Save me an aisle seat, okay?
Directed and Written by Michael J. Bassett
Produced by Samuel Hadida
Based on the character “Solomon Kane” created by Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard is known mainly as the creator of Conan but as all us fans of his work well know he created many other heroes of equal power. They’re not as well known or as popular as Conan with the general public but in terms of characterization they’re more developed and more psychologically complex than Conan who pretty much was happy as long as he spent his days thieving and slaying and his nights wenching and drinking. Howard’s Pictish king Bran Mak Morn is obsessed with bringing the warring Pict clans together into a mighty empire against Rome and leaving a legacy to live on after his death. King Kull of Atlantis may be a barbarian but he spends just as much time in philosophical introspection as he does hacking his enemies into hamburger. And SOLOMON KANE is not only a swordsman of demonic skill and ferocity in battle, he is also a devout Puritan who has dedicated his life to God and to the vanquishing of evil.
It’s his religious fanaticism that gives Solomon Kane his distinction in the pantheon of Robert E. Howard heroes and for me it’s what gives the movie an added kick of characterization. Solomon Kane’s quest is an unusual one, concerned with spiritual salvation and redemption as much as it is with lopping off as many heads of as many men as he can who stand in his way to kill the evil sorcerer Malachi.
After barely escaping The Devil’s Reaper (Ian White) who attempts to take his soul, Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) retreats to a monastery in his native England. He covers his body with protective tattoos and Bible scriptures to keep The Devil’s Reaper at bay while he repents of his sins and embraces a life of peace. Even though he has renounced violence Solomon is destined for Hell for his past sins. Cast out from the monastery, he begins a pilgrimage to return to his family estates. As a boy Solomon was exiled by his father (Max Von Sydow) but now Solomon wishes to make amends.
He finds friendship with a Puritan family, William and Katherine Crowthorn (Pete Postlethwaite and Alice Krige) and their three children and travels with them. They are ambushed by the demonic soldiers of the sorcerer Malachi (Jason Flemyng) led by his brutal lieutenant, The Masked Rider (Samuel Roukin) In the ambush, all of the Crowthorns are killed except for Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood) Solomon promises the dying William that he will rescue his daughter. And so, now believing that God’s plan is for him to once again become a killer, Solomon takes up arms and sets out to rescue Meredith. In the course of that quest, Solomon Kane will confront not only foes armed with swords and magic but wrestle with his own inner turmoil and crisis of faith.
Now, don’t get scared. This may sound like heady stuff for what is essentially a Sword and Sorcery yarn but trust me, it doesn’t get in the way of the killing, maiming, slaying of demons and zombies and buckets of blood any good Robert E. Howard story has. The movie is essentially an origin story for Solomon Kane and it’s been a while since I’ve read those original story I honestly don’t believe that anything in the movie violates what has been set down in those stories. Although I do seem to recall that Kane was born a Puritan and he didn’t come from a noble wealthy family.
But it’s hard to argue with a couple of things that SOLOMON KANE may have gotten wrong when there’s so much that it gets right. The production values are amazing. They didn’t film this one on the cheap. And I liked how the landscape and location work are used to really good effect here to heighten the mood, tension and atmosphere in the various scenes. This is a Dark Ages that really is dark. It’s cold, it’s muddy, it’s rainy, it’s snowy. In short, it’s a rotten time and place to be living in. And there’s no punches pulled when it comes to the violence which is raw and brutal. There’s some really impressive stuntwork being done during the swordfights.
I had long heard that James Purefoy was excellent in this movie and I’m happy to confirm that. I’m pretty confident that he read the original Robert E. Howard stories as he scarily and convincingly conveys the righteous anger that consumes Solomon Kane in combat. And in the quieter scenes where he’s given up his violent ways and is searching for God, he sells those just as well. The quest of Solomon Kane is not just a violent one but a spiritual one as well and James Purefoy does a wonderful job of giving us both sides of the character.
Who else? There’s Pete Postlethwaite, who has always looked to me like Patrick Stewart’s meaner older brother doing his usual professional work. And it’s always a joy to see Alice Krige on screen doing anything and still looking beautiful and sexy even in Puritan clothing. Max Von Sydow makes the most of his brief but pivotal role as Josiah Kane, Solomon’s father.
The story of this movie’s production is a convoluted one as it was made in 2009 and only got to the United States last year. The only thing I can think of is that there must have been somebody getting paid under the table to keep the movie out of the U.S. I have a long list of movies that should have been major box office hits and SOLOMON KANE joins that list. As a Robert E. Howard fan I was delighted and thrilled with this movie. It’s a genuine Sword-and-Sorcery epic starring one of the most intriguing heroes ever created for the genre. By all means, watch and enjoy.
Directed by Richard Benjamin
Produced by Michael Guskoff and Art Levinson (Mel Brooks and Joel Chrenoff uncredited)
Unlike a lot of people I didn’t fall in love with Peter O’Toole from watching “Lawrence of Arabia.” I didn’t appreciate a proper respect of that role until I watched that movie years later and had some maturity under my belt. No, my love of Peter O’Toole came from a triumvirate of movies he made during the 1980’s. There was the absolutely brilliant “The Stunt Man” in which he played the deranged and possibly insane but undeniably genius filmmaker Eli Cross. There was “Creator” in which he played Dr. Harry Wolper, a Nobel Prize winning biologist obsessed with cloning his late wife. And the movie we’re going to talk about here; MY FAVORITE YEAR.
I link all of these movies as a loose trilogy as in all of them Peter O’Toole plays men of extraordinary gifts, charisma, intelligence and talent. Men who wish dearly that while they enjoy and relish who and what they are, we see glimmers that they aspire to be like everybody else and just be. It’s something I can relate to as I’ve felt that way ever since I was twelve years old. So it’s no wonder I identify with the characters Peter O’Toole plays in these movies as well as in “The Lion In Winter” (a good candidate for the most quotable movie of all time) Sometimes the only reason you’re the smartest and most charismatic person in the room is because everybody in that room leave you no choice but to be so because they don’t try to do so.
“The King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade Show” is the hottest, funniest, and most successful TV show in the era of live television circa 1954. They’ve booked as a guest-star Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) a near Errol Flynn level star of swashbuckler movies to come on the show. There’s a couple of things getting in the way. One is that Stan ‘King’ Kaiser (Joseph Bologna) is engaged in a legal war with a corrupt union boss named Karl Rojeck (Cameron Mitchell) who is upset at the series of ‘Boss Hijack’ sketches Stan Kaiser has been doing on his show and has taken out a contract on King.
The other thing is Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) himself who is a raging alcoholic that is always in the news due to his outrageous drunken antics. But Swann is one of those drunks that everybody loves and he is still a semi-major star so junior show writer Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) is assigned to babysit him. It’s most appropriate as Swann is one of Benjy’s heroes and Benjy speaks up for Swann when Kaiser wants to fire him. It’s a scene that sets up my favorite line in the movie as Benjy was convinced Swann was dead drunk when Benjy spoke up for him:
Benjy: “But…but you were out!”
Swann: “There is out. And then there is out.”
If you’ve seen the movie and you’ve seen that scene and O’Toole’s delivery then you’re probably chuckling or outright laughing by now. And that’s because a lot of the time in MY FAVORITE YEAR we’re laughing not just because of what Peter O’Toole says in a scene but how he delivers it.
Benjy and Swann spend a lot of time in the week leading up to the show where Benjy has to keep Swann sober. And in that week they both have to deal with family issues. Swann has dinner at the home of Benjy’s mother (Lainie Kazan) who after the death of Benjy’s father married a Filipino bantamweight boxer named Rookie Carroca (Ramon Sison) who is very precise about not only his marital status but the pronunciation of his name. Benjy has to explain to Swann that he changed his Jewish name to the more Angelo Benjy Stone to work in Hollywood. In return, Swann reveals that Swann’s young daughter Tess has been raised exclusively by her mother but Swann has secretly sent most of his money to raise Tess and that’s why he’s broke and doing television guest-spots.
MY FAVORITE YEAR is one of my favorite movies and one I’ve seen maybe fifty times since I discovered it on cable and once it was available for VHS and I purchased it in both those formats. And I still watch it when it’s aired on Turner Classic Movies as they do so fairly often. MY FAVORITE YEAR is absolutely hilarious from start to finish and most of that is due to Peter O’Toole. He was nominated for Best Actor in The Academy Award that year and that he didn’t win was criminal. It’s a movie full of heart and truth about who we are and we we pretend to be in public and who we even pretend to be to ourselves.
If there’s any acting flaw in the movie, it’s Mark Linn-Baker. He’s our POV character and the narrator of the movie but he’s the least interesting and least likable. It’s easy for me to see why Jessica Harper’s K.C. character doesn’t want to have anything to do with Benjy as Benjy treats the ‘relationship’ they have as a comedy sketch. But Jessica Harper as usual is nothing less than perfect. Joseph Bologna is great as King Kaiser and I like his portrayal of the character as a mix of towering egomaniac and insecure little boy. And I love how King stands up to Karl Rojack in a truly sidesplitting scene where Rojack confronts Kaiser.
And I cannot leave off this review with giving major props to Lainie Kazan. This is the woman who was the physical inspiration for Jack “King” Kirby’s Big Barda character and if you’ve ever seen her in movies you know why.
So should you see MY FAVORITE YEAR? Yes. It’s a wonderful comedy that you can watch over and over again. Trust me on this. I haven’t spoiled 90% of the laughs in this movie.
But it’s also a great human story about heroism, family, personal belief and human strength overcoming human weakness. And it evokes a time in American television history worth revisiting. And it’s a terrific Peter O’Toole movie. And if all that isn’t enough to convince you to watch MY FAVORITE YEAR, I’m done.
Directed by Wes Craven
Produced by Doug Claybourne and David Ladd
Written by Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman
Based on “The Serpent and The Rainbow” by Wade Davis
People who know me and know what I look for in horror movies say that I’m way too critical and demanding of them. Maybe so. But I’ve never been one of those who excuse the downright stupidity of the majority of horror movies simply because my friends say I’m supposed to turn off my brain and stop thinking while watching. The best horror movies and the ones I enjoy the most are the ones that do engage my brain and encourage me to not only feel but think about what’s happening up there on the screen.
The horror movies of Wes Craven are among some of my favorites. Although he has made some hideously bad movies such as “Shocker” “Vampire In Brooklyn” and “Cursed” he has also made some spectacularly good ones as well. The original “Nightmare On Elm Street” “The People Under The Stairs” the “Scream” series and what is probably my favorite Wes Craven horror movie and one people just don’t mention a lot and that’s a damn shame they don’t; THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW.
Anthropologist/Ethobotanist Dr. Dennis Alan makes a good living going into remote jungles and coming back with rare herbs and ritual drugs from native tribes that he then sells to American pharmaceutical companies. He’s extremely good at his job which is why he’s asked to go to Haiti to investigate the voodoo society and see if there’s any truth to the myth of there being some sort of secret powder that creates zombie. Alan’s mentor Dr. Schoonbacher (Michael Gough) thinks that this could lead to the secret of where the soul is located. Andrew Cassedy (Paul Guilfoyle) the head of Boston Biocorp thinks it could be the ultimate anesthetic. Cassedy claims to have proof of a man in Haiti who was poisoned with this powder, buried alive, dug up and revived as a zombie.
With the assistance of the gorgeous and brilliant Dr. Marielle Duchamp (Cathy Tyson) and voodoo priest Lucien Celine (Paul Winfield) Dr. Alan attempts to find out if this powder does exist and if zombies are actually real. His quest brings him into conflict with Dargent Peytraud (Zakes Mokae) the head of the feared Tonton Macoute who is also a voodoo practitioner of frightening power. As Dr. Allan goes deeper and deeper into the truth behind the zombie legend he has to navigate between the political unrest and civil turmoil of a Haiti ruled by ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier and the horrendous hallucinations tearing his mind apart placed there by the power of Peytraud. Hallucinations so overwhelming that he can no longer distinguish what is real and what isn’t.
There are a whole lot of reason why I love THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW and why I always recommend it. Along with “The People Under The Stairs” it’s one of the few horror movies with a predominantly African-American cast that is believable and treats the characters as human beings and not plot devices to be killed off to make the Caucasian heroes look good. Cathy Tyson is a wonderfully beautiful actress who isn’t in the movie just to fall in love with the hero. She has an interesting backstory of her own as well. There’s a really nice scene where Mareille talks about how she does not divide her faith and her science but makes them work together.
I also like the political subtext in the movie. Set during the reign of ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier there’s always the threat of the secret police in the background, always reminding us that not all of Dr. Alan’s enemies are supernatural. Ah, but are they? I think it’s masterful how Wes Craven plays not only with Dr. Alan’s head but ours as well, challenging us to figure out what is real and what isn’t. Is Dr. Alan hallucinating or is what is happening to him actually happening? Is Peytroud a black magician or just really good at messing with Dr. Alan’s head?
THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW is also excellent at showing voodoo as a legitimate religion and way of life for the people of Haiti. There are a lot of scenes that are almost documentary in nature, such as the wonderful scene of a pilgrimage where a huge image of The Virgin Mary is taken to a holy grotto. Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m no expert of voodoo but I can’t think of another horror movie where voodoo is treated with the respect of it being a religion/way of life as it is here.
And the hallucination/dream images in THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW are just as good as anything Wes Craven did in his “Nightmare On Elm Street” movies. And the scene where’s he’s buried alive is without a doubt one of the most frightening in horror movie history.
The acting is top notch. Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson and Paul Winfield are all nothing less than believable. Zakes Mokae is an appropriately formidable bad guy while Theresa Merritt as a voodoo priestess and Brent Jennings as a con man who may or may not know how to make the zombie powder do solid work as supporting characters.
So should you see THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW? Absolutely. It’s that rarest of creatures I always look for and treasure so much when I find it: a believable horror movie. The motivations of the characters make sense and they don’t act like idiots who are plainly being manipulated by a brain dead scriptwriter more concerned with his plots twists than telling a story. THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW makes a great double feature with “Angel Heart” in that for me, they are both horror movies in which the main character seeks the solution to a mystery that ultimately turns out to be more horrifying than the mystery itself.
Directed by Alan Metter
Produced by Chuck Russell
Screenplay by Steven Kampmann, Will Porter, Peter Torokvei and Harold Ramis
Story by Rodney Dangerfield, Greg Fields and Greg Snee
Rodney Dangerfield will always be renowned as one of the true legends of stand-up comedy. He’s one of the few comedians who could make an entire concert hall full of paying customers collapse into hysterical fits of laughter simply by saying one line; “I don’t get no respect!” As a kid I used to see him all the time on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show” but I really didn’t understand his style of comedy until I was older. And certainly by the time he began making it big in movies like “Easy Money” and “Caddyshack” I was able to properly appreciate his humor and his jokes. Now most people hold up “Caddyshack” as the height of his movie career but for me it’s BACK TO SCHOOL. It’s one of the few comedies that I’ve seen multiple times but laugh every single time I see it as if I’m watching it for the first time. It’s got a great eclectic supporting cast; Sally Kellerman, Keith Gordon, Paxton Whitehead, Ned Beatty, Sam Kinison, Terry Farrell, M. Emmet Walsh, Burt Young, Adrienne Barbeau and Robert Downey, Jr. But for me the main attraction is Rodney Dangerfield front and center playing a really great, larger than life character as he breezes through the movie throwing off one-liners with a speed and delivery that would make Groucho Marx dizzy with envy.
Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) is the poster boy for self-made millionaires. He’s taken his immigrant father’s humble tailor shop and turned it into an national chain of Tall & Fat Shops. He went on from there to diversify until now he owns Melon Enterprises, a worldwide corporation. Thornton Melon is far from being a stupid man and in fact is quite intelligent and street smart, despite his boorish, rude and crude manner. But his one great regret is that he never got a proper education. He’s determined that his beloved son Jason (Keith Gordon) will get one at the prestigious Grand Lakes University.
After getting rid of his gold-digger of a wife (Adrienne Barbeau) Thornton heads to Jason’s college to surprise him along with his best friend/bodyguard Lou (Burt Young) and gets a surprise of his own: Jason had been telling his father he’s a straight A student and a star on the university diving team. Turns out that Jason is the team’s towel boy and a lousy student. Jason wants to drop out but Thornton hits on a novel idea to motivate his son: he and Jason will go to college together and both of them will get a proper education.
The fun of BACK TO SCHOOL comes from seeing Rodney Dangerfield’s Thornton Melon effortlessly cause utter and total havoc while navigating his way around every obstacle with either his street smarts or his money. Upon being told he’s too old and too unqualified to attend the university, he promptly donates funds for the new Thornton Melon School of Business and before you can say ‘holla’ he’s registered. He turns his cramped dorm room into a luxury condo complete with hot tub. When he has problems writing a paper on the works of Kurt Vonnegut he calls up Kurt Vonnegut and has the writer flown in to the college for a session with Thornton so that Vonnegut can personally explain the meaning of “Breakfast of Champions” to him. When he throws a party he hires Oingo Boingo to play and has the campus cops deliver his booze and beer.
But the story takes a nice turn in that Thornton’s plans actually inspire his son to genuinely want to do better and become a good student while his dad lives out his college life fantasies partying and having fun instead of studying and doing the work. It’s a lot of fun to see the father and son reverse roles as they help each other grow up. There’s a subplot with Thornton romancing his English professor (Sally Kellerman) that really goes nowhere but it’s always fun for me to watch Sally work. And it may seem unusual to have Thornton be a former champion acrobatic diver until you do your research and find that before he became a successful comedian, Rodney Dangerfield actually was a performing acrobatic diver.
What else can I tell you about BACK TO SCHOOL to get you to see it? The scene in the college bar where Thornton sings “Twist and Shout.” The diving competition where Thornton performs ‘The Triple Lindy’ a dive so dangerous it can kill if not executed perfectly. Thornton’s final exam where he has to recite Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night” The movie gets a lot more mileage out of Ned Beatty’s character being named ‘Dean’ Martin than you would think.
And the best thing I can tell you about BACK TO SCHOOL is that it’s simply a whole lot of fun to watch. The humor is fast, quick and the father/son story itself to me is quite heartwarming. Dangerfield and Gordon look nothing alike but they do have great chemistry together and they did convince me of their relationship. The entire cast looks as if they had nothing but fun making this movie. I know you’re going to have a good time watching it if you’ve never seen it. And if you have seen it before, it’s high time you watched it again. BACK TO SCHOOL is available on Netflix Instant. Put it on your Instant Queue right now.
Directed by Abel Ferrara
Produced by Michael Nozik
Written by Nicholas St. John
Here’s a bit of advice for all you aspiring directors: if you’re going to have scenes in your movies where the main characters dance it’s a good idea to make sure that they do indeed know how to dance. I bring this up for two reasons.
One: there’s two scenes in CHINA GIRL where our protagonists, the teenage lovers Tony (Richard Panebianco) and Tye (Sari Chang) fall in love while dancing and their absolutely horrible dance moves look more like they’re having grand mal seizures than anything else. Especially during the scene where they’re dancing to Run DMC/Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” That scene should be edited out of the movie as it’s flat out embarrassing to watch the two actors flailing away and stumbling around without even close to being in time with the beat.
Two: that’s the only complaint you’ll get from me about CHINA GIRL which in a lot of ways is my favorite of Abel Ferrara’s terrific films. Considering this is the director who gave us the magnificent “King of New York” and the utterly brilliant “Bad Lieutenant” that’s quite a statement, I know. But I have fond memories of seeing CHINA GIRL on 42end Street back in the 1980’s and when I learned it was on Netflix streaming I simply had to watch it again to see if it was as good as I remembered. I’m happy to say it was.
CHINA GIRL is basically a modern retelling of “Romeo And Juliet” with a heaping helping of “West Side Story” thrown in there for flavor. Tony is from Little Italy and Tye lives in Chinatown. Both of them have older siblings with connections to the organized crime groups of their respective nationalities. Tony’s brother Alby (James Russo) owns and runs a pizzeria but he has ties to the neighborhood Mafia boss Enrico Perito (Robert Miano) and has his own gang of small-time hoods. Tye’s brother Yung Gan (Russell Wong) is an up-and-comer in a Tong led by Gung Tu (James Hong) being groomed to move up higher in the organization.
The romance between Tony and Tye stirs up conflict between the two groups of young gangsters and leads to open warfare. Added to this is the activities of Yung’s cousin and second-in-command Tsu Shin (Joey Chin) Tsu is extorting money from Chinese restaurant owners located in Little Italy. This is a total violation of the agreement between the Mafia and the Tong to not encroach on each other’s territory. Tony and Tye are warned to stay away from each other but if they did that then we wouldn’t have much of a movie, would we? As the lovers make plans to have a future and life together, the fighting between Yung’s gang and Alby’s gang escalates to such a degree that Perito and Gung Tu join forces to put a stop to it. As Gung Tu puts it: “We must never allow ourselves to be divided by war… or to be interfered with by police investigations… all because a few reckless children cannot live within our tradition of our society. Our responsibility is to control our children.” And control them they do with hideously bloody disciplinary methods.
And that’s the thing about CHINA GIRL; the two leads are sweet and likable but their romance isn’t as compelling or as interesting as the war between the Mafia and Tong gangs, the relationship between Yung and Tsu and the efforts of the big bosses to control the young hotheads who are trying to carve out a bigger piece of the criminal pie for themselves.
It also doesn’t help that all the acting powerhouses are the supporting characters who effortlessly hold our attention anytime they’re on screen. James Russo, Russell Wong, David Caruso, Robert Miano and James Hong are all solid, dependable professionals. And for me, among all these terrific actors and performances, Russell Wong walks away with the acting honors in this one. He has a great scene with absolutely no dialog where he strolls around his sister’s room, looking at all the posters of white actors and pop stars on her walls and examining the evidence on her desk of how completely she’s assimilated American culture and he says more with his body language and facial expressions than he could have with five pages of dialog. There’s another great scene he has with Joey Chin as they discuss the situation they’re in and it’s got real heart and emotion.
What else? The terrific location shooting in New York’s Little Italy and Chinatown which gives the movie such an authentic look and feel. At times CHINA GIRL looks and feels like a Martin Scorsese movie, that’s how solid the Little Italy scenes are. David Caruso’s supporting role as Alby’s psychotically racist sidekick.
So should you see CHINA GIRL? Absolutely. The energy of the acting from the marvelous supporting cast alone makes this a Must See as far as I’m concerned. Abel Ferrara is an outstanding director who knows how to tell a story with no wasted scenes or unnecessary padding. CHINA GIRL wasn’t a hit when in played in theaters back in 1987 and it didn’t find a home on any cable station like HBO or Showtime where many other movies of the 80’s found new life and were rescued from obscurity. But now that it’s available, don’t let this one get by you. If you have Netflix streaming, set aside time for CHINA GIRL. You won’t be disappointed.
Rated R: And be warned that this is a movie made before Political Correctness so the racial slurs get thrown around freely. If you’re offended by that, then I suggest you give CHINA GIRL a pass.
The journey the Boys Outta Brooklyn started back in Episode 34 is getting closer to completion as Tom and Derrick discuss the first two films of The Reign of Craig. They examine how Bond was re-imagined for the 21st century, and how the unconventional choice of Daniel Craig fit the remit for change. They really like one film, hate the other one, and then talk about the present situation with MGM and what it bodes for the world’s longest-running movie franchise. All this, plus a little disagreement on the hotness of Karen Gillan, a major announcement, and the revelation of what the letters in QUANTUM stand for. It’s a six-head’s worth of fun, so get to clicking!