Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Wrongfully Accused: The Worst Kind of Bad

What an odd title 

 Rewatching "Wrongfully Accused," a Leslie Nielsen vehicle from 1998 that I (sadly) saw in the theater when it was released. 

Some background on Leslie Nielsen 

In case some of you don't know, Leslie Nielsen was an accomplished leading man for awhile in Hollywood before being forced into some rather obscure dramatic roles. He had quite the comeback: There was a time when Mr. Nielsen was a hot comedic property for his work on "Airplane!" and the "Police Squad" series. This worked because he was a completely serious and accomplished deadpan actor, and because Jim Abrams and the Zucker brothers knew how to write a gag and pace a scene.

Unfortunately, this led to Nielsen being typecast in almost exclusively comedic roles for the last half of his career, and they all get gradually worse.

What is this movie, exactly?

While this movie is meant to be a satirical take on the Harrison Ford film "The Fugitive," it heavily references other movies and commercials of the time for ALL of its jokes. This makes the whole affair less of a classic like "Airplane!" and more of a comedic misfire like "Scary Movie" (or more accurately, Scary Movie's even worse sequels).

My thoughts 

How funny is it? I laughed more watching the Leonardo DiCaprio film "The Revenant." It's less fresh than my retired incontinent dad's briefs on laundry day. I honestly sort of wished that it was more boring just so it could stop completely sucking for a few minutes.

Where can I watch it?

It's bad, so please: Only watch it if you hate yourself. It is a crime against comedy.

"Wrongfully Accused" is currently included with Amazon Prime video streaming service.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again: Exactly What You Expect

The Apple Dumpling Gang returns, sort of

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again" (Disney, 1979). Theodore Ogelvie (Don Knotts) and Amos Tucker (Tim Conway) are back in the wild west, growing restless since retiring from crime in the original "Apple Dumpling Gang" movie (see my previous review). 

The comedic duo returns!

First, we are given a brief courtesy mention of the characters from the previous film before they are never referred to again. The trio, Amos, Theodore, and their mule Clarice (uncredited) ride into the bustling western town of Junction City (not "Quake City" from the original movie) looking to make their fortune on the straight and narrow, their absolutely uncanny incompetence immediately gets them in trouble with local businesses, then gets them blamed for a bank robbery in which they are unwitting victims. Now identified as "The Apple Dumpling Gang," Amos and Theodore are pursued by eccentric lawman Marshal "Woolly" Bill Hitchcock (played by the towering comedic actor Kenneth Mars) while they make their escape, soon shanghaied into the service of the U.S. Military at the besieged Fort Concho. 

You've almost definitely seen a movie with this guy in it.

The commanding officer of the fort, Major Gaskill (played by Harry Morgan, who viewers may recall played mayor Homer McCoy in the first film) and his right hand man, Lt. Jim Ravencroft (Robert Pine) have been hit by a number of murders and robberies that have disrupted the fort's supply line for months. 

Pictured: Not the mayor.

Little do they realize that their problems are about to get worse, as Amos and Theodore try their best to be good soldiers. Can Theodore, Amos, and Clarice clear their names and escape? Will the soldiers uncover the sinister inside plot to steal their payroll? Or will "Woolly" Bill get his men?

Nope. Nothing at all suspicious about Robert Pine playing a "good guy."

Much more character, yet somehow less character development

So this is the second (and final) Apple Dumpling Gang film, and while it's somewhat heavier on plot than the first film (which it shares almost no throughline with), it continues the comedic tradition.

"The Wire" prequel you never heard about.

Whereas the first movie's central focus was on a bank robbery, the stakes here are raised with a bank robbery, a jailbreak, and a train robbery! 

Also, so many explosions.

We have a young Tim Matheson playing Private Jeff Reed (or is he..?), who is the most complex character in the film, first as a red herring villain before becoming the hero character and love interest of Major Gaskill's daughter, Millie (played by Elyssa Davalos). 

Hired for smarminess.

Pictured: Southern belle.

A very strong supporting cast including former silver screen vixen Audrey Totter as Martha Osten, Richard X. Slattery as the tough-as-nails Sgt. Slaughter, and the always funny Ruth Buzzi as "Tough Kate" thankfully deprive the film of the sin of being boring. 

No. Not the wrestler. No.

Veteran character actor Jack Elam plays the film's ultimate villain, "Big Mac," continuing the series' odd tradition of casting grandfatherly goofballs as the humorless baddies.
Okay, maybe a scary grandpa.

My thoughts

Is this better than the first film? Well, that's debatable; while it certainly has more comedic chops, lots of welcome changes of scenery, and a more intriguing spy movie plot, it does lack the heart and familial tone of the first film. For some this might be a detriment, but for others the more prominent roles of Knotts and Conway make this a more desirable film. 

Pictured: Desire. *hrrk*

There was clearly more effort put into making this film seem like a western than the first one, having been filmed in mostly desert locations rather than just a forest in California, and that greatly helps the pacing. I'm actually pretty sure that when people think of "The Apple Dumpling Gang," this is probably the movie that they remember. If you like slapstick family-friendly comedy, you really can't go wrong with this film.

For every positive, there must be negatives

Negatives: There are only two (extremely minor) roles featuring POC, but that's still a step up from other Disney movies at the time. 

Clarice the mule has more spoken lines than the entire non-white cast. *sigh*

We still have indigenous people depicted as offensive stereotypes played by white men in "redface," but it's only for a brief scene which serves to bring the real criminals to justice (still quite offensive). The romantic arc between Tim Matheson's character and Elyssa Davalos's Millie is best not to think about too much: They only know each other a short time and Matheson's character is VERY forward… it's kind of creepy, in a "James Bond" sort of sexual harassment way. These are only small gripes, though, and don't necessarily hurt the film as a whole; most viewers probably won't even notice… Which is sad in itself.

Where can you watch it?

"The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again" is currently streaming on Disney+.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Apple Dumpling Gang -- Not what you expect

That fondly remembered comedic duo: Bixby and Clark

Cute font, though.

The basics:

Tonight's Nostalgia pic is "The Apple Dumpling Gang" (Disney, 1975). When professional gambler Russel Donavan (Bill Bixby, who old-timers will know from his television show "The Magician," AND NOTHING ELSE, EVER) comes to the waning western boomtown Quake City (named for the earthquakes that trouble the small fault line straddling town), he is almost waylaid by the "Hashknife Outfit," consisting of Theodore Ogelvie (Don Knotts) and Amos Tucker (Tim Conway), who almost hold him up and almost rob him… Only to be beaten by their own incompetence. 

Pictured: Magical magician man.

While playing and not doing particularly well in the local poker game, Donavan is approached by local ne'er do-well John Wintle (Don Knight), who convinces the naïve Donavan to pick up some goods for him while he takes a trip to San Francisco. 

Poker faces.

When Donavan shows up the next day, he discovers that the "items" are three children: Bobby Bradley (Clay O'Brien), Clovis Bradley (Brad Savage), and their sister Celia (Stacy Manning), whose parents have passed away and were being sent to Wintle who is their legal guardian by blood. 

Burdensome? Some burdens.

Now stuck with guardianship of the children by the local sheriff, judge, justice of the peace, and barber (all the same person), Homer McCoy (played by the always delightful Harry Morgan), Donavan must stop his plans to start a casino in the city to take care of the orphans. When the plucky kids find a giant gold and jewel-encrusted nugget after nearly dying in a cave-in at their inherited mine, they become the target of shady opportunistic townspeople, their recently returned uncle John, the Hashknife Outfit, and the much more competent criminal Frank Stillwell (Slim Pickens, professional cowpoke) and his gang.
At least showing the kids almost dying MIGHT prevent actual kids from playing in old mines.

Will Donavan do right by the children, or will he flee from his obligation?

And this giant gold nugget?

Expectation versus reality:

The first thing that most people remember about this film is that it's the first collaboration between Don Knotts and Tim Conway, and while their antics do take up a considerable amount of the movie's runtime it is important to note that they are not the focus of the film. 

Even the bloody shootout scene is funny!

When they team up with the kids near the end of the film, the five collaborators are collectively known as "The Apple Dumpling Gang," a moniker the kids choose because of their love of apple dumplings. The main focus of the film is on Bill Bixby's Donavan, his love interest Magnolia "Dusty" Clydesdale (played by the tomboyishly stunning Susan Clark), and their interaction with the children. 

Pictured: The most masculine character in the film, played by Susan Clark.

But you know what? It works, and it works well. This film is extremely comedic with some action elements thrown in, such as a burning stagecoach chase by a fire department wagon, a fistfight on a moving wagon later in the film which continues even after said wagon goes into the whitewater rapids of a conjoining river. 

It's weird seeing the lovable Slim Pickens playing a conniving villain, but he does a great job.
Bad grampa.

My thoughts:

This film is a great embodiment of what made Walt Disney Studio's 70s movies so interesting: It's certainly cheesy, but it's also family-friendly fun, with interesting characters, somewhat goofy special effects, and a comedic take on the western genre (which they pioneered with "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates," expanded with "The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin" and would revisit later with "The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again"). I enjoyed it, and it's absolutely kid-friendly, but would kids today like it? I'm going to say… probably not.

"You darned kids and your CGI!"

Look, I know some modern kids, and I'm just not sure that they'd be that invested in a film that puts story and slapstick comedy over something with loud noises, computer graphics, and modern celebrities… but you never know. Give it a shot if you're feeling nostalgic, and maybe the kids will have a good time too!

Dodo birds on a wire.

Where can I find it?

"The Apple Dumpling Gang" is currently streaming on Disney+.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The Last Dragon, at Last!

I loved this film as a child.

Can you taste the 80s? CAN YOU?!

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgia pic is "The Last Dragon" (Sony/Tristar, 1985). Leroy Green (Taimak) is your typical Harlem youth… Who has spent his life training with a martial arts master (Thomas Ikeda) to learn inner peace -- and butt-kicking. 

Pure of heart, bereft of style.

When his master informs him that he has nothing left to teach, Leroy begins his journey to locate the next master in his training so that he can unlock the "glow" (a superhuman mystical power). Returning to the neighborhood dressed in Chinese garb from the 1800s for some reason, he is immediately dubbed "Bruce Leroy" by the locals which catches the ire of local ganglord Sho'nuff, the self-proclaimed "Shogun of Harlem" (played by Julius Carry III). 

Pictured: Memorable villain.

Meanwhile, video arcade owner and entrepreneur Eddie Arkadian (Christoper Murney) is seeking to get his girlfriend Angela (Faith Prince) onto the hottest television dance program in New York, "7th Heaven," which is hosted by the beautiful Laura Charles (former Prince protégé Vanity). 

I bet you can't tell what decade this is just by this picture.

Eddie's heavy tactics and the goofy nature of Angela's music videos causes Laura to outright reject his business proposition, which leads to Eddie becoming increasingly antagonistic, culminating in him sending goons to assault Laura. 

The real villain is always a rich white man. That's not me being sarcastic: THE REAL VILLAINS ARE RICH WHITE MEN.

I honestly don't know what Laura's problem is: THESE ARE GREAT.

Leroy happens upon this confrontation and saves her, resulting in a romantic bond between the two. As Eddie becomes more unhinged, his thirst for vengeance against Leroy leads to a team up with Sho'nuff to take down the emerging hero. Can Leroy save the people he loves and put an end to the villains' reign of terror?

Definitely maybe.


I know that description is a little wordy, but there's a lot (and somehow not much) to unpack with this film. This is an oddly out of time mash-up of 70s "blacksploitation" films and kung-fu movies, with very little detail played to either. You'll notice in the introduction that I mentioned that Leroy studies the "martial arts" and not a specific martial art, because the movie makes absolutely no distinction between them; Leroy is trained by a clearly Japanese man but dresses like a stereotypical Chinese railroad worker (unless he's dressed as a ninja and using Japanese weapons). 

Pictured: Ikeda, an American man of Japanese descent playing a Japanese man training an American man who thinks he is a Chinese man in Chinese Kung-Fu. Got it? Right.

Sho'nuff borrows his aesthetic heavily from Japanese samurai culture, but his moves are mostly kung-fu inspired. It's almost like the American producers loved watching kung-fu movies but couldn't bother doing the minimum of research on the cultures that inspired them.

Still, he is committed.

Cross-platform integration -- now with more synergy!

This is a Motown Productions picture, so there are a lot (and I mean, A LOT) of music videos and music awkwardly shoehorned into the runtime. Most memorable is El DeBarge's "Rhythm of the Night," where DeBarge is totally there… in his video… being played in the background… not interacting with the rest of the cast… 

LIVE! (in video form)

"The Last Dragon" has its own 80s rock theme song, which honestly makes the climax of the film even better. There are also multiple clips of various Bruce Lee movies shamelessly placed throughout the film during the downtime, possibly to distract from the fact that the body of the film doesn't really have much in the way of martial arts action.

DEAD! (but live... in video form)

My opinion: Recommended.

Having said that, let me just say in no uncertain terms that I LOVE THIS MOVIE. Is it a great film? No, but it is the BEST kind of bad movie: It's campy, extremely well-acted (outside of its two romantic leads), and best of all, it's NOT BORING. It's one of the rare instances where I loved the film as a kid and can love it now for completely different reasons. Everyone who saw this as a child (me included) was utterly terrified of Sho'nuff, but as an adult I can appreciate the way Julius Carry absolutely devours the scenery; every single time Sho'nuff and his gang of unrepentant weirdos are onscreen is a delight, a gift from the gods of cheesy goodness. 

Pictured: Entertainment in its purest form.

While most of the film lacks action, and Taimak and Vanity for all their beauty can only give passable performances, the supporting cast is so great (Leroy's family is fantastic, especially Leo O'Brien as his brother, Richie -- the kid gives a fantastic performance, easily one of the best in the film) that it more than evens out. 

Love interest, but not that interesting.

Oddly enough, Vanity's hotness is inversely affected by the size of her hair.

I'm serious: This kid is fantastic and should have had a long career.

There are even a few blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameos by a few familiar faces (Keshia Knight Pulliam from "The Cosby Show" and Chazz Palminteri to name a couple). 

Hm... Can't seem to place him... William H. who?

His character was later murdered by Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Seriously.

The final fight of the film pits Leroy against various street fighters in a samurai showdown to find out who is the true king of the fighters. Even the animated special effects at the end are a delight, even if they don't really hold up to today's standards.

Insert coins to continue.

Final boss.

Rating and concerns.

While there is no real body count or swearing in this film, it is rated PG-13 for lots of extreme fighting, implied violence, and the occasional use of the "N" word, so just be aware of this if you're watching with young children or just adult idiots who think that it's okay to use.

I know that cultural appropriation is a more sensitive topic nowadays, but these guys were always a little bit offensive.

Where can you find it?

I watched it on DVD, but "The Last Dragon" is currently streaming on HBO Max, and is available for rent or purchase on Amazon Prime Video and VUDU.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Mars and Beyond... Maybe.

Beyond space and time, there is... Mars and Beyond!

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "Mars and Beyond" (Disney, 1957). Similarly themed to 1955's "Man in Space," this is another episode of "Disneyland" (AKA "The Magical World of Disney" from when it was originally being broadcast on the ABC network) that deals with space travel.

"Hello Mr. Disney, my name is GARKO, AKA TERROR!"

It starts weird, and stays weird.

It starts with an awkward introduction with Walt Disney (and a rather disturbingly lame robot) before we get to the first animated segment, narrated by the immortal Paul Frees, which deals with man's conception of the Earth's place in the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe. 

You know: This kind of stuff.

This is followed by a fairly detailed look at the evolution of life on planet Earth (which I'm sure caused quite a stir with religious ignorance in 1957… and sadly probably now, 65 years later). 

Carbon bonding to form the proteins that would form life, circa 1957.

"If exposed to even a few degrees beyond these limits, man would expire." But you know: Climate change is no big deal. *sigh*

From here we transition to a historical (and quite comedic) overview of mankind's infatuation with the idea of life on other planets within the solar system. 

This segment isn't even pretending to be scientifically accurate.

Dig those crazy cartoons.

Pictured: Tripod-like war machines from "The War of the Worlds."

Martian and Martian horse. What where they smoking?

This leads into a very 1950s overview of what the surface and life on Mars might be like, hosted by E.C. Slipher, one of the premiere Mars astronomers of his day. 

Slipher, no sliphing!

I'm still curious as to what this "cloud" formation was. Maybe a warning about the election in 2000?

Ah, the "canals" of mars in all their glory.

If you're offended by me calling a Nazi a Nazi, you might actually be a Nazi.

The final segment is an imagination of the first mission to Mars through the (incredibly optimistic) lens of 1950s space technology. This segment relies on designs proposed by World War II veteran (guess which side) Ernst Stuhlinger and fellow "Operation Paper Clip" beneficiary (and bonus Nazi) Wernher von Braun.

Pictured on the left: Regular German. Pictured on the right: Actual Nazi.

Side note: Operation Paper Clip was a U.S. program that allowed German scientists (even Nazis, SS officers, and other actual war criminals) to come to the States to continue their work on rocket propulsion, basically without any acknowledgement or punishment for their crimes against humanity. Your tax dollars at work.

Nazi scum aside, I really did enjoy this episode. I love these 1950s style cartoons with their bold cubism-inspired designs and simple animation, but you'd be forgiven for not knowing that this was a Disney animated production because of that (other than one absolutely hilarious and brief cameo by Donald Duck). Most of the episode deals more with mythology, science fiction, and outright fantasy than science fact, which does somewhat unfavorably shade the historicity of the program, but I do have to say that the scientific speculation parts are a fascinating time capsule of what the public at large thought the surface of other planets were like before unmanned space probes and extra-atmospheric telescopes existed. 

1957 artist's concept of the surface of Pluto.

1957 artists concept of Mars.

The speculation is funny to witness now, and I think that Disney's "Imagineering" department took a lot of liberties with exobiology, but it is entertaining to watch even if the actual educational value is compromised. 

Let's just say that hope for life on Mars was very "optimistic."

Pictured: Martian Black Mage.

"Okay everyone, just hold your breath for 18 months."

The Mars mission segment is delightfully misleading, not even addressing small things like how 20 men would be able to eat and breathe on a small spaceship for an over three-year mission to Mars and back, and making the hilarious assumption that we would send men to the surface of Mars before ever materially touching the red planet with satellites or unmanned probes.

Ah, yes: America's famous 1950s space station.

You know why I never became an astronaut? NO LABELS ON THE BUTTONS.

The fleet departing for the first mission to Mars. Ever.

Preparing the Mars landing module.


I loved it, and recommend it for entertainment purposes. "Mars and Beyond" is currently streaming on Disney+.