This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Agony Booth review: My Fellow Americans (1996)

My second entry in the Agony Booth's Movies That Predicted Trump series looks at this comedy.
It’s now been one month since Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States, and already his standing with the public is at an all-time low. In addition, people are withdrawing from his cabinet or from nominations for posts in his cabinet like crazy. Not to mention that reports of hacking from Russia during the election keep cropping up. One can’t help but laugh at the turmoil of the presidency of a candidate that promised to “Make America Great Again”.

This led me to think of a comedy involving Presidents called My Fellow Americans.

Our story begins by explaining, via newscasts, the rivalry between Republican Ohio Senator Russel Kramer (Jack Lemmon) and his nemesis, Democratic Indiana Governor Matt Douglas (James Garner). The newscasts go onto say that Kramer has just beaten Douglas in the recent presidential election.

Four years and the next election later, Douglas prevents Kramer from getting a second term by being voted in President himself. Another four years after that, and Douglas’s aims for re-election are curtailed by the new President (and Kramer’s former Vice President) William Haney (Dan Aykroyd). Haney’s victory is slightly soured by his Dan Quayle-esque Vice President Ted Matthews (John Heard).

Three years into Haney’s term, Kramer is attending various functions, one of which leads to him dancing with someone dressed in a panda suit. Douglas, meanwhile, is going through a divorce and sleeping with the editor of his upcoming book (Marg Helgenberger). He also proves that he’s a great boss to the secret service agents still assigned to him by telling them to take a night off and “rent In the Line of Fire again.”

While Kramer and Douglas reluctantly attend the funeral of one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (and whisper insults to each other during the burial), Haney is informed by his Chief of Staff Carl Witnaur (Bradley Whitford) that the Democrats have become aware of “Olympia”, the code word for a series of bribes from defense contractor Charlie Reynolds (James Rebhorn) to Haney during his Vice President days. Witnaur suggests simply framing Kramer, even though he knows nothing about it. Haney, after some hesitation, agrees, just in time to see Matthews embarrass himself and Haney’s administration on TV again.

Later, at another gathering, Douglas is brought up to speed on Olympia by Democratic National Committee chairman Joe Hollis (Wilford Brimley). He encourages Douglas to use an investigation into this as a prelude for running for the Oval Office again. Douglas agrees, as doing so will piss off both Kramer and Haney. Likewise, Kramer, attending the gala with his wife Margaret (Lauren Bacall), learns of Olympia and launches his own investigation as well.

Both Kramer and Douglas separately set up meetings with Reynolds to ask “WTF?” But Douglas, following a book fair where Kramer pisses him off with his cookbook, finds Reynolds dead in his car before their meeting can begin. Kramer encounters Douglas and the corpse and both agree to discuss matters at Kramer’s home, unaware that they’re being monitored by NSA Colonel Paul Tanner (Everett McGill).

Kramer and Douglas are comparing notes when Tanner arrives, claiming that Haney has asked them to meet him at Camp David. On the flight there, Douglas realizes that such a trip is taking longer than it should. When the pilots inform them that they weren’t told to go to Camp David, the former Presidents force them to land. Kramer and Douglas disembark and bitch some more before realizing that they should force the pilots to take them back to the White House. But their transport explodes before they can do that.

Now stranded in the middle of nowhere, Douglas and Kramer agree that they have to stick together, since someone clearly wants to kill them. Kramer convinces Douglas that they should go to Kramer’s Presidential Library in Ohio, which has records that can prove Haney’s connection with Reynolds.

They find themselves at a truck stop where a lady offers them a ride if Kramer gives her his priceless watch, a gift from Gorbachev. During the ride, as Kramer mourns his watch, the driver informs our former Presidents that she’s hauling farm equipment. Soon, a helicopter appears, shining its light on the truck. The lady stops and excuses herself before Kramer and Douglas step out as well. They become confused when the helicopter announces it’s from the Department of Immigration. At that moment, the “farm equipment” is revealed to be Spanish-speaking illegal immigrants who all pop out and go every which way (and Trump thinks some silly wall will stop this?).

But the Immigration chopper is ordered to take a hike by another government chopper that fires a missile at it to make its point. Kramer and Douglas join the swarm of immigrants until that chopper gives up.

Fortunately, they soon find a train bound for Cleveland. Pretending to be impersonators of the presidents they really are so they can blend in with the Elvis impersonator who told them about the train, Kramer and Douglas meet many ordinary Americans and get a first hand account of how their terms affected them. Kramer realizes that people didn’t like his off-quoted “Our dreams are like our children” speech, while Douglas meets up with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator who says she slept with the real Douglas and that the experience, like his term in office, was nothing special.

But the train trip is cut short as Tanner’s men catch up with it. This leads to a funny bit with Kramer and Douglas jumping off a fast-moving train. As they attempt to find civilization again, Douglas attempts to offer an olive branch (of sorts) by comparing notes with Kramer about what they liked about their times in the White House.

They then find quite the patriotic family camping out in the area. These people agree to take our former Presidents to Ohio, but Douglas and Kramer become annoyed when they keep stopping to take pictures or to rest. This leads to the couple expressing dissatisfaction with how people like themselves are viewed and, before you know it, Kramer and Douglas are on foot again.

Finally, after eluding Tanner’s men again, they get transportation to the library by taking part in a gay pride parade. One of the participants (Jeff Yagher), dressed like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, arranges for friends to take the former Presidents there via motorcycle.

At the library, Douglas is annoyed with what’s basically Kramer’s shrine to himself. This includes a gift shop that sells a Kramer doll that, once you pull the string in the back, states “Our dreams are like our children” as well as “Don’t you fall into the trap! Democrats are full of crap!” (at least the doll doesn’t say “You’re fired!”).

But the records they came to the library to find turn out to have been messed with. They also get a message from a library guard stating that Witnaur had a meeting with Reynolds. With Hollis’s help, the former Presidents kidnap Witnaur (just as he’s getting some nookie on—some people are so inconsiderate). The trio record Witnaur’s admission of trying to frame Kramer for Olympia but he denies any knowledge about the attempt on their lives.

With Tanner clearly a loose cannon (remind you of someone who currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave?), Douglas convinces Kramer that the next step is to go to the White House to confront Haney. He also believes this will begin to make up for their poor decisions while in the Oval Office.

Our former Presidents get into the White House thanks to the one person they always loved there, the Executive Chef Rita (Esther Rolle). They decide to get to Haney and evade Tanner by actually giving the tour of the White House to a group of tourists. This funny, if very brief, tour is ended after Tanner manages to corner them into a guest room. There, they turn on the TV and see that Haney is paying tribute to World War II Dutch Resistance fighters on the South Lawn. They also see that Tanner has already told the press that the chopper they were on earlier crashed, with the former Presidents on board.

As Tanner and his men try to break into the room, Kramer begins looking for a secret passageway he heard about called (imaginatively enough) the Kennedy Room. This triggers a memory for Douglas as he quickly shows Kramer where said room is located, and they go darting below the White House. But Tanner finds them, but Kramer quickly knocks him out, claiming he has to change his shorts afterward (that’s our hero!).

But the tunnel ends up leading to the North Lawn. Fortunately, there are horses close by that Douglas and Kramer quickly take and ride to their destination. Tanner radios snipers claiming that there are intruders and to shoot them down. As Haney gives his speech, Tanner himself is shot by one of the snipers after that sniper looks at who he’s being ordered to kill.

As it turns out, said sniper is the same guy from the parade who set the former presidents up with their motorcycle trip.

Kramer and Douglas talk to Haney at the Oval Office. Although Haney didn’t know about Tanner’s plans to kill them, he agrees to resign. As Kramer, Douglas, and Rita laugh at the fact that Matthews is now President, the former Presidents put two and two together and realize that the only way a dimwit like him could get in the Oval Office is if Haney was assassinated or if he resigned.

Having just been sworn in, Matthews is preparing to address the country when Kramer and Douglas confront him. Matthews confesses that he knew Haney would take any blame and that any deaths can now be pinned on Tanner. He then gloats that he’s not the idiot people think he is, mispronouncing the word ‘facade’ in the process.

After Matthews leaves, Douglas reveals to Kramer that he recorded Matthews’s words. They also grudgingly confess that their adventure has made them less pissed off at the sight of each other (awww….).

Another news broadcast, nine months later, states that Matthews has begun his prison sentence for his crimes. It’s also announced that Douglas and Kramer will be running on the same ticket as independents in the upcoming election. But it hasn’t been revealed who will be President and who will be Vice President. The two give smiles for the camera for a few moments before Douglas tosses a dollar on the floor. Like a fish with a worm, Kramer goes for it, giving Douglas an opening to address the public with (what else?) “My Fellow Americans.”

The film itself is a nice comedy with two legends in that field delightfully facing off. My only real complaint is that Bacall, a legend herself, has far too little to do here.

In terms of how the movie predicted Trump, it did so in three ways. It gave us a president who just loves money (Kramer), another who thinks nothing of romancing other women even though he’s married (Douglas), and a third who has such a narrow grasp of common sense (Matthews) its amazing he’s now in the Oval Office.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Velvet Vampire (1971)

"Alright, I got laid last night! That's what you want to hear me say, right?"
-Lee Ritter.

Like Lady Frankenstein, this movie is from the house of Roger Corman.
Lee Ritter (Michael Blodgett) and his wife Susan (Sherry Miles) are at an art gallery one evening. There, they befriend the beautiful Diane LeFanu (Celeste Yarnall), who, unbeknownst to them, had just viciously dispatched a guy who was attempting to assault her earlier that evening.
Diane invites the couple to her estate in the desert.
Lee and Susan have some trouble finding Diane's place, and the people they ask at a gas station don't prove helpful. But Diane then shows up in a dune buggy and takes them to her home. That night, Lee and Susan are making love in the bedroom Diane has loaned them, unaware that she is watching them via a two way mirror.
As the weekend goes on, Lee becomes more and more entranced with Diane's beauty to the point where they begin making out in a barn only to be stopped when Susan is frightened by a rattlesnake that touches her as she's sunbathing. Diane personally sucks out any venom the snake placed in Susan and it is after this that Susan begins dreaming of Diane lusting after both her and Lee.
The couple later goes to the nearby cemetery and discovers that Diane's late husband died nearly a century earlier. From this, Susan deduces that Diane is actually a vampire. By that point, though, Diane has seduced and killed Lee and begins to do the same with Susan. But Susan stops her before she gets to the killing part. A chase ensues, during which, in the film's best jump scene, Susan gets on a bus only to find Diane already on it. Diane then slowly takes the seat behind Susan for the remainder of the ride. From the bus, Diane continues chasing Susan before they come across a stand selling crosses and crucifixes. Seizing her chance, Susan takes one and uses it on Diane and implores the people around them to follow suit, which they do.
After Diane's death, Susan discusses the matter with her friend Carl (Gene Shane), only to discover that he's a vampire himself.
Yarnall is definitely the reason to see this as she is quite the femme fatale here. She gained fame in the 1960s with appearances in numerous movies and TV shows. Her most famous appearance is opposite Elvis Presley in Live a Little, Love a Little (1968), although I will always remember her from her appearance in the Star Trek episode "The Apple."
While both Blodgett and Miles don't exactly make the same impression, the movie itself has a nice atmosphere thanks to both Yarnall and the musical score from Clancy B Glass III and Roger Dollarhide.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Agony Booth review: Star Trek: Turnabout Intruder (1969)

The Agony Booth now has a series of reviews called Movies That Predicted Trump. These include reviews of such classic films as The Dead Zone and Bulworth. This contribution to that series focuses on the final episode of the original Star Trek series.

There was a Friday the 13th this past January, so I invited a few friends over to binge watch the first few entries from that film series to commemorate the occasion. After the arrival of my first guest, a major Star Trek fan, we decided to kill time waiting for our food by watching Star Trek‘s final episode “Turnabout Intruder” on Amazon. As we watched it, my friend used moments in the show to make digs at the current Commander in Chief. This got me thinking that this specific episode would make an ideal entry as a TV Show that Predicted Trump.

The show’s final episode begins with the Enterprise arriving on Camus II in answer to a distress call from an archeology team studying the ruins there. As it turns out, said team is headed by a former flame of Kirk’s, one Janice Lester (Sandra Smith). Her associate/paramour Dr. Arthur Coleman (Harry Landers) informs Kirk, Spock, and McCoy that she’s suffering from radiation exposure. But she’s able to recognize Kirk and asks him to stay with her while Spock, McCoy, and Coleman go off to investigate possible life signs nearby.

Kirk and Lester shoot the breeze, with her complaining that women can’t be starship captains. Some fans have interpreted her line to mean that her romance with Kirk ended because of his career, although Gene Roddenberry himself would later say that this line was sexist and basically apologized for it after the fact.

The captain then walks around the area a bit, taking a gander at what looks like a huge monolith. Lester then produces a doohickey which stuns Kirk, pinning him to the monolith. I guess Bones didn’t have his morning cup of booze that day, because Lester leaps out of her bed full of energy, so you’d think that he could have determined that she wasn’t exactly sick.

Lester, with a huge Grinch-like smile spread across her face, walks over to the machine where Kirk is pinned down. She then walks over to the other side of the monolith, lifts a lever up and then down before she and Kirk are seen swapping bodies. Cue the title credits.

Lester-as-Kirk wakes up and is astonished that the procedure has been successful. She deactivates the machine and carries the barely-conscious Kirk-as-Lester over to the bed. Lester-as-Kirk then gloats over how much better she is now physically while making sexist comments that a colleague of mine on this site expertly highlighted when she wrote her own review of this episode.

Spock, Bones, and Coleman then return, with McCoy stating that there was no saving the rest of the unseen staff. At the same time, Coleman glances at Kirk-as-Lester on the bed, suggesting he was in on his sweetheart’s plans to have a sex change. He states that Kirk-as-Lester is close to death, and Lester-as-Kirk suggests taking everyone back to the ship.

After beaming back, Lester-as-Kirk goes to sickbay, where Coleman is watching over Kirk-as-Lester. Coleman berates her for not killing Kirk, even though he did everything she asked of him, including killing their staff by exposing them to that radiation. But Lester-as-Kirk simply stammers, saying she couldn’t kill him, but that doesn’t matter because she’s now a captain. Hmm… someone who gives no good reason for not doing something and says it doesn’t matter? Kinda reminds me of someone.

McCoy and Chapel come in and attend to their patient, but Lester-as-Kirk soon relieves McCoy of that duty, giving Kirk-as-Lester over to Coleman. McCoy strongly objects, but can do nothing but leave while Chapel obeys Coleman’s orders to sedate Kirk-as-Lester just as he’s regaining consciousness.

Lester-as-Kirk then silently and proudly walks to the ship’s bridge while thinking (in Kirk’s voice, mind you, even though you’d think it’d be Lester’s voice) that her patience has been rewarded and she’s now a starship captain.

Not long after arriving, Lester-as-Kirk orders Sulu to change course to a colony where she plans to take Kirk-as-Lester. Spock points out that this diversion would delay their rendezvous with another starship. He also points out that there’s a starbase on their designated route with better medical facilities. But this reasoning doesn’t keep her from reminding us of our current president as she digs her heels in and tells Sulu to increase speed to the colony.

We then cut to Kirk’s quarters, where Bones tells Lester-as-Kirk that Coleman was noted for being incompetent at his job (someone who delegates jobs to people who are incompetent? The parallels just keep on coming). But what cracks me up here is the sight of Lester-as-Kirk filing her nails, despite her earlier claims that she hates being a woman. So, she hates her own gender, but hey, she’s still gotta look good, right? Maybe this is a reason why Bones asks Lester-as-Kirk to be examined. She’s hesitant, but then must deal with other matters after Sulu informs him that Starfleet wants an explanation for why the Enterprise’s scheduled rendezvous is being delayed.

Next, we’re in Sickbay, with Kirk-as-Lester waking up. He sees that the medical scanner on top of the beds shows that he’s fine, but before he can ask Bones why he now has breasts, Coleman pops in, saying he’s in charge now. Kirk-as-Lester attempts to reason with him and then also Chapel, but Coleman informs the nurse that Kirk-as-Lester is delusional. As Chapel goes off to get another sedative (you’d think Coleman would have some at his immediate disposal for such a contingency), he tells Kirk-as-Lester that he’s insane, while the captain looks at his new face in the mirror with (I’m guessing) horror.

In bed again, Kirk-as-Lester makes a log entry in his head (and with Lester’s voice and not his own, and how is he making this specific log entry, anyway?). Chapel comes in and the captain apologizes for his earlier outburst and politely asks to see McCoy or Spock. The nurse tells him that it may be possible to see Spock before they reach the colony. Kirk-as-Lester then says that he thought the ship was set to make that rendezvous. Now you’d think this would’ve prompted Chapel to ask this woman she’s never met before how she could possibly know the ship’s itinerary, but she simply says that Kirk-as-Lester needs to recuperate at the colony first. Chapel then gives the captain what looks like a glass of soda pop, saying it’s a remedy. Kirk-as-Lester pretends to like it so Chapel will be fine with leaving her alone for a moment. He then uses that moment to dump the rest of the pop on the floor and shatter the glass to use the shards as a cutting tool for the straps keeping him on the bed.

In another part of Sickbay, Spock and McCoy are discussing Kirk-as-Lester’s erratic behavior. Spock thinks that this behavior may have something to do with the brief period Kirk and Lester were alone on Camus II together and suggests talking to her. Lester-as-Kirk arrives, ready for that exam. Just a moment later, Kirk-as-Lester arrives, telling Spock and Bones he needs to talk to them. But Lester-as-Kirk ominously walks toward him, and with just two swift moves, brings him to the ground. I know Kirk is currently in a body with less muscles, but we’ve seen him engaged in fisticuffs plenty of times by this point, so you can’t tell me that he still doesn’t have had a good fighting chance even if he’s in a different body. This actually reminds me of those times on Deep Space Nine where Kira was able to take on Klingons twice her size but got her ass handed to her whenever someone of equal build took her on.

Spock and McCoy are aghast by Lester-as-Kirk’s actions, but Bones proceeds with the examination, while Spock goes to the quarters that Lester-as-Kirk told security to put the captain in. Although she shows signs of apprehension, Lester-as-Kirk seems to pass the medical examination with flying colors. At the same time, Kirk-as-Lester attempts to convince Spock of what happened, even citing the events of the previous episodes “The Tholian Web” and “The Empath.” He finally convinces Spock after the latter performs a mind-meld (and a thousand fanfics are born). But there’s still no actual proof to this story, so Spock suggests they go see McCoy. However, the security guard in the room objects, but then Spock brings him down with a nerve pinch. He does the same with the guard outside, but not before he has the chance to inform Lester-as-Kirk, who then arrives with more security. She then makes a ship-wide announcement that Spock is under arrest and will stand trial for mutiny (and to think, Trump simply fired his attorney general for disagreeing with him).

At the trial itself, with Bones, Scotty, and Lester-as-Kirk presiding, she actually makes a log entry stating that she no longer fears discovery (I wonder how Starfleet brass reacted to that story once they read it). Spock reveals that his mind-meld with Kirk-as-Lester told him what happened. When Scotty says that more substantial evidence is needed, Spock says that Kirk-as-Lester’s presence is required, but she’s inexplicably locked up. Lester-as-Kirk, once again reminding us of the current president, simply states that he’s insane and that’s it. But she relents before bringing up the examination McCoy was giving at the time Spock and the captain were talking. Bones admits that there’s nothing wrong with the captain, and Spock admits disappointment over those findings, but he’s not giving up.

Kirk-as-Lester is brought in and remains cool despite Lester-as-Kirk’s condescending attitude toward him. He even manages to say that the two forcibly swapped bodies with a straight face. When Lester-as-Kirk asks why Lester would do such as thing, we get the line of dialogue that convinced me this episode predicted Trump.

“To get the power she craved. To obtain a position she doesn’t warrant by temperament or training. And most of all she wanted to murder James Kirk, a man who once loved her!”

Okay, that last part may not apply to Trump, but I wouldn’t necessarily put it past him, either.

When Lester-as-Kirk asks for witnesses, Spock states that the real issue here is if body-swapping is actually possible. He points out that, given all that the crew has experienced by this point, switching bodies, let alone genders, may not exactly be as far-fetched as it sounds.

Lester-as-Kirk then goes on a rant, saying that this is all just meant to make Spock captain. She then just tells Spock to give all this up and things will go back to normal. But Spock is resolute and she gives us another reminder of Trump by pounding the table before saying that she and Scotty (who has a priceless “Dude, tone it down some!” look on his face) and Bones will take a recess to vote on the matter.

Scotty privately tells Bones that he’ll vote in Spock’s favor. He then asks McCoy what he thinks would happen if Lester-as-Kirk was outvoted. Bones states he doesn’t know, but Scotty says that they both know she’d do something drastic. This is when Scotty states that they’d have no choice but to take over the ship. McCoy expresses misgivings about this, but says he’s prepared for the vote.

Alas, that vote turns out to be unnecessary, as Lester-as-Kirk has the communications officer who isn’t Uhura play back McCoy and Scotty’s conversation. She then declares them all guilty and gives them the death penalty, over Sulu and Chekov’s objections. But they grudgingly resume their posts as ordered.

On the bridge, Sulu and Chekov remind us that they have more personality than the security guards by refusing to take any more orders from Lester-as-Kirk. This leads to another Trump-esque hissy fit before we see Lester’s image over Kirk’s face, signaling that the body transfer is weakening.

Lester-as-Kirk then goes to Coleman and asks him to kill Kirk-as-Lester. Coleman points out all the bad things he’s done for her, but he won’t add murder to the list (what about their staff on Camus II?). But she convinces him to do it so they won’t be exposed as murderers. Kirk-as-Lester also seems to make a move to kiss Coleman as she does this, so that may have been a factor for him as well.

With a phaser and a hypo full of poison, the duo go to the cell where Spock, Scotty, McCoy, and Kirk-as-Lester are being held. Lester-as-Kirk says that they’ll be put in separate cells to prevent any further conspiracy. The captain is let out first but quickly attempts to overcome Coleman, just as the transfer weakens further and Kirk and Lester are back in their normal bodies.

Lester has another hissy fit and tries to lash out at Kirk, but is quickly disarmed and goes to Coleman for comfort. He asks to take care of her as Bones leads them off (never mind that Coleman helped her kill their staff).

Kirk expresses pity for Lester with the final line of the series:

“Her life could’ve been as rich as any woman’s. If only… If only…”

Given this episode’s tone, I’m guess he wanted to add “if only she had a penis”, but children watch this show too, so some discretion was required there.

This episode is not held in high regard by fans and rightly so. It’s arguably the most sexist episode of Star Trek. Like “Spock’s Brain”, the premise is sheer bullshit. But like that episode, it’s good for a few laughs, with Shatner giving us the Shatner mannerisms that comedians take to like fish to water.

The good news is that the original Trek series would later get a true, proper finale with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

The bad news is that, like the Enterprise in this episode, the U.S. is currently under the command of someone who basically has a hissy fit whenever they’re countered. The only difference is that that person didn’t need to swap bodies in order to obtain the position.