Month: July 2012

Dick Tracy

1990

Directed and Produced by Warren Beatty
Written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr.
Based on the characters and comic strip created by Chester Gould

I’m reminded of a conversation my wife Patricia and I had some years back. Before I stopped being cheap and simply bought DVDs I would burn movies from my DVR onto blank DVDs.  Two of those movies happened to be the Tim Burton “Batman” and DICK TRACY. Patricia is curious as to why I put the both of them on the same DVD. I shrug. I dunno. Just worked out that way.

She has a different theory. “Maybe because your subconscious made the connection that if Bruce Wayne had decided to be a cop instead of Batman he’d be Dick Tracy?”

Actually, I think it had more to do with the fact that both movies together had enough running time to fit on one four hour DVD but I have to admit that Patricia may just have had a point there. Batman and Dick Tracy have an awful lot in common. Both men have sacrificed normal lives to wage an unending war on crime. Both fight bizarre villains with outrageous physical and psychological deformities. Both utilize advanced technology in their work and both wear distinctive outfits that identify them immediately so you have no doubt whom you’re dealing with.

This is never more apparent than in the scene where we first see Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) clearly when he steps out of a police car wearing a midnight black suit, blindingly white shirt, blood red tie and canary yellow trench coat with matching fedora. Now no self-respecting cop in the real world is going to wear a getup like that but hey, this is DICK TRACY we’re talking about and the way Warren Beatty wears the clothes and plays the character, we buy into it with no problem. He’s Dick Tracy. I defy any actor today to pull off making a canary yellow trench coat and fedora look as cool as Beatty does.

Dick Tracy has been summoned via his trusty wrist radio to the scene a massive mob rubout. Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) has made his move to take over The City.  He’s rubbed out his major rival Lips Manliss (Paul Sorvino) and seized all of his assets, including his sizzling hot girlfriend Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) who’s also the best singer in The City, backed up by her master pianist 88 Keys (Mandy Patinkin)

Dick Tracy isn’t able to get the goods on Big Boy, not even after sweating Big Boy’s stooges Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman) Flattop (William Forsythe) and Itchy (Ed O’Ross).  But he’s not about to let Big Boy have his way in his town and he goes on a crime busting crusade that would make The Dark Knight himself envious.  While Dick Tracy is cleaning up the town against such miscreants such as The Brow (Chuck Hicks) Pruneface (R.G. Armstrong) and Spud Spaldoni (James Caan) he’s also got to deal with other matters.   Such as his relationship with his longtime girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headley) who’s starting to think that maybe there’s not much future in being involved a man whose true love is fighting crime. And then there’s The Kid (Charlie Korsmo) a street urchin who comes to live with Dick Tracy after Tracy catches him stealing a watch and maybe is awakening in him paternal instincts Tracy never had before. And Breathless Mahoney starts coming after Tracy for reasons of her own and the feelings she’s awakening in him had best not be mentioned if we’re to keep this review family friendly.

DICK TRACY originally showed up in theatres the year after the wildly successful Tim Burton “Batman” and it was pretty obvious that Touchstone Pictures/Disney was trying to generate the same kind of hysteria “Batman” had generated and they came pretty close. The DICK TRACY logo was almost as ubiquitous as the Bat symbol had been the summer before and the media hype generated was at a fever pitch, fueled mostly by the Madonna/Warren Beatty romance that had begun while they were filing this movie. But despite all the hoopla that DICK TRACY would be another “Batman”, it stands up on it’s own as a unique interpretation of the character. I like how everything in this world has only primary colors and most of the time everything is staged as if the action is supposed to be in individual comic panels. And there’s no product placement at all here. When Tracy opens a can of beans the label simply says ‘Beans’. The police cars simply say ‘Police’. A tube of toothpaste simply says ‘Toothpaste’. It’s a comic book world these people inhabit and as a director, Warren Beatty does an excellent job of translating a comic book world into a real life language we as an audience can get a hold of and accept with batting an eye. I love the look of DICK TRACY which makes it plain we’re in a comic book world that at the same time looks highly theatrical and yet functional.

That’s not to say that I’m totally in love with the movie. Much as I love Madonna I wish the movie had spent less time with her trying to vamp Dick Tracy and more time with him going toe-to-toe with the various bizarre crime bosses of The City in tommy-gun shootouts. I mean, this movie has great visual bad guys like Littleface, The Brow, Influence and Mumbles and most of them we see only enough of to get us interested in and then they’re either bumped off or we never see them again. I also don’t like the music by Danny Elfman. He’d just done the soundtrack for “Batman” the year before and indeed, a lot of the music in DICK TRACY sounds like music left over from “Batman”

But then there’s the extraordinary visual style of the movie, which suckers me in every time. And the performances of Warren Beatty and Al Pacino. Warren Beatty is obviously having mad fun playing Dick Tracy. He manages to be unbearably square and awfully cool at the same time.  Glenne Headly as Tess Trueheart is really good. I like how she lets Tracy knows that she knows what kind of man he is and what life would be like as his wife and it’s cool with her. It’s Tracy that’s too busy cleaning up crime in The City to pick up on the signals.

And there’s a remarkable amount of talent in DICK TRACY. You oughta see it just for the cast alone. You’ve got Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, James Caan, William Forsythe, Ed O’Ross, Glenne Headly, Seymour Cassel, Charles Durning, Allan Garfield, John Schuck, Charlie Fleischer (we all love him as the voice of Roger Rabbit) Mandy Patinkin, Madonna, Paul Sorvino, James Tolkan, Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Dick Van Dyke, fer crying out loud! Colm Meany (from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) Catherine O’Hara, Henry Silva, Mary Woronov, Michael J. Pollard (Warren Beatty’s co-star from “Bonnie & Clyde”) and Mike Mazurki….whew….and that’s not even half of the cameos you can spot when you really try.

So should you see DICK TRACY? If you haven’t, Netflix it at your earliest opportunity.  It’s just plain, good old fashioned fun to watch. It’s a movie you can pop into the DVD player, sit back with your beverage and snacks of choice and just have a good time watching. And it’s for that reason that I suspect it’ll be a favorite of many for a long time. I know it’ll be one of mine. Enjoy.

RATED PG
103 minutes

Better In The Dark #134

Episode 134: BITD WATCHES FOX!

 

It’s the 25th Anniversary of The Fox Television Network…and Tom and Derrick celebrate by gleefully unearthing some of the shows and events the first ‘netlet’ neglected to mention when it threw itself a birthday party! Join the Boys Outta Brooklyn as they toast the hotness of Alison LaPlaca and Melanie Chartoff, defend Morgan and Wong from the tongue-lashing of Chris Carter, commemorate the first cross-network crossover, and otherwise poke the sleeping memory of the nation’s fourth broadcast network to dislodge some stuff it might not want to remember. You know we control the universe, so get to clicking!

BETTER IN THE DARK
Two Guys Outta Brooklyn Talk Movies

DJ COMICS CAVALCADE
Silver Age Comics Through Modern Eyes
Join us now at www.earth-2.net!
Nocturne, The City That Lives By Night….needs a darker shade of protector
THE SHADOW LEGION http://welcometonocturne.blogspot.com/

Full Clip

2004

Lions Gate Films

Directed by mink

Produced by Happy Walters and Scott Nemus

Written by Kantz

Usually when looking through the $5 bin at Wal-Mart or Target or browsing through Netflix looking for something good, I steer clear of urban action movies starring rappers.  Why?  Well, because most of them aren’t good. I’ve seen some of them and it always strikes me that more work was spent on the soundtrack than on a decent script.

So how did I end up watching FULL CLIP? Because I recently watched the 1975 Blaxplotation classic “Bucktown” and while doing research for the review I read FULL CLIP being mentioned as a remake of that movie so I figured why not give it a watch.  And you know what? I’m glad I did. FULL CLIP surprised me by being a really entertaining B-movie.  It’s got enough of the heart and soul of “Bucktown” to make it a legitimate remake but it also stands as its own movie. It’s not necessary to watch the movies back to back but I certainly would recommend it as a Saturday night double feature.

FULL CLIP is presented as the film adaptation of a graphic novel that actually doesn’t exist.  Scene changes and transitions are done as comic book panels and it’s just enough to give you that sort of flavor and put you in the mindset of how you should take this movie. In fact, some of the transitions reminded me of the transitions Ang Lee did in his “Hulk” and raises the look of the movie up a couple of notches.  Now I’m not suggesting for a minute that FULL CLIP rises to the same level of artistry and sophistication as “Hulk” but it is nice to see a director working to create a unique look and style for his movie.

Joshua Pope (Busta Rhymes) returns to his Alabama hometown for his father’s funeral. He intends just to stay long enough to bury his father and then leave. But then he finds out that his father has left him $250,000, a classic Cadillac as well as the ownership of a dilapidated hotel managed by Sleepy (Bubba Smith).  It’s going to take some time for the paperwork to be processed so Joshua is persuaded to stay and help run the hotel. It’s not just Sleepy who persuades him to do so.  The gorgeous Simone (Shakara Ledard) is also a powerful reason for Joshua to hang around.

But there’s just as powerful a reason for Joshua to leave: Sheriff Wallace (Mark Boone Junior) and his right hand man McCloud (Shaun Baker) who make it clear they don’t want Joshua around.  Turns out that Sheriff Wallace and McCloud are as crooked as they come, shaking down the whole town for protection money as well as controlling the prostitution, gambling and drug trade.  The elder Pope tried to stop paying and got killed as an example to everybody else.

Joshua realizes he’s going to need help and one phone call later he gets it. His buddy and fellow ex-Green Beret Duncan (Xzibit) arrives to provide that help. And along with his crew of mercenaries (Tiny Lister’s one of ‘em) they help Joshua take down Wallace and his corrupt cops.

And that’s where Joshua’s problems begin. Duncan realizes that this is a pretty sweet set-up and he steps right into the place once occupied by Wallace.  And in fact, Duncan and his crew are even worse as they really start to screw the town for every last nickel.  Joshua soon comes to realize that he brought this trouble to town and he’s the one who’s going to have to deal with it once and for all.  Which means a bloody showdown with Duncan and his mercenaries.

What makes FULL CLIP enjoyable for me is that the writer, director and actors apparently all are familiar with the genres of Blaxplotation and Grindhouse as this movie fits comfortably in both genres.  If they took this too seriously it wouldn’t work. But everybody is having just enough fun to let us know we should sit back and just enjoy the story and performances.  This movie wouldn’t have been out of place playing in a 42end Street theater back in the 70’s.

Busta Rhymes, Shakara Ledard and Xzibit are basically playing the same roles Fred Williamson, Pam Grier and Thalmus Rasulala did in “Bucktown” and while none of them make movie history, their acting is adequate enough to support the material and that’s all I ask from a movie of this type. Bubba Smith reminds us that when he gets the chance he can be quite funny. And it’s always a pleasure to see Tiny Lister in anything and any role.  Wyclef Jean is amusing as The Narrator who pops up from time to time to comment on the characters and the action.

But we must take bitter waters with the sweet and the bitter comes in the form of Bobb’e J. Thompson who is one of those annoying child actors that we’re supposed to think is so cute because he curses and is disrespectful to every adult in the movie, even his mother. Cute isn’t the word I would use for him.  And I wish that Ellen Cleghorne had played her role without the unnecessary Jamaican accent that sounds as if she’s doing a bad Miss Cleo imitation.

So should you see FULL CLIP?  I will be the first to say that this movie is not for everybody.  Some people just don’t take to urban action movies starring rappers and I’ll be honest: if it wasn’t for the fact I like Busta Rhymes and Xzibit, I’d probably have given it a pass as well.  But given that the cast has such solid players as Bubba Smith, Mark Boone Junior and Tiny Lister present, I gave it a try.  And I wasn’t sorry I did. I don’t think you will be either.

95

Rated R

Bucktown

1975

MGM/UA Home Entertainment

Directed by Arthur Marks

Written by Bob Ellison

Produced by Bernard Schwartz

Whenever Blaxplotation fans get together and start discussing their favorite movies of the genre, I guarantee that BUCKTOWN is in the top ten, if not the top five. And with good reason. It stars three icons of the Blaxploitation genre who were able to move on when Blaxplotation died and find careers in the mainstream. And it’s an early film of Carl Weathers who went to find his own success in the “Rocky” movies as well as in “Action Jackson” and “Predator” as well television shows such as “In The Heat of The Night” and the cut down well before it’s time “Fortune Dane”.  And it’s a good story professionally acted and directed.

Duke Johnson (Fred Williamson) returns home to the small town of Buchanan, Alabama which is nicknamed ‘Bucktown’.  He only intends to stay in town long enough to bury his brother and then leave. But right from the moment he hits Bucktown, things ain’t right. The police force is openly racist and hostile. Duke finds out his brother died under seriously shady circumstances. And to make matters worse, it’ll take two months before the paperwork is done so that Duke can settle his brother’s estate.

He’s offered a solution by Harley (Bernie Hamilton) the amiable town drunk who worked for Duke’s brother.  Harley suggests that Duke re-open his brother’s bar/nightclub. After all, Duke’s got to stay in Bucktown anyway, right? What’s the harm?  The idea is met with no enthusiasm by Aretha (Pam Grier) who was in love with Duke’s brother.  Matter of fact, she doesn’t like Duke very much, period and sums up her feelings about him in one well-put sentence: “he ain’t nothin’ but a big city, jive ass spook!”

Duke re-opens the nightclub and quickly discovers that Harley left out one important detail: Police Chief Patterson (Art Lund) and his police force are shaking down everybody in Bucktown since its main businesses appear to be gambling, prostitution and drug dealing. Duke tries fighting back but it’s clear that he’s going to need help to clean up the town.

One phone call later and help diddy-bops into Bucktown in the form of Roy (Thalmus Rasulala) Duke’s oldest friend who grew up with him and served with him in the military. Roy comes with his crew: Hambone (Carl Weathers) T.J. (Tony King) and Josh (Gene Simms) and once these guys get started, there simply isn’t any stopping them.

In short order, Roy and his crew brutally and viciously slaughters the corrupt cops and I do mean slaughter. These guys do not believe in taking prisoners and once the smoke clears, there’s nobody left standing but them.  Now quite naturally everybody thinks Roy and his crew are going to go back where they came from but such is not the case.  Because after checking out the action in Bucktown, Roy sees no reason why he shouldn’t step into the vacuum he created and run Bucktown himself.  And it becomes quickly obvious that Roy and his crew are far worse than Patterson and his corrupt cops ever were.  Even though Roy orders his men to steer clear of Duke, T.J and Hambone don’t think that’s fair and they initiate their own plan to drive a wedge into the friendship of the two men and turn them against each other.  It takes Harley being beaten nearly to death and Aretha almost being raped to make Duke realize that it’s his responsibility to put things to right in Bucktown or die trying…

BUCKTOWN has got a bit more meat on the plot than most Blaxplotation movies and I suppose that’s why it’s still remembered to this day. It’s also a different movie for Fred Williamson and Pam Grier in a lot of ways.  Fred Williamson doesn’t play his usual ultra-hip superdude with a quick quip and easy smile for every situation.  He’s actually pretty reserved through much of the movie until the end when he finally gets sick of Roy’s shit and decides that no, he ain’t gonna take it anymore.

Pam Grier herself isn’t the Filmic Goddess of War she usually plays.  She acts as Duke’s conscience, pointing out to him the necessity of his doing the right thing and taking responsibility for dealing with Roy.  Thalmus Rasulala is marvelous as usual.  He was one of those actors who never seemed to turn in a bad performance no matter what role he played or what movie he’s in. Besides his many roles in Blaxplotation movies he also played the father of Kunta Kinte in ‘Roots’.  If you only know Bernie Hamilton from “Starsky and Hutch” you’ll be surprised at seeing him here as a washed up ex-pro football player who likes pulling a cork way too much.  Carl Weathers makes the most of his supporting role here and it’s interesting seeing him play a bad guy.  The only actor in the movie I can’t stand is Tierre Turner who was one of the most annoying child actors of the 70’s.  He’s since gone on to become one of the best and most respected stunt coordinators in the business and I’m happy for him since acting plainly wasn’t for him.

So should you see BUCKTOWN?  If you’re a fan of Blaxplotation, you probably already have.  If you haven’t then this movie is an excellent place to start, especially since it stars Fred Williamson, Pam Grier and Thalmus Rasulala.  Your education in Blaxplotation isn’t complete until you’ve seen them at work.

As usual, whenever I review a movie from the 70’s and 80’s I feel I should inform you that these movies were made in a time before Political Correctness and as so, racism and sexism is all over the place. And the violence isn’t played for laughs. It’s downright brutal and messy. If you have a thin skin and are easily offended then by all means, stay away from BUCKTOWN.  But if you’re made of sterner stuff and want to dip into film history and spend some time with a true classic of the genre, by all means, enjoy.

And here’s a P.S. for you: BUCKTOWN was remade in 2004 as “Full Clip” which starred Busta Rhymes in the Fred Williamson role and Xzibit in the Thalmus Rasulala role.

94 minutes

Rated R

Sunshine

2007

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by Danny Boyle

Produced by Andrew MacDonald

Written by Alex Garland

My wife Patricia got turned onto Danny Boyle when she insisted on seeing “28 Days Later” when we were on vacation in Florida.  She loved the movie, mainly because she’s a big fan of Doomsday Movies anyway.  Give her a movie where the world is going to hell and she’s sitting in the theater with a big ol’ grin on her face.   Sometimes I worry about her.  But I digress.  She would give me no peace until we saw “28 Weeks Later” which she also loved but I think she may have cooled on Danny Boyle with SUNSHINE.  Not that it’s a bad movie.  Not at all.  It’s extremely well made, the acting is solid and the special effects are state of the art.  But SUNSHINE starts out as one thing then turns into another and along the way there are so many references and homages to other science fiction movies that I’m afraid I spent more time thinking about all the other movies SUNSHINE reminded me of rather than concentrating on the actual movie itself.

It’s the year 2057 and The Earth has entered a new Ice Age (a pox on you global warming fanatics, say I!) and the nations of the world have pooled their remaining resources to build The Icarus II, a giant spaceship carrying a thermonuclear bomb the size of Manhattan.  The idea is to drop it in the sun and re-ignite the sucker.  Earth has already sent one spaceship:  The Icarus I on the same mission seven years previously but they never accomplished it as all contact was lost.  If Icarus II doesn’t succeed Earth has no more resources for an Icarus III so this crew had better get it right.

There are only eight crew members: Capa (Cillian Murphy) who designed the bombs.  Captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada)  Navigator Trey (Benedict Wong) Pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne).  The psychiatrist Searle (Cliff Curtis) Communications/First Officer Harvey (Troy Garrity) Engineer Mace (Chris Evans) and the botanist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh) who tends the ship’s hydroponics oxygen garden that helps recycle the air.  They’ve formed a strong bond in the time they’ve been together due to the urgency of their mission.  A mission that after 18 months is reaching its end.  But everything is changed by their receiving a distress signal from Icarus I which has been locked in orbit around Mercury all these years.  The decision is made to rendezvous with Icarus I in order to secure their bomb and therefore drop ‘em both into the sun.  The idea being that two huge honkin’ bombs will be better than just one.

Now obviously none of these crew members have ever seen “Alien” or they would have known what happens when you deviate from your mission profile.  Things go horribly wrong.  And so they do for the crew of the Icarus II.  It’s just one damn thing after another as the crew makes mistakes that result in them losing much of their precious oxygen.  So much in fact that it’s doubtful that even if they complete their mission they’ll be able to get back to Earth.  They get aboard the Icarus I and find that the crew, following ‘God’s will’ destroyed their computer, disabled the bomb and committed mass suicide.  The navigator makes a crucial error that results in the death of a crew member and he goes suicidal.  In fact, for every mistake the crew makes, somebody dies.  Valiantly they go on with their mission but their chances of completing it get even smaller as it soon becomes apparent that something from Icarus I has come onboard the Icarus II and this something is more than willing to help the already frightened crew of the Icarus II die.

The first half of SUNSHINE reminded me of a couple of other science fiction movies: “2001: A Space Odyssey”  “2010” “Solaris” and most notably “Silent Running”.  There’s also heavy “Alien” influences, including a scene with the Icarus II crew sharing a meal together that is so much like a similar scene from “Alien” that I’m convinced they’re using the same utensils from that earlier film.  And I was even more reminded of “Alien” in the second half of the movie where the crew has to fight for their lives against a hideously bloodthirsty entity that is bent on killing them off.   But it’s that second half that threw me off as I was really enjoying the first half of the movie.

Let me explain: back when I was growing up, the term ‘Science Fiction Movie’ meant something quite different from what it means now.  Somewhere around the time “Predator” hit the screens, science fiction movies mutated into action thrillers with science fiction elements tossed in for flavor.   But before then, science fiction movies were a totally different animal.  And I think that with SUNSHINE Danny Boyle and his writer Alex Garland (who I understand is a legitimate science fiction writer) were trying to do an honest-to-Arthur C. Clarke-science fiction epic with solid characterizations.  But I don’t think they had they conviction to go all the way through with it as they turn the last half of the movie into a bloody carnage of mayhem and murder when in the first half they’d set it up so well that the crew’s problems were caused by their own human failings.

I’m never going to warm up to Cillian Murphy, I guess.  I liked him well enough in “28 Days Later” and “Batman Begins” but I’m not about to break my hump rushing out to see a movie just because he’s in it.  I was much happier to see Michelle Yeoh here.  Having been a fan of hers since I saw her co-starring with Jackie Chan in “Supercop” I was pleased to see her in a role where she had a chance to do some acting and not just kick ass every ten minutes.  Chris Evans is probably my favorite actor in this movie as he’s the obligatory Only Guy Who Makes Sense.  You know what I’m talking about.  In a movie of this sort there’s always one guy who knows what he’s talking about and always tells the others: “Well, if we do this, we’re going to screw up.” They don’t listen to him. They screw up.  Then they come to him to pull their collective asses out of the pit of alligators they’ve fallen into.  Which he does so only so he can say; “I told you so”  It also tickled me to death that the guy who plays The Human Torch in the “Fantastic Four” movies is on a mission to reignite The Sun.

So should you see SUNSHINE?  I would say yes if for no other reason than it’s an interesting throwback of a film to a time when science fiction movies were more about ideas, concepts and characterizations than eye-popping action sequences.  I liked how the scientist characters in this movie acted like scientists and not action heroes.  I’m not sure if the ending worked for me but then again, I’m not sure I understood the ending.  It’s got all the right elements that a good science fiction movie should have.  I just wish it hadn’t changed gears so abruptly halfway through the movie and had the courage to continue on with its theme of human fallibility in the face of cosmic finality rather than turning into a big-budget remake of “It Came From Outer Space” in the clutch.

Rated: R

108 minutes

And Soon The Darkness (2010)

2010

Studio Canal/Anchor Bay Entertainment

Directed by Marcos Efron

Produced by Chris Clark, Lizzie Friedman, Karen Lauder and Deborah Marcus

Screenplay by Jennifer Derwingson and Marcos Efron

Based on the 1970 motion picture “And Soon The Darkness”

In the first thirty seconds of the 2010 remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS we see a bound, near naked woman doused with water and then whipped with a live electrical wire until she collapses into unconsciousness.  That told me right there that the writers and the director of this remake were going to throw out everything that the writers and director of the original had done to make their movie unusual, unique and suspenseful.

This version of AND SOON THE DARKNESS follows the basic plot of the original, transferring the setting from rural France to rural Argentina and making the girls American instead of English..  Stephanie (Amber Heard) and Elle (Odette Yustman) are part of a bike tour of that country.  They decide to split off from the group and go their own way for a bit, intending to catch a bus the next day and rejoin the group. They stay the night at a hotel where Elle persuades Stephanie to come with her to hang out at the local bar.  Stephanie’s promiscuous behavior gets her the wrong kind of attention and she’s rescued by Michael (Karl Urban) another American staying at the hotel.

The next day, while biking, Elle wants to stop by a riverbank and sunbathe.  Stephanie reluctantly agrees.  After a couple of hours, she’s ready to go but Elle still wants to hang out there.  This leads to an argument and Stephanie angrily rides off, leaving Elle alone. After she cools off a bit, she returns to the riverbank to find Elle gone, only her cell phone still on the ground where she had been sunbathing.

Now, unlike the original where we never learn the fate of the kidnapped girl until the last ten minutes of the movie, the remake has no problem letting us know that Elle has been kidnapped by the guy she was foolin’ around with in the bar last night.  He’s the muscle of a gang who snatches girls and sells them across the river to a white slavery ring in Paraguay.

Stephanie frantically tries to get help from the local police chief, Calvo (Cesar Vianco) who poo-poohs away Stephanie’s urgent pleas for him to form a search party.  “A search party?” Calvo says with a chuckle.  “Where do you think you are? America?”

Stephanie finally gets help from (surprise, surprise, surprise) Michael who has been in Argentina for six months looking for his girlfriend who also disappeared. Together they decide to track down Elle themselves and maybe find Michael’s girlfriend as well.

Like I said earlier, everything that made the first movie unique has been ruthlessly stripped away to leave only a standard middle of the road thriller than doesn’t thrill at all. The way this movie unfolds and the way the story is told in such a blatant fashion I can easily imagine a group of suburban white families pooling their money together to finance this movie for the sole purpose of showing it to their daughters: “See? See? This is what happens when you go to foreign countries, get drunk and fool around with boys who don’t speak English!”

That nasty subtext is very strong in the movie and I also didn’t like how the script goes out of its way to depict Elle’s carefree indulgence in drinking and promiscuity as justification for what happens to her.  And unlike the original, many of the locals speak English.  Part of what added to the feeling of paranoia and isolation in the original was that none of the locals spoke any English.

Karl Urban does his best with what he’s given and like the professional he is, he comes out of this movie with the acting honors.  Karl Urban is on my list of actors who even if they’re trapped in a really shitty movie more than pulls his weight and delivers a good performance and he does so here.  And I’m glad that I saw Amber Heard in “Drive Angry” before seeing this movie as I might well have passed up watching that highly superior movie if I had watched AND SOON THE DARKNESS first.  If you want to see Amber Heard in a really good movie, go watch “Drive Angry” and leave the remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS alone.  It’s a totally unnecessary remake that does not entertain one little bit. Go watch the 1970 original if you want to see a really good thriller.

Rated R

91 minutes

 

 

And Soon The Darkness (1970)

1970

EMI Films

Directed by Robert Fuest

Produced by Albert Fennell and Brian Clements

Written by Brain Clements and Terry Nation

AND SOON THE DARKNESS is regarded as a minor cult classic of 70’s British horror movies and now, after finally seeing it for myself I can see why.  It’s a neat, effective little horror/suspense movie that gets the job done with a subtle, intelligent script and solid acting.  It’s my kind of horror movie as the situation is one that could plausibly happen and the characters behave as I can see actual people in such a situation would act and as such I can take the movie much more seriously than say, the brain dead 2010 remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS.  But that’s another review.  Let’s get back to this one.

Jane (Pamela Franklin) and Cathy (Michele Dotrice) are two young and very pretty English girls on holiday, biking through the French countryside.  They’re best friends but they have very different idea of how they want to spend their holiday.  Jane’s insistent they stay on schedule and she’s constantly consulting her stack of maps and checking their time against their itinerary.  Cathy wants to slowpoke it, take their time and enjoy the local color.

Part of that local color is Paul (Sandor Eles) a handsome young French man who catches Cathy’s eye in a café the two girls stop at briefly to get directions.  They go further on up the road and Paul passes them on his motorcycle, only to stop at a roadside cemetery.  In a blatant attempt to kill time and wait for Paul to catch up to them, Cathy insists that the girls stop to sunbathe at the side of the road.  This leads to a quarrel where Cathy tells Jane she’s fed up with being bossed around and that she’s going to have some fun.  Jane leaves Cathy and continues on by herself, stopping at another café a little ways up the road.  After a while, when she’s cooled off, she goes back for Cathy.

Except Cathy’s gone.  Jane finds her bicycle but except for that, there’s no sign of Cathy at all.  Jane frantically searches for her with no luck.  She runs into Paul, who claims to be a police detective and offers to help.  He certainly is more willing to do so than the local gendarme (John Nettleton) who treats Cathy’s disappearance with a laid-back casualness that frustrates Jane to no end. The locals are of no help because Jane doesn’t know any French and so can’t tell them what’s wrong.  And then it turns out that Paul has disturbingly graphic knowledge of a girl who a couple of years ago was raped and murdered near the same spot where Cathy disappeared…

If you have any knowledge of the careers of the writers and director of this movie then you know these guys aren’t amateurs.  Robert Fuest directed the two classic “Dr. Phibes” movies.  Brian Clements was a producer and main script writer of “The Avengers” as well as writing so many other classic British TV series and movies such as “Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter” which he also directed.  Terry Nation created The Daleks and if I have to tell you who they are then you’re in the wrong place.  He also created several notable British science fiction TV series including one of my favorites; “Blake’s 7”

Add to this the considerable acting talent of Pamela Franklin who starred in what I consider the second best haunted house movie ever made; “The Legend of Hell House” and was a standout in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brody” where she played the intellectually and sexually precocious Sandy. Pamela Franklin had a good career back in the 60’s and 70’s and if you see her name in the credits of a movie, watch it.  She’s a fine actress with terrifically expressive eyes who knows exactly what she’s doing in front of a camera and it’s a treat to watch her work.

The movie also is fun to watch because despite the title, 100% of AND SOON THE DARKNESS takes place during the daytime in broad daylight.  The events of the movie play out in the course of one day and just because it all takes place during the daylight hours doesn’t make it any less scary or suspenseful.  Increasing the suspense is Jane’s inability to communicate with anybody except the two people she suspects of having taken her friend.  It’s a smart move by the director to not subtitle when French is spoken and so as the audience we can share in Jane’s growing frustration and paranoia at her situation.

So should you see AND SOON THE DARKNESS?  I recommend so highly.  It doesn’t have graphic violence or gore but if you’re looking for a nifty little horror/suspense thriller that will keep you guessing right up until the end of the movie, this is for you.  It’s currently available for streaming on Netflix so enjoy.

PG

99 minutes

Better In The Dark #133

 

Episode 133: THE SAGA OF KING MUTTONCHOP AND THE GREAT STONE-OFF–THE MILLEAU TRILOGY

The Boys Outta Brooklyn finally pay off on a long-standing bet with The Gentlemen’s Guide To Midnight Movies by diving into the wild, twisty rapids of Eurocrime! Join Tom and Derrick as they cover this seminal trio of films by Fernando DeLeo which includes two performances by Brooklynite Henry Silva that have to be seen to be believed, as he tears up Milan as only a half-Filipino madman can. Plus Tom can’t trust Beyonce, Derrick defends Chuck Barris, and they both have had enough of Jennifer Lopez’ shit. You know it’s time for Gene, Gene The Dancing Machine, so Get to Clicking!

BETTER IN THE DARK
Two Guys Outta Brooklyn Talk Movies
DJ COMICS CAVALCADE
Silver Age Comics Through Modern Eyes
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Nocturne, The City That Lives By Night….needs a darker shade of protector
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Mad Max

1979

American International Pictures

Produced by Byron Kennedy and Bill Miller

Directed by George Miller

Written by George Miller, Byron Kennedy and James McCausland

In the “Lethal Weapon” movies Mel Gibson played  L.A. police detective Martin Riggs who undergoes such a severe psychological trauma when his wife is killed that the common held belief is that he’s gone straight flat out crazy.  Insane.  Mad, even.  That’s the main trait shared with an earlier Mel Gibson character: Australian highway cop Max Rockatansky who undergoes such a severe psychological trauma when his wife and son are killed that the common held belief is that he’s gone straight flat out crazy.  Insane.  Mad, even.  In fact, so mad that he’s called MAD MAX.

The movie is set in Australia of the near future after some sort of global disaster.  We’re never told in this movie what the disaster was but the two sequels to MAD MAX make it clear that the world superpowers finally threw down over dwindling oil resources.   Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is a highway cop in The Outback.  Along with his partner Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) and the other members of the small band of cops known as The Main Force Patrol, they do their best to protect the public from marauding bands of motorcycle gangs that roam the highways, looting, raping, pillaging and just generally carrying on cranky.

The cops are so poorly funded that their headquarters, the ironically named Hall of Justice looks like a rotting pigsty with  only one half-crazed mechanic to keep their vehicles running.  The MFP has a hideously dangerous run-in with a psychotic called The Night Rider who steals one of their souped up Interceptors and leads them on a terrifying high speed pursuit that ends in several civilian and police cars wrecked, an officer severely injured and The Night Rider dead.

This starts Max to thinking that maybe it’s time for him to get out.  He’s got a wife (Joanne Samuel) and a baby boy he’d like to be around to grow old with.  The Goose conspires with their boss, Fifi Macaffie (Roger Ward) to get Max to stay by bribing him with a customized Ford Falcon with a supercharged V8 engine.  Max is Fifi’s best cop and if he loses Max then the MFP is going to be in real trouble as they’re barely holding their own against the vicious motorcycle gangs as it is.

The situation heats up when The Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) the leader of the gang that The Night Rider was a member of decides to wage war on The MFP and takes a horrible revenge on Jim Goose, setting a trap for him and burning him alive while he’s trapped in a flipped over truck.  This decides it for Max.  He turns in his resignation, takes his wife and son and heads north, determined to find peace for them while he’s still able.  But Max is next on The Toecutter’s list of revenge.  And if he can’t have Max then he’ll settle for Max’s wife and son instead.

MAD MAX is a good example of what is meant by ‘grindhouse’.  It’s a straight-up B-budget action/adventure with no other purpose than to entertain.  I vividly remember seeing this on 42end Street back when it really was 42end Street and thinking even then it was pretty damn cool.  I watched it last night for about the 12th time and I still think it’s pretty damn cool.  Primarily because of the highly exciting action sequences.  George Miller knows how to film action.  And he knows how to film car chases.  Back in the 70’s audiences had become pretty jaded when it came to car chases because just about every action movie back then definitely had one, sometimes two and if they could figure out any way possible then dammit, they’d throw in three.  But George Miller really has a way of making car chases so energized that you don’t feel like you’ve seen these car chases before.

And even though I’ve got nothing against CGI, I dearly love action films of the 70’s and 80’s because you know that these are real guys in real cars doing these stunts.  When cars are slamming into eighteen-wheelers at 90 miles an hour or guys go flying through the air to land on concrete and roll for another 50 feet you feel it because you can see it’s an actual human being getting busted up and not a CGI.  It also gives an air of believability to the action because nobody is breaking the laws of physics here.  The fighting is sweaty, brutal and painful.  Especially in the scenes where Mad Max faces down The Toecutter and his protégé Johnny The Boy (Tim Burns) during which Max is shot and run over with a motorcycle.  Max doesn’t shrug off his wounds and get up to whoop ass.  He gets up, sure, but it takes time, it hurts like hell and even back then Mel Gibson was a good enough actor to sell the scene.

This being Mel Gibson’s first major starring role is probably the reason most will want to see a movie that’s almost 35 years old and even then you can see the easy charm as well as the grim intensity that would bring him international fame.  He’s as competent as you would imagine in the action sequences but he’s also amazingly gentle and warm in the scenes with Joanne Samuel who plays his wife.  They have a real chemistry together and it’s not hard to buy them as a young couple in love.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Gibson blows the screen apart but he’s a helluva lot better in his first film than a lot of others I’ve seen.  Steve Bisley as Max’s partner Jim Goose is so full of life and so likeable that you wish he had more screen time.  He’s got one of those grins that you’ve seen before: he’s either just put one over on you or he’s about to.  Either way, you’re gonna let him because you just can’t resist that grin.  Roger Ward is one of my favorites in this movie.  Despite being named Fifi, he’s a towering slab of man, bald as a rock, always chewing on a cigar, wearing a flowing black scarf and telling his boys: “Do whatever you want out on the road as long as the paperwork’s straight!”

Hugh Keays-Byrne does something really remarkable with The Toecutter in that you really get the sense that this is a guy who actually tunes into the wavelength of a world we can’t see.  He leaves the stereotypical villain-type acting stuff to Tim Burns who plays Johnny The Boy as a cowardly bad guy.  Much more interesting and fun is Geoff Parry as The Toecutter’s enforcer, Bubba Zanetti.  He’s the main source of humor in the movie as he delivers some really goofy lines but in a sober, dead-pan manner that I found both utterly hilarious and totally chilling.  He was a character I wanted to know more about as compared to The Toecutter and Johnny The Boy he seems rational, calm and he gives The Toecutter advice that is perfectly sane.  I wanted to know how Bubba ended up with these guys but unless George Miller decides to do a prequel, my curiosity will continue.

MAD MAX was followed by two sequels: “The Road Warrior” and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” each of which I heartily recommend.  Both movies aren’t just rehashing the first movie.  They continue the story of Max Rockatansky, deepening his character and humanity even as the world slides further and further into barbarism.  Taken as a whole they’re not only classic action/adventure but also a forerunner of just about every adventure trilogy you see nowadays.  If you haven’t seen MAD MAX in a while, treat yourself.  And if you’ve never seen it, why don’t you?  Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not a 100 million buck summer blockbuster but the lack of a budget actually gives the movie a hard and gritty reality that a lot of today’s movies simply don’t have.  And it’s simply just a lot of fun to watch.  Enjoy.

93 minutes

Rated: R

The Driver

1978                           

20th Century Fox

Produced by Lawrence Gordon

Written And Directed by Walter Hill

Some time back I wrote of review of the existential car chase thriller “Vanishing Point” and I received an email from a gentleman (at least I think it’s a gentleman…you can’t always tell just by email addresses) who informed me that he had seen the movie on my recommendation and found it pretentious and pointless and suggested that I watch and review what he considered to be a much better movie revolving around car chases: Walter Hill’s 1978 crime thriller THE DRIVER  I vaguely remember seeing THE DRIVER years ago at 42end Street.  This was back in the day when you could see three movies for 5 bucks and frankly, I remember the other two movies much better but thanks to The Fox Movie Channel I had a chance to see it again recently.  Maybe “Vanishing Point” is pretentious but THE DRIVER takes pretentiousness to an almost Zen-like level to the point where the characters don’t even have names.  They are just identified by what they are and what they do.

The Driver (Ryan O’Neal) is an undisputed professional master of driving getaway cars.  He does not participate in the actual robbery.  He drives and that’s all.  He commands a flat fee of $10,000 up front and 15% of the take.  And he’s worth it because he guarantees that you won’t get caught.  His driving abilities are inhumanly unnerving and he never displays any emotion at all.  The man’s a driving machine.  His nemesis is The Detective (Bruce Dern) who badly wants to catch The Driver.  So obsessed is he with catching The Driver he puts his career on the line by recruiting a second-rate gang of bank robbers to hire The Driver.  The Detective will ensure that the gang will rob the bank and get away then they’ll bring The Driver and the money to a spot where The Detective will be waiting to arrest The Driver, take the money and let the gang get away.  Of course, the plan doesn’t work out and pretty soon everybody’s double-crossed everybody else and the gang, The Driver and The Detective are all scrambling for the half-million robbery loot while The Driver and The Detective play their own cat-and-mouse game of Catch Me If You Can.  You see, The Detective has told The Driver the robbery is a set-up and he dares him to pull it off and get away.  The Driver takes the challenge and the game’s afoot…or awheel, I suppose is a better phrase in this case.

And that’s there is all, folks.  That is all the movie is about. THE DRIVER is probably the most stripped down movie I’ve ever seen.  There’s no characterizations, no background information about anybody given, No extra characters, no dialog exchanged that does not relate directly to the plot, no flashbacks, no nothing except for what is happening right at the moment.  In fact, there isn’t that much dialog.  Supposedly Ryan O’Neal only speaks 350 words in the whole movie and I think that’s stretching it.  Bruce Dern has most the dialog as The Detective and he’s really the main character in this thing as he has motivations and desires that we can understand and even though he’s a bit of a bastard at least he’s a human bastard.  Ryan O’Neal’s Driver is such an emotionless humanoid that we never understand why he does what he does.  He doesn’t seem to enjoy his work and we never see what he does with the money he makes.  He wears the same clothes throughout the movie and lives in a cheap hotel.  He only has three relationships: The Connection (Ronee Blakely) who sets up his jobs, The Player (Isabelle Adjani) a professional gambler who deliberately misidentifies The Driver in a police line-up, enabling him to avoid arrest and his pocket transistor radio.

There’s no point in talking about the performances in this one because outside of Bruce Dern’s, there are none.  This movie is all about plot and Walter Hill, who wrote and directed THE DRIVER cares about nothing else.  This movie is nowhere as good as some others he’s done such as the “The Warriors” and “Streets of Fire” which are both classics and I’d advise anybody to Netflix “The Long Riders” “Johnny Handsome” or “Extreme Prejudice” before this one.

Even the car chase scenes aren’t all that exciting but I liked them a lot because back then when movies did car chases you knew that some fool was actually doing the driving and when a car flipped over, it was because a trained and experience stuntman was doing it and it added a sense of realism.  For sheer exhilaration, none of the car chases in THE DRIVER don’t match anything done today, true, but it works for this movie because it gives it a gritty realism.  None of the driving stunts done here don’t seem like anything that couldn’t be done in real life and I liked that.  After all, The Driver is supposed to be trying to get away from the cops, not showing off how many aerial acrobatics he can do.  The whole movie has a realistic feel to it that is probably the movie’s greatest strength.  Nobody here takes a whole clip of .45 slugs in the chest then drags himself or herself half a mile before expiring.  You get shot and you fall over dead.  End of story.  There’s no meaningless romance between The Driver and the two women he knows just to have a romantic subplot.  These people are involved in a dirty, dangerous business and they conduct themselves accordingly.

There is one really cool scene where The Driver is asked to demonstrate his skill and he does so by proceeding to demolish a car while he and three passengers are inside. They climb out completely unharmed but the car is a wreck and still able to run.  But that comes halfway through the movie and it’s over much too soon.

So should you see THE DRIVER?  I can think of a couple of reasons why you might want to: if you’re a Walter Hill fan like me, you’ll want to check out this early work of his.  Hill is an infuriating hit-or-miss director.  When he’s good, he’s very good but when he’s bad he’s even worse and THE DRIVER is an example of this, especially in the last five minutes of the movie when you’ll probably be screaming at the screen; “That’s IT????” even as the credits are rolling.  If you like Bruce Dern you’ll also enjoy seeing him in this one as he really doesn’t get to play a cop that often but when he does, he makes the most of it.  If you like him as a cop here, check out “The Laughing Policeman”.

But as for THE DRIVER if you’re at all curious by all means check it out.  But if you’re not, don’t worry, you won’t be missing a thing.

91 minutes

Rated R