Vice Squad

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1982

Embassy Pictures

Directed by Gary Sherman

Produced by Frank Capra, Jr./Brian Frankish/Frank Hildebrand/Sandy Howard/Robert Rehme

Written by Sandy Howard/Robert Vincent O’Neill/Kenneth Peters/Gary Sherman

Let’s be upfront about one thing right at the start of this review: there’s not a single thing original about the plot of VICE SQUAD. I’m willing to bet you that this same plot was used at least once by every single police and/or detective show during the 1970s and 1980s. Oh, they’d change it around some. Instead of a psycho hunting down a prostitute it would be a blind girl. Or a little black boy from the ghetto. Or an old man still grieving for his wife. And I do believe that there was an episode of “Hunter” which starred Fred Dryer as a Dirty Harry knock-off which was a loose remake of this movie. In fact, I further believe that Wings Hauser played a tamer version of his Ramrod character in that episode. But I’m working off memory here so don’t quote me, hear?

VICE SQUAD is one of those goofy 1980s movies that I had forgotten about until my friend Christofer Nigro recommend I watch it and about twenty minutes in I realized that I had seen this movie way back in the day in a 42end Street grindhouse. And it was the nuclear-hot performance of Wings Hauser that reignited those memories. And I’ll explain why in a couple hundred words. let’s get the obligatory plot summary out of the way first.

L.A.P.D. Vice Squad detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson) as his team are hot on the trail of Ramrod (Wings Hauser) a psychotic pimp known for his vicious treatment of the girls in his stable. Ramrod’s specialty in administering punishment involves a coat hanger and I’m not gonna go any further describing what he does with it. But he’s never killed a girl. Until now. Ginger (Nina Blackwood and yes, it’s that Nina Blackwood) calls her friend and sister prostitute Princess (Season Hubley who was still Mrs. Kurt Russell when she made this movie) for help. Ramrod is looking for her and she knows good and damn well what he’s going to do when he finds her. Princess advises her to stay low and stay out of sight until she can get to Ginger.

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When Princess does get to Ginger she’s in the morgue and Walsh isn’t happy about that. He’s even less happy that the uncatchable Ramrod has killed her. But he makes a deal with Princess. If she’ll wear a wire and record Ramrod saying something, anything incriminating, he won’t throw Princess in the slammer on bogus drug charges. And in the space of a couple of hours, Princess has indeed performed his mission and Ramrod is arrested and on his way to the hoosegow.

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I should mention here that events in this movie happen awfully damn fast. That’s because the events play out in what I think is roughly a 12-hour span of time from 6PM to 6AM. This is a movie that demands you keep up with what’s happening on the screen because it sure ain’t gonna slow down for you. Ramrod escapes from police custody with an easy savagery and then proceeds to go a horrendously violent hunt for Princess to exact revenge. Hunt is a mild term for what Ramrod does. He’s got the single-mindedness of a Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees married to the bloodlust of a Klingon grafted onto the survival instincts of a Comanche. Walsh and his team have to find Princess before Ramrod does but you get the definite feeling they’re fighting way out of their weight class.

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And that’s due to the performance of Wings Hauser. This is the performance that led to him playing whackos for the next two decades and its his own fault because he was so doggone outstanding doing it in this movie. Ramrod is a psycho but he’s even more dangerous because he’s a smart psycho. Combine that with his extraordinary animal cunning and he makes for a formidable adversary. And he steals the movie because it’s way more interesting watching Ramrod in his hunt for Princess than the cops hunting for him because we never know what this guy is gonna do next but we don’t want to miss a second of him doing it, whatever batshit insane thing it turns out to be.

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The rest of the acting in the movie is nothing to write home about. Season Hubley was never an actress that did much for me. She’s okay and that’s about it. Look for Fred “Rerun” Berry in a cameo and and our buddy Pepe Serna (from “Scarface” and “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai”) is here as one of Walsh’s team. And it’s too bad Walsh’s team wasn’t given more characterization as visually they’re an interesting crew and by giving them more quirky personalities and skills they might have presented more formidable opponents for Ramrod. But as given to us the way they are, they really don’t seem to present much of a threat to him.

VICE SQUAD, from left: Lydia Lei, Kelly Piper, 1982. ©Avco Embassy

So should you see VICE SQUAD? I would highly recommend it. It’s a fine example of 1980s exploitation trash that so joyously revels in it’s own sleaze, scuzz and seediness. It’s not a pretty picture and it’s not supposed to be. But if does have that terrific Wings Hauser performance and some really tight directing from Gary Sherman that insures you will not be bored. I’ve provided a link below where you can watch it on YouTube and my recommendation is that you save it for a Friday or Saturday night and make it your Midnight Movie then. Enjoy.

Foxy Brown

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1974

American International Pictures

Written and Directed by Jack Hill

Produced by Buzz Feitshans

Costumes for Pam Grier Created and Designed by Ruthie West

Music Composed, Conducted, Arranged and Produced by Willie Hutch

FOXY BROWN wasn’t the first Pam Grier movie I saw. That would be “The Arena” released that same year. It actually was a couple of years later that I saw FOXY BROWN. Every couple of years you could count on one of the grindhouses on Manhattan’s 42end St. hosting a Pam Grier Double or Triple Feature and that’s when I saw it. Right from the first time I saw it it became for me THE Pam Grier movie. At least until I saw “Jackie Brown” in 1997

But when people ask me which one of Pam Grier’s classic movies from the Blaxploitation Era they should watch first, I always say FOXY BROWN. It was made after “Coffy” which it shares a lot of similarities to and in fact, FOXY BROWN was intended at first to be the sequel to “Coffy” which was a tremendous hit for American International Pictures. But for me, there are scenes in FOXY BROWN which forever stamped Pam Grier as the first female action star and she pulled it off with not only her breathtaking beauty and unbelievably gorgeous body but true acting talent. This is why I think Pam Grier has had such lasting power in the film industry whereas other women, black and white working in the movies at the same period didn’t last. Right from the start Pam Grier had an earthiness, a believability to her performances, no matter the situation her characters were in.

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This is the movie that has the classic scene where Foxy Brown pulls a small automatic pistol right outta an afro wig big enough to make Angela Davis jealous and shoots two bad guys dead.  There’s something about the way Pam does it that makes you buy the scene with no doubt at all. And then there’s the scene where she gets into a brawl in a lesbian bar. It starts with a woman squaring off on Pam, claiming that she’s a karate expert with a black belt. Without batting an eye, Pam snatches up a bar stool and wallops the piss outta her. Pam stands over her downed opponent, throwing the stool over her shoulder, proclaiming; “I got my black belt in bar stool.” Again, the way she delivers the line and her body language more than sells the scene. You easily believe that Pam Grier knocks out lesbians with bar stools all the time.

Foxy Brown has got two men in her life that are both involved in drugs at opposite ends of the spectrum. Her brother Linc (Antonio Fargas) has gotten into deep trouble with a drug syndicate run by Steve Elias (Peter Brown) and Miss Kathryn (Kathryn Loder). Using a modeling agency as cover they run drugs and use prostitutes to keep local judges, police officials and other public servants off their backs with sexual favors. Michael Anderson (Terry Carter) is a DEA agent who has spent two years in deep cover trying to get the goods on Elias and Kathryn to no avail. Anderson is forced to have plastic surgery to change his appearance and with a new identity and face, he and Foxy make plans to go away and start a new life.

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But Linc figures out who Michael really is and in order to get himself off the hook, rats out Michael who is then killed by the syndicate. Linc is then himself killed by Elias and that sets Foxy off on her roaring rampage of revenge. Foxy infiltrates the drug syndicate by posing as a prostitute. But her true identity is soon found out and that’s when things really get cranked up in more ways than one.

You’ll hear some complain about FOXY BROWN as they don’t like the gratuitous nudity Pam Grier displays throughout the movie and that she’s raped at one point in the movie. They argue that those scenes as well as her posing as a prostitute contribute to the objectification of black women. Is it objectification? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Me, I take FOXY BROWN for what it is: an action adventure revenge yarn where it’s a black woman as the protagonist instead of a white man. And a very satisfying one at that. And it’s one of the true classics of the Blaxploitation Era. There’s a dozen movies that I think should be seen if you call yourself a student or fan of Blaxploitation and FOXY BROWN is definitely one of them.

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What I’ve always loved about her as with most of Pam Grier’s movies, she doesn’t wait for men to rescue her. She rescues herself, such as in the scene where she’s being held captive at a farm which is the drug manufacturing plant for the syndicate. She’s raped, drugged with heroin and still manages to turn the tables on her captors and blow up the farm. She does enlist the help of an all male neighborhood watchdog organization obviously inspired by The Black Panthers but that’s because they’ve got the guns and ammo needed to help her shut down the syndicate. And the scene where she asks the brothers for their help doesn’t rely on her sexiness or vamping the men into helping her. They quite wisely and intelligently ask her what her motivations are and she tells them. They talk as equals.

But in their supporting roles, the men are very good. You can’t ask for better than Antonio Fargas and Terry Carter. They build solid characters in a short amount of time and so we feel for Foxy when they’re killed. I also like how there’s different types of black men in this movie. We don’t just see pimps and pushers. Sid Haig also shows up near the end of the movie and it’s always a blast to see Sid Haig and Pam Grier together in a movie as they’re good friends in real life and it shows on screen. Their chemistry crackles that good.

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While Peter Brown is just your standard generic honky bad guy, I really like Kathryn Loder. She’s got this really strange expression in her eyes and her body language is such that you instantly get that Miss Kathryn may be a criminal genius but she’s got some bad wiring upstairs. Her performance is almost as much fun as Pam’s to watch. They make for well matched opponents.

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If you haven’t seen FOXY BROWN yet then you just oughta. Get yourself FOXY BROWN, “Coffy” (as for all intents and purposes they’re virtually the same character) “Jackie Brown” and make it a Pam Grier Night. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

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 Rated R

94 Minutes

Black Eye

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1974

Warner Bros.

Directed by Jack Arnold

Produced by Pat Rooney

Written by Mark Haggard

Based on the novel “Murder on the Wild Side” by Jeff Jacks

One can be forgiven for passing up on watching BLACK EYE, thinking it just another typical Blaxploitation action thriller due to the title and because it stars Blaxploitation Icon Fred Williamson. In that case one would be making a mistake. I myself ended up watching it because Turner Classic Movies “Underground” was airing a Fred Williamson double feature: BLACK EYE and “Boss Nigger” (review to follow soon)

About a half-hour into the movie I was firmly hooked and landed because I quickly realized it’s not a Blaxploitation movie at all. And by that I mean that it doesn’t have the usual elements one expects to find in a Blaxploitation movie. It doesn’t have the Three P’s: Pushers, Pimps and Prostitutes. It doesn’t have anybody Stickin’ It To, Bringin’ It To or Takin’ It To The Man. It’s not set in the ghetto or the projects. BLACK EYE is a straight-up Raymond Chandler inspired private eye movie. It just so happens that in this one, our private eye is black.

Fred Williamson is Shep Stone, ex-L.A.P.D. detective. He was kicked off the force two years ago after almost killing a drug dealer who sold his sister a bad bundle of dope that she O.D’ed on. Since then Stone has been working as an unlicensed P.I. His office is his neighborhood bar where he drinks his breakfast, lunch and dinner of straight double shots of bourbon. Most of his cases are thrown his way by his ex-partner Bowen (Richard X. Slattery) who pays Stone out of the petty cash Bowen would normally use to pay off informants.

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Stone’s prostitute neighbor attends the funeral of a 1930s Hollywood movie star and steals his antique silver-headed walking cane. That same night she turns up dead and Stone appoints himself to find out who killed her because as he says to Bowen; “Maybe she didn’t amount to much but she didn’t deserve that.” Stone takes another case as well. He accepts the job to find a missing girl who has run away to join a religious cult. At first Stone is reluctant but at the urging of her distraught father (Richard Anderson) he agrees to find her. The longer Stone works the two cases the more he gradually comes to realize that they’re actually two burning ends of the same candle. By the time it’s over, Stone has come into contact with Mob assassins, phony psychic mediums, porno film directors and a heroin smuggling operation. There’s a half million dollars worth of smack up for grabs and everybody wants it. Stone understands that. What he doesn’t understand is why everybody who comes into contact with that cane dies in very brutal, bloody ways.

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He’s also struggling to work out his complicated relationship with his girlfriend Cynthia (Teresa Graves) who is not only sleeping with Stone but with a woman, Francis (Rosemary Forsyth). The movie is aware enough to explore the possibility that Stone is not so much threatened by the sexual aspect of the relationship between the two women but that Francis is wealthy and can provide so much more for Cynthia than Stone can. This is brought out in a couple of scenes where Stone goes to see Cynthia and they actually sit down and talk about this situation and the two of them develop a respect for each other. This is not the Fred Williamson we usually see in movies. The Fred Williamson I’m used to would simply have talked the two women into a threesome and lived happily ever after.

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And besides the Chandler-flavored plot, the Fred Williamson performance is the main selling point of BLACK EYE because this is a Fred Williamson who is most definitely playing against his usual movie image. We’re used to a smooth-talking, cool as ice Fred Williamson, living high and fine and dressing his ass off in the best threads money can buy. Not in this movie, baby. Fred goes through the entire movie wearing the same rumpled suit. He lives in a shitty apartment that you need a shot of penicillin just to go into. Shep Stone isn’t a fast-talking womanizer. He’s a plain spoken man who sincerely cares about Cynthia and wants to make their relationship work. In other movies Fred Williamson beats up two or three guys at a time without breaking a sweat and never losing the cigar stuck in his mouth. Not in this movie, baby. Fred takes on one guy at a time and barely wins those fights. And if more than one guy comes at him, he tucks his tail between his legs and runs as if his ass were on fire. It’s too bad this movie wasn’t a success because as played by Fred Williamson Shep Stone is an interesting enough character that he could easily have appeared in more than one movie.

The movie’s also worth watching for the spectacularly gorgeous Teresa Graves as this was one of the only three movies she ever made. She and Fred have great chemistry together and their scenes together are really nicely acted and given the topic of discussion (her bi-sexuality) refreshingly mature.

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It’s a professionally made movie, well-acted by all parties concerned with a plot just complicated enough that you can’t figure it out ahead of Stone but not so complicated that you’ll get frustrated trying to follow it. BLACK EYE is nowhere near the level of say, “The Big Sleep” “Farewell, My Lovely” or “The Long Goodbye” but it is an entertainingly honest attempt to follow in the tradition and flavor of those classic private eye movies. Don’t take it too seriously and enjoy that atypical, off-beat, against type Fred Williamson performance and I think you’ll have just as good a time watching it as I did.

98 Minutes

Rated PG

Hell Or High Water

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2016

Sidney Kimmel Entertainment/OddLot Entertainment/CBS Films Lionsgate

Directed by David Mackenzie

Produced by Sidney Kimmel/Peter Berg/Gigi Pritzker

Written by Taylor Sheridan

Don’t let the fact that the bank robbers, the lawmen and the posse in HELL OR HIGH WATER pack semi-automatic handguns instead of six shooters or that they drive supercharged pickup trucks instead of riding horses trick you. It’s very much a Western. And as its set in West Texas it’s got Texas Rangers. And far as I’m concerned, any movie that has Texas Rangers in it qualifies as a Western. End of discussion.

The Howard brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) go on what at first looks like a spur-of-the-moment bank robbing spree. Nothing could be further from the truth. Toby has a meticulous plan in mind that he insists has to be followed to the letter if the brothers are going to accomplish their goal. Their mother has died recently, leaving their ranch in debt.  Due to a reverse mortgage, the bank will foreclose on their ranch in a week. Oil has recently been discovered on the land and Toby’s plan is to pay it off and give the ranch, land and oil to his sons.

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The plan involves robbing the very bank that holds their mortgage and using their own money to pay them. In order to avoid the dye packs hidden in stacks of banknotes the brothers only take the loose bills. This means that they’ll have to hit all seven branches of the bank in order to get enough money to pay the bank off. Once they hit a couple of branches they drive to Oklahoma to lauder the money at an Indian casino. This allows them to not only exchange the money for untraceable bills but gives them a plausible reason for how they acquired the money.

There are two things wrong with this scheme: a pair of Texas Rangers. Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is a few weeks away from retirement and not looking forward to it a bit. Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) is his long suffering partner who endures Hamilton’s good-natured racist ribbing of his Native American/Mexican heritage with a weary stoicism no doubt cultivated from years of working with the man. They catch the case and begin a quietly methodical pursuit of the bank robbers.

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Despite Toby’s insistence that they follow the plan and that nobody gets hurt, Tanner takes more and more increasingly risky chances and his violent streak, nurtured by a ten year bid in the joint begins to take over. And Toby begins to wonder if he can keep his brother on a short enough leash to keep somebody from getting killed until this is all over.

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The exceptional thing about HELL OR HIGH WATER is how quickly it gets you on the side of the Howard brothers. Yeah, they’re bank robbers but they’re robbing banks. And who really likes banks, right? I liked how the movie spends a considerable amount of time letting us just hang out with the brothers as they sit on the porch of their ranch, drinking beer and talking or eating breakfast in a diner. I loved one scene in particular where the brothers are just horsing around, wrestling and chasing each other and for a brief moment you can see the innocent, carefree boys that they were long ago.

The movie holds down the sermonizing on the state of financial institutions and their relationship with Americans but it manages to make its point. The people who live in this movie are people who have no illusions about The American Dream. There are a couple of monologues delivered by a waitress (Katy Mixon) and by Alberto that sums up pretty much the state of affairs that defines their world. They’re short scenes but powerful ones. And director David Mackenzie has a couple of scenes, including one involving customers at a bank branch, all who are armed, forming into an impromptu posse that I’m convinced are statements on American gun culture.

Chris Pine long ago proved in movies such as “Unstoppable” “Horrible Bosses 2” and “Into The Woods” that he doesn’t have to worry about a career after he’s done with “Star Trek.” Toby Howard, despite the fact that he’s been straight as an arrow all his life, turns out to be a far better criminal than his brother. Pine works at creating a character here and he pulls it off. Don’t look for any traces of James T. Kirk here. You won’t find it. Ben Foster provides most of the movie’s humor and is a refreshingly unpredictable element. We’re watching Tanner intensely because just like Toby, we don’t know what he’s going to do next and we don’t want to miss a second of whatever this lunatic decides to do.

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Jeff Bridges is terrific as usual. When has Jeff Bridges not been terrific? He’s been so good for so long that I think there’s a tendency to take him for granted. The scenes between him and Gil Birmingham is a sort of mirror of the relationship between Tanner and Toby. These Texas Rangers have worked together for so long that in a very real way they’re brothers themselves.

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Should you see HELL OR HIGH WATER? Absolutely. It’s a Western. It’s a Crime Thriller. It’s a Heist Movie. And joining all these genres together is meticulous characterization and solid social commentary that makes it point without beating you over the head. Beautifully photographed and wonderfully acted, HELL OR HIGH WATER is one of the best movies of the year.

102 Minutes

Rated R

 

Electra Glide In Blue

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United Artists/MGM

1973

Directed by James William Guercio

Produced by James William Guercio/Rupert Hitzig

Screenplay by Robert Boris

Story by Robert Boris/Rupert Hitzig

You ever see a movie that you watched more than once simply because you can’t figure out if you like it or not? That’s how I feel about ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE. I’ve seen it maybe four or five times over the years. Most recently on the MGM HD Movie Channel after about five years and I’m still as conflicted now as I was the previous times I’ve seen it. And I honestly don’t know why. I like the performances and the story. The cinematography by Conrad Hall is gorgeous. Most of the movie was filmed in Monument Valley where John Ford filmed most of his classic westerns. Director James William Guercio (who was also producer of the band Chicago) calls the movie a modern Western, which is fine by me ‘cause I like Westerns.

It’s one of those movies where a murder kick starts the plot but nobody actually seems very concerned about solving the murder. In the end, Robert Blake’s character figures out who the killer is not through any really brilliant or clever detective work on his part. There just simply aren’t any other suspects. And I suppose my dissatisfaction with the movie is with that ending. 1970s movies were big on nihilistic, downbeat endings that I suppose were meant to symbolize the chaotic futility of life and the meaninglessness of human existence. I dunno. I don’t get that deep. All I know is that I didn’t feel that the Robert Blake character deserved his fate. And maybe that is the point of the movie: that we don’t always get the fate we deserve or want.

Arizona motorcycle police officer John Wintergreen (Robert Blake) is anxious to get off his motorcycle and get transferred to Homicide. As he tells his more easy going partner Zipper (Billy “Green” Bush) being a detective means he gets to wear a suit and having a detective’s badge means that he works a job where he gets to think. Zipper is more than happy to goof off sitting in the shade, reading comic books and harassing the occasional hippie just minding his business driving his psychedelic VW minibus.

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Wintergreen’s big chance comes along when an old desert rat named Willie (the great Elisha Cook, Jr.) reports a suicide. Even though the coroner (Royal Dano) corroborates this, Wintergreen isn’t so sure. The dead man committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a shotgun and Wintergreen maintains that a true suicide would have blown his head off cleanly instead of lingering for hours in pain bleeding to death. Wintergreen is backed up by local legend Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan). Poole is the kind of Homicide detective Wintergreen fantasizes about being. Poole is a larger then life presence. Cool and confident, he always wears suits that look brand new, a ten gallon cowboy hat and smokes expensive cigars while seeming to effortlessly solve murders.

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He is overjoyed when Poole, impressed with Wintergreen’s thinking, has Wintergreen transferred to Homicide making him his partner on the case. Now, the case itself really isn’t that hard to work. The complications come from outside the case. Wintergreen and Poole discover that they’re sleeping with the same woman (Jeannine Riley) and Wintergreen has an unshakeable moral center. Earlier in the movie we’ve seen him give a speeding ticket to a Los Angeles detective who is outraged that Wintergreen won’t show him “professional courtesy.” This moral center works against him when dealing with the hippies he and Poole encounter during their investigation as Wintergreen sees no reason why they shouldn’t be treated just like everybody else while Poole treats them like shit because he has a badge and a gun and they don’t.

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Add to that the $5,000 the murder victim had in his shack that disappears and the murder case very quickly gets tangled up in issues that have nothing to do with the case at all. And John Wintergreen quickly learns that getting what you think you want most sometimes doesn’t make you happy at all.

You watch Robert Blake in this and “In Cold Blood” and you realize that he actually is a very gifted actor. He also enjoyed one of the longest careers in Hollywood. He was one of the “Little Rascals” and pretty much worked steadily in film and TV until the late 1990’s, most notably in David Lynch’s “Lost Highway.” ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE is more of a character study than a straight-up murder mystery and Wintergreen is an interesting guy. Despite his height (“Did you know that me and Alan Ladd are the same height? Right down to the quarter inch.”) he’s quite the ladies man. There’s a terrific scene where Jeannine Riley as the deliciously slutty Jolene enrages Poole with her drunken bragging about Wintergreen’s sexual stamina.

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Mitchell Ryan turns in a terrifically solid performance as Poole who starts off being worshipped by Wintergreen and ends up being despised by him as the longer Wintergreen works with him the more he sees the man behind the curtain and he doesn’t like that man at all. Billy “Green” Bush is quirky and eccentric as the laid back Zipper who displays an unexpected mean streak when dealing with members of the counter culture.

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If you’ve never seen ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, it’s well worth your time. It’s an episodic, meandering movie but well made with quirky, watchable performances. Like I said earlier, don’t into it looking for your standard murder mystery. It’s more concerned with examining a police officer whose moral code separates him not only from the counter culture but also from his fellow police officers. It’s a meditative movie that works its money maker off to be more than just a standard cop thriller and it’s an excellent showcase of Robert Blake’s talent as an actor. Enjoy.

114 Minutes

Rated PG

Sometimes Salvation

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2015

Global View Productions

Written and Directed by Thor Moreno

Produced by Annette Duffy/Chris McAninch

It says somewhere in The Gospel of Matthew that God causes rain to fall on the righteous and unrighteous. And that’s a pretty good way to describe the Film Noir genre because in Film Noir movies really bad things happen to good people and bad people alike. With no rhyme or reason. It matters not your station in life or your rationalizations for why you do what you do. One day you’re walking along minding your business and life gives you a knockout punch like Muhammad Ali on his best day.

Now, I say that to say this; Thor Moreno’s latest film, SOMETIMES SALVATION is very much a Film Noir in that the characters inhabiting the movie have some pretty rotten things happen to them. Some of them they bring on themselves. Some they don’t. It’s a movie that on the surface is constructed like a crime thriller because we’ve got cops, gangsters, drug dealing, murder and domestic abuse in the mix but that’s only to hook us. Underneath there’s a really interesting character study about people in serious emotional and psychological pain and the lengths that they’re willing to go through to alleviate that pain. It’s about the decisions they make to achieve that alleviation. And since this is a movie taking place in a Film Noir universe, none of those decisions are good ones.

Kelsey (Preshia Paulding) is a woman who due to the strain of losing her husband to a debilitating disease is a walking exposed nerve end. To maintain the illusion of keeping it together she’s taking narcotics she buys from Mandy (Annette Duffy) a nurse who steals drugs from the hospital where she works and sells them to people under the guise that she’s doing it to help them get through their grief. Hah.

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Mandy is one of the links that ties Kelsey to Dusty (Shawn McAninch) a cop with a truly terrifying temper that manifests itself in alcohol fueled abuse of his girlfriend (Lyndsy Darland) and her son Evan (Ian Harrison) And to be very blunt about it, Evan is sick of Dusty’s shit and has a plan to take care of him for good. Evan is the other link tying Kelsey to Dusty as she is one of Evan’s teachers and can’t help but want to know why he’s coming to school with black eyes. The situation worsens with Kelsey’s realization that Dusty is tied into a possible murder that he can pin on her. And when Kelsey becomes privy to Evan’s plan for Dusty it comes down to one really major decision she has to make. Maybe it’s too late for her soul and it damn well sure is far too late for Dusty’s but if she makes the right decision, then Evan’s can be saved.

There’s an awful lot of plot and story in the 65 minutes it takes to tell but Thor Moreno doesn’t waste a minute of it. Wonderful actors who are really committed to their characters assist him. Preshia Paulding is outstanding. Even in the quiet scenes she has she communicates the wretched agony her character his going through. Kelsey is a woman two steps away from losing it for good and Preshia Paulding never lets us forget it. Shawn McAninch steals the movie though. Dusty is an intriguing character due to his anger issues and his alcoholism but yet, Dusty has an unshakable moral code when it comes to his job. He reacts with disgust when he’s asked to do something illegal on two occasions but he can make his domestic abuse sit right in his belly. He takes the character through a truly fascinating arc during the course of the movie, ranging from psychotic rage to the blackest of humor when he’s forced to negotiate with a legbreaker looking for money Dusty owes his boss. I couldn’t help but laugh during that scene and the one that immediately followed as McAninch looks like he could be Louis C.K.’s older, meaner brother. Paulding and McAninch have one totally riveting scene together that really messed with my head as I didn’t know if it was going to end in a seduction, a rape or a murder.

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So should you see SOMETIMES SALVATION? I certainly recommend that you do so. On the strength of the three movies he’s written and directed I’ve seen, Thor Moreno has become one of my favorites.

Into The Night

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1985

Universal Pictures

Directed by John Landis

Produced by George Folsey, Jr and Ron Koslow

Written by Ron Koslow

INTO THE NIGHT is one of those movies that when I describe the plot and name the actors in this movie even my highly knowledgeable friends who know their movies tell me I must be making it up, gotten two or three different movies mixed up together while whacked out on caffeine and Benzedrine or plain out don’t know what I’m talking about. I can’t blame them because it seems as if INTO THE NIGHT is truly one of those 1980’s movies that have been forgotten. Considering the cast and the director, I’m really surprised it’s not become one of those cult movies that stays alive through word of mouth. I remember seeing it during its original theatrical run and just recently saw it again for the first time since ’85. It’s a light movie, running on the slimmest of plots, quirkiness and the likeability of its two leads. There’s also a truly extensive cast made up of some really unusual actors you wouldn’t expect to find in this kind of movie and cameos by nearly two dozen popular directors and screenwriters of the 80’s

Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum) is a man deeply depressed with his boring life, his dull job and his sour marriage. So depressed that he can’t sleep. He tells his best friend Herb (Dan Aykroyd) that his last good night’s sleep was in 1980. Herb tells Ed that he needs some excitement in his life. He advises Ed to catch a red-eye to Las Vegas, gamble, get drunk and get laid. When Ed catches his wife having sex is their own bedroom, he decides to act upon that suggestion.

At the airport Ed stumbles upon a hideously brutal murder committed by four Iranians (one of them played by John Landis) and helps the beautiful jewel smuggler Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer) get away. Diana and her now dead partner have smuggled six priceless emeralds from Iran into the United States and now an eccentric assortment of extremely dangerous individuals are after her. Diana begs Ed to help her get to one of her high-powered friends who can get her out of this situation. It’s a situation that Ed really wants no part of but how can you say no to Michelle Pfeiffer?

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The emerald plot is just a MacGuffin to introduce Ed to a nighttime world he had no idea even existed up until now. During the course of his two night long adventure he runs into a variety of oddball characters such as Diana’s Elvis impersonator brother Charlie (Bruce McGill) a charming hit man (David Bowie) and a French criminal mastermind (Roger Vadim)

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And then there are the cameos: David Cronenberg, Jim Henson, Jack Arnold, Paul Bartel, Johnathan Demme, Richard Franklin, Colin Higgins, Lawrence Kasdan, Paul Mazursky, Amy Heckerling. And that’s not even half of ‘em. You could watch the movie just for a drinking game where every time you see a director in a cameo, take a shot. Trust me, you’ll be stretched out on the floor before the movie’s half done.

Fortunately the cameos don’t get in the way of the cast that has to do the heavy lifting; Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, Richard Farnsworth, Irene Papas and Vera Miles. Most of the movie is actually on Goldblum and Pfeiffer as with such a large cast, characters come and go pretty quickly but they have a nice chemistry together. And Michelle is most definitely easy on the eye. And Jeff Goldblum had the trademark on this type of role back in the 80’s: a slightly eccentric everyman who seems to be always two steps behind everybody else but once he knows the score, rises up to meet the challenge and ends up three steps ahead by the time we get to the end credits

If there’s any problem I have with INTO THE NIGHT is that director Landis tries to have it both ways: he sets out to make an eccentric, quirky comedy thriller with occasional shots of slapstick but he insists on having scenes of pretty brutal violence. There’s one really jarring scene where it takes four men to drown one woman that I really hope Landis wasn’t playing for laughs as there was nothing funny about it. And the shoot-out at the airport near the end of the movie is a bloodbath Sam Peckinpah would be proud of. But I have no problem at all with B.B. King singing a couple of great songs on the soundtrack, including a kickass cover of “In The Midnight Hour” and the theme song “Into The Night.”

So should you see INTO THE NIGHT? Sure you should. It’s an undemanding, entertaining little movie that goes down real easy. You don’t have to burn up brain cells trying to figure out the plot or delve into the motivations of the characters. Just sit back, watch and have fun with it. It would make a good Saturday night double feature with Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours” a movie it shares the same sensibility with. Enjoy.

115 minutes

Rated R