Fear Strikes Out,
and six more movies

Americathon (1978)

In this odd but slightly pertinent satire from way back when, the United States of America is teetering near bankruptcy. Fortunately, a benevolent billionaire let the USA borrow enough money to squeak by for a while, but unfortunately, he wants the debt repaid.

"I loaned the country $400-billion, and I want my $400-billion back. Does that make me a bad guy? I've got to eat too, you know? So I'm giving the President until the end of September, this year, to pay me back, or else I'll be forced to foreclose."

The Neverending
Film Festival

Chief Dan George is the billionaire, and says that line "Does that make me a bad guy?" several times. It's funny the first few times.

John Ritter is President Chet Roosevelt, a happy-go-lucky guy who ran on a pledge that he wouldn't be a schmuck. He's too chipper and horny to have much time for the nation's problems.

Peter Reigert is living in his car, and somehow also a key Presidential advisor.

Harvey Korman and Fred Willard hover about, and small roles ("special appearances") are reserved for George Carlin, Elvis Costello, Howard Hesseman, Tommy Lasorda, Jay Leno, Peter Marshall, and Meat Loaf. Americathon is from the producers of The Waltons, and somehow they got the Beach Boys to write and sing the movie's theme song.

What's the answer to America's debt crisis? A fundraising telethon! Sadly, though, that titular telethon is what sinks the movie. It's all kinda funny in a desperate "please laugh at this" sense, right up until the telethon starts, after which Americathon simply stops being funny.

Verdict: NO, but I do recommend the first 25 or 30 minutes.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Fear Strikes Out (1956)

Anthony Perkins plays Jimmy Piersall, the first major league baseball player to be institutionalized for mental health issues, or at least the first who made the papers.

Karl Malden plays Piersall's father, and obviously he's a key part of Piersall's problem — he's never satisfied with how well the boy plays, constantly critiquing his mistakes, real or imagined, and pushing him to be better, better, always better. Jimmy says, "I'm batting third in the league," and his dad immediately says, "Well, that isn't first."

By the time Piersall makes the big leagues, he's a fine baseball player but scrambled in the head, and the coach wants to switch him from the outfield to shortstop, by opening day. Eventually he cracks under the pressure.

The movie rewrites Piersall's baseball and personal history, but it's true to the spirit of the man and his battles, and jeez, the battles must've been epic. Going crazy in 1952, publicly, having it covered in the newspapers, and then coming back to play in the bigs again? Even in the here and now mental illness is stigmatized; imagine it in the 1950s.

As a baseball fan for all my life, all I knew about Piersall before the movie was that he was an All-Star for the Red Sox. Never knew anything about his bipolar disorder until this movie, and I guess that says something about something, though I'm not sure what.

Perkins is great as Piersall, but it's usually not about the actors. The actors are what you see, after lots of people behind the camera have done all sorts of things that have to be done and done well, before the actor even shows up.

I do understand that, but still I gotta say, was Karl Malden always annoying? I've only seen him play authoritarian types, like the nagging priest in the overrated On the Waterfront, or a dull cop on The Streets of San Francisco, General Omar Bradley in Patton, etc. Never seen him play anybody I'd want to know, and this is no exception — but damn, he's good as the fucked-up father he's playing here.

Anyway, true but tidied up for the movies, Fear Strikes Out is a great story, and a fine old movie.

Verdict: YES.

Bonus link, just for fun: Jimmy Piersall vs Billy Martin

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Hard Ticket to Malibu (1987)

A "contaminated" snake is on the loose. That's the story, if it matters, but this is the kind of movie where the story doesn't matter much.

All the movie's women are in their twenties, leggy and gorgeous, always wearing shirts with a few buttons unbuttoned, or no shirt at all. All the men are handsome and heroic, except the bad guys, who sneer and say things like, "Kill them all."

Memorable moments include the snake bursting through the toilet, a game of fatal Frisbee, a guy in a Jeep who keeps a bazooka handy to blow away a skateboarder and his inflatable sex doll, and a scene where a topless pretty woman tells another pretty woman about her boobs. "Good breasts are a great asset," she says, and then walks away, as the other pretty woman quickly undresses and unwigs, revealing herself to be a balding middle-aged man.

By ordinary movie rules, Hard Ticket certainly stinks, but we're not playing by ordinary rules here. This is direct-to-video schlock from the '80s, not quite soft-core, but boobs galore. There's one funny line, and midway through the movie there's a scene where an actor comes on and delivers his lines and it sounds believable. Each of these oddities only happen once, though. Just a fluke.

Verdict: MAYBE. Passable low-brow entertainment.

♦ ♦ ♦

House of Numbers (1957)

A prisoner's escape is plotted by his callous wife (Barbara Lang) and nervous brother. Jack Palance plays both the inmate, Arnie, and his brother, Bill, who's a free man. The story is put together like a heist movie in reverse, with Bill planning to somehow make his way into the prison. That's a mighty big ask, even for a brother.

"Their whole system is set up to try to prevent men from breaking out of prison. They'll never even dream that anybody wants to break in."

You're wondering how Bill breaking into the prison gets Arnie out? Well, I wondered too, and it's a question answered too slowly in the film, but it makes sense, sorta kinda maybe eventually.

The brothers' convoluted scheme isn't very important to the story, though. It's more about the three-way tension between Arnie's wife and the two brothers, and that element works, until everything's unraveled by a twist at the end that's even more implausible than the brothers' escape plan.

Edward Platt (the chief, from Get Smart) plays a (literally) unbelievably nice prison warden. The film was adapted, poorly, from a novel by Jack Finney (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), but it wasn't a great novel anyway.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Invitation (2015)

On their way to a get-together at his ex-wife's house, a man's car hits a coyote in the Hollywood hills. It isn't dead, so the driver gets out and brains it with a tire iron.

After that, the driver and his date proceed to the party, where everyone's 20-something to early-30-something, there's minimal conversation, and everyone's as uncomfortable as me at any party. Some of these people know each other, some of them don't, all of them are boring, one couple seems kookerific, and then the kookerifics show a video about the cult they've joined.

In the video, someone dies, which certainly brings the party down, but the party was already a disaster, and so's the movie. "I have to go," says the evening's only intelligent guest, at about the movie's midway point. "This is all making me a little uncomfortable." Of course, they won't let her go, but they couldn't stop me.

It was all building up to an invitation to join the cult, clearly, and it'll be an invitation you can't refuse. Maybe it'll be effectively spooky/scary when the invitation comes. More likely it'll be as lackluster as the first half of the movie. Either way, thanks for the invitation, but nah. I don't like parties.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Jaws (1975)

There's a shark in the waters off Amity Island, NY. "Amity, as you know, means friendship," says the Mayor.

Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss star in the film that made Steven Spielberg's name, and changed Hollywood. It was a huge hit, so ever since, almost everything the studios have done is geared toward churning out blockbusters.

Jaws, of course, is a grand popcorn movie. It has three heroes you can relate to and root for, and a monster from the deep exaggerated beyond its real danger, but the years haven't dimmed it in the slightest. Chow down.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Repo Man (1984)

Everybody loves Repo Man, and technically I'm part of everybody, so I gotta like it too, and I do. This is the third time I've seen it and enjoyed it, but I've never yet loved it like so many people do, and never come close to understanding it.

Harry Dean Stanton does auto repossessions for a living, and he offers Emelio Estevez a job. Turns out it's a very strange job.

There's a car with something glowing in the trunk, and how does it can turn green and fly? The movie mesmerizes me so much, it's possible that I've completely missed key plot elements, again and again.

"An ordinary person spends his life avoiding tense situations. A repo man spends his life getting into tense situations."

It's a cool vibe, more than a good story, but that's enough.

Written and directed by Alex Cox, and produced by Michael Nesmith. Music by a couple of other people, but "Repo Man theme by Iggy Pop." Watch for Jimmy Buffett's cameo; it's in the credits but I've never yet caught it. 

Verdict: YES.


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   



  1. Lots of good (or "good") stuff in this one. Americathon sounds like a movie that was probably something of a "sensation" at the time but forgotten within like 5 months. I like how Roger Ebert thought it was so bad that he considered it a "low point" in his career. I do appreciate how everyone in this near-future dystopia runs around wearing track suits, it wasn't that far off was it? They could dub it into Standard Pronunciation and rename it CHAV-ATHON.

    I always thought Duke should have had his own spin-off from Repo Man. I'm half serious, he gives these dramatic soliloquies and they work. And he's, you know, racially, you know, okay. And he seems like a great bud until he sniffs poppers and starts shooting people in the head. Maybe I just grew up in the wrong kind of place but he seems more or a realistic American psycho than Travis Bickle.

    1. You motivated me to read Ebert's take on Americathon, and he liked it lots less than I did. Maybe it was my sleep deprivation again, but for me there were a few genuine laughs at first. A few.

      Sequels and spinoffs rarely work, but definitely, Harry Dean Stanton's Duke is a more interesting character than the nominal star, Emilio Estevez. If Mr Cox had asked my advice, I would've said to spin the story toward Stanton, but he never asked.

      Let me ask you... what's in the trunk?

  2. Hard Ticket to Malibu? Your taste usually runs classier.

    1. I'm always full of disappointment.

    2. You're never a disappointment and I shouldn't have said anything about it, sorry.

    3. Ah, you can say anything you like.

  3. Poem of the Week (provided by johnthebasket)

    Naming of Parts (1942)
    by Henry Reed

    Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
    We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
    We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
    Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
    Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
    And today we have naming of parts.

    This is the lower sling swivel. And this
    Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
    When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
    Which in your case you have not got. The branches
    Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
    Which in our case we have not got.

    This is the safety-catch, which is always released
    With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
    See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
    If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
    Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
    Any of them using their finger.

    And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
    Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
    Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
    Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
    The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
    They call it easing the Spring.

    They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
    If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
    And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
    Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
    Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
    For today we have naming of parts.


    1. Like most poetry, I was baffled and immune to it.

      Reaching out to the internet for help, this guy explained it, but he's no use at all and actually of anti-use, only giving me more poetry skepticism.

      This guy, though, cracked the code for me. Aaaah! The first four lines of each stanza are the lecturer lecturing, and the last two lines are the student's response.

      If I was writing it, which I couldn't possibly, I'd put the student's response in italics, to help stupid readers such as I.

      And in conclusion, it took some effort on my part, but suddenly the poem is rather brilliant, and worth the effort. Like most poetry, perhaps? Heck, I wouldn't know. I rarely take the trouble. Only for you.

    2. Oh, man, I wasn't trying to torture you or anybody else. Once one sees the poem as a conversation between a drill Sergeant and Nature, it makes perfect sense as an anti-war statement. I was lucky enough to have a Mom who read us poetry and discussed it with us, and reasonably good schools that managed to spend a little time on poetry.

      Again, sorry; I was declaring solidarity with your anti-war campaign, not trying to show off.


    3. You're my cultural guide, and it's not torture when it's good.

      Solidarity appreciated. My mom read us Bible verses.


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