A Man Called Adam, four more movies, and two TV shows



Nov. 19, 2022

A quadriplegic struggles with alcoholism, a musician struggles with himself, Robin Williams gets zany, Matthew McConaughey gets stoned, Spielberg does Columbo, millions die ghastly deaths in the UK, and we boldly go where no man has gone before.

• A Man Called Adam (1966)
• The Beach Bum (2019)
• Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (2018)
• Murder by the Book (1971)
• Star Trek (1966-69)
• Toys (1992)
• The War Game (1966)

Best of the batch is too close to call, between three very good movies and a great TV show that you've almost certainly already seen.

The biggest surprise is A Man Called Adam, a fine flick I'd inexplicably never even heard of.

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A Man Called Adam (1966)

"When a guy's little, and he knows he's little, and he thinks that you're thinking he's little, you look out."

Sammy Davis Jr plays Adam Jackson, brilliant with a trumpet but an ass in every other way. When he's heckled from the audience, he heckles back. When he's drunk, which is often, he says the crudest and cruelest things, to his agent, to his friends, to the woman he wants to marry.

I'd tell him to fuck off and die, but Jackson has better friends than me, and they stick around, help him, give him a seventh chance.

This is about an asshole with talent, and the question is whether the asshole and the talent can exist without each other. I don't agree with the movie's answer to that question, but it's a very good film.

It's of the "tortured artist" genre, like Frida, Lust for Life, Pollock, etc, but it's better than those, and probably far less known because it's so serious about the 'tortured' part.

Jackson is not what you'd expect from Sammy Davis Jr. He's believably fucked up in the head, and it's painful, because you do come to give a damn about this asshole. 

"You know that all that jazz about, colored cats play so much better jazz than ofay cats? I got a theory about that. I say the reason why colored cats have more soul is that they never took time out to take lessons. They either stole a horn, found a horn, or someone gave 'em a horn, and they had to start from scratch, so they had no other story to tell but what was inside of 'em, which was their soul. Doesn't matter whether you're white or black, everybody's got a soul, right? So blow your soul."

It's odd to have Davis playing the brilliant trumpeter and Louis Armstrong as his buddy. That, however, is the closest I can come to a complaint about A Man Called Adam.

The cast includes Ossie Davis, Cicely Tyson, Mel Torme, and Peter Lawford. Directed by Leo Penn, father of Sean. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Beach Bum (2019)

Matthew McConaughey plays Moondog, and he's living Jimmy Buffett's life, so much so that Jimmy Buffett is in the movie. Moondog lives in the Florida Keys, he's always high, and always boning a different woman than ten minutes ago.

It's a life teenage boys and midlife-crisis men dream of, wasting away in Margaritaville, but you don't have to be an ass about it, and Moondog is an ass.

He's a writer, it is alleged, and also a stoner and drunk who fucks a woman in the ass in a restaurant's kitchen while his daughter is getting married. His wife (Isla Fisher) doesn't mind any of this, seems to encourage it, and his friend forever (Snoop Dogg) gifts him pink fluorescent moss patch weed.

Moondog eventually lands in court, where he's ordered into rehab, and remanded to his daughter's custody. On their way home from court, his daughter buys him a beer.

Like everything else, rehab is a joke to Moondog, so when he and a buddy see a man in a wheelchair they sneak up behind him, smash a beer bottle against his head, steal his wallet, and soon they're happily smoking dope and fucking women in a hotel room.

After that I was done with this, and jumped forward to the last few minutes, hoping to see some reason to change my mind, but nope.

Written and directed by Gummo's Harmony Korine, there's simply nothing to this movie except Moondog being perpetually stoned, fucking numerous women, watching video of Moondog reading Moondog's writing, and attending a dozen blue haze parties.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (2018)

This is the life story of John Callahan, cartoonist in a wheelchair. It's not as funny as a Callahan comic, but not intended to be. Based on his autobiography, it's a serious story of his alcoholism, how it left him crippled, and how he dealt with it via 12 steps in Alcoholics Anonymous.

Joaquin Phoenix in a floppy toupee plays Callahan, and he's very good. The toupee, not so much. Jonah Hill plays his AA sponsor, and he's terrific. It's directed by Gus Van Sant, and it's well worth watching, and recommended.

It's also better in your living room than it would be in a theater, as lots of Callahan comics are shown on screen, but often too briefly to be read and laughed at. Keep the remote handy for freeze-framing.

End of review. Now let me digress:

I've seen half a dozen movies in the disabled biopic genre, and seriously question the common trope in (perhaps?) all of them, that beautiful women will quickly succumb to the charms of a disabled man.

In this flick, a pretty counselor advises Callahan to ask his pretty nurse to sit on his face, and she sits on his face, in his hospital bed, while his roommate listens. It's not entirely clear whether this is fantasy or it's from Callahan's book, which I haven't' read, so I'll simply say, seems unlikely. If Callahan said it happened, it happened, and here's a posthumous high-five.

Callahan also gets bedridden by Rooney Mara, his beautiful physical therapist, so I just want to drop this wacky trivia: Nurses and physical therapists are often 55, chubby, or male. They're there to help you, but generally not to fuck you.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Murder by the Book (1971)

Jack Cassidy and Martin Milner are the co-authors of a 15-book series of best-selling mysteries, but Milner wants to write alone, so Cassidy kills him.

Telling you whodunit it is not a spoiler, because this is an episode of Columbo, and that's the show's format: You always see the murder in the first moments, but the fun is watching Detective Columbo (Peter Falk) gather the clues and banter with the bad guy. 

This episode was directed by Steven Spielberg before he was famous, which is why I wanted to see it. It has a few slight 'director moments', but Spielberg's touch isn't particularly evident, and there are a couple of shots where the lighting changes or shadows move, hinting at the presence of cameras and crew.

It was written by Steven Bochco, famous for Hill Street Blues and other shows I never watched, but with his good reputation it's surprising how flimsy the mystery is. With a moment's reflection, most of the clues and crucial events aren't even plausible.

Cassidy is smug and upscale and hateable, and did he ever play anything else? 

By my count, Columbo offers variations on his trademark "Just one more thing" quip four times, and it reminds me why I liked Columbo when I was young and TV-addicted. It's a clever idea — he's a smart cop who works at seeming to be dumb — and the show always had fun with it.

So many much shittier shows have been rebooted, and Falk was great and all and now he's dead, but surely someone else could reincarnate Columbo?

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Star Trek (1966-69)

It's difficult to convey how much I was into Star Trek when I was a kid. I was mostly miserable, nearly friendless, hated school, and saw no plausible future, but on Thursday nights at 8:30, there was Star Trek, set in a fabulous future.

Sci-fi on TV had always been dumbass stuff like Lost in Space and Fireball XL5, but Star Trek was smarter, and it wasn't intended for kids, and this kid loved that.

Re-watching all the original episodes over the past few months, it mostly holds up. Sure, it looks cheap and dated beside Star Wars or even Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the original had a genuine sci-fi sense of wonder, and with the exception of The Twilight Zone, that's someplace no show on TV had gone before.

What it lacks, what all Star Trek's incarnations and reincarnations lack to this day, is a sense of humor. What hell it would be, working and living beside all these people who never crack a joke, and almost never talk about anything but warp drive and photon torpedoes.

And also, the USS Enterprise lacks any toilets. Maybe in the 23rd century, people take pills for that.

Everyone jokes about how bad William Shatner's acting was, but there's only so much you can do when you're wrestling a gorn. Some of the stupider episodes even benefit, I think, from a leading man who's wooden and overdramatic at the same time. Leonard Nimoy, of course, was always in command of the show, if not the bridge.

Great music, too. Not just the original theme by Alexander Courage, but the incidental music all through each story. They never splurged for new music, so every action scene in every episode had the same music behind it, and you could sing along — Bah bah bah bah bah, bup bup BAH BAH!

A lot's been written about Star Trek over the years, probably too much, and I'm not going to add anything profound. If you haven't seen the original, you should, and if you have and you liked it, it's worth watching it again.

About half the episodes are seriously good. Ten or twelve are great. Some are meh, and the rest are simply crap, but hey, it's TV from the 1960s. It was made of plywood and only intended to hold your attention between ads for detergent and razor blades, and yet decades later, probably more people on earth know who Spock is than don't.

Verdict: BIG YES in 1966, and still YES today. 

If you want serious sci-fi that has a sense of humor, The Orville is basically Star Trek plus jokes, and there's also Doctor Who, which knows it's silly and often leans into it.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Toys (1992)

Robin Williams plays the zany son of a zany toymaker who's died in a zany way. The dead toymaker's dying wish was for his brother, a humorless military general, to take over the company, instead of the zany Williams, or his almost equally zany sister, Joan Cusack.

It's all fake zany, though. It's Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory made with artificial sweetener, and with no dark side, no irony or wit, no songs, and no spark. It feels like the sequel to a good movie.

Even Williams is a disappointment, like he was told to play 'zany' but stick to the sucky script.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

The War Game (1966)

This won the Oscar for best feature documentary, though I question whether it is a documentary. That's not a criticism, though. Whatever it is, it's powerful. 

It's about the effects and aftereffects of a 'limited' nuclear exchange between the US and China, and it's a British film so the focus is on the UK.

Facts about the horror of nuclear weaponry and warfare are interspersed with scripted comments from policemen, doctors, nurses, etc after the nukes fly, and staged scenes of survivors and the luckier folks who died.

It's unflinchingly gruesome, and virtually every shot, every spoken sentence concerns death, the identification and disposal of the bodies, the effects of radiation exposure, retinas melted by the blast, the cascading leukemias among survivors, hunger riots, deformities in newborn and unborn babies, etc.

For a break from all this, we're shown Christmas celebrations at a refugee camp in Dover, which isn't very celebratory and in no way reminds me of any Xmases I have known. The end credits roll over "Silent Night." 

The War Game was made for BBC television in Britain, but its airing was canceled once network executives screened the film. BBC relented and aired it, though, 19 years later.

There's probably nothing in this film that you don't already know, but it's not anything people like to think about, which is why watching it for an hour, uninterrupted, is damned depressing. That we've made it 5½ decades after without it coming true is just a lucky streak, which could come to an end any moment, along with all of us.

Written and directed by Peter Watkins, who later made Punishment Park, which earned a BIG YES from me.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Coming attractions::

Elmer Gantry (1960)
Frankenfish (2004)
The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)
In Time (2011)
The Laughing Policeman (1973)
Roach (2019)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)


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. Replies
    1. Have you seen the third season? I have not, yet.

  2. I'm always looking ahead, because I'd rather not look at my behind. It would be really cool to review both the book by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö and the movie which cast the perfect leading man, then made an American hash out of a fine novel. Even as a hash, it's a pretty good movie: are Swedish people really THAT much smarter than Americans? Yeah, but we don't have to wallow in it. Had the bonehead producers and screenwriters not "Americanized" the story, Walter Matthau might have become an action hero in American movies instead of a Bad News Bear. He had over 25 years to live. With this material he might have become the American Sean Connery. He might have gotten laid.


    1. You are riffing on The Laughing Policeman, of course, a 'coming attraction' which I've now seen but haven't yet written about.

      My Swedish is rusty so I've never read the book, but I know what the title means because I Googled it. If the movie explained it I didn't catch it.

      Such a strange title for a story in which nobody laughs.

      But yeah, Matthau was pretty good, and so's the movie. Details in a few days.

    2. I know you're not always up for subtitled flicks, but there is an excellent Swedish film called The Man On The Roof (1976) based on a book by the same authors who wrote Laughing Policeman.

    3. No objection to subtitled movies, but they're *so* much more difficult to pirate. The subtitles are almost never included in the download.

      Fortunately, Seattle has Scarecrow Video, the world's largest and best video store, so when there's a subtitled movie I *really* want, I can almost always find it there.

      I'll add The Man On The Roof to the list, but Scarecrow is a long train and bus ride from home, so I don't get there often.

  3. And before you delegate, I still have 50 pages to go in Catch-22. It's tough going: the bodies are piling up like busriders who've been machine-gunned. I'm a slow reader and, like a golf hole that says "320 Yards" but plays 450, C-22 is longer than it looks.

    I wish you well.


    1. Thanks for the wish! It immediately made me feel better!

      I'm working my way through a novel that I actually and sincerely like, and yet I'm only moving along 50 pages or so weekly. Cuz I only read books at bedtime to fall asleep, and at the diner over breakfast when I'm eating alone.

    2. Catch-22 and other books that contain massive amounts of corporate and national violence and are stunningly well-written are like prescription cough medicine. They're good for me, and they make me a better person, but I can only take a small amount at any particular time.

      I hope I get there, but I never pray.


    3. Well, see, there's my problem. I'm such a terrific person already, if something made me an *better* person I'd be insufferable.


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