COMING SOON...

COMING SOON...

BLACK VENUS, IT, THE NAVIGATOR: A MEDIEVAL ODYSSEY, TIDELAND, THE HOT ROCK, DIAMONDS OF KILAMANDJARO, GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS, THE HIRED HAND, DAY OF THE JACKAL, and DUCKMAN THE COMPLETE SERIES

Sunday, May 29, 2011

DRIVE ANGRY: HELL ON THE HIGHWAY

The craze for 3-D movies is still working its way to the big screen across the country. I’ve found it amusing at times but on the whole I could do away with the need to wear a second pair of glasses let alone the extra expense that a ticket for a 3-D film entails. Perhaps it was that expense that caused DRIVE ANGRY to not be the big hit it was expected to be. This is unfortunate because all in all it was a fun film.

The films starts off with a bang as John Milton (Nicolas Cage) revs down the road in a muscle car intent on catching three bad guys in truck. He forces them to crash, shoots one’s hand off, blasts the second and then threatens the third unless he gives him information. It seems that he is chasing a group of bad guys with one purpose: to save a baby they’ve kidnapped.

As the story unfolds we finally discover that Cage was a very bad man in his own right who was killed and sent to Hell. He escaped when he witness his daughter’s death at the hands of Jonah King (Billie Burke), a satanic cult leader who intends to sacrifice her child on the next full moon in the hopes of bringing Hell to Earth. Milton has set his sights on revenge and only the rescue of the child and death of King will suffice.

As he sets out to track down King, Milton requires a new car having crashed the last one. A chance encounter with a young waitress named Piper (Amber Heard) leads to a ride down the road. When he saves her from an abusive boyfriend after she’s been knocked unconscious, the pair head south for Florida via Louisiana. FL is her destination, LA his.

Along the way the pair is being followed by two different people. The first is a man who refers to himself as “The Accountant” (William Fichtner). In actuality this is Hell’s agent on Earth trying to track down and recollect Milton. Why he can’t just pop in and out where he wants is never explained but like all Hell employed bounty hunters he just follows and kills along his way to catch the escapee.

A run in with the followers of King leads to Piper and Milton being captured. As King speeds off with Piper and the baby having just shot Milton one would think the film would end. But keep in mind that Milton is already dead and a headshot won’t be the sort of thing to stop him.

The film rolls along with tons of car chases and mayhem, explosions and gunfight, until a final confrontation between Milton and King finally arrives.

This is the stuff that drive-in movies were made of back in their heyday during the seventies: cars speeding down the highway, cults that just seem downright stupid, gun battles using guns that never seem to run out of ammo and a smattering of nudity here and there. As I watched I kept thinking of past films like VANISHING POINT and RACE WITH THE DEVIL, to classics of the genre.

The film is filled with completely unbelievable items that you either accept as part of the universe it is set in or just shake your head asking how anyone could expect you to believe it at all. Perhaps the most extreme (and the raciest) is when Milton is in the middle of having sex only to leap up still attached and begin shooting bad guys left and right. Not only does this tell you how unbelievable the film is but also how it got the R rating it deserves as well.

Cage does a great job as the determined tough guy out to take down those worse than him for a noble cause. Fichtner is amazing to watch as the smooth operating collector who feels no remorse taking out various bad guys or telling people he’ll seem them soon, some in years others in months. And Heard plays the young woman sucked into a world she is completely unaware of only to feel the need to help Milton in his quest.

Some will be offended by the whole sacrifice idea (used in tons of movies in the 60s and 70s before it became something to really fear), some will not be keen on the idea of a hero in the form of an escapee from Hell and others will be offended by the bloodshed and nudity. I mention these as a warning for those easily offended. For the rest who are just looking for 105 minutes of pure escapist fun then make sure you give this one a watch.

THE BIG BANG: MORE LIKE AN M-80

Film makers are always trying to take a favorite genre or film and retune it to today’s standards. The problem is that in attempting to take that treasured classic they usually turn it into something it wasn’t to begin with thus losing what they wanted to do in the first place. This is the case with THE BIG BANG, a movie that wants so much to be a film noire detective story but ends up falling short.

Antonio Banderas stars as Ned Cruz, a private eye hired by Anton “The Pro” Protopov (Robert Malliet), a 7 foot tall giant ex-boxer just released from prison for murder. It seems that while in jail, Anton had been receiving letters from a beautiful woman named Lexie, swearing her undying love for him. Once released, he discovered that her address is a vacant lot so he hires Ned to track her down.

The first place they look for her is a strip club where she worked. Anton’s explosive temper gets the better of him and a few beat up bouncers later the pair make a hasty exit. Ned advises him that it would be better if he worked alone at this time and he moves on with his search.

The second person he talks to is an adult film director played by Snoop Dogg. Once more this leads to a dead end as does a talk with a down on her luck actress who hires out to a medical college to portray various mental illnesses. All roads lead nowhere until Ned talks to a mail carrier and finds that the letters sent back to the vacant lot are being forwarded to a small town in New Mexico.

Driving to the town Ned finds out that it’s owned by Simon Kestral (Sam Elliott), a reclusive zillionaire with dreams of physics, ions, and a search for the God particle that have made him build his own particle generator in hopes of creating one. Sure it might result in a black hole where the earth was but he’s searching any way. It is in Kestral’s home that the search finally ends in more ways than one but that would blow the surprise so watch and see to discover what it is.

That is if you don’t mind waiting almost 90 minutes for a movie to get interesting. There are touches here and there that make you continue watching and the art direction and photography are amazing. The film is shot with bright fluorescent coloring and makes it seem to glow in a surreal stylization not seen before. While it does make it amazing to look at, it doesn’t make the twists and turns of the story any more palatable.

The movie tries too hard to be complicated. It delves into topics that are used as metaphors but that don’t do so in such a way that if you weren’t already interested in those topics you wouldn’t catch the comparison. It’s like the old Steve Martin joke from his stand up days where he discusses the size of wrenches and sockets because he thought he was performing for a group of plumbers. If you aren’t a part of the group you don’t get the joke.

The acting is by far the best thing in this film. Given the story to perform, all hands do a great job. Banderas does his best as a tough P.I. and carries it off easily. As the three cops that interrogate him from the beginning of the film to nearly the end, Delroy Lindo, William Fichtner and Thomas Kretschmann are all perfectly suited to the various characters they are offered.

I wanted to like this film and I honestly enjoyed it on a visual level. But having been a fan of film noire and classic hard boiled detective flicks for years I found it a bit of a let down. Still, some may enjoy this one so I wouldn’t totally write it off. If this is the style of film you like then by all means give it a try. If nothing else you’ll see what I mean about the film’s visuals.  

BIG JAKE: STILL TAMING THE WEST AT 64

John Wayne remains the most famous icon of the west that has ever existed when it comes to film. His swagger and speech patterns have been copied by many a mimic and fellow actor and his collection of classic western roles has never been matched. During his final years Wayne continued to make westerns and the most amazing thing was that even at 64 years of age he made some that were highly entertaining such as BIG JAKE.

Wayne stars as Big Jake McCandles, a man who does things his own way and who tamed the country that he lived in. When McCandles grandson is kidnapped by a group of mangy looking cutthroats led by John Fain (Richard Boone), McCandles wife Martha (Maureen O’Hara) sends for him. While still married, the two have separate lives due to the fact they both have head strong ways.

A demand of $1 million is made and Jake is set to take the money in trade for his grandson, a child he’s never laid eyes on. But this is a changing west and the sheriff and his men set out to catch them first in the newfangled cars that are the rage. Unfortunately the cars also can be easily dispensed with after being shot which happens in an ambush. Waylaid and with no way to get help, Jake leaves them water and tells them to head back while he continues on with his task.

Accompanying Jake are his old Indiana friend Sam Sharpnose (Bruce Cabot) and two of his sons James (Wayne’s real life son Patrick) and Michael (Christopher Mitchum, son of Robert Mitchum). While Michael offers his father the respect he is due, James has a problem with him witnessed when Jake first got off of the train when he arrived home. As the story progresses, James learns to have more respect for his father.

The foursome travel down the dusty trail, following the map left them by the kidnappers. One night after setting up camp, Fain rides in to make sure that they are following the instructions given and to provide them with new. As the two men eye each other down you know a final confrontation will eventually happen.

The foursome head to a small town in Mexico where the kidnappers feel safe. But word of their cargo has preceded them and another group stands ready to take the money from them. Needless to say things don’t go according to their plans.

With this new trouble out of the way Wayne sets out to follow the final instructions. That showdown between the bad guys and the good guys is all set in motion and all we have to do now is wait to see just who will and who won’t survive.

What seems to be a simple story of a kidnapping has more layers to it than one would expect in a John Wayne film. Not only does it tell that story but it shows a world that is changing, much like Wayne’s was at the time. The old law of the west was being replaced by real laws and horses were being replaced by machines. But men like McCandle still rode tall in the saddle and made sure that things were done proper.

The movie also shows a character in McCandles that did what he had to do to survive but at the same time realizes what he missed in the process. A grandchild he never saw and sons he never had the chance to be a father for. But there is always time to repair broken walls and to be there for family.

The blu-ray transfer of this film is beautiful, offering some tremendous scenery and some well styled photography. It might appear to be nothing more than what was done for most TV westerns of the time but it gives the viewer the chance to witness all the action that the screen can hold and more.

As I’ve said before, it’s great that these classic John Wayne films are being released in this format. One can only hope that they continue to do so. My guess is that event he black and white films would feel much improved with this format. Now all we can do is sit and wait. But until then we’ll have films like this one that we can enjoy.

RIO LOBO: THE DUKE SEEKS REVENGE

Once again the movies of John Wayne are slowly making their way onto blu-ray format. Perhaps not the most famous of those films but ones that continued to show why even during his later years Wayne continued to make westerns that could entertain.

RIO LOBO finds Wayne as Col. Cord McNally at the tail end of the Civil War. Waiting for a gold shipment he’s disappointed when confederate soldiers led by Capt. Pierre Cardona (Jorge Rivero) drops a hornet’s nest into the car containing the gold and soldiers and then cuts lose the train cars to steal the loot. A back and forth of who has whom results in Wayne capturing Cordona and his right hand man, Sgt. Tuscarora Phillips (Christopher Mitchum).

The years pass, the war ends and prisoners are set free. McNally meets up with Cordona and Phillips in search of information. He wants to find who it was that set up the train heist, who it was on his side that was feeding the south information. One of McNally’s friends was killed in the attack, a killing he doesn’t hold against his war time foes but does against a traitor. The three part ways on good terms giving McNally a little to go on but enough that months later he heads to Rio Lobo in search of the traitor.

On his way there he once again runs into Cordona. They also become acquainted with a young woman named Shasta (Jennifer O’Neill) fleeing Rio Lobo and hunted by three killers with badges. Needless to say they lose the ensuing gunfight and McNally discovers that not only has the traitor taken over the sheriff in Rio Lobo, he’s about to put an end to Tuscarora and his family as well. The three set out for Rio Lobo to help and finally get the revenge that McNally sought to begin with.

So this is a later John Wayne film and one that did decent at the box office but also showed a decline in movie goer’s enjoyment of westerns and Wayne as well. Sure it did good business but not what his earlier films did. But that doesn’t take away the fact that this is an enjoyable film that the entire family can watch. There are a few violent moments that small children might not need to see (a woman shows the results of a facial slice made by bad guy Mike Henry as Rio Lobo’s sheriff for hire) but it’s far less graphic than even some TV shows today.

There is plenty of gun slinging and Wayne once more turns down the role of romantic lead, offering it to the younger Rivero instead. A smart move on his part as chances are ticket buyers would have had a hard time dealing with the older more mature Wayne hooking up with the much younger O’Neill.  There is more plot than usual for a western here between the civil war antics and the search for the traitor who sold out his fellow soldiers (played by Victor French long before his LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE days) but that just brings in more folks to help before the final gunfight.

Of interest to some would be the casting of two individuals in the film. The first is a bad guy, the initial three who come looking for O’Neill played almost silently by George Plimpton. Plimpton was a writer known for his taking on jobs to find out what they were like first hand. His claim to fame was writing the book PAPER LION where the lean and tall Plimpton spent time as a Detroit Lion football players to see what it was like. Here, he takes on the role of a stunt man. The second would be Sherry Lansing as Amelita. Lansing worked as an actress for some time before moving behind the camera and becoming not just a producer but the head of Paramount Studios for some time.

No, this is not John Wayne’s best film nor would I consider it in the top ten. But it does offer a good western that you can kick back and enjoy. The blu-ray format does indeed help the quality of the picture and gives it that much newer feel and look. One can only hope that all of Wayne’s films receive the same treatment down the line.

A MAN CALLED HORSE: UNDERSTANDING INDIANS

In the early seventies there was a ton of movies released that all dealt with the west from the perspective of the Indians. While we had been raised with movies that had savages attacking women and children for so long now we were presented with a group of humans who weren’t the devil incarnate but just people who were different. Movies like LITTLE BIG MAN and SOLDIER BLUE came out. And in 1970 we had A MAN CALLED HORSE.

Richard Harris stars as John Morgan, an English nobleman who has left his homeland for a time and come to America. Out in the Wild West, he’s enjoying a hunting trip that is suddenly disrupted by a group of Sioux Indians that attack his camp, kill and scalp his guides and then capture Morgan.

Naked and dragged behind a horse with a rope around him, Morgan is taken back to the Indian’s camp and treated like the lowest of low. They view him as little more than a dog going so far as to keep him tied near them.

As time passes, Morgan begins to learn about the Indians and their ways with the help of Batise (Jean Gascon), another captive who has learned how to speak their language but can also speak English and French. Through the translations Batise provides Morgan learns about his position in the tribe as a captive and also how they live their lives, how they differ from the lives led by English nobles.

A day comes when the village the tribe lives in is about to be attacked by two members of another tribe. One of the boys takes out the first and Morgan leaps to attack the second, killing him with his own knife. As the boys scalp the first one, Morgan realizes to become accepted he must follow suit and does so to the second attacker.

Morgan becomes accepted among the tribe and must earn his place among them. Throughout his stay he has caught the eye of Running Deer, the sister of the tribe’s leader, Yellow Hand. He makes an offer for her hand in marriage but is rebuffed by Yellow Hand until he can complete the Sun Vow, a torturous physical ordeal the men of the tribe go through to prove their bravery. Morgan does complete the task and is united with Running Deer. It is perhaps the images of this ceremony that most will recall when thinking of this film, a scene where hooks are inserted through Morgan’s chest muscles from which he is then hung from the ceiling.

A MAN CALLED HORSE was a different sort of western than had been seen before. As I said earlier, rather than being presented with the actions of this tribe as uncivilized men we are instead offered a look at them through their eyes. The things they did might have seemed savage to us but in their culture it was totally acceptable. This film attempts to make that plain and understandable.

The scenery in the film is gorgeous and one would think that with this being released now on blu-ray that it would be breathtaking. But the fact remains that while blu-ray may offer an amazing new look to most things it can only reprocess what there was to begin with. Without a high quality print or if the film were shot less than perfect, no amount of transfer to the blu-ray format will change what was originally shot.

The acting in this film is well performed by all. Harris does a fine job portraying a man who was more lost before his capture than he was after. Early scenes have him describe his life in England that present him as being out of touch there even though he accepts it. His scenes of life with the Indians later on seem to present him more in touch with himself.

Many never think about the life of the Indian or what they went through. You rarely even hear it spoken of today. And while Hollywood fluctuates between presenting them as either complete animals or noble savages, the fact is that perhaps they were like the rest of us, somewhere in between. This movie does its best to present that.

AFTER DARK-PROWL: HOW NOT TO MAKE A VAMPIRE FILM

The After Dark films have been hit or miss since they first began. A collection of films usually made by first timers they range from movies that offer truly innovative ideas and scares to movies that seem to take forever to unwind. Most seem to fall in the middle. But PROWL (aka THE STRAYS) leans to the poor side of the scale.

Amber (Courtney Hope) hates the small town she lives in. She dreams of the day when she can escape to the big city and find a life of her own. The chance presents itself with an apartment for rent in Chicago. The catch is that she has to make it there by the next day with the first and last month’s rent or the landlord will let it go to someone else.

This calls for a road trip! Except that all of her friends have either had their wheels grounded or in the shop for repairs. Except one. Off they go! But that doesn’t work out either as the van overheats and ends up on the side of the road. Luckily a truck driver comes along that they eventually talk into taking them to Chicago where he says he’s heading. Into the back of the truck they hop and off they go.

But they later realize that this driver was anything but a savior. Instead they find he’s driven them to some hidden location, an abandoned factory of sorts, and left them there. When the back of the truck opens, they gather their things, click on a flashlight and start looking for a way out. Until one of them is pulled up from the floor in the dark and his head dropped seconds later.

The driver has dropped them off in a feeding ground for a group of vampires. He was hauling a load of plasma for them in the back of the truck, but fresh prey is so much better. One by one the group is taken, rather quickly too for an 84 minute film. Amber and her best friend overhear the leader of the group talking and continue to evade their pursuers. But that doesn’t last long as her friend is taken and now Amber is forced to fend for herself.

The twist in the story then presents itself (don’t worry I won’t tell you what it is) but it just feels out of place and tacked on even though it’s been hinted at (poorly) from the start. The ending doesn’t feel like an end but doesn’t feel like it leaves an opening for a sequel either. And let’s hope one doesn’t get made because this movie was boring.

Sure horror films are supposed to have jump scenes but there are few of them to be found and when they do they’re at times when you pretty much expect them to happen. The acting is sub-par and does little to convince you these are real people, worst of all Courtney Hope in the lead. You don’t care about anyone before they get slaughtered and you sure don’t care about them after.

Shot mostly in darkness (I guess because of a low budget) with a soundtrack that goes from wanting to get closer to hear what’s being said to being blasted out of your seat, the movie offers nothing that would make me seek out anything made by this director or writer in the future. A good horror film offers you something scary, something original, something a bit different and this film offered none of those things. I take part of that back. It does offer something original in the suddenly tossed out explanation but its nothing that’s the least bit interesting. Perhaps in the hands of a better writer it might have but here it just seems added on. As much as I love scary movies, this one is best left unrented.

CASINO JACK: HOLLYWOOD OFFERS NO LOVE LOST FOR REPUBLICANS

There is a quote that states “history is written by the winners”, attributed in this form to George Orwell. This saying seems to be true and in no greater respect than in the films that find their way to the screen and that always have. When Hollywood leaned right, patriotic films made the day. And now that it’s more left, films condemning nearly everything are the rage. So it’s not too surprising to find that the film CASINO JACK spends most of its time attempting to brand Republicans as the devil rather than focus on the main character of the title.

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) is the typical lobbyist as we’ve been told time and time again. The job of the lobbyist is to take information provided to them by their client and attempt to influence those in power, here Senators and Congressmen, to vote in favor of things their clients want. And when it comes to making mountains move, Abramoff is a lobbyist you want on your side.

As the film begins, Abramoff is attempting to gather higher profile clients for the firm he works for. First connecting with an manufacturer in the foreign Northern Mariana that uses questionable labor tactics and then bringing in a tribe of Indians who are looking to protect their gambling business. Both of these set Abramoff up in the big leagues. But then a senior member of the firm wants him to help find a buyer for a possibly corrupt gambling cruise ship line and things begin to go south.

Rather than find someone else, Jack and his partner in crime Mike Scanlon (Barry Pepper) decide to find a front man and take over the business themselves. Their choice is not the best one but it is someone Jack thinks he knows and thinks he can control: Adam Kidan (Jon Lovitz). Kidan was once the owner of a successful mattress company but has fallen on hard times himself. Now he seems the perfect fit for Abramoff.

Things start out fine but slowly go from bad to worse. The clothing manufacturer is taken to task for labor law violations, the deal for the cruise line is up in the air thanks to some financial shenanigans Abramoff and crew attempt and the Indian tribes begin to notice something just isn’t quite right in their accounting departments. Through is all Jack continues to wheel and deal with Republican members in Washington as he tries to bring it all in check.

This sounds like a great story and in actuality it is. Or at least it could have been. There is a section of the film where the Abramoff begins to question just where it was he went wrong, just where it was that he lost sight of doing the right thing in helping others and instead just wanted to make money. No, making money is not a bad thing but doing so using illegal means and trying to hide it is.

The problem here is that the section just mentioned last perhaps 5 minutes tops. The rest of the film is busy trying to paint a portrait of Republicans as the most corrupt group of politicians to walk the face of the Earth. This is not to say they can’t be but the fact of the matter is that corruption doesn’t have an R or a D behind its name. Both sides have had their fair share of corrupt individuals. To make an attempt to claim only one just cheapens the true story here. And to think that there wasn’t an unrepentant bone in Abramoff’s body seems disingenuous at best. Perhaps he doesn’t have any regrets but had that been the story or even going back and forth attempting to show he had none would have made a better film. Instead we have the stereotypical politicians that in Hollywood are ALL guilty of being corrupt…but only if they’re Republicans.

Kevin Spacey is always great to see and here he turns in another fine performance. The only thing annoying (and perhaps this was true) was in his portrayal of Abramoff as always doing impersonations. Sure Spacey does a great job of that, but it wears thin fast. Still, Spacey can make a believable character out of little and does so here. We don’t get to see much depth to Abramoff, but when those moment shine through, Spacey does a great job.

Abramoff’s fall from grace, a top paid lobbyist to jail inmate, is an interesting story. Even the bits and pieces offered here make for a tale that makes you want to look deeper into the real events. But as told here it feels slow, using frantic movements and speeches that at the same time make you check your watch to see how much longer the film runs. Perhaps one day Hollywood will learn that a great picture would take news events and present both sides of the story, perspective that tells you what went on from every angle. Until that day arrives my guess is they’ll make more movies like this, ones that people on one side or another will hail while those on the other side find fault in.

THE ROOMMATE: BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

This could be the shortest review I’ve ever written. Why? Because this movie was so bad, so boring and has been done so many times in the past all I could think while watching was why make it again?

Long story short the film is about a young woman named Sara (Minka Kelly) who arrives at the University of Los Angeles, goes out with friends to a party and meets a new guy. When she gets back she finds her roommate Rebecca (Leighton Meester) moved in. The two become friends as roommates do but Rebecca takes things a little too far.

Okay she takes them way far. She’s a stereotypical nutcase who obsesses way too much about Sara. She threatens anyone who she thinks is getting too close to her. She goes through her things. She attempts to prevent anyone from getting to near her. Sound familiar? If not then you probably never saw SINGLE WHITE FEMALE or even FATAL ATTRACTION. Both have psycho women who feel compelled to do damage to the ones their attracted to.

The worst part of all is that with an attractive cast, all of which are accomplished actors, one would think they’d have a decent script to work with. Instead the film is boring with a capital B. Long drawn out sequences that lead nowhere, scenes that take far too long to pan out and so much filler in the whole film make this one seem like a half hour TV episode stretched out to 91 minutes. Even at that amount of time you feel like the movie takes forever.

You’ve seen this before. You know how it’s going to end. Even if you haven’t seen the other movies that this film steals from (and poorly at that) you’ll know what’s going to happen before the final minutes roll. And that is the sign of a badly made film. A remake or a reworking of a story can be made so that its at least entertaining. This film offers nothing like entertainment. I would love to write a longer piece on this film but then why bother? It truly is an insult to movie goers.