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Bargain Bin Movie Review

The Candidate

Starring Robert Redford

There is one genre of movie Hollywood gets consistently wrong: Political comedies/drama/satire/thrillers. Anything political, really. And I’ve seen a lot of these movies. As someone with a strong political hack background, I’m interested in seeing what the great art form of cinema does with my favorite pastime. The worst of the genre (term being used loosely hereafter) is when some idiot producer gets the idea to have a stand up comedian either play the role of a presidential candidate or to write a story about how a presidential campaign would go if a stand up comedian ran for the White House. Those movies are never good.

At least, in “The Candidate” Redford isn’t trying to play a comedian. Instead, he’s playing a community lawyer who “fights for the people” who gets talked into running for the Senate against an (evil) Republican incumbent who doesn’t believe in welfare (that bastard). This Republican, (who admits to not believing in any collectivist philosophy and likes balance budgets, that devil) is an expert politician with an incredible political machine backing him.

This Republican incumbent (of California, the state that brought you Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, all of them brownshirts, so I’m told) is considered unbeatable. This is the selling point for Redford’s character. If he’s not going to win, it gives him the freedom to do whatever he wants, say whatever he wants and run his campaign the way he wants.

Of course, Redford’s character doesn’t believe in nuclear reactors, drilling anywhere or in driving. So, really, Redford is the reason you’re paying 4 bucks a gallon for gasoline. (Well, he’s not, but I’m just looking to blame someone). Also, I think this character supports abortion as a form of population control. He offers no serious ideas about crime other than “it’s not really the criminals’ fault.” No surprise, he’s a Democrat (from the DVD case “Still timely after 25 years”, no kidding).

This “Bill McKay” (Redford’s character) is the kind of fire-breathing liberal candidate everybody but Hollywood hates. Vapid, arrogant, loud, patronizing. I’d want this guy in the Senate too, just to get him out of the state for a couple of months a year. It was this sort of Democrat which brought on Ronald Reagan in 1980 (so, they can’t be all bad).

Hey, I admit to being a Republican but there are a lot of Democrats I like. I Truman, JFK, of the living The Clintons (seriously), most of the Western Governors, there are others. Intellectual honesty, openness and conversational (rather than confrontational), these are the Democrats I befriended in college (looking back on it, I don’t know how these people put up with me). But Hollywood loves the screaming crazies.

And this is why these movies fail.

There are some redeeming parts to the film. Redford’s (er, McKay’s) campaign becomes infested with hacks. In this movie they are intelligent, knowledgeable men of accomplishment who provide steady coaching for Redford (er, McKay) and turn him into a legitimate candidate. (Those bleeping hacks, destroying the political process with their ideas about how human psychology works.) As someone with a hack background, I appreciate the role political operatives and media specialists play in the political process.

Too bad the hacks are considered an impediment to McKay’s (er, Redford’s) ideology. The hacks are the enemy (the message is very subtle in the movie but at this point, a little exaggeration and exegesis will dramatically help this review). They’re the reason union folks get fired, they’re the reason rivers are polluted. Those political operatives, along with their friends the evil lobbyists and the dastardly special interests, brought down the WTC.

Let’s get real here. You know why lit pieces you receive in the mail are vacuous bits of fluff? Because political hacks know it doesn’t matter the lit piece, you’ll only spend 4 seconds looking at it. Do you wonder why you get called on the phone? Because political hacks know people who only vote during presidential election years can be bothered enough to vote in mid-term election years only if you call them 9 times before Election Day (seriously). Hacks are nothing without knowledge of their marks. In essence, political operatives are just reflections of the voter.

American voters don’t want “true believers” (people who passionately believe and promote an ideology) because most Americans aren’t true believers. They don’t belong to any political philosophy. As such, the political hacks are there to teach candidates who don’t identify with 80% of the electorate how to identify with 50%+1 of the electorate.

Someday, I hope to write a detailed essay on “the hacks” since I’m over-generalizing here, but I think the point is getting across. Hacks, media people, sycophants, bootlickers, Harry climbers, establishment wannabes, brown nosers and scum are just the sorts of people we want working in politics (mainly because these are the people you don’t want in charge of bringing your food from the kitchen to the table at a nice restaurant).

Wow, you can tell this is a bad movie because I’m spending so much time writing rather than watching (I write all bargain bin movie reviews while I watch the movie).

Okay, specifically, the movie is slow moving, uninteresting and poorly performed. Robert Redford is tolerable as himself. It gets preachy. Peter Boyle plays a creepy guy (his perfect role, in fact). Robert Novak and Tom Brokaw are mentioned as major political players (that’s how old this film is, I think those two guys are dead).*

This movie won an Oscar in 1972 for Best Original Screenplay. How bad were movies in the 1970’s? It took fifteen minutes of this before I wanted to scratch my eyes out. I’ve had more entertaining dental cleanings. (Well, duh, the Screenplay was written by one of the speechwriters for Eugene McCarthy, Jeremy Larner; I should be shocked I was able to watch the film at all, considering the source.)

And is this movie really a “Bargain”? For the purposes of these columns, I define a Bargain Bin Movie as any movie which can be purchased from a mainstream retailer in a high quality “solid” format (DVD, VHS, etc, it excludes online downloads) for less than the price of watching a film at a local theatre (excluding the matinee discount). At 8 dollars, this film is right on the line.

Well, it’s no “bargain” but I’ve written too much to abandon this review.

Well, Redford (er, McKay) wins in an upset. Woo. Sign me up for the sequel.

The movie ends just as uninterestingly as it began.

Expect to see more “political slasher” movies in this space in the coming months. And special thanks to Wal-Mart for having a wall filled with “American Summer” discounted DVDs which featured a number of political craptacular films I now own because I have too much time on my hands.

[Anyone that knows any good political films, please list them in the comments section. I have a good list but I would like to expand it.]

*That’s supposed to be a joke; I know Brokaw is now the guy doing Meet the Press and Novak is still a well known columnist, both quite influential. Leave me alone already.

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Bargain Bin Movie Review

You Bet Your Life—The Best of Groucho Marx

Price: One dollar, found at Wal-Mart

It’s hard to believe people thought this stuff was entertaining. Don’t misunderstand; I’m a huge fan of the Marx Brothers, Groucho in particular. But this show is nothing but awkward silences, slow moving conversations and missed one-liners. If you don’t know or remember, You Bet Your Life didn’t actually involve betting one’s life, but it was in fact just a trivia show.

The banter between Groucho and the contestants was the primary source of entertainment value of the show. Unfortunately, this isn’t the slick, fast talking Groucho from the movies. The pace is slow; a sleepy and aged Groucho Marx sits and chats with people who aren’t especially entertaining.

The highlight of the DVD is when a professional pickpocket appears on the show and proceeds to pick the pocket of another guest, then Groucho’s pocket, next he removes Groucho’s suspenders from his suit and while helping Groucho back into the suspenders he picks his pocket again. The guy said he was a legal pickpocket, someone who helped local police departments in stopping pickpocket rings. Well, maybe that’s how he ended up.

What I find funny is the fact contestants who were good at the game could win almost 3000 dollars. A generation later, contestants on “Win Ben Stein’s Money” (A personal favorite of mine) could earn a whopping five thousand dollars. So, the money wasn’t bad on the show.

This forces me to consider what people will think of reruns of “Deal or No Deal” (presently the only game show I watch) in 40 years. They’ll probably think the same thing I think, “Man are these people stupid.”

And just like that, two episodes and an appearance by Groucho’s daughter and it’s over. Well, that’s what I get for spending a buck for a DVD.


Bargain Bin Movie Review

Hell in Normandy or (Testa di sbarco per otto implacabili)

This bargain bin movie was picked up for a dollar at my local Walmart. It’s actually an Italian film from 1968 and it’s in the public domain. You can watch it for free on the internet if you google the title (making me embarrassed to admit I purchased the film at all, but those are the dangers of the bargain bin).

I think the copy I purchased is a kinescope recoding. The picture quality is exceptionally poor and about 50 percent of the action happens off screen. The sound quality is equally bad but it does take your attention away from how bad the acting is; well, it’s hard to tell if it’s the acting or the fact the movie is dubbed. But hey, at least it’s in color.

The darn thing is supposed to be an action film about a group of parachutists infiltrating an installation in the days preceding D-Day. From what I could tell the movie was an endless stream of random killings. I guess that’s action but it was hard to find a protagonist in all that seemingly random shooting. There are a bunch of characters, known of whom are really introduced and most of which are shot by other characters who have conversely failed to introduce themselves. Really, it would have been nice to find just one protagonist to attach myself to.

Thanks to the fact the copy of the film I had was a kinescope I probably couldn’t tell what was going on even if I were to find a protagonist. It didn’t help that all the dubbing sounds like it was done by the same guy (it wasn’t but everyone was pretty much in the same pitch and tone range). It was such a frustrating movie that I had to try and use the IMDB entry to follow the plot.

Surprisingly, someone wrote erudite review of this movie on IMDB, a portion of it is reproduced here:

The king of average, mediocre Italian action movies, Alfonso Brescia, does his best work in this action-packed, anti-war commando story, released in 1967. “Hell in Normandy” may not be the best of a slew of Italian “commando” movies, but it’s somewhere near the top of the pile, simply because Brescia manages to pack so much into a 90-minute running time.

American commandos, led by Captain Murphy (Guy Madison), parachute into occupied Normandy, where Lt. Strobel (Peter Lee Lawrence), a German spy, helps them penetrate a flamethrower installations which threatens the landings on Omaha Beach. Murphy is skeptical of his mission’s practicality, but Strobel is fanatically dedicated to destroying the base, and the two butt heads several times before the film’s bullet-ridden climax.

This was an Italian-French co-production, and was quite possibly shot in France – this is noticeable in the first few shots. For once, an Italian war films opens with the landscape actually looking like the country it represents. I can’t count the times I’ve seen semi-arid climates and rock quarries passed off for “southern France”, so Brescia’s choice of shooting locations earns him major points in my book. The movie looks just as real throughout – uniforms, weapons, vehicles and sets all look very authentic. Many Italian directors, such as Leon Klimovsky and Umberto Lenzi, disregarded accuracy in favor of action, and that damaged their credibility. Here, one can respect the time and money Brescia puts into making his film look credible.

What interested me more than the movie was the reviewer I quoted above, the person with the handle “Sgt. Slaughter.” Who was this person who wrote so knowledgeably and eloquently about a movie that is so un-notable it would fail to make the list of least notable Italian WWII films?

This person has written 91 reviews, mostly of war films, on IMDB. Almost all of the films he (or she (but I doubt it)) reviews are on par with this one: backwater low budget productions TNT would be embarrassed to play in the all important Tuesday 1am timeslot. But they are incredibly informative and sometimes riveting reviews, so I’m drawn to them anyway. So, despite the fact this film left me doing household chores (rather than actually watch it) I give it a strong thumbs up as it helped me find the writings of someone more obsessed with these sorts of film than I.


Bargain Bin Movie Review

This is Not a Test (1962)

$1 at Walmart. (collection of 4 movies called “The Sci-Fi Invasion”)

I consider myself a bit of an expert when it comes to Nuclear Holocaust films. I have a dozen or so titles in my own collection and I watch them every chance I get. In this modern age of terror there is no greater relief than to learn more about the golden age of terror. Nuclear Holocaust ranks up there with Revelations in pure frightening possibilities.

In “This is Not a Test” we join a lone police officer who is ordered to create a roadblock on a dark desert highway to prevent people from clogging up the highways as the bombs start to drop. The police officer is gruff, slow, loud and otherwise the ideal candidate for Congress. Luckily the viewer loses track of just how annoying the police officer is thanks to how annoying all the other characters are.

In disaster films stereotypes run in packs. There’s always a criminal on the run, a drunk, an hysterical woman, the honest guy, the dumb-arrogant-knows-everything guy and the father-daughter team. What I’ve learned from movies such as these is that if you put more than three human beings under stress in proximity to one another they will kill themselves. It will be either through their own actions or inactions. There is no way to avoid it so you’re always better off being the suicidal mad man.

If I ever find myself facing disaster, I’m so going to be that guy.

This movie has a wonderful amateur quality to it. From what I’ve read it was a “made for TV” film. This culminates in ample MST3K moments. At one point the Criminal with Nothing to Lose runs off and hides in the bushes, to reappear whenever the plot thins, which of course it does: one of the hysterical women runs off into the dark because she’s scared of dying by nuclear blast so instead she exposes herself to the knife wielding criminal.

Another scene in the film which had me laughing was when one of the characters is left behind alone and in his frustration he assaults a pick-up truck filled with chickens in little boxes. The chickens are alive and the actor can plainly be seen taking live chickens and slamming them to the ground, tossing them and kicking them. He also smashes a large box filled with chickens on the ground and chickens and feathers fly everywhere. It was hilarious and disturbing at the same time.

Towards the end of the film the crew of stereotypes decides to ride out the nuclear fallout in the back of a semi-trailer (beats a school desk I suppose.) The policeman decides the hysterical woman’s dog is going to use up too much oxygen and he kills it with his bare hands and throws it onto the floor. In the last scene of the film it appears as though the dead dog is still in the trailer of the semi-truck with the survivors. This means the dog will rot in the coming weeks with everyone locked inside with it.

You can add up every boneheaded action, every stupid scene or terrible stereotype in a review but it just doesn’t quite replace seeing the actual film. The fears of the 50’s and 60’s seems so surreal to me, and little gems like this remind me of how frightening the world must have seemed when nuclear annihilation was the next big thing in realpolitik.

Totally worth the buck I spent.

Open Thread!

Still not dead

I swear…

Not Dead

Just on hold.

They Came from Beyond Space

I Bought a package of fifty Sci-Fi movies for less than 50 cents a movie.

“They Came from Beyond Space” was one of those movies.

My 50 cent review?

Ya get what you pay for.

One of my Favorites…

Available at Walmart, Kung Pow, Enter the Fist!

$4.88

Steve Oederkerk is really an unsung hero in the movies. He doesn’t get a lot of parts, yet he’s one of the funniest guys I ever watched on screen. It’s not different in this flick. Steve takes an old Kung Fu classic and inserts new dialogue and action sequences.

It’s a spoof movie, and some parts are not well done. However, it’s truly creative. If you’re a fan of bad movies, or of movies making fun of bad movies, or spoofs, get this film.

It’s hit or miss, but for less than the cost of a ticket, I say get it.

Bargain Bin Movie Review

Available at Walmart, Kung Pow, Enter the Fist!

$4.88

Steve Oederkerk is really an unsung hero in the movies. He doesn’t get a lot of parts, yet he’s one of the funniest guys I ever watched on screen. It’s not different in this flick. Steve takes an old Kung Fu classic and inserts new dialogue and action sequences.

It’s a spoof movie, and some parts are not well done. However, it’s truly creative. If you’re a fan of bad movies, or of movies making fun of bad movies, or spoofs, get this film.

It’s hit or miss, but for less than the cost of a ticket, I say get it.