Vintage Cable Box: Never Say Never Again, 1983

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“Never again.”

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Never Say Never Again, 1983 (Sean Connery), Warner Bros.

James Bond is not a character that exists for any particular generation; though different generations will banter back-and-forth about which actor gave the strongest performance as Great Britain’s most famous Military Intelligence operative. It’s like Coke and Pepsi. Dick York and Dick Sargent? Original or Extra Crispy? David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar? Sean Connery or Roger Moore? As a matter of fact, in Ian Fleming’s original concept for the character, he envisioned someone who bore his own resemblance. A bit of wish fulfillment, perhaps? 1983 was an unusual year for our favorite secret agent in that we had two movies, Octopussy and Never Say Never Again, made by different production companies and starring Moore and Connery. Ultimately, as box receipts indicate, there was very little difference in their respective appeal. Octopussy earned $183 million worldwide, compared to Never Say Never Again’s paltry $160 million*.

Essentially a remake of Thunderball, but updated to accommodate Connery’s advanced years, Never Say Never Again came about because Kevin McClory (one of Thunderball’s writers) retained the rights to the film after a dispute with fellow writers Jack Whittingham and creator Ian Fleming. This left Thunderball as the only existing Bond property to not be owned outright by Fleming or “Cubby” Broccoli’s Eon Productions. Bond is compelled by his employers to spend time in physical rehabilitations after failing a wargame simulation. While there, and after bedding down one of his nurses, he spies (he can’t help it) a masochistic therapist, Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) dispensing a little more than medicine to a US Air Force pilot (Gavan O’Herlihy), whom she is using to circumvent the President’s security clearance in order to obtain two nuclear warheads, which SPECTRE will use to wreak havoc with NATO. Bond tracks the warheads to the Bahamas, where he runs afoul of oddball villain Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer) while romancing Largo’s lover, Domino (Kim Basinger), who also happens to be O’Herlihy’s sister.

Bond beds Blush, who then betrays him to sharks while scuba diving. Thankfully, sharks don’t know how to open doors in underwater ships. Largo is a little nutty. He challenges Bond to a unusual, but interesting looking three-dimensional video game that utlizes nuclear missile to neutralize their targets. The loser donates proceeds to a children’s charity. Bond always seems to get the upper hand in these games, and he cleans Largo out. Largo captures Bond (and Domino) after Bond tells her the truth about what happened to her brother. He locks Bond in a North African dungeon and ties Domino to a post to sell her to Arabs on horseback. Like I said, he’s a little nutty. Bond escapes his binds with a laser-shooting wristwatch (how come they never frisk him?) and rescues Domino, who avenges her brother’s death (with a well-aimed harpoon) before Largo can arm his warheads.

It’s a fairly simple story, complicated by numerous distraction; those being the women in the film, who serve as impediments (if you choose to designate them as such) to Bond’s goals. Kershner (as he did with The Empire Strikes Back) emphasizes performances over action set-pieces, but his camera always finds interesting places to shoot. Connery’s Bond is more menacing, predatory, and pragmatic than Moore’s civilized charm and manners. The Blofeld character (popularized by Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas, and more recently Christoph Waltz) is minimalized here, but played very well in this movie by Max Von Sydow. The real villains in this piece are Brandauer and Carrera. Brandauer is a curiousity. He plays his scenes with a child-like glee, keeping everybody around subtly off-balance. He looks like he’s always on the verge of snapping.

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Now we come to the inevitable comparisons. Watching both movies (Octopussy and Never Say Never Again) with my wife, she told me she preferred the Connery movie, because the story was more contained, less expansive, and less tedious than Octopussy. I disagree. While expertly photographed and edited, this is a less cultured Bond, and there seem to be fewer locations and less color than Octopussy. Indeed, the movie is even shot, edited, and paced like one of Connery’s early Bond efforts. When I tune into a James Bond film, I expect exotic locations, beautiful women, and great action sequences, and while Never Say Never Again definitely delivers those elements, it doesn’t deliver enough of them. It’s as if the producers expected only to secure Connery’s involvement and not much else, but it is interesting to speculate (based on this movie) how the Bond series would’ve continued with Connery playing the character. That being said, I’m glad Connery retired when he did. Where Moore was a bit stuffy, Connery is smug and (somewhat) unlikeable, regardless of how many creepily young women he beds in this movie. Also, the film feels naked without the signature (and trademarked) John Barry theme music and credit sequence.

* sarcasm

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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Extreme Cinema! “Dangerously Twisted”

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Albert Pyun is an American film director best known for having made many low-budget B-movies and direct-to-video action films. The Independent Film Channel said that Pyun “has carved out a unique niche as a director of low-budget, high-concept genre films starring actors past their prime”, adding that “others believe this a charitable description for Pyun, who has also been [unfairly] derided as the new Ed Wood.” Though he frequently blends kickboxing and hybrid martial arts with science fiction and dystopic or post-apocalyptic themes, which often include cyborgs. Pyun stated in an interview that “I have really no interest in cyborgs. And I’ve never really had any interest in post-apocalyptic stories or settings. It just seemed that those situations presented a way for me to make movies with very little money, and to explore ideas that I really wanted to explore — even if they were [controversial].”

Wikipedia

Andrew and I discuss two Albert Pyun 1980s classics, Dangerously Close (1986) and Down Twisted (1987), both starring the beautiful Carey Lowell.

Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs

Running Time: 1:21:25

Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. I do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

This podcast is dedicated to the memory of David A. Prior (1955-2015)

 

VINTAGE CABLE BOX: “Death Hunt, 1981”

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“That look on your face would turn good whiskey into sour piss.”

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Death Hunt, 1981 (Charles Bronson), 20th Century Fox

“This motion picture is based on a true story” is written in schlocky big-and-bold red titles; Charles Bronson is Death Hunt – not quite, but wouldn’t it be cool if his given Christian name were, indeed “Death J. Hunt”, or whatever? I mean, talk about the coolness factor. Here we are in the wild, white Yukon with some splendid Steadicam-aerial photography and we’re thrust into a literal dog-fight. The year is 1931, so it’s probably not illegal yet. Bronson runs afoul of the locals involved when he rescues one of the dogs involved. You get that steely-eyed Bronson trademark gaze. He gives the owner (the great character actor Ed Lauter) $200 for the wounded dog and leaves.

Lauter isn’t having any of it. He takes up arms with an Alaskan version of a posse (among them Carl “Apollo Creed”/”Action Jackson” Weathers, William Sanderson, and Maury Chaykin) to apprehend Bronson. Bronson nurses the dog back to health, feeds him and bonds with him. The heavies case Bronson’s hunting shack, but he is ready for them, and he plugs one of them. Lauter alerts the authorities (in this case, Mounties Andrew Stevens and Lee Marvin, who knows Lauter is lying) and they lead the hunt for the so-called “Mad Trapper”.

The movie’s story depends on Bronson staying one step ahead of his pursuers, which he does with aplomb. He is skillful and resourceful, but unfortunately an act of self-defense is added to his perceived list of crimes. It’s amazing to me (looking at the movie now) how quickly this narrative moves. We have to remember, the movie was made at a time when action/adventure movies didn’t have to be nonsensical, bloated epics. The editing is lean, action-oriented and economical. The scenes between Marvin and Bronson ooze testosterone. Both men have desperation in their eyes. Marvin wants an end to the violence. Bronson just wants to be left alone.

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When Marvin and Stevens’ caravan of vengeance-minded soldiers set out to capture the Trapper, he rigs his property with booby-traps, digs a trench in the middle of his cabin, and positions his guns at strategic points. The Peckinpah-inspired scenes of violence are well choreographed, and the liquored-up, tense dialogue of Lauter’s posse is hilarious. Marvin’s character is lost in his own idealistic past while Stevens represents a future of two-way radios and explosives.

The men constantly put each other through frenetic games of machismo, and all Bronson can do is shake his head and listen to their endless tirades. In the middle of the long Alaskan night, they blow up his cabin with dynamite, and he is forced to take to the snow, but not before cutting down most of them. Ultimately, the posse divide into separate groups, so that they don’t have to split the reward money. They kill each other off as a result of their incompetence until it finally comes down to Marvin and Bronson.

Charles Dennis Buchinsky appeared in House of Wax with Vincent Price. His first lead role was in Roger Corman’s Machine-Gun Kelly. He became a ubiquitous presence in revenge fantasies, starting with Michael Winner’s Death Wish (spawning four sequels), Hard Times as well as becoming a staple for Cannon Films (along with Chuck Norris) with 10 to Midnight, Murphy’s Law, and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Vintage Cable Box: “The Ice Pirates, 1984”

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“Whatever happened to ‘we rape, we pillage’?”

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The Ice Pirates, 1984 (Robert Urich). MGM/UA

“Long after the great interplanetary wars, the Galaxy has gone dry. Water has become the only thing left of value.” So sayeth the introduction accompanied by Bruce Broughton’s uplifting adventure score for a movie I loved when I was a kid. I think I loved The Ice Pirates because it had all the tropes of other science fiction movies without directly identifying itself as a spoof. It has a little Star Wars in it (a lot actually – the writers really like robots and robot-related humor) and a little Alien action (in the form of giant space herpes that infest a ship), and a little environmentally-conscious Soylent Green preachyness.

Robert Urich, in a role turned down by Kevin Costner (who would go on to make the similarly-themed Waterworld), leads a rag-tag group of pirates whose main booty appears to be – you guessed it, ice. Surprise! That’s where the title of the movie came from. His crew consists of Anjelica Huston (bad-ass swordmaster), Ron Perlman (a rather “flamboyant” Perlman), and Michael D. Roberts (programming genius). During a routine sweep-and-clear, they are captured by a beautiful Princess, who spares the men a painful castration, and forces them to take her on a mission to find her father, who disappeared searching for a fabled water-covered planet.

Urich’s old buddy, Lanky Nibs (aged prematurely due to a time-warp distortion) tells the Princess her father was searching for the fabled “seventh planet” that spun out of it’s regular orbit and into a new galaxy, but to reach that galaxy, the ship must evade further time distortions. One of my favorite scenes has Urich and Crosby getting friendly in a simulated holographic thunderstorm. As they travel through pockets of accelerated time, Crosby becomes pregnant and gives birth to their child. The child grows into manhood and saves the rapidly-aging crew from certain destruction at the hands of the Supreme Commander (played by John Carradine) all in the space of five minutes.

The Ice Pirates is a lot of fun, even watching it now. I’ve complained before about movies I loved as a kid that didn’t hold up well, and while I recognize the stupidity of this movie, at least I felt the filmmakers were having fun making it. The movie is a mosaic of unusual set design borrowing elements of space opera, bargain-basement Shakespeare, and of course, pirate movies. The pre-CGI visual effects and matte-work are still impressive. Most of the one-liners are cringeworthy, and while Urich and Crosby make an interesting Leia-and-Han-type couple, their chemistry is hindered by Crosby. While undeniably beautiful, her performance lacks energy.

Utilizing the old axiom about “stealing from the best”, the movie takes certain visual cues from other science fiction movies. It’s good cheesy fun. Some jokes seem way too racy (and racist) to have made it into a PG-rated action yarn. There’s a great bit where Urich is introduced to his child, who proceeds to piss right in his face. Spoiler for those who haven’t seen the movie: it was Earth all along!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

Vintage Cable Box: “The Osterman Weekend, 1983”

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“The truth is a lie that hasn’t been found out.”

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The Osterman Weekend, 1983 (Rutger Hauer), 20th Century Fox

Inappropriate saxophone-laden soap opera/porno movie/elevator music (by Lalo Schifrin) accompanies the opening credits, wherein John Hurt is doing the deed with a french lady I can only presume is his trophy wife. Men in black (on orders from Burt Lancaster’s section chief) arrive to kill the lady with a hypodermic injection. Later, Lancaster orders Hurt to neutralize political pundit John Tanner (the great Rutger Hauer) and his friends – weirdo plastic surgeon Dennis Hopper, sleazy banker Chris Sarandon, and the titular Osterman (Craig T. Nelson).

John Hurt tips off Tanner that one or more of his friends may be involved in a Soviet splinter group known as Omega, and that he has been instructed to watch them during an informal weekend gathering. Hauer agrees to Hurt and Lancaster’s demands, provided Lancaster appear on his television show. For the rest of us watching the movie, we already know what’s going to happen before it happens, so suspense is kept at a minimum. In poker parlance, it’s like showing your hand before you’ve put your money on the table. There is talk of Tanner’s troubled marriage to Meg Foster (with her gorgeous glowing blue/green eyes), but their relationship seems like every other normal married couple to me. Perhaps I should examine my priorities!

What follows is an unusually-edited chase sequence. There is an attempted abduction of Tanner’s wife and son with emphasis placed on an enormous pipe going through a windshield. Bits like this are few and far between for a movie like this. Hurt wires Tanner’s house with security cameras in every room, and he spends a lot of time watching all the couples get kinky. The weekend commences, and already nobody seems to be having a good time, and everybody is suspicious and paranoid from the start. It’s like Edward Albee but with naked pool parties. There is a funny bit where Hurt pretends to be a weatherman on the television as he attempts to communicate with Tanner while his friends are watching.

With a great cast and story with so much potential, it’s disappointing to note that this was Sam Peckinpah’s final film. It shows none of the wit, none of the break-neck and feverishly-paced action central to Peckinpah’s work. In addition, the sound quality is abysmal. Nearly every scene shows signs of “looping” (that is when the sound is spotty or of subpar quality, actors return in post-production to re-record their dialogue). What’s the point of having boom operators and sound recordists if you’re just going to re-record all of your dialogue anyway? The sound effects editing is equally atrocious.  The actors sound as though they are shouting in a tunnel when they running through the woods.

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Utilizing the old severed-dog-head-in-the-refrigerator gag, the party breaks up and everybody books. Tanner announces to Hurt that he is through. Hurt traps everybody on Tanner’s property. As it turns out, all of this has been a revenge scheme orchestrated by Hurt against Burt Lancaster, whom he knows ordered his wife’s death, and poor Tanner (not to mention his friends) just got caught in the middle. The movie is inconsistent; there are terrible scenes and then there are moments of brilliance that belong in a better movie.

A relative had gotten me a box set of author Robert Ludlum’s classic books (titles like The Bourne Identity and The Gemini Contender among them) so I had read most of his books at the time before I saw this troubling adaptation. It seems to me the writers wrote up a rudimentary outline of the novel (or not even that – they just flipped through the pages wearing blindfolds and pointing to certain passages). Ludlum’s Bourne series was made into a highly successful franchise starring Matt Damon.

Sam Peckinpah was a legend and a god to modern-day action film directors like Walter Hill, John Carpenter, Robert Rodriguez, and John Woo. He directed The Wild Bunch. Straw Dogs, The Getaway, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and many other films noted more for their graphic violence than their fine narratives.

By the way, the dog didn’t die, but he was gagged and stuffed in the closet of a recreational vehicle, along with Tanner’s wife and son. I told you there were moments of brilliance in this movie!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.