Dr. Strangelove – Weapons of Mass Destruction week

This is WMD – Weapons of Mass Destruction week. Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is currently available on instant Netflix.WARNING: Watch this soon as on March 1st this movie will no longer be available on instant Netflix.

Dr. Strangelove

WATCH: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) – Rated PG.

“When a fanatical U.S. general (Sterling Hayden) launches an air strike against the Soviets, they raise the stakes by threatening to unleash a “doomsday device,” setting the stage for Armageddon in this classic black comedy that brilliantly skewers the nuclear age. The films star-studded cast includes George C. Scott, Slim Pickens, James Earl Jones and Peter Sellers (who steals the show and copped an Oscar nod playing three roles).”

“Peace is our profession” – Strategic Air Command motto seen pretty much everywhere in the film.

“Gentlemen, you cant fight in here! This is the War Room.”

“Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face.”

Stanley Kubrick did an absolutely phenomenal job of directing Dr. Strangelove. He received the first three of his many Oscar nominations for this movie. He was nominated for Best Film (producer), Best Director, and Best Writing (adapted screenplay).

Reportedly author Peter George was not happy with the adaptation of his book, Red Alert, by Kubrick and Terry Southern. The book presents a serious scenario similar in tone and theme to Fail-Safe (a movie I will discuss later this week).

Kubrick adapted this into an absolutely brilliant satire of the nuclear arms race and cold war politics. With the exception of the titular character, every one else plays the film straight (in spite of the ridiculous names given to much of the cast).

There are a ton of fun touches in the film. There is a nice scene with Major Kong (Slim Pickens) in an airplane poring over what appears to be a map. The camera pulls out and it is revealed to be an issue of Playboy. Tracy Reed (Miss Scott in the film) is Miss Foreign Affairs in the issue.

General Turgidson has a folder marked “World Targets in Megadeaths”. A firefight at the base takes place near a “Keep Off the Grass” sign.

Peter Sellers was nominated for a Best Actor in Dr. Strangelove. He plays Dr. Strangelove, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, and President Muffley. He was supposed to play Major Kong as well but broke his ankle and was replaced in that role by Slim Pickens. He was paid a million dollars – over half the budget of the film – for his performances.

All of his roles in this film are great. He has a fun and comedic time with Dr. Strangelove, a former Nazi scientist now working with the U.S. His President Muffley is a model of reason amid the chaos of the War Room. However I most enjoyed his stiff upper lip presentation of Captain Mandrake.

A slightly over the top performance from George C. Scott as General Turgidson is a sight to behold. This is only second to his performance as Patton. Make sure to pay attention to his gum fixation. The fall he takes later in the film was a real accident that Kubrick decided to leave in.

Slim Pickens is a hoot as Major Kong and his final scene is an iconic shot from this film. Veteran actor Sterling Hayden (Captain McCluskey in The Godfather) came out of semi-retirement for this film. He had previously worked for Kubrick in The Killing (1956). James Earl Jones appears here in his first film but does not have much to do.

The music choices are inspired. Whenever Major Kong and the bomb crew are on, “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye” is playing in the background. This was later adapted and is perhaps more popularly known as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”.  The end montage has “We ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn played over it.

This is an absolutely incredible and iconic film and if you have not seen it then you definitely should. Do not be put off by the Black and White photography or the silly character names, this is a movie deserving of the title “classic”.

WATCH this classic movie soon before it expires on March 1st.

People Watch: Look for Keenan Wynn as Colonel Guano.

Exorcist II – Children’s Week

In celebration of the birth of our littlest angel, I thought I’d feature movies about angelic tykes. What’s that you say? There aren’t any? Hrrrrm. I guess we’ll feature the opposite then.

The Exorcist 2

PASS: Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) – Rated R

“Intent on discovering why Regan (Linda Blair) was possessed by the demon Pazuzu, Father Lamont (Richard Burton) travels to Africa in search of another who was once possessed by the same demon — and learns that Pazuzu traverses the world via locusts. But when Father Lamont returns to New York, he discovers Pazuzu has reached Regan again through Dr. Gene Tuskin’s (Louise Fletcher) hypnosis machine.”

“No! Once the wings have brushed you, you’re mine forever!”

“If Pazuzu comes for you, I will spit a leopard.”

Yes, those are actual quotes from the movie. No, they don’t make much more sense in context. Unlike The Exorcist, the script is not written by William Peter Blatty nor is this an adaptation of his book.

This film was not the travesty I’d been led to believe but neither is it very good. The first film was an excellent blend of psychology and religion. Apparently they felt that the only way to top that was to throw in parapsychology and faith healing as well. It is not a good fit.

Richard Burton plays Father Lamont, an amalgam of Father Karras (priest questioning his path and faith) and Father Merrin (learned exorcist) from the first film. Linda Blair plays a mostly grown-up Regan who now apparently has healing powers. Ellen Burstyn as the mom is nowhere to be found and is replaced by Louise Fletcher who gets an upgrade from her Nurse Ratched status by playing Doctor Tuskin here.

The real problem with this film is that John Boorman (normally a good director) clearly didn’t understand what made the first film work so well. He throws in scenes from an exotic land seemingly because of the dig scenes in the original. The locust tie-in could have been interesting but it is merely dumped into the pot with faith/psychic healing and machines that allow merged dream/memory states.

It is best to pretend that this movie doesn’t exist. Exorcist III written and directed by author William Peter Blatty is a good thriller (though not on the original’s level of course) and should be considered the real Exorcist sequel. Sadly it is not available on instant Netflix.

People Watch: James Earl Jones plays Kokumo and Ned Beatty appears as Edwards but the real surprise here is Paul (Casablanca) Henreid is the Cardinal. Sadly this was his last film.

Conan the Barbarian

In order to narrow down last week’s choices for Swashbuckler week, I eliminated those films dealing with magic. As that is enough to fill another week *surprise*, this week is Sword and Sorcery week. I’ll start with some quintessential Arnold. Conan the Barbarian is currently available on Netflix instant play.

Conan the Barbarian

WATCH: Conan the Barbarian (1982) – rated R

“Catch Arnold before he became a politician! A pure swords-and-sorcery flick, Conan the Barbarian is one of the best and sparked a wave of fantasy films in the early ’80s. When Conan’s parents are killed in a raid, he’s sent to a slave camp where his master trains him to be a warrior and use his skills in high-stakes fights. Once granted his freedom, the muscle-bound bruiser seeks to avenge his parents’ brutal murder and solve the riddle of steel.”

You know when a film opens with a quote from Nietzsche that it’s likely to be dripping with testosterone. Manly John Milius (Red Dawn, Apocalypse Now, Dillinger, Dirty Harry) both directed this and co-wrote it with Oliver Stone. This film overflows with machismo and is well done apart from a bizarre third-act twist. Basil Poledouris’ ponderous bass and drum heavy score is not only fitting and rousing but has been ripped off numerous times for other movies’ trailers. There are many wonderful action pieces throughout the film especially the  big end battle.

While not Arnold’s best film, it is hard to hear the word Conan without picturing Arnold’s incredible physique. Arnold is of course Arnold but that is perfect for this film and without him this film would not have amounted to much. Arnold’s love interest Valeria holds her own and is played ably and very physically by dancer Sandahl Bergman who unfortunately did not receive anywhere near the post-movie boost that Arnold did. They did their own stunts but stuntwoman Corrie Jansen (as a priestess of Doom) took the cake when she set a record by taking a 182-foot free fall plunge.

James Earl Jones oddly plays villain Thulsa Doom. I say oddly because in the books, Thulsa Doom was actually an enemy of Robert E. Howard’s other hero, Kull the Conqueror. Thulsa’s thread runs through the film and he makes a fine villain but in the third act, he becomes the leader of a snake cult that believes in flower power (?!?). The Jim Jones massacre occurred in 1978 and was obviously fresh in the writers’ minds but I’m not sure whether the cult is supposed to reflect them or ‘flower power’ or a mixture of the two. At any rate it seems really jarring especially with the incredibly fake 2nd worst cannibal stew in one sequence – worst goes to the Richard Chamberlain stinker, King Solomon’s Mines. Other than those flaws, the film is very enjoyable.

People Watch: Max von Sydow has a brief but welcome role as King Osric

Swashbuckler

Well on day 4 of Swashbuckler week, I might as well address the movie titled Swashbuckler. Swashbuckler is available on Netflix instant play.

Swashbuckler

Pass: Swashbuckler (1976) – Rated PG

“A high-seas adventure unfolds as buccaneer Ned Lynch (Robert Shaw) saves his pirate buddy, Nick Debrett (James Earl Jones), from execution and rescues distressed noblewoman Jane Barnet (Genevieve Bujold). The sword-wielding trio proceeds to Jamaica, where they try to free the islanders from the swaggering, dictatorial Lord Durant (Peter Boyle). In true swashbuckling fashion, romance and hidden treasure round out the story.”

While not staggeringly awful like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Swashbuckler is sadly not very good. James Goldstone’s direction is rather pedestrian. This is a shame as I’m very fond of the star Robert Shaw and Genevieve Bujold and James Earl Jones are both capable actors. Peter Boyle, normally quite a good character actor, is terrible here as the Governor. The music is loud and horribly intrusive – almost playing like a calliope every time swords are drawn.

While the idea of the pirate captain being the protagonist and the governor the villain is a common trope of pirate movies, here it is taken to ridiculous extremes. The film is meant to be rollicking fun but the pirates are completely Disneyfied – they never attack any ships, they attack the port only because one of their number is about to be executed, they steal booty that’s already previously been stolen (confiscated), and so on. Ned the captain even gives his opponent another sword when the opponent is disarmed.

The Governor is so evil that he cheerfully kills one of his sparring partners for scratching him with a sword and plays with ship models in the bath. He says at one point, “I serve one master. His name is darkness!” They even go so far as to have him be a pedophile – I suspect he may also hate puppies. Beau Bridges plays his second-in-command, an officer who makes a number of blunders named Major Folly (*groan*).

People Watch: Horror favorite Sid Haig plays a bald pirate and Anjelica Huston has a small part.