Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Sammy, the Way-Out Seal

Sammy: A Tale of Terror and Dog Riots

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "Sammy, the Way-Out Seal" (Disney, 1962). While on vacation on the beach, preteen Arthur Loomis (Michael McGreevey) and his little brother Petey (Bill Mumy, before his famous role as "Will Robinson" on "Lost in Space" but long after his first appearance in TV and film), happen upon a seal with a pretty nasty wound.

This guy was a Disney regular for decades after this.

Bill Mumy at his absolute Mumiest.

Concerned for the creature, the boys get their dad's first aid kit and nurse the seal back to health. Afterwards, they spend the rest of their vacation playing with the seal that they affectionately named "Sammy."
See dumb animals perform tricks -- also: A seal!

When they are ready to go home, the boys decide that they want Sammy to join them, and hide him in the family's utility trailer to sneak him back to their home in the landlocked town of Gatesville. Once back, the two kids rope their friend Porsche "Rocky" Sylvester (Ann Jillian) into helping them (because her family has a swimming pool) while they work up the courage to tell their father Chester (Robert Culp) and mother Helen (Patricia Barry) what they have done.
This traumatized Robert Culp so much, he decided to be a murderer on "Columbo" several times afterwards.

Pictured: House mom.

A young Ann Jillian helps out.

The pool gets a SEAL of approval! Get it?

Soon the precocious Sammy is invading Rocky's father Harold's (Jack Carson) garden party, stealing food, and generally causing mayhem for the small town!
And the man in the back said "everyone attack," and it turned into a poolside blitz!

Some background

This production was (probably) originally produced as a low budget film, but was broken up into two hour-long episodes of "The Wonderful World of Disney" back when it was known as "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" (even though most people didn't have color television sets until the early 1970s). Director Norman Tokar seemed to be an experienced sitcom director ("Leave It to Beaver"), but eventually did a lot of animal-based comedies after this. It is notable that this is sadly the last appearance of comedic actor Jack Carson, who passed away from terminal cancer a few short months after its airing.

I immediately recognized him from the 1944 production of "Arsenic and Old Lace."

The bad

Modern audiences will notice that this streaming version on Disney+ is only 44 minutes long; this seems to be a heavily edited version of the original film, and some scenes are truncated to the point where they don't seem to go anywhere or jump to another sequence entirely. I remember it being longer when our elementary school used it for "movie day" when I was a kid in the 80s, so there's definitely some content that was left on the cutting room floor here. The story is still coherent enough, so it definitely doesn't overstay its welcome in its current form.

They did leave in the entire dog riot, though.

Dog riot: The cutest kind of riot!

Dog riot!


Observant viewers will also notice that the seal they use in some scenes seems to have additional injuries that are not addressed in the film, which may mean that there is some evidence of abuse or neglect of the animal performers, which sadly wasn't unheard of at the time, and which Walt Disney Productions was a notable grievous offender.

The good

On its own, it's a cute little movie. The kids are inventive, and Sammy is adorable, with none of the biting savagery of an actual seal (they are predatory wild animals, after all).

Proof of a seal's savagery? This one is played by Forest Whitaker.

Just make sure that your kids know that it's NOT OKAY to try to bet a seal without professional supervision. There is one scene that is a little graphic as the kids try to heal Sammy's wound, but otherwise it seems like lighthearted animal fun, especially when Sammy causes a pack of dogs to basically riot through a grocery store, which is adorable and funny. On a personal note, it was nice to see an old grocery store like from my childhood, with uniformed employees, wood paneled walls, and plenty of chrome cigarette vending machines, just waiting for young children to put their money in and pull that satisfying lever.

Where can you watch it?

"Sammy, the Way-Out Seal" is rated TV-G for all audiences in the USA and is currently streaming on Disney+.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

1990: The Bronx Warriors

Escape from the New York Road Warriors

Post-apocalyptic gang warfare in the future!

1990. The Bronx is officially declared "no man's land." The authorities give up all attempts to restore law and order. From then on, the area is ruled by the riders.

And with that introduction we are whisked away to the futuristic year of 1990 by way of the year 1982, and to the exotic world of New York City by way of (and I am not making this up) Italy! Tonight we're taking a look at "1990: The Bronx Warriors" (Deaf International Film s.r.l., 1982).

What's it about?

17 year old Ann (Stefania Girolami Goodwin) is on the run.

Just to be clear: She's a lead, and she has like six lines of dialogue in the entire film.

As her 18th birthday approaches, she's set to inherit The Manhattan Corporation, a cabal of powerful international arms suppliers. Not wanting any part of it, she runs away to the only place in New York where the police have given up authority, the Bronx. Immediately assaulted by a gang of roller-skating kickboxing street hockey players (again, not making this up) called "The Zombies," she is rescued by "The Riders" and their leader, Trash (Mark Gregory), who takes her in.
I swear every one of his (badly) dubbed lines had me in tears.

This causes friction between Trash and his general, Ice (Joshua Sinclair) as they find one of their members impaled by a rival gang, "The Tigers" led by the crime lord The Ogre (Fred Williamson).
"SOMEONE had to class this film up!"

The Ogre informs Trash that their guy was wearing "a gizmo" (AKA a tracking device for the police). Ann pieces together that the recent influx of spies and police into the Bronx is caused by the Manhattan Corporation trying to reacquire her for their nefarious purposes. A mailman suddenly turns up in The Riders' headquarters, where he kills several gang members, leaving behind a ring belonging to The Tigers, trying to pit both gangs against each other. This evil mailman turns out to be Hammer (Vic Morrow), a cop in the employ of the Manhattan Corporation who grew up in the Bronx and who is now obsessed with destroying it.
A waste of talent for some, a paycheck for others.

In this pursuit, he employs Hot Dog (Christopher Connelly), a truck driver who lives outside of the gangs, and entices Ice to betray Trash.
I'm not entirely sure what this character was for, other than CB radio awareness.

As Ann is kidnapped by The Zombies, Trash must cross the Bronx, seeking safe travel and aid from the rival gangs in an effort to rescue her and to save the city from the nefarious Manhattan Corporation!
"Don't worry, we'll stop Trash with the power of roller skates!"


If you’ve ever seen the groundbreaking 1979 action film, "The Warriors," congratulations: You are just as qualified to write a movie as this production team. If you haven't, that film was about a street gang accused of a crime they didn't commit trying to make their way back to their home turf, while evading and fighting rival gangs along the way. It's exciting, it's brutal, and it's actually a pretty great film. This movie is like a pale imitation of that one, made by people who didn't understand what made that film so great.

I wonder why they parked in a big "W" for the trailer...

Every good a bad, but every bad a good!

Now, you might be thinking that the entertainment value suffers as a result, but you would be wrong, my friend! This movie was a fantastic watch, mainly because it fails in almost every single thing that it attempts: Remember "The Baseball Furies" gang from "The Warriors?" Well now every gang is "The Baseball Furies," with weird makeup and costumes!

"We are the TAP DANCE FURIES!"

Like fast-paced action scenes? This film delivers, but also some scenes are in slow motion where you can clearly see that the punches aren't connecting.
"Careful, Luigi! You-a almost-a hit-a me!"

Like big rigs and CB radios like everyone else in 1982? Well this movie has an entirely superfluous character who does exactly that!
If you're expecting a high speed motorcycle truck chase, don't.

Don't know how corporations work? Well neither did the filmmakers, so don't even think about it! Like heartfelt scenes where the main hero mourns the loss of a best friend? There's several here -- so much you'll wish that any of the characters had development! Want representation? The Riders motorcycle gang in this film has Italians pretending to be Americans, Italians pretending to be Latino, Italians pretending to be black, and Italians pretending to be Nazis (complete with swastikas and confederate flags) -- truly something for everyone!
"You don't get to be leader of a gang without seven years of dance and two years of tap!"

Looks great! Sounds... Well... There are sounds

The film actually looks pretty good, with great use of lighting and perspective. The sound quality though… This is one of those films where because most of the cast is Italian actors the entire film is dubbed with ADR, meaning NONE of the dialog syncs with the mouths of the actors. All of the sound effects seem to be stock from the time, so there's no real impact to any fight. It lacks any sort of memorable soundtrack opting instead for forgettable synth jazz, which is a shame because it really could have benefitted from some cheesy 80s lyrical music tracks.

Star Power

Fred Williamson (as usual) kicks all kinds of butt in this film, and is probably going to be one of the few actors most people will remember from other things.

He does his own stunts. Well.

The film's other big name is veteran actor Vic Morrow, who seems to be having a great time as "Hammer," chewing the scenery every chance he gets, which is a shame in a way: This is one of his last films before his tragic on-set death during the filming of "Twilight Zone: The Movie" in 1982.

My thoughts

I cannot recommend this movie enough. It's a great time: Action-packed in spots, incredibly bad dialogue and line delivery when it's slow, and absolutely hilarious when it tries to be dramatic.

How many films can brag about horse-mounted flame thrower troops?

Not for kids

This is a strictly rated R film, though, with lots of strong language, some (terribly executed) graphic violence, and white supremacist imagery… Sometimes worn by minority characters. Don't watch it with the kids.

The most disturbing image in the film: This unbelievably unappetizing looking cake.

So violent, this guy gets flame-throwered like, three times!

Where can you see it?

"1990: The Bronx Warriors" is currently streaming on Amazon and is included for free with Amazon Prime.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Herbie Fully Loaded

Lindsay Lohan Not Fully Loaded

Herbie's last stand?

Tonight's nostalgia pic is "Herbie Fully Loaded" (Disney, 2005). Through a series of brief flashbacks, we are (re)introduced to Herbie, a VW Beetle who made headlines decades ago by becoming a car racing champion.

They are actually quite tastefully edited, though.

Now a dirty and rusty Herbie is being hauled to "Crazy Dave's" scrapyard for recycling.
I feel for this little car.

He quickly makes an enemy of the mean-spirited Dave (Jeremy Roberts) and is marked for crushing.
Pictured: Another minor villain.

Meanwhile, Maggie Peyton (Lindsay Lohan) is graduating from college and getting ready to move from California to New York, under the watchful eye of her father, struggling race team owner Ray Peyton (Michael Keaton).
I think that his may actually be the first Lindsay Lohan movie that I have ever watched. Too bad it was her last successful one.

Post-Beetlejuice and Post-Batman Michael Keaton. How many years did we waste?

While Maggie gets ready for her new life, Ray's manager Sally (Cheryl Hines) brings bad news as their racing team sponsors are dropping out due to his race car driving son, Ray Peyton Jr. (Breckin Meyer), not being able to reliably qualify for races let alone win.
She's clearly meant to be Ray Peyton's love interest, but it's never explicit.

Actual brother of "Late Night" host Seth Meyers. 

When Maggie's best friend, rich debutante and airhead Charisma (Jill Ritchie) shows up with a brand new car, the struggling Ray Sr. takes Maggie to Crazy Dave's scrapyard to look for a car of her own.
Her character might be dumb, but she is well-meaning at least.

Maggie immediately catches the eye (okay, headlight) of Herbie, who manages to schmooze himself into her ownership (mostly by destroying her other choice). Quickly proving to be independent, Herbie drives Maggie to a rundown auto repair shop, owned by Maggie's one-time friend, Kevin (Justin Long).
We hadn't quite reached peak Long, yet.

While trying to give Herbie a maintenance shakedown, the little car drives Maggie and Kevin to an enthusiast auto-racing event, where the trio quickly make an enemy of NASCAR champion Trip Murphy (played by Matt Dillon, the poor man's Bruce Campbell).
Yet another in a long line of "Love Bug" rich antagonist racing jerks.

Goaded by Herbie into racing Trip, Maggie uses a found racing suit in Herbie's boot to masquerade as "Maxx," beating Trip in a street race, where Herbie channels Maggie's skateboarding abilities, grinding a rail to victory.
Do kids still skateboard? Seriously, I'm asking.

This slight causes Trip to become obsessed with the little bug, vowing its destruction. Maggie and Kevin give Herbie a makeover, and he quickly becomes an underground racing sensation.
The little guy really looks good here.

Can Maggie keep her racing identity a secret from her protective father while avoiding the machinations of Trip and his crony Crash (Jimmi Simpson)?
See, you can tell that Crash is a villain because he's just Jimmi Simpson.

Confessions of a nostalgia-phile

Before we get started, I have a confession to make: This was the first time I have ever watched this movie. While it may seem like nostalgia to some, by the time it came out I was hitting 30 (seems like yesterday), and I didn't think that a critically panned "Love Bug" reboot was something that I needed to see. Boy, was I wrong, on multiple levels!

The good

Much to my surprise, this wasn't a reboot so much as a refresh. The film acknowledges all of the previous cinematic Herbie films in the opening credits, and even makes the odd meta reference to the 1997 Bruce Campbell TV film (the name "Peyton" by some accounts is a reference to 1997's director Peyton Reed). While minimizing the references during the film (no character in this movie appears to have any connection to previous Herbie characters), it nonetheless genuinely feels like a love letter to those films, with a note found in Herbie's glove compartment feeling like it was left by Jim Douglas.

A throwaway to some, but tear-jerking for me.

Herbie is now animated by a mix of puppetry and CG in a way that gives the little car more expression than in previous iterations, and while he remains a cartoonish character, his journey still has emotional impact, enhanced exponentially if you've seen the previous films.
This scene is this film's version of the original's "bridge scene," and was pretty tense overall.

Incidentally, the film was written by Thomas Lennon, who most audiences will remember as Lieutenant Dangle from the series "Reno 911!" and who appears in the film as Trip's slimy brother, Larry.
This man is seriously underrated.

The bad

Of course, being a mid-budget Disney movie at the very end of the Eisner era it's not perfect, but what is perfection? There is an irritating amount of licensed music crammed into almost every scene in lieu of an actual score (although a remix of the original "Love Bug" theme does make a few audible appearances), which is a real shame because what score is here was created by "Devo" alum and film score veteran Mark Mothersbaugh. My biggest gripe is that there is an irritating amount of NASCAR in this film, but I can overlook it; Like it or not, NASCAR is now the face of American auto racing, and it was significantly more relevant in 2005, so it's understandable.

How is this car even allowed on the track? It violates all kinds of NASCAR rules, even at the time...

A lot of the CGI -- innovative at the time of filming -- hasn't aged particularly well, but (again, like it or not) this is now an "old" film so it has a certain amount of charm. Regardless, it still feels more realistic and grounded than "Herbie Rides Again," which to whit, is the only Herbie movie that I still don't care for.
Pictured: Still more realistic than practically anything in "Herbie Rides Again."

Oh, and critics HATED this movie, making it the second-lowest rated Herbie film, right above "Herbie Goes Bananas," so expectations were low.

My thoughts:

I loved this movie. It's not especially deep, and this isn't the best use of many of these actors, but because it's such a strong cast everyone does a great job for what this is (let's not forget that Herbie is the real star). It does make me wonder what happened to Jim Douglas and Hank Cooper. The thought of the little car outliving his original owner after their adventures is bittersweet, and actually gives the film some more emotional weight for "those who know." It really feels like it's of its time, but again that is its own style of nostalgia.

Funny for kids, fine for adults!

There's no foul language, no real violence (other than dangerous driving by the villains), and the only carnage on screen is when Herbie is nearly destroyed in a demolition derby.

"They did WHAT to my breasts?"

Disney even reportedly digitally reduced Lindsay Lohan's breast size, so there's no real sexuality in the film, other than Herbie's "bedroom eyes" at one of the more recent models of VW Beetle.
Herbie's paramour.

It's all perfectly appropriate for kids, and the story is cheesy but really isn't patronizing in the slightest so adults with even a passing interest in "The Love Bug" should have a pretty good time as well.

Where can you watch it?

"Herbie Fully Loaded" is currently streaming on Disney+, and is also available (used) on DVD and a limited Blu-ray release.