Monday, June 30, 2014

Flick Pick: Stripes

(Columbia, 1981)

Virtually everybody in this movie except Bill Murray and Warren Oates were on their first big thing. It was supposed to be Cheech and Chong Join The Army, but that pair's demands for creative control got them written right out of the project. Director Ivan Reitman wanted Bill Murray, having just done Meatballs, so he told writer Daniel Goldberg to get Harold Ramis interested in writing and appearing in it, and then Ramis could convince Bill Murray to come along. Coming at the beginning of a ten-year streak where Reitman could do no wrong in comedy films, the rest was magic. It cleaned up tidily at the box office, and it holds up as well now as when it came out 33(!) years ago this week. As I was living in the same barracks area at Ft. Knox seen in the film shortly after it premiered, seeing it still brings on a flashback or two. And since Baby Brother did his Basic and Armor AIT there not long afterward from my visit, today's pick is also his birthday greeting.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Flick Pick: The Money Pit

The Money Pit
(Universal, 1986)

Tom Hanks and Shelley Long milking every pitfall in home renovation for all it's worth, in a remake of 1948's Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. Unlike that Cary Grant outing, this one produced by Steven Spielberg made quite a tidy profit, and 30 years later, NBC is still trying to make a sitcom out of it. Without the talent of Alexander Godunov, who steals every scene in The Money Pit where he makes an appearance, they're unlikely to get beyond a pilot episode that's worth watching, but lack of quality has never stopped a TV show from being made in recorded history. Watch the original instead.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Amidst replies to a post elsewhere regarding rape, a discussion arose.
Since this deals with rape, let's set out a baseline:

1. Rape is bad.
2. Nobody raped was "asking for it".
3. In what is purely MHO, the penalty for a first-time offense should be rather simple:
nothing more or less than what was done to Mel Gibson's character in the last 10 minutes or so of Braveheart (not including a visit by Sophie Marceau).

What follows may offend or annoy some people, so just in case one of them is you, refer to 1-3 above in case you get confused or upset.

What sparked my comments was the contention that "reported rapes are only 10% of the actual total" or words to that effect, oft-repeated in many other contexts.

Which is, quite simply and categorically utter bullshit.

For comparison, please let me know how many fish a fisherman didn't catch.
Follow up with the number of deer a hunter didn't shoot.
Conclude with the total number of home runs all major league baseball players didn't hit, from 1900-2013, inclusive.

That's what the number or percentage of "unreported rapes" totals up to be:
absolutely unknowable with existing technology.
(Unless somebody surveys enough women to get a statistically valid sample of actual rape victims - tens of thousands of women to get say 1200-1500 or so victims - and then determines how many of them reported it or not, and then factors out how many of the non-reporters and/or reporters were lying about the allegations, which brings us to...)

But wait! There's more!

I observed, based on my anecdotal experience, that probably 90% of the allegations of rape that are actually made are bullshit as well.

Note that I'm not arguing that my experience is so comprehensive that it must be that way everywhere at all times. Anything but. What I am saying is that when I started in emergency medicine as a nurse, I assumed someone alleging she'd been raped, had in fact been so mistreated.

And then watched "rape" after "rape" turn out to be:
daughter caught coming in late by parents, throwing BF under bus;
girl caught by BF, throwing BF-du-noir under bus;
girl deciding upon sober reflection that she really didn't like last night's hook-up, so she must have been raped;
GF who'd been dumped by BF despite make-up sex deciding to throw ex-BF under bus;
and numerous other permutations on the theme.

To the point that less than 1/10th of the allegations were sustained for longer than 2 hours, even as we went through all the proper steps and treated it as legit. And time and again, was recanted by the supposed victim, within a few minutes to a half-an-hour's gentle and tender interview by (mostly female, but not entirely so) police officers and detectives detailed to speak with the victim by the local constabulary. As opposed to, say, confessions beaten out of them with rubber hoses. Who, in most instances once the truth came out, politely closed their notebooks, and left to file their reports.

The first instance, frankly, shocked the crap out of me. I wouldn't have imagined it under any circumstance. I'm certainly not happy about it having happened, even now after having done this much digging around over it. The next one or two dozen generally just rise to the level of pique that someone's drama queenery would waste valuable time and resources. And I can't un-see what I've seen firsthand. So if the reality upsets you, twist your panties the other way back until the pain stops.

Now is that universal? I don't know. It's anecdotal, not peer-reviewed research.
It's possible that I saw the only 20 or so rape fakers in the county because I'm lucky like that, and they only came in on my shifts.

Do unreported rapes occur? Certainly.
How many? I have no effing clue.
And neither do you, nor does anyone else, nor can they, ever.

So how many times do women falsely allege rape? Well, going back to the Book of Genesis, I recall at least two examples. Then there was the McMartin Preschool trials Inquisition, followed by Tawana Brawley, and the Duke University lacrosse team case. So it's a number upwards of five, so far. Those three cases could be the only times in history that the claims were demonstrably false, and somehow, serendipitously, all managed to land on top of the news pile at the time. Sh'yeah, when monkeys fly outta my butt.

But how many allegations are false, really?
No clue anywhere on God's green earth.
The Sisterhood certainly doesn't like to talk about that. It undercuts the meme that we live in an oppressively misogynist rape culture. (We know this must be true, because all men have penises. Which is the same reason every one with a gun always robs banks, and everyone with a lighter sets buildings on fire.)

So, TPTB go along with this line of b.s., lest the shrieking and caterwauling begin in earnest, and everybody parrots the "90% of rapes are unreported" line. And does nothing to document how many times allegations are false. They don't even want to know the actual number, and it's politically incorrect to even ask.

Nota bene that I'm not talking about the times when rape is alleged, but there is insufficient evidence, and it devolves to little more than he-said/she-said. I'm sure that happens, as in any crime.

But there is clearly a non-zero number of times where a woman has, and will, decide to play the rape card, when none has occurred, and she and the accused both know it for a metaphysical certainty.

The problem in the McMartin case, for those of you unfamiliar, too young, or so old you've forgotten it, was when the basic and overriding assumption was "Children would never lie." Thus the mere allegation is tantamount to proof of guilt.

Except I've been a child, and been around children, both as a kid, a daycare worker, and an adult medical professional. And the truth we all know is, kids lie like the little shits they (we) are, for any number of reasons, from the practical to the sublime. It is one of the skills no parent ever had to sit down and explain how to pull off to any child since Cain.

It took dozens of similar trials to beat that level of stupidity out of the justice system for the most part. But for rape, it's still there. Didn't anyone see To Kill A Mockingbird, for fuck's sake??

But so what? Women lie about rape sometimes.

So this: Pentagon releases 2011 report on military sexual assault.

In FY2010, there were 3,158 total reports of sexual assault in the military.  The DOD estimates that this number only represents 13.5% of total assaults in 2010, making the total number of military rapes and sexual assaults in excess of 19,000 for FY 2010.


"In excess of 19,000 sexual assaults for FY 2010"??
There were only 203,695 women in the military in 2010. Total. All four services. So that means that virtually 1 in 10 was sexually assaulted that year. It makes one wonder how the military found any time to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, what with all the raping and assaulting that must certainly have been going on. Extrapolated over a 4 year term of service, it means nearly one woman in three is raped or assaulted in the military. (Or some poor woman is getting far more than her share of unwanted attentions.) And the DoD and the Service Women's Action Network said it on the Internet, so it must be true, right?

But waitanotherdamnminute!
According to the US Dept. of Justice and the FBI, the rate of sexual violence against women in 2010 outside the military was 1.1 per thousand completed, and 2.1 per 1000 attempted.
So somehow, the military, despite screening out drug users and criminals, has managed to have a rate of sexual assault nearly 100 times higher than what the national average is in a population that includes literally every miscreant in society. Seems logical. NOT.

Somehow also, the military rapists have not created any such tell-tale spike of sexual violence perpetrated against the women outside the military, at dozens of towns outside bases, posts, airfield, and navy ports. (Unless we want to just go ahead and assume that 100% of those rapes aren't reported either. Stop me when this level of "science" approaches the level of arguments for anthropogenic global warming.) Then again, if not for the fact that I've been in the military, we could also think this must be because the women in the military are so much more attractive than their civilian counterparts.

Service Women's Action Network further decries the fact that the military only took 529 of those 3,158 sexual assault reports to trial at courts-martial. Ignoring the number that may have been dealt with by non-judicial punishment, let's look at that a little deeper.

Possibility A)
The military is peopled by thousands of rapists, even serial rapists, such that they would basically have to be recruiting from the sexual offenders wing at every state prison just to maintain such a steady supply, and senior leadership thinks that much rape is a good thing for order and discipline, otherwise they'd have prosecuted all 3,158 allegations, and fostered an atmosphere where the other 16,000 or so victims wouldn't hesitate to come forward.
Possibility B)
A vast majority of the assumed (based on zero facts and a boatload of biases) 16,000 imaginary assaults never happened, and of the 3,158 allegations, nearly 5 out of 6, or 83%, were unsubstantiated, unprovable, or completely fabricated hogwash (which they still investigated fully anyway, wherever possible). And 529 cases among 203,695 women in the military comes a lot closer to the rate of sexual assault in the population at large (2.6 per thousand, rather than SWAN/DoDs farcical rate of over 93 per thousand). Color me shocked.

I'ma go with "B".

I'm trying to remember where I might have heard a number close to 83% referring to baseless claims of rape, but the source eludes me at the moment. But at least, in the military, they track the claims as well as the prosecutions. Funny where their correlation ends up, i'n'it?

I repeat, Rape is bad.
It's not trivial, and I'm sure cases go unreported. But there's a significant number of known cases where the charge is b.s. and the official policy of TPTB, inside the military or out, that "Better ten men arrested falsely than that one rape go unimagined" is morally wrong, civically unhealthy, and utterly jackassical.

And the Sisterhood needs to own up to what they know for real, before they whip out their Ouija boards to tells us what they imagine, whatever the pretense or pretext.

You can thus guess my greater shocked surprise when there wasn't an unending stream of battered women coming to the ER on Superbowl Sunday, a sad parade of children with fingers blown off and eyes gouged out by fireworks every New Year's Eve or Fourth of July, nor a conga-line of folks shot by the family gun. Ever, at any point in time.

But the number of people SOCMOBing* at 3AM when randomly attacked by Sumdood,** and the number of jail inmates who nightly fall out of their bunks continues with a predictably tedious monotony.

*Standing On Corner, Minding Own Business
** With a hat tip to Ambulance Driver, who coined the name, Sumdood is a criminal mastermind and the most legendary perpetrator to never end up on the FBI's Most Wanted List, despite having beaten the stuffing out of tens of thousands of upright citizens at 3AM, and planting literally trash dumpsters full of heroin, cocaine, crack, meth, pot, pills, and assorted weaponry in the homes, cars, and pockets of otherwise blameless individuals.
To wit:
"Ah wuz jes' standing on the corner, minding m'own business, when Sumdood jumped out, whacked me with a crowbar, and shoved that stolen gun and that crack into my sock ,Officer, Swear to Jesus!"

Look who else has recently opined on a related part of the topic, and noted that the math doesn't add up -
George Will

Flick Pick: Risky Business

Risky Business
(Warner Bros., 1983)

Pulling in $63M on a $6M budget, this was the film.
The film that put Tom Cruise on Hollywood's map. The film that introduced Rebecca DeMornay. And Bronson Pinchot and Curtis Armstrong, and made Joe Pantoliano's career happen. It was the '80s version of The Graduate, boosted sales of tightie whities, brought Ray-Bans back in vogue, and gave Bob Seeger's career another 10-year boost, all on the strength of one music video scene. Paul Brickman wrote the entire thing, and directed it flawlessly, and then apparently passed into Tinseltown oblivion after delivering this magnum opus. The soundtrack ranges from inspired to iconic, and the comedy delivery was razor-edged and the essence of subtlety.  "Time of your life, eh kid?" Indeed.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Flick Pick: The Rocketeer

The Rocketeer
(Disney, 1991)

A near-perfect adaptation of a comic book into a film (which is a very tiny club), but hampered by spending a decade in development hell, due to the meddling of studio heads, and generally getting so over-sanitized and tied into the Disney name it was all but killed at the box office.
A great (and original!) story, it was shot to perfection by Joe Johnston, and peopled with perfect casting choices from then-unknowns Bill Campbell and Jennifer Connelly, to the truly hiss-worthy Timothy Dalton as the villain, and Terry O'Quinn as the best Howard Hughes that's ever been done on screen. If the studio execs had possessed the wit to leave this as a flick aimed at teens and young adults under the Touchstone label, rather than trying to pimp it into a vehicle to sell toys and getting it branded as a kiddie flick in most people's minds, it might have done much better with audiences. The number, and caliber, of current talents angling to get into some whispered remake is proof enough that there's nothing wrong with the story, just the number of "geniuses" at HQ who nearly destroyed this by following Hollywood Maxim #1:
"We change it because we can."
Despite that almost total kiss-of-death, even though not enough people went to see it, the movie came out looking great.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Flick Pick: Career Opportunities

Career Opportunities
(Universal, 1991)

Jennifer Connelly is the debutante on the run with a body that goes and goes. Frank Whalley is the ne'er-do-well homebody b.s artist with a rap that never stops. That combination, a perpetual soundtrack mash-up, and what couldn't have been more than fifteen pages of scripted dialogue from John Hughes are all it takes to enjoy this for as long as it lasts.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Flick Pick: Hot Shots

Hot Shots
(20th Cent. Fox, 1991)

Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer together before Sheen lost his mind, Lloyd Bridges as the perfect brain-dead admiral, and bucketloads of Abrahams and Proft's sight gags and one liners, pounding on Top Gun, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Dances With Wolves, 9 1/2 Weeks, and countless military flying movies long-forgotten, while raking in the usual ridiculous amounts of cash.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Flick Pick: FX

(Orion, 1986)

Tight little howdunit, superbly done, with picture perfect characters from top to bottom, and an intelligent use of effects to help tell the story rather than being the story.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Flick Pick: Caddyshack

(Orion, 1980)

The movie that showed Chevy Chase can be funny - for about 20% of a movie - made Bill Murray a comedy legend, and finally got Rodney Dangerfield some respect. None of these people were the stars of the movie when it was made, but audiences figured things out much better than the producers did, and box office was huge. Originally Murray was only supposed to work for six days on the film, and every line of his in the movie was entirely improv on the day. Today no one could pick the supposed stars out of a police line-up, but Carl Spackler's "Cinderella Story" line can be pulled from memory from almost anyone who's seen this movie more than once.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Flick Pick: The Guns Of Navarone

The Guns Of Navarone
(Columbia, 1961)

Five-star action-adventure based on a great Alistair MacLean novel, which premiered 53 years ago today. In 1961, it outdrew every film made that year except West Side Story, was nominated for seven Oscars and won for Best Special Effects. Stars David Niven and Anthony Quinn had one and two Oscars respectively when this movie was made, and Gregory Peck won his the following year, so once again, assembling that much talent around a great story pays off handsomely onscreen. It also served to get blacklisted screenwriter/producer Carl Foreman out of the doghouse of anonymity, where he'd languished ghostwriting scripts in England after refusing to name names before HUAC in 1951.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Flick Pick: Ferris Beuller's Day Off

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
(Paramount, 1986)

Made for $6M as the director's homage to Chicago, and turned into one of the best and most timeless teen comedies of all time, making its production costs back the opening weekend, racking up $70M, and becoming an iconic part of American culture. It overshadows the rest of almost every actor's career who appeared in it, and made Ben Stein the inimitable rock star of drab. Ferris' movie parents met on the set, and later married in real life. And all because John Hughes made a movie about one high school senior's sick day, and his friend who "hasn't seen anything good today".

Friday, June 20, 2014

Flick Pick: Some Kind Of Wonderful

Some Kind Of Wonderful
(Paramount, 1987)

Another one from the John Hughes body of work, and this time filmed not in suburban Chicago, but in working-class Wilmington and San Pedro in SoCal. Entertaining overall, with the usual soundtrack collection of solid rock picks, and the details in the small parts stand out, like John Ashton's father portrayal, and Elias Koteas' turn as a shaved-head punk. Director Howard Deutch and co-star Lea Thompson liked each other so much they were married two years later.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Flick Pick: Pride Of The Yankees

Pride Of The Yankees
(RKO, 1942)

Released barely a year after his death in 1941, and just 3 years after his retirement at age 36,  this is nothing but solid and heartfelt homage to one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Henry Louis Gehrig, played by the similarly iconic Gary Cooper, was revered by players and fans as an everyday hero when America - and Hollywood - still knew what they looked like, and wasn't ashamed to recognize them. The sport and the country are the poorer for a dearth of such examples today. Happy Birthday, Lou.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Flick Pick: Pretty In Pink

Pretty In Pink
(Paramount, 1986)

Another trip through well-constructed Hughesian teen flicks, this one with a kicking soundtrack, a well-rounded cast, and Jon Cryer taking one for the team and not-getting-the-girl as a totally over-the-top Duckie. He's also notably one of the very few brat-packers with any long-term shelf life in the industry, and this flick goes a long way to showing why. Annie Potts is also a delight, her bit in Ghostbusters turning into this role, which turned into her long-term part on Designing Women.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Flick Pick: The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club
(Universal, 1985)

A rare foray into R-rated film (for the number of F-bombs) for John Hughes, and yet probably his most intelligent and touching look into every adolescent heart. With a brain, a princess, a jock, a basketcase, and a criminal as Everyman.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Most Competent Administration In History

So, just to recap, after the United States spent a decade at war, one or two trillion dollars, and a paltry few thousand military members killed, maimed, shell-shocked, PTSD'ed, and just plain wore-out from repetitive deployments, the same root of jihadism that spawned Al Qaeda is well on the way to reconquering most of Iraq in about a week, in a conga line of Toyota Hiluxes, with a handful of hardcore AK-47-armed sociopaths apiece. They're helpfully marking their route with a trail of corpses in roadside ditches, and using the heads removed from their victims as hood ornaments and gatepost decorations from the Syrian border nearly to Baghdad, and our embassy has begun getting our people out until we get to the last pitiful helicopter leaving the roof with Maliki, our ambassador, and the last handful of Marine embassy guards. Again, in my lifetime.

Ann Coulter's comment in 2001 that "We should bomb their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity" isn't at all as extreme now, with the hindsight of the last two weeks available, and the psychopathic behavior of the new conquerors surprising to no one. Personally I hope when (not if) we have to return to Iraq the next time such a cesspit predictably exports jihad to our shores and kills a few hundreds or thousands of our countrymen, we do it from 50,000', so that the only people distressed by that country for some appreciable length of time are those downwind of the fallout pattern. Our first visit was modeled on Germany after WWII. Our next trip should be modeled on Carthage after the final Punic War. 
Babylonia delenda est, ut id est dulce et decorum.

Meanwhile we (by which I mean the White House, in absolute violation of explicitly written federal law) successfully negotiated to give five of the most egregious murdering jihadi nutjobs from Guantanamo back, in exchange for a traitorous deserter and enemy collaborator, with no notion nor even a whisper of properly and promptly court-martialing the sonofabitch and standing him up against a wall to shoot him in the face at a live press conference, for his flagrant violations of Article 99 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which breaches subsequently cost a number of lives of the men searching to recover him, and an unknown cost when he doubtless spilled everything he knew about our military TTPs and SOPs to his jihadi hosts.

And as frosting on the Eff You All cake, the IRS has claimed, a full year after receiving specific subpoenas from Congress, that Lois Lerner's computer conveniently, magically, we-swear-it-really-happened-like-this-TRUST-US!, crashed way back, just in time to eliminate all the records pivotal to the heart of the investigation, and none of what the Congress requested last summer will be forthcoming, helpfully for the entire rest of the executive branch. (When the White House tried that nonsense for one lousy tape in 1973, people marched on the White House, and the drums began beating in Congress for Nixon's impeachment, which was about to kick off in less than a year. And he had higher poll numbers than the current guy.)

But don't worry, the president is on the case, somewhere on the back nine of the Thunderbird Country Club. I'm sure the name brings him fond recollections of his favorite daily beverage.

And don't give me any crap about this being all because he's black.
The fact that he's black is the only thing I like about the guy.

But is he ever going to be one pissed off S.O.B. come Monday morning when he reads about all this stuff in the paper!

Flick Pick: Sixteen Candles

Sixteen Candles
(Universal, 1984)

No director has ever "gotten" adolescence like John Hughes, and no one ever made it as spot-on bittersweet and downright funny as he did in this movie.
It did well critically and at the box office, but more than that launched multiple careers, provided numerous iconic moments, and transcended the teen-flick genre to become a truly classic film.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Flick Pick: Weird Science

Weird Science
(Universal, 1985)

Over-the-top sci-fi comedy, held together by John Hughes' script, 25-year-old Kelly LeBrock's body, a decent 80's tune-mix for a score, and the cinematic convention that anything goes until the credits roll.
They had me at "Kelly LeBrock's body".

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Flick Pick: The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes
(Disney, 1969)

Kurt Russell at all of 17, the year he graduated high school, playing a (Medfield, of course) college doof who gets a memory dump from a crook's computer (roughly the size of a room - nostalgia is fun), and becomes a genius. Typical Disney hijinks ensue, and they're still fun to watch to pass a couple of hours. Shortly after this one, Russell signed a 10-year contract with Disney, becoming the biggest star on their lot through the '70s.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Flick Pick: The Freshman

The Freshman
(TriStar, 1990)

Few bona fide superstars can return to earlier roles and deliver. Fewer still can parody that role to perfection and leave you wanting more. And then there's Marlon Brando. This movie makes you wish he'd done more comedy and less drama, but what he delivers in this performance is 24 karat without a lapse. Opposite the perfection of Matthew Broderick in the titular role, and with the departed-far-too-soon Bruno Kirby taking another walk along the edges of crime that pays, we explore a perfect little caper film that explains the details of criminal enterprise, and explains why everything tastes like chicken, all in the span of a marvelous 100 minutes, making you enjoy every moment.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Flick Pick: Airheads

(20th Century Fox, 1994)

Quirky but loveable gem with Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler sharing the comedy load. This movie won't cure cancer, but it also won't rot your brain, or make you wish for an hour and a half of your life or your ticket price back. Joe Mantegna as a DJ is a treat, and the cameos are bonus fun.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Flick Pick: Real Genius

Real Genius
(TriStar, 1985)

Boutique comedy populated by Val Kilmer in his sophomore role, doing a great job, and a supporting cast that all deliver perfectly throughout the movie. Stupid, fun, and delightful at the same time, this is exactly what you used to expect for your $5 $6 $8 $10  whatever prices have been hijacked to on a Saturday afternoon anytime between Memorial Day and Labor Day: a movie with enough of a budget and a brain behind it, fun with a plot, and entertainment without getting either pissed on or pissed off. A concept Hollywood should dust off once in awhile. As a concept, that'd be Real Genius.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Flick Pick: Bowfinger

(Universal, 1999)

After Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor, and before Robin Williams and a thousand lesser lights, there was one guy who had the comedy world by the tail all by himself: Steve Martin. When he isn't getting Grammys for banjo albums, he's also written a few screenplays, all generally funny, and of which two prove that he's not only funny, he gets Hollywood. Those two are L.A. Story (not in this list) and Bowfinger. Which also gives you Franz Oz (yes, Fozzie Bear) directing to perfection, with a split-personality bonus of Eddie Murphy excellent in both roles. If you want an inside-baseball view of the movie industry, Bowfinger will give you far more truth about the biz than fiction. If you want to see two world-class comedians deliver the comedy goods in ways most of the last 20 years of wannabe comedians only wish they could, Bowfinger has that covered too. And if you want to see a movie made for $2184 ("all pictures really cost $2184) that's worth your hour and a half, this is a great way to do it.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Flick Pick: The Naked Gun

The Naked Gun
(Paramount, 1990)

Starting as a TV series (Police Squad!) by Paramount TV in 1982, bought by ABC knowing full well the rapid-fire sight gags, satire, and relentless puns and one-liners the producers were famous for, then witlessly cancelled by ABC after 6 brilliant episodes, "because the viewer had to watch it in order to appreciate it."
Really, swear to Buddha, a direct quote from the ABC head chimpanzee  head of ABC Entertainment, a dumber excuse than which no other is possible, to this day.
Unimpressed with the admission that the network execs were stupider than the audience, Messrs. Abrahams/Zucker/Zucker with Pat Proft, trotted the entire concept right over to the movie side of the house, and raked in a mere $78M on a $12M budget, then followed it up with two more sequels for a total gross of about $217M in box office over three movies and 6 years. Because network TV executives are so smart, and obviously no one in the audience would ever get this kind of comedy.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Flick Pick: Airplane!

(Paramount, 1980)

On their second outing, Abrahams/Zucker/Zucker took the Mel Brooks comedy parody genre into orbit, and created one of the funniest movies ever made. Besides the sight gags and one-liners at a machine-gun pace, they picked heavy actors to play their roles straight: Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, and Leslie Nielsen. They were fantastic at deadpan wit, and Nielsen, both a serious actor and a frequent TV villain, became a comedy force of nature afterwards, once he'd been ruined for more serious roles by the Z/A/A projects (and somewhere between 5-200 talk show appearances over the next decade plus where he answered questions and squeezed out whoopee cushion farts throughout the interviews - do a YouTube search), causing them all to cry all the way to the bank.
Made for under $4M, this flick brought in over $83M, not only making Paramount very happy for the moment, but also ensuring the creative trio got to make 7 more comedy movies, including a sequel to this one. And the stars of this film, Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty, while managing to find sporadic work in Hollywood after this movie, essentially disappeared. Nothing guarantees a career in this business, not even wild success.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Flick Pick: Top Secret!

Top Secret!
(Paramount, 1984)

Sometime between Airplane! and The Naked Gun, Jim Abrahams and the Zuckers put a rookie actor from Julliard named Val Kilmer into this over-the-top send-up of every Elvis/spy/underground resistance/secret agent movie ever made, and produced inspired madness at better than a gag-a-minute. Like all the Abrahams/Zucker/Zucker projects, don't look away, because you'll miss something. Paramount apparently lost their minds and forgot to promote it at the time (and still doubled their money), but video/DVD rentals and cable have long since remedied that early slight. If this one hasn't hooked you by the end of the Skeet Surfing credits intro (Val Kilmer sings!), you learned humor from Vladimir Putin.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Flick Pick: Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan
(Paramount, 1998)

The other possible choice for today was The Longest Day, but the competition isn't even close. While the main plot for this movie was fiction, loosely based on the story of the real-life Niland brothers, the D-Day landings that took place seventy years ago today were real, and the opening scenes of this movie inarguably did a better job presenting that event on film than any movie has before or probably ever will, unless someone invents an actual time machine, goes back, and films it. When your movie triggers PTSD spikes in veterans from 40 years beforehand, you've come pretty damned near to nailing the thing.
The rest of the movie is similarly epic, presenting from a fictional perspective any number of events that had to have happened to thousands of our guys throughout the entire Normandy campaign: killing and being killed, far too often and frequently randomly, carnage, fear, cold, misery, confusion, and the endless soul-killing calculus of having to trade friends in order to win a war, and trying to stay human amidst that.
Some day before I die, I want to travel to Normandy, and stand - or crawl - on the beaches in question at the surf line on a cold gray June dawn, or walk inland down the same roads and across the same fields and hedgerows one summer, and try to get some vague appreciation for what it must have been like to do that while Nazis were trying to shoot you or blow you to pieces. Until I do, this movie is about as close as I can get. Watching it today, as I imagine walking the actual scenery would, invariably causes the dust level in the room to increase when I consider the actual realities the film portrays. There are still a couple of scenes I simply can't watch, even after seeing this film numerous times. They deservedly gave Spielberg his second directing Oscar for this film, and they gave out far too many Purple Hearts to the actual cast on the actual day, for anyone not to be so moved.

Back in the latter days of the Cold War, some clever Eurotrash "sophisticates" sagely advised that America wasn't really going to face down the Soviet Union, because everyone over there knew "the Americans would never trade Pittsburgh or Peoria for Paris".
The opening scenes in this movie of the Normandy American Cemetery near Colleville-sur-Mer has 9387 crosses and stars in near endless rows and echelons that put the lie to that bit of sophistry forever. And the names of 1557 more inscribed on a wall nearby, because we either couldn't find their parts, or properly identify them afterwards. They include three Medal of Honor recipients, two sons of one US president from separate World Wars, and the two Niland brothers killed in action in Normandy. So we've already traded Pittsburgh and Peoria for Paris.
Twice, last I checked.

I have my doubts about my parents' being any such "Greatest Generation". But I can definitely point you to the final resting places of some thousands of the greatest guys you'll never meet again, and for their sacrifice, I will ever be in appreciative awe.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Flick Pick: The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen
(MGM, 1967)

The fictional story of a ridiculous idea for a mission the night before D-Day (hence its appearance today), with a cast containing a notable number of actual WWII veterans. Derided at the time for its violence, by today's standards it appears tame. It nevertheless was a giant box-office hit then, and a perennial TV movie and fan favorite now. Included among the Dozen is a relatively young Donald Sutherland, in one of his first bigger roles on the way to a 50-year career.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Flick Pick: One Crazy Summer

One Crazy Summer
(Warner Bros., 1986)

The second outing of the Steve Holland/John Cusack/Curtis Mayfield summer movie, this time with added Bobcat Goldthwait, and Demi Moore when she was having fun making movies instead of making a point, or a pile.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Flick Pick: Better Off Dead

Better Off Dead
(CBS Films, 1985)

Back in the '80s, before his own inner acting demons and some strange career suicide pact with his agent led John Cusack to make the longest unbroken string of bad role choices and mediocre to atrocious performances by any actor with such a wellspring of talent, he starred in two wonderful films written and directed by "Savage" Steve Holland, then all of 24.
Better Off Dead was the first of the pair, the better of the two, and while it tripled the return on a minimal budget, was originally regarded as a disappointment.
Time and cult-favorite status have erased that earlier mistaken stigma, and it remains one of Cusack's best performances, the quintessential '80s summer movie, and hugely funny from beginning to end.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Flick Pick: Jaws

(Universal, 1975)

A surprisingly successful but little-known director, essentially self-taught, was given this story because he'd consistently brought his earlier projects in on time and under budget, and the studio had what they thought was an incredible mechanical shark that didn't look fake.
Except it did look fake, plus it was a mechanical disaster broken throughout most of the production, and the filmmaker was forced to concentrate on plot and character development, and use the mere suggestion of the shark in a style worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. It also helped that his actors were Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw, and that he picked a young composer who'd also done a lot of work for TV to do his film score, named John Williams. The production was nearly cancelled by the studio several times, going horribly long and over-budget, but Steven Spielberg persevered, and brought it home in time to become not just that summer's runaway blockbuster, but the highest-grossing film of all time to that point (the first of three times Spielberg has accomplished that feat) on only his second feature film. John Williams got an Oscar, and Universal got $470M. And a mere 39 years later, it remains a marvelous piece of movie making, and still makes people think twice before they go into the water. The opening vignette is among the most horrifying scenes ever filmed, and if it doesn't scare the bejeezus out of you, you aren't human.

{This was the first major non-Disney movie I got to see in an actual sit-down theatre, rather than in the backseat of the family sedan at a drive-in, and when I saw what certain moments of this flick did in sending people into momentary hysterics, I can truly say I realized the power of film to reach out and grab an audience. If I recall correctly, my mother's fingerprints on my arm lasted about a solid week.}

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Flick Pick: American Graffiti

American Graffiti
(Universal, 1973)

"Nobody in this business knows nothing." - William Goldman, screenwriter

In the early 1970s, a young would-be filmmaker was struggling. Warner Brothers had turned down his treatment of an idea for a Vietnam movie called Apocalypse Now; United Artists had given him $10K which he'd used to hire a friend from film school to write a screenplay based on cruising and picking up girls in his youth in Modesto. The friends' screenplay was an atrocious exploitation film, and our hero fired him, but not before the screenplay had soured United Artists on his idea for the film, and any chance of funding his backburner idea for a sci-fi space opera. So he wrote the screenplay himself in three weeks, writing the scenes as he listened to his vintage record collection from back in the day (summer of 1962, in fact), and convinced Universal to give the story and the soundtrack idea a shot. It lacked the sexuality and violence they were looking for, but when Francis Ford Coppola signed on to produce it, they coughed up a bare-bones budget of less than $800K, and George Lucas directed only his second feature (of a career total of six feature films), American Graffiti. The rights to the soundtrack songs cost $90K of the budget, precluding a separate score. Originally arguing that it needed a new title, and had to be re-cut, and even planning to dump it off as a TV movie, Universal eventually relented to pressure from producer Francis Ford Coppola and director Lucas, and opened the movie in limited release at the end of the summer. It raked in $55M. And launched three hit TV shows, the adult acting careers of Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, Suzanne Sommers, and the old man of the cast, the then 30-year-old Harrison Ford. In re-releases and video sales (when they came along a few years later), it eventually grossed over $190M, and Lucas was nominated for Oscars for writing and directing, and the film for Best Picture, winning none, but becoming the original summer teen movie, and a watershed glimpse into the last moments of innocence for an entire generation.

Thus we kick off Summer Movies.