“Rollover, 1981”

“You’re gonna need a partner.”

Rollover, 1981 (Jane Fonda), Orion

With 1981’s Rollover, I gather I’m watching a movie about people who are obsessed with money. It’s never been my bag, but I’m willing to go along for the ride. Clean-shaven Kris Kristofferson (fresh from shooting the Harvard prologue in Heaven’s Gate) is a banking bag-man, meaning he is retained by banking institutions to solve their problems. I always though he looked evil without the beard. With the value of the dollar plummeting, Hume Cronyn orchestrates buy-outs, and some pointed comments are made about the distribution of wealth. Jane Fonda’s husband is killed, and she becomes the de-facto head of his conglomerate, a “petrochemical” concern.

This is a classic Alan Pakula formula involving people in expensive suits with looks of concern on their faces. Kristofferson is a work-horse. He pours over the books of a large New York bank sniffing out anomalies. He could’ve been a detective. He discovers Fonda’s company is in enormous debt, but rather than allow herself to be bought out, she wants to invest. This role is no stretch for Ms. Fonda, reunited with her Klute director, Pakula. Here, she plays a former actress married into finance; something she would actually do in a few short years. Kristofferson gives her tips on how to solidify her status as CEO. They play a crazy game of flirtation.

Fonda is surrounded by corporate sharks looking to rip her company to pieces. Kristofferson has a special interest in her for obvious reasons (Jane’s a dish in this movie), but their mutual chemistry seems to be based in a lust for transactions. Of course this wouldn’t be a Pakula film without a decent helping of paranoia. All of the principal parties are being watched. Then the movie haphazardly thrusts us into a romance that removes us from the main story. Jane needs a half a million dollars, so Kristofferson arranges meetings with rich Arabs to get financing. It turns out, everybody’s in hock to the Arabs. The Arabs (wisely, in my opinion) make her put up her own stock as collateral. If her company fails, she loses everything. Fonda doesn’t like being dependent on other people’s money (you go, girl!) to keep her interests afloat.

We get back to the love story, and the relationship thrives as a partnership with benefits, until Jane begins to suspect Kristofferson is playing both sides. The only problem (for me) is that all this banking talk is very dry, and we find we need the love story to grease the story. It seems some interested third parties are screwing with her deal, and these parties might’ve been involved in her husband’s murder. The Arab money is not coming through, and the bank brokering the deal is in danger of defaulting, as are all banks in this movie. While emptying out her husband’s cigar box, she finds a micro-cassette which implicates her husband in a scheme to bail out the banks with money from overseas. This is a real Scooby Doo mystery!

A whole bunch of money is going into one specific account. Fonda has a “deep throat” encounter with a paranoid gentleman in a parking lot (another Pakula device, and not as sexy as it sounds). This source also tells her to follow the money, as in All the President’s Men. Apparently, Fonda’s husband was aware of low-interest “loans” designed to keep the banks solvent, not unlike the recent real estate crisis. The rich exist to keep themselves rich, but frankly, we didn’t need the movie to tell us that. Rollover is a big, boring letdown considering all of the talented people involved.

Sourced from the original 1982 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release. The box sports a distinctive white plastic clamshell-design case, different from the standard black. The front cover design is a promotional photograph of Kristofferson and Fonda.  There is a tiny “behind the scenes” picture on the back of the box with Pakula directing Fonda and Kristofferson.  At the end of the tape, there are brief video trailers for Sharky’s Machine, Personal Best, and Body Heat. Rollover was released on DVD as part of the Warner Archive Collection. “A doomsday thriller of high-finance intrigue.” “Rollover is a realistic, provocative drama of the ultimate financial catastrophe – and the elite group of men and women whose wealth and influence control the economic empire that controls our destiny.” The aforementioned “catastrophe” occurs in the final moments of the movie, and the audience is not given sufficient warning, at least not enough for us to care.

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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Vintage Cable Box: Twilight Zone: The Movie, 1983

TZClam

“You wanna see something REALLY scary?”

Twilight Zone the Movie

Twilight Zone: The Movie, 1983 (Dan Aykroyd), Warner Bros.

I popped in the old Warner Brothers clamshell VHS tape of this, because I wanted to watch the movie as I remembered it when I saw it on cable television in 1984.  Of course I had to play it on my old tube TV (the only way to watch a videotape, or a Laserdisc, or a DVD), and the first thing I notice (after the FBI warning) is the Warner Brothers logo, those post-modern oval or stadium shapes forming the W and the B coming toward the screen, devouring the frame while the first chords of Creedence Clearwater Revival play.

We fade up slowly on a deserted road and then the lights of a car passing by.  Inside is hitchhiker Dan Aykroyd and driver Albert Brooks.  To pass the time, they play games of trivia, TV theme songs, and then finally settle on a discussion about Twilight Zone, where they reference key episodes.  After multiple viewings, it only occurs to me now that the movie is commenting upon the television series in a real-world capacity, in meta fashion, but in the style of Twilight Zone.

We start with “Time Out”, written and directed by John Landis, and starring the late Vic Morrow.  Landis also wrote and directed the prologue, and co-produced the film as a whole with Steven Spielberg.  It’s hard not to review this episode without thinking of Morrow’s tragic death during shooting, but I will try.  Though heavy-handed with a lecturing tone, Morrow’s performance is among the strongest I’ve ever seen.  He plays an “angry man,” to use narrator Burgess Meredith’s words, with “a chip on his shoulder the size of the national debt.”

After angrily calling out Jews and blacks as the source of his uniquely American problems, he is transported back and forth through time being given a taste of his own medicine.  Landis places him in the shoes of a Jew during wartime France, and then as a black man in the South, and then as an enemy combatant in Vietnam.  Morrow died when the rotor blades on a helicopter during an intensely energetic barrage of explosions de-laminated and the vehicle spun into ankle-deep water, killing him and two children he was carrying.

It’s fair to say the film’s production was severely altered due to the tragedy, as the narrative of Landis’ screenplay (which had originally included a scene of vindication for Morrow’s character) was changed drastically so that the only scenes remaining (the only complete scenes Morrow shot) are simply examples of catharsis with little to no structure.  Vic Morrow gives an incredible performance, and it’s sad to think of the resurgence his career would’ve enjoyed.  Landis and his producers were acquitted on charges of manslaughter in 1986, and while most people like to think his career suffered after this incident, he made several highly-successful movies after this, including Spies Like Us and Coming To America.

Steven Spielberg’s somewhat sentimental remake of “Kick the Can” improves upon the source material by capturing the spirit of youth, as viewed through the eyes of the elderly.  The great character actor Bill Quinn plays a bitter old man who watches his fellow denizens at Sunnyvale Retirement Home turn into children under the guidance of new resident Mr. Bloom (jovial Scatman Crothers).  Rather than end the proceedings in pathos and irony as the third season episode did, Spielberg (and screenwriters Richard Matheson & Melissa Mathison) decide to bring them back to senior citizenry with “fresh young minds.”  The next day, all but one of the elderly folk have transformed back, and Quinn learns a nice lesson about staying young at heart, while Mr. Bloom is off on his next merry adventure.  Jerry Goldsmith’s score for this episode (and the movie) is spectacular.

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When I was a kid, I loved this next episode: an updating of the classic “It’s a Good Life”.  Mostly because I dug the idea of a kid around my age with insane psychic god-like powers wreaking havoc upon his rented family and a hapless schoolteacher (Kathleen Quinlan), who had the “misfortune” of nearly running him over.  She takes him back to his house, where his frightened family anxiously awaits his return.  He has televisions in every room playing cartoons.  His supper consists of peanut butter, candy apples, and ice cream.  His sister (Cherie Currie!) has no mouth (but she must scream), and when he gets angry, conjures horrifying creatures to scare the Hell out of everybody for his amusement.  Where Billy Mumy’s version of the child was more monster than boy, the child in this episode is simply an incorrigible brat who needs guidance and structure in his life.  Director Joe Dante populates his episode with great character actors from the past like William Schallert, Kevin McCarthy, Patricia Barry (who had all appeared in original episodes), and Dick Miller.  This is still a fun episode to watch.

We wind it up with what is perhaps the movie’s strongest entry, a remake of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” featuring John Lithgow in an Oscar-worthy performance, directed by George Miller (The Road Warrior).  Lithgow plays a white-knuckle passenger on an airliner convinced he sees a man (ultimately a gremlin) on the wing of the plane.  There are some subtle differences between this remake and the original starring William Shatner.  For one, in the Shatner version, his wife is traveling with him, and second, he is recovering from a previous nervous breakdown.  I feel the film version is stronger because Lithgow doesn’t foreshadow any particular breakdown, and his performance is a gradual build-up not to insanity but bravery as he takes matters in his own hands and attempts to vanquish the creature (as Shatner did).  The film version is much more visceral than the original directed by Richard Donner.  It’s interesting the best episodes from the movie were directed by relative novices, compared to the input of Spielberg and Landis.  They both meet the same fate, however, as they are carted off to a loony bin while the airplane’s mechanical crew try to figure out where all the damage to the craft came from.

For a decent stinger prologue, Lithgow’s ambulance driver is none other than Dan Aykroyd from the prologue.  He puts on some Creedence and away we go!  Vic Morrow’s death overshadowed any possible success this movie might have enjoyed, and destroyed any chance of a new film franchise.  Though there were reboots in 1985 and 2002, neither they nor this film stack up to the original series.  I must admit this is how I was introduced to the series.  I was aware of the show, but it never played where I lived, at least until after this movie debuted on cable television.  The series played in constant rotation on Channel 11 WPIX New York, and that’s how I was able to watch it before I got the DVDs.

What can be said about Rod Serling’s immortal Twilight Zone that hasn’t been said already?  I loved the show so much I started my own podcast about it, in which a guest and I discuss two episodes every week.  A new season of “That Twilighty Show About That Zone” starts tomorrow!  Sorry about the plug.  I had to do it.  Today is the one-year anniversary for “Vintage Cable Box”.  Hard to believe I started this enterprise a year ago with reviews for Swamp Thing, Easy Money, and Porky’s.  If you want to check out my past reviews, go to this handy archive.  Again, sorry for the plug!

Sourced from the original 1983 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release.  The movie continued to receive different format releases, and is available in Beta, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu Ray formats.  The accompanying essay obviously down-plays Vic Morrow’s death (“the late Vic Morrow”) as though his passing was not connected to the production.  The film is compared to Creepshow from 1982.  Both movies are referenced as “… the state of the art in cinema horror …”

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.

“More Different, Less Different”

More-Different-Less-Different

In the run-up to our July 17th premiere podcast, “Extreme Cinema: Action and Exploitation Movies with Andrew La Ganke & David Lawler”, we present this oldie-but-goodie; analysis of Jon Schnepp’s intriguing documentary, “The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?”.  “Extreme Cinema” will explore the work of lesser known celluloid heroes like David A. Prior, Larry Cohen, Albert Pyun, William Lustig, Jim Wynorski, and many more!

NEW PODCAST: “More Different, Less Different”

More-Different-Less-Different

 

This is BlissVille, Misadventures in BlissVille, and tonight we’re going to be discussing Jon Schnepp’s 2015 documentary, “The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?”.

Narrator: Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Man 1: Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird.
Woman: It’s a plane
Man 2: It’s Superman!
Narrator: Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands. And who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never ending battle for truth, justice and the American way. And now another exciting episode in the adventures of Superman.

I love Superman. He is a true super-hero, because he has super powers. He’s from another planet. He’s incredibly strong. He can fly. As much as I love Batman, he’s not a true super-hero. He bought his powers. He’s a billionaire. Batman is the capitalist super-hero, whereas Superman is more of a socialist. There’s a great line in “Kill Bill 2”; David Carradine’s monologue toward the end, he tells Uma Thurman that the visage of Clark Kent is the disguise, and that Superman, or Kal-El is the reality.

I watched a couple of the old Superman tv show episodes with George Reeves last weekend, to prime alongside the documentary. They’re pretty silly by today’s standards, but they were enough to entertain people back then, and still nowhere near as silly as Burton’s conception of the character. The show ran from 1952 to 1958, 104 episodes, killed George Reeves’ career, and then 20 years later, we have Christopher Reeve, whom is still the standard for the character.