classicsoncall

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Reviews

The Lighthouse
(2019)

"You ain't even human no more."
Bleak and brooding, "The Lighthouse" is a study of the descent into madness of two lighthouse keepers, stranded beyond their original four week assignment, and despairing in the fate of their existence together. Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Tom Howard (Robert Pattinson) are alternately at each others' throats or gleefully imbibing their way into a state of stupor, at one point suggesting a homoerotic encounter, but quickly devolving into yet another fit of pique. Of the two, it's Pattinson's character who eventually experiences visions and nightmares as he goes about his daily chores, subservient to the demands of his nominal supervisor Wake. Cinematically, the picture reminded me of all those great black and white films of the Thirties and Forties emanating from the silent era. It even has a 'B' quality look, though the subject matter goes beyond the simplistic efforts of early film, and challenges the viewer with a myriad of interpretations one could assign to the story. That the fate of the two men ends so tragically is no wonder given the exposition, and you'll come away convinced that it's bad luck to kill a seabird.

Fear City: New York vs the Mafia
(2020)

"It was the Golden Era of the Mob!"
This documentary provides an overview of how the Mafia became an entrenched power in the life of New York City during the era of the Seventies and early Eighties. It's not bad, though the pacing is somewhat inconsistent, and if you've followed the Mafia in movies, books and newspaper articles, there's probably not a lot new to learn here. That's especially true for anyone who lived through the era and happened to reside in the city or it's outlying suburbs in which papers like the New York Daily News, The Times, or The New York Post had a reach. It wasn't unusual to see a front page depiction of the latest mob rub out with it's screaming headlines to start your day off right.

For younger viewers who wouldn't know of his involvement in taking down the Mafia, Rudy Giuliani will prove to be a surprising presence. Giuliani made his mark nationally as the New York Attorney General who coordinated the massive effort to target the five Mafia families individually, while establishing the link that bound them all together as The Commission. Predominantly done via patient stakeouts and cleverly placed wiretaps, the FBI was able to gradually build enough of a case to bring the mob to heel.

Currently running on Netflix, the series consists of three chapters of about forty five minutes each, so not much longer than your average movie and easy enough to take in, in one sitting. The documentary feel is enhanced with plenty of TV footage from back in the day, and if one has any knowledge at all of the old time Mafia, the names will come flooding back in a torrent of Seventies nostalgia.

Terminator: Dark Fate
(2019)

"Yeah, well, you're not an augmented super soldier from the future, are you?"
See, this is the problem with time anomaly stories, you can wipe out past continuity with the mere implementation of a new script and do away with everything that went before. What you basically have here is the original Terminator story tweaked for a new generation and for anyone who didn't know who John Connor was. In other words, if you never saw "The Terminator" or "Terminator 2: Judgment Day", this might serve well as a stand alone story, but for anyone else it's pretty much an insult to fans of the franchise. Seriously, former killing machine, Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 (that would be Arnold), is back as a drapery salesman? Is that what happens to retired cybernetically enhanced assassins from the future? His riff on outfitting a young girl's bedroom with butterflies and balloons might have been the understated highlight of the picture.

But if you don't care about any of that, then I guess if you switch your mind off you can have a little bit of fun with the picture. Mackenzie Davis as Grace had the kind of buffed physique Linda Hamilton had back in T2, and to my mind had more of a presence than the nominal hero, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). I thought Linda Hamilton played it too angry as the returning Sarah Connor; it didn't help that her age worked against her. Man, there were some scenes where she looked eighty years old.

If this doesn't put an end to the Terminator franchise, I don't know what will. At one point, Carl (Schwarzenegger) says to Sarah Connor, "Cause without purpose, we are nothing". That pretty much sums it up for me.

Yip Man 4
(2019)

"In the face of injustice, I must stand up and fight."
For the fourth and final film in the series of Ip Man movies, this one had an anti-climactic feel to it. What should have felt like a new chapter in the Ip Man legacy by having him come to America, turned into a treatment of racism against Chinese citizens in San Francisco where the main story takes place. As in the second installment of the series, Ip Man (Donnie Yen) must satisfy the martial arts masters of this new jurisdiction in order to get his son enrolled in an American school. In "Ip Man 2", he had to placate and pay tribute to a local gang lord before being allowed to open his own training school.

Martial arts fighting action seems to take a decided back seat in this story as well. There are some to be sure, but they don't have the same intensity as the first two films. The backdrop to Master Ip's mission involves the local grand masters upset with his former student Bruce Lee, who has earned their ire by training Americans and writing an instructional book on Wing Chun in English. Lee is portrayed by Danny Kwok-Kwan Chan, in a returning role from "Ip Man 3". Given that circumstance, one would think the character of Lee would have held more prominence in the story, but he shows up a couple of times and leaves unheralded before the film is over.

The biggest eye opener for this viewer was that for all his expertise in martial arts and as a role model for fitness buffs, Master Ip apparently was a heavy smoker, diagnosed with cancer early in the story. I don't believe that ever came up in the earlier movies, and just shocked the heck out of me. It makes you wonder how he could have had the stamina to endure the physicality of his sport. The cancer angle has Ip Man regaining the attention and love of his estranged son Ching (He Ye), but for all that, we never do learn whether or not the youth ever returned to America with his father.

Portrait de la jeune fille en feu
(2019)

"There are rules, conventions, ideas."
When Marianne (Noémie Merlant) spoke those words to Heloise (Adèle Haenel), she could just as well have been describing the passionate nature of their relationship as much as the technique she used in painting Heloise's portrait. The film explores the romance that develops between two passionate women who due to their isolation on a remote island in France, experience a serene, yet potentially volatile connection that will surely terminate when Heloise must commit to an arranged marriage. Writer and director Céline Sciamma could have smoldered the story with graphic sexuality, but instead decided on a slow, methodical approach to bring the women to an understanding that might have endured in another time and place, but was destined to end in disappointment and sorrow. There was a moment in the film when the women studied the almost completed portrait, and Heloise asks how Marianne would know the painting was completed. It was a poignant moment, and Marianne's answer was a harbinger of their final moments together - "At one point we stop".

Better Call Saul
(2015)

"Look, I am a lawyer, not a criminal!" - Episode #1.2 - Jimmy McGill
You don't necessarily have to have seen "Breaking Bad" to enjoy this series, but if you did, you'll have a greater appreciation for the story line and the characters. I pretty much binge watched the shows back to back, so with events from BB fresh in memory, it's a neat exercise to try and figure out how the events of both intertwine with each other. What you have to keep in mind is that "Better Call Saul" came out after "Breaking Bad" completed it's run in 2013, yet Saul's, actually JImmy McGill's, adventures begin before Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) ended. This all creates a sometimes confusing timeline in the mind of the viewer, but it's worth the frustration to unravel the details.

Actor Bob Odenkirk portrays Jimmy McGill, and though it's not until the end of Season #4 that he officially begins to do business as Saul Goodman, that idea is planted early in the first season when during one of his con job schemes, he utters to a buddy, "'S all good, man". The phrase pops up again a couple of times to reinforce the premise, but if you've seen BB, you're probably thinking Saul Goodman most of the time anyway.

Rhea Seehorn is a romantic interest and sometimes willing co-conspirator of Jimmy's, though to my mind, I can't really see them as a couple. The seed for their dissolution seems to have been planted in the final episode of Season #4, when Jimmy persuades a conference of judges to grant him back his law license which had been suspended for a year. Calling one of the judges on the panel an 'a__hole' for crying, Jimmy missed the fact that Kim Wexler (Seehorn) was shedding tears as well during Jimmy's recollection of brother Chuck (Michael McKean). Jimmy's con-man days were really about to get under way in large fashion.

With exceptional writing and a fantastic cast, "Better Call Saul" is one of the more entertaining series on cable TV. Not quite as intense as "Breaking Bad", but still a cleverly written program with memorable characters. As the series continues, I'll be speculating and anxiously awaiting the further adventures of Jimmy McGill, because you know, 's all good man."

The Invisible Man's Revenge
(1944)

"In this house, you've got to believe what you can't see!"
This was actor Jon Hall's second appearance in the Invisible Man series of films, although he's a different character here than the one he portrayed in "Invisible Agent". He carries the Griffin family name in this one, though he's introduced by way of a newspaper headline as a homicidal maniac who escaped a Capetown asylum after killing two interns and a nurse. Seems instead of the invisibility serum making him crazy, he was already a raging madman before he even became aware of it!

This is a decidedly better film than "Invisible Agent", but it's still a 'B' picture by anyone's standard, and pretty typical of the genre back in the Forties. The mad scientist duties here are handled by John Carradine, who's Dr. Drury has been experimenting with his invisibility formula strictly on animals. However when Robert Griffin (Hall) discovers the scientist's work, he demands that the serum be used on him so he can use it's power to seek revenge on a former business partner and make off with the man's daughter.

As in all the prior films in the franchise, the invisibility gimmick is handled fairly well, and this time we have invisible dogs and a parrot to consider. I enjoyed Leon Errol's performance in the story, his appearance as Griffin's partner in crime so to speak, is done with the requisite amount of humor as well as chicanery. For Jon Hall, his batting average surviving the picture would stand at .500 after this film, as his character doesn't make it after receiving a blood transfusion to bring his body back. He fared better in "Invisible Agent", but in this flick, Dr. Drury's German Shepherd had other ideas.

Invisible Agent
(1942)

"We saw him, and then we didn't."
Attempting to capitalize on the first couple of Invisible Man films, this story recycles the Griffin name by way of the grandson of Claude Rains' character in the 1933 classic. Frank Griffin (Jon Hall) successfully thwarts a gang of Axis thugs who descend on his New York City print shop demanding the formula that his grandfather invented. Coming to the attention of high ranking military officers of this country, Griffin volunteers to head off to Europe to learn of German plans to attack the United States, using his invisibility to infiltrate Nazi headquarters. From the outset, it's not clear who the lovely Maria Sorenson (Ilona Massey) is working for, though Griffin utilizes her knowledge and feminine wiles to throw the Germans off track. It helps that there's a good amount of duplicitous intrigue among the Nazi commanders, and when officer Karl Heiser (J. Edward Bromberg) is arrested, Griffin uses the opportunity to condemn his behavior as that of a power mad despot who's nothing more than a coward when faced with his own demise. Peter Lorre, who held his own impersonating a Japanese detective in the Mr. Moto series of films, is on hand as a collaborator with the Germans. In a nod to those earlier roles, it was neat to see him deliver an effective judo throw when the action heated up. Unfortunately, the screenplay isn't up to the task of delivering effective war time intrigue, and the invisibility gimmick is played more for laughs than anything else. Of all the films in the Invisible Man legacy collection, this one is probably the weakest.

The Invisible Woman
(1940)

"If I can persuade her to get undressed again, I'll bring her right over."
It may be part of the Invisible Man legacy, but this film is in no way a sequel to either "The Invisible Man" or "The Invisible Man Returns". It's done in a decidedly more humorous vein and doesn't even pretend to enter the horror genre, much like 1951's "Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man". The principal cast makes it a fun outing nevertheless, as Miss Kitty Carroll (Virginia Bruce) answers an ad placed by eccentric Professor Gibbs (John Barrymore) to test his new invisibility apparatus. Gibbs' technique was rather odd, in that he used both a serum and a mechanical contraption he invented to produce the desired result, while bringing his subject back apparently didn't require either one. You could tell not a lot of thought was put into the script, and indeed, the latter part of the story kind of runs away with itself as a gang of hoods attempts to cash in on the device, but are unable to use it because quite frankly, they didn't know what they were doing.

Besides the principals, I got the biggest kick out of Charlie Ruggles as the hapless butler George, who's comedic timing was impeccable. A couple times it looked like he was doing his own stunts without benefit of a stand-in, and if so, he did one heck of a job. Shemp Howard is on hand too, as one of Blackie Cole's (Oskar Homolka) thugs, though he plays it on the serious side more so than one of the stooges. If you check the credits page here on IMDb, his character is listed as Frankie, but one of the thugs called him Hammerhead, so I guess you can take your pick.

Like the prior films in the Legacy Collection, there are times when continuity and consistency go out the window. For example, when the Invisible Woman takes a drink, you don't see the liquid being swallowed, contrary to the premise originally decreed in "The Invisible Man". But even weirder was the time the invisible Kitty Carroll poured a dark colored wine into a glass to celebrate her disappearance. Once it hit the glass, it was a clear colored liquid!

The Invisible Man Returns
(1940)

"But if the worst comes to the worst, I can always get a job haunting a house."
In a way, this film is almost as good as the original 1933 film "The Invisible Man", but because it's a sequel it rates a minor notch lower. But it's got it's share of special effects that were pretty challenging for the era in which it was made, as well as a handful of inconsistencies in the story line like the previous film. I especially liked the stunt where Willie Spears (Alan Napier) is continuously dunked into the pond by the Invisible Man. In this picture, it's George Radcliffe (Vincent Price), and it's up to Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton) to find the antidote to the invisibility serum that has the potential to drive it's user mad and delusional.

What I found kind of funny, as well as ironic, was the use of a police report to identify the Invisible Man from the 1933 classic. The photo of Claude Rains in this film occupied about as much screen time as his corpse did at the end of the first movie. Otherwise, Rains was nowhere visible in the story. Similarly, we only see Vincent Price at the very end of the movie when he's taken the antidote to make him corporeal once again.

But the biggest kick I got out of the movie was when the helmeted police wearing gas masks and cloaks came on the scene to hunt down and capture the Invisible Man at Radcliffe Manor. It made me wonder if in fact they could have been the inspiration for Darth Vader. Ultimately, the film is a fun part of the Invisible Man legacy, leaving only one question in this viewer's mind coming out of the picture - Can an invisible hand leave visible fingerprints?

The Invisible Man
(1933)

"He meddled in things men should leave alone!"
After watching the 2020 version of "The Invisible Man", I tried looking up my review for the original and discovered I never posted one here on IMDb, a situation I'm only happy to correct right now. I must have seen it before I started posting, which would have been quite a while ago.

Like all of the Universal horror classics, this one delivers the goods for fans of sci-fi and horror in the same tradition as 1931's "Frankenstein", 1932's "The Mummy", and "The Wolf Man", released in 1941. The most impressive thing about it is the way the film makers pulled off the special effects for the era in question. The first time the title character unwraps the bandages from his head to demonstrate his invisibility, you say to yourself, 'how the heck did they do that?', given the primitive technology available at the time. Similarly, the riderless bicycle, the empty rocking chair, and the invisible hand lighting a cigarette, though more easily explainable, are still visually impressive today. However one major goof that director James Whale let slide was when the Invisible Man removed his bandages for the first time. The hair on his head is clearly visible as he starts the process, but disappears as the last of the bandages come off!

Like all good early sci-fi flicks, I get a kick out of the pseudo-science involved in explaining the source of invisibility in the story. In this case, the drug responsible came from a flower found in India that had bleaching properties that rendered humans invisible. It was called monocaine, which had the side effect of making one delusional and mad with rage. This played out appropriately enough in that it gave the Invisible Man an insatiable quest for power, having him rampage through his English village causing the deaths of many innocent victims.

What surprised me when I looked it up was that for Claude Rains, this was only his second movie role ever, and it occurred thirteen years after his first film appearance! However it strikes me funny, as it did for a character like The Mummy, that you didn't really need a name actor for the role since you almost never see him in person. In this picture, the only time you ever get a glimpse of Claude Rains the actor is as a corpse at the end of the picture! And as I always say, that's a great gig if you can get it!

Beyond the Mat
(1999)

"I look at wrestling as theater at it's most base." - Director Barry Blaustein
My approach to pro wrestling is pretty much the same as the one director Barry Blaustein had in putting this documentary together over the span of three years (see my summary line). However I go back a bit further in time to the early and mid-Sixties with favorites like Bruno Sammartino, Bobo Brazil, Killer Kowalski and Vittorio 'The Argentine' Apollo. Back then there was an extra 'W' in WWE, when it was known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation, owned by Vince McMahon Sr. I pretty much stayed a fan for a few years after the rise of Hulk Hogan and the introduction of bizarre story elements. By then, the 'sport' began erasing the fine line between reality and fakery, as the action called for more and more over-the-top theatrics and daredevil type wrestling moves. It was more than evident by then that entertainment had taken over in the minds and hearts of wrestling fans.

I can understand the attraction of these giant behemoths pounding each other while the smaller and lighter wrestlers dazzle with their high flying moves. Which is why the WWE has become such a large business enterprise worth close to a billion dollars. This film examines some of what grew the the company under the direction of Vince McMahon Jr. and his family, along with a snapshot look at some of the stars both on the way up and on the way down. Highlighted are Darrin Droz, Terry Funk, Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, and Mick Foley in his various iterations as Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love. The film takes pains to examine how the matches, even though they are pre-ordained, present a very real threat of danger and injury to the participants. Some, like Foley, take their enthusiasm to a level that becomes life threatening. I was no longer following wrestling when Mankind had that match with The Rock, and I have to say, those chair shots to the head made me wince as much as Mrs. Foley in the audience. Having their kids watch was cruel and unusual punishment.

For some, probably most, the life of a wrestler boils down to a career much like that of Jake Roberts. Constantly on the road with not much in the way of diversion, they resort to drugs and alcohol, with the resultant effect of divorce and estrangement from family. Roberts was not a discriminating drug abuser, he tried most everything, becoming addicted to crack cocaine and pills, with alcohol thrown in for good measure. How he and the other subjects of this documentary lived and persevered in a demanding career will open the eyes of most viewers who can't imagine what exists behind the glamour of screaming fans and a big paycheck. Fortunately in Roberts case, with the help of friends and family, he got through his addictions and managed a return to some semblance of a normal life. For more on that, I'd refer the reader to the 2015 documentary, "The Resurrection of Jake the Snake".

Laredo: The Pride of the Rangers
(1965)
Episode 13, Season 1

"Your story has more holes in it than a sieve!"
Unlike most TV Westerns, 'Laredo' took a more casual and humorous approach to life in the Old West, with it's trio of amiable Texas Rangers getting into one scrap or another in just about every episode. I don't ordinarily comment on individual television programs, but when it comes to stories involving boxing, I tend to make an exception. As such, this episode joins the ranks of a handful of other TV Westerns I've seen in which the central story involves a boxing match. As a reference, you can look up The Roy Rogers Show (The Knockout), Laramie (Bare Knuckles), and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (The Manly Art).

For some reason, Neville Brand did not appear in 'The Pride of the Rangers', as it was mentioned he was on special assignment in Houston. In his place performing virtually the same function, was George Kennedy in the role of a temporary Ranger. When the Army Cavalry comes calling to Laredo, a minor dust up results in a challenge to the Rangers to take on the self proclaimed Texas Cavalry and Great Southwest champion, the oddly named Private Percy Flower. It's always a hoot to catch 'Iron' MIke Mazurki in a TV role, the former pro wrestler played a ton of movie heavies during the Forties and Fifties, usually as a villain but you'll sometimes catch him in a dead-pan comedy role.

Now George Kennedy is a generally fine actor, but the direction here had him looking clownish, what with his inability to maintain a proper boxing stance and flailing wildly in training for his big match. When the day came, he injured his ankle stepping into the ring, and series regular William Smith, Ranger Joe Riley, stepped in to take his place. Ranger Riley scores a neat knockout punch, while Kennedy connects with a haymaker as Mazurki groggily leaves the ring.

The backdrop to the ring action involves the bank robbery of a silver shipment a gang of local outlaws had planned, using the boxing event as a distraction. Riley hightails it out of the ring to join partner Chad Cooper (Peter Brown) and Ranger boss Captain Parmalee (Philip Carey) to take down the bad guys. In addition to Kennedy, the story also features Mickey Shaughnessy as Private Flower's personal manager, and Henry Gibson as a milquetoast Ranger for an additional spot of comic relief. It's a fun episode, though series fans will miss the presence of Neville Brand.

First Kill
(2017)

"When was the last time you got shot with a rifle?"
There were just too many departures from logic to make this a credible thriller. Remember when Levi (Gethin Anthony) confronts Will (Hayden Christensen) while holding Will's son hostage? Will simply allows his rifle to be taken by the bank robber and killer! I guess negotiating for leverage against the bad guy didn't occur to the dad who made critical decisions as a Wall Street stock broker. And speaking of Levi, was that the fastest recovery from a deadly gun shot wound you ever experienced in a movie? He shook it off like a slightly sprained ankle! And before I forget, if you recall the scene in which Will was teaching son Danny (Ty Shelton) how to fire his rifle, he was careful to explain that the safety was on when he gave the weapon to Danny, but the kid aimed it at the tin can targets and fired it anyway, without visibly switching off the safety.

Still, there's more. In hindsight you might consider this one forgivable, but before Will knew Deputy Richie (William DeMeo) was a dirty cop, he ran away from him into the woods when standing pat and explaining what had happened earlier might have proven more effective. OK, I'll concede on that one because Richie was a bad guy. But as both took off with Richie chasing Will, they both happen to come across a couple of RV's conveniently located on a trail, with the keys still in both! What are the odds?

I don't know, this could have had some promise with better writing and more credibly defined situations, but even Bruce Willis couldn't save this thing. Not really used to seeing him as a bad guy, but it could have worked. Instead, his presence in the film was probably used to score viewers for a story that didn't make a whole lot of sense. And if the title was meant to have any resonance to the premise laid down in the beginning, it would have been more practical for young Danny to achieve that first kill, right after Levi explained to him how to handle a bully.

Ray Romano: Right Here, Around the Corner
(2019)

Right here around the corner...
Ray Romano returns to his comedic roots doing stand-up at the Comedy Cellar in New York City for this 2019 Netflix special. It's divided into two parts, with Ray doing separate sets, I believe on the same night to a different audience each time. He seemed a little tired in his delivery, bemoaning the fact that he's now over fifty (sixty three actually as I write this), although the insight and maturity gained from growing older gives him the ability to comment on aging and raising a family. A lot of his jokes are aimed at his now adult kids, with a few zingers thrown his wife's way. At times he does delve into risque subjects, but fortunately keeps his dialog relatively obscene free, though you may wince every now and then when he ventures into areas that could make you squeamish. Apparently his entire family which was in attendance didn't seem to mind, as they all joined him following his last set to go out for pizza. The only one who escaped the good natured wrath during his monologue was his one and only daughter, who he affectionately referred to as 'the good one'. Together they looked like the all-American family, every one of which appeared to love Raymond.

The Stand at Paxton County
(2020)

Modern day 'B' Western
What you have here is pretty much a 1940's B Western updated with modern day trappings, replacing your standard gang of conniving horse rustlers with a corrupt sheriff and a county veterinarian using subtleties in the law to 'legally' steal horses from local ranchers. Under the animal abuse provisions of Title 23, the animals are confiscated for minor ranch violations, and sold at a premium in other jurisdictions as the human victims find themselves defenseless and reduced to poverty. Unlike the old time Westerns, the villains of the piece don't necessarily look the part, they're dressed up as your average law abiding citizen, but with larceny in their heart and a lack of human compassion. It's not until the film ends that you're shocked into recognition that this was actually based on a true life case, at which time there comes an appreciation that the characters in the story were heroes in taking on corrupt law enforcement. A defining moment occurs at the end of the picture when the bully sheriff gets taken down by one of his intended equine victims. I'm sure you'll agree with me when I say that it was a real kick in the head.

Echo in the Canyon
(2018)

"You guys ready to go to the Sixties?"
Hosted by Jakob Dylan, this is a nostalgic look back on the music scene roughly covering the years 1965 to 1967, when many of the creative forces in the industry gravitated to the Los Angeles area and nearby Laurel Canyon. The best thing about the doc is seeing and hearing directly from musicians like Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Steven Stills, Michelle Phillips, Eric Clapton, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne and Tom Petty. It was eerie seeing Petty in so many spots because of his death in 2017, only a couple years after this film was released.

The focus appears to be the melding of folk music with rock at a time right after The Beatles hit the States with their appearance on 'The Ed Sullivan Show', and it's somewhat comical keeping track of who influenced who and how the bands developed their styles in synch and in contrast with one another. Eventually Steven Stills sets things right by stating that "Everything was influencing everything", which is probably about as accurate as one can get without stepping on anyone's toes. The main bands highlighted from the era include The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Mamas and The Papas, and Buffalo Springfield. In listening to some of the music luminaries expounding on their influences, I have a difficult time distinguishing the nuances in certain songs and albums that are considered seminal. For example, to me, the Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds' is an OK album, but it doesn't carry the weight with me that so many of the interviewees give it. 'Sgt. Pepper' on the other hand is another story, one of those recordings I can listen to time and again. So it's all in the ear of the beholder I guess.

The downside of the documentary for me was the manner of the host. Jakob Dylan (son of Bob) was entirely monotone and non-emotional throughout, often attempting to appear pensive but coming across as vacant. He does have a decent singing voice though, as evidenced by his collaboration with various modern day artists in recreating some of the classic sounds of the Sixties. David Crosby appeared to nail it without trying to, when during his introduction to Jakob, jokingly remarked that 'there's only one Dylan'. Considering the focus of this piece, it wouldn't be a curious thing to inquire why he wasn't included.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
(2019)

"Good luck, Mr. Driscoll."
I had somewhat different expectations for this movie. I thought it would take place roughly five or six years following the events of "Breaking Bad", but instead it picks up right where the series left off in 2013. In that respect, it could have easily been presented as two additional episodes of that program. Be that as it may, if you were invested in BB, you'll enjoy this look at Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), on the run from authorities while seeking the money left behind by former associate and later jail keeper Todd (Jesse Plemons). Occasional flashbacks occur that reveal footage that wasn't seen in the original series but just as well could have been, taking place during the earlier five year run. Jesse's confrontation with the Kandy Mechanical crew is just as visceral as any from BB, and is probably the most noteworthy portion of the story. Though I did enjoy Jesse's search for the money Todd had stashed in his apartment. When he finally found it, it seemed like a no-brainer, since it was always known that Todd and his Uncle Jack always had a preference for cold, hard cash.

Breaking Bad
(2008)

"The chemistry must be respected." - Episode #3.5, Walter White to Gustavo Fring
Well, I don't know what I can add to the dialog here, watching the show as I have some seven years after it ended. This is quite simply one of the best shows ever to hit the cable TV scene. I see it's currently rated #4 on IMDb's list of top rated television programs, and though one could argue that point, there's no denying it was a well written and incredibly involved program with a myriad of characters and situations spanning five seasons. I happened to binge watch it over the last couple of weeks, and to my thinking, I don't know how I would have had the patience to catch it during it's regular run waiting for each chapter to unfold. Thinking back on the series now, I don't know if I'd consider any of the characters as likable, though all of them are portrayed by an amazing cast of capable actors and actresses. RJ Mitte in particular, as Walter White Jr., is particularly impressive as a young man with cerebral palsy, a condition which he has in real life on a much milder scale. As the show's central character, Bryan Cranston arcs his personality from a mild mannered high school chemistry teacher into one of TV's most amoral and vicious characters ever. Without trying to dissect every single principal player, I can only recommend you sample the series for yourself. And what the final episode of the series does, which I thought I'd never see again in a movie, is memorialize the character of Lydia Rodart-Quayle (Laura Fraser), with the song 'Lydia, Oh Lydia', a tune I first encountered in the Marx Brothers movie "At The Circus", and once again in 1991's "The Fisher King" with Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams! However the one that best personifies the series for reasons you'll understand if you watch it, is the song by Tommy James and the Shondells titled 'Crystal Blue Persuasion'.

True Memoirs of an International Assassin
(2016)

"Still need a good signature line."
Well, it's got the word 'assassin' in the title, and since I've got an ongoing IMDb list that focuses on assassins, I thought I'd give this a try. The funny thing is, I don't think the main character in the movie ever killed anybody now that I think of it. That's because Samuel J. Larson (Kevin James) is an insurance actuary and would-be adventure novelist who's invented the fictional character Mason Carver. He's drawn into a Venezuelan coup attempt by virtue of a literary agent reinventing his persona from a fiction writer to a real life, globe spanning killer for hire.

As insane as the whole idea sounds, this is generally a fun movie that keeps pace with it's action and humor. What's impressive are the fight scenes and martial art encounters involving actors Kevin James and Zulay Henao portraying DEA agent Rosa Bolivar. Those sequences seamlessly place their stunt doubles into the middle of the action without compromising someone like James, who's size and weight precludes an ability to fly through the air with the greatest of ease. I liked Bolivar in her role, fortunately the story line didn't try to make the most of a romantic entanglement between her character and partner Sam Larson.

The story itself introduces a host of characters conspiring to do away with each other in the hotbed of Venezuelan drug trafficking, mercenaries for hire, and political corruption. The one liners come rapidly and take some of the edge off an entirely implausible story, so if you're up for something just a little bit different, this one might fill the bill for you. Kevin James fans should be particularly pleased.

Elf
(2003)

"It's just nice to meet anyone human who shares my affinity for elf culture."
In a concession to my eleven year old granddaughter, I watched "Elf" yesterday with her. Quite honestly, I thought she was suggesting "Alf" to me, so when she pulled it up on Netflix I managed an inward groan to myself. The end result though, was that I came away pleasantly entertained by the naive innocence of the Elf character Buddy, disarmingly portrayed by Will Ferrell. I don't usually go for pictures starring former SNL comedians because they're usually mindless fluff, but this one had a way of holding your attention to see what silliness comes next. I got a kick out of the sight gags and Buddy's one-sided view of a world he had no knowledge of once he hit New York City on a mission to find his real father. The script writers apparently weren't too concerned about him finding his real mother, a thought that occurred to me throughout, especially with each time that photo of a young Walter Hobbs (James Caan) was shown with his one time girlfriend. But that quickly gets lost in the shuffle of Buddy's precarious encounters with the staff at Gimbel's and Santa's (Ed Asner) arrival fueled by the Christmas Spirit provided by all of Buddy's new found friends and family. I can't really claim that this will wind up a holiday staple with me, but for a one time experience, "Elf" will bring a smile. Because in the words of Buddy himself - "I like to smile. Smiling's my favorite"!

The Battered Bastards of Baseball
(2014)

"It was a dream-making kind of place." - Carren Woods
This is a Cinderella story about a baseball team that stopped just short of grabbing the brass ring. From 1973 to 1978, the Portland Mavericks, under the ownership of former actor Bing Russell, defied the establishment of professional baseball to become one of the most successful franchises in Class A history. Russell, for those who might not have heard of him, was a character actor who portrayed Deputy Clem Foster on the television series 'Bonanza'. And if you're not familiar with him, you'll be shocked to check his stats here on IMDb, with a hundred seventy six credits spanning 1951 to 1990. Interestingly, right after watching this documentary, I caught a Russell appearance in the TV Western 'Bronco', titled 'Destinies West', one of those serendipitous moments that I experience while pursuing this hobby of mine.

Bing Russell was also the father of actor Kurt Russell, and a neat point of trivia you'll come away with here is that Kurt actually played for the Portland Mavericks in it's first year of existence. Kurt is on screen any number of times talking about his Dad and the history of the team. Interviewed as well are a number of former players and sports writers of the era, all attesting to the remarkable success of the Portland team, which made history with it's pitcher Gene Lathorn throwing a no-hitter in the Mav's very first game, and Bing being named Sporting News Class A Executive of the Year in 1974. On a somewhat bizarre note, at least for this viewer, film clips of the team's premier player, Reggie Thomas, show him wearing the numbers #5 and #27 in different games. That's one I couldn't figure out!

The biggest name of course to be hired by the Mavericks was seven year retired former New York Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton, who's 1970 book 'Ball Four' stunned the sports world with it's behind the scenes look at teams and players in a most uncharacteristic fashion. Controversial to say the least, Bouton fit right in with the outwardly seeming misfits who made up the Mavericks roster. The former World Series winning pitcher with the Yankees couldn't be happier with his four hundred dollars per month salary with the Mavs!

To give you just another flavor of what the Portland Mavericks were all about, I'll offer up this quote from one of their pitchers, among the many hundreds of players who showed up in 1973 to try and make the team. Larry Colton probably summarizes it best when he says - "It was clearly the only team in America that would have even let me try out". For both fans of the game and those who don't care much about baseball, this is an entertaining documentary about achieving the American dream by following one's passion. The name of Bing Russell will stay with you after watching this picture.

Lawman
(1958)

"You have a reputation too Marshal, as a man who can take care of himself." - Episode #2.82 - 'Yawkey'
"Lawman" had a pretty good four season run on the ABC television network, notching one hundred fifty six episodes between October 1958 and June 1962. There was something about actor John Russell as Marshal Dan Troop that always got to me, those spooky white eyes of his and the streak of white in his otherwise dark hair. They served him well in the premier episode of the series titled 'The Deputy', when he first arrived in Laramie, Wyoming as the new town marshal. There was an arrogant air about him back then, hiring on Peter Brown as deputy Johnny McKay and going after the Hawk Brothers, portrayed by Jack Elam and Lee Van Cleef. It was established in that first episode that a marshal's salary in the 1870's was fifty dollars a month and the life expectancy of a sheriff was less than forty years! That's one time when the good old days weren't.

Actress Peggie Castle came aboard the series in the episode that kicked off the second season. She ran the Birdcage Saloon which afterwards became a somewhat regular hangout for the Laramie crowd, but prior to that, the first season had competitors like the Blue Bonnet and the Nugget Saloon. The Birdcage was billed as having the most beautiful girls west of Kansas City, and subsequent shows would do well to prove it. Castle's character was Lilly Merrill, and to add some resonance to her name, she sang Lily of the Valley in her first appearance. She didn't get off on the right foot with the Marshal, as Troop thought she was aiding an outlaw, the estranged father of a son she had. Over time though, their relationship picked up when Lilly started coming on to the Marshal, eventually dropping a wedding ring hint in Episode #2.52, 'Last Stop'. Nothing ever came of that suggestion.

Along with character actors like Elam and Van Cleef, there were a host of guest stars who appeared in 'Lawman' more than once over the course of the series, guys like John Anderson, John Doucette, Robert Wilke and Edgar Buchanan. What's kind of interesting is that some of the actors portraying villains were killed multiple times. Jack Elam for example, was shot and killed by Marshal Troop in that first episode, and again in episode #1.33, 'The Senator'. Deputy McKay had the unique distinction of killing Lee Van Cleef a couple of times, in the opening show and also in episode #1.37, 'Conclave'.

In a series with as many shows as this one had, it would be hard for most to pick a favorite, but the first time I saw the third season episode 'Yawkey', I knew it would be mine. In that one, Ray Danton portrays a noted gunslinger who arrives in Laramie and takes a seat at The Birdcage, summoning bartender Jake (Dan Sheridan) to deliver a message to Marshal Troop to meet him in the street in a half hour. Yawkey tells both Lilly and Deputy McKay that he intends to kill Troop at 3:30 in the afternoon. Both unsuccessfully try to talk him out of it, and with the gunslinger's reputation having killed twenty seven men in gunfights, there's a feeling that Troop might not come out of this encounter alive. Using a countdown clock reminiscent of the technique used in "High Noon", three thirty arrives and Marshal Troop ventures into the street. During the inevitable showdown Yawkey draws first, but Marshal Troop's slower draw finds it's mark. The dying man had no bullets in his firearm, telling Troop that he 'couldn't take it any more', referring to the countless challenges that came his way as the fastest gun in the territory. Though the citizens of Laramie clamored around Troop for taking out his opponent, the marshal would have none of it, instead respectfully carrying the dead gunslinger to his office. I guess the reason the episode grabbed me the way it did was because of it's psychological angle in the way Yawkey planned the manner of his own death. And to top it all off, this was the second time Ray Danton was shot and killed by Dan Troop; it happened the first time in episode #2.40, Lilly Merrill's first appearance!

Bat Masterson
(1958)

"Now in the legend of the West, one name stands out of all the rest..." - From the Bat Masterson theme song
There were so many great TV Westerns during the late Fifties/early Sixties that you couldn't possibly watch all of them. As a kid, I would never miss 'Trackdown', 'Wanted: Dead or Alive', and 'Johnny Ringo'. Of course, it was my Dad who made the choice of what shows to watch, and not knowing any better, I had a blast with all of them. So as it was, 'Bat Masterson' wasn't on my radar back then, but it's a treat getting caught up with these old time shows as an adult with the ability to compare them with the ones I used to watch.

'Bat Masterson' aired for three seasons on the NBC television network from October, 1958 to September, 1961. Gene Barry was the star, portraying the suave and debonair frontier lawman who rarely used a gun, preferring instead his trusty cane to get the drop on cheating gamblers and otherwise nasty bad guys. During the show's first season, almost every episode reminded us that Bat was a 'legend in his own time' via voice over narration. Like it's contemporary on ABC, 'Tombstone Territory' (ahh, there's another one I couldn't miss!), this show's chronology jumped around, with events taking place generally between the years 1875 to 1886. In the very first episode titled 'Double Showdown', Gene Barry offered a little monologue on the historical Bat Masterson, and the show itself offered an alternate ending. I was surprised as all get out when in the second show of the series, Bat gets shot by a villain portrayed by Broderick Crawford. It usually took a few more episodes of a TV Western for the hero to get winged by an outlaw!

Many of the usual suspects would show up in the series, with character actors of the era like William Conrad, James Best, Alan Hale Jr., Warren Oates and Myron Healey showing up, sometimes more than once as different characters. Almost every episode would feature some lovely gal to provide a romantic interest for our hero, but no one could pin him down as he traveled from town to town in the Old West. Sometimes Bat would run into another historical figure like Wyatt Earp, who posed as a lawyer in episode #2.61, 'The Reluctant Witness', to help his friend and a woman accused of murder. I got the biggest kick out of a third season show titled 'Bat Trap', with Lon Chaney Jr. showing up for a turkey shoot competition. In that one, Bat's cane was rigged to fire a bullet!

Well, like most TV Westerns based on legendary characters of the Old West, historical accuracy was left in the dust to come up with entertaining stories, and 'Bat Masterson' was no exception. It was a fun show as far as that goes, and a neat complement if you're a Bat fan to the many movie Westerns based on Masterson's legendary career. If so, you might want to take a look at 1943's 'The Woman of the Town' with Claire Trevor as Bat's girl trying to persuade him into a journalism career, 1947's "Trail Street" with Bat portrayed by Randolph Scott, and the 1956 film 'Masterson of Kansas', where Bat teams up with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Not that historical accuracy matters, all are recommended for fans of the frontier lawman and professional gambler.

Bronco
(1958)

"There ain't a horse that he can't handle, that's how he got his name." - From the Bronco theme song
The classic TV Western series 'Bronco' had an interesting broadcast history. It debuted on the ABC television network on September 23, 1958 during what would have been the fourth season of 'Cheyenne', except for a contract dispute Clint Walker had with Warner Brothers. 'Bronco' alternated weekly episodes with 'Sugarfoot' starring Will Hutchins during the 1958/1959 season, and during the next two years it shared time with both 'Cheyenne' and 'Sugarfoot'. In it's fourth and final season, the show alternated with 'Cheyenne', which went on to last one more year. The Bronco theme song is prominent in the early episodes, but in it's final seasons, the show appeared under the Cheyenne banner with a musical opening without lyrics from all three programs.

Actor Ty Hardin portrayed the character of Bronco Layne (no, not a misspelling, check the credits). It was revealed in the very first episode titled 'The Besieged' how Bronco came about his name. As a youth, he had Indian friends who taught him how to tame and ride wild horses. That first show had Claude Akins and Jack Elam appearing as guest stars. It didn't take very long for Hardin to show off his muscular physique, his first beefcake scene occurred in the second episode, 'Quest of the Thirty Dead'. From there on, he made any number of appearances without his shirt on, presumably to the delight of the show's female fans.

It was in the second season episode 'The Burning Springs' that Bronco's background was revealed as a captain in the Confederate Army during the Civil War with Company B, the Moccasin Rangers. In the story, he impersonates a Union officer to learn the enemy's position. Future TV Batman, Adam West appeared in the episode, interesting in itself because the part of the costumed hero was first offered to Hardin, who had to decline because of another filming project. If things had gone slightly different, Hardin might be better known today.

One of the things that intrigues me with these early TV programs is seeing who shows up before they became major stars. Among the character actors who appeared in the series were Myron Healey, John Dehner, Leo Gordon, Alan Hale Jr. and Harry Lauter. Bigger names in later years included James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, and Buddy Ebsen. But the biggest surprise appearance to my mind had to be that of actress Mary Tyler Moore who showed up in #2.27, 'Flight From an Empire'. The following year, Moore appeared as a saloon gal in a 'Wanted: Dead or Alive' episode with Steve McQueen. But for sheer star power, it was episode #4.54, 'The Equalizer' that had the most recognizable celebrity names in it, with Marie Windsor, Harry Lauter, Jack Elam, Steve Brodie, and get this - Jack Nicholson!, as a member of the Bill Doolin gang feuding with the Butch Cassidy bunch! It was a minor part for Nicholson, but what the heck, he was in it!

Following the weekly shows, you really couldn't pin down Bronco with any particular job. He cold be a trail driver, a sheriff in a small town, a wagon master, or simply a cowboy riding from town to town in the Old West. Most of the shows took place in the years following the Civil War, with Layne meeting up with legendary characters like Wild Bill Hickok, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Jesse James and Butch Cassidy. Quick on the draw and handy with his fists, Bronco Layne cut an imposing figure, as suggested by a Wanted Poster in #2.35, 'Montana Passage'. Falsely accused of a crime, Bronco is described as six feet four inches and twenty six years old.

With some regret, I never caught the show when it originally aired on television, but just recently finished watching all sixty eight episodes of the series. Putting things in perspective, I'd consider 'Bronco' a mid-tier TV Western, adequate for it's time during the Golden Age of television, but not quite as good as some of the premier shows like 'The Rifleman', 'Wanted: Dead or Alive', or it's counterpart in the ABC lineup, 'Cheyenne'. Still, when I say that I never ran across a Western I didn't like, I'd have to include 'Bronco' in the mix.

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