpse of hope that peaceful coexistence was possible.

Although the Soviet Union routinely gave America a severe pounding in their media, the Commie big-wigs really liked Hollywood movies and admired tinsel town's technical know-how. Naturally, they longed to prove Soviet movies could be just as good or even better than the ones churned out by the Capitalists.

The problem in meeting this challenge was the iron hand of censorship. Russian and Eastern Bloc artists had to repeatedly prove their fealty to Communism and The State before they create anything. Shortages, bureaucracy and government interference stifled creativity and production even further. That's why the best examples of Soviet-era film making were flicks based on fairy tales, epic poems and classic children's stories. The subject matter was safely apolitical and drew inspiration from the country's cherished traditions, thus they created fewer problems for both the film makers and the state authorities.

The movie poster for "The Day the Earth Froze" doesn't accurately reflect the film's subject matter.

With its arms always wide open to the weird and wonderful, Junk Cinema is the ideal place for finding flicks like "The Day the Earth Froze"--you won't find this picture on Netflix or Red Box or even on late-night cable. In fact, I only learned about our feature presentation from watching MST3K--yet another example of the pure genius of the folks at Best Brains. This just proves once again how Junk Cinema is a valuable part of our collective cinematic heritage. Where else will you find a movie based on the Finnish national epic, made with the cooperation of the now defunct USSR, shot in "SovoColor", sharing the mystic delights of the Sampo? Junk Cinema rules!

Until next time, keep your Kanteles in tune and SAVE THE MOVIES!

* Yes, these are the lyrics of the song "Close to You" by The Carpenters. Needless to say, I hate the song.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Huzzah! It's "Jack the Giant Killer"!

The opening credits for "Jack the Giant Killer": What could possibly go wrong?

Hey, kids! Are you in the mood for a whimsical adventure in a far-away land with giants, wizards, monsters and a princess who finds true love with simple country lad? Then watch "The Princess Bride"! However, if you are in the mood for a tale about witches, wizards and cheesey special effects, seek out and find "Jack the Giant Killer", an obscure family flick that proves kiddie entertainment was just as nutty in 1962 as it is today!

Our tale begins in "the kingdom of Cornwall", where heiress-to-the-throne Princess Elaine (Judi Meredith) is celebrating her birthday. Among her many gifts is a music box shaped like a castle that houses a dancing Harlequin. A dancing Harlequin that looks like Ernest Borgnine, by the way.

Turns out the mysterious chap who gave HRH the music box is the ultra meanie Pendragon (Torin Thatcher), better known as "The King of the Witches." You see, many years ago, an ancestor of the current King Mark banished Pendragon and all of his ghoulies and ghosties to a creepy, fog shrouded castle way off the bus line. Pendragon, don't you know, was seriously miffed about this turn of events and has spent the intervening years plotting and scheming his revenge.

And what is Pendragon's revenge, you ask? Well, that music box with the dancing Ernest Borgnine? When Princess Elaine goes to bed at night, the claymation Harlequin turns into a horned giant that crashes through the palace roof. The giant then snatches up the screaming princess and heads for the hills. The King of the Witches wants to be the King of Cornwall and he needs Princess Elaine to achieve his goal. Realizing that he's not "a people person" and that the citizens of Cornwall would never accept him as their monarch, Pendragon decides to kidnap Elaine in order to A) turn her into a witch, B) force her pa King Mark into exile, C) plant Elaine on the throne and then D) rule through her as an evil puppet-master.

Hey! That sounds just like what Dick Cheney did in the last Bush administration--except instead of turning W into a witch, he had to settle for a court jester (rim shot!).

Princess Elaine busts a move with a "magical" Harlequin. Little does she know her partner is an ugly giant in disguise.

Now imagine the surprise of simple country lad Jack (Kerwin Matthews), going about his daily chores, looking up and seeing a claymation giant stomping through his farmland with a shrieking girl in his paw. A quick thinker, Jack realizes the giant is taking poor Elaine (he doesn't know she's a princess yet) to a boat manned by Pendragon's flunky Garna (Walter Burke). By using an axe, some rope and a handful of cornmeal, Jack manages to save Elaine, kill the giant AND push Garna into the drink. His bravery wins Elaine's heart and she thanks Jack profusely.

"It was nothing," Jack jokes modestly. "I always kill a giant before breakfast. Starts my day off right!"

King Mark and his posse arrive a short time later. For his bravery, the king upgrades Jack to Sir Jack and Elaine gives him a kiss. The nobles throw Jack a party at the palace and it looks like happy days are here again at Cornwall. Unfortunately, the palace historian throws cold water on the celebrations by discovering that the recently deceased giant was the handiwork of witch king Pendragon, whom everyone believed was dead or at least no longer in the business of being evil. Realizing that his daughter is not safe in town, King Mark decides to send her to a convent for safekeeping. Disguised as simple peasant folk, Jack will escort Elaine to her new home.

This plan seems like a winner, except, unbeknownst to anyone else, sweet Lady Constance (Anna Lee, best known to "General Hospital" fans as Lila Quartermain) has been bewitched by Pendragon. When this happened is anybody's guess. After waiving Jack and Elaine off, Lady Constance excuses herself and releases Gaunt the raven with all the details of HRH's where-abouts. The baddie Pendragon receives the message and begins scheming up a new plan.

Meanwhile, Jack and Elaine are totally enjoying their boat ride to the convent. The captain of the vessel has a young son named Peter (Roger Mobley), who, he brags, "is smart as paint."( Personally, I have never thought of paint as smart, so where the proud father came up with this idea is beyond me. Paint can be many things, such as bright and colorful, but it's not smart because paint can't think. Dad must have been unduly influenced by Mitt Romney, who lectured that "corporations are people my friends." That always made me want to lecture Mitt in return that, no, corporations are not people; they are staffed and run by people which is not the same as actually being a person. But I digress). Nobody except Jack knows Elaine is a royal, which gives the couple privacy to get all kissy-face without anyone altering the tabloids or TMZ.

Princess Elaine and the newly created Sir Jack party like it's 1499.

 The cuddlemates romantic interlude is dashed, however, when Pendragon sends over a fleet of ghosts in molting Halloween costumes. The ghosts kick up a nasty wind storm that allows them to fly off with Elaine. When Jack insists the ship must sail on to rescue the princess, the crew mutinies. In fact, they refuse to believe Elaine is their princess and even throw Jack overboard! Young Peter dives in after him--his pa died in the wind storm, so there is no reason for him to stick around.

In due time, Jack and Peter are fished out of the sea by a friendly Viking (!) named Sigurd (Berry Kelley). It's on Sigurd's tug that we are introduced to The Imp (Don Beddoe), a lively leprechaun who talks in rhyme. The Imp has been imprisoned in a Chianti bottle by the King of the Leprechauns as punishment for dabbling in "the black arts." The only way he can be freed is if he performs three good deeds for a nice person. How will The Imp know if a person is truly nice? If a person is bad, the Chianti bottle will burn their hand if they touch it. Sigurd, for example, has done plenty of carousing in his day, so he's out. Jack, on the other hand, passes the bottle test with flying colors.

While all this is going on, poor Princess Elaine has been turned into a witch. Now sporting yellow eyes, lilac skin and fingernails as long as skateboards, the perky princess looks like Lady Gaga's kid sister. His job done, Pendragon informs King Mark that he has one week to vacate the throne or else.

His Majesty is heart broken, of course, and can't figure out who for the life of him spilled the beans to evil Pendragon. Then he spies Lady Constance sneaking out of the throne room. Traitor! King Mark orders his guards to tackle the Lady and drag her in front of a mirror. By doing so, Lady Constance's evil reflection will appear. In order to break the spell, a guard breaks the mirror; there is a puff of green smoke, and Lady Constance is back to her old self. The noble woman breaks down and begs the king's forgiveness, which is granted, no hard feelings, and she excuses herself to go take a nap.

With the help of Sigurd, Peter and The Imp, Jack eventually arrives at Pendragon's castle. There he is confronted by a troop of warriors so bow-legged they could walk over a barrel and so stiff it appears they have yardsticks rammed up their collective hinders. The Imp's magic helps Jack defeat these baddies, as well as thwart Pendragon's plans to turn Jack into a rat. He also manages to rescue the grateful Princess Elaine and race off to the safety of Sigurd's boat.

"I Was Not Born This Way": Princess Elaine (with Pendragon) gets a wicked make-over.

If this all sounds a little too easy, that's because it was meant to be too easy. Elaine is a witch now, remember? When Jack's not looking, she drugs his drink and soon enough they are back at Pendragon's castle, only this time Jack is chained up and poor Sigurd and Peter have been captured as well. Pendragon realizes The Imp is the source of Jack's power and he wants the little guy for himself. When Jack refuses to tell where The Imp is, the King of the Witches turns Sigurd into a dog and Peter into a thong-wearing chimp. Still, Jack won't budge. So Pendragon gives Jack until the sands of an hour-glass run through to cough up The Imp or die. Shortly thereafter, Elaine reveals her own witchy transformation, which horrifies her boyfriend. Just when things seem pretty hopeless, Peter (now a chimp, don't forget) unlocks his cage and sets Jack free. This allows Jack to drag Elaine in front of a mirror and shatter her she-devil reflection, which returns HRH back to her normal perky self. Then the gang of four race out of Pendragon's castle again, this time for real.

Furious that his prisoners have escaped, Pendragon does what any witch king would do: he turns himself into a claymation bird-type critter and flies after them. This leads to the flick's epic final battle, with a claymation Jack jumping on the Pendragon/bird-type critter's back and repeatedly stabbing him in the neck. After about, oh, 100 jabs, the Pendragon/bird-type critter dies and falls into the sea. The witch king's death not only lifts the curses off Sigurd and Peter, it causes Pendragon's creepy castle to collapse into dust as well. Now the Kingdom of Cornwall is truly free at last.

Oh, about The Imp. He has completed his required three good deeds and is thus freed by Jack. Before the leprechaun leaves for Ireland, he advises Princess Elaine to marry Jack. HRH whole-heartily agrees to do so, although whether Jack actually planned to propose is another matter entirely. It is on this happy (?) note that "Jack the Giant Killer" ends. Huzzah!

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Auntie Beth," you say. "This is a kid's movie! It doesn't seem so bad! Why must you bee so hard on a kid's movie!? That's not nice!"

Your point is well taken. And this is my answer: Please, A) Watch the movie yourself, B) I am an equal opportunity offender and C) I never said I was nice! Once you get an eye-full of "Jack"s wacky costumes, cheesy F/X, Peter the chimp's thong and the hero's plastic hair, you might just think differently. And simply because a movie is made for kids doesn't mean it can't be bad. "Santa Claus Conquers the Martins" was made for kids and it's VERY bad. "The Blue Bird" was made for kids, too, and it's also very bad. In fact, one film critic of the day even suggested making bratty kids watch "The Blue Bird" was fitting punishment for their misbehaving. The same for the musical "Dr. Dolittle." And while we're at it, all the Pokeman movies and the Ninja Turtle movies are BAD, too...and not just for kids! For anybody that loves movies, these flicks are toxic waste dumps on film stock. The difference is you can have fun watching the badness of "Jack the Giant Killer", while all the previous flicks just suck up your hard earned cash.

"Here's Johnny (actually Pendragon)!" The King of the Witches takes to the unfriendly skies as a rogue flying critter.

Therefore, movie lovers, remember that badness has no age limit, and SAVE THE MOVIES!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

"The Thomas Crown Affair": A Hip Drip On An Ego Trip

"I'll drink to that": Perfect-at-everything Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) toasts his own brilliance.

Greetings to you, movie lovers.

Say, have you met Thomas Crown? No? Well, let me introduce you!

Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) is a lean, ruggedly handsome, old-money Boston aristocrat with piercing blue eyes. Not only was Crown born rich, he's a super-successful business tycoon, which has allowed him to become even richer and he resides in an historic Back Bay mansion with an elevator.

But that's not all! Tommy Crown also plays polo, pilots a glider, drives a dune buggy, is a whiz on the golf course and has a sexy cuddlemate named Gwen (Astrid Hereen) up in Geneva, Switzerland.

Yes, sir, Thomas Crown is the perfect man living the perfect life. Which explains why he is perfectly...bored. Suffering from the blahs. So what does he do to get out of his perfect rut?

Vickie Anderson (Faye Dunaway) wonders why her head hurts. Could it be that massive stone cinnamon roll on her head?

Hmmm. Take up church work? Get into league bowling? Start square dancing? Mastermind bank robberies on the side?

Hey, that's the ticket!

Thus begins "The Thomas Crown Affair", a thick slice of self-satisfied '60's cinema at its worst. With its nonsense theme song ("The Windmills of Your Mind"), split screens, fancy dissolves, open-ended dialogue and a mod, sexually liberated female lead (Faye Dunaway), "The Thomas Crown Affair" is so hip, it watch. The principals, meanwhile, are so self-involved they don't care.

But they should care--especially Ms. Dunaway as the chic insurance investigator Vickie Anderson. Why? Because Dunaway sports some of the WORST get-ups in movie history AND some of the MOST complicated hairstyles imaginable. In fact, Faye's frocks end up upstaging her--certainly not the result notorious perfectionist Dunaway would have wanted.

Coincidentally, my own mother was a hip and happenin' chick in 1968 (the year "Thomas Crown" was released). So I asked her to watch the flick for the express purpose of putting Dunaway's wacky wardrobe in historical context. Mom said Faye's clothes were "just ugly" regardless of what era the movie was made in. She also dismissed Dunaway's hairstyles as the work of a stylist who might have been a little too "baked" (i.e. stoned). Mom also added Dunaway herself might have "gone a little crazy with the falls."

Jane Fonda in "Barbarella"? No, it's just another fashion-fail from "The Thomas Crown Affair".

Anyhooo, "The Thomas Crown Affair" begins with a long, drawn-out, split-screened bank robbery Crown has planned for (his) fun and profit. The gents involved all wear identical dark suits, dark sun glasses and pork-pie hats. They include veteran character actors Jack Weston and Yaphet Kotto. Because Crown assembled his cohorts independently, they don't know each other and meet for the first and only time at the heist ( a tactic also used in "Reservoir Dogs").

The robbery goes off as planned and soon Crown is jetting off to Switzerland with all the loot--and to meet up with cuddlemate Hereen (a Vogue cover girl making her film debut and farewell)--as if nothing were a-miss. His take? Over two million.

Particularly frustrated and embarrassed by the caper is police investigator Eddie Malone (Paul Burke, last seen trying to get into the drawers of Barbara Parkins in "Valley of the Dolls"). Because Eddie is a stuffed shirt, by-the-book, law and order middle class square, he's the movie's default villain. When the police can't crack the case ("We're Boston's finest!"), he's forced to accept the help of ultra mod, totally liberated Vickie Anderson (Dunaway). Vickie's personal motto is "Think Dirty" and she's not above, for example, stealing a car, kidnapping a child or blackmailing accomplice Jack Warden to get him to 'fess up.

Because Vickie gets 10% of everything recovered, her methods and morals not only disgust Eddie, but bring out his sneering sexism. When Vickie explains that "every crime has a personality", Burke cracks, "Oh, that's clever, very clever." That causes Faye to sigh and say, "OK, you work your way and I'll work mine." That, in turn, makes Eddie blow a gasket. "Hold it right there, baby!" Burke blusters. "You wanted in, remember? You get ten percent. So you better earn your keep! Earn it!"

While this battle of the sexes is taking place, Thomas is in Switzerland with Gwen flying his glider.

Former (and future) fashion model Astrid Hereen asks, "Have you seen my acting career?"

"I vish you vouldn't over shoot the vield like dat," Gwen pouts.

"It would solve all my worries," Thomas replies.

"Vhat have you got to vorry about?" Gwen cries.

"Who I want to be tomorrow," Crown states.

Back in the States, Eddie and Vickie have compiled a frequent flyer list of businessmen who have made repeated trips to Switzerland since the robbery took place. See, Vickie believes that the heist was based on "pure geometry" and that the master mind organized it so the robbers would A) never meet and B) would be paid in installments at a later date. Of the five suspects, Vickie zeroes in on Thomas and makes no secret of the fact she thinks he's cute. Later on, as part of her surveillance, she films him playing polo and practically leaps out of her chair to declare to Eddie, "I just know he's the one!" Although Vickie has no concrete evidence against Crown yet, her "instincts" (and other body parts) insist he's the man. Unimpressed, Eddie tells her, "Prove it."

"Hungry Like The (She) Wolf"? Thomas Crown and Vickie Anderson size each other up.

"The Thomas Crown Affair" then switches to a high society charity auction, where Thomas and Vickie meet and begin round one of their flirtation.

"Who do you work for? Bazaar? Vogue? World Wide Polo ?" Thomas inquires.

"Insurance," Vickie replies.

"I'm covered," Crown rejoins.

"I certainly hope so," Vickie says, taking a sip of champagne.

Then the smitten kittens stare out the window a bit and begin round two.

"Is that a king sized cinnamon roll on your head or are you just happy to see me?" Eddie Malone and Vickie discuss strategies.

"I investigate," Vickie explains.

"Anything in particular?" Crown asks, trying to be casual.

"The bank, Mr. Crown. The caper," Vickie parries. "You don't expect us to take the loss of two million dollars lying down, do you?"

"That's an interesting picture," Thomas replies, before asking, "Pays well though?"--guessing that Vickie's ghastly dress must cost a bundle.

"Depends on the return," she admits.

Slight pause. Now we move to round three.

Strike two! Dunaway models yet another fashion fail.

"Sort of an American head-hunter," Crown muses.

"You could put it that way," Vickie replies.

"Who's head are you after?" Thomas asks.

Moving in for the kill, Vickie announces, "Yours!"

Once Vickie declares to Thomas that he's her prime suspect and that she believes he's guilty, our feature presentation kicks into high gear. Thomas is put on alert that the law is on to him, but he's also intrigued on a personal level. Ugly clothes aside, Dunaway is a looker, after all. Crown wants to know what Vickie may or may not have on him--which is exactly the reaction she hoped for. Thus begins a tedious, back-and-forth battle of (t)wits, where our two stars test the audience's patience as they try and out cool each other.

"I'm stealing the movie." "No, I'm stealing the movie." Vickie and Thomas eye each other suspiciously.

"What a funny, dirty little mind," says he.

"It's a funny, dirty little job. So shoot me in the leg," says she.

See what I mean?

With the game now a-foot, Vickie tries to bug Thomas' house by sending over a troop of bogus wall-to-wall carpet fitters. Crown thwarts this plan because NO historic Back Bay mansion would EVER lower itself to having wall-to-wall carpet installed. Undaunted, Vickie then puts Thomas in the same room at the police station with Jack Warden--but Warden doesn't recognize Crown because he flashed lights in his face and distorted his voice during their pre-robbery job interview. Later on, Vickie sicks the IRS on Crown--and tells him all about it! Finally, the flick's most famous sequence arrives: a game of chess between the principals that doubles very unsubtly as foreplay (and was clearly ripped off from "Tom Jones"). While you roll your eyes at Dunaway and McQueen's smug cleverness, the actors smile coyly, touch themselves, suck their fingers, stroke their arms, bite their lips and just stop short of licking their chess pieces. Then McQueen suddenly grabs Dunaway and kisses the hell out of her.

Uh, check mate?

A bird's eye view of Vickie and Thomas' symbolic chess match. What would Bobby Fisher say?

The fact that Vickie and Crown are now sleeping together makes poor Eddie's blood boil. "I'm running a sex orgy for two freaks!" he sputters. Dunaway sees things differently, of course. "OK, I'm immoral," she admits. "So is the world." Later she looks up from underneath a hideous floppy hat and cautions Eddie, "I know what I am. Don't put your labels on me."

Naturally Vickie thinks she can bed Thomas and bust him at the same time. Eddie isn't so sure. At lunch one day, he gleefully shows her photos of Crown squiring another gal on the town. "That's the third time this week," Eddie crows. "You're being had Vickie-girl." Sure enough, totally liberated Vickie becomes visibly jealous--perhaps she's not as in control of the situation as she thought she was? Could it even be possible that she's fallen for the guy?

Meanwhile, Thomas Crown is feeling the squeeze, too. Sitting in his prize dune buggy and savoring a cigar, Crown decides to make his move before Vickie (and the law) make theirs. So he organizes another heist--"I did it before, I can do it again"--and tells Vickie all about it. Crown leaves it up to his cuddlemate to either rat him out or join him. True to form, Dunaway hopes to do a little of both. What she doesn't count on is Thomas assuming that's just what she'd do. So at the last possible moment, McQueen pulls a fast one: just as Vickie and the feds surround his car as it drives up to the pre-arranged drop-off site, they find a Crown employee in the driver's seat instead of the man himself. The flummoxed employee hands Vickie a telegram which reads, "Left early. Take the money and join me later or you keep the car. Love Tommy."

Heartbroken and realizing she's been played for a sucker, Vickie tears up the message and bursts into tears. As she throws the scraps of paper into the air, Thomas is jetting off to some exotic location where he can avoid extradition.Vickie may have the money, but she's lost her man--or perhaps she never had Mr. Crown at all?

Admittedly, certain movie fans have fond memories of the oh-so-with-it "The Thomas Crown Affair"--just as I have fond memories of high school...if you discount my bad hair, low self-esteem, social anxiety, poor fashion sense, inability to tan, small breasts, stumbling awkwardness in gym and total lack of dates, of course. Other than that, it was swell. Same with "The Thomas Crown Affair": if you take away all of the in-your-face-we're-so-cool stuff, you have a good movie...except you don't. Take away all the chichi stuff and you have no movie. Period.

Strike three and you're out! Another ugly frock courtesy of Theodora van Runkle.

It's no mean feat to be miscast and still be the best part of a movie, yet somehow Steve McQueen pulls it off. Although director Norman Jewison reportedly told Steve to "act like Cary Grant!" during the filming, he's too rough around the edges to be truly suave. However, McQueen is so charismatic that you're willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. (I like Steve a lot or, rather, I like Steve the movie star. The real Steve McQueen was a nasty piece of work.)

Now we come to poor Ms. Dunaway. It's hard to say which is worse: her clothes or her character. In Faye's defense, the script is clearly stacked in McQueen's favor from the get-go. Vickie hasn't even appeared on screen yet and another character warns Eddie Malone, "You won't like her." True, Vickie is an unabashed ruler breaker and is in it for a big pay day, but how is that worse than Mr. Crown, who stole money that didn't belong to him?

Furthermore, "The Thomas Crown Affair" presents Tommy's little caper as a protest against "the System"--an interesting idea, since one could easily conclude that "the System" has worked very well for an old money type like Crown. Does this mean he feels trapped? Stifled? Bored with keeping up appearances? The movie never explores this theme in any depth, yet it clearly approves of (or is at least is highly amused by) Thomas' actions.

Not so with Vickie. She rebels against "the System", too, but unlike Crown, she's scolded for it. Plus she has to wear ugly, ugly clothes.

In the end, everybody in "The Thomas Crown Affair" gets what they were after: Tommy pulls off his robberies, escapes the law and gets to live happily ever after abroad somewhere; Vickie gets her money; and Eddie Malone will have plenty of opportunities to scold Vickie, Jeb Bush-style, about how her loose morals and unlady-like behavior allowed a major criminal to get away Scot-free.

Steve McQueen as Thomas Crown: A rebel with a cause...namely, himself.

The ticket buying public, on the other hand, were the ones who got screwed.

Until next time, please keep your money in a safe place, and SAVE THE MOVIES!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"Escape 2000" Shows You How To "Leave The Bronx" From Italy

All the fire power in the world can't force citizens to "Leave The Bronx"--or watch the movie!

Howdy, movie lovers.

Sorry for the long lag time between articles. So let's get right to work, OK?

Some call New York "The Big Apple" or "The City That Never Sleeps". Sane people call New York a mess.

New York is loud, crowded and dirty. Space is tight, traffic is clogged and parking is non-existent. The people are rude. Everything is over-priced. There are alligators in the sewers, bed bugs in the mattresses, cockroaches on the floors and rats everywhere.

In the summer New York is hot, sticky and smelly. In the winter New York is freezing, windy and smelly.

However, New York has a very active theater community and the musical "Cats" is probably still running!

"Who you callin' Trash?": Mark Gregory in the role that made him shameless.

You'd think if people had the chance to leave New York--or one of its outlying areas, like, perhaps, the Bronx--they's jump at it.

Not according to "Escape 2000" aka "Leave the Bronx", a cascading cheese fountain from Italy circa 1983, where hardcore citizens wage war against an evil corporation that wants to clear out the Bronx BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY in order to build "the city of the future."

Directed by Enzo G. Castellari and starring a would-be action hero named "Trash" (NEVER trust a movie hero named Trash), "Leave the Bronx" also features a down-on-his-luck Henry Silva as the nutsy prison warden Floyd Wangler and the irrepressible Antonio Sabato as Toblerone--more about them later.

The plot goes like this: the super evil, money-grubbing General Construction Corporation (GC for short) wants to build "the city of the future" on what is currently the Bronx. To do this, the GC people have been offering Bronx residents financial compensation, new homes and "and a higher standard of living" in New Mexico. Quite a few folks have pulled up stakes and left, but others stubbornly refuse to budge. To convince the hold-outs to leave, the GC Corporation has engaged "Dis-Infestation Squads" to round up and kill citizens via flame throwers, bombs and showers of bullets.

Violent, sure, but effective.

The head of these Dis-infestation Squads is the previously mentioned Floyd Wangler, a dedicated sadist who refers to the hapless Bronx residents as "rats" and screams all of his commands at the top of his lungs.

"I love my job!" Smiling sadist Floyd Wangler (Henry Silva) uses his own form of persuasion to get people to leave the Bronx.

"Move your butts!" goes one typical Floyd exchange.

"No sugar!" he hollers after being given his cup of morning joe. "Sugar makes me crazy!"

Meanwhile, two very different men are defying the GC Corporation: Toblerone, who dresses like a pirate and laughs hysterically at everything he says ("Look who's talking! Superman! Ha, ha, ha, ha!") and Trash (Mark Gregory), a chap who looks like the unholy result of a three-way between Valerie Bertinelli, Gino Vannelli and Kenny G.

While Toblerone lives underground with an army of followers who dress like extras from "Solid Gold", Trash resides above ground with his bickering parents. Trash also runs ammo for Toblerone, which has made him a target for the GC baddies. Unlike Toblerone, Trash is a man of few words. Literally. He barely utters a peep through out the whole flick and he's the movie's "break out" star!

Then one day the GC Dis-Infestation Squads barge into Trash's family apartment. Not only do the DS-ers fry Trash's parents to a crisp with their flame throwers, they also rig the building with explosives. Earlier Trash had refused to join Toblerone's gang; however, after the murder of his parents and the demolition of his flat (which Trash survives without a scratch), our hero changes his mind.

When we next see the Dis-infestation Squads, they are solemnly marching a rag-tag band of homeless people off to...somewhere. Little do these creeps know, Toblerone's gang is preparing an ambush. That ambush includes Trash, who is hiding under a blanket. When a Dis-Infestater(?) pulls the blankie off, Trash shoots him in the face. That's the signal to unleash hell. Or, rather, that's the signal to unleash a slo-mo hell, as if the Bronx existed in zero gravity. That's the only way to explain why the blood squirts like molasses in January and people crumple to the ground v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y during the ensuing fight.

The General Construction Corporation's Dis-Infestation Squad's outfits are fitted with a breathable cotton panel.

Watching this horrific sight (from a safe distance) is plucky "reporter girl" Moon Grey (Valeria D'Obici). Born and raised in the Bronx, Moon has been dedicated to exposing the GC's evil deeds. She (along with her photographer friend Jay) even crash a GC press conference to declare, "The GC Corporation sucks!"

At Moon's urging, she and Jay plan to release pictures of the Dis-Infestation Squads in action. "OK," Jay says. "But remember: if they catch us, we've had it."

Truer words were never spoken. After snapping a series of incriminating photos, Jay turns around to find a DS goon right behind him, his flame thrower poised and ready. Although Moon manages to escape, shutterbug Jay is toast. Burnt toast. Seriously burnt toast.

Lucky for Ms. Grey, Trash finds her hiding and takes her down to Toblerone's lair. While the pirate king's followers scurry around reinforcing the barricades, Moon tries to convince Toblerone that his flashy troops are no match for the DS' fire power. Instead, she urges him to kidnap the GC Corporation head, known as President Clark (Ennio Girolami), and negotiate a cease-fire.

"I like it! Ha, ha,ha,ha!" Toblerone exclaims.

In order to nab President Clark, however, Toblerone and Trash will need some help. This comes in the form of Strike (Timothy Brent), a volatile demolition expert and master criminal who successfully cleared out "the First National Bank." Since the GC "Leave the Bronx" crack-down, Strike has been living under the sewers of NY with his young son, Strike Jr. This tyke, who dresses like Che Guevara, helps dad with all his robbery and explosive work.

Strike and Trash form "a team of rivals" to save the Bronx.

With this crack team in place, our rebels journey out into the open to kidnap President Clark, who is conveniently appearing at a ground breaking ceremony for "the new children's hospital"--a pr stunt meant to distract folks from the DS carnage. Despite a heavy police presence, Strike easily nabs President Clark after Moon creates a distracting scene that, sadly, gets her killed.

What follows next is a tedious slog through the sewers of New York, with Strike and Trash jabbing Clark in the hinder with their rifles and ordering him to stop complaining and to get a move on. Meanwhile, the DS are hampered in their rescue attempts by Strike, Jr.'s cleverly placed bombs. Without fail, the DS goons constantly trip wires which cause their silver jump suited bodies to either fly through the air or burst into flames. After that gets old, Strike, Jr. then picks off  assorted DS-ers like fish in a barrel with his handy gun. From the smug smile of satisfaction on his face, it's clear dad has trained junior well.

Judging from their extremely high body count, one could conclude that the Dis-Infestation Squads need better training to be a really effective tactical unit. However, other issues may be at the root of their inept performance. See, in a shocking plot twist NOBODY SAW COMING, President Clark's second in command (Paolo Malco) is found to be in cahoots with (gasp!) Floyd Wangler. They don't want President Clark rescued--and if Toblerone's flashy followers don't dispense with Mr. Clark, they will.

Finally our conquering heroes return to Toblerone. Sizing up their captive, Toblerone declares in his own inimitable way, "He's got two arms! He's got two legs! He's just like us! Ha, ha, ha, ha!" However, the laughter stops when Floyd Wangler and the DS burst in. Spraying tear gas and bullets in equal measure, they cause a hysterical stampede that allows President Clark to escape...right into the arms of Mr. Wangler.

"Boy, am I glad to see you!" President Clark exclaims.

"So am I Mr. President," Floyd grins before sending the embattled GC Corporation head to meet his maker.

A rare shot of Toblerone (Antonio Sabato) not laughing.

While all of this is going on, the battle for the Bronx is raging in the streets. Toblerone's forces and the DS are shooting, punching, stabbing and basically offing each other in a frenzy not seen since the Army of the Dead attacked the Wildlings at the end of season 5 of "Game of Thrones". Also joining in on the fun is Floyd Wangler, driving his white van at warp speed and mowing people down left and right. He takes the occasional pot shot out his window, too. However, when he crashes his van and gets out into the open, Floyd comes face to face with avenging hero Trash. Naturally, it doesn't take long for Trash to send Wangler bye-bye for good.

Then, as quickly as it began, the battle for the Bronx is over. The Dis-Infestation Squads have beat a hasty retreat. An eerie silence descends. The bodies of the dead and wounded litter the streets. Crashed cars smolder in heaps. Smoke wafts from burning tires and bombed-out buildings. Emerging from the rubble is Trash, shaken, but alive. The expression on his face seems to ask, "Will all this humidity frizz out my hair?" Before that can be answered, Strike and his son appear. Surveying the damage, they conclude their work is done and prepare to head for in the sewers.

"Hey, Trash!" Strike, Jr. happily calls out. "Come with us!"

But no. Trash merely shakes his head and waves them goodbye. The sewers are no place for him. With his parents gone, his home gone and his bike gone, Trash understands he must make a new life for himself. Perhaps he will go somewhere far away, beyond the mean streets of the Bronx and New York in general. Some place, say, New Mexico. He's heard there's lots of housing available.

In case your wondering, the uncut version of "Leave the Bronx" boasts 174 deaths in its running time. According to the IMDb, the break down goes something like this: 110 shootings; 40 explosions; 9 deaths via flame throwers; 1 stabbing; 4 deaths called "unknown"; 6 electrocutions; 2 faces bashed in and one poor sap who meets his end with the help of a rifle butt.

Someone also dies "off screen".

Novice actor Mark Gregory runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.


Despite its "futuristic" urban setting, "Escape 2000" aka "Leave the Bronx" was no box office champ. Part of the problem might have been the flimsy script, the spotty dubbing, the crazy costumes and the obviously bogus "New York" setting. Even if the closest you've been to New York and its environs is watching "Annie Hall", you know this movie was not shot anywhere in the United States, let alone the Bronx.

Another problem falls squarely on the shoulders of the flick's "discovery" Mark Gregory. Born Marco Di Gregorio in Rome, "Mark" was a motorcycle junkie and an "expertly trained Greco-Roman school wrestler" who was working in a shoe store when he was "discovered". He had never acted before and proved to have all the charisma of a crash test dummy fitted with a fright wig. Gregory allegedly beat out 2,000 other hopefuls for the coveted role of Trash--which makes you wonder how awful those other actors must have been if Gregory was the best of the bunch.

Sadly, after brief brush with fame, Mark Gregory drifted off into well deserved obscurity. He is not known to have made any other films, under his stage name or his real one. Perhaps like his on-screen alter ego, Mark wants to leave all memories of the Bronx--and this movie--behind. Let's all respect his wishes.

Until next time, Save The Movies!