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Steve Damm: The Master of Smoking Monkeys
Hey there At Tha Movies guys, gals and other – my name is Steve Damm. When I am writing for such a gorgeous audience, I go by the name DAMM. We won’t go into what SOME people call ME, but I am the Curmudgeon of Comics or the Master of Smoking Monkeys – when I am at my other gig over at eXPress News and Reviews onThere, that should do it for the plugs.
Let’s get to why I am here: I was asked (and excitedly accepted) to participate as part of At Tha Movies by Mr. McCarron. What he didn’t know is that I am going to pick two films from yesteryear that you may have forgotten about or missed all together and then retro-recap them for you.
Why you ask?
No one likes to be out of movies to watch, but we always somehow manage to. Not because there isn’t anything on, but that we simply forget what’s out there and what we once enjoyed.
BAD BOYS (1983)
Directed by: Rick Rosenthal
Written by: Richard Di Lello
Starring: Sean Penn, Reni Santoni, Clancy Brown and Jim Moody
After Sean Penn won over the nation as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High his very next film was Bad Boys. Unafraid and confident in his dramatic abilities after some memorable television (Barnaby Jones especially) and Taps this reform school film showed inner city gangs and the penalties of revenge like few films had up to that time. I am convinced Penn saw the same potential and heart in Dead Man Walking when he read the script and recognized power when he saw it which speaks volumes for Di Lello. His performance alone is worth a re-watch but it is far from the only reason this film is so good.
Rick Rosenthal is a consummate storyteller. In a cinematic decade full of over the top cliché and stereotypical hyperbole Bad Boys is restrained and intimately aimed at the heart of the issue – lack of guidance and positive roles in inner city neighborhoods. Added to this his message of how the people who work at the institutions can be dedicated, passionate and tough enough to affect change within (like Reni Santoni’s character here).
This movie took Rosenthal from the perception as a Buffy to Flash Gordon, Smallville to Veronica Mars. It was the springboard that launched him to the beautiful and lasting Russkies as well, defining his style and shaping his career. Bad Boys was the turning point.
Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor) gives a stellar performance as enforcer/bully Viking (along with Robert Rush as Tweety) who develops and deepens on a psychological level we are barely aware of. The effect of this is a poignant emotional attachment to characters you would have been closed off to before you watched.
Bad Boys feels like the best TV movie you ever watched mixed with a Colors vibe. I can’t recommend it enough. If you have never had the pleasure, go get it. If you have and it has been awhile then make some popcorn and try it again.
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Writers: W.D. Richter, Arthur A. Ross, Joe Hyams, Thomas O. Murton
Starring: Robert Redford, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Alexander, David Keith, Matt Clark, Morgan Freeman, M. Emmet Walsh
As you can tell by the director and cast this is a big film. I also believe it to be one of the five best prison films of all time (a list for another time) and one of the first I wanted to share with you fine readers. This is a film about prison reform in the late 70’s in the south. While a dramatization, the story of Wakefield Prison is not actually a real institution, the film is based on a factual book called Accomplices to Crime: The Arkansas Prison Scandal by Tom Murton.
The book and film deal with inhumane treatment of prisoners and the corrupt exploitation of prison farm resources for a profit to grease the palms of politicians and local businessmen. But what lied beneath was a secret graveyard of murdered prisoners and the removing of the reform warden that uncovered it. As such the biggest star of this film is the script.
Henry Brubaker is the name used in this film for the protagonist and while I have not read the book nor was I there the movie feels very realistic – save the initial minutes where he pretends to be a prisoner to see the conditions first hand and uncover the initial corruptions. He soon emerges in full to the audience as a maverick in the prison system because he views the prisoners as still having dignity and rights. He would do anything to make them productive on the outside or return dignity to the lifers.
Deeper still are the levels of social circles and “birds of a feather” metaphors sprinkled aplenty throughout the film that allow a fantastic comparison of social circles on the outside of the prison walls. To this day the film holds a perfect balance of moral outrage and tender compassion.
It is riveting and this can be attributed to the performances of the entire cast but in particular Robert Redford as the warden and Jane Alexander as Lillian Grace – the bureaucrat who on the surface wants reform but when the time to stand up comes chooses her career and the politicians with her not so silent compliance. But two members of the supporting cast nearly steal the show from these top billed stars.
First is Yaphet Kotto (Live and Let Die, Alien, Running Man, Raid on Entebbe) who as the jaded and hopeless inmate Dickie Coomes travels the hardest of personal roads and overcomes with a hidden heroism that saves all the idealism in the film. The second is Matt Clark (The Outlaw Josey Wales, Back to the Future III, In the Heat of the Night, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension) as the cowardly, two-faced clerk Roy Purcell who demonstrates the other path a man can take inside the prison to survive.
Add to this Morgan Freeman’s breathtaking scene as the deranged solitary confinement prisoner and M. Emmet Walsh as the corrupt lumber trader and Brubaker becomes nearly the perfect prison movie.
Thanks for having me At Tha Movies and see you next time!
Article written by: Steve BurnChimp Damm