Month: March 2011

Pontypool

2009

Maple Pictures

Directed by Bruce McDonald

Produced by Jeffrey Coghlan and Ambrose Roche

Written by Tony Burgess adapted from his novel Pontypool Changes Everything

Here’s a movie I always recommend for Halloween but is put together so well and is such an original twist on a genre that badly needs a twist that there’s no need for you to wait for Halloween.  Next time you’re looking for a movie that delivers some really thought provoking horror combined with some terrific acting you can’t do much better than PONTYPOOL.

Former shock jock radio personality Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) is now the morning announcer working in a radio station located in the remote Canadian town of Pontypool.  Grant’s not exactly thrilled to be working in Pontypool but he’s got no choice since due to past outrages he’s virtually unhireable in the United States.  Despite his efforts to confront, challenge and charm his listeners, his producer Sydney (Lisa Houle) orders him to stay with school closings and road conditions as that’s the stuff Pontypool residents really want to hear.

But on one morning something decidedly different happens.  Strange reports come in of people acting strangely.  They babble nonsense.  They repeat words and phrases over and over.  The people band into mobs that becomes violently bloodthirsty.  Other people are killed.  Property is destroyed.  Grant, Lisa and their technician Laurel Ann (Georgina Reilly) can only listen as terrified citizens call the radio station to describe what is happening in the town.  A happening that can only be described as a zombie outbreak.

But as Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak) explains, these aren’t zombies in the conventional sense.  The people are infected with a virus that lives in certain words of the English language.  The virus is driven to communicate with others in order to spread itself to as many hosts as possible to survive.  Unfortunately the virus also turns its hosts into homicidal maniacs.  Grant, Lisa and Dr. Mendez can’t leave the radio station due to the rampaging mob outside and their situation inside becomes more desperate when Laurel Ann becomes infected…

PONTYPOOL is that rare horror movie; one that totally took me by surprise and one that completely drew me in as I had absolutely no idea where this was going or how it was going to end.  Even though the entire movie takes place inside the radio station we get a good idea of the carnage happening outside through phone calls from panicked citizens to Grant, Lisa and Dr. Mendez who are trying their best to deal with what is going on.  And even after they figure out what’s going on, how do they communicate with the outside world to tell them without spreading the virus since they don’t know which words are infected?

This new twist on the zombie idea is a welcome one and gives this material a freshness that is welcome to see.  Stephen McHattie is terrific as the beleaguered Mazzy.  Looking like Lance Hendrickson’s meaner brother with a whiskey-soaked voice he brings his A-game to the role and delivers in style.  I guarantee that you won’t take your eyes off him while he’s on screen.  Lisa Houle backs him up very well and it’s both inspiring and sad to see the course their relationship takes during the course of this incredible situation.

There’s not a whole bunch of gore or wince inducing violence but that doesn’t mean that PONTYPOOL doesn’t deliver on the horror.  By all means, if you haven’t seen it yet and you want to watch a zombie movie unlike any you’ve seen before, this is the one.  Enjoy.

93 minutes

Avatar

2009

20th Century Fox/Lightstorm Entertainment

Written and Directed by James Cameron

Produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau

I have to be honest and confess that I’m biased when it comes to James Cameron because he hasn’t yet made a movie I haven’t liked.  Which compared to a lot of other filmmakers isn’t a lot.  I mean, counting AVATAR he’s directed eight movies in thirty years.  We’ve got directors who have made thirty movies in eight years.  But James Cameron’s movies are all ‘event’ movies and he’s such a meticulous director/writer that he’s in no rush to make a movie just to make a movie.  He makes movies that are entire worlds that draw us in and engage us totally and completely into what is happening on the screen.  Twenty minutes into AVATAR I completely forgot I was looking at SFX and CGI characters and digital sets.  That’s how immersed into the story and characters I was.  And I attribute that to the genius of James Cameron.  Unlike directors like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich he knows how to spend half a billion bucks on a movie that makes me feel like I haven’t wasted my money or more importantly, my time.

The planet Pandora is extraordinarily hostile to human beings.  Even the air is toxic and it seems like every animal on the planet is out to eat every other animal.  Pandora also is rich with the mineral unobtanium which is being mined by a corporation that is never named but I’d be willing to bet my ‘Alien’ DVD it’s Weyland-Yutani. The use of unobtanium made me laugh as that fictional element has a very long history in science fiction.  Since seeing this movie I’ve heard from so-called science fiction fans complaining about how corny the name unobtanium is and that a name that sounded more realistic should have been used.  Which immediately told me that these ‘fans’ weren’t as knowledgeable about sci-fi as they thought they were.   The corporation has recruited an army of mercenaries as security to protect the workers from the many dangerous life-forms. Pandora is also inhabited by the Na’vi.  An azure-skinned, humanoid race, nine feet tall that live in a quasi-symbiotic relationship with the animals and the land.

Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) has helped develop the Avatar Program. Avatars are Na’vi/Human clones bio-engineered to enable humans to interact with the Na’vi.  Humans are linked to their specific Avatars and control them while their human body sleeps.  This is particularly appealing to paraplegic ex-Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington).  Jake is invited to join The Avatar Program due to his twin brother’s untimely death.  Since his DNA is identical to his brother’s, Jake can link with his Avatar.  This doesn’t sit well with Dr. Augustine but it works out just fine for Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) who sees this as an opportunity to get valuable intelligence on the Na’vi.  Quaritch dangles the promise of surgery that will restore the full use of his legs to Jake.  And naturally Jake accepts the deal

Jake’s first time out in the bush in his Avatar ends up with him lost in the jungle which he is woefully unsuited to survive in, despite his Marine training.  Luckily for him he’s rescued by a Na’vi warrior woman, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) who takes him back to her clan.  There are a couple of her clansmen who aren’t happy with this.  Her father Eytucan (Wes Studi) the leader of the clan and his heir, the clan’s best warrior Tsu’Tey (Laz Alonso) who’d cheerfully cut Jake’s throat if it wasn’t for the clan’s queen and spiritual leader Mo’at (CCH Pounder) who persuades her husband to let Jake stay and learn their ways while they learn more about him.  Neytiri is charged with teaching the outsider how to be a true Na’vi.  And she does a good job of it.  A really good job.  Maybe too good as it turns out.

Okay, let’s get this out of the way right up front. You’ve probably heard that AVATAR is a big budget remake of “Dances With Wolves” in sci-fi drag and to an extent, it’s correct.  But I’ve seen plenty of other westerns about a white man going ‘native’ and adopting another culture.  There’s elements of “Lord Jim” and “The Last Samurai” and “The Mission” in here as well along with half a dozen other movies.

But AVATAR is told so well and the special effects are so magnificent that all that becomes unimportant.  James Cameron spends a considerable amount of time on the Na’vi way of life as seen through the eyes of Jake and we, along with him soon have a respect and fascination for their world and their relationship.  Sam Worthington really sells the movie, along with Sigourney Weaver; whose Avatar is so realistic and looks so much like her it’s almost creepy.

And any director who can make me like Michelle Rodriguez is okay in my book.  For once she’s not playing the perpetually pissed-off Latina and does some real acting here.  Giovanni Ribisi and Stephen Lang aren’t served as well as the other actors by the screenplay.  Their characters are so one dimensional that right from their first scenes they’re gnashing their teeth, yelling “Crush!  Kill!  Destroy!”and planning to wipe out the Na’vi.  And that’s just about the same note they play through the whole movie.

And AVATAR makes the same mistake “Star Trek: Insurrection” made.  Remember how in that movie Starfleet wanted to remove a relatively small group of natives off their own world in order to exploit the anti-aging properties of the planet?  Now the big flaw in that thinking was this: why couldn’t everybody share the planet?  I mean, it’s a pretty big planet.  Lots of room for all, I should think.   In AVATAR, whenever Giovanni Ribisi started in about there being such a rich deposit of unobtanium under the sacred Hometree I asked myself why couldn’t the corporation find another deposit somewhere on the planet and spare everyone a lot of needless bloodshed and violence.  But James Cameron works so hard at making us hate the corporation and the mercenaries that angle is never explored.  And Cameron pounds the pro-environmental angle into our foreheads at every single opportunity in a not very subtle fashion.

Having said all that is AVATAR worth your time?  Sure it is.  It’s a James Cameron movie and once again he’s presented us a movie full of life, meticulous detail, astounding action sequences and exceptional acting.  Sure the story is pure 50’s science fiction pulp adventure but its 50’s science fiction pulp that makes us care about what we’re watching and that makes all the difference.

162 minutes

PG-13

Quigley Down Under

MGM
1990

Directed by Simon Wincer

Produced by Stanley O’Toole and Alexandra Rose

Written by John Hill

Original Music by Basil Poledouris

I think it’s really a damn shame that Tom Selleck never became as big a movie star as I think he solidly deserved to be. He got jerked out of playing Indiana Jones and despite whatever you may have heard from that friend of yours who knows all about movies or that other friend who claims he knows the “real story” Tom Selleck was the first choice of both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg for Indiana Jones.

Tom Selleck has had a solid movie career, though and he did some really good stuff that I liked a lot. He got to do a couple of 1930’s adventure films such as “Lassiter” with Jane Seymour in which he played a cat burglar operating in London just before WWII and “High Road To China” where he played a boozy barnstorming pilot helping Bess Armstrong find her father who’s been kidnapped by a Chinese warlord. He also did more than his share of westerns and if your cable/satellite provider carries TNT then you know what I’m talking about. During the 90’s it seemed like every other week there was a new western starring Tom Selleck featured on that station. But he did one major feature western that has gone seriously unnoticed: QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER.

Matthew Quigley (Tom Selleck) is a cowboy/sharpshooter from America who travels to Australia with his trusty weapon: a modified 1847 Sharps Buffalo Rifle with which he can hit a man from 1200 yards away. That may not sound impressive but as a way of reference let’s put it this way: the modern football field is 100 yards long. You do the math. Quigley’s been hired by a wealthy and powerful landowner, Elliot Marston (Alan Rickman) for a job. He doesn’t say what the job is but he’ll pay Quigley 50 dollars in gold just to make the three-month trip to his ranch just to hear him out. Quigley finds Marston to be a refined gentleman obsessed with The American West. He even has a matched pair of Navy Colts that he’s become expert at using. Marston is also a sadistic racist who wants Quigley to use his sharpshooting skills to help in cutting down the Outback aborigines. Quigley’s response to this job offer is to kick Marston’s ass.

He would have been much better off just saying no and going on back home. He’s beaten half to death, taken out to the unforgiving Australia desert and dumped along with Crazy Cora (Laura San Giacomo) a woman Quigley has befriended. For some reason Crazy Cora thinks that Quigley is her husband Roy and part of the fun of the movie is that we’re never sure exactly how crazy Crazy Cora really is as even Quigley says to her at one point: “The scary thing is that from time to time you actually make sense.” Quigley and Cora are rescued by aborigines and that sets up the second half of the movie as Quigley goes after Marston and in the process becomes a legend among the aborigines known as ‘The Spirit Warrior’. He also learns the tragic history of Crazy Cora and why she became crazy.

QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER is rarely mentioned when even western fans get together and I don’t know why. It’s got Tom Selleck who is one of the few modern actors who actually looks as if he belongs in The Old West. He’s a worthy successor to Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, both of who would have slid into this role like you slide into your favorite jeans. He’s tough when he has to be in his scenes with Alan Rickman and tender in his scenes with Laura San Giacomo. Selleck has studied his westerns and he knows that in a role like this less is more. He says only what he has to say and no more. It’s a great old school performance.

Laura San Giacomo is totally terrific. She has to carry the load of being the only comic relief in the movie and she does it by creating a character that has us constantly wondering: “is she really crazy or just playing crazy?” Even covered in dirt she’s mad sexy and she has two really great scenes: one where she softly tells Quigley what happened to make her crazy and the other is where she spends a horrifying night defending an aborigine baby from a pack of dingos.

Alan Rickman is wonderful as Elliot Marston and if you expect to see him playing Hans Gruber In A Western, think again. Rickman’s too damn good for that. Marston’s a separate bad guy and he and Quigley make for wonderfully matched opponents. It helps that Rickman and Selleck look as if they’re having just as much fun going up against each other as Rickman and Willis did.

What else can I mention? Oh, yes…the simply magnificent score by Basil Poledouris. If you don’t know the work of this master then shame on you. And for QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER he composed one the most heroic, rousing scores I’ve ever heard for a movie. The location work is beautiful and really gives you a sense of how big Australia is. There’s a scene where Quigley has been already traveling four days to get to Marston’s and asks one of Marston’s men when will they get to his ranch and the man responds: “You’ve been on it for two days.” The look on Quigley’s face says it all. I would have liked to see more of the aborigine way of life but hey, the small bits we do see where they teach Quigley how to find water in the desert and how he teaches them how to lasso are fun and even charming.

So should you see QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER? I give thee a resounding “YES”. If you’re a fan of Tom Selleck in particular or westerns in general then you really ought to do yourself a favor and see this one. It’s got a solid story, some terrific action sequences and strong acting. QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER is a movie that belongs in the library of every movie fan.

PG-13
119 minutes

Angel Heart

1987

Carolco Entertainment/TriStar

Directed by Alan Parker
Produced by Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar
Screenplay by Alan Parker
Based on the novel “Falling Angel” by William Hjortsberg

Now here’s a movie that got into my head the very first time I saw it and squirmed around in there for a few days and made a nice little bloody nest where it stayed festering and feeding on my subconscious.  ANGEL HEART remains one of my personal favorites because it is photographed so well, the performances are all outstanding and it combines the private eye and supernatural genres flawlessly. It’s a hell of a movie and given the subject matter, I mean that quite literally.

Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) is a private detective operating in 1955 New York. And he’s definitely not Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. When we first see him he looks like he’s barely recovered from a three-day binge. He’s contacted by a lawyer named Winesap (“Law & Order” regular Dann Florek) who represents a strange foreign gentleman named Louis Cyphre who wants Harry to find out if a moderately famous 1940′s crooner named Johnny Favorite is still alive. When asked why, Cyphre simply states that Johnny Favorite owes him collateral for “certain services”. Harry thinks it stinks like a houseguest who won’t leave, but hey, Cyphre’s $5,000 check is good and Harry takes the case.

Turns out that Johnny Favorite was drafted into the army and returned home from the war with his handsome face all blown to raw hamburger.  After plastic surgery that changed his features completely, he simply upped and disappeared from the hospital. But after Harry does some checking and finds that the doctor who did the plastic surgery on Johnny Favorite falsified the records…well, he starts taking a genuine interest in this case. Maybe he’s at last gotten hold of that one big case every private eye dreams of solving.

He would have been better off sticking to his divorce cases. Very shortly, Harry is up to his unwashed neck in a mystery that he rapidly realizes may cost more than his life to solve. The trail of the singer Johnny Favorite is a blood-soaked one that leads from a really strange church in Harlem to the voodoo haunted bayous of New Orleans.  It soon occurs to Harry as he continues on his quest that the solution to the mystery may be more frightening than the mystery itself. But by that time his curiosity and suspicions about the origins and true identity of the elusive Johnny Favorite has possessed him to the point that he now absolutely has to know the truth, despite the fact that Johnny Favorite himself appears to be gruesomely killing every and any one who shows the least curiosity about finding him…

ANGEL HEART has so much to recommend it; I hardly know where to begin. The performances are absolutely first rate. Mickey Rourke may have given the best performance of his career in this movie and I think his “I know who I am!” scene near the end is one of his finest. Robert DeNiro is not only sinister but also quite humorous in his role. Look closely at him in this movie because there are not only visual clues to his true identity but he also looks quite a lot like Martin Scorsese did at the time this movie was being filmed (which I didn’t notice myself until reading Roger Ebert’s review of this movie) and given what we find out about Louis Cyphre, it may give you a chuckle.

If you recall anything about ANGEL HEART it’s probably because of two scenes Lisa Bonet has in this movie. The first is a voodoo ritual scene and the second is a sex scene with her and Mickey Rourke. I’m not going to spoil either of these scenes for you in describing them save to say that I admire Lisa Bonet for taking such acting risks in scenes that could not have been easy to shoot but they do indeed contribute to the story and are not added for shock. And what makes it even more amazing that Lisa Bonet filmed this movie while on hiatus from “The Cosby Show” where she was playing one of the sweetly wholesome Huxtable kids. I can imagine the discussions that took place on the “Cosby Show” set after ANGEL HEART hit the screens.

There is a lot in ANGEL HEART that is not for the faint of heart or the squeamish. Most people say ‘horror movie’ and they think of the “Friday The 13th” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” When I say ‘horror movie’ I’m talking about a movie like ANGEL HEART or “Night Of The Hunter” where the story and characters are presented with an intelligence and internal logic that before you know it, halfway through the movie you’re totally sucked in and forget you’re watching a movie.

The bottom line is this: if you have seen ANGEL HEART then you’re probably nodding your head in agreement while you’re reading this. If you haven’t seen ANGEL HEART then I recommend that you Netflix it at your earliest opportunity.  Get yourself the movie goodies of your choice. Put the DVD in your player and turn off the lights. And then prepare yourself for a really wonderful example of what I mean when I say ‘horror movie’.

113 min.
Rated R
for graphic violence, adult language and graphic sex. The sex scene between Mickey Rourke and Lisa Bonet has become infamous for it’s startling imagery while the voodoo ritual scene may make those of more conservative religious beliefs and practices uncomfortable so don’t say I didn’t you. And folks, please put your kids to bed before you and your sweetheart watch this one, okay? Thank you and enjoy.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

1985

Orion Pictures

Directed by Guy Hamilton

Produced by Larry Spiegel and Dick Clark

Screenplay by Christopher Wood

Based on “The Destroyer” created by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

In the 1970’s there was a tremendous revival of pulp adventure heroes of the 1930’s and 1940’s.  And as a result the paperback racks in bookstores were stuffed with novels reprinting the adventures of such classic characters like Doc Savage, The Shadow, Conan The Barbarian, G-8 And His Battle Aces and The Spider.  They were helped along by breathtakingly beautiful covers done by legends of the art world such as James Bama, Jim Steranko and Frank Frazetta. And they sold like crack.  And it was like crack to the imagination of a high school student named Derrick Ferguson who spent his entire allowance on buying them and who spent his weekends devouring them voraciously and it was these pulps that shaped my writing ambitions and my style.

Publishers who saw this trend for pulp adventure jumped on the bandwagon and soon there was a whole army of modern day characters inspired by the pulps with their own series fighting for space on the racks with their forefathers.  Some of them were pretty poor, to be honest.  Some like Mack Bolan, The Executioner still survive to this day.  One of my favorites was The Inquisitor,  a hitman that worked for The Vatican.  He had to fast three days for every man he killed while on assignment and his confession was only heard by The Pope himself.  But the guy who really stood out and gained a rabid fan following that exists to this day is Remo Williams, The Master Of Sinanju who is the hero of “The Destroyer” series of novels which still enjoys life in paperbacks and was featured in the movie REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS which in the opinion of your humble reviewer is one of the unsung classics of pulp adventure movies.

A New York cop (Fred Ward) is catching a coffee break under The Brooklyn Bridge when he stumbles on what appears to be a random mugging.  He takes out the three muggers all by himself and while he’s calling for backup in his patrol car, it’s shoved into the East River and he’s presumed killed.  He wakes up in a hospital where he’s told by the sharply dressed Conn MacCleary (J.A. Preston) that he’s been handpicked to be the enforcement arm of a secret organization called CURE.  “Why CURE?” The cop asks.  Cleary answers; “because this country has a disease and we’re the cure.  You’re going to be the Thirteenth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Get Away With It.” Which I think should be the motto of just about every pulp hero.

MacCleary gives him his new name: Remo Williams and takes him to meet the head of the organization, one Harold Smith, who works in a dark sub-basement of The World Bank.  Smith tells him that CURE has only four members: MacCleary, Smith, Remo and the man who will train Remo: Chiun (Joel Grey) The current Master Of Sinanju, an ancient Korean who will teach Remo the art of Sinanju, which is the martial art from which all other martial arts such as karate, kung fu and ninjitsu was derived. CURE is an organization that is only known to The President of the United States and answers only to him.

Chiun is takes Remo under his wing as his student and informs him that The House of Sinanju has a long history of ‘perfect assassinations’.  As Chiun tells Remo in a scene that is hysterical to watch and listen to courtesy of Joel Grey’s utter seriousness and Fred Ward’s increasing disbelief, assassination is the highest form of public service.  The House of Sinanju is responsible for the deaths of such notable historical figures as Alexander The Great, Napoleon and Robin Hood.  All perfect assassinations carried out with such skill and grace that they appeared to be accidents or natural deaths.  Chiun begins training Remo for his job while Smith lines up his first job: an industrialist named George Grove (Charles Cioffi) who has been bilking the United States Army out of billions with a weapons systems called The Harp that doesn’t work.  Grove’s theft has come to attention of Major Rayner Fleming (Kate Mulgrew) who is making trouble for Grove and she’s targeted to be killed.  Smith assigns Remo Williams to protect Major Fleming and expose Grove’s evildoing.

REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES isn’t a movie that comes up very often when people discuss superhero or pulp inspired movies but it’s a movie that I highly recommend you seek out and watch.  Mainly for the performances of the always likeable and watchable Fred Ward (who would have been the perfect Rocky Davis if a ‘Challengers Of The Unknown’ movie had ever been made) and Joel Grey as Chiun.  Their relationship in the movie is what really sells this movie as it progresses from one of active hatred to respect and love to the point where Chiun calls Remo his son and Remo calls Chiun ‘Little Father” The training scenes are a lot of fun, especially the one where Chiun seeks to conquer Remo’s fear of heights by having him stand on the top of a moving car of Coney Island’s world famous Wonder Wheel while dodging the other moving cars.  The scene is helped tremendously by the fact that it’s obviously Fred Ward doing his stunts and it’s nail-bitingly suspenseful as well as hilarious, once again courtesy of Joel Grey’s comments.

In fact, Joel Grey effortlessly steals the movie as Chiun.  He creates a wonderfully eccentric character that is as wise and as badass as Master Yoda.  But a whole lot funnier.  Chiun is capable of taking out an army of fully armed men barehanded but he’s also addicted to soap operas which he considers to be the highest artistic achievement of American culture.  One of the best scenes in the movie is when he is forced to tell Remo that if Remo fails in his assignment to take out Grove that Chiun will have to kill Remo.  The scene is done with a degree of feeling and sheer acting power that lifts it out of what could have been a run of the mill action movie and approaches real heart.  It’s a terrific scene.  It’s also helped by the music which is done by Craig Safan and it is absolutely one the best music soundtracks ever done for a movie.  The theme music is guaranteed to get your heart pumping.

The only let down of the movie is the bad guy.  Charles Cioffi’s George Grove really isn’t much of a villain and he’s not much of a threat.  The fact that he’s stealing billions of money from the US Government reduces Remo to not much more than a high level collection agent and Grove’s crew of henchmen aren’t on the level of James Bond style enforcers such as Oddjob or Jaws which is what the movie really needs to give Remo a real threat.  But the performances are what really sell this movie, especially those of a pre ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ Kate Mulgrew, Fred Ward and Joel Grey.  Joel Grey won two awards for his role in this movie:  One from The Golden Globes and one from The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films and he deserved them both.

So should you see REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS?  You get an enthusiastic Hell Yes from me.  It’s a lost classic that needs to be seen by lovers of the pulps.  It’s modern day pulp all the way and it’s done with style, class and a love of the genre.  It should be seen just for the terrific performances of Fred Ward and Joel Grey is nothing else.  It’s a great Saturday afternoon movie.  Enjoy with my blessings.

121 minutes

Rated PG-13

Better In The Dark #103

 

Episode 103: BiTD AUTOPSY ON…THE HUMAN TARGET

Last year it was the favorite new show of The Boys Outta Brooklyn…now they can hardy stand to look at it. So, to usher in their new segment, Tom and Derrick go in depth to dissect and discuss the Mark Valley ‘hour long action movie every week’ and try to figure out what went wrong. Join them as they reveal how a new show runner took everything unique and good about the adventures of Christopher Chance, Winston and Guerro and turned it into just another generic TV show. Plus, Charlie Sheen inspires a talk about the state of the American sitcom, why the world would be a better place with more Nicole Sullivan in it, and the guys play fantasy booker and plot out what they’d do if they were the show runners for Season Three. You don’t wanna know, dude, so get to clicking.

BETTER IN THE DARK
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Join us now at http://www.earth-2.net!

Tom and Walter Bonham tackle the comic book issues of the day at BURNING COMICS! http://tschamp.podomatic.com

DILLON
http://dillon-dlferguson.blogspot.com/

The Stunt Man

1980

20th Century Fox

Directed and Produced by Richard Rush

Screenplay by Richard Rush

Based on the novel by Paul Brodeur


There’s a whole boatload of actors I respect.  An army of actors I like.  Many I love. A few I totally love.  And a very small handful that I LOVE.  And then there’s Peter O’Toole.  An actor of such enormous talent that saying I love him just doesn’t do justice to the man.  Certainly I revere him for movies such as “Lawrence of Arabia””Becket””Lord Jim” and “The Ruling Class” but it’s his other, lesser known movies that I really treasure.  Such as “The Lion In Winter” which I consider the most quotable movie in film history.  Or “The Night of The Generals” or “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”  And in the 1980’s he made three movies that I absolutely insist every Peter O’Toole fan see if they consider themselves true fans of his work: “My Favorite Year” “Creator” and THE STUNT MAN.

Ask me why I love watching Peter O’Toole and my answer is simple: somehow he makes me believe in characters that can only exist in the movies.  The utter theatrically of the way his characters, walk, talk and act is at once blatantly artificial and yet, totally realistic in the context of the circumstances they are in.  It’s weird, I know.  But that’s the only way I can explain it that makes sense.  And there are very few actors who use their voice the way Peter O’Toole uses his.  It’s a voice that demands you listen to it because everything its saying has meaning, wit, depth, intelligence and personality.

THE STUNT MAN is Cameron (Steve Railsback) a Vietnam vet who is on the run from the police for an unspecified crime.  He tries to hitch a ride on a bridge from a man driving a vintage Duesenberg and without warning; the driver tries to kill him.  In defending himself, the Duesenberg goes off the bridge and into the river.  Now believing himself to be a murderer, Cameron continues to flee and finds himself on the set of a World War I epic being directed by the brilliantly eccentric Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole)

Turns out the driver of the Duesenberg was the stunt man for the star of the movie.  Eli only has the location for three more days and he needs to finish his movie.  Eli strikes a bargain with Cameron: if he’ll agree to take the place of the stunt man he accidentally killed so that Eli can finish his movie, Eli will hide him from the local police chief (Alex Rocco) and give him safe passage back to California.  Cameron is suspicious.  Hell, he’s downright paranoid.  There’s no way he can pass for the dead stunt man.  But he’s underestimated the power of movie magic and thanks to the craft of the makeup department; Cameron is transformed into a near double for the dead stunt man.  And since everybody on the set treats his as if he were and even calls him by the dead man’s name, Eli pulls it off.

But Cameron’s paranoia kicks into high gear as Eli goads him into doing more and more outrageous and dangerous stunts.  Eli plays mind games with him, deliberately challenging Cameron’s sense of his own identity, blurring his personal lines of reality and illusion.  And not just with Cameron either.  Eli’s God Complex extends to his relationship with the leading lady (Barbara Hershey) the screenwriter Sam (Allan Goorwitz) and the rest of the crew.  In fact, the only one who doesn’t appear to be impressed or intimidated by Eli is Chuck (Charles Bail, a real life stuntman) who trains Cameron for the movie’s increasingly wilder stunts.  And prepares him for the movie’s final stunt: the one Cameron ruined.  Except this time, he’s going to be behind the wheel of the car and he’s going to deliberately drive it into the river.

Everybody assures Cameron that he’ll be okay, everything’s fine.  Cameron’s not so sure.  In fact, due to the extra cameras in the car, Cameron’s positive that Eli means for him to die in the car to get that ‘authentic sense of madness’ he’s wanted in the movie all along.  By now, Cameron’s head has been so played with and so has ours that right along with him, we’re not so sure that he isn’t right.

THE STUNT MAN has deservedly gained a cult reputation for being a wonderfully directed and acted film and I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment.  Steve Railsback went on to have moderate success as an actor but for me, he never again did anything that comes close to the work he does in this movie.  Cameron’s not an easy character to like but we do come to sympathize with his situation.  Especially when we see what Eli Cross is like.  He’s a bit of a nut.  In fact, he may be totally crazy but he’s also dedicated to his vision of his epic.  His vision may be a little too much for his cast and crew to get hold of and it’s certainly beyond Cameron’s.  But in a strange way, these two men challenge each other in a way I think is meant to be a metaphor for the collaborative creative process of moviemaking.

But all that is secondary to the fact that THE STUNT MAN is an entertaining movie that is just a lot of fun to watch.  Barbara Hershey is incapable of being anything but beautiful and as far as I’m concerned she’s never turned in a bad performance.  Charles Bail gets in a lot of good funny bits such as his lamenting that Eli won’t let him do stunts with horses.   And Alex Rocco may have limited screen time but he’s pro enough to know what to do with it that it actually seems as if he’s on screen far longer and far more than he actually is.

But it’s Peter O’Toole’s movie all the way.  Whether dangling from a director’s crane making up bawdy poetry or raging at a A.D. who makes the mistake of yelling “Cut!” when he shouldn’t have, Eli Cross is a marvelously complex character who is as magic and as magnificent as the movie he’s making.  Do yourself a favor and check out THE STUNT MAN.  You’ll thank me for it.

131 minutes

Rated R

Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia

1974

United Artists

Directed by Sam Peckinpah
Produced by Martin Baum
Screenplay by Sam Peckinpah and Gordon T. Dawson
Story by Sam Peckinpah and Frank Kowalski

A young pregnant girl is ushered into the cavernous den of her father, a powerful Mexican industrialist/crime lord. The room is filled with family, friends and a doctor stands nearby. The industrialist has only one question for his pregnant daughter: “Who is the father?” She refuses to identify him. Three times he asks and three times she refuses. He motions to two of his men. One holds the girl down while the other, with a casual ruthlessness, breaks her arm. The girl collapses to the floor, sobbing while her mother rushes to her side, along with the other women in the family and the doctor. The doctor whispers to the girl and she hands over a locket with the picture of a man inside. It’s given to her father who recognizes the man and issues a simple order to his army of hired guns and assassins: BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA.

I related the above scene because I know that many readers of my reviews are women (God Bless ‘em, every one) and so might be sensitive to such a scene of brutality involving a girl who looks to be around 16 years old. Be advised that this scene happens in the first five minutes of the movie and Sam Peckinpah is just getting warmed up. If you think the first five minutes of BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA are horrifyingly sadistic and savagely brutal then you must not know your Peckinpah. Trust me, there’s a lot more to come during this movie. If you’re a sensitive soul as you read further you may just decide that this movie isn’t your bag and decide you don’t want to see it. Well, that’s why I write reviews for you, my friends.

The mercenaries and hired guns spread out across Mexico, hunting for Alfredo Garcia. The father has placed a million dollar price on the head. Just the head, mind you. But it’s got to be intact and plainly identifiable as Alfredo Garcia. Two American bounty hunters, Quill (Gig Young) and Sappensly (Robert Webber) wind up in a dingy fifth rate bar/whorehouse where they meet piano player Bennie (Warren Oates) who is sick to death of playing “Gunatanamera” for half-drunk tourists looking for ‘local color’. Bennie soon strikes a deal with the two men. He thinks he can find Alfredo Garcia for $10,000. Quill and Sappensly agree. With the condition that if Bennie doesn’t produce results in four days, there will be no hard feelings when they kill Bennie. Call it a breach of contract clause.

Bennie tracks down the beautiful Elita (Isela Vega) a hooker he knows has been sleeping on and off with Garcia. She’s also been sleeping with Bennie more off than on lately and he thinks it has something to do with Garcia. Turns out that Alfredo Garcia is dead and Elita knows where he’s buried. Bennie and Elita sneak out of town to go dig up the body so Bennie can get the head. But it’s not that easy. Bennie finds the body and takes the head but he has to fight for it in a truly grisly battle to the death where Elita is killed. Bennie puts the head in a burlap sack and as the movie goes on he forms a weird sort of bond with the head. He calls it “Al” and speaks as though it can hear him. Bennie starts to see that he and “Al” have a lot in common as he defends the head against all who try and take it from him. And Bennie decides to take “Al” directly to the man who asked for the head. It’s a confrontation that will end in a horrendously bloody shootout fueled by booze, grief, hatred and revenge.

BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA is by no means a fun date movie. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll be depressed after watching it. Unless you’re like me and actually enjoy this kind of take-no-prisoners storytelling. It’s not a pretty movie to watch. You can almost taste the sweat and dirt on the characters. It’s an extremely violent movie, even by today’s standards. But this is a Sam Peckinpah movie and one of Peckinpah’s major strengths as a director and as a storyteller was that he knew how to show violence. And I mean real violence. After a fight or shootout in a Sam Peckinpah movie there’s no high-fiving or throwing off glib wisecracks. The survivors are exhausted, traumatized and oftentimes surprised to find themselves still alive. Peckinpah directed “The Wild Bunch” which has what I think is the best shootout ever filmed and the movie’s graphic violence is legendary. In fact, the movie was reissued in 1993 with an NC-17 rating because of its violence. BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA isn’t quite in that category but its close.

The movie is worth seeing just for the performance of Warren Oates alone. A major character actor, Mr. Oates had few opportunities to star in a movie and after seeing this one, I wish he had. As Bennie he goes through an amazing range of emotions and situations, from wanna-be tough guy, to drunken slob, to tender lover and finally, grim avenger. It’s an Oscar worthy performance and supposedly, Mr. Oates adopted a lot of the personal mannerisms of Sam Peckinpah himself to use as Bennie. The sunglasses he wears throughout the movie were a pair he stole from Peckinpah.

Isela Vega is remarkable as Elita. She’s simply fascinating to look at and has a mature sexuality I find irresistible. This isn’t some anorexic pop tart trying to play a woman. This is most certainly a woman in body and soul and the scenes between Vega and Oates are amazing to watch in their raw frankness. They have a scene where they wake up the next day after having sex and the scene is amazingly natural in that they act as if the camera isn’t there. You know what I’m talking about. They do the things that people do after waking up from a night of boozy sex that might make you squirm uncomfortably if you’ve ever been there.

Gig Young and Robert Webber almost seem to be winking at the camera sometimes as they play their bounty hunter characters. They’re obviously having fun. There’s a great scene where they first meet Bennie and one of the bar’s whores tries to come onto Webber’s character. Webber cold cocks her without blinking an eye and the bar empties out in 4.1 seconds, with the whore’s girlfriends picking her up and carrying her out. I wouldn’t even spoil it for you by relating Bennie’s comment here. But you may find yourself laughing out loud and then wondering just why you laughed. And there’s a great bit where Bennie asks the Gig Young character what his name his. Young smirks as he answers; “Fred C. Dobbs”. Which shows me that the character Young plays was well aware of the parallel between the situation they were in and “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” And keep your eye out for a young Kris Kristofferson as a biker rapist.

So should you see BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA? I would say yes for a number of reasons: Sam Peckinpah was one of the greatest director/storytellers we’re ever gonna see and this movie is his dark, twisted masterpiece. It is so uncompromising in its vision that I honestly think it couldn’t be made today. The performance of Warren Oates is masterful. There are scenes of unrelenting psychosis as he drives toward his rendezvous with Hell, talking to the head of Alfredo Garcia that may make you think Mr. Oates is actually drinking real tequila from that bottle he keeps next to the head. You can see where notable film directors Quentin Tarentino and John Woo got a lot of their influences in this movie. But it’s a movie that shouldn’t be seen unless you’re willing to go where it’ll take you. There’s a part in the movie when Elita allows herself to be taken away to be raped and she says to Bennie; “I’ve been down this road before and you don’t know the way” I kinda get the impression that Sam Peckinpah thought the same way about directing BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA.

112 minutes
Rated R

The Long Riders

 

1980

United Artists/MGM

Produced by Tim Zinneman

Directed by Walter Hill

Written by Bill Bryden, Steven Smith, James Keach & Stacey Keach

Walter Hill has long been one of the most dependable directors working in Hollywood for more than thirty years now.  Even though you don’t hear his name as much as some others, he’s always there, turning out excellent, entertaining movies with such ease and regularity that I don’t think people know exactly just how good he is.  Most people are familiar with “48 Hours” and “Another 48 Hours” the two movies that made Eddie Murphy a movie star.  But I knew Walter Hill long before that from movies such as “Streets of Fire” “Trespass” “Johnny Handsome” and “Extreme Prejudice” and who could forget “The Warriors”?

Walter Hill is also a major fan of westerns and many of his modern day movies are actually westerns.  “Streets Of Fire” is a rock and roll version of “The Searchers” and “Extreme Prejudice” with Nick Nolte as a hardass Texas Ranger up against gunrunner Powers Booth is very much a modern day western with a climatic shootout that is clearly inspired by Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” Walter Hill knows his way around westerns as he proved with THE LONG RIDERS which still holds up very well I think as a superior example of the genre and I consider just as much a classic as “The Warriors”

The movie recounts the fabled exploits of the James/Younger Gang who robbed trains and banks in post Civil War Missouri.  The twist in this movie is that brothers in the gang are also played by real life brothers.  So we’ve got Stacey and James Keach playing Frank and Jesse James.  David Carradine, Keith Carradine and Robert Carradine play The Younger brothers.  Dennis Quaid and Randy Quaid play The Miller brothers while Christopher Guest and Nicholas Guest are Bob and Charlie Ford.  It’s an interesting acting experiment that I think pays off extremely well.  Having real life brothers play these roles gives them an intimacy the actors didn’t have to work at.  Scenes between the actors have warmth and a feel that doesn’t have to be forced.  You believe right from the start that these guys are brothers.  And their natural resemblance helps greatly as well.  Don’t you get annoyed when movies try to pass off actors that have absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to each other as family?

The movie doesn’t actually have a solid plot or story.  We follow the members of The James/Younger gang as they go about their day job of robbing and stealing and then they return to the safety of their Missouri home where everybody treats them like heroes.  Jesse James (James Keach) is making plans to get married that Cole Younger (David Carradine) thinks is a bad move.  Mainly because they’ve got the tenacious Pinkerton Detective Jacob Rixley (James Whitmore, Jr.) on their trail and he’s vowed to bring in the gang dead or alive.  The problem is that Rixley’s men are bungling incompetents who manage to kill everybody else except the men they’re supposed to be after.  But Rixley gets his chance when he gets word that that the gang is planning to rob the bank at Northfield, Minnesota.  It’s a robbery destined to end in horrifyingly blood-soaked carnage and after it’s over, the James/Younger gang will never be the same.

In between we’re treated to some pretty cool shootouts and great acting.  David Carradine steals the show as Cole Younger who is wonderfully badass in this movie.  He has a terrific knife fight with Sam Starr (James Remar) the husband of Belle Starr (Pamela Reed) a whore who Cole is more in love with than he’d like anybody, especially Belle to know.  Pamela Reed is also so good in this one you wish she’d had more screen time but trust me; she makes the most of what she’s got to work with.   It also doesn’t hurt that she’s flat out gorgeous to look at.   James Keach does some interesting things with his characterization of Jesse James where he sometimes comes off as not being quite human in his dealings with other people.  Stacey Keach is the better actor of the two and I think it was generous of him to step back and let his brother play Jesse, who has more lines and more screen time than Frank.  Dennis Quaid doesn’t have much to do in this movie so don’t look for a lot of him but his brother Randy carries the load for them both.  He has a terrifically funny scene where he sits down next to a group of musicians playing “The Battle Cry of Freedom” and with a big friendly grin and an even bigger gun advises it would be better for their health if they play “I’m A Good Ol’ Rebel” instead.

So should you see THE LONG RIDERS?  Chances are if you’re a fan of westerns and/or Walter Hill like me you’ve already seen it.  But if you haven’t and you’re wondering what you should put down on your list of movies to Netflix, add THE LONG RIDERS to that list.  It’s a terrific western with great shootouts, outlaws who look damn cool in ankle-length dusters, train robberies, a grimly wry sense of humor and wonderfully authentic looking atmosphere.  Enjoy.

 

Rated R

97 minutes

 

The Wild Bunch

1969

Warner Bros-Seven Arts

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Produced by Phil Feldman

Screenplay by Sam Peckinpah and Waylon Green

Based on a story by Waylon Green and Roy N. Sickner

THE WILD BUNCH represents a lot to me personally.  Besides being one of the greatest Western movies ever made.  THE WILD BUNCH was my first “grown-up” movie that my father took me to see.  Just the two of us went and we went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner afterwards to talk about the movie.  It was a great day and there’s not many days from my childhood that remain as vivid as that particular day.  It also was the first Western I ever saw in a movie theater and so began my overwhelming love for the genre which is just as fierce today.

Sam Peckinpah may have had his faults but by God, could the man direct a movie.  And THE WILD BUNCH, along with “Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia” and “Ride The High Country” represents what I personally consider his holy trinity of Westerns.  And yes, even though “Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia” is set in modern times, it is a Western.

But in a way, THE WILD BUNCH is set in modern times as well.  The gang of aging outlaws we follow through the movie don’t carry the time-honored six-shooters we’re used to seeing in a Western.  No, these guys pack .45 automatics and pump shotguns.  That’s because the movie’s set in 1913.  Times are changing rapidly, thanks to technology, represented in the movie by the railroad, automatic weapons and automobiles.  Pike Bishop (William Holden) Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine) Lyle and Tector Gorch (Warren Oates and Ben Johnson) Angel (Jaime Sanchez) and Freddie Sykes (Edmund O’Brien) are The Wild Bunch and their latest job has gone totally bust.  They attempt to rob a Texas railroad office and end up being ambushed by a posse of bloodthirsty yet hopelessly incompetent bounty hunters (Peckinpah regulars L.Q. Jones and Strother Martin among them) led by Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) who once was Pike’s best friend and rode with The Wild Bunch.  He’s been released from Yuma with one mandate: hunt down and kill his old partners or get sent back to Yuma.  He really doesn’t want to go back to Yuma.

They end up with bags full of washers instead of gold.  The failure of this job brings the gang to a painful conclusion: times are changing and as Pike says; “We’ve got to start looking past our guns.” There’s no more wild west for these guys to roam and they’re getting too old for this line of work.

Pike and the others make a deal with the Mexican General Mapache (Emilio Fernandez) to rob an Army train transporting guns and ammo and turn it over to him.  Mapache’s willing to pay them enough to retire on but Angel’s not willing to steal guns for Mapache.  Mexican himself, Angel argues that Mapache’s nothing but a petty tyrant, setting himself up as general to exploit his own people.  Angel also doesn’t appreciate Mapache having stolen his woman.  But due to the presence of a German munitions expert/military advisor (Fernando Wagner) it’s pretty obvious to ex-military men like Pike and Dutch that Mapache’s ambitions are anything but petty.  Angel agrees to help rob the train if he can have some guns to give to his village.

And so The Wild Bunch goes off to pull what they hope will be their last job.  But it’s a job that will test their rough code of loyalty to each other.  A job that will end in bloody vengeance.

There’s really not much I can say about THE WILD BUNCH that you probably already haven’t read or heard about your own self.  It’s rightly earned its reputation as a masterpiece of filmmaking.  And more than 40 years after it was made it still is considered one of the most violent movies ever made.  In 1993, the movie was resubmitted to the MPAA ratings board for the movie’s theatrical re-release and the board slapped it with an NC-17.  Hard to argue with that one, considering the astronomical body count.  And especially that apocalyptic final shootout in which The Wild Bunch massacres an entire army in a suicidal orgy of gunfire that has to be seen to be believed.

But it isn’t just the violence that makes this movie so outstanding for me.  It’s the perfect cast that is nothing less than convincing in every shot.  The themes of trust and betrayal between men who try to be honorable in a world and profession that won’t let them.  The moody interludes between the characters.  Such as the quiet talk between Pike and Dutch as they lie beside a campfire.  Or the conversation with an old Mexican bandit.  Or the ending which carries the promise of a new Wild Bunch.

If you’ve seen THE WILD BUNCH then you know what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t, I don’t know why you’ve waited this long.  It’s a masterpiece, plain and simple.  If you’ve never seen it, Netflix it at your earliest opportunity.  If you have, what the hell, see it again.

143 minutes

Rated: R