The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear (1991) a (very) belated review

While there are plenty of things to envy regarding today’s youth (how I wish I had the technology available at their fingertips when I was in my teens!), I can say with some nostalgic pride that I’m pleased to have lived through the heights of the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker filmmaking.

So take that, all you society-changing innovations!

All right, so the filmmakers are still around but their best output, in my humble opinion, occurred roughly from 1977 and the release of their first feature, The Kentucky Fried Movie, through the early to mid-1990’s.

In between that time they released what I consider is one of the all time best comedy films ever made, Airplane! as well as one of the funniest, again IMHO, TV shows ever made, the sadly short lived Police Squad! (6 episodes were made in 1982).  That show’s concept and characters (as well as lead actor Leslie Nielsen) would return for the more successful Naked Gun films, three of which were made between 1988 and 1994.  I consider the first of the three films the best of the lot -and it is really high up there on my list of all time favorite comedy films ever made- but the other day I got to see the second one all the way through and here are my thoughts…

To begin,  The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear is not as good as the original The Naked Gun but I knew that going in.  So much time had passed since the last time I saw NG 2 1/2 that I wanted to experience it again as fresh as possible.  I did, and most of the material really worked well…while some of it didn’t.

I’ll get to the not so good first: The film really starts on an emotional downer.  Sure, the original The Naked Gun did as well.  If you don’t recall, the original film, post credits, had us find Detective Lieutenant Frank Drebin’s (Leslie Nielsen, absolutely nailing the role) wife had left him.  Eventually and through the course of the movie he finds love with Jane Spencer (Priscilla Presley showing some great comedy chops as well).

NG 2 1/2 similarly opens on an emotional downer as this time we find that Drebin and Jane have split up in the time between the films and, while one of this movie’s themes is their reconciliation/re-connection, those opening minutes with Drebin being down and out regarding the breakup are played, in my opinion, a little too long.  We don’t want a comedy to dwell too long on sadness!  Thankfully, even through this rougher patch there are plenty of great sight-gags and verbal screw ups to keep us going and, after a while, the movie finds its footing and hums along.

George Kennedy, as Drebin’s partner Ed Hocken, is a particular delight this time around and has some of the funniest lines/scenes.  Check out this trailer for the movie and pay particular attention to the 1:25 mark and Mr. Kennedy’s response to Drebin congratulating him on his wife’s pregnancy:

They don’t make humor like that anymore!

The movie’s funniest scene, again in my opinion, involves Mr. Kennedy and one of the biggest cop show cliche’s ever, that inevitable point where the cop puts his badge away and goes “mano a mano” against a criminal.  The clip below features that joke and its set up which leads to one of the funniest payoffs:

What can I say?  I really like this silly type of humor!

While NG 2 1/2 isn’t quite up to the level of the first Naked Gun as I already mentioned before, I still enjoyed the hell out of myself watching it again and therefore it is an easy film to recommend.

So easy, in fact, that I might just give Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult a spin next…

Adding insult to injury…

Given the bulk release of data from the “married-people-looking-for-a-fling” website Ashley Madison, one would have thought that the most scandalous information to be aired would be the famous names linked to the website, be they in the world of entertainment or politics.

Turns out, to my mind the most scandalous thing about the bulk release of information is the revelation that almost everyone using the website was male, and whatever females there were who used it may well have been fictional creations.  Annalee Newitz for Gizmodo offers a startling look at the data:

http://gizmodo.com/the-fembots-of-ashley-madison-1726670394

Reading this brings to mind the great line attributed to P. T. Barnum regarding capitalism/selling a product: There’s a sucker is born every minute.

It turns out that what Ashley Madison was selling wasn’t the ability of a married person to have an affair but rather the fantasy that by joining this website and paying them lots of money you just might do so.  I can’t help but think, based on the information in the article above, that the site exclusively targeted gullible men more than willing to pay cash money in the hopes of having this no-strings-attached fling.  Women, on the other hand, appeared to have little interest in the site.  Those who did sign on, it was found in the article above, mostly lasted little more than a single/handful of sessions before bailing.

As a member of the male species, I have to tip my hat to women.

You’re a lot smarter than we are.

Vice (2015) a (mildly) belated review

So…Bruce Willis.  What do we make of him?

I vividly remember his rapid rise, from his first “major” role as the gloriously repellent, villainous Tony Amato in the Miami Vice episode No Exit (one hell of a performance) to his about face humorous-goodguy David Addison Jr. in Moonlighting (another great role where he shined very brightly) to his first couple of movies (Blind Date and Sunset, both of which were late era Blake Edwards works which didn’t have the charm or comedic timing of his past successes) until he hit the big time in a big way with 1988’s Die Hard.

It was at that point Bruce Willis became a bonafide superstar and would appear in a great number of films, usually as the protagonist.  Like many actors who appear in many films, he’s had his ups and downs but in general audiences continued liking him for many, many years and he’s remained a very much in demand actor.

Lately, however, things appear to have changed.  Mr. Willis, like all of us, has gotten older and it’s difficult for him to carry the lead action hero role like he used to.  The last, and least, of the Die Hard films, for example, had him playing opposite his character’s “son”.  Lately he’s appeared in a surprising number of “straight to video” features, movies that suddenly show up on your Pay-Per-View or as DVDs in your local Target and/or Walmart and just as suddenly disappear.

Which brings us to Vice

While perhaps not the all time best trailer I’ve ever seen, it doesn’t do a bad job in getting one interested in the film it’s selling, at least in my opinion.  The idea behind the film is pretty clear: We take elements of the 1973 film Westworld (written and directed by Micheal Crichton who would reuse the concept/theme for his Jurassic Park novels and the movies they were based on) and combine them with the video game Grand Theft Auto and -voila!- we have our film.

In Vice, like Westworld, we have an “adult” theme park, named “Vice”, where human clients interact with cloned/robotic beings.  How much of the artificial beings is cloned flesh and blood versus metal is never adequately explained.  The human clients, when in this theme park, engage in all manner of Bacchanal behavior ranging from outright violence to murder to rape to what-have-you.

Like Westworld, there is one major flaw to this concept: How do human guests distinguish between other guests and the robots/clones?  They can do whatever they want to the clones, but what if they attack/assault/rape/murder a fellow guest by accident or, worse, on purpose?

Anyway, never mind all that…on with the show!

In Westworld, the robots ultimately experienced some kind of software glitch and turn on the human clients.  In Vice, the clones/robots have their memories wiped each night and, if they’re killed/maimed, get fixed up and/or revived and do a version of Groundhog Day with each new day.  Until, that is, robot/clone Kelly (Ambyr Childers) has memories of her previous day(s) bleed in to her present being.  This freaks her out as she was the victim of considerable violence over her time as a Vice-robot.  She eventually escapes the clutches of the theme park’s nefarious rulers, including Vice’s version of Walt Disney, Julian (Bruce Willis, sadly not quite as menacing as the villain here as he was in that old Miami Vice episode) and makes her way into the real world.

In the real world Kelly’s path intersects with Police Detective Roy’s (Thomas Jane playing the cliched grizzled take-no-bullshit police officer) and eventually the two plot to take down Vice.

While many lambasted the film (it has a truly dreadful 4% positive among critics -a worse rating than the latest Fantastic Four film!- and a 17% positive rating among audiences on RottenTomatoes.com), I found it wasn’t quite as bad as all that.

Mind you, I’m not saying it’s necessarily good, either.

Perhaps its something unique to me, but Vice pleasantly reminded me of the cheesy low-budget B-movie sci-fi films that seemed to come out semi-regularly during the 1980’s and disappeared sometime into the 1990’s.  We’re talking about movies like Cherry 2000, Trancers and its many sequels, Split Second, Dark Angel (aka I Come In Peace), etc. etc. etc.

Here, take a look…

The only thing we know for sure is that’s he’s not a vegetarian“?!?!  Come on, how can you not smile at that?!

None of these films would go on to be considered “classics” but for what they are -and depending on how critical your feelings are toward them- they could be pleasant enough time-killers with a certain amount of camp value.

Vice has plenty of flaws, from a script that needed a little more work (at one point Kelly is offered to have her system “upgraded” and she declines only to accept something like ten minutes later.  The “upgrade”, based on what she does afterwards, consists mainly of getting her hair gelled), to indifferent acting (Bruce Willis is way too passive through most of his scenes), to bewildering acting (while Thomas Jane has some great lines and his character is presented as the audience’s surrogate, he looks somewhat lost in this film), I was nonetheless entertained enough to not feel like I had totally wasted my time.

Which makes recommending this film something of a head-scratcher.  If you’re like me and have a certain nostalgic fondness for those low-budget B-sci-fi films of the 1980’s/90’s, you may get a little more out of Vice than your average viewer.  All others best stay away.

Haze, the 2015 version

Many, many years ago (we’re talking the early 1990’s) I decided after years of writing short stories and scripts that I would finally take on the task of writing an honest-to-gosh novel.

My inspiration for this novel wound up being auto-biographical: At that time I was working at a Rehabilitation Center and caught a nasty cold that just wouldn’t go away.  It lingered for a very long time, more than two weeks, and after experiencing a weird (possible) hallucination while driving (I’ll get to that in a second), I decided to go see a Doctor.  I was checked up and told my system was in bad shape and that I was on the doorstep of having full blown pneumonia.  I was prescribed antibiotics and, after a few days, made a full recovery.

The weird (possible) hallucination I experienced occurred a few blocks from my house and on a main road.  I was driving up to an intersection and beside my car was a stopped public bus.  Its rear hood was open and the vehicle was going no-where.  In my very weakened/feverish state, the bus and its exposed motor looked like something out of a dystopian sci-fi film.  I did a double/triple take and stared at the thing and couldn’t help but wonder how alien the whole thing looked (hence the reason I say “possible” hallucination).

After I recovered, the bizarre image of that bus lingered in my mind as I considered writing that first novel.  I used the bus image as a springboard to think up a story of someone who, like me, becomes seriously ill and, subsequently, sees things that aren’t there.

In those early days of writing what eventually became the novel Haze, the process went along like many of the books I’ve written since.  I had to grasp for ideas and shift through ideas that worked and discard those that didn’t.  The story was originally conceived as more of a sci-fi work, but the concept of making it a murder mystery wound up being far more appealing.

One of the first things I wrote, a fictionalized version of the novel’s protagonist seeing a bizarre mechanical contraption on the side of the road, basically a written version of what I experienced and the very inspiration for my writing the novel, wound up having no place in the work when all was said and done.  Much to my regret, I had to cut that scene out.

In fact, that first novel taught me one incredibly valuable lesson regarding writing: Focus on telling the story you want to tell concisely.

Concisely (adjective): expressing or covering much in few words; brief in form but comprehensive in scope

The fact is that the early drafts of Haze spent waaaaaay too much time on the protagonist’s illness when the meat of the story, indeed the whole point of the story, occurs immediately afterwards.  At this late date I couldn’t tell you how many drafts I poured, sweat, and bled over before that realization hit me.  In those early drafts I was boring potential readers with stuff that wasn’t necessary to read.

So the book’s opening act was heavily trimmed and, regrettably, I realized the source of the story’s inspiration simply had to go.

I eventually published Haze in 2008 and focused on writing more and more books.  To this day I have 9 works out there: 7 novels, 1 graphic novel, and 1 book of short stories with more to come.

At this point in time I’ve built up a good head of steam with these new works and had no intention of going back to any of my previous books and revising them (Like many others, I too am uncomfortable with what, for example, George Lucas did with the original Star Wars films).

However, unlike Star Wars, Haze was, much to my bank account’s regret, never a wildly successful cultural phenomena.  It was a, in my opinion, cool novel that put a ghostly spin on the murder-mystery genre.  (There’s more to it than that and it remains perhaps the most autobiographical novel I’ve ever written even above and beyond the fact that it was inspired by a real life event, but that’s a story for another day)

Very recently, while working on the latest Corrosive Knights book, I reached a point where I needed to take a little bit of a break.  Writing novels can be creatively exhausting and I worried that with my latest work I might be hitting something of a rut.

Being something of a work-a-holic, however, meant that I had to fill my creative time with something else.  For whatever reason, I decided to give Haze a fresh look.  Enough time, I reasoned, had passed to the point where reading the work might be (almost) like coming at it for the very first time.

So I did just that and found that the story held up but that my writing skills had improved over the course of the seven years since releasing the book.  The only thing that really needed re-working, I found, was a early hallucination/nightmare the protagonist experienced.  As originally written, the whole thing read far more confusing than it should and needed a polish.

As for the rest of the book, what I wound up doing was cleaning up grammatical issues I missed before.  As I said, the story remained roughly the same but now, it was my hope, it would read like a novel I wrote today versus when I was starting out.

For those who previously ordered the Kindle version of the book, you can download the “new” 2015 version free of charge.  Not all that many people actually bought the paperback version, but it too will be available within the next few days (DO NOT buy the version available right now, its still the old one and is priced two dollars more than the new one will be).

Anyway, I hope you give the novel a look.  For those who think I’m all about the Corrosive Knights series, you may be surprised to find I do write other stuff as well! 😉

Seriously…?!

Want to see a crazy brave person by the name of Laso Challer jump an insane 59 meters down a cliff and into water?  Want to see said jump from his point of view?  Want to know what kind of psychological issues this man really, really needs to address?

The answers to all the questions (save the last one) can be found below!

Longmire, season 4 on Netflix…

I’m a big fan of Longmire, the television show that aired for three seasons on A&E only to be cancelled on a particularly juicy cliffhanger.  Thankfully, Netflix snatched the show up and come September 10th, ten episodes will become available for any subscriber to see:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/longmire-season-4-photos_55d3a9bbe4b0ab468d9ed983

This is the first time I’m eager to catch a “new” series on Netflix.  I was no more than curios to see the new Arrested Development but when I started seeing the episodes I wasn’t all that impressed and dropped it after the first one.  I’ve read/heard varying accounts of how good/bad the new episodes were.  If I ever find the free time, I’ll eventually give it a look-see.

But I most certainly will be giving Longmire a look.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll remain as fascinating as it was when it aired on A&E.

Well that didn’t take long…or Oh Boy, Part II

Yesterday I wrote about the group involved in hacking Ashley Madison, the website devoted to married couples interested in starting an extra-marital affair, had released the information they stole (You can read about that here).

Let’s be clear here: What that hacking group did was illegal.  They deemed themselves entitled to not only break into this (admittedly rather sleazy) business’ private servers and steal all their data but also morally superior enough to release this material to the public at large.

That’s not to say I’m defending Ashley Madison or their clients.  As I said, the website boasts the ability of supposed married individuals to hook up with other supposed married individuals.  The clients who frequented the site were clearly hoping to find action outside their married life.

Having said all that, I wondered how long it would take before some “big” names were linked to the service.  It took all of one day and the “winner” is…

Conservative Family Values Activist, member of the now defunct reality show 19 Kids and Counting, and alleged molester of five young women (including four of whom were his sisters) Josh Duggar.  The story:

http://gawker.com/family-values-activist-josh-duggar-had-a-paid-ashley-ma-1725132091

One of my all time favorite quotes comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson and it goes like this:

The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.

Putting aside (if at all possible) the whole Ashley Madison stuff for the moment, what is it about those who are the ones most engaged in public moralization that makes them so ripe to be involved in actions that run counter to their oh-so-loud moralizing?

There’s nothing new under the sun regarding hypocrisy, of course, yet one can easily lose track of the number of people, from senators to congressmen to clergymen to business leaders to what-have-you who talk one way yet whose actions are decidedly opposite of what they preach.

Which names will we find in the list tomorrow?

This just plain sucks…

Word got out yesterday that actress Yvonne Craig passed away.  If the name isn’t familiar to you, these two images, perhaps her two most iconic roles, most certainly are.

First up, as Batgirl in the famous, and purposely campy, Batman TV series of the late 1960’s:

Secondly, as Marta, perhaps the most famous of the green-skinned Orion slave girls and featured on the original Star Trek series episode Whom Gods Destroy:

and…

As one grows older, it sometimes comes as a shock to realize actors you associate in your mind (and thanks to the permanence of their taped roles) as so very young wind up being just like you and also susceptible to the ravages of aging.

In my mind, Harrison Ford is forever associated with his youthful roles in Blade Runner and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Now 73 years old, it came as something of a shock to see him in the latest Star Wars movie commercial, though I had seen his gradual aging in other recent roles (including his fourth appearance as Indiana Jones).  Still, upon seeing that commercial and realizing it was the first time I’d seen “Han Solo” since (gulp) 1983, for the first time I saw him as what he was: An older gentleman yet one who in my mind remained forever frozen as he was back then.

So too it was a shock to realize that Mrs. Craig passed away at the age of 78.  Unlike Mr. Ford, she hadn’t appeared in any significant role on screen since the early 1980’s (she has a single role listed for 1990 and voice work for 2009-11) so her visage is stubbornly linked to the roles I see above, forever young and stunningly beautiful.

It was a shock to read of her passing and a further shock to realize she had lived a very long and (I certainly hope) full and fulfilling life.  R.I.P., Mrs. Craig.  Like many others of my generation, I will always remember you.

P.S.:

One of Mrs. Craig’s very early roles was captured in a May 31st, 1958 aired episode of the first season of the very popular Perry Mason show.  The episode, titled “The Case of the Lazy Lover“, featured both Mrs. Craig and, delightfully, actor Neil Hamilton.  This man’s name isn’t familiar to you?  Perhaps this image will refresh your memory:

…or this one…

Both Mrs. Craig and Mr. Hamilton would, of course, go on to appear in the Batman TV show.  Mr. Hamilton played Commissioner Gordon during its entire run while Mrs. Craig would appear in the third and final season as his daughter Barbara Gordon/Batgirl.

Interesting they would reunite some 10 years later on the screen!