Deepwater Horizon



Participant Media/DiBonaventura Pictures/Summit Entertainment/Closest to the Hole Productions/Leverage Entertainment

Directed by Peter Berg

Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura/Mark Vahradian/Mark Wahlberg/Stephen Levinson/David Womark

Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan/Matthew Sand

Story by Matthew Sand

Based on “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours” by David Barstow/David Rohde/Stephanie Saul

If Irwin Allen had made DEEPWATER HORIZON he’d have given us an all-star cast made up up of up and coming young actors, a handful of faces familiar from TV and half a dozen Old Time movie stars who had been big back in the day and now were in the twilight of their careers. He’d have saddled them all with various eccentricities and personal problems that would have padded out the movie’s running time until we got to what we paid our money to see: the actual apocalyptic disaster. We would then have spent the rest of the movie trying to figure out who was going to live and who’s going to die.

What does all this have to do with my review? Not a blessed thing. It’s just that my attention wandered during the first hour or so of the movie and when it does while watching a movie my mind just goes off into wherever. Don’t get me wrong…it’s not that the movie was boring me. But we get a lot of technobabble in that first hour as the crew members of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig talk shop. The crew talks like people who know the subject they’re talking about intimately and so it’s almost like they have their own language. The movie doesn’t slow down to explain to us, the audience what they’re talking about so a lot of what they were discussing went over my head. But that gives the movie an almost documentary feel as it’s as if we’re eavesdropping on private conversations.

And I don’t mean to make light of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster which released millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and where eleven crewmen lost their lives. While drilling, pressure control systems failed, causing an uncontrollable blowout, releasing crude oil that in turned caused an explosion. The explosion was so fierce and so huge it was visible 40 miles away. The movie DEEPWATER HORIZON depicts the events leading up to and causing the explosion and the struggle of the rig’s crew to escape.

We see the disaster through the eyes of Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) who in one of the better scenes early on the movie gives BP executive Don Vidrine (John Malkovich) an impressive list of everything that’s wrong with the rig. Vidrine’s more concerned that they’re behind schedule and over budget. None of which matters to Mr. Jimmy (Kurt Russell) an Old School oil driller whose mantra is that “BP may own this rig but it belongs to me.” We get some family time with Mike and his wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter before he goes to work on that fateful day. And for all of you who constantly whine about spoilers are advised that 90% of the family time scenes we saw in the trailers are in the movie.


The best part of the movie happens when things go to hell, the rig blows up and everybody is scrambling around trying to escape. On a purely technical level this movie is astonishing. I would hate to think that director Peter Berg (and where the hell is my sequel to “The Rundown,” dammit?) and his production crew went out and actually built an oil rig just to blow it up for a movie but damn if it doesn’t look like that’s exactly what the maniacs did. DEEPWATER HORIZON is one of those movies I look at and I’m honestly surprised that people weren’t actually killed during filming. There’s fire everywhere, mud spraying from every crack, seam and hole and if it isn’t mud it’s oil. And even the water doesn’t provide safety because it’s covered in flaming oil.


But still, DEEPWATER HORIZON  is unengaging on the emotional level. I never once forgot I was looking at a movie and found myself admiring it more for the CGI special effects and the stunt work than the performances. This brings me back to Irwin Allen. Hokey as it may have been to assign each character in his disaster movies with an eccentricity or personal problem, it was a form of shorthand to get us to know and sympathize with the characters. There’s only three of them we really get to know here in DEEPWATER HORIZON as the rest of the characters are actually pretty thin and after the explosion, they’re covered in oil and mud and we can’t tell them apart anyway. So when they die the emotional impact is blunted because we’re not sure who it was that just died.


Kurt Russell walks away with the acting honors in this one as damn well he should because Kurt Russell walks away with the acting honors in any movie he’s in. That’s The Law. Mark Wahlberg and Kate Hudson are likeable enough but they’re not trying very hard to stretch their acting talents here. John Malkovich has been playing sarcastic villains for so long he should have the trademark on it (unless Jeremy Irons has beaten him to it)


So should you see DEEPWATER HORIZON? It’s a completely undemanding movie that’s perfectly acceptable as a time waster if you find find yourself with a couple of hours to kill. It’s not a bad movie at all. Just one that you don’t have to rush out and see. Go see it for the mind blowing spectacle of the special effects as they’re best appreciated on the big screen. They’re the real stars of this movie.

107 Minutes



Rio Conchos



20th Century Fox

Directed by Gordon Douglas

Produced by David Weisbart

Screenplay by Joseph Landon and Clair Huffaker

Based on the novel “Guns of Rio Conchos” written by Clair Huffaker

Music by Jerry Goldsmith

You tell me that there’s a movie or television show with Richard Boone in it and I’m watching it. Period. Richard Boone was probably the first man crush I ever had, thanks to “Have Gun With Travel.” My father never missed an episode and when it came on he would holler for me to come watch it with him. I fell in love with the show and with Richard Boone. It took me a long time to figure out why I enjoyed watching him on screen. He is a hero that looks, sounds and sometimes has to act like a villain. Take his character of Paladin in “Have Gun Will Travel.” He dresses all in black and that, along with his thin mustache and air of quiet menace he looks like the classic Western villain. But Paladin is truly a heroic, noble man on a knightly quest in the Wild West. Yes, he hires himself and his gun out for pay but his aim is to see that justice is done. A lot of the DNA of Paladin is in my character of Dillon, that’s how much I admire and like the character and Richard Boone.

Richard Boone is also among that brotherhood of actors I call Old Time Tough. Before he found success in acting, Mr. Boone worked as an oil rigger, a bartender and served in the United States Navy during World War II, seeing combat on three ships in the Pacific. He’s a guy who very easily can convince you he’s a tough guy on screen because he was one in Real Life.

It’s a damn shame he never became as big a movie star as he deserved to be because every movie performance I’ve seen in him has been entertaining and when he’s on screen I simply cannot take my eyes off him. RIO CONCHOS is his movie from start to finish and it’s one of the best Westerns I’ve ever seen. It’s a favorite of mine and I take every opportunity to turn people onto it whenever I can. Hence this here review. Now attend while I serve up the obligatory plot synopsis:

Jim Lassiter (Richard Boone) is an ex-Confederate Major waging his own private one-man war against the Apache Nation. Apaches raped and murdered his wife and daughter and since then he has slaughtered Apaches with such viciousness that they sing songs and tell stories about him to scare their children. Lassiter kills a raiding party of Apache and acquires from them a U.S. Army repeating rifle. Soon after Lassiter is arrested by U.S. Army Captain Haven (Stuart Whitman) and his second-in-command, Buffalo Soldier Sgt. Franklyn (Jim Brown) who want know where he got the rifle.


Turns out that Haven was in charge of a large shipment of the repeating rifles that were stolen from him. Haven’s superior officer Colonel Wagner (Warner Anderson) makes a deal with Lassiter. If he’ll help Haven destroy or recover the rifles, he’ll turn him loose. Lassiter is uninterested until he finds out that it’s his former commanding officer Colonel Theron Pardee (Edmond O’Brien) who is making a deal with the Apache for the rifles. You see, Pardee’s contact with the Apache is one of their chiefs, Bloodshirt (Rodolfo Acosta). And Bloodshirt is the Apache who desecrated and killed his family. Lassiter figures that if he helps Haven get to Pardee that will get him to Bloodshirt. Lassiter agrees to the deal. But only if he can take along Juan Luis Rodriguez (Tony Franciosa) a Mexican outlaw whose clownish demeanor disguises an extraordinary resourceful and dangerous man with both knife and gun. When they’re in the guardhouse together Rodriguez tries to defend his killing of a man as self-defense. Lassiter snorts in derision and says; “A man who can shoot the way you do, its murder.” Lassiter’s argument if that Haven can have a man of his own to watch his back, he should have one as well.


And so the four men set out on their damned, doomed mission to find Colonel Pardee and Bloodshirt with a wagon of gunpowder and repeating rifles. The plan being that they let Pardee find them under their guise of being Army deserters looking to make a quick buck. Pardee didn’t get the nickname of ‘The Gray Fox’ for nothing, though. Our boys find that out real quick when their plan goes south even quicker.


RIO CONCHOS is an uncompromisingly brutal Western. The protagonists don’t particularly like each other a whole lot and spend most of their time together trying to figure out how to double-cross each other to achieve their own goals. It is interesting to see how Lassiter and Franklyn grow to respect each other, to the point where they join together to make the ultimate sacrifice. Richard Boone owns this movie from start to finish and commits to the truth of his character. There’s a startling scene where he’s prepared to let Apaches burn to death and when thwarted, attempts to murder an Apache baby. But it’s a testament to his acting skill that while we don’t identify with Lassiter or his murderous blood rage, we can understand it.


Stuart Whitman is one of those actors who have never much impressed me but he does here. Haven is a straight up Army man, committed to his duty from start to finish. Tony Franciosa, who is an Italian, has the decidedly un-PC role of playing a Mexican here and if you watch the movie you’ll just have to overlook his attempt to do a Mexican accent and go with it.

Even though this is Jim Brown’s first movie you can see here why he became a major movie star as his career progressed. Even when he’s in a scene where he has nothing to say or do he’s a presence that radiates power and confidence. We know he’s in the scene even though he’s just standing there. That’s a quality that can’t be taught. It’s just something you have or you don’t and Jim Brown definitely has it. RIO CONCHOS is worth seeing not just for Richard Boone’s performance but Jim Brown’s as well. It’s a movie that should be better known to Western fans and I hope that my review will steer you in its direction if you’ve previously passed it by. Highly Recommend.


107 Minutes





Directed by Ralph Nelson

Produced by James Lee Barrett and Ralph Nelson

Written by James Lee Barrett

tick…tick…tick was made 46 years ago and if we were as truly as enlightened and progressive a society as we like to believe we are then we would look at this movie today and be horrified that once upon a time Americans of one skin color treated other Americans with different skin color in such disgracefully disgusting ways. tick…tick…tick would be looked upon and regarded as a quaint cultural artifact depicting a period of American history that no longer exists. The fact is that the issues at the heart of tick…tick…tick are issues that are still unresolved and still being dealt with in 2016 says something about our society and us a human beings, I think. First and foremost, its entertainment, one with a solid story backed up by good performances. But it’s also got something to say about America in 1970 and what it says still resonates today.

Sheriff John Little (George Kennedy) of Colusa County, Mississippi is working his last day on the job. He lost the last election to Jim Price (Jim Brown) who is going to take over as Colusa’s first black sheriff. The white citizens of Colusa aren’t making Little’s last day easy for him, either. He’s regarded with contempt by them, most of whom he’s grown up with. They think he should have fought harder to keep his job. Indeed, the town’s leading racist and most powerful citizen, D. J. Rankin (Clifton James) tells Little that if Little had decided to ignore the lawful results of the election and keep his position, the local chapter of the KKK would have supported him. But Little doesn’t want that. At heart he’s a good man who believes in the law. He turns over his badge, gun and office to Price and settles down to live the life of a retired man of leisure.


Jim Price isn’t having a smooth transition to his new job. The white deputies who worked for Little refuse to work for a black man and quit. One of them (played by the always dependable Don Stroud) even attempts to goad Price into a gunfight by not turning in his gun and wearing it openly around town, saying he wants to be the first white man in the South to shoot a black sheriff dead. Price’s wife, Julia (Janet MacLachlin) hates the whole thing and in her mind has already counted her husband as being dead and buried. The town mayor (Fredric March) flat out tells Price to not do anything or make any decisions without clearing it with him first.


But Price goes ahead and makes a decision when a six year old white girl is killed by a drunk driver. The driver, John Braddock (Bob Random) is the son of the most powerful men in the neighboring county and has every confidence that his father will get him out. By force if necessary. The senor Braddock does come to the Colusa jail and tries to order Price to let his son out and is turned away. He vows to return with an army.

With no other recourse left to him, Price has to reluctantly accept Little’s help and accepts him as his deputy. The two men now have to work together to try and persuade the black and white citizens of Colusa to stand together with them to see that justice is done.


tick…tick…tick was directed by Ralph Nelson who directed one of my favorite westerns; “Duel at Diablo” and what the two movies share in common is the theme of men who don’t like each other being forced to work together. It was written by James Lee Barrett who adapted the movie “In The Heat of The Night” for television and tick…tick…tick does share a lot of themes with that movie. They’d make for a great double feature for home viewing.

Jim Brown holds the center of the movie in that way that only Jim Brown can. Whenever he’s in a scene he owns that scene, no doubt about it. But the acting honors here are shared by George Kennedy and Clifton James. George Kennedy was actually a much better actor than he gets credit for and tick…tick…tick is a good showcase for his talents. And it’s such a shame that Clifton James is always remembered as the buffoonish J.W. Pepper from the James Bond movies “Live And Let Die” and “The Man With The Golden Gun.” He’s actually extraordinarily good in dramatic roles and in this one he hangs in the background for much of the movie, projecting quiet menace. His character is the type of man who because he wields so much power he doesn’t have to go around saying or doing much. Because when he does speak or move, it means something. Fredric March has a terrific scene where he invites his black butler of eighteen years to come into his study, share a brandy with him and talk honestly about the relationship they’ve had. It’s a scene that’s not only funny but powerful because it’s rooted in the truth of their respective places in their society as a black man and a white man. Bernie Casey is also in this one in a small but pivotal role and it’s always enjoyable to watch him work on screen. Especially with Jim Brown and I only wish they had done more film work together.

Although the movie ends on a hopeful note it also acknowledges that the racial issues it has explored are not solved. 46 years later they’re still not solved and that what makes tick…tick…tick still relevant. It’s not light entertainment but it is a movie that is absolutely worth your time to watch.

100 Minutes

Rated G

Be advised that The ‘N’ Word is used casually and extensively in this movie by both white and black characters. So if you’re sensitive to its use in a fictional narrative don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Magnificent Seven (1960)



The Mirisch Company/United Artists

Produced and Directed by John Sturges

Written by William Roberts

Music by Elmer Bernstein

Based on “Seven Samurai” directed by Akira Kurosawa

Written by Akira Kurosawa/Shinobu Hashimoto/Hideo Oguni

Much as I love the Internet I’m glad I grew up during a time when we didn’t have it. Because back then when I saw a movie either on television or in the theater I had to take that movie on its own terms and for what it was. I was familiar with THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN due to it being shown fairly often on TV. It was one of the movies I watched with my father every time it came on. This was in the days even before VHS (I heard that scream of anguished disbelief from the back. You okay?) so if you missed a movie you had to wait quite a while before it was shown again. I didn’t know that THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN was a remake of “Seven Samurai” until the 1980s when I caught it on PBS late one Saturday night. Intrigued by the similarity of the two movies I went to my local library, found some movie reference books and looked it up and became aware of the movie’s history.

See what we had to go through to get information before Google?

A small Mexican village is being terrorized by a gang of banditos led by Calvera (Eli Wallach) who is having problems finding food and supplies for his men. He’s looted this particular village so often and for so much that the village leaders have finally decided they’re sick of his shit and they’re not going to take it anymore. They collect all the sellable goods in the village and ride across the border to the United States, looking to hire gunslingers to show them how to fight and drive off Calvera and his gang. They meet up with Chris Adams, a gunfighter who dresses all in black and explain their dilemma to him. They offer him their goods as everything they have in the world and touched by the naked honesty of these simple men, delivers one of the best lines in a movie stuffed full of great lines: “I’ve been offered a lot for my work. But never everything.”


Chris recruits six gunslingers: Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen) who would rather take a chance on getting killed defending the village than become a store clerk. Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson) once commanded thousands of dollars for his professional skills but has fallen on hard times. Lee (Robert Vaughn) is on the run from the law and a change of country for a time would do him good. Harry Luck (Brad Dexter) is an old friend of Chris and goes along as he’s convinced that the villagers must be hiding a gold or silver mine from Calvera and Harry wants to cut in. The enigmatic, laconic Britt (James Coburn) is the absolute best with a gun or knife and always looking for new challenges to test his lethal skills. Chico (Horst Buchholz) is a hot tempered young gun, looking to make a name for himself fast and hard.


The Seven go to the village. The plan is that even though they’re outnumbered, once Calvera sees he’s up against professional gunmen he’ll move along to other towns where the pickings will be easier. The first skirmish against Calvera goes to The Seven but Calvera has no intention of leaving it at that. And that leads to an apocalyptic showdown in which not all of The Magnificent Seven or their allies will survive.


Simply put; THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is one of the greatest westerns ever made and certainly one of the best known. A large part of this is due to the bold, brassy, heroic music score by Elmer Bernstein. Even people who have never seen the movie know the music. And I myself know people who hate westerns but they’ve seen THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. It’s just one of those movies that everybody seems to have seen at one time or another in their life.

We look at the cast and marvel at the star power but at the time the movie was made the only ones who were bona fide movie stars were Yul Brynner and Eli Wallach. Everybody else was mostly doing television work and just getting their feet wet in movies. They make for an eccentric, entertaining team. I’ve always suspected that James Coburn actually watched “Seven Samurai” as his characterization of Britt is to play him more or less as a samurai in the Wild West. Horst Buchholz and Brad Dexter are the two member of The Seven whose names nobody ever remembers and they both never had anywhere as good a role as they have in this movie. Yul Brynner’s look and performance here became so iconic that he reprised it in a science fiction movie; “Westworld.” And in the 2016 remake, Denzel Washington’s character dresses all in black, no doubt in homage to Brynner.


Steve McQueen makes for a more than capable second-in-command and he provides some nice bits of humor with his folksy parables he pulls out when he’s trying to make a point and he gets to say the line that sums up the mission statement of The Magnificent Seven quite succinctly: “We deal in lead, friend.” Charles Bronson, of all people gets to have an emotional subplot where he’s adopted by a trio of village kids who promise to put fresh flowers on his grave everyday if he gets killed. Robert Vaughn’s performance is stylishly laid back, suggesting with his mannerisms that his character is wrestling with various neuroses.

I don’t have to give you the hard sell on the 1960 version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. If you haven’t seen it by now then you apparently have no interest in it and nothing I can say will change your mind. Those of you who have seen it were probably nodding your head in agreement while you read this review. Plain and simple; THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is indeed a magnificent movie with an equally magnificent story and cast and has long earned its reputation as a true classic of the Western genre.


128 Minutes

The Magnificent Seven (2016)



Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Produced by Roger Birnbaum/Todd Black

Screenplay by Nic Pizzolatto/Richard Wenk

Based on “Seven Samurai” directed by Akira Kurosawa

Screenplay by Akira Kurosawa/Shinobu Hasimoto/Hideo Oguni

And “The Magnificent Seven” directed by John Sturges

Written by William Roberts

There’s a scene in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN where they’re all sitting around just talking. It’s one of several scenes where we get to know these men and they get to know each other before the apocalyptic final battle in which they know full well that some, maybe none of them will survive. One of The Seven says that to die in the company of such men as these in the service of others is the highest honor he can imagine in life. And that pretty much sums up why the the concept of a small band of men of superlative fighting skills protecting those who can’t protect themselves worked in “Seven Samurai” and continues to work. “Seven Samurai” has been remade numerous times unofficially but the official sequel, the 1960 “The Magnificent Seven” is that rare sequel that has become just as legendary as the original. And I think it’s because of that ideal of dying honorably in the service of others, doing what is right just because you know in your gut and in your soul that it is right. It was one of the ideals that used to define manhood in our society and I think that’s why the 1960 version is still such a beloved movie, along with “Seven Samurai.” I don’t know if the 2016 version will still be watched 56 years from now but I like to think that all three of them still will be.

Just like in the 1960 version we have a gunfighter in black assembling a team of gunslingers to defend a town from a band of marauders. But this time, the gunfighter just doesn’t wear all black. He is black. Bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is persuaded by Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) to come to the mining town of Rose Creek to wrest the town from the iron-fisted control of Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sargaard.) He has made virtual slaves out of the townspeople and goes around slaughtering anybody who dares speak up against him, including Emma’s husband.


Chisolm rounds up a band of decidedly deadly yet eccentric gunslingers. Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) is a quickdraw expert and gambler. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) gained a reputation during The Civil War as the most dangerous sharpshooter in the country. His partner Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) is expert in close quarter combat with knives. Mountain man/tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) is an earthquake on two legs, possessed of terrifying physical strength. Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is a Mexican outlaw who seems to be incapable of missing anything he shoots at. Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is a Comanche warrior who seemingly throws in with Chisolm on a whim but there is a deeper, more spiritual reason for him to join his cause.


Now, the two things that distinguish this incarnation of The Seven from all earlier ones (I’m counting the casts of “Return of The Seven” “Guns of The Magnificent Seven” and “The Magnificent Seven Ride!” in this) is first of all, the racial diversity.  We’ve got a black man, a Cajun, a native American and a Mexican on the team which makes a lot more sense historically. And because each member of The Seven has a distinct style of fighting, it’s visually more thrilling during the fight scenes since it’s not just a bunch of guys all banging away with their guns with the bad guys. It also gives them all specific tasks to do during the movie, according to their gifts.

A large part of the fun of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is the enthusiasm of the cast. It’s hard not to have fun watching the movie when the cast obviously had fun acting in it. I like how the story takes it’s time to introduce The Seven and lay out their motivations for taking on the task of liberating Rose Creek from the clutches of Bogue. Director Antoine Fuqua knows his Westerns, that’s for sure. There are plenty of shots and scenes in this that are direct swipes from classic Westerns directed by John Ford, Sergio Leone and Walter Hill.

For this to be Denzel Washington’s very first Western he sure goes through it as if he’s been doing horse operas most of his career. There’s echoes of the world weariness and moral center of Yul Brynner’s Chris Adams and they both wear all black but that’s where the similarities end. Chris Pratt is fun as the freewheeling Faraday who does card tricks to confound his enemies but let’s be honest; when is Chris Pratt not fun to watch in a movie? He’s like a big kid who’s being allowed to just have fun and he does so with energy and aplomb. You just can’t help smiling when he’s onscreen. Ethan Hawke’s wonderfully named Goodnight Robicheaux is a sort of mash-up of the Robert Vaughn and Brad Dexter characters from the 1960 movie while Byung-hun Lee’s Billy Rocks is introduced to us in a nifty callback to James Coburn’s introductory scene in the original. The only real grumble I had with this movie as I was going out the door was that the classic theme song was used so little. I understand that this movie was the last one scored by James Horner so I fully comprehend that the studio wanted as much of his music to be used as possible as Mr. Horner was a true innovator and his movie scores are magic. But c’mon…


I’ve read reviews that criticized Antoine Fuqua for not bringing anything new to the Western genre with this version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. But he really didn’t have to. We all know the story. The 1960 “The Magnificent Seven” is one of those movies that even people who don’t like Westerns have seen and if they haven’t they know the story just as well as they know Superman’s origin or what the meaning of ‘Rosebud’ is in “Citizen Kane.” You don’t go to see THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN for plot twists or unexpected surprises. You go to see how well the story is retold. And it’s retold exceptionally well here. I’m also glad I got a chance to see it in IMAX and I heartily recommend that you do so as well. You guys know how much I love Westerns so I freely admit I’m biased. I simply love being able to go see a Western on the big screen and I love this version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.


133 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Black Eye



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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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