Grant (2020)

Executive produced by Academy Award winner Leonardo DiCaprio, this film went perfectly with the election process this year, as it taught me about the 18th President of the United States, a man who overcame a troubled past and alcoholism to save our nation.

I love how this blends a shot movie, commentary by several experts and real images of the past to form the full picture of someone who I had only glanced at during history class.

Justin Salinger plays Grant and it’s through him we see the human side of the historical icon. I’d often heard him painted as an alcoholic whose time as President was marred by corruption, which is only part of the real story, which this six-hour mini-series (originally airing on History) sets right.

Having this all on one DVD set is such a great addition to my library. History continually finds ways to make what was once dry into exciting shows that actually teach me new things. If you’d like to learn more about what true leaders were once like, I recommend you pick up this new release from Lionsgate.

Drive-In Friday: Phil Savath Night

From Terminal City Ricochet with Jello Biafra to Beverly Hills, 90210 with Luke Perry? From the science fiction/horror musical Big Meat Eater featuring the soft-shoe of “Baghdad Boogie” to the historical drama Samuel Lount? Drag racing through the eyes of David Cronenberg? Children’s programming?

Welcome to the eclectic career of Phil Savath.

Phil Savath, born December 28, 1946, was an American-born Canadian film and television writer and producer. He was most noted as a two-time Genie Award nominee for Best Screenplay, with nominations for Original Screenplay at the 4th Genie Awards in 1983 for Big Meat Eater and Adapted Screenplay at the 10th Genie Awards in 1989 for The Outside Chance of Maximilian Glick. (The Genies are the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television’s equivalent of the Oscars.)

Savath started his career in television in the late ‘70s as the co-creator and star of the CBC Television children’s comedy series Homemade TV and Range Ryder and the Calgary Kid, and then made his theatrical debut with David Cronenberg’s Fast Company.

Fans of FOX-TV’s Beverly Hills, 90210 know him for the dozen episodes he wrote for that post-Brat Back series, as well as the oft-aired HBO favorite, The Outside Chance of Maximilian Glick, which was turned into a short-lived TV series, Max Glick. He also wrote the Canadian hockey drama Net Worth (1995) and developed the Canadian TV series African Skies (1992) about a bi-racial teen friendship in post-Apartheid South Africa. As a producer, before his death in 2004, he produced the late ‘90s series These Arms of Mine, along with the TV Movies White Lies, Little Criminals, and Liar, Liar: Between Father and Daughter.

Movie 1: Fast Company (1979)

The influence of this Phil Savath-penned script on the career of David Cronenberg can’t be denied.

The first of Cronenberg’s feature films for which Cronenberg did not originate the screenplay, he was hired by the producers to direct. It was on Fast Company that Cronenberg developed long-time working relationships with cinematographer Mark Irwin, art director Carol Spier, sound editor Bryan Day, and film editor Ronald Sanders — each worked on Cronenberg’s later films. Actor Nicholas Campbell, who plays William Smith’s young protégé, also went on to appear in Cronenberg’s The Brood, The Dead Zone, and Naked Lunch. Sadly, Fast Company also serves as final release for Claudia Jennings (‘Gator Bait), who died in a car wreck several months after this drag racing drama’s release.

Movie 2: Big Meat Eater (1982)

Take one part Ed Wood’s Plan Nine from Outer Space, one part Paul Bartel’s Eating Raoul, and one part Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show and vigorously shake in your “intentionally bad cult films” tumbler, and serve: We’ve got a mad butcher, a murdered mayor, and aliens who reanimate the mayor to assist in the harvesting of a rare, radioactive fuel deposit beneath the butcher shop. Oh, and there’s song and dance numbers (which you can enjoy during our intermission).

And those Great White Northeners “got it,” since Phil Savath and his co-writers Laurence Keane and Chris Windsor received Canada’s Oscar equivalent — a Genie Awards’ nod — for Best Original Screenplay in 1983. While Windsor never made another film, Keane and Savath continued onward and upward . . . and what could Phil possibly write as a follow-up feature? It’s not what you’d think.

Intermission! Courtesy of the Phil Savath-penned “Baghdad Boogie.”

Back to the show!

Movie 3: Samuel Lount (1985)

The man who gave us Big Meat Eater . . . wrote this? He did.

A historical drama set during the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837, the film stars very familiar Canadian TV and film character actor R. H. Thomson (I remember him from the cable-played Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper and The Terry Fox Story, as well as lots of American TV series) as Samuel Lount, an organizer of the rebellion who was ultimately convicted of treason and executed in 1838.

Receiving a limited theatrical run before debuting on Canadian television, it made its U.S debut on HBO and Showtime. While not winning any awards, it received five 7th Genie Awards’ nods for Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Costuming, Best Editing, and Best Sound Editing.

Yes, this powerful, fact-based drama is — in fact — from the pen of the man who gave us a film backed by a soundtrack performed by Alternative Tentancles bands. Yes, that’s right. Phil Savath worked with Jello Biafra. But Phil wrote “Baghdad Boogie” and incorporated “Heat Seeking Missile,” a song that would give Spinal Tap pause, into a movie — so what’s really shocking you at this point?

Movie 4: Terminal City Ricochet (1990)

So, Phil did a pretty good job with the sci-fi horror parody Big Meat Eater, so he took a crack at parodying the post-apoc sci-fi craze of the ’80s with this dystopian-political intrique romp. It’s the story of a media entrepreneur who weasels his way into the mayorship of Terminal City and manipulates the populace through television, with their ensuing addictions to consumerism lining his pockets.

Oh, and the good mayor’s Chief Social Peace Enforcement Officer? Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys.

Yeah, it’s a must watch.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion: 984: Prisoner of the Future (1982)

Before his best known, first studio-backed film, The Gate, and its sequel, The Gate 2: The Trespassers . . . long before he passed up the chance to direct A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master . . . before I, Madman . . . long before he started churning out the mockbuster hoards of Ice Spiders, Mega Snake, and Destruction: Los Angeles for the SyFy Channel . . . before he got into the Hallmark Christmas movie business alongside our equally beloved Fred Ray Olen and David DeCoteau, Hungarian-born Tibor Takács shot this failed Canadian TV series pilot programmer in 1978. Courtesy of the Star Wars-infused sci-fi market, it was shook loose from the analog dustbins onto home video shelves in 1982. Criminally allowed to fall into the public domain, this well-written and produced production (on a budget, natch) turned up as a track selection (aka The Tomorrow Man) on numerous bargain-basement DVD compilations.

Primarily known as a talent manager, studio producer and engineer, this CBC telefilm-pilot was Takács’s first professional feature film project, after his self-produced feature film debut, Metal Messiah (1978), a long-form rock opera/video which starred two bands from his stable: Kickback and the Cardboard Brains. (We’ve wanted to review Metal Messiah since forever, but have been unable to locate a copy. And yes, we’ve had I, Madman (1989; with Jenny Wright!) on our shortlist of must-reviews since our 2017 review of The Gate. We’ll get to it, one day . . . what the hell . . . courtesy of our annual October 2020 “Slasher Month,” Sam reviewed it, finally!

As you read this review, please take into consideration my crazed fandom for Patrick McGoohan’s surreal psychological drama The Prisoner, concerned with the imprisonment of an intelligence agent, of which this Orwellian-influenced tale reminds — only with the resourceful, low-budget production designs of PBS-TV’s 1980 production of Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1971 novel A Lathe of Heaven. (Again, take into consideration of my fandom of that PBS adaptation igniting my sense of nostalgia for Takács’s dystopian tale.) And speaking of PBS-TV, one will also have a sense of Tom Baker-era Dr. Who déjà vu in the production designs (especially in the prison’s Cylon/Cybermen-styled sentries) and its cast of Shakespearian-skilled thespians.

Since Takács knows we are, at the very least, familiar with the dystopian tales of Aldous Huxley with Brave New World and more importantly, George Orwell’s 1984, 984: Prisoner of the Future dispenses with long-winded set ups in establishing how The Movement came into power and gets right into it: how affluent businessman Tom Weston became “984” by way of his entries in a ratty diary from the walls of his prison cell, which triggers a series of flashbacks to the mind games played by Warden Dr. Fontaine (the steely-excellent Don Francks (his work dates back to ’60s TV’s The Man From Uncle), his interrogator.

Don’t let the fact that this Canadian TV tale fell into public domain due to a lack of legal due diligence on the part of the CBC deter you. This is a quality work by Tibor Takács that rises above the usual public domain odds ‘n’ sods on DVD these box sets that brings the ol’ ’80s video store shelves to your home.

You can watch 984: Prisoner of the Future on You Tube or own it as part of the Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion Box Set. You Tube also offers the trailer.

And be sure to join us as we examine Tibor’s career and films with our “Drive-In Friday” featurette.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Triple Fisher: The Lethal Lolitas of Long Island (2012)

Back in 1992, the news cycle was dominated by Amy Fisher, a sixteen-year-old girl who had an affair with auto mechanic Joey Buttafuoco, the auto mechanic who had continually fixed her car. As their affair reached its close, she ended up heading to his wife’s house and shot her in the head twice.

Somehow, Mary Jo Buttafuoco survived and Fisher was named as the suspect, serving seven years in prison. In the pre-Twitter era, this was all people talked about in person, in the papers and on the relatively new idea of 24/7 news.

Back then — 28 years ago feels like a lifetime — three TV movies were made telling the story. This is what happened back then — news didn’t burn out in hours and we got to watch made-for-TV versions of stories ripped from the headlines. The three films were Amy Fisher: My Story with Noelle Parker in the lead (NBC, December 28, 1992); Casualties of Love: The “Long Island Lolita” Story had Alyssa Milano as Fisher and Lawrence Tierney as Joey’s father (CBS, January 3, 1993) and The Amy Fisher Story with Drew Barrymore (airing the same night on ABC). Of the three, the Barrymore version was considered the best — all things considered — and earned the highest ratings.

Now, writer and director Dan Kapelovitz (The Three Geniuses: The Re-Death of Psychedelia, the short Amazing Angelyne and the upcoming 48 Hrs. Literally) has taken all three films and remixed them into one overlapping narrative. Much like trying to combine the story of Fisher from The National EnquirerThe ExaminerThe New York PostInside EditionHard Copy and Star Magazine and creating your own version of what really happened inside your head, the Rashomon-esque overlayering of these films.

What is the real story of Amy, Joey and Mary Jo? Is it the one that played out in the media, including brutal back and forth moments on The Howard Stern Show? Was it in the tabloids that I devoured? Or did these movies tell the right story? Is there a right story? Can multiple people play multiple roles in multiple movies and all combine to tell one story that has numerous touchpoints that are told through multiple lenses and points of view?

I don’t have the answers, I just like watching movies.

As someone who has never been a sixteen-year-old girl in love with a Zubaz wearing older man — confession time! — I can’t really understand why Amy did what she did. But I do know that love makes you do things that money, obligation and duty can never match. I’ve also never had a woman eat a pizza in a sexual way while looking at me. And I have no idea if that’s actually possible.

This movie makes me happy for repetitive drug tracks, for protagonists doing blow while cops trail them then a race through a cemetery pausing only to kneel on your mothers grave, for beepers, for fake Long Island accents, for Le Barons, for dudes swept up in killing the wives of boyfriends because they’re also having sex with the girl, for made-up movies that aren’t nearly this convoluted and for the fact that this exists at all, while hair metal ballads blaring while three different Amys shoot three different Mary Jos and three different Joeys have no idea what to do. That doorbell keeps on ringing over and over and over and as all three wives approach all three doors to confront all three mistresses, I find myself asking myself, “What is truth?”

The answer? As Joey tells Amy when she asks what their future is going to be, “It’s whatever you want it to be.”

I got to see this via AGFA and Fantastic Fest, which presented it in a limited edition stream through the Alamo Drafthouse. It was worth every minute. To learn where it may play some day again, you can learn more at the official site or read more about the film at AGFA’s site.

The Point! (1971)

The Point! was the sixth studio album by Harry Nilsson, as well as this film, which was directed by Fred Wolf, who would go on to help make the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon and the TV special Free to Be You and Me.

Yes, the creative force behind Son of Dracula helped make a cartoon and it’s exactly what you’d want it to be.

Originally airing as The ABC Movie of the Week on February 2, 1971, this film first featured Dustin Hoffman in a framing sequence. Hoffman would only allow his voice to be used for the initial airing, so his part is dubbed by Alan Barzman. On some releases, Ringo Starr and Alan Thicke did this part.

It tells the story of round-headed Oblio (Mike Lookinland from The Brady Bunch) who wears a pointed hat to fit in. However, once the king’s son knocks his hat off after being bested in a game of Triangle Toss, Oblio is kicked out.

Our hero and his dog Arrow are sent to the Pointless Forrest, where they somehow learn that even things that don’t have a point really have a point, in spite of themselves. They tell everyone this news and the king’s son knocks off Oblio’s hat again to reveal that he now has a point at the very same time that everyone loses theirs.

In 1977, a stage version of The Point! played in London, with Monkees members and Nilsson friends Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz appearing.

You can get this from MVD and watch it on Tubi. It’s worth watching and appreciating, perhaps even more today than it was in 1971.

Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Alan Freed Story (1999)

Based on John A. Jackson’s book Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll, this is the warts and all story of Alan Freed, who may have invented rock and roll — or at least popularized it — but lived fast and certainly anything but scandal free.

Director Andy Wolk was behind the 2002 film The Christmas Shoes, a movie that I am forced to watch every year. I am still upset that this year, I will have to watch it yet again.

Judd Nelson plays Freed, who rose from small stations in New Castle, PA and Youngstown, OH (WKST and WKBN, which I grew up on) to making history coining the term “Rock and Roll” on Cleveland’s WJW. So if you’re ever wondering why the heart of rock and roll is in Cleveland, Huey Lewis wasn’t just writing a line that rhymed with “believe them.” His wife Jackie McCoy is played by Mädchen Amick from Twin Peaks and Sleepwalkers.

For all the actors playing musical stars in this, Bobby Rydell and Fabian Forte are both in this. Honestly, the fact that I don’t have a Fabian Letterboxd list is a major oversight. And oh yeah — a later love interest is Paula Abdul.

The payola scandal and alcoholism that ruined Freed’s life is touched on, but you get the idea that he loves rock and roll so much that none of that — much less his wife and kids — got in the way of putting on a show for the kids.

Look at that — three versions of Alan Freed — a 70’s movie, his version of the story and the TV movie — all in one day.

You can watch it on Tubi.

Desire, the Vampire (1982)

When you see the name John Llewellyn Moxey on the credits of a movie, you know you’re getting into something awesome. Just look at The House That Would Not DieA Taste of EvilThe Night StalkerNightmare In Badham CountyDeadly Deception and, well, just about everything he did. I didn’t even mention The City of the Dead and Psycho-Circus!

Originally called I, Desire and airing November 15, 1982 on ABC, who knew this little vampire film would be amongst the best ones I’d find for our vampire week? There’s a great cast — David Naughton from An American Werewolf In London makes for a fine lead, as well as Brad Dourif as a priest, Barbara Stock as the bewitching vampire, Dorian Harewood (he was in Sudden Death!) as a cop, Marilyn Jones as Naughton’s fiancee and even an appearance from Not Necessarily The News‘ Anne Bloom (or Frosty Kimelman in that long-lost HBO program).  Oh yeah — and Marc Silver, who was the guitarist in Ivan and the Terribles, the ill-fated band in Motel Hell.

There are some great twists and turns in this one, as well as an incredible vampiric apartment at the end that I wish that I could live in. I’ll assume it’s just a studio set so that I don’t get sad that I can never go back in time and see it for myself.

You can watch this on YouTube and feel the same way.

Moon of the Wolf (1972)

Daniel Petrie made some pretty much films — Fort Apache the BronxA Raisin in the Sun and The Betsy — as well as some memorable made-for-TV movies like Sybil (which ruled mid-70’s bookshelves and viewings) and The Dollmaker.

Here, he’s in Louisiana along with a stellar cast making a movie that honestly could have played drive-ins. That’s how great these made-for-TV films were.

In the Lousiana bayou country of Marsh Island, two farmers (Royal Dano! and John Davis Chandler) find the ripped apart remains of a local woman. Sheriff Aaron Whitaker (David Janssen!) and the victim’s brother Lawrence Burrifors (Geoffrey Lewis!) both show up at the scene, but it’s soon determined that somehow, some way, the girl died from a blow to the head. Lawrence blames her most recent lover. The sheriff things it was wid dogs. And the Burrifors patriarch claims that it was someone named Loug Garog.

That mysterious lover could have been rich boy Andrew Rodanthe (Bradford Dillman!), who along with his sister Louise (Barbara Rush, It Came from Outer Space) lives in an old mansion, the last of a long line.

Based on Les Whitten’s novel, this originally aired as an ABC Movie of the Week on September 26, 1972, then reran as part of ABC’s Wide World of Mystery on May 20, 1974.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Dog Soldiers (2002)

Neil Marshall has directed several Game of Thrones stories, as well as the remake of Hellboy. This movie is much better than that one by several dog hairs. It’s the story of a squad of six British soldiers who are on maneuvers when they meet an enemy even more deadly than they are — a werewolf.

Private Lawrence Cooper (Kevin McKidd, Trainspotting) failed his special forces test because he refused to shoot a dog. Now, he’s stuck back with his old unit in the Scottish Highlands for wargames against an SAS team. As soon as they get there, they find the remains of those men and realize that maybe they shouldn’t be here.

Before long, the team’s commander Captain Richard Ryan (Liam Cunningham, The Card Player) reveals that they were here to capture a werewolf alive. What follows are twists, turns, double-crosses and bloody death. It’s a nailbiter and honestly, I don’t want to give much away.

There was talk of a sequel, Dog Soldiers: Fresh Meat, and a prequel, Dog Soldiers: Legacy, but neither ended up being made.

Between references to H.G. Welles, ZuluThe MatrixEvil Dead, Jurassic ParkThe Company of WolvesThe SearchersStar Trek II: The Wrath of KhanJaws, Zabriskie PointA Bridge Too FarApocalypse NowThe ShiningSouthern ComfortAn American Werewolf In LondonPredator, Love, Honor and ObeyBattle Royale, the TV show Spaced (Simon Pegg was almost in this)and Aliens,  this movie is packed with references to other genre favorites. Marshall would later claim, “I think I got completely carried away.”

You can watch this on Pluto.

The Jayne Mansfield Story (1980)

Dick Lowry has worked in made-for-TV movies for some time, working on many projects with Kenny Rogers (The GamblerThe Coward of the County) and connected movies like In the Line of Duty and Jessie Stone, as well as the Project ALF TV movie reunion and Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again.

Based on the Martha Saxton book Jayne Mansfield and the American Fifties, this is — at best — a fictionalized accounting of her life. John Wilson’s book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.

Arnold Schwarzenegger — four years before The Terminator — plays Mansfield’s second husband Mickey Hargitay, who is telling a reporter the story of her life. Mansfield is played by Loni Anderson, who is perhaps the worst person — outside of bust line — to play her. She just seems wrong, from how she approaches the role to look. Maybe she identified with Jayne, seeing as how she started as a sex symbol and struggled to get her intelligence across. I’m not really sure, but it just doesn’t work.

Ray Buktenica plays her manager Bob Garrett. Buktenica was best known as Benny Goodwin, the rollerskateing toll-booth working boyfriend of Brenda Morgenstern on Rhoda. Also in the cast are Kathleen Lloyd (who memorbaly is killed by The Car as it flies through her kitched window) as Carol Sue Peters and G. D. Spradlin, who mostly plays cops in movies, as Gerald Conway.

Jayne Marie Mansfield is played by Laura Jacoby, who beyond being in Rad is also Scott Jacoby’s sister. The younger version of the character was played by Deirdre Hoffman, Anderson’s daughter.

If you look close enough, Lewis Arquette — the man whose loins gave the world Rosanna, Patricia, Alexis, Richmond and David — shows up as a publicity man.

There were no fact checkers in 1980. After all, how can you explain a movie that purports to tell the life story of Mansfield report that she was 36 when she died when the truth is that she was 34? Or that Jayne is shown making Las Vegas Hillbillys which is supposed to be a Western, which it is not, much less the fact that it was made two years after she and Mickey were actually divorced, yet they are married here? Shouldn’t that be The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw? And while we’re on the matter of facts, how great is it when Jayne is getting a new convertible sometime in the mid-1950’s, you can clearly see a 1980 Honda Civic roll by?

Much like how Jayne is dying to play the lead in The Jean Harlow Story, Valerie Perraine wanted this role. Surely she would have done better than imitating the worst vocal tics of Mansfield and none of the brains behind the glamour. Also, of all people to narrate this movie, Arnold in 1980 would not be the person I’d pick.

You can watch this on YouTube.