Happy 35th Anniversary, Blue Thunder!

“This ship is equipped with a forward-mounted, twenty-millimeter electric cannon. Its six barrels are capable of firing four thousand rounds of ammunition per minute. And that, gentlemen, is one hell of a shit-storm in anybody’s language!”

BlueThunder

Frank Murphy, helicopter pilot for the LAPD and former Army chopper pilot during the Vietnam War (and whom we see suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his service during that conflict), is selected as a test pilot for a brand new helicopter packed to the gills with state of the art armaments and quasi-futuristic stealth and surveillance technology. It’s supposedly intended for use during large scale civil disobedience operations, but that doesn’t ring right with Murphy, particularly after the helicopter, nicknamed “Blue Thunder,” blows the shit out of a simulated city street setting with mocked-up vehicles and human-sized targets. That a former rival of his from the war, Colonel “Catch ya later” Cochrane, is in on the whole thing doesn’t sit well with him, either.

Murphy, along with his rookie partner, Richard Lymangood (aka “JAFO,” or “Just Another Fucking Observer”), uses Blue Thunder’s sooper seekrit peeping tech to follow Cochrane to a clandestine meeting, and collects evidence that the colonel and a group of government douche nozzles are behind the death of a prominent city councilwoman. Her murder is part of a larger conspiracy put into motion by this wannabe cabal, who plan to use the helicopter to assassinate political enemies. After Lymangood is killed, Murphy steals Blue Thunder and it’s a race for him to get the evidence to someone who can expose the conspiracy before the bad guys get to him, culminating in a helicopter chase between Murphy and Cochrane in the skies above Los Angeles.

Released on May 13th, 1983, Blue Thunder made a point of letting potential audiences know that all of the surveillance and weapons technology stuffed into the helicopter was real, if not used in this particular configuration. Of course, we look at it today and think, “Pffft. That’s all he’s got? Drones, dude. Drones.” Thirty years ago, however, Blue Thunder was bad-ass.

Personally, I still think the helicopter looks pretty slick.

The plot of Blue Thunder is so thin that it makes Smokey and the Bandit seem like Inception, but a lot of what makes the movie work can be credited to actor Roy Scheider, who offers up yet another of his “every man” performances which served him so well throughout his career. Malcolm McDowell chews every scene with relish as the dick antagonist, Cochrane, and a young Daniel Stern provides much of the film’s early humor (both as instigator and target) as Lymangood the JAFO. Obviously, the hardware and the flying stunts take center stage, especially in the movie’s latter half, but Scheider is there to anchor things and keep them from going too far into the realm of absurdity.

Don’t get me wrong: I dig this film. It’s one that’s an easy candidate for a rewatch on a rainy day, and it’s interesting to see how some of the ideas it proposes stack up against our pervasive “conspiracy theory culture” and our “surveillance society” with cameras everywhere, expanded police powers, and even those drones we mentioned earlier.  How much of the stuff that seemed “far out” in 1983 is now at the disposal of law enforcement, or even has been surpassed by current technology?

Things that make you go, “Hmmm….”

The movie was successful, both critically and financially. A spin-off series aired on ABC the following year, which wasn’t a sequel but rather a reworking of the premise, in which the helicopter is used by a special unit to hunt down the baddest of bad guys, and so on and so forth. The show was cancelled after eleven episodes, ceding the helicopter action show bragging rights to the other 80s AwesomeChopper, Airwolf, which premiered that same year.

(So far as the helicopters go, I’ve always preferred Blue Thunder to Airwolf, even though I think Airwolf would win in a head-to-head contest. Yes, I’m a geek, and I put some thought into that particular battle royale.)

Blue Thunder seems like the perfect choice for a remake, doesn’t it? I’m sure someone’s thought about it, or is thinking about it, and they’ll eventually get on with dicking it up. Meanwhile, we still have the original. I may have to spin it up tonight.

“Catch ya later.”

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Time Lords and the Truce: Doctor Who at the National World War I Museum!

wwimuseum-entranceThose of you who follow my irregularly recurring blatherings here or on Facebook might recall that I volunteer here and there at the National World War I Museum and Memorial here in Kansas City. It’s one of those things I decided to do last year as part of my “Dayton, Chapter 2” bit upon hitting my 50th birthday.

In addition to possessing what has been called the world’s most comprehensive collection of artifacts from the First World War, the museum is also home to a number of, exhibits, events, and activities designed to heed its mission statement of “remembering, interpreting and understanding the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community.”

I’m really rather proud to be associated with it, even in this small way.

I also like that the museum continues to try new and different things in its ongoing quest to further engage the community. Sometimes that means thinking a bit outside the box, or mixing a bit of entertainment with our history. The museum has its own auditorium which plays host to concerts, lectures and symposiums, films, and other performances with some connection to the war. All Quiet on the Western Front, Doctor Zhivago, Paths of Glory, and other films set during the war have screened at the museum.

However, this is the first time I can recall something like this happening there:

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Awwwwww, yeah. From the museum’s website:


Thursday, Feb. 15, 6:30 p.m.

The 1914 Christmas Truce is cleverly intertwined with Doctor Who – but we don’t want to give spoilers. Come with your favorite companion and discover new WWI facts and how clever that madman in the blue box can be with a viewing of the last episode in the 2017 season.


So, here I am, a student of the war and a fan of the Doctor. What to do, what to do?

I know! Ima gonna hafta go to this thing.

Those of you living in the Kansas City area (or willing to haul buns to this part of the country) who might also be fans of the Doctor while also having a free evening on Thursday, February 15th at 6pm, should think about heading to the museum to check out this special screening of “Twice Upon A Time,” the last episode to star Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor, and featuring the introduction of Jodie Whittaker as Doctor #13.

As the website says, the event is free. All you have to do is RSVP at the event’s page (click on “Free with RSVP”).

Maybe I’ll see you there!

Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

die-hard-posterIt’s only November 25th, but apparently we’re already getting on with the “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie” debate. It’s been “raging” on Twitter, with a few people on both sides getting more than a tad wrapped around the axle.

Damn it, I hate being late to these things.

Look, it’s really quite simple: Die Hard, that 1980s action classic, is indeed “a Christmas movie.” Hell yeah, it is. In fact, it’s quite possibly the best Christmas movie ever. Check it out:

Die Hard is more of a Christmas movie than other films that actually try to pass themselves off as Christmas movies. Heck…it’s even got its own official Christmas book, and everything! The film showcases many of the familiar “Christmas movie tropes” without much of the pretentious, saccharine goobledygook that I think of when I consider the typical “Christmas movie.”

The story is set on Christmas Eve, at a Christmas party and the film’s soundtrack is littered with Christmas-themed music, while Christmas decorations and other related paraphernalia and sentiment contribute to pushing the story forward. John McClane has arrived there, quelling personal feelings of hurt and betrayal in order to be with his family during what’s supposed to be this most festive of seasons.

RELATED:Twas A Die Hard Christmas,” December 18th, 2016

That reunion is spoiled by people seeking to ruin others’ holidays for their own selfish ends. Hans Gruber is Scrooge in an Armani suit and carrying military-grade bad tidings, promising Christmas miracles for himself and his merry band of grinches.

But it’s John McClane who’s the Christmas miracle, bringing the gift of freedom and goodwill toward men (and women). He even made a list of who was naughty before handing out presents, and proceeds to show the bad people that good will always, ultimately curb-stomp the shit out of evil. Finally, he casts aside his immature, selfish feelings toward his wife and rekindles their damaged romance.

And then Vaughn Monroe sings us out. Let it snow, yo.

Suck on that, George Bailey.

TL;DR = There are two kinds of people: Those who think Die Hard is the best Christmas movie ever, and those who are wrong.

😀


Now, this post is obviously meant in jest, but a casual glance at social media shows that there are people on both sides of this goofy debate who take it way too seriously, one way or the other. Lighten up, folks. It’s a damned movie.

Even if it is the best Christmas movie. 😀

DieHard-Hans-Christmas

Happy 30th Anniversary, RoboCop!

Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”

Take one police officer in the wrong place at the wrong time. Add a host of state-of-the art cybernetic and computerized implants, all provided by a soulless, greedy corporation looking to “modernize” an overworked,  undermanned police force while making a tidy profit for themselves as they design a “city of the future.” Give the resulting creation one gigantic mother-fucking hand cannon, and the keys to a police cruiser. What do you get?
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Released on this date in 1987, RoboCop is filmmaker Paul Verheoven’s dark, violent, often satirical, occasionally funny and in ways very prescient action-crime thriller doused with a liberal helping of science fiction.

The plot is pretty simple: Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is mortally wounded while attempting with his partner to apprehend a gang of nasty bad guys with absolutely no qualms about torturing and killing a cop just for something to do. Declared dead but also still the “property” of Omni Consumer Products, the private corporation that has taken over the Detroit Police Department, Murphy — what remains of him following the shootout with the bad guys — is used as the “organism” part of a “cybernetic organism” project dreamed up by opportunistic junior executive/first-class douche canoe Bob Morton (played by the late, great Miguel Ferrer). Morton’s dream project, “RoboCop,” is intended to give OCP a cheaper, more reliable alternative to the law enforcement droids championed by senior exec Dick Jones (Ronny Cox).

Murphy is to be the prototype. All memories of his past life  are (supposedly) erased, and everything but his brain, face, heart, and other vital organs is replaced by cybernetic technology, turning him into a walking, talking armored tank with the ability to tie directly to any computer database and receive instructions the way you might program your own home computer. He’s also got a pistol the size of a damned baseball bat, that shoots like a Gatling gun and is stored inside his cybernetic leg. In short order, the new cyborg is given to the Detroit Police Department and he takes to the streets, and it doesn’t take RoboCop to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers everywhere and become the hero of a city beleaguered by crime. Everybody’s happy: citizens, the police force, and OCP.

Everything’s awesome until he runs into one of the bad guys who “killed” him, and his memories start to come back.

Then, shit gets real.

Thirty years after its initial release, RoboCop is still one of the absolute best science fiction films to come out of the 1980s. Though things like technology are of course dated by today’s standards, it’s the story — including peeks at the future of news and “infotainment” programming, the relentless quest for corporate profits at the expense of everything else including the people who provide those profits,  the bitter view of the military industrial complex — that still holds up. In typical 1980s/1990s Verheoven style, the humor here is dark…I mean, dark, yo.

Peter Weller is perfect as Alex Murphy and his cybernetic alter ego, struggling to hang onto those few vestiges of humanity that haven’t (yet?) been stripped from him. Nancy Allen is criminally underused as Murphy’s partner, Anne Lewis, and Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer are ruthless as the OCP execs who want to cash in at any cost. But it’s Kurtwood Smith who steals every single damned scene he’s in, playing evil-as-fuck Clarence Boddicker with unrestrained relish. It’s Boddicker who leads the murder of Alex Murphy, including taking the kill shot, and once Murphy realizes who and what he is and how he got here, you just know these two are going to clash like Godzilla and King Kong. For my money, Smith’s portrayal cemented Boddicker as one of the all-time great screen villains.

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The idea of marrying mechanical implants to a living being was already the stuff of SF film and literature well before RoboCop, of course. One of the more recent and popular manifestations of this trope had come along 15 or so years earlier, and also featured an unwitting test subject chosen by chance or fate to be “augmented” by cybernetic technology: Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man. Several themes hinted at or explored in RoboCop, particularly with respect to Murphy being a “tool of the state” and wondering if he can retain any of his humanity — if he is in fact more than the sum of his parts — are also found in early episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man as well as the novel on which that series is based, 1972’s Cyborg by Martin Caidin.

RoboCop was a critical and commercial success, spawning two feature film sequels as well as a TV series, a TV mini-series, and (incredibly enough) not one but two animated series…precisely none of which are anywhere as good as the first movie. It’s also been successful in the merchandising arena, including toys and games as well as a run of comic stories from two different publishers. 2014 brought with it an inevitable remake, which isn’t quite as bad as some people would have you believe while still coming nowhere close to holding a candle to the original. I recommend watching it at least once so you can see what they were trying to do, and how they brought some interesting twists while still (at times, anyway) somehow managing to completely miss what makes the original the enduring classic it is.

But, then you should definitely go back and watch this one, because Hell. Yeah. As Clarence Boddicker might say, this flick is “state of the art bang-bang.”

Happy 45th Anniversary, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes!

Tonight we have seen the birth of the planet of the apes!

Oh, damn. It’s on now.

In the “far off future” of 1991, people now live in what looks to be an oppresssive, militaristic society. Law enforcement (dressed in the finest stormtrooper fashions) is visible on every street corner, and endless directives and warnings are issued from faceless announcers as the civilian populace goes about its daily affairs. What’s missing? Cats and dogs, all of which have died off as the result of a mysterious disease brought back from a space probe. This little bit of misfortune, of course, was foretold by chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira in the previous film, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, though it’s happened far more quickly than they indicated. So too has mankind’s desire to replace their little lost subservient quadrupeds, and they’ve turned to domesticating primates. By 1991, simians are a subclass; a slave race. However, is the collective intelligence of the apes on the rise?

Could be.

So, what happens? Add one intelligent, speaking chimpanzee to the mix–himself the offspring of Cornelius and Zira–to stir up some shit. Before you know it, the apes are pissed and they’re not gonna take it anymore, and so that’s humanity’s ass. Cue revolt.

Whoops.

Released on this date in 1972, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes brings almost full circle the story begun in 1968’s Planet of the Apes. This third sequel to that classic film shows–at least to some degree–what’s promised in its title and tagline. As for Conquest being “the most awesome spectacle in the annals of science fiction,” I think we all can agree this was a bit of overreach from the marketing folks (and, we all know that honor goes to Barbarella, right?).

By the time production kicked into gear on this, the fourth of the Apes films, the cycle of diminishing returns was firmly in place. With each successive movie earning less at the box office, budgets for the next one were reduced accordingly. Therefore, director J. Lee Thompson faced the challenge of convincingly depicting what turns out to be the genesis of the ape uprising hinted at in the previous film, the longterm effects of which are–of course–apparent in the first movie. And, he had to do it on a budget which probably wouldn’t cover the catering bill on a Michael Bay shoot. This was prequel-izing before prequel-izing was rampant, yo!

The first half of the film isn’t the most exciting cinema you’ll ever see, but there’s a deliberate “tightening of the screws” going on as we see Caesar coming to terms with the role of apes in modern society, and deciding that he ain’t playing that game. Once he learns of the death of his friend, Armando (Montalban) at the hands of government officials, watching him slowly yet firmly begin to push the apes around him toward dissent is, oddly enough, satisfying.

A larger budget might’ve allowed for more expansive scenes of turmoil once the apes lose their shit and start tearing up the joint. Still, considering what he was working with, director Thompson does a decent enough job injecting energy and tension into the scenes of ape rebellion which carry the film’s final act. Tight camera angles and deft editing manage–for the most part–to mask the production’s sparse budget, while strong performances from Ricardo Montalban, Don Murray, Severn Darden, Hari Rhodes, and Natalie Trundy (as the chimpanzee Lisa, her third different role in three consecutive Apes outings) help to elevate the material a notch or two above the previous two sequels.

Conquest-CaesarBut, again, it’s Roddy McDowall who carries the film on his stooping shoulders. Starting out as a supporting role in the original Planet of the Apes before moving to top billing in Escape (another actor, David Watson, portrayed Cornelius in the first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes), he dons the ape makeup here for a third time, but for the first time as “Caesar,” the son of Cornelius. As usual, McDowall brings a warmth and–dare we say it–“humanity” to the role, which is sort of important now, as by this point in the series we’re all firmly rooting for the apes to kick humanity right in its collective taint. He would reprise the role of Caesar in the fifth and final of the original films, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, before going on to play yet another chimpanzee, Galen, in the 1974 live-action Planet of the Apes television series.

Moving past the original Planet of the Apes, which (so far as I’m concerned) stands apart from everything which came after it, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is actually my favorite of the Apes sequels. Like a lot of folks, I’ve always wanted to see what comes next. Obviously, we know what ultimately happens, but that still leaves plenty of room for a whole assload of stories set between the events of this film and the next one. Some of that territory has been explored, mostly in comics published by three different companies in sporadic fashion over the past 40-odd years.

And, lest we forget, it’s Conquest that provided much inspiration for the recent reboot Apes films: 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the ApesDawn of the Planet of the Apes from 2014, and War for the Planet of the Apes, which opens on July 14th. Indeed, you can also see more than a bit of Battle DNA in the latter two filmsespecially War, if the trailers are to be believed.

Happy 45th, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

Happy 30th Anniversary, Full Metal Jacket!

If you ladies leave my island…if you survive recruit training…then you will be a weapon. You will be a Minister of Death, praying for war. But until that day, you are pukes. You are the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human-fucking-beings! You are nothing but unorganized grab-asstic pieces of amphibian shit!

Those were the days, eh?

FullMetalJacket

Holy dog shit, Private Joker! It’s been 30 years since the debut of Stanley Kubrick’s war epic. Based on The Short-Timers, a 1979 semi-autobiographical novel written by former Marine and Vietnam veteran Gustav Hasford, Full Metal Jacket chronicles the journey of young James Davis (later to be known as “Joker”) from Marine Corps recruit training in 1967 to his eventual posting to Vietnam. Before he can graduate boot camp, however, he has to get past hard-assed drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Following training and stationed in Vietnam as a combat correspondent for the Stars & Stripes newspaper, Joker comes face to face with the horrors of war as he endures the Tet Offensive, including the tumultuous, costly battle for Hue City in January 1968.

(Hasford would later pen a sequel to The Short-Timers, 1990’s The Phantom Blooper, which continued to chronicle Joker’s experiences in Vietnam. It was the second book in a planned trilogy, but Hasford died before that ever came to fruition.)

ermeyMost people’s knowledge of Full Metal Jacket comes from the oft-repeated and parodied quotes from Gunnny Hartman, played to complete, bang-on perfection by R. Lee Ermey. Originally hired by Kubrick to be the film’s military technical advisor, Ermey, himself a Vietnam vet and former drill instructor, convinced the director to hire him for the pivotal role of Hartman. His experience as a “Hat” allowed him to craft page after page of pitch-perfect dialogue, and his performance lends an authenticity to the boot camp scenes comprising the film’s first half which–for my money, anyway–have yet to be surpassed.

The film’s opening scene, with Hartman “introducing himself” to the platoon of terrified recruits, is an unrivaled classic, and Ermey walks away with every scene he’s in. Even Ermey himself has parodied this role in other projects, such as commercials and when he portrayed “Sergeant Major Bougus,” an instructor for the United States Marine Corps Space Aviator Cavalry in the short-lived SF series Space: Above and Beyond.

Hartman and Matthew Modine (as Joker) are joined by a stellar cast, including Vincent D’Onofrio as the troubled “Private Pyle,” Adam Baldwin, Ed O’Ross, John Terry, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard as “Cowboy” and Kevyn Major Howard as Joker’s travel companion, “Rafterman.”

Whereas the original novel unfolds over three distinct sections–one each for boot camp, the Tet Offensive and a later mission to Khe Sanh–Kubrick, working alongside writer Michael Herr (with input from Hasford, for which he received joint screenplay credit…and is apparently a story all its own), compresses and reworks events from the book’s latter two sections to create the film’s second half. In contrast, the “boot camp half” of the movie is expanded from what is the novel’s shortest section. There are changes to several character names, and Hartman’s role (“Gerheim” in the book) also is given more attention, likely owing to Ermey’s presence and performance.

The movie has always received mixed to positive reviews, with many praising the boot camp portion while taking issue with the Vietnam half. Personally, I’ve come to appreciate the tonal shift between the two halves while appreciating the common thread they share: dehumanization of one’s self and one’s enemy in order to conduct the nasty business of war.

Full Metal Jacket is a powerful, visceral film, easily one of the best war movies ever made. It’s not “pro” or “anti” war, though elements of both can be found. At the end of it all, it’s just “about” war…the cold, brutal, shitty reality of war, and how it transforms–on any number of levels–those who fight.

“Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?”

Happy 35th Anniversary, Blade Runner *AND* The Thing!

That’s right, movie fans! It’s a double dose of Geek Movie Milestone Goodness!

1982 is arguably one of the best summers ever so far as awesome movie releases goes, and two reasons for that are right here. 35 years ago today, a pair of iconic entries in science fiction film debuted on the silver screen, each going a long way toward redefining the genre in their own ways….

bladerunner-thing-posters

Blade Runner — adapted in rather liberal form from Philip K. Dick’s seminal novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — influenced…what…the look of every other near and/or dystopian SF film since then? Yeah, pretty much. Ridley Scott, having already dabbled a bit in the genre with that little flick you might know, Alien, brought Harrison Ford out from under the shadow of the Millenium Falcon and Indiana Jones’ fedora long enough to have him play what would become yet another iconic role: Rick Deckard, the “blade runner” charged with finding and neutralizing renegade androids (“replicants”) in 2019 Los Angeles. The film’s production design established a benchmark which has yet to be surpassed, for whatever the hell my opinion’s worth. The movie was not an easy sell to American audiences, but has gone on to take its rightful place as a true classic.

Meanwhile, John Carpenter’s The Thing — less a remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another World than a new adaptation of John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There? — helped remind audiences that the SF film realm could definitely be one which might scare the shit out of us if it was done correctly. It was a welcome respite from the scads of Alien knock-offs to which we’d been subjected by that point.

I didn’t get to see either of these movies in the theater, for different reasons. Blade Runner, at that time, didn’t appeal to me, whereas theater ushers were being very conscientious about keeping underage delinquents like me and my friends from sneaking into screenings of The Thing (Damn, those “R” ratings.). I watched both on home video (VHS!) later, and I fell in love with Blade Runner on the spot. It’s a smart, layered film, in which you can always find something new to appreciate.

(Of course, the 57 different versions of the movie which have been released over the years help with that.)

As for The Thing, it was and remains a tight little monster movie. The 2011 prequel did little for me, besides demonstrating that Carpenter’s movie can hold its own without such skirt-hanging claptrap. That doesn’t mean we won’t see some form of sequel or reboot in the not too distant future.

Elsewhere, the world of Blade Runner has been revisited in prose, in the form of a trio of novels penned by science fiction author K.W. Jeter. Later this year, the long gestating Blade Runner 2049 will hit movie screens, starring Ryan Gosling and featuring Harrison Ford as Deckard.

For now, though? Spin up this double bill.

Happy 50th Anniversary, The Dirty Dozen!

You will select twelve general prisoners convicted and sentenced to death or long terms of imprisonment for murder, rape, robbery, and/or other crimes of violence and so forth, and train and qualify these prisoners in as much of the business of behind-the-lines operations as they can absorb for a brief but unspecified time. You will then deliver them secretly into the European mainland and, just prior to the invasion, attack and destroy the target specified.

Major John Reisman just got dealt a shit sandwich, eh?

C’mon. Everybody knows this movie, right? It’s 1944: Lee Marvin is Reisman, tasked by his C.O. (Ernest Borgnine) to recruit a dozen ne’er do wells and train them up for a top secret insertion behind enemy lines on the eve of the D-Day invasion. What’s the target? A French chateau known to be a hot gathering spot for high-ranking German officers and their “companions.” The mission? Blow the fuck out of that place, kill every German big-wig they can find, and get out of Dodge.

Simple, right?

Endlessly imitated or just flat-out ripped off, The Dirty Dozen remains one of the most popular war films of all time. It’s based on the 1965 novel of the same name written by E.M. Nathanson (who would write a sequel, A Dirty Distant War, two decades later), and retains most of the book’s plot. The storyline is pretty simple, moving along from the selection of the prisoners to their training and the eventual parachute drop into France in mostly straightforward fashion. The training period provides the backdrop for much of the film’s humor, from the construction of their camp to the learning of the various skills they must master before being sent into action. There’s a diversion to a parachute training base commanded by an adversary of Reisman’s that’s mined for laughs, and which also sets into motion the sequence of events whereby Reisman is able to convince a skeptical leadership that his “dirty dozen” can hold their own even against spit-and-polish troops.

Most of the characters from the novel are there, as well, though a few are changed or tweaked in order to give the cast of convicts “flavor.” Filling out the ranks of the criminals Reisman selects for his team are such notable faces as Charles Bronson, Robert Ryan, Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas, Clint Walker and, of course, John Cassavetes as Franko (or, Number 11, if you prefer). Along with Borgnine, George Kennedy and Richard Jaekel also provide memorable supporting performances, but even with all this star power, it’s Lee Marvin as the non-conformist Reisman who helps bring the whole thing together.

But, does the mission succeed? Well, watch the flick, dagnabbit. Even after 50 years, this baby still holds up. For me, I love to double-feature it with one of my other favorites, The Great Escape.

When it was first released, the movie took a lot of heat from reviewers for its on-screen violence. Tame by today’s standards, it was pretty brutal for 1967. There also was some criticism as to the unrealistic nature of taking prisoners and training them for such an important mission. Hey, it’s a movie, right?

In addition to the sequel to the original novel Nathanson wrote in 1987, there also was a made-for-TV movie sequel to the film, The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission, released in 1985 and with Marvin, Borgnine, and Jaekel reprising their roles. As the events of the telefilm–centering on preventing a Nazi plot to kill Hitler–supposedly take place mere months after D-Day, actors who are nearly 20 years older than when we last saw them playing these characters is pretty weird. It’s weak…very weak, when compared to the original, but it’s still better than what would follow.

Borgnine would portray his character in two subsequent TV movies, The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission in 1987 and The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission in 1988. As if that wasn’t enough, there also was a short-lived TV series inspired by the original film, with Ben Murphy playing a different Army officer given the shaft the assignment to lead “unconventional” soldiers on special missions. The less said about any of the sequels, the better. For all of us.

Meanwhile, there’s still the original flick, always watchable. Give it a spin, whydontcha?

Happy 30th Anniversary, Predator!

So, what happens when you’re a special operations unit called in to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter that’s been taken hostage by guerillas in a Central American country you’re not supposed to be in, anyway? Even on a good day, that kind of mission likely would have its share of pitfalls, right?

Toss in an irritable alien hunter from a distant planet who carries an assload of advanced weaponry and other sweet gadgets, including a tactical nuke strapped to its wrist?

Well, now it’s a party.

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One of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s numerous contributions to the movie screens of the 1980s, the original Predator arguably is his best macho-flick aside from the first two Terminator films. Released on this date in 1987, Predator made no bones about what it was supposed to be: a stripped-down testosterone-fueled action fest stuffed to the brim with hard-core dudes shooting the hell out of everyone and everything, including that aforementioned irritable alien hunter from a distant planet. Said alien is here for a little safari of sorts, attracted to the heat of the Central American jungle and the promise of an exhilarating pursuit of worthy prey. It’s Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” amp’d up to the max, with maybe even a touch of homage to Kirk and the Gorn for flavor.

The film is directed by John McTiernan, soon to be the man who would provide the action movie genre with what remains its benchmark (that would be the original Die Hard, for those who don’t know…and why don’t you?). McTiernan takes the script from writers Jim and John Thomas and goes delightfully nuts with it. It begins as a standard adventure story with Schwarzenegger as “Dutch Schaefer” and his team of crack soldiers sneaking around behind enemy lines. Why? They’ve been sent into the bush by CIA agent/lying douchebag “Dillon” (played by always-cool Carl Weathers) to find the hostages and get the hell out of town before more guerillas get wise to their shenanigans.

The team takes out the guerilla camp where the last of the helicopter crew has just been executed, and douchebag Dillon plunders all the wonderful intel to be found…too bad/so sad about the hostages, and so on. They also take prisoner a female companion/sympathizer/etc., Anna, who ends up being along pretty much just so she can tell the guys with guns that they’re all about to have their day ruined. That’s when things take an abrupt left turn toward science fiction and horror as Dutch and his men–played by the likes of Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke (who previously worked with Arnie in Commando), Richard Chaves (the War of the Worlds TV series) and Sonny Landham (48 Hrs.)–suddenly find themselves turned from hunters to hunted. One by one, they’re picked off by their enigmatic, invisible enemy until it’s just Dutch and the alien facing off mano-a-whateverthefucko for all the marbles.

Simple, yet satisfying. This movie rocks balls, people.

There’s very little fat on this thing, that’s for sure. It starts getting into gear almost before the damned credits are done rolling, and kicks it up a notch when Arnie and the boys start taking down bad guys left and right. A couple of the stunts during the hammering of the guerillas smack a bit of “We just did this last week on The A-Team,” but they’re forgiven when Jesse Ventura utters what will become one of the all-time great manly-man action flick lines: “I ain’t got time to bleed.”

The Predator itself, designed by make-up and FX genius Stan Winston and portrayed by Kevin Peter Hall, is the first alien-looking alien to come to the silver screen in a while. It looks like the sort of dude who’d skull-fuck E.T. before ripping off his head and shitting down its neck, then tossing a quarter into the open wound for the phone call home. Composer Alan Silvestri, yet to establish himself as a go-to guy for action film scores yet still riding high after his stint on Back to the Future, knocks it out of the park with his music for the film. McTiernan’s direction coupled with lean, mean editing is so effective you almost want to start sweating along with Dutch and the gang as they traverse the thick, humid jungle. Everything about this movie is fine-tuned to the umpteenth degree, barely giving you a chance to catch your breath even during the supposed “quiet” scenes between action segments.

Predator, despite initial mixed reviews–most of those taking it to task for its admittedly thin-as-tissue-paper plot–has managed to acquire a place of stature among the classic action films. It was followed by a serviceable sequel, Predator 2, in 1990, a “better in theory than execution” crossover, Alien vs. Predator in 2004 (which in turn received its own ill-advised horrific followup in 2007), and a second all-but pointless sequel, Predators in 2010. Predators of all shapes and sizes have also factored prominently in comics, novels, and games over the years, including more than a few crossovers with the Alien franchise as well as numerous other properties. As I write this, a new film, The Predator, is in development for a 2018 release. It’s either a sequel or a remake/reboot/re-imagining/whatever, depending on which source you want to go with.

Unless or until said sequel/remake/reboot/sequel/whatever comes around, you’re better off sticking with this–the first and still the best–Predator.

Happy 30th, yo. You’re still one ugly mother fucker, but we love you.

Happy 35th Anniversary, Star Trek II!

“Aren’t you dead?”

June 4, 1982: After the commercial and critical oddity that was 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, those of us who were all into the Trek were worried what this sequel might bring. Would it be like the first movie (which was boring as all hell compared to Kirk drop-kicking and karate-chopping a big green lizard), or the TV series we still loved? The TV commercials certainly seemed to imply the latter, with lots of phasers firing and starships blowing the shit out of each other, William Shatner snarling into the camera and Ricardo Montalban flexing his pecs at us. This movie definitely looked like it was going to kick things up a notch. Or three.

Though it doesn’t seem to happen a lot these days, on this occasion? The trailers got it right.

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35 years after its release, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan remains the choice of many fans as being among the best–if not the best–of the Star Trek theatrical films. Pretty much every movie that’s come since is compared to Khan, usually with respect to each successive sequel’s choice of villain. Kruge, Sybok, Chang, Soran, Ru’Afo, Shinzon, Nero, “John Harrison,” or Krall? None of those pansies – even the 2013 redo attempt – hold a candle to Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh, the genetically-engineered mighty man who came to the Final Frontier by way of a 20th century sleeper ship back in the classic first season Star Trek episode “Space Seed.”

Khan and his crew, marooned by Kirk on the remote plant Ceti Alpha V at the end of that episode, are left to their own devices, but a planetary catastrophe soon after their arrival forced them into a constant struggle for simple survival. By the time another starship arrives, the U.S.S. Reliant commanded by Captain Clark Terrell and with former Enterprise crewman Pavel Chekov serving as its first officer, Khan’s pretty much gone ’round the bend. Seizing control of the Reliant by means of one of those cool movie critters that turn people into obedient zombies, Khan sets off to unleash BLOODY VENGEANCE on the man responsible for his downfall: James T. Kirk.

Oh, it’s on now.

Directed by Nicholas Meyer from a story by veteran TV producer Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards (who also wrote the original screenplay, which Meyer then rewrote….in 12 days), Star Trek II hits almost every right note and avoids the pitfalls which tripped up its theatrical predecessor. The humor as well as the friendships and camaraderie shared by Kirk and his crew–all but absent from the first film–are here to lend perfect balance to the drama and tension driving most of the story. Even the color palette is warmer this time around, from the red paint on the Enterprise doors to the crew uniforms, which now look more like something of a natural progression from those of the original series.

Montalban, reprising his role from “Space Seed,” pulls out all the stops as the maniacal Khan, obsessed with avenging himself upon Kirk. Strong efforts from supporting actors Bibi Besch, Merritt Butrick, Paul Winfield and Kirstie Alley in her first film role round out a solid performance by the main cast (wild-eyed “KHAAAAAN!” bit from William Shatner notwithstanding). Though some footage of the Enterprise is lifted from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, there are plenty of new space scenes to satisfy the Trekkie tech heads among us. James Horner’s musical score, shifting with ease between quiet contemplation and rousing action, is a bow tying up the whole sweet package.

If this film had failed, it arguably could’ve been the death knell for Kirk and the Enterprise gang. Instead, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was a critical and commercial success, bringing with it a fresh new energy to what we now call “the Star Trek franchise.” It paved the way for future sequels and the eventual television spin-offs, along with merchandising and other licensing ventures that continue to this day.

“I feel young.”

Shit, I feel old.

KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!

Happy 35th Anniversary, Star Trek II. Surely, the best of times.