The Curator of Schlock #187: First Blood

The Curator of Schlock #187 by Jeff Shuster

First Blood

They’re not hunting him. He’s hunting them!

Sorry if I freaked out a bit last week. Maybe it’s my delicate sensibilities, but a movie where a ten-year-old boy gets shot and killed because of the decision of some old guys in a board room meeting really ground my gears. My introduction to poliziottesco left me confused and bewildered, questioning the morality of this cruel world, where cops and criminals are no better than each other and the innocent are made to suffer. But then I then celebrated Independence Day, remembered what it is to be an American, where the distinctions between right and wrong are as clear as crystal. I know who the good guys are. I know who the bad guys are. It’s time for another Patriot’s Month, and to celebrate, we’re going through the Rambo series!

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Tonight’s entry is 1982’s First Blood from director Ted Kotcheff and starring Sylvester Stallone. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I am largely unfamiliar with the Rambo series. It must have been an HBO exclusive back in the day. So who will Rambo fight in this debut? The Viet Cong? The Soviets? Nope. He’s up against one jerk of small town sheriff and his band of sadistic deputies. The sheriff’s name is Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy) and he doesn’t like the looks of this drifter that’s passing through his neck of the woods.

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Teasle tells this drifter that he needs a shave and a haircut. The drifter wants to get a bite to eat in the town. Teasle drives him to the city limits, tells the drifter he doesn’t want his kind in his town. As Sherriff Teasle drives away, the drifter starts walking back into town. Teasle arrests him for vagrancy. One of his men snatches the dog tags from around the drifter’s neck. The drifter’s name is John Rambo. 

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The deputies begin their abuse on John Rambo. The nastiest is Art Galt (Jack Starrett) who beats Rambo with a baton before turning a hose on him to get him nice and clean. Deputy Galt wants to give Rambo a shave. The razor triggers a Vietnam flashback, making Rambo snap. He breaks a out of the police station, steals a motorcycle and is on the lamb. Teasle follows in close pursuit, but overturns his car as he follows Rambo into the mountains. Things escalate from there. Dobermans are unleashed. Deputy Galt tries shooting Rambo with a sniper rifle from a helicopter only to fall out and die after Rambo throws a rock at the helicopter pilot. Galt was Teasle’s best friend so the sheriff now wants Rambo dead. 

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Things keep escalating. The Washington State Police are brought in. The National Guard is brought in. It turns out Rambo is a Green Beret with an expertise guerilla warfare. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Woah.

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At some point Rambo blows up half the town. I think a Dairy Queen catches on fire. Rambo cries to his commanding officer about how his best friend in Nam blew up and got his guts all over him. Oh, and Rambo can’t hold down a job at a car wash. I think he gets arrested at the end. This movie is one of the great ones. Plus, the score is Jerry Goldsmith. You can’t go wrong with First Blood


Jeffrey Shuster 3Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Episode 267: A Discussion of Stanley Elkin’s The Magic Kingdom, with Orlando author Nathan Holic!

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Episode 267 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Nathan Holic John King Contemporary

Nathan Holic, right, in dire need of another beer at The Outer Rim lounge of The Contemporary Resort.

On this week’s show, I talk to my friend Nathan Holic, who is an Orlando writer and editor of the 15 Views of Orlando anthology series. While in situ at The Contemporary Resort, we discuss the stressors of theme park-going, the uses of such postmodern settings, and the odd counterbalances of melodrama and dark satire in Stanley Elkin’s The Magic Kingdom.

TEXTS DISCUSSED

Elkin The Magic Kingdom15 Views of Orlando

NOTES

Contemporary Marry Cottles Room

Mary Cottle’s room? The equivalent of room 822 now, but perhaps not back in 1986. (No, we didn’t knock on the door.)

Check out Nathan’s books!

American Fraternity ManThings I Dont See - Comic CoverUCF

All our Waves are Water


Episode 267 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #186: Kidnap Syndicate

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The Curator of Schlock #186 by Jeff Shuster

Kidnap Syndicate

And I thought last week’s movie was depressing. 

I am in a bad way this week. When you start bashing your head into the bathroom mirror and actually grin as the blood trickles from the cuts on your forehead, it may be time to give up on the film genre known as poliziottesco. Still, I’ve got another Friday left in June so I might as well round it out with one more movie from this genre, 1975’s Kidnap Syndicate from director Fernando Di Leo. Hey, he directed last week’s movie, the one that made me really depressed. 

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The American poster for this movie reads, “$15,000,000 or we will kill your kids!”

This is no joke.

That’s the basic plot of this movie.

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There is a crime syndicate in Italy that kidnaps children for money. This particular crime syndicate, we’ll call them the “Kidnap Syndicate,” decides to kidnap the son of wealthy real estate tycoon named Engineer Filippini as played by James Mason.

What?

James Mason is in this movie?

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And he’s in top form! The man is Hollywood royalty as far as I’m concerned. He was Brutus opposite Brando’s Mark Antony in Julius Caesar!

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He was Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Phillip Vandamm in North by Northwest

Sorry. I got a little star struck there. Yeah, the Kidnap Syndicate sends some goons to Engineer’s son’s school. They kidnap him along with another boy, the son of a man named Mario Colella (Luc Merenda), the struggling owner of an auto garage. Mario isn’t rich, but would sell his business and everything he owns to get his son back. Engineer wants to negotiate. The Kidnap Syndicate wants fifteen million dollars in exchange for the two boys. Engineer offers them nothing at first in an attempt to renegotiate the terms. The Kidnap Syndicate still wants fifteen million dollars. Engineer offers them five million. Nope. The Kidnap Syndicate still wants fifteen million. Engineer offers them six million. The Kidnap Syndicate shoots and kills the Mario’s kid (the poor one), dumping his body in a public place as a warning to Engineer that his son with be next if he doesn’t pay the fifteen million. Engineer relents and pays the full amount. His son is returned to him. 

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Well, that got resolved smoother than I expected ,except for the fact that they killed one of the boys! And it was the working class boy with the working class dad! I guess poor boys are just a means to an end. Is that right, Kidnap Syndicate! What you didn’t count was that boy’s dad used to be a criminal himself with an expertise in motor cross. Maybe you should have done your research before murdering his son, an innocent child! Yes, I’m angry. And if you’re wondering where the Italian police were in all of this, well they were just helpless. 

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Mario manages to track down the goons and the money. He kills the goons and keeps the money, and don’t you think for one hot second that I give a damn about those goons! He finds the executioner of his son, tells the guy that he’ll return the money to the Kidnap Syndicate if they give him half. In a boardroom meeting, the Kidnap Syndicate debates splitting the money with Mario. Some members argue that should just kill Mario and take the fifteen million dollar loss. The head of the Kidnap Syndicate figures they can give him two million dollars and that will satisfy the father of the dead boy. They ask Mario where he hid the money. He tells board he burned the money and then lights up the room with a machine gun! Hahahahahahaha! And then he chases after his son’s executioner and shoots him to death in a local amusement park. Hahahahahahahahahahahaha!

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The world is a hell and I’m fine with it! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!


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Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Episode 266: Shasta Grant!

Episode 266 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

On this week’s show, I talk to fiction writer Shasta Grant, the Kerouac House resident from the spring of 2017, about novel writing, planning and plotting, and finding the life in the words.

Shasta Grant

NOTES

Shasta’s chapbook is now available from Split Lip Press.

Gather Us Up

On June 16th, I am hosting a fundraiser for the S.A.F.E. Words poetry slam at Writer’s Atelier.

On July 28th, I am hosting a reading by Jaimal Yogis at the Kerouac House.


Episode 266 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #185: Shoot First, Die Later

The Curator of Schlock #185 by Jeff Shuster

Shoot First, Die Later

Crime doesn’t pay!

I’ve been criticized over the fact that I choose too many violent pictures for this blog. Hey, I don’t choose violent movies. Violent movies choose me. That being said, I’m willing to switch things up for one night. How about a feel good movie? How about 1974’s Shoot First, Die Later from director Fernando Di Leo?

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You’ll feel good after watching this movie because no matter how bad your life is right now, it’s not nearly as bad as the lives of the characters in this movie. 

Last week’s movie, Stunt Squad, ended with a man being beaten to death so imagine my elation–I mean repulsion–when Shoot First, Die Later starts with a bunch of guys being beaten to death. We have a nasty mob boss named Pascal (Raymond Pelligren) who’s mad as hell about street punks getting their narcotics from his competition. Soon after we’re introduced to our hero, Detective Lieutenant Domenico Malacarne (Luc Merenda). He’s undercover, trying to get in good with two Mexican men who want to smuggle in some contraband. Domenico leads the police right to them, arrests are made, and Domenico gets promoted. His father is so proud of his boy. He shouldn’t be, though, because Domenico actually works for the mob!

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That’s right, it was Pascal who tipped him off about the Mexicans, a great way to eliminate his competition. Pascal wants Domenico’s help smuggling guns into the country. Domenico won’t have anything to do with that. Coffee and cigarette smuggling are his limit. So I guess he has some integrity?

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Domenico’s dad also works for the police department and he’s so proud of his son. Some crazy old coot comes in to file a complaint. There was a car with Swiss plates blocking his driveway. I guess that car can be linked to Pascal’s crew and that sordid business with the men who were getting beaten to death at the beginning of the film. Domenico interviews the old man. He talks to his cat a lot. His cat is named Napoleon. The cat doesn’t answer back. He relays that bit of info back to Pascal, says the old coot is nothing to worry about. That’s not good enough for Pascal. He sends a couple of his goons over to murder the guy. They place a plastic bag over his head until he stops breathing. They also  have a plastic bag for Napoleon. 

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What kind of sick outfit is this? Why murder a kitten? Honestly, I don’t know what happened to Italy in the 70s. Domenico tells his dad that he needs that complaint form, the only piece of evidence left that could incriminate Pascal. He tells his dad that he doesn’t care about justice or honor and that everybody’s corrupt. Boo! I don’t like this guy. From here on out, it’s a blood bath. Pascal is tying up loose ends that involve murdering Domenico’s father and Domenico’s girlfriend. A reckoning involving shooting first and dying later is the only outcome. Crime doesn’t pay!


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Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Pensive Prowler #8: Alienating the Alien

Pensive Prowler #8 by Dmetri Kakmi

Alienating the Alien

Let’s not mistake this for a review of Ridley Scott’s Alien Covenant. It’s more of a free-wheeling jazz improvisation on what went through my benumbed brain as I watched the vaudevillian pantomime. It’s also full of spoilers. So I recommend you read it and save your pretty pennies for a rainy day.

I am obliged to add that I love Alien (1979) and I’m a hesitant admirer of James Cameron’s overlong and over-militarised Aliens (1986). The subsequent sequels are whipping a dead clotheshorse, particularly the prequel Prometheus (2012), Scott’s poncey incursion into the wrung-out franchise.

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The first thing that must be said about Alien Covenant is that it’s supremely boring. It’s so dull and un-engaging, I felt as if the life was being sucked out of me by a paucity of ideas as I sat in a half daze, barely able to comprehend or care about what was happening on screen.

The words flatulent and pompous drifted around my head like the moons of Uranus during the opening scene. You know you’re in for a slog when a film opens with what appears to be an outtake from Prometheus.

‘Get on with it,’ I mumbled as Guy Pearce and Michael Fassbender had a chinwag about creation and god and music and mortality and tea in minimalist space adorned with great works of art. Prominent among them is Michelangelo’s David, his butt cheeks dangling before our eyes in the foreground of one shot as if he’s about to sit on Michael Fassbender’s face. Better than copping a face-hugger any day.

In the next scene we meet a bunch of starry-eyed colonists going off to ruin another planet. The problem with them is they’re so generic you don’t remember them seconds after they’re shredded by CGI monsters. The usually reliable Billy Cruddup in particular is so like-yeah-whatever he can barely articulate his lines, let alone bring some oomph to his chest-buster scene. Though the lead up to his big moment is genuinely funny.

I fell asleep at one stage and woke up during the best bit: Michael Fassbender performs a kind of G-rated self-suck by kissing himself. Or rather he kisses his android double, before pronouncing the film’s best line:

‘They don’t deserve to start again and I’m not going to let them.’

He’s talking about humans and he succeeds, thankfully.

Actually, that’s not the best part. The best part is James Franco’s early demise. This irritating man-child doesn’t even get a chance to step out of his cryogenic crib before he’s vaporised and jettisoned into outer space. The only time we see his smug mug is when his wife, a second-rate Sigourney Weaver tough-girl type, blubbers to hubby’s video messages. She dodged a bullet is all I can say.

From there on Alien Covenant announces its major theme. Turns out it’s not about something as lowly as slavering monsters munching on people. It’s about male procreation, free of women.

Très très homosexuelle, no, monsieur et madame?

I’m serious. Think about it: Ageing man (Guy Pearce) creates buff male android (Michael Fassbender) in pleasingly tight body suit that shows off perfectly sculpted glutes and pecs. Android bases himself on the homo par excellence, Lawrence of Arabia, turns against big daddy, regurgitates alien eggs and promises to be mother to a loathed and despised species.

If that’s not a queer parable, I don’t know what is. We’ve gone back to sky god Zeus giving birth to Athena by projecting her fully formed from his brow.

In space, it seems, no one can hear women become redundant.

The men in this film reminded me of self-fertilising worms. Or the ouroboros snake that swallows its own tail. No wonder the aliens resemble globular white slugs. There’s even two gay men in the crew. Living up to Hollywood tradition one is mangled early on and his partner gets acid blood sprayed over his face, as if he’s encountered an Islamist in deep space.

So much for diversity and inclusion.

As for the much-talked-about twist ending … well, it’s so lame only Ridley Scott won’t see it coming. The android Walter masquerades as the android David. Too spooky for film school. Oooh, the shiver that didn’t run down my spine. What I want to know is where did Fassbender find a barber and hair dye on that Vidal Sassoon forsaken planet?

I forgot to mention that I laughed aloud when a hooded figure appears out of nowhere to rescue the stranded journeymen. It was as if Alien had suddenly glommed onto Lard of the Rings and Legolas had come to save the film from itself.

You can tell I hated this, can’t you? The first Alien works because of the simplicity of the idea and the purity of execution. Covenant is so busy it forgets it’s a shriek-fest. Scott occasionally remembers and goes, ‘Oh, fuck, we better show the creature before the audience falls asleep.’ Too late!

An early teaser poster showed the alien with the word RUN under it. YAWN would have been more appropriate.

Anyway, I wrote to Ridley Scott and offered some suggestions for improvement.

Dear Ridley,

Alien Covenant would be a better film if you consulted me.

My version is called Alien Convent. Instead of being about planetary settlers fighting hostile aliens (as if we haven’t seen that before), it’s about nuns versus aliens.

You heard right. The reboot needs naked nuns with guns.

Picture it: Ripley is Mother Superior in a convent for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. She’s trying to put the past behind her by settling down with Sister Bertrille from the The Flying Nun TV series. Things are going well until a new devotee arrives. But she is not what she appears. Turns out she’s Sister Ruth, the hot-pants nun from Black Narcissus (look it up) and she carries inside her a xenomorph bambino from a close encounter of the fourth kind in the Himalayan jungle. All hell breaks loose when the alien bursts out of Sister Ruth’s nether lips during a Sadean flagellation session in the basement and it’s on for young and old.

Tarantino could make a good fist of it, in more ways than one.

Love,

Dmetri xx

alien-convent


dmetri-kakmi

Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespearean Film #56: The Merry Wives of Windsor (1982)

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56. David Jones’s The Merry Wives of Windsor (1982)

My sweet readers, I broken a promise in watching a BBC Complete Shakespeare film. I well know that fine actors were unable to rescue such productions, but I was tempted by my desire to see more Falstaff, and in particular my desire to see the great Richard Griffiths play him in this Merry Wives. This made-for-TV version from 1982 is much, much better than the other Complete BBC versions I have seen. Unfortunately, that does not make it even good.

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The usual problems with these productions abound. First, the haste of the productions and the closeness of the sets made two-shot scenes difficult. I suppose seeing people’s faces in Shakespeare could be construed as overrated. Second, these Renaissance sets of Merry Wives look fake, like those of the second season of Black Adder if someone forgot to make it funny. Oh, yes, Merry Wives is supposed to be a comedy. And third, something about the pacing of the production seems like maple syrup in zero gravity.

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Let us talk of Master Ford, as portrayed by Ben Kingsley in the same year as Gandhi and one year before playing a steel-nerved cuckold in a film adaptation of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal. Kingsley has interpreted his part as melodrama—a man, like Othello, who did not know jealousy until it completely overwhelmed his character. His soliloquies are delivered directly to the camera, and his performance is magnetic.

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Judy Davis plays Mistress Ford, and though she is not often on camera, she plays the part with an effervescence that somehow seems both Elizabethan and modern.

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Nigel Terry, who some may know as Arthur from Excalibur, makes the most out of hyperactive Pistol, making him seem intelligent and infinitely mischievous.

I suppose I owe you a summary of the plot. Two wives of Windsor are being wooed by the fat rascal, Sir John Falstaff, whose knighthood is of dubious origin. The wives decide to punish him for his impudence, for his assault on their marriages and honor, hence their merriment.

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Richard Griffiths apparently decided that the comedy of this comedy didn’t commence until halfway through the movie, when this illicit wooing begins. I suppose the idea was to establish Sir John’s nobility more than his charisma at the outset.

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The thing tends to drag. Time wears, as it were. The running time is just under three hours. On the whole, this Merry Wives does draw out the tensions of Shakespearean comedy, for the difference between comedy and tragedy is sometimes only how the story ends: marriage, or a pile of corpses?

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The legend is that Merry Wives was Shakespeare’s response to Queen Elizabeth’s demand that he write a play about Falstaff in love. There is a lot of love in this odd play, even if Falstaff isn’t one of the true lovers. I am not sure if someone not already familiar with the play could easily follow this version. It isn’t quite good, but overall it isn’t bad, either.

The tricky finale actually works.


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John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

Episode 265: Todd Boss!

Episode 265 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

On this week’s show, I talk to Todd Boss, whose new book, Tough Luck, includes a poem sequence inspired by the disaster of the I-35W Bridge’s collapse in Minneapolis,

Todd Boss

plus Malcolm Kelly reads his poem, “Visual Vignettes of Some Gay Shit.”

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TEXTS DISCUSSED

Tough Luck.jpg

NOTES

  • Check out The Drunken Odyssey’s classic Bloomsday show, episode 104.
  • Read Nicole Oquendo’s poem, “Binding We,” over at The Florida Review.
  • For anyone so compelled, you can find my essay on Mystery Science Theater 3000 here, though I am pretty sure it is there without permission.

Episode 265 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #184: Stunt Squad

The Curator of Schlock #184 by Jeff Shuster

Stunt Squad

And the crowd goes wild.

We’ve covered vigilante movies on this blog before. We know the basic premise. Crime is out control. The justice system is either anemic or is actually complicit in rising crime. An honest citizen stands up and takes the law into his own hands, usually after the death of a loved one at the hands scummy street punks or drug dealers.

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There’s no nuance here. The criminals deserve what they get, but nothing gets resolved because there are always more criminals out there.

But the movie we’re viewing today doesn’t involve vigilantes.  In fact, it shows us what happens when you don’t have a Charles Bronson taking care of business. It shows us what happens when you leave the scummy street punks and drug dealers to the police. 

Stunt Squad

1977’s Stunt Squad from director Domenico Paolella starts off with small business owners complaining about the harassment they’re getting from the local protection racket.

You know what a protection racket is, don’t you? That’s where I come to your store and ask you to pay or else bad things are going to happen. Maybe I’ll drink out of some milk cartons or crunch up every bag of Sun Chips you’ve got in the place. That’s just what I would do.

In Stunt Squad, Valli (Vittorio Mezzogiorno), the head of this protection racket, isn’t me. If you don’t pay, he sends out his goons dressed as telephone repairmen and they stick a plastic explosive in the business’s pay phone.  Then Valli calls the business.

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One of the victims is a little old lady trying to buy a loaf of bread! What has the world come to?

Enter Inspector Grifi (Marcel Bozzuffi). Grifi knows Valli is running the protection racket and killing too many civilians. The higher ups want Valli arrested. If people lose faith in the police, they’ll turn to vigilantism and that will be the end of democracy.

Grifi suggests the obvious solution: forming the Stunt Squad, an elite group of police officers trained in the art of motocross. Yeah, it’s bunch of cops on motorcycles all wearing yellow helmets in an effort to blend in. The only problem with the Stunt Squad is that they follow due process. This gets them killed one by one.

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There’s this one scene where Valli sets a trap for the Stunt Squad. He sticks a plastic explosive inside a cage in an abandoned building. He knocks the light inside the cage causing it to swing. When one of the cops investigates, he gets a face full of bomb. This Valli guy is really evil.

Stunt Squad

He disembowels this one pimp who was working for him because the pimp spilled the beans to the cops. Valli guns down detectives that’s tailing him right in front of a bus full of nervous passengers.

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Inspector Grifi finally gets a shot off, wounds Valli in the shoulder. Grifi is about to place him under arrest when the crowd of passengers turns nasty. They smack Grifi around a bit, but their main focus is on Valli. They begin punching and kicking him to death. Other citizens join in. Heck, I think I saw some people leaving a church and joining in on the beat down. Grifi inspects their grisly handiwork, leaving the scene in disgust. So in the absence of a lone vigilante, you get mob rule. The times we have to live in.  Where’s my motorcycle?


Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Episode 264: A Craft Discussion of Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words with Vanessa Blakeslee!

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Episode 264 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk with Vanessa Blakeslee about Jhumpa Lahiri’s experiment in becoming an Italian writer, In Other Words.

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TEXTS DISCUSSED

In Other Words LahiriLahiri The NamesakeUnaccustomed Earth LahiriLahiri Interpreter of Maladiesthe lowland Lahiri