Thursday, May 25, 2006
On May 30, 1986, Cannon released its latest action epic, THUNDER RUN. The film received little notice amidst the glut of action films released that month, some with box office superstars (TOP GUN, COBRA) and others without (JAKE SPEED). The film had exciting desert action scenes and a veteran genre stalwart starring, but was unevenly directed by an actor making his debut behind the camera. After being rerun frequently for a few years on Showtime and The Movie Channel, it has rarely been seen on cable since, and has long been out of print in the United States on VHS (though it is on DVD overseas).
So, I know your question is not “why the hell isn’t this on DVD yet”, but rather, “why the hell are you writing about this one, Hal?”
Well, see if this grabs you.
Ruthless international terrorists are out to destroy the American way of life. They will stop at nothing to obtain the deadliest substance on earth. The terrorists are heavily armed, and on a deserted road, only one man stands between them and the plutonium:
Now that I have you hooked.....
THUNDER RUN is an uneven action film, pandering to the teen audience during the first half by devoting a little too much time to John Shepherd, Wallace Langham (billed as Wally Ward) and friends. Oh, there's a bar fight, some old-school street racing, a cop chase, a sex scene (don’t worry, not involving Tuck) and an expensive car gets destroyed, but ideally the RUN through the desert should have started 10 to 15 minutes earlier. It is also painfully obvious that several of the actors are non-professionals (the absolute worst: the cop in hot pursuit of the motorcycle).
Once the preparation for the RUN itself starts, THUNDER RUN becomes one fun, exciting little action flick. Tucker and friends diligently prepare his 18 wheeler for the 200 mile desert trek, and we see the preparation pay off as he wards off evil terrorists led by a scar-faced Alan Rachins (DHARMA AND GREG). The terrorist group numbers in the well, dozens, and they have choppers, motorcycles, grenades, rifles, roadblocks and (best of all) camouflaged Volkswagen beetles with heat-seeking rocket launchers on top. Not to be outdone, Tucker rigs his rig with flamethrowers, ultra-high exhaust stacks, Molotov cocktails and “Space Age Plastic, son”!
Though first-time director Hudson struggles with the pacing, he does a nice job with the action sequences. Writers Charles Davis and Carol Heyer definitely know their vehicles and stunts, but they are out of touch when writing dialogue for teens: Shepherd's friends are worried about "the fuzz" (in 1986??) and have other lines like "I don't want to get stroked by some squirrel who doesn't have the bucks" (seriously: WTF?).
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Something interesting about the bottom photo above: if you stare at it closely for about 3 or 4 minutes, you'll notice that I'm also in it!
A little breather from the reviews now; not to worry, more to follow, including the 20th anniversary of one of my favorite "guilty pleasure" films and a couple more TV series on DVD. So stay tuned, folks!
During a recent trip to Vegas, I met 1995 World Series of Poker champion (he's made the final table 3 other times!) Dan Harrington (top photo) and the gorgeous pro player Evelyn Ng (the aforementioned bottom photo).
Yeah, I look different than in the Storchy pictures below, but hey, it's been 6 years!
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Why the Hell isn't this on DVD yet?--Number 5
MY SWEET CHARLIE (1970 Universal/NBC-TV) Starring Patty Duke, Al Freeman, Jr., Ford Rainey. Directed by Lamont Johnson.
Sadly, the films made for television during the 1970’s have largely disappeared in recent years, with precious few either available on DVD or shown on TV anymore. One would get the impression that DUEL and BRIAN’S SONG were the only worthwhile telefilms of the era. That impression couldn’t be more wrong. MY SWEET CHARLIE is far from being the only overlooked made-for-TV treasure from the era; but in my opinion it is the telefilm most worthy of rediscovery.
MY SWEET CHARLIE was adapted from the novel and Broadway play by David Westheimer (VON RYAN'S EXPRESS) by the writing team of Richard Levinson and William Link. The names Levinson and Link became synonymous with quality television: THAT CERTAIN SUMMER, MURDER BY NATURAL CAUSES, RANSOM FOR A DEAD MAN, THE GUN and THE EXECUTION OF PRIVATE SLOVIK were among their telefilm offerings during the Seventies alone (and some will no doubt be reviewed on this site later).
Patty Duke is a poor, uneducated southern white girl shunned by both her father and her boyfriend after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. After an uncomfortable encounter while hitchhiking, and with nowhere else to go, she takes refuge in a vacant coastal vacation house until northern black attorney Al Freeman Jr., who is on the lam and needs a place to hide, breaks into the house and finds her there. Forced to stay there together by circumstance, the two vent mutual hostilities, confront prejudices (racial, regional, class and sexual), and eventually develop appreciation, and a platonic love, for each other.
The performances are very strong. Duke rebounds nicely from her VALLEY OF THE DOLLS fiasco to give what many consider her best adult performance, very convincing as the naïve and troubled young mother-to-be. She is matched by Freeman, who makes several interesting and effective choices, including his decision to underplay the key scene in which he reveals why he is on the lam. (Freeman had experience with two-character stories dealing with racial tension, having starred in 1967's DUTCHMAN with Shirley Knight.) Veteran character actor Ford Rainey is also solid in a difficult role, personifying the overall views and attitudes of the area with less than 10 minutes of actual screen time.
MY SWEET CHARLIE was unanimously acclaimed when it aired in January 1970; it even had a theatrical run after initially airing on television, a full year before BRIAN’S SONG and DUEL did the same. With a 31.7 rating and 48 share, MY SWEET CHARLIE was the highest rated made for TV Movie in history at the time. Duke, editor Ed Abroms, and writers Levinson and Link deservedly won Emmy awards, with Freeman and director Lamont Johnson also nominated.
So, why isn't it available on DVD?
It doesn't have the "name director" (Spielberg) or the "future box office names" (James Caan and Billy Dee Williams) before they "hit it big" that the aforementioned DUEL and BRIAN'S SONG have.
Also, it lacks the "action" of NFL football, or of a man vs. unseen truck driver on a deserted road, instead having the "disadvantage" of being a "people story".
Like most socially relevant films of the period, it has elements that have not dated well.
Why it should be on DVD:
Duke and Freeman give performances that are among the very best in the history of made-for-TV movies.
The film itself is the most acclaimed made-for-TV film in history that isn't available by far.
Speaking of DUTCHMAN, it is available on DVD as well. So why not CHARLIE, a better film? And wouldn't a Duke/Freeman/Johnson/Link commentary be worthy of a listen?
So what if it is a people story--there's plenty of dramatic tension here. If you watch it, you'll be moved.
Oscar winners/nominees don't just dry up and disappear from screens and shelves, and their TV-movie equivalents with multiple Emmy awards shouldn't be forgotten either.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
"Why the Hell isn't this on DVD yet?" -- Number 4
WHO’S MINDING THE MINT? (1967 Columbia) Starring Jim Hutton, Walter Brennan, Dorothy Provine, Milton Berle, Jack Gilford, Joey Bishop, Bob Denver, Victor Buono and Jamie Farr. Directed by Howard Morris.
During the 1960’s, several caper films followed the box office success of OCEAN’S 11 (1960), and IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (1963) started a string of big, splashy, all-star comedies. WHO’S MINDING THE MINT? came along late in each cycle, but was among the funniest examples of both.
Despite this auspicious debut as a feature director, Morris was unable to keep the momentum going. His subsequent films WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLL (1968) and DON’T DRINK THE WATER (1969) were disappointing, and then a full decade passed before his next feature directing assignment: the abysmal Donny and Marie vehicle GOIN’ COCONUTS. Morris only had this one top-notch film in him, but it is a truly great comedy, one that has been unjustly overlooked for nearly four decades now.
|Inspired a Dell Comic, too!|
So, why isn't this on DVD yet?
Although it's an all-star cast, it's an all-star cast of mostly television, rather than feature film, comedy names. And instead of having Martin, Sinatra, Curtis, Lemmon or Spencer Tracy as a lead, it has Jim Hutton, who was never that kind of box office attraction.
|Don't listen to him baby, I'm a big star, trust me!|
Why it should be on DVD:
Look, don't get me wrong. I like both MAD MAD WORLD and GREAT RACE. But WHO'S MINDING THE MINT? is the best and funniest film of the three. Yes. Really.
Provine, Farr, Jackie Joseph and Bishop might be persuaded to participate in DVD extras. TRIVIA: Provine also appeared in both MAD MAD WORLD and THE GREAT RACE. Busy girl!
Modern audience definitely needs to be exposed to Buono and Gilford at their best; both are terrific here.
WITH SIX YOU GET EGGROLL is on DVD and this gem isn't? That's just wrong.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Why the hell isn't this on DVD yet? Volume 3
BLOOD AND LACE (1971 American International) Starring Melody Patterson, Gloria Grahame, Vic Tayback, Len Lesser, Dennis Christopher, Milton Selzer. Directed by Philip S. Gilbert.
Okay, folks, here's your chance to see the late, great Vic Tayback playing a hero!
Well, sort of.
BLOOD AND LACE is a very, very low budget horror film starring Melody Patterson as the "not quite 21" year old Elly Masters (21 being the legal age in this unnamed state) who is orphaned when her mother is brutally murdered in her sleep by a hammer-wielding psycho. Not knowing who her father is, Patterson has nowhere to go except the Deere Orphanage, run by the icy Gloria Grahame and creepy handyman Len "Uncle Leo!" Lesser. Grahame has a shady financial arrangement with the county that she will stop at nothing---literally, nothing---to preserve. While police detective Vic Tayback investigates the crime, and shows more than just a passing interest in the young girl's welfare, Patterson is having repeated nightmares about the crime that seem increasingly real.
One can see an influence on later genre classics. Just compare the opening scene here with John Carpenter's opening sequence in HALLOWEEN seven years later. And the psycho in Elly's dreams looks more than a little like Freddy Krueger without his hat.
This was promoted as "the sickest PG film ever made" in 1971. It is astonishing that it secured a PG rating, as this screenplay is extremely cynical and tasteless and director Gilbert pulls out all the stops with his limited resources. BLOOD AND LACE gives us pedophilia, murder, incest, child abuse, insanity, arson, decaying corpses, amputation by meat cleaver, starvation, hypothermia, plenty of gore, overacting, Vic Tayback looking for "good breeding stock" and, perhaps most disturbing of all, aging Gloria Grahame and moon-faced Milton Selzer enjoying an afternoon delight.
In other words, a must-see!
So, why isn't this on DVD yet?
Extremely low budget film with lots of familiar TV names, but no big-screen stars save for Grahame two decades past her prime. I mean, Vic Tayback is your hero.
Why it should be released on DVD:
Well, like I said, Vic Tayback is your hero! Now that's rare!
This film is a perfect fit for Sony's "Midnite Movies" DVD series .
Guys who are too ashamed to be checking Patterson out during her teenage F TROOP days can do so here with a clear conscience (she was 21 when BLOOD AND LACE was filmed).
A commentary with Lesser and/or Patterson would be very possible.
Film has been recognized as influential, and is slowly gaining a cult following with airings on Showtime, Flix and Encore Mystery Channel in recent years.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
"Why the Hell isn't this on DVD yet?" Volume 2
SO FINE (1981 WB) Starring Ryan O'Neal, Jack Warden, Richard Kiel, Mariangela Melato, Fred Gwynne, Mike Kellin, David Rounds, Irving Metzman, Angela Pietropinto, Tony Sirico. Written and directed by Andrew Bergman.
Sidesplittingly funny comedy written and directed (his debut) by Bergman (THE IN-LAWS) and starring Ryan O'Neal and Jack Warden (USED CARS). While not quite at the level of either (which is no indictment--we're talking about two of the greatest comedies ever made) SO FINE reminds me of both. Like USED CARS, this film features Jack Warden at his most quotable and profane and also features a former Munster playing a key, authoritative supporting role. And like THE IN-LAWS, this film has Andrew Bergman taking you to unexpected places from beginning to end.
Ryan O'Neal, an experienced straight man for screwball insanity, is a professor up for tenure at his small university who is kidnapped by goons working for 7'2" loan shark Richard Kiel. Kiel is owed six figures (seven with vigorish) by O'Neal's dad, failing dress designer Jack Warden, and wants "new blood" within Fine Fashions in the person of O'Neal, who knows nothing about the dress business. To complicate matters, Kiel's trophy wife Mariangela Melato falls for Ryan at first sight, subtly letting him know this ("I f**k around") as soon as Kiel is out of earshot.
As noted above, Warden is every bit as hilarious as he was as Roy L. Fuchs in USED CARS, but most of the really good lines are either his or Melato's, as opposed to Zemeckis' film, where the funniest lines were more widely distributed. And while the film is consistently funny, it does lose some steam during the too-silly opera finale ("a sudden burst of surrealism!"). Nevertheless, Kiel as a "tragic giant" Otello is a jaw dropping sight despite the hit-and-miss subtitles translating for us as he and Melato sing out their differences.
Angela Pietropinto has a good early role as Melato's confidant, Anita Morris memorably opens the So Fine commercial, and Tyra Ferrell (BOYZ N THE HOOD) makes her feature debut, briefly wearing the trendsetting jeans around the offices of Fine Fashions.
Ryan O'Neal's charmed life at the box office had come to an end by the early 1980's, and SO FINE had disappointing returns in the fall of 1981. It's still a very underrated film, every bit as funny as Bergman's THE FRESHMAN and even a solid competitor for O'Neal's WHAT'S UP DOC?. Highly worthy of release and rediscovery on DVD.
So, why isn't this on DVD yet?
Ryan O'Neal isn't the biggest name these days (MALIBU'S MOST WANTED, anyone?); the film did poorly during its initial release.
A handful of gags have aged poorly, though to be fair you could say that about most of the era's comedies.
Bottom line: it's very funny despite the preposterousness. Bergman's flair for the unexpected is in fine form, as is Jack Warden's faultless ability to tell it like it is. And Kiel is a revelation: disco dancing, lip synching to "Walk Like a Man", and getting far more laughs than syllables. (As verbose as he gets: "Vegas. Then Reno. You don't like it, tough!")
Almost all of Bergman's other films are available on DVD and this one should be too.
We saw far too little of the talented Melato in Hollywood films, and she's much better served here than in FLASH GORDON.
THE IN-LAWS had a terrific commentary with director, writer, and both leads available. All the principals would be available for a similar one here.
If THE DEVIL AND MAX DEVLIN, WHOLLY MOSES! and other box office bombs from the same time period are out on DVD, then this much better film deserves a release too.
Monday, May 01, 2006
THE WHITE SHADOW, SEASON 2 (1979-80 CBS-TV) Starring Ken Howard, Ed Bernard, Joan Pringle, Erik Kilpatrick, Byron Stewart, Timothy Van Patten, Kevin Hooks and Thomas Carter.
As a huge fan of the CBS cult classic THE WHITE SHADOW I had Season Two on preorder prior to its March 21 release.
I feel the series peaked during this second season. After it, many key cast members graduated from high school in a realistic, gutsy, but dramatically depleting move. By Season 3, Gomez, Hayward, Goldstein, Jackson, and Reese were all gone and replaced by new cast members that didn't have the same appeal. Also missing in S3: Ed Bernard, as Joan Pringle's Sybil Buchanan was promoted to principal. They were all sorely missed, and the series was cancelled after that third and final season.
But in Season Two, THE WHITE SHADOW really hit its stride. For starters, the show was astoundingly prescient. You had episodes with athletes betting on their own games ("On the Line"; a full decade before the Pete Rose controversy), female teachers having sex with their students ("Salami's Affair"; just compare this 25 year old episode to today's headlines!), segregated country clubs ("Links"; this would become a big controversy in the early 1990's), venereal disease ("Me?"), passive-aggressive racism towards black athletes playing quarterback and point guard ("Crosstown Hustle"), and child abuse ("The Hitter"). And that's just 6 of the 22 episodes in this underrated drama's best season.
A quick review, episode by episode. Titles of Key episodes in bold:
"On the Line": Curtis Jackson (poor guy, a dark cloud follows him around all season) gets involved with a bookie, with predictable results, at the same time that an aspiring journalist follows the team around. A point is also made about journalistic responsibility, and made far more successfully than in the awful Happy Days episode in which we learn the Fonz is afraid of liver. *** 1/2
"Albert Hodges" After a wrongful imprisonment, the bitter Hodges comes back to finish high school with a heightened radar for discrimination and a major chip on his shoulder, threatening to divide the team. Commendably open ended final scene. *** 1/2
"Crosstown Hustle" Unscrupulous, opportunist coach at an almost all-white school hoodwinks Reese into transferring. Effectively subtle points made here about "old school" attitudes towards black athletes playing point guard in basketball (and by extension, quarterback in football). ****
"Sudden Death" Haywood Nelson of What's Happening! guest stars as a talented new player who has an undetected heart defect, with tragic results. Great performances by Howard and one of my all-time faves, Madge Sinclair as the boy's mother. Some very uncomfortable moments, with another cliche-defying ending. ***1/2
"A Silent Cheer" Coach Reeves and the father one of his players both have to face the fact that dreams die hard, and it is time to move on. ****
"No Place Like Home" Coolidge moves in with the coach after his apartment building burns down. ** 1/2
"Globetrotters" I was never a fan of the "special guest star" episodes, which were fortunately very scarce during seasons 1 and 2. Coach Reeves enlists the help of his good friends, the Harlem Globetrotters. to cure his team's collective big head. **1/2 This episode has a commentary with Byron Stewart (Coolidge), Kevin Hooks (Thorpe), Erik Kilpatrick (Jackson) and Ira Augustain (Gomez).
"Me?" A triangle involving Coolidge, Thorpe and Coolidge's new girlfriend, and the consequences of one casual encounter. Several intense dramatic scenes, especially the closer between Coolidge and Thorpe. ****
"Needle" Hayward deals with his grief after the overdose death of his young cousin. Despite the 'Hayward as Paul Kersey' plot, this one is emotionally draining from beginning to end. **** Commentary by Victor Lobl, director
"Sliding By" An episode dealing with the perils of grades being handed out for athletic prowess. In this case a very gifted transfer student with an impeccable transcript turns out to be less gifted than we thought. ****
"Delores, of Course" Gorgeous Debbi Morgan guest stars. Poor Curtis Jackson. A bout with alcoholism, a gambling problem, and now the love of his life returns to Carver from San Francisco....with a very dark secret. Heartbreaking final shot that will stay with you. **** My favorite episode of the series, with a great contribution from Joan Pringle in her scenes with Morgan.
"A Christmas Present" The obligatory Christmas episode. Oh well, it's pretty good as these things go. We learn here that Sybil (Joan Pringle) has a husband. I had always suspected she and Coach Reeves secretly had the hots for each other, myself. :) *** GUEST STAR: Sybil's husband is played by Joan Pringle's real life husband, the late Theodore "Teddy" Wilson. You'll recognize him as Sweet Daddy from "Good Times".
"Feeling no Pain" The team has a brush with drugs after Salami hurts his knee. Another episode way ahead of its time. ***1/2
"Artist" Thorpe discovers a talent for art. His father is unenthused. **1/2
"Salami's Affair" Still very relevant as noted above; Salami gets very, very special attention from a 'progressive' teacher. Some very realistic and uncomfortable moments and one of the series' finest hours. ****
"Links" The coach takes the team to a country club, which turns out to be unofficially segregated--remember when country club segregation became a major issue in the early 90's? Many hilarious moments as Salami and Coach double date (real appropriate, huh?) and Coolidge and Thorpe try golfing ("hit it with a closed face"). **** A sober topic that very few series would dare to mine is explored and yet, thanks to the scenes described above, this is the funniest episode of the series.
"The Stripper" Special Guest Star alert! Sports movie icon Randee Heller (she was the great Gabe Kaplan's wife in "Fast Break" and the "Karate Kid"'s mom) plays another progressive teacher; no, she doesn't have the hots for a student, just Coach Reeves. But he doesn't know about her other job...... *** 1/2.
"Gonna Fly Now" The sale of angel dust around Carver High. A distant third to "Feeling No Pain" and "Needle" along these lines. **1/2
"Out at Home" Coach Reeves is promoted to athletic director, over the unpopular baseball coach. Very interesting episode in which most of the regulars take a back seat; more than anything a character study of the bitter old Carver baseball coach (very well played by guest star James McEachin). ***1/2
"The Russians Are Coming" Dated and contrived Cold War episode. The usual cliches aren't avoided. *1/2
"The Hitter" Gomez deals with abuse at the hands of his father. ***1/2
"The Death of Me Yet" Once again, poor Curtis Jackson. Wrong place, wrong time yet again, this time fatal. As in "Sudden Death", a very powerful episode about the aftermath of the tragic, senseless death of a teenager. Perhaps the best scene of the entire series takes place when Coach Reeves meets Jackson's younger brother. ****
"Coolidge Goes Hollywood" Embarrassing. Sole value is camp value, as Coolidge improbably becomes a TV star. It does have valid points to make about racism in media 20 years before Spike Lee's "Bamboozled", but the setup is so unrealistic, so farfetched, and clumsily set up, that it is impossible to be very involved with anything happening here. Worst episode of the first two seasons. * Special Guest Stars: Ed Asner as himself(!) and George Wyner.
"A Few Good Men" Graduation approaches, Goldstein considers the Marines, and.....Reese considers a recording career? Anticlimactic, which is probably the point after a championship is won, but still, a great, great season limped to a close with two very subpar episodes. *1/2
Director Lobl is very informative in discussing "Needle". There's also a producer's commentary on "Death of Me Yet", a feature on the budding directing careers of Thomas Carter (Hayward) and Kevin Hooks (Thorpe), started on this show, and an 18 minute retrospective on Bruce Paltrow. A very nice set of extras.
Myself, I would have liked some input from unsung heroine Joan Pringle. Season 3, perhaps? With the onscreen chemistry between the two actors, a Howard/Pringle commentary would be interesting.
A very strong, solid season, despite ending with two false notes. Better than Season One, and the series is at a definite peak with "Needle", "Links" and "The Death of Me Yet" in particular. There's much more going on here than basketball, and though it is impossible for something 25 years old not to be dated, you'll be amazed how relevant many of the issues still are. And on DVD, the series never looked better. I think you can overlook 3 weak episodes out of 24 and give this ****.