I Slept Through Most Of The Oscars

It wasn’t intentional.  I hadn’t gotten much sleep since Friday and, even before the ceremony started, my eyelids were getting heavy.  I dozed off immediately after Brad Pitt won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

The first time I woke up, Eminem was performing and I saw an unimpressed-looking teenager sitting in the audience with yellow-green hair.

“Who’s that?” I asked my girlfriend.

“Billie Eilish,” she replied, “She was like a few months old the last time Eminem was relevant.”

The sight of a three hundred middle-aged white people bobbing their heads to Eminem put me immediately back to sleep.  I did wake up in time to see the big four awards — director, actor, actress, and picture.

Parasite‘s a good film and Bong Joon-ho is one of the world’s great directors, so I don’t have any complaints about it winning.  Joker would have been a disaster if not for Joaquin Phoenix’s performance so, again, no complaints.  As for Renee Zellweger, I’ll just take everyone’s word that she’s great in Judy.

Terry Jones, RIP

I just heard the incredibly sad news that Terry Jones has died.  Jones, who was one of the founders of Monty Python and a respected medieval scholar, was 77 years old.  It was announced three years ago that Jones was suffering from a rare form of dementia so his death was not unexpected but it still hurts.

When I was a kid and I was watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus for the first time, I initially did not fully appreciated Terry Jones.  I liked him because I liked every member of Monty Python and every British comedy fan grows up wishing that they could have been a member of the group.  (My favorite was Eric Idle.)  But it was sometimes easy to overlook  Terry Jones’s performance on the show because his characters were rarely as flamboyant as some of the other ones.  He was never as grumpy as John Cleese nor was he as sarcastic as Eric Idle.  Michael Palin (who was Jones’s writing partner long before the two of them become members of Monty Python) cornered the market on both unctuous hosts and passive aggressive countermen.  Meanwhile, Graham Chapman played most of the upright authority figures and Terry Gilliam provided animation.  Terry Jones, meanwhile, often played screeching women and bobbies who said, “What’s all this then?”

It was only as I got older and I came to better appreciate the hard work that goes into being funny that I came to appreciate Terry Jones and his ability to always nail the perfect reaction to whatever lunacy was occurring around him.  It was also as I got older that I started to learn about the origins of Monty Python and what went on behind the scenes.  I learned that Terry Jones was a key player.  Along with writing some of Monty Python‘s most memorable material, he also directed or co-directed their films.  On the sets of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life, Jones provided the structure that kept those films from just devolving into a collection of skits.

Unlike the other members of Monty Python, Terry Jones never really went out of his way to establish an acting career outside of the group.  Instead, he wrote screenplays and serious books on both medieval history and Geoffrey Chaucer.  Appropriately, for a member of the troupe that changed the face of comedy, Jones often challenged the conventional views of history.  Terry Jones was the only man in Britain brave enough to defend the Barbarians.

On the last day of the ninth grade, my English teacher, Mr. Davis, rewarded us for our hard work by showing us what he said was the funniest scene in film history.  The scene that he showed us came from the Terry Jones-directed Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life and it featured Jones giving a literally explosive performance as Mr. Creosote.

With thanks to both Mr. Davis and Terry Jones:

Terry Jones, Rest in Peace.

Buck Henry, R.I.P.

I just heard that Buck Henry died tonight of a heart attack.  He was 89 years old.

It’s hard to know where to start with Buck Henry.  He did a little bit of everything.  He started out as a comedian in the 50s, appearing on talk shows and claiming to be G. Clifford Prout, the president of the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (SINA).  SINA was an organization dedicated to clothing animals in order to prevent their “indecency.”  Buck Henry’s delivery was so deadpan that many people thought he actually was G. Clifford Prout and a some even tried to send him donations to help out his cause.  (The donations were always returned.)

Henry went on to work extensively in both television and film.  He wrote the script for The Graduate and played the helpful hotel clerk.  He co-created Get Smart with Mel Brooks.  With Warren Beatty, he co-directed Heaven Can Wait and received an Oscar nomination.  In Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, he had a rare serious role as the gay patent lawyer who helps alien Thomas Jerome Newton set up his corporation and who ultimately gets tossed out of a window by government agents.

During the first few season of Saturday Night Live, Buck Henry hosted a total of ten times.  By many, he was considered to be an unofficial member of the cast.  He was a frequent foil to John Belushi’s samurai character.  Henry’s button-down persona provided the perfect contrast to Belushi’s frenetic performance.  During the October 30th, 1976 episode, Henry was accidentally struck by Belushi’s katana and he ended up with a deep cut on his forehead.  Henry not only continued the skit but he also hosted the rest of the show with a bandage on his forehead.  All of the other members of the cast put bandages on their foreheads as a show of solidarity.

Buck Henry kept working into the new century, appearing on shows like Will and Grace, The Daily Show, and 30 Rock.  He will be missed.

Buck Henry, R.I.P.

Friday Notes

Qasem Soleimani was killed by an American drone strike last night.  Many people declared it to be the start of World War III.  Many of the same people who loved it when Obama would drone our enemies are outraged that Trump has done the same thing.  That’s partisanship for you.  It’s a hell of a drug.

It’s been about 22 hours since and World War III has not yet broken out.  If it does, I’ll be sure to update this post.

Seeing as how peace is fragile and war could break out any minute, Lisa and I decided to go to the movies today.  We saw two films at the Alamo Drafthouse, Uncut Gems and Rise of Skywalker.  Talk about mood whiplash!  Uncut Gems was gritty and claustrophobic while Rise of Skywalker was definitely not.

In fact, it’s hard to say what Rise of Skywalker was.  This weekend, I’ll probably review the movie over at Through The Shattered Lens, since no one else has done it yet.  For now, I’ll just say that, when I was growing up, there’s no way I wouldn’t have seen the new Star Wars movie the day that it opened.  With Rise of Skywalker, I waited two weeks because I instinctively knew it wasn’t going to anything special.  It’s not terrible but it is forgettable and that’s something that no Star Wars film should be.

The prequels were an obvious mistake from the minute the words “trade routes” appeared in Phantom Menace‘s opening crawl.  The sequels have turned out to be a mistake, though not on as huge a scale as the prequels.  To me, Star Wars is Rogue One, New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and the first season of The Mandalorian.  The rest of it can be forgotten.

“America! Beer!”: A Review Of The Delta Force (1986, directed by Menahem Golan)

I know that I previously declared that Viva Knieval was the greatest film ever made but, after giving it some thought, I’m going to have to move it down to the second greatest movie ever made.  Viva Knieval may be great but Delta Force is even better!

Produced by Cannon Films, The Delta Force starts in 1980, with a helicopter exploding in the desert.  America’s elite special missions force has been sent to Iran to rescue the men and women being held hostage in the embassy.  The mission is a disaster with the members of Delta Force barely escaping with their lives.  Captain Chuck Norris tells his commanding officer, Col. Lee Marvin, that he’s finished with letting cowardly politicians control their missions.  Chuck heads to Montana while Lee spends the next few years hitting on the bartender at his local watering hole.

In 1985, terrorists led by Robert Forster hijack an airplane and divert it to Beirut.  Among those being held hostage: Martin Balsam, Shelley Winters, Lainie Kazan, Susan Strasberg, Kim Delaney, and Bo Svenson.  The great George Kennedy plays a priest named O’Malley who, when the Jewish passengers are moved to a separate location, declares himself to be Jewish and demands to be taken too.  Jerry Lazarus is a hostage who spends the movie holding a Cabbage Patch doll that his daughter gave him for luck.  Former rat packer Joey Bishop plays a passenger who says, “Beirut was beautiful then.  Beautiful.”  Fassbinder favorite Hanna Schygulla is the stewardess who refuses to help the terrorists because, “I am German!”

In America, General Robert Vaughn activates The Delta Force to rescue the hostages and take out the terrorists.  As Lee Marvin prepares everyone (including Cannon favorite, Steve James and, in a nonspeaking role, Liam Neeson) to leave, the big question is whether Chuck Norris will come out of retirement for the mission.  Of course, he does.  Even better, he brings his motorcycle with him.

Anyone who has ever seen The Delta Force remembers Chuck’s motorcycle.  Not only did it look incredibly cool but it was also mounted with machine guns and it could fire missiles at cowardly terrorists.  It didn’t matter whether you agreed with the film’s politics were or whether you even liked the movie, everyone who watched The Delta Force wanted Chuck’s motorcycle.  As the old saying goes, “You may be cool but you’ll never be Chuck Norris firing a missile from a motorcycle cool.”

The Delta Force is really three different films.  One film, shot in the style of a disaster film, is about the hostages on the plane and their evil captors.  The second film is Lee Marvin (in his final movie role) preparing his men to storm the airplane.  The third movie is Chuck Norris chasing Robert Forster on his motorcycle.  Put those three movies together and you have the ultimate Cannon movie.  The Delta Force was even directed by Cannon’s head honcho, Menahem Golan.  (Years earlier, Golan also directed Operation Thunderbolt, an Israeli film about the raid on Entebbe, which features more than a few similarities to The Delta Force.  Golan received his first and only Oscar nomination when Operation Thunderbolt was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.)

The Delta Force is also the ultimate 80s movie.  It opens with the Carter administration fucking everything up and it ends with the Reagan administration giving Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris the greenlight to blow up some terrorists.  There is not much nuance to be found in The Delta Force but it still feels good to watch Chuck beat the bad guys.  Top that off with a shameless score from Alan Silvestri and you have one of the greatest movies of all time.

At the end of The Delta Force, as cans of Budweiser are being passed out to rescued hostages, an extra is clearly heard to shout, “Beer!  America!”  Then everyone sings America The Beautiful.

That says it all.

The Hard Way (1991, directed by John Badham)

Lt. John Moss (James Woods) is a cop with a problem.  A serial killer who calls himself the Party Crasher (Stephen Lang) is killing people all across New York and he has decided that he will be coming for Moss next.  However, Moss’s captain (Delroy Lindo) says that Moss is off of the Party Crasher case and, instead, he’s supposed to babysit a big time movie star named Nick Lang (Michael J. Fox)!

Nick is famous for playing “Smoking” Joe Gunn in a series of Indiana Jones-style action films.  However, Nick wants to be taken seriously.  He wants to play Hamlet, just like his rival Mel Gibson!  (That Hard Way came out a year after Mel Gibson played the melancholy Dame in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1990 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.)  Nick thinks that if he can land the lead role in a hard-boiled detective film, it will give him a chance to show that he actually can act.  To prepare for his audition, he’s asked to spend some time following Moss on the job.  Mayor David Dinkins, always eager to improve New York’s reputation, agrees.  (David Dinkins does not actually appear in The Hard Way, though his name is often mentioned with a derision that will be familiar to anyone who spent any time in New York in the 90s.)  Of course, Moss isn’t going to stop investigating the Party Crasher murders and, of course, Nick isn’t going to follow Moss’s orders to just stay in his apartment and not get in his way.

The Hard Way is a predictable mix of action and comedy but it’s also entertaining in its own sloppy way.  Director John Badham brings the same grit that he brought to his other action films but he also proves himself to have a deft comedic touch.  Most of the laughs come from the contrast between James Woods playing one of his typically hyperactive, edgy roles and Michael J. Fox doing an extended and surprisingly convincing impersonation of Tom Cruise.  Woods and Fox prove to be an unexpectedly effective comedic team.  One of the best running jokes in the film is Woods’s exasperation as he discovers that everyone, from his girlfriend (Annabella Sciorra) to his no-nonsense boss, are huge fans of Nick Lang.  Even with a serial killer running loose in the city, Moss’s captain is more concerned with getting Nick’s autograph.

Woods and Fox are the main attractions here but Stephen Lang is a good, unhinged villain and Annabella Sciorra brings some verve to her underwritten role as Moss’s girlfriend.  Viewers will also want to keep an eye out for familiar faces like Penny Marshall as Nick’s agent, a very young Christina Ricci as Sciorra’s daughter, and Luis Guzman as Moss’s partner.

With its references to David Dinkins, Mel Gibson’s superstardom, and Premiere Magazine, its LL Cool J-filled soundtrack, and a plot that was obviously influenced by Lethal Weapon, The Hard Way is very much a period piece but it’s an entertaining one.

 

Viva Knievel! (1977, directed by Gordon Douglas)

Last night, I watched one of the greatest movies of all time, Viva Knievel!

Viva Knievel! starts with the real-life, motorcycle-riding daredevil Evel Knievel breaking into an orphanage in the middle of the night, waking up all the children, and giving each of them their own Evel Knievel action figure.  When one of the kids says, “You actually came!,” Evel replies that he always keeps his word.  Another one of the orphans then throws away his crutches as he announced that he can walk again!

From there, Viva Knievel! only gets better as Evel preaches against drug use, helps his alcoholic mechanic (Gene Kelly) bond with his son, and flirts with a glamorous photojournalist (Lauren Hutton).  Evel was married at the time that Viva Knievel! was produced but his wife and family go unmentioned as Evel, Kelly, and Hutton travel through Mexico, jumping over fire pits, and battling drug dealers.

Evel’s former protegee, Jessie (former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner), has fallen in with a bad crowd and gotten messed up on the same drugs that Evel spends the entire movie preaching against.  An evil drug trafficker (Leslie Nielsen, a few years before Airplane! and The Naked Gun) pressures Jessie to convince Evel to do a dangerous stunt.  The plot is to replace Evel’s trusted mechanic with a crooked mechanic (Cameron Mitchell) who will sabotage the jump.  When Evel dies, he will be shipped back to the U.S. in a coffin and, hidden within the walls of the coffin, will be several kilos of cocaine.  Oh, the irony!  Evel Knievel, America’s number one spokesman against drugs, will be responsible for bringing them into the United States!  Can Evel thwart the nefarious plans of Leslie Nielsen while still finding time to fall in love with Lauren Hutton and break Gene Kelly out of a psychiatric ward?  If anyone can do it, Evel can.

Even Dabney Coleman is in this movie!

From the start, Viva Knievel! is a vanity project but in the best, most loony and entertaining way possible.  There are many well-known actors in this film and all of them take a backseat to Evel Knievel, whom they all speak of as if he’s a cross between Gary Cooper and Jesus Christ.  Watching this movie, you learn three things: 1) Evel Knievel was high on life but not dope, 2) Evel Knievel always kept his word, and 3) Evel Knievel always wore his helmet.  He even makes sure that Lauren Hutton is wearing one before he takes her for a spin on his motorcycle.  You also learn that Evel Knievel liked to get paid.  He nearly beats up his manager (Red Buttons) when he thinks that he’s been cheated but they’re still friends afterwards because how could anyone turn down a chance to be in Evel’s presence?

There are plenty of stunts and jumps to be seen in Viva Knievel!, though watching Leslie Nielsen play a villain is almost as fun as watching Evel jump over a fire pit.  Judging from his performance here, Evel Knievel probably could have had a film career.  He had a natural screen presence and delivered even the worst dialogue with sincerity.   Unfortunately, three months after Viva Knievel! opened in the United States, Evel attacked a promoter with an aluminum baseball bat and ended up doing 6 months in jail.  Evel said it was because the promoter was spreading lies about him but, regardless, Evel lost most of his sponsorships and his toyline was discontinued.  Viva Knievel! sunk into an obscurity from which it has only recently reemerged.  Viva Knievel! is cheesy fun, a relic of a bygone era.  Watch it, think about whatever problems you may be dealing with in your own life, and then ask yourself, “What would Evel do?”