Happy 123rd Birthday, Indiana Jones!

Today marks the birth date of Dr. Henry Walton Jones, Jr., famed archaeologist and obtainer of rare antiquities, renowned professor, traveled adventurer, and all around nice guy.

If ever you need an historical artifact or object of the occult located and liberated from uptight French rivals, scheming Nazis or commie graverobbers, he’s your man.

If you’re starving in some backwater village and worried about some ancient voodoo rocks rather than finding a decent sandwich shop, this is the dude you call.

If you’ve got alien bodies that need studying before they’re whisked away to secret military warehouses, he’s good at that, too.

If you want someone to show you the folly of bringing a sword to a gunfight, he’s got it covered.

Indiana Jones: July 1, 1899 – ???

Smart, tough, resourceful, and ruggedly handsome. There are so few of us.

Were he still alive today, he’d be 123 years old.

On the other hand, he did drink from the Holy FREAKIN’ Grail. Maybe he really is still out there, crackin’ his whip and chasin’ after fortune and glory. Hmmmmmmm?

IndianaJones-1992
Indiana Jones, circa 1992

You just never know about these things. So, just in case…Happy 1234d Birthday, Dr. Jones!

Happy 50th Anniversary, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes!

“Where there is fire, there is smoke. And in that smoke, from this day forward, my people will crouch, and conspire, and plot, and plan for the inevitable day of Man’s downfall.

The day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind.

The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland out of which I will lead my people from their captivity!

And we shall build our own cities, in which there will be no place for humans except to serve our ends! And we shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty! And that day is upon you NOW!”

Sorry, humans. I guess that’s your ass.

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 after a Los Angeles premiere on June 14th and another in New York on June 29th, 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 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.

But, 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 “reboot” Apes films: 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the ApesDawn of the Planet of the Apes from 2014, and 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes. Indeed, you can also see more than a bit of Battle DNA in the latter two films.

Not a bad bit of legacy-leaving, if you ask me.

Happy 50th, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

Happy 40th 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. 40 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 as envisioned by legendary futurist Syd Mead 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 could 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 see Blade Runner during its original theatrical run, because at the time it didn’t really grab me. As for The Thing, my friends and I eventually managed to slide past the ushers looking to keep underage delinquents from sneaking into those auditoriums (Damn, those “R” ratings.), so we were able to watch it in all its big-screen gory goodness. I eventually caught Blade Runner on home video (VHS!) later, and fell in love with it 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 and comics laying out the past and future events spinning out from the original film. In October 2017 during the movie’s 35th anniversary year, Blade Runner 2049 hit movie screens, starring Ryan Gosling and featuring Harrison Ford as Deckard. It did what good sequels are supposed to do: scratching the familiar itch with moderation while expanding and deepening the world established by its predecessor(s). There was a time when the very idea of a Blade Runner sequel seemed impossible if not insane to me, but 2049 took little time to rise to the top tier of my all-time favorite films.

Meanwhile, there there’s Blade Runner and The Thing, representing 1982 cinema like the boss movies they are. You could do worse on this Saturday than to spin up this double bill.

It’s Captain Picard Day, everybody!

What, you didn’t know this? Shame on you. It’s June 16th, which means…..

CaptainPicardDay-Banner'

That’s right, today we pause to recognize the life and accomplishments of Jean-Luc Picard: captain extraordinaire, explorer, diplomat, tea connoisseur, and 24th century renaissance man.

Oh, and he’s also a role model. Just ask him.


Of course, all he wants is to sit in the sun and read his book. Alone. Afterward? He really hasn’t thought that far ahead.

So, hey! Don’t just have a great Captain Picard Day. Get out there and “Make It So.”

Happy 55th Anniversary to 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?

Major John Reisman: They’re really not paying him enough for this shit.

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.

“Boy, do I love that Franko.”

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 all these 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, broadcast 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, 1987’s The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission and The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission following 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. As recently as late 2019, there was chatter about a remake in the works, with director David Ayer (2016’s Suicide Squad) set to take the helm as both writer and director.

(I’m just gonna walk past the easy Dirty Dozen/Suicide Squad comparisons, because Ayer also wrote the scripts for Fury and Training Day, and that immunizes him from any stupid jokes I might make. I’m taking a “wait and see” approach for this one.)

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

Happy 35th 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.

predator-poster

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.

“This wasn’t in the brochure, guys.”

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.

“Aaaaaaaaa-driaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!!”

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), a second all-but pointless sequel, Predators in 2010, and one more for good measure in 2018, The Predator. Elsewhere, 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 that will serve as a prequel to the entire franchise, Prey, is slated for release on the Hulu streaming service on August 5th.

Maybe Prey will prove me wrong, but until it does, I feel like you’re better off sticking with this–the first and still the best–Predator.

Happy 35th, yo. You’re still one ugly mother fucker, but we love you.

40 years ago today – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”

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 for this one got it right.

40 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 Captain 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 Admiral James T. 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.

As originally scripted, the film brings with it the death of Spock, who sacrifices himself in order to save the Enterprise from certain destruction. This was done to honor a request from actor Leonard Nimoy, who had decided Star Trek II would be his last performance of his most popular character. However, as the story goes, he also held out for the opportunity to direct the next Star Trek film (should there be one). What’s fuzzy is where along that timeline he came to terms with continuing to portray Spock on screen, as we all know what happened with Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Unlike Star Trek: The Motion Picture, there was very little in the way of merchandise tying into the new film. Chief among the paltry offerings was the novelization of the movie’s script, written by Vonda N. McIntyre. In those days, the novelization for a feature film might show up in stores weeks ahead of the movie’s release. Such was the case with Star Trek II, and I obtained my copy thanks to my sister who was looking out for me one Saturday in May 1982 when she went shopping with our mother. Thanks to her, I had in my hands the story for the film well ahead of its release date, and yet…..I somehow resisted the urge to read the book before seeing the movie with my pals on Release Day.

As it happens, I ended up seeing it a bunch of times that summer. Then I read the book, and as tended to happen back in those days, I ended up reading it a few times over the ensuing years.

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, ensuring the aforementioned sequel and 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 40th Anniversary, Star Trek II. Surely, the best of times.

East Bound and Down: 45 years of truckin’ with Smokey and the Bandit!

What we’re dealin’ with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

May 1977 is a landmark month in movie history, what with bringing to us the first Star Wars film and with it the birth of the “Star Wars franchise.”

However, this same month also brought to us another cinematic gem; an underrated, oft-overlooked entry in the vast film oeuvre of actor Burt Reynolds which actually was the second highest-grossing flick of 1977. We’re talking about a movie that showcases the definitive battle between good and evil, rendering into sharp relief the intrinsic struggle between liberty and oppression, and offering hope that one man – along with a woman, another man and that man’s dog – can make a difference.

That’s right; we’re talking about Smokey and the Bandit.

smokey-bandit

This was one of the few movies I can remember going to see with my entire family. We ventured to a drive-in theater one balmy summer evening in Tampa, and my mother and father were in the front seats while my sister and I did our best to catch all of the action from the back seat. As I recall, my sister grew bored with the goings-on at some point, curling up on her side of the seat and going to sleep. I’m pretty sure my mother wished she could be anywhere but in that car, watching what I’m certain she thought had to be the stupidest movie ever committed to celluloid.

Meanwhile, my father and I were laughing our asses off.

smokey01

Yes, we can admit that Smokey and the Bandit is really just an excuse to film cars driving fast, jumping over things, and getting the crap beaten out of them. In between all of those stunts is woven a plot with all the complexity of the ingredients on a bottle of water: Bo “Bandit” Darville (Reynolds) and his partner, Cletus Snow (aka “The Snowman,” played by Jerry Reed), accept a wager from a couple of rich assholes to drive from Atlanta to Texarkana, Texas where they’ll secure 400 cases of Coors beer – which at the time was not allowed to be sold east of the Mississippi River – and drive back in 28 hours. Waiting for them at the finish line are bragging rights and $80,000.

Sounds simple right? Of course it is, but Bandit and the Snowman find trouble in the form of Texas sheriff Buford T. Justice. With the lawman and his idiot son/deputy in manic pursuit, the Bandit and his shiny black T-top Trans Am stops just long enough to pick up a runaway bride (Carrie, aka “Frog,” played by Sally Field), who just happens to be fleeing the scene after leaving Justice’s son at the altar. Meanwhile, Snowman, driving the rig with all the beer, is just hoping to get back in time to collect the cash. In and around all this heavy angst and intense character introspection (or lack thereof) is a series of high-speed chases, jumps and crashes, and trash-talking on the finest communications tool ever bestowed upon the civilized world, the Citizen’s Band Radio.

smokey02

Hot damn, but do I love this movie.

It’s not high art by any stretch, but it ain’t boring. Reynolds, at the height of his career in the 1970s by this point, is immediately likable as the Bandit, and Jerry Reed is the ideal sidekick and partner in mischief and/or crime. Sally Field is both funny and adorable as “Frog,” the unwitting passenger on this crazy journey, and Sheriff Justice—the hilarious parody of every backwater redneck hick law dog in the history of backwater redneck hick law dogs—is played to utter, outrageous perfection by the late, great Jackie Gleason.

Written and directed by famed Hollywood stuntman Hal Needham, Smokey and the Bandit was the first of several collaborations with Reynolds (Hooper, The Cannonball Run). It spawned two theatrical sequels and a handful of TV movies, all of which are best forgotten, but this first battle between a Smokey and a Bandit is sheer, goofy fun.

So, keep your pedal to the metal, good buddy. I’m 10-10 on the side, east bound and down.

Happy 45th Birthday, Star Wars!

starwars_poster

A long time ago, in a theater far, far away….

I was just shy of my 10th birthday in the summer of 1977, when some friends and I went to see Star Wars because out of the movies playing at my neighborhood 4-screen theater, it looked the most interesting. Typical boy stuff, right? Just hang out in a darkened theater for a couple of hours on a hot Florida day, and then on to something else, right?

Yeah.

Like a lot of kids that summer, I watched the film (no “Episode” number! no subtitle! BAH!) with unrestrained glee. It was the first time I could remember enjoying myself so thoroughly at something I was watching on a movie screen. It was all Star Wars all the time that year as, along with all the other 9 and 10-year-olds, I devoured the action figures and other toys, read the comics, built the models, and on and on and on….

SW-1977-02

(This photo was everywhere, that summer.)

All these years later, I still love the original Star Wars. After all, there’s  plenty there to enjoy, no matter your age. Its sequels are fun, The Empire Strikes Back being its own bit of superb, of course, though I’m not as enamored with the “prequel trilogy.” Still, the music from all of the films is in my regular rotation for when I’m writing, and I’ve continued to keep up with various books and comics and whatnot over the years.

This effort was aided in no small part by my kids, who’ve enjoyed various bits of the larger Star Wars universe. They watched the Rebels cartoon and played with Star Wars toys, and because of them I got to act a little like that 9-year old all over again. For them, it was just cool characters and space ships, which in its own way is completely, spectacularly awesome. More recently, we’ve enjoyed The Mandalorian together and Grogu/”Baby Yoda” was a predictably huge hit.

Of course, things elevated to a whole new level of cool in December 2015: I’d been waiting to take our kids to see a new Star Wars movie since the instant it was announced. Sure, we’d watched the other films together, at home, but that could never compare to watching a Star Wars movie on the big screen, the way it’s meant to be seen.

As we sat there in the theater, waiting for the lights to go down so we could watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens, my oldest kid was the same age I was on that magical summer day in 1977. So, on some level it was a moment nearly forty years in the making. Since then, we’ve seen the other new films, of course, along with all the new offerings on Disney+.

But for now? Happy Birthday to the first, original Star Wars.

sw-1977-01

(This one was everywhere, too.)

Happy 65th Anniversary to The D.I.!

“Private Owens! Was the sand flea you killed male or female?”

“Male, sir!”

“Then this ain’t it. Keep looking.”

Technical Sergeant Jim Moore is a drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina. Every 12 weeks, he’s handed a new collection of lads (mostly) just out of high school, and he’s given a straightforward task: Mold them over the course of those 12 weeks into basically trained, Mark 1-Mod 0 United States Marines.

Every training platoon usually comes with at least one individual who proves more challenging than his fellow recruits; someone who seems unable to do anything correctly despite what may or may not be their best effort. The D.I.’s job is to push through all of that resistance and help that recruit meet their goal of earning the title, “United States Marine.”

Some days, the job seems impossible. Some days, the recruit seems like a lost cause. Some days, it just seems easier to sign the papers.

D.I.’s don’t take the easy way, even when their latest challenge is Private Owens.

Continue reading “Happy 65th Anniversary to The D.I.!”