Prime Risk is yet another movie that is completely at the mercy of history, but what film that hinges around a specific technological marvel isn’t similarly parochial? Without some historical awareness of the profound leaps in computer science that occurred in the 1980’s and 90’s you would be justifiably confused and or bored by this film whose plot relies so completely on magnetic information storage and retrieval methods. You might also have no idea that is quite literally the mold from which 1995’s Hackers was crudely squeezed. While Prime Risk features neither the cool topical pseudonyms like “Crash Override” nor the thrilling and absolutely timeless rollerblading scenes of its successor, it does have a doofus-male/ hot-female whiz kid team-up on the run from the Feds while simultaneously trying to stop a dastardly computerized plot to rule the world.
In the same manner as the atomic monster films of the 50’s, Prime Risk relies on the public’s sketchy knowledge of the subject to orchestrate a cacophony of both fear and intrigue. In this case it is computers, those dastardly machines that are slowly (in the 80's) encroaching on our lives with all their menacing and mysterious bleeps and bloops. Ahhhh, the great fear of new technology; that in embracing it for our convenience or security before we fully understand it, we open the door for all kinds of unpredictable malicious mayhem. This theme is driven home in the opening sequence of Prime Risk when a jamming-signal broadcast by some as-yet-unknown source causes televisions, remote control cars and escalators in a shopping mall to go haywire. See!? If they can threaten our catatonic communal consumption experience, the very fabric of our society is clearly threatened with a fundamental and catastrophic unraveling!
One notable break with its postwar predecessors is the use of a female science-whiz as the protagonist (despite this she still plays second synthesizer to the much less interesting male lead). Julie (Toni Hudson) is still in high school but she is already a brilliant computer engineer. Because she is a woman however, her application for an IT job at the local bank is rejected. Vowing revenge, she uses an oscilloscope to read the magnetic pulses from an ATM computer at the bank, and coverts the electromagnetic cycles into a tone frequency -sound notes- which she uses to determine the PIN numbers for people's bank accounts. Somehow she teams up with a depressed classmate Mike (Lee Montgomery) who needs raw cash because his authoritarian father won’t pay for anything but law school. In the process of manufacturing fake ATM cards and fleecing the bank however, Mike and Julie stumble upon a terrorist organization that is doing the same thing, intending to crash the Federal Reserve computer system and bring the world, and U.S. financial systems to their respective knees.
Just as the shit is hitting the fan, Julie and Mike turn to the Feds whose agents Minsky (Clu Gulager), and Yeoman (Sam Bottoms) don’t believe a word of it because there’s absolutely no way the fate of the totally invulnerable and monolithic U.S. government could be in the hands of a couple of punk kids. But we know better. We know it happens all the time because by the dawn of the Reagan era we’ve become cynical about American omnipotence, (thank you Vietnam!) and because we saw War Games last year.
A Spanish Embassy Home Entertainment VHS insert from someplace.
In cooperation with some of the finest movie blogs I know, Lost Video Archive is proud to contribute this post to Kotto Week, an event focusing on the long extensive career of this under appreciated actor. A full list of participants follows this post.
Tommy Lee’s Mitch is no different than other cinematic Viet-vets of the 80’s. He’s emotionally damaged, bitter and unable to readjust to civilian life and he feels lost in and at odds with the world around him. But the way The Park Is Mine conciliates his trauma with society deviates from the typical ‘Nam Vet storyline in an interesting way and reflects some of the political developments of the period in which it was made. It was around this time that vets successfully won recognition and compensation from the manufacturers of Agent Orange and their own Veterans Administration for the postwar afflictions they were suffering.
The film opens with a shot through the flashing lights atop a police cruiser as it speeds through the streets. This is a theme that will persist throughout the film and ultimately come to define its resolution. For now it serves to anchor the portrayal of Government authority as reactive and ineffectual when the cruiser arrives at a Veteran’s Hospital where a distraught ‘Nam vet promptly leaps to his death.
A short while later at his hotel room, Mitch receives a letter from the jumper, one of his war buddies which explains his frustration with the plight of veterans, the fact that society “doesn’t listen”, and the locations of hundreds of explosive charges and a cache of military equipment hidden in Central Park. The following sequences show Tommy Lee uncovering all the hardware while his friend explains in voiceover. Giving Mitch this internal dialogue places him safely within the established mentally-ill Vietnam Veteran stereotype established by his cinematic predecessors. Having assessed, with his friend’s posthumous help, the extent of his arsenal, and encouraged by that inner voice, Mitch informs the authorities of his intent to take over Central Park on behalf of all ignored and mistreated veterans. Typically, the resolution in veteran movies is for the vet himself to come to terms with his or his friend’s trauma, but here Mitch doesn’t learn to cope, he doesn’t change at all.
It is his confrontation with State authority that is significant here. The sheer volume of gunfire and hardware in the subsequent standoff suggests that Mitch is something more than just a crazy vet. He is not a symbolic attempt to address the issue of collective national guilt for the war as in films like Distant Thunder, but to externalize its legacy exclusively to veterans. It reformulates the veteran as a helpless victim, which inheres the State’s (everyone but the veteran) responsibility for fixing him. The State is not responsible for the problem but is compassionate enough to try and fix it.
The person who mediates this conclusion is Lieutenant Eubanks, played by Yaphet Kotto in a familiar role as competent and capable police officer who conflicts with the hard-headed institutionalism of his superiors. Mitch has delivered an ultimatum demanding that he be left to control the park until a certain time, and his message be delivered to the public. Eubanks’ countermands his superior’s reactionary orders and simply gives Mitch what he wants. His conflict with his superiors and empathy for Mitch suggest an experiential understanding of the latter’s condition. Eubanks knows that one cannot fully break from the parent culture, but to demand and receive acknowledgement within it is a salve, both for the oppressed and forgotten as much as the status quo which needs to tell itself that it has “done enough.” By allowing this wayward child to speak and return to the fold symbolically lets society off the hook without addressing the issue in terms that are actually meaningful for the newly minted “victims”.
It’s important to remember of course that just because this victim identity has been created to serve political needs doesn’t make it true. It reinforces claims of benevolent and superior authority and thrives on the disempowerment of the subject to create their own solutions; “equality” rather than liberation. But we know better, it was through the hard work of blacks themselves that catalyzed the Civil Rights Movement, and it was Vietnam veterans who fought for their rights, and all too often, token “recognition” that undermined those accomplishments. The final scene of The Park Is Mine confirms this as Mitch is being led to a police cruiser in handcuffs. The sympathetic TV reporter who followed Mitch’s escapades in the park says, “You did it” and the movie ends. Did what I ask, what has changed for Mitch except his uniform from camouflage to an orange jumpsuit? Is that a solution?
In cooperation with some of the finest movie blogs I know, Lost Video Archive is proud to contribute this post to Kotto Week, an event focusing on the long, extensive and diverse career of this underappreciated actor. A full list of participants follows this post.
Raid On Entebbe is a made for television historical dramatization of Operation Entebbe/Thunderbolt which took place on 4 July, 1976. Seven days earlier a group of 4 hijackers had taken over a plane headed from Athens to Tel Aviv Israel and flew it to Lybia and subsequently to a Uganda suffering through its fifth year of Idi Amin’s dictatorship. Israeli commandos flew all the way to Entebbe to pull a surprise raid on the airport where the remaining hostages were being held.
Contrary to what I’m sure was a tense situation in reality, it is pretty dull here, and at 40 minutes I feel like a hostage of a thinly scripted glorification of Israeli military valor and absolution from responsibility for violence. With an excessively hefty cast that includes Charles Bronson, John Saxon, Peter Finch, James Woods, Martin Balsam, Horst Bucholtz and yes, Yaphet Kotto, there is enough time to parade each actor across the screen, but not enough to give any of their characters depth. Raid on Entebbe is a film that is a prisoner of its precise moment in time, for without a knowledge of the events, it makes little sense. Nevertheless, Kotto manages well with his few minutes of screen time as Idi Amin.
Unfortunately this seems to be typical of the roles played by Kotto. His talents are restricted to supporting characters (where he nevertheless frequently outperforms the leads). Historians of blacks in film have repeatedly pointed out that Hollywood has had a very difficult time coping with a fully humanized strong black male lead. This may be why Kotto took to television, where the work was more frequent if not more empowering for his roles, but that’s only my theory. It’s simply sad that Kotto so rarely had a chance to apply his skill to a character with real human depth. Subsequently, I think there is an interesting theoretical connection between Kotto and his role here as Idi Amin. Amin was perhaps the perfect dramatic foil for the period in the mid 70’s. He was a crazy black man at a time when American culture had just exhausted itself on the Civil Rights movement and The Great Society. White people needed a reason to believe they had, and to be seen as having "done enough", to feel that they had atoned for their guilt, and that anyone who wasn't satisfied, who still wanted more, or who simply refused to be quiet were baaaaad niggers.
I’m not trying to recast Amin as merely a victim of bad press, he was very much a real tyrant. However, because his sociopathic egotism was largely meted out upon his own people it made him easier to dismiss in the West. He could be treated as a pitiable, posturing “martinet”, and exemplified as a "type". The white status quo didn’t (and still doesn’t) know how to deal with forceful and assertive black characters who act bigger than the britches they have been given, so it continues to disempower, mock and stereotype them, including by relegating them supporting or comedic roles in film and history.
Aside from pointing out that Israeli commandos are good (and they were, but even that is boring in this film), Raid on Entebbe manages to not say much at all except that Idi Amin was unstable and vindictive. Any film about Amin practically begs comparison to other performances of this unique and bizarre historical figure. Joseph Olita’s in Amin: The Rise and Fall, Julius Harris’s in Victory at Entebbe, Forest Whittaker’s in Last King of Scotland, and the real deal himself in Barbet Schroeder's documentary Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait which feels as much like an elaborate put-on as any of the others. In the few minutes of screen time he is afforded as Amin (this film is really about Israels political image), Yaphet Kotto manages to better the first two and come damn close to the second two. It is ironic that Yaphet Kotto makes Amin the most interesting and complex character in an otherwise boring film.
This VHS cover (?) comes from Amazon U.K
This poster I got from The Warsaw Jewish Film Festival site is the creation of artist John Solie, his signature appears on the far left next to the C-130 aircraft. Solie was responsible for innumerable posters in the golden age of poster art. You can read my blurb about him here.
Come on, this is one of Kotto's best performances in the 80's and despite his face being above Woods', he isn't even listed on the cover. Incredible box fail. This was the second time that Kotto and Woods worked together on a film, the first was 1976's Raid on Entebbe which I cover on Tuesday for Kotto Week. As I said just above, Kotto is terrific in this, as is Woods, both turn in fantastic performances, the subject matter of the movie bears a bit more analysis.
In my anticipation of Kotto Week, I scanned a bunch of VHS boxes for films starring our man of the hour (week). I normally post on Mondays and Fridays, but for the coming week I've switched it up a bit. I hope that all of you regular readers will visit the other contributors who are participating in the event, and if you want to take part in the next one (there will be more of these) I hope you'll get in touch with me.
In 'N Out first came up here when I discovered a number of Mexican films about border crossing. The Spanish title, Gringo Mojado means more or less literally “white wetback”, and I got excited for something that contradicted “our” narrative of the border and gave some insight into that of our southern neighbors. The director’s Spanish surname further encourages this line of thought and I had high hopes.
It is honestly hard for me to say how much of the Mexican sentiment came through in this film because I haven’t seen many purely Mexican films. I would be willing to guess very little. For one thing it’s filmed in English indicating its intended audience. And secondly all the supporting characters (and at times the stars) conform to expected stereotypes. Despite the obvious assumption, it turns out the director is a Spaniard (a nephew of Jess Franco), and only one of the four producers is not United Statesian. Despite being outnumbered and facing an uphill battle this small Raza element does manage to ripple some otherwise placid waters.
The script itself is a thoroughly uninspired and confusing attempt at comedy but it has it’s moments. Rafael Inclan plays Nieves Blanco (“Snow White”), a mariachi who longs to immigrate to the U.S. in order to be a lounge singer, “the Mexican Dean Martin.” He lives in a small house with his sister Lupita (Mexican TV actress Rebecca Jones) a domestic worker who hates the U.S. and wants nothing to do with it. When Murray Lewis (Sam Bottoms, Apocalypse Now) goes to Mexico to track down a mysterious inheritance, he becomes friends with the Blanco siblings who mock his “woman’s” name, “Maria Luisa”. Throughout the rest of the film, Murray is accosted and harassed by Mexicans who make it abundantly clear that he is not welcome in their country. At one point, he and Nieves get drunk marveling at the irony of their situation, and Murray suddenly realizes that Mexicans are Americans too. “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States, “ Nieves replies. Murray has to sneak back into Mexico a number of times and in the films greatest moment he and Lupita fall for each other and remain in Mexico, while Nieves, with a new passport and a new name, heads North to croon.
Many of these moments, couched as they are within an unchallenging narrative, simply pass by without comment or emphasis, as if they were accidental. Comedies rely on a large element of expectation and its fulfillment or un-fulfillment to exploit their humor, but In ‘N Out oftentimes fights against itself. If the script had stuck to either a comedic formula, or fully rejected it, it would have been less confused by its own meanderings, both literal and metaphorical. Still, there’s no reason it couldn’t have been both, but the moments of transgression are not played for their comedic potential, and the attempts at comedy thus have little to anchor them. My conclusion, is that despite its moments of transgression, In ‘N Out couldn’t be too challenging otherwise it might have been a message film, and lord knows there's no audience for that.
Another one that caught my eye because of the artwork. I wish I knew who the artist was, it's classic late 1960's early 70's design with those coarse brushstrokes forming the background. Love it. Also, check out the format, Eastmancolor/"Franscope".
Again I don't remember where I got these Boardot posters, sorry.
I like this poster for both obvious and not so obvious reasons. The latter because of the uncluttered design which obviously focuses even more attention on the focal point. A lot of modern posters are really dark, even black, with a bright or highlighted central image. I like the posters from this era because they're bright and use a lot of negative space instead of filling it up with a totalizing oppressive darkness. The Longest Day had a great poster that demonstrates almost perfectly what I'm talking about with empty space.
21 years after the original, Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs, a "sequel" was born, and it was bad. The trailer for this film can be seen at IMDB, here is a trailer for Red Handcuffs from user Asianwack. Listen to the music by Daisuke Okamoto, brilliant.
John Solie is another name that exploitation film fans should know, except that a lot of us don't, we're too young. Solie is no longer in the movie poster business because the movie poster business is no longer into art. Solie first went to work for Columbia pictures in the early 1960's despite his best efforts not to get the job. He kept increasing his demands but he got the job anyway and it turned out he loved it. He continued illustrating movie posters for the next thirty years, for major and independent studios including Roger Corman's New World Pictures.
In an interview in "What It Is... What It Was", Solie says that it was one of the funnest jobs he has had, with total freedom to come up with whatever he wanted, sometimes a sketch on a cocktail napkin was the only draft he submitted. Most of the posters you can find online by searching for Solie are for either blaxploitation films or Corman productions. Solie did over 200 movie poster images, but I have only been able to confirm those I've listed or scanned here. but by the 1980's posters with art were starting to disappear.
Once there was no longer a market for illustration in movie posters, Solie moved on to do romance book covers but these too became the realm of computers and he did work for TV Guide magazine which you can see at his website HERE. In addition he has done a number of fine art pieces with western and war themes as well as commissions for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
It is surprisingly hard to find the names of many of the movies Solie did posters for, much less the artwork itself. Below is a list of all the posters collected at IMPAwards as well as anything that readily turned up in an image search engine. The images I've included here are those not included in the first two categories. I would appreciate any confirmable contributions to this list if you come across them.
Big Bad Mama Candy Stripe Nurses
Capone and Capone 2
Challenge to White Fang
City on Fire
Grand Theft Auto
Last Days of Man on Earth
Piranha Raid on Entebbe
Shaft In Africa
Shaft's Big Score
Smokey and the Bandit
Soylent Green Starcrash
Summer School Teachers
Tender Loving Care
The Invisible Boy
The Swinging Barmaids
Solie's painting of the last cavalry charge in U.S. military history, commissioned by the U.S. Army.
John Solie with a painting he did for the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Oregon.