Celebrating conservative thought in film, music, literature, and other lowlife pursuits.
What Happened Here?
  Nothing new is happening here anymore, but the endless hackin' and whackin' continues over at jrt101.com.
Posted by JRT at 3/13/2012 8:54 PM | View Comments (0) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (0)
A Christmas Without Fairness Doctrines
   I’ve disappeared from the site again, but you have to understand that it’s a real shock to start going to an office after nine years of working from home. It’s like I’m wearing pants constantly now. The good news is that I’m really enjoying myself, and I expect to have a lot more to talk about here—including the usual New Year’s recap of favorite things from 2010 that didn’t insult my intelligence.

But here it is Christmas, and time to write up a forgotten holiday film before I do my expected disappearing act for the last two weeks of December. I’m going with a full recap of Kings and Desperate Men, too. This one isn’t always easy to find on VHS , and it’s not likely there’ll ever be a decent DVD release. My editors even deleted a reference I made to Kings and Desperate Men in last year’s obituary for Patrick McGoohan. I was thinking the film clearly deserved mention as part of the politics found in McGoohan’s stint as the star and producer of the classic ’60s show The Prisoner.

The problem was that people still love to talk about The Prisoner. Nobody seems to care about this Libertarian romp from 1981. The sad truth, however, is that Kings and Desperate Men isn’t any great loss. The film is kind of plodding. The good news is that the plot is still plenty of fun as a synopsis.

First, it takes a while to figure out the film’s title. The first card says A Hostage Incident over the credits, with Kings and Desperate Men added as an afterthought. It seems the original movie posters referred to the film  as Kings and Desperate Men: A Hostage Incident. So does the VHS cover art.

Whatever the film is called, it opens two days before Christmas in what seems to be British Columbia. McGoohan is a conservative Canadian radio host named John Kingsley. He has a judge as a guest in the studio. They’re discussing His Honor’s recent decision to refuse to overturn an imminent death sentence on a terrorist. We cut to the interior of a car, where a muttering man is listening and insisting that the terrorist is really just “a kid.” This man is driving to Kingsley’s house. That’s chilling, but our heart is warmed to think of a Canadian province that holds executions so close to Christmas.

After the show, Kingsley has a drink with the judge and discusses how bored he is with the radio show. Kingsley then goes to get drunk at an office Christmas party. Meanwhile, the guy in the car is now sitting outside of Kingsley’s impressive residence, and is muttering about how it’s wrong for anyone to live so nicely. Inside the house, Kingsley’s wife is arriving to find that her son and his nanny have been taken hostage by two gunmen.

Kingsley is still at the party, and chatting up a fur-clad gal who lures him back to his radio studio for a private conversation. Kingsley is about to get lucky, but the mood is ruined by a sallow young man with a shotgun. “My name is Miller,” he announces, “and we’re taking over this studio.” He then shoots a portrait of Kingsley that’s on the wall. “I never did like that photo,” responds Kingsley. “It always made me look sincere.”

Kingsley stays cool even after learning his would-be conquest is an associate of Miller’s—who explains that Kingsley’s next show will be an on-air trial for the terrorist that’s about to be executed. “You’re not a sort of moral crusader, are you?” asks Kingsley. “You don’t look the type.”

“I teach History,” Miller replies. “How it changes—which it does, faster and faster all the time.”

Meanwhile, Kingsley’s poor family is being lectured on how Spain used to own North America before they sold it to industry.

Back at the studio, Miller is contacting the media and announcing that Kingsley’s studio is wired with explosives for an upcoming Hostage Edition Show. (That would’ve been a good title for the film.) A police captain is assigned to the case, and he comments that Miller’s gang of “non-violent protestors” is the same group who earlier kidnapped the judge that Kingsley was interviewing. The police know it wasn’t a particularly non-violent kidnapping. A witness saw the judge getting his head cracked open during the abduction.

Miller is killing time by lecturing Kingsley about how unfair it is that one of them makes so much more money. He also keeps rambling about people who are destroying the Earth. “I’m tired of teaching history,” he proclaims. “I prefer to shape some small part of it myself.”

Miller would be disappointed to learn that savvy advertisers are busy trying to buy airtime on Kingsley’s Hostage Edition Show. (Seriously, that's a cool title.) Kingsley is entertaining himself by reflecting on his earlier career as an actor, and how that’s shaped his vanity. You might think that’s foreshadowing—along with that line mocking his own sincerity—but that will change once the on-air trial actually begins.

The actual radio show starts with Miller making an opening statement that sounds lousy—not just politically, but technically. Kingsley tries to help by teaching the professor how to speak into the mic like a human being instead of a creep pontificating in an auditorium. Miller’s not used to that, though. He doesn’t really pay attention until Kingsley yells, “Down the voice!”

Even then, Miller is poorly prepared. He fumbles through his notes about how the terrorist has been unfairly sentenced to death. It’s an embarrassing rant in front of a big radio audience—ending with Miller’s mention of how the terrorist was also caught with drugs in his possession: “I can prove—well, I can surmise that this was planted and produced evidence.”

Kingsley then cuts to a commercial, which surprises Miller. Kingsley patiently explains that his show always finds time for the advertisers that pay his wages. Kingsley follows up by taking an on-air call from a listener who tries to comfort the host by quoting Scripture. He politely thanks her for her prayers while Miller is desperate for her to be cut off. Kingsley takes more calls. That muttering crony of Miller’s—who’s now with the injured judge—is unable to get through on the phone. Miller didn’t think to ask about his stooges getting a direct line to the station.

Kingsley is mostly getting supportive calls. One suggests that the citizenry storm the studio. “The man here with me,” replies Kingsley, “wants just one thing: mob disorder. Please let the police handle it.”

The muttering psycho finally gets through to Kingsley with the judge, but only in time for His Honor to die on the air from his injuries. This inspires Kingsley to finally lose his temper and attempt to strangle Miller. He’s succeeding until Miller’s female friend reminds him that she’s got the shotgun now. A recovering Miller is indignant. “I believe,” he explains to Kingsley, “circumstance will prove that the good judge died from a heart attack.”

Then Miller wonders if Kingsley’s politics are all just an act. There’s a typically oblivious academic. Everyone else learned otherwise while Kingsley had his hands around Miller’s throat. Kingsley announces over the air that Miller is the leader of “a gang of misfits playing God by proxy.” They’re not very good at taking hostages, either. We see that Kingsley’s family has been rescued at home.

Kingsley still has a gun to his head, though. A police official calls in to announce that new evidence shows the convicted terrorist is innocent, and that the arresting officer will be disciplined. “Very noble, constable,” says Kingsley, but he won’t go along with the charade. At this point, there’s a divided count for Miller’s show trial. A few normal folks have played along with Miller by saying that the terrorist is guilty. That’s balanced by Miller supporters who’ve been calling in to insist the terrorist is innocent.

Kingsley announces that he seems set to cast the deciding vote. He then sends a loving Christmas message to his family, and begins to put on his coat—patiently explaining to Miller that he doesn’t have any intention of settling the matter. There’s nothing more Libertarian than throwing away your vote. Kingsley is almost out the door when an enraged Miller grabs the shotgun from his female cohort, and the audience hears the gun go off in the studio.

There’s silence, and then the audience hears Kingsley’s soothing tones: “Ladies and gentleman, the sound you just heard was the sound of Mr. Miller losing his head—all over the walls of my studio. Tune in tomorrow. The topic of tomorrow's show will be government spending. Please call in with your views. After all, this is your program.”

Miller had earlier mocked Kingsley’s usual sign-off of “This is your program.” Kingsley signs off looking like a true populist, though. Then the end credits roll as we hear people complaining about how the radio host is just too arrogant and so clearly a fake. And there’s your heartwarming holiday film that—as noted—is more fun to read about than to watch.

There’s some fun weirdness behind the scenes, too. Despite the film’s politics, McGoohan is just a hired hand. The film is directed by Alexis Kanner, who also plays Miller. Kanner appeared in several episodes of The Prisoner. The two probably bonded over some politics back then. The film was written by Edmund Ward, who also scripted a finely jaundiced look at Swinging ‘60s London with 1970’s Goodbye Gemini—which finally got a DVD release this year.

The gal who lures Kingsley into Miller’s trap is Andrea Marcovicci, who’d later show up in The Stuff . Kingsley’s wife is played by Margaret Trudeau—famous back then as the slutty spouse of a Canadian Prime Minister whose work would pretty much establish him as the country’s Jimmy Carter. McGoohan didn’t care much for Margaret.

And while Kanner was probably happy to have Trudeau on board as a bankable name, it’s okay to be suspicious of his judgment. Kanner would later sue the producers of Die Hard for ripping off the plot of Kings and Desperate Men. Don’t worry that I left out some exciting parts from the film. The lawsuit didn’t make any sense. There’s a Christmas connection, but Die Hard actually makes better points about the media. If it’s any comfort for the holidays, though, it’s pretty obvious that Kanner wasn’t the type to indulge in a frivolous lawsuit. He may have been a fruitcake, but he was our kind of fruitcake.
Posted by JRT at 12/22/2010 1:49 AM | View Comments (0) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (0)
Day of the Dead Tired
   Yes, it’s very unusual for this site to take a break during Halloween—but there was a time when it was unusual for this site to take a break at all. The good news is that Kathy Shaidle has just covered my usual territory with a fine article on The Seven Top Horror Movies for Conservatives . Even her thoughts on familiar titles have some new insights. Shaidle’s kind enough to cite my own work within two of her entries, and now I feel less stalkerish for having bought her something at the Chiller Convention this weekend. It’s still interesting how her take on the patriotic-slasher epic Uncle Sam is so different from my own .

Meanwhile, Southern readers might enjoy this recent interview with Rick Miller of Southern Culture on the Skids. It’s a Halloween-themed piece that dwells on growing up as a hillbilly horror fiend—or at least one living below the Mason-Dixon line. I’m heading into another busy week, but I’ll hopefully find the time to post a link to my review of a CD reissue of my favorite album of 1967. That’s the same year that saw the release of Bee Gees’ 1st and The Left Banke’s Walk Away Renée/Pretty Ballerina, so you can be sure it’s something that strikes me all personally and politically.
Posted by JRT at 10/31/2010 10:02 PM | View Comments (0) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (0)
Still worried about the upcoming "Mother’s Day," though…
   I had a thorough checklist of what I wanted to see in a remake of I Spit On Your Grave. The version that opens in select cities tomorrow exceeds my expectations. The closing credits even have a nod to how the 1978 original wasn’t totally packaged as an exploitation film. The female vigilante flick originally had its feminist intent declared with the title of Day of the Woman. Going with I Spit On Your Grave was just a smart move to ensure that audiences knew they were getting lots of savage action.

The remake stars Sarah Butler as the heroine who runs into rapists at her isolated cabin in the woods. Her living nightmare is handled as brutally as in the original. There’s no sense of titillation, and her subsequent revenge adds a great deal of logic to the fever dream that made up the original film’s second half. It doesn’t even hurt when the new I Spit On Your Grave starts swiping from a recent popular horror franchise. That franchise could have stood to swipe more from I Spit On Your Grave.

There’s still one way that the new I Spit On Your Grave could make me even happier. Maybe this remake will send Roger Ebert into another Leftist conniption fit. I’ve written before about Ebert being a creep, but my revulsion has nothing to do with the longtime film critic’s liberal politics. It’s actually inspired by how Ebert—along with Gene Siskel—tried to build their national reputation as part of the Reagan Revolution.

Naturally, the PBS film critics misunderstood Reagan. My first impression of Ebert was as a blustering fool attempting to become America’s Official Censor. He spent a lot of time whining about slasher films and, specifically, I Spit On Your Grave. Yes, it’s nice that Ebert wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. He’s still the petty little man who went on daytime talk shows and tried to stop movie theaters from showing some of the best films of my adolescence.

And he didn’t mean a word of it. By 1990, Ebert was rushing to catch up with the indie revolution, and dutifully gave a positive review to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Ebert admired the film’s nihilistic qualities and “flat, unforgiving realism.” He particularly liked the “unrelenting power” of the title killer, whose image remains nestled in some hipster’s t-shirt drawer next to Che Guevara.

The most important thing about I Spit On Your Grave—both the original and (thankfully) the remake—is that the villains are sleazy and pathetic. They are truly the scum of the earth. They’re so uncool that I would have been forgiving if the remake made one particular nod to political correctness. The remake does the exact opposite, which helps to create a final shot that equals the original’s. Ebert, of course, didn’t appreciate that final shot's impact back in 1978. Maybe he’ll be kinder to the remake. It depends on what’s cool now.
Posted by JRT at 10/7/2010 3:40 PM | View Comments (0) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (0)
Fallen Season
   Another long break from the site, which can mostly be blamed on—well, this was going to be a clever paragraph about Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, but it’d probably just end up making me seem bitter. Instead, enjoy this interview with Richard Barone, who’s pushing a fine new album. Don’t take that for granted, either. A lot of old favorites have made horrible albums this year. And here’s a rare e-mail interview that actually works—mostly because it’s with the sci-fi surf-rockers of Daikaiju. They’re the best of what’s become a surprisingly crowded field.

In further news, things look uncertain for the most conservative new TV show of the Fall season. Running Wilde is FOX’s throwback of a sitcom about a nutty self-obsessed millionaire who’s chasing after the girl of his teenage dreams. The catch is that the girl has grown into a dedicated Leftist woman who’s equally nutty and self-obsessed. She can’t even figure out that her adolescent daughter doesn’t really want to keep living with an Amazon rainforest tribe. Even the tribe knows to be happy when the millionaire relocates them all into a luxury hotel as a goodwill gesture.

A lot of people are disappointed that Running Wilde isn’t as innovative as Arrested Development, since the two shows share cast members—including Will Arnett as the title character and David Cross as another loyal Leftist who’s also his romantic rival. Cross may be pretty annoying politically, but he’s great at playing annoying Leftists—which reminds us that Arrested Development was a fairly conservative show, too.
Posted by JRT at 9/28/2010 1:18 PM | View Comments (0) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (0)
True Crime Stories
   Eric Roberts had another good weekend with The Expendables, although everything I had to say about the movie was summed up with two posts on my Twitter feed . That even includes what I just said about Eric Roberts having a good weekend. I’m still reminded that I recently added some new pieces to the “Articles & Interviews” sidebar here, including the wonderful/horrible story of how Eric Roberts once used me as his inspiration for a film role.

In more recent writings, people might want to check out my article on 1955’s The Phenix City Story. The notoriously Southern-fried film noir was recently (finally) released on DVD. I visited the famously crooked Alabama town a few times in the ’80s, so I’m fairly qualified to recap some of the true story that emerged in the wake of the movie. Film historians, however, will notice that I give Jack Warner credit for a notion that should really be attributed to one of the Mirisch brothers. I don’t know how I forgot that Monogram Pictures became Allied Artists.
Posted by JRT at 8/23/2010 6:17 PM | View Comments (0) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (0)
Game Overt
   Sylvester Stallone finally won me over on the Rambo franchise, but he’s not the right-wing hero with a film opening tomorrow. That would be director Edgar Wright with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World . I have no idea if Scott Pilgrim is going to take off like Pulp Fiction or bomb like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. All I know is that Scott Pilgrim can stand proudly alongside Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz as great conservative filmmaking.

Wright better hope for younger conservatives, though. Scott Pilgrim is a rock ’n roll comedy with a dated slacker aesthetic and an overblown video-game mentality. Despite a nicely amiable set-up, the film quickly becomes a series of high-tech battles between Scott and the Seven Evil Exes of his new girlfriend Ramona. That’s still not nearly as irritating as the miscasting of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s hair as the object of Scott’s affections.

The big redemption is Michael Cera being perfectly likeable as the title character. A lot of that can be credited to the screenplay by Wright and Michael Bacall. We first meet our heartbroken hero when he’s enjoying a carefully platonic relationship with an underage high-school girl. Scott’s still in recovery from being ditched by an old-girlfriend-turned-rock-star. The romantic triangle with Scott’s platonic pal and the ravishing new Ramona ends up being one of the more adult love stories of the year—and that’s even as Wright wraps his characters in an adolescent fervor.

Despite the constant promise of sex and violence, Scott lives in a world where the two most important laws are No Infidelity and No Guys Hitting Girls. It’s typical of Wright that the latter is casually broken by a self-righteous vegan musician. The character of Ramona isn’t idealized, either. By the end of the film, the hipster goddess is revealed as a bit of a mess who’s far too easily controlled. The final scene might not be as ideal as I’d like, but others could have perfectly valid arguments otherwise (although I doubt they’ve dated girls with hair like Ramona’s.)

In any case, Scott Pilgrim offers plenty of important lessons for adolescents. Smart parents should be buying tickets for their teenagers right now. It’ll be a good sign if all the screenings are sold out on Friday night.
Posted by JRT at 8/12/2010 12:39 PM | View Comments (0) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (0)
Southern Sausage Links
   He’s actually a paranoid Leftist, but this site happily endorses primal rocker Dan Sartain—to the extent that you can choose one of two interviews that I recently conducted with the guy. Also, it must take a shameless conservative to write a glowing review of the new Molly Hatchet album. I was the only person they could find to write the liner notes for the band’s Greatest Hits Live CD, too.
Posted by JRT at 8/5/2010 10:34 PM | View Comments (0) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (0)
Fugitive from a Chain Gang
   Finally another entry, and there’s going to be plenty more if August holds up like it will for the next two Fridays. Of course, all good conservatives should avoid the new Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg comedy The Other Guys. It’s directed by loyal liberal Adam McKay, and you can expect all kinds of snide attacks on conservatives throughout the movie. Probably more than usual, since Jim Treacher managed to piss off McKay via Twitter just as production was starting. For such a successful director, McKay sure is a bitter and small man.

The good news is a limited release title called Middle Men —which, sadly, will go ignored by sites like Big Hollywood because it’s the kind of movie that has boobies in it. There’s no getting around that Middle Men will be summed up by critics as the Boogie Nights of the internet age. Conservatives shouldn’t be frightened away, though. Middle Men is the kind of film where a starlet signs on to play an adult actress on the condition that her character never actually gets naked. The rest of the action is no worse than what you’d find in those erotic thrillers that the Playboy Channel showed back in the ’90s.

Luke Wilson stars as a (fictional) family man who stumbles onto a goldmine in the midst of the ’90s internet porn boom. His opening narration jumpstarts the film with all kinds of fun images. Interestingly enough, that includes a smear on conservatives in the film’s opening minutes. Wilson’s quick history of pornography has to invoke the terrible sin of hypocrisy—as illustrated by a moralistic politician who is carefully revealed to be both a Republican and a transvestite. (That image is made even weirder by the actor being manly exploitation veteran Martin Kove.)

A few seconds later, Wilson is talking about how all men masturbate, That notion is accompanied by a photograph of Richard Nixon. This is particularly weird, since Wilson’s narration is leading to 1995. It takes a special kind of baby-boomer obliviousness to throw back to Nixon when we’re getting to a year when our nation had a notably notorious Horndog-in-Chief.

Keep watching, though, and Middle Men becomes the most stirring tale of Texas morality since The Blind Side. The film is pretty unrelenting in showing Wilson’s hellish descent into massive rationalization and lowered personal standards. You also get a cameo by Kelsey Grammer where he seems to be paying tribute to Fred Thompson, and Kevin Pollak as an FBI agent who turns out to be the film’s most moral character—all leading to a closing scene that’s corny enough to be worthy of the Hallmark Channel.

The big caveat is that you can never trust the film’s narrative. Wilson’s errant family man never explains exactly how he started out in life working for a mobster, or how he happens to have a best friend who comes with a small army of gun-happy associates. Middle Men might ultimately be a detached meditation on Goodfellas and other crime sagas where the source material can’t be trusted. That overblown ending could be meant to be more sardonic than satisfying. It still seems awfully sincere, and a big part of what keeps Middle Men going as an enjoyable and overblown romp.
Posted by JRT at 8/5/2010 9:42 PM | View Comments (0) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (0)
This Must Mean Something
  I don’t know who put the time into making The J.R. Taylor Story for YouTube, but if the idea was for nobody to tell me until I stumbled across it as a fairly impressive W.T.F. Moment—well, yeah, mission accomplished.
Posted by JRT at 7/21/2010 12:38 PM | View Comments (0) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (0)