Monday, August 15, 2011

The Big Changeover

Remember the 1990s when home theater was all the rage? Surround sound, laserdisc or VHS and a big screen setup was thought to be a nifty way of replicating the theatrical experience and it was all in your living room. Well it seems to me that the opposite is occurring. The home theater experience, for lack of a better phrase, seems to be creeping into the multiplex. Though this is not news, 35mm is quickly being phased out so digital projection can take it's place. Add to it the prevalence of 3-D and IMAX, a revolution is taking place at the cost of an entertainment experience that has always been costly, but has never been duplicated anywhere else.

If you've read my blog before, you'll know I'm no fan of 3-D. Aside from it being a lame bell and whistle, it is really a desperate marketing bonanza badly disguised as an enhancement of filmmaking and film viewing. IMAX, which used to be an exclusive experience at museums equipped to project 70mm, is now a mass market feature at major theater chains. But it is a downgraded version that is nowhere near the scope of the real thing.

The point is, the so called revolution or innovation of movie exhibition, in my opinion, is a cheapening of the experience. There's nothing like being in a dark auditorium with strangers watching shadows and light at 24 frames per second. Digital can't match that. The richness, texture and dimension of celluloid seems to be dying off and the flat and dim presentation of digital is moving in quick. Major studios are taking their 35mm prints and dumping them into the trash heap like yesterday's newspapers. Distributors are pressuring movie theatres to switch over to the state of the art video projectors, even if it means serious debt.

I don't hate video. I own over 600 DVDs. But I put the emphasis on home video. However, as much as I enjoy collecting videos, the truth is watching movies at home is a real pain in the ass. The ambiance of a movie theatre is the major missing ingredient that cannot be recreated at home, no matter how great your plasma or LCD is. One of the things I love about being at the movies is that I make myself feel trapped there, in a good way. I can't pause or rewind the movie, if my cell phone vibrates, tough shit, call me later. I'm there to not only watch a movie but feel it happen to me, emotionally as well as viscerally. Home video lacks that effect and despite the rapid it's rapid evoultion from basic tape to hi def disc, it will never have that special effect.

We will soon pay $10.50 to attend a movie presented in a medium that is levels below celluloid. Most people won't care or notice. As long as it's in focus and watchable, those cigarette burns that signify the next reel is coming will be long gone.

I'm an optimistic person when it comes to cinema. But my optimism is being strongly challenged. Film is slightly over a 100 years old and it's basic function has never changed, despite some enhancements like Cinemascope. I'm a firm believer in not fixing things when they're not broken, but that's what the studios are pimping aggressively. If I'm paying a hefty ticket price, gimme film and not an above average blu ray.

This also brings into question piracy. Won't video projection make it easier for video pirates to flourish?

Alas, I'm probably preaching to the movie geek choir. But I feel it's necessary since I hold film dear to my heart. I accept mediocrity existing all over the place, but I don't wanna pay for a thin hamburger at the price of steak.

There's nothing like a food analogy to sum up my point about the purity of 35mm!

Please, chime in with your thoughts below!

Playing catchup...belated review of RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

With medium expectations I went into RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and afterwards came out with the gut feeling that I just saw one of the best genre films of the year. What could have been a pedestrian sci-fi blockbuster is instead a riveting and quite horrific horror story of what happens when the persecuted race get their revenge after years of exploitation. Apes are the lab rats for a new drug that an ambitious scientist (James Franco) believes will cure Alzheimer's, which has crippled his once genius father (John Lithgow). But when one ape escapes from lab and wreaks havoc all the way to the board room, the operation is shut down, and Franco is left to care for a young test subject, whom he names Caesar. Caesar is domesticated and becomes an affectionate pet who is a fast learner of sign language. Franco tests his wonder drug on his father and when the results prove fast and miraculous, he convinces his superiors to reopen his experiments, but with every movie wonder drug, the side effects will soon prove toxic.

Meanwhile, Caesar quickly goes from cute pet to volatile protector of the vulnerable Lithgow. A hot tempered neighbour (David Hewlett) doesn't take kindly to the animal and he also has no patience for the senile old man who accidentally damages his car thinking it is his own. Caesar in turn doesn't take kindly nor gently to the prickly neighbour. This sets up the second act in which the apes have taken their years as keen observers of human behaviour into action and then into gradual revolt against their captors.

APES has a rapid sense of pacing and foreboding tension which is palpable. There is potent terror in this film that compliments and elevates the expected sci-fi action and CGI. Andy Serkis' motion captured performance as Caesar is Oscar worthy and even reminiscent of Howard Sherman's memorable performance as the learned zombie Bub in George Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD.

If the film has any weaknesses it might be in the characterization department. Supporting players Freida Pinto (as Franco's love interest, a skeptical primatologist) and the excellent Brian Cox as a cold hearted animal shelter keeper, aren't given much to do by the script but they do their best with what they're given.

Several steps above Tim Burton's stale remake of the original film, this prequel is a surprisingly powerful startup to a possible new franchise that will hopefully maintain it's masterful and exciting execution of frightening science fiction and horror.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New podcast episode! An interview with actor Robert Dix

Check out a new episode of my podcast in which I talk with character actor Robert Dix ( who has appeared in films such as FORBIDDEN PLANET, FORTY GUNS, AIR PATROL, REBEL ROUSERS, and he had a memorable bit part in LIVE AND LET DIE!

He began as a contract player for MGM as a young man and continued working in B-movies and television series (THE RIFLEMAN, DEATH VALLEY DAYS, GUNSMOKE) until he quit the business in the 70s.

He's written a book entitled OUT OF HOLLYWOOD which is about him and his father, legendary actor Richard Dix which you can purchase on his website.

Enjoy the show!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Terror in the film gauge: SUPER 8

The review DOES NOT contain spoilers!

The joy of filmmaking is all over SUPER 8, and the memories of such films like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, E.T. and THE GOONIES are embedded in the storytelling that Steven Spielberg (who produced this film) is famous for. Writer/director JJ Abrams (creator of LOST and director of STAR TREK and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III) is the perfect understudy for Spielberg, as he lovingly creates a world in which children live under the shadows of busy adults and discover the wonders of cinematic creation by way of the Super 8mm camera.

It's the summer of 1979 in small town Ohio and a group of enthusiastic and rambunctious kids are scrambling to make a zombie movie in time for a local festival. The leader of this group is a smart ass tyrant named Charles (Riley Griffiths) who loves playing director, shouting out orders and placing his hands in front of him to create a frame. Cary (Ryan Lee) is the special effects guru with an obsession for firecrackers. Martin (Gabriel Basso) is the nerdy and panicky "lead actor" whose scene partner is the older Alice (Elle Fanning) who to the surprise of these little guerrilla filmmakers, actually has a lot of acting talent as well as access to her father's car.

In the center of this is the film's protagonist Joe Lamb (well cast newcomer Joel Courtney) who is Charles' closest friend and special make up artist in their moviemaking endeavours. Joe is the son of the strict local deputy (Kyle Chandler) and both have suffered a recent tragedy with the death of Joe's mother who died in an accident at the local mill. She died covering the shift of the town drunk Louis (Ron Eldard) who happens to be Alice's father.

A fateful night in which the kids sneak out at midnight to film an important scene at the local train station is interrupted when a pickup truck drives onto the rails and speeds towards an oncoming freight train. This leads to a collision and all the boxcars derail, explode and fly in mid air. The kids run for their lives, leaving the super 8 camera knocked onto the ground still rolling. Something large and alive bursts out of one of the cars, leading to strange disappearances and destruction in the town. The military arrive at an oddly quick notice and only they and the driver of the truck know what's going on. When the sheriff goes missing, Joe's father assumes his role and finds himself bombarbed by angry and confused townspeople. At a noisy and angry town hall meeting, one lady confidently asserts that this is a Soviet invasion.

The film's trailers have been careful not to reveal what has escaped from the boxcar. The reveal isn't the point of the movie however. This is a film all about the joy of filmmaking and discovery and the agony and ecstasy, so to speak, of growing up. It's about the young characters' thrill of breaking the rules and running free in their own backlot that is their small town. The impressive special effects and sound editing are first rate without overwhelming the heart of the movie and it's story. The relationships and dialogue between the kids is both poignant, funny and real and has a wonderful rhythm that beautifully illustrates the dynamic of their relationship with one another. The production design meticulously captures the late 70s, from the soundtrack that features My Sharona by The Knack, Walter Cronkite reporting on TV, and the movie posters on Charles' bedroom wall (DAWN OF THE DEAD and HALLOWEEN)

Much like RANGO earlier this year, SUPER 8 is a film made by people who truly love movies and that's the soul of this picture. The science fiction takes a back seat to the characterizations and relationships while at the same time the action is pulse pounding. There is a palpable sense of danger and dread in this film and the kids' reactions to the frightening and dumbfounding happenings is chilling. They cry, they scream, they curse, even vomit at the sight of their world being torn apart. This adds real weight to the drama. These characters aren't the typically brilliant and incisive movie kids and it's a credit to the young actors that they portrayed them as believable and relatable.

The picture is mixture of two movies: a touching story about friendships and the difficulties fathers face when a mother is absent and an expertly written sci-fi mystery much in the vein of the 1950s monster movies. In a time where almost everything is about 3-D and phony razzle dazzle, SUPER 8 is a much needed reminder that even the biggest of tales can have the simplest of agendas.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The little tire that could...kill!

What if a tire came to life, struggled it's way out of the sand in the desert and wheeled it's way down the road with the intent of killing innocent bystanders by way of making their heads explode? RUBBER answers that strange question that no one ever asked. Here's the greatest film that could ever be made about a killer tire. Instead of being a simple exercise in absurdist horror filmmaking, RUBBER is more of an artistic cinematic put-on.

The opening scene sets the tone in an hilarious fashion. A police officer parks his car, gets out and walks towards the camera to address the audience. He tells us that this film is an "homage" to odd things occurring in movies that make no sense and have no explanation. "In the movie, E.T., why was the alien brown? No reason." he says. We then see a timid looking man hand out numerous binoculars to what appears to be some sort of test audience. They will be viewing the movie from within the movie, at a distance. They will also be forced to sleep on the ground when nothing of any significance seems to be happening. As this diverse group of people look toward the action, they make snide comments, observations and annoy the other people around them with their chatter. Much like a movie theatre audience does. The only thing missing are cell phones.

Meanwhile, the killer tire goes on a rampage at a nearby motel. It, or "He" as the people in the film refer to it, sets it's sights on a sexy French women staying in one of the rooms. Much like a peeping killer in a slasher film spies on a sexually attractive girl, this animated car part pursues female prey and even watches her undress and take a shower. "For the first time ever I identify with a tire!" says a flabbergasted member of the desert audience.

RUBBER is some kind of twisted, ingenious masterpiece that deconstructs conventional thriller storytelling as well as audience expectations and behaviour. Imagine if Jean Luc Godard directed REPO MAN. That's the distinction I made with this quirky little gem.

This film was written and directed by a French techno musician named Quentin Dupieux and shot on a shoestring budget. He does a great job of building up interest in a minimalist way. The sound effects and editing standout the best as we hear the tire roll through the rough terrain, crush or explode beer cans, birds, crabs and human heads. It even takes the time to shower and soak in the motel pool. "Do tires sink or float?" one audience member asks.

I guess that's the purpose of this audience within the movie. They ask the answer-less questions so you don't have to. Neat.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Enduring A Serbian Film

A SERBIAN FILM is a prime and unholy example of a litmus test fans of transgressive cinema put themselves through to see if they can make it to the end credits. Why do some desire such a journey?

The story involves pornography and snuff filmmaking, produced with a political and philosophical bent by a Eurotrash millionaire. He is interested in hiring a down and out ex-porn star to participate in his latest "work of art". This former "star" is now happily married with a loving and beautiful wife and cute son, but he is need of serious money and after some reluctance, essentially signs a contract with this devilish man to act in his ambitious porn film. The producer tells the star nothing with regards to what acts he's expected to do on camera. He is to take direction without any script or knowledge of what to expect. But to his horror, what he encounters is a sick project that involves pedophilia, necrophilia and any other taboo or breach of human decency. He is also trapped, because he awakens after days of his participation to see videotapes of what he did. He is of course sickened and horrified. How did he come to commit such acts that are against his morality and seemingly beyond his willpower?

It's without question that A SERBIAN FILM will shock and offend most people. Some adventurous film goers who have been inoculated to such depraved films by way of seeing CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, IRREVERSIBLE, etc. will may find it worthwhile. I watched it with a critical sense of detachment which, in order for this film to truly work, is not an ideal state of mind. Throughout the horrendous on-screen mayhem, I was never truly absorbed and captivated. I did think what I was seeing was abhorrent but not believable for a second. It functions more as an artsy freakshow instead of something with conviction that could grab me. Aside from the movie's exploitation trappings, it also makes heavy handed statements about Serbia by way of sexual metaphors that went over my head. Maybe I need to read up on Serbian politics to understand why the mad porn producer feels his snuff film somehow represents the social state of the country, but then again he is a psycho.

The film's strengths include some strong cinematography and editing that build an inspired story structure. But the main asset is the performance by Sergej Trifunovic as the doomed ex-porn star Milos. He has a striking presence and look that reminded me of a cross between Mickey Rourke and character actor Don Stroud. He does a commendable job of portraying a man who loves his wife and son but also misses the financial rewards of being a porn star. His character is interesting. A man torn between a normal life and a past life that he cannot explain to his infant son.

A SERBIAN FILM succeeds, I guess, as a sick head trip for the unprepared. There are acts committed in this film that I'm unwilling to print. However, it's absurdity and contrived execution kept me from feeling profoundly disturbed, even though what I was witnessing was beyond the pale. It's too ambitious and well made to easily dismiss as trash but I can't recommend it. But then again, is recommend a proper word to use in a review of this movie? How in the world can you recommend A SERBIAN FILM?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

THOR in not so 3-D

Another Marvel Comics hero hits the screen and he's burdened with mediocre, dull, dim and even shallow 3-D that seems to be mandatory for blockbusters with ancient warriors with mighty weapons and... Anthony Hopkins. Remember when swashbucklers and comic book movies were made in glorious and underrated 2-D?

THOR is the story partially set in the 900 A.D. era in which the Nordic warrior awaits to be named King by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, in fine form, aside from the goofy eye patch) But Thor's arrogant and reckless ways lead him to engage his enemies, a race of icy monsters who have the power to turn their victims into human ice sculptures. King Odin is angered by his son's disobedience against his orders not to go looking for confrontation and war. He banishes Thor to another realm to live as a powerless mortal, in modern day New Mexico. When he falls out of the sky, he is lucky enough to be struck by a Hummer driven by Natalie Portman. She's a scientist with a two person team made up by her father figure elder (Stellan Skarsgard) and a plucky teen sidekick (Kat Dennings). The trio first think that the fish out of water warrior is a delusional weirdo. But they wonder why is he so mysterious, noble, skillful at fighting and so...hunky?

The secret government agency S.H.E.I.L.D., usually in charge of keeping tabs on Iron Man, quickly come to town. They set up shop and try to determine why a gigantic hammer is stuck in the middle of the desert and impossible to remove. Meanwhile back in Thor's realm (realm is a word this movie loves to reuse) his scornful and jealous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) discovers he is actually an orphaned child who belongs to the Icy bad guy species. Feeling betrayed, he takes advantage of King Odin's ailing health to assume the throne, cross the icy bridge between worlds (which resembles a Guitar Hero track) and wage war against the modern human race.

Thus CGI galore ensues at rapid fire pace. Director Kenneth Branagh seems love dutch angles too much as well and utilizes them at every possible opportunity. In between special effects sequences there is however, touches of light and dry humour. THOR is a middle of the road, sweet, inoffensive and overall unremarkable fantasy saga that is aided by a very charming performance by Chris Hemsworth as the titular hero. Supporting players include Clark Gregg who reprises his character the head agent of S.H.E.I.L.D. from IRON MAN 1 and 2. Gregg plays his role with a good balance of seriousness and humorous levity. He's so used to seeing Tony Stark fly faster than a Mach 3 jet and destroy major buildings, that the sight of century old, heavily costumed warriors doing battle hardly fazes him.

Middleston is a good actor but his character is too petulant rather than intimidating. What THOR lacks is a really menacing villain. Additional scenes with master thespian Hopkins would have benefited as well. And poor Rene Russo is given nothing to do as Thor's mother. She basically stands around looking either worried or waiting to recite her brief lines of dialogue.

Now that I've given my two cents on the film, let me digress further on my disdain for 3-D. The obvious disadvantages include dim, lifeless projection and super imposed effects that only intermittently appear on screen in a film that was in shot in 2-D originally. But what really struck me as inconvenient was when the movie ended and I exited the theater to walk out into the sunlight. My eyes were overwhelmed as if I had entered stunning daylight after a long exile in a dark cave. The movie going experience is supposed to be an escape and not one with assaulting after effects.

I repeately maimed the Devil

Revenge has never been more merciless or repetitive in I SAW THE DEVIL, a new film from South Korean filmmaker Jee-woon Kim. It's a simple game of cat and mouse, taken to uncompromising extremes of violence and hatred.

A brutal serial killer (Min-sik Choi, of OLD BOY) approaches attractive and helpless women in the dead of winter night. He drives a small bus for school children but hidden in his vehicle is a tool that represents his real intentions. His latest victim is the a woman in a car that has a flat tire. Her husband is a cop (Byung hun-Lee) who is given much time off by his superior to grieve after her grisly death. He only requests two weeks, not to mourn, but to avenge. He sets off to track down the man responsible. But killing him isn't satisfying enough. He must stalk him, beat him, cause him injury and then let the son of a bitch live so he can do it over and over.

I SAW THE DEVIL is a clear cut revenge story, told in direct and horrific fashion. The violence and gore is pervasive and relentless. The cop is so single minded, even sloppy and irresponsible, in his mission that he allows his target to suffer and even get away to claim more innocent victims. Min-sik Choi gives a powerful performance as the sick deviant who plays it quiet and creepy in his first scene only to reveal himself through out the film as a mad, repellent pig who first needs to intimidate his victims before exacting unspeakable action. Think Anton Chigurh from NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN crossed with Frank Booth in BLUE VELVET. On the opposite end is Byung hun-Lee who does a good job embodying pent up rage coupled with a selfish agenda of seeing his enemy bleed and moan in pain. His family members speak to the cop over the phone, pleading him to stop his endless game of vengeance. "Revenge is for the movies." his sister in law tells him.

Director Jee-woon kim has a lot of style to spare. Even the sound editing adds to the atmosphere of unforgiving dread. There's a shot of a mass murder in the film done at 360 degrees that represents how far this film is willing to go to portray how truly evil it's villain is. But what stops this movie short of greatness is the thin plot and characters that lack depth. The rampant scenes of violence are impressively handled but they become repetitive after a short while. There's only so many way to beat someone over the head with a fire hydrant. With a two hour plus run time, it manages to be well paced and engaging but a more complex story with more insight into the characters would have been welcome. Still, I SAW THE DEVIL delivers frenetic thrills through masterful filmmaking that proves why South Korea is a force to reckoned with in the world of genre cinema.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I'm on The Drunken Master Revue!

I now have the wonderful privilege of being a regular on a radio program known as the Drunken Master Revue which airs every Monday morning 9-10am on 93.1 CKCU-FM in Ottawa. It's a show for movie geeks by movie geeks and it's quite funny and informative. We review the latest releases and just generally bull shit about movies good and bad.

If you aren't up that early on Monday, the episodes are archived as podcasts available right here:

Since I'll be seeing more new movies, I'll be reviewing films here on the blog as well as on the show.

Check out the show and enjoy!

See you in radio land.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Second podcast show w/more with Gary Kent!

Here is the second part of my conversation with movie maverick Gary Warner Kent, author of the great book SHADOWS & LIGHT. Gary discusses his many years in the B-movie field, directing, producing, writing, acting and doing stunt work. He has many colourful stories to tell! Check it out!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My first podcast!

My new podcast, an audio version of this blog, is an exciting new project for me. In my first episode, I have a very interesting discussion with stuntman, actor, and filmmaker Gary Kent ( He's the author of a great book SHADOWS AND LIGHT: JOURNEYS WITH OUTLAWS IN REVOLUTIONARY HOLLYWOOD. This first episode is part one of our long and entertaining conversation.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

R.I.P. Sidney Lumet

I know, I know. I'm late in paying my respects to Sidney Lumet, who died last weekend at 86, but I find that writing obituaries is useless since all the wire services and popular film sites did that. All I can do is personally express that Mr. Lumet was a very talented, insightful and skilled filmmaker who really understood the art of making a film. Films like SERPICO, NETWORK, DOG DAY AFTERNOON and THE VERDICT are standout titles that are the work of a man who had a diverse and prolific career. He didn't have a singular style that was displayed in his 45 features as a director. He was a simply professional craftsman who knew how to work with the best actors and technicians in the business. Lumet started as a child actor so he certainly had an education himself.

His career began as a live TV drama director in the 50s and his work in feature films continued for six decades. He didn't believe in retirement as he continued to make films up until as recently as 2007 with his final film, the devastating crime drama BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD. He left behind an enormously rich body of work. Many of his films I have never seen, so I better get to viewing them.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

How hard it was to KILL THE IRISHMAN

KILL THE IRISHMAN begins with Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson), a stubborn and fearless Cleveland mobster, barely escaping an explosion in his car. This of course mirrors the opening of Martin Scorsese's CASINO, in which Robert DeNiro also survives a car bombing. Although KILL THE IRISHMAN may be deemed by some as subpar Scorsese without the grand exuberance, it is nonetheless a thoroughly entertaining and supremely acted tale about an Irish criminal with too much foolish pride who locked horns with the Italian mafia in 1970s Cleveland.

Greene starts out as a dockworker, tough but also quite an intellect, reading books in a pub while his buddies drink and hustle women. When he becomes sick of the bullheaded union leader, he becomes the new one simply by beating up the outgoing president's bodyguard after he brought a pistol to a bare knuckle fight. Then all he has to do is kick the former union boss out of the office by way of some sharp slaps to the face.

Soon, Greene moves his way up the racketeering ladder and becomes a force to be reckoned with amongst the ruling Italian mafioso. They're led by the hard bitten Jack Licavoli (Tony LoBianco). Greene groups together his own small mob who aren't fearful of the Italians and during the power struggle that never seems to end in the world of the mob, many occupied cars explode all over Cleveland.

The film contains the many expected cliches of the mob genre, from the tense sit down meetings, to the rapid fire violence to the on screen dates that foreshadow a real life mobster's grisly demise. The female characters are the two hopeless women in Greene's life: his wife Joan (Linda Cardinelli) a frustrated housewife who takes off with the kids after throwing her hands up in the air too many times. His second lover (Laura Ramsey) is attracted to Danny's dangerous lifestyle but arrives well after Danny's in over his head in mafia reprisals. Both these roles are severely underwritten, especially Ramsey's, and are too typical. Having a female play a more interesting part in the proceedings would have elevated the material much like Sharon Stone in CASINO or Lorraine Bracco in GOODFELLAS allowed their characters more to do than just be the angry wife.

But flaws aside, what makes the film fly is the impeccable casting and performances. Stevenson, a tall, authoritative actor, makes a real impression as Danny Greene: charming, smart, cunning, ruthless but honorable even in a lawless fashion. He's considerate enough to help an old lady cross the street to get her out of the way of the car he's about to blow up. Dark humour is provided in the many scenes in which attempts on Greene's life are bungled. Ethnic tensions and resentments between the Italians and Irish also add a unique touch reminiscent of Denzel Washington's black drug lord vs. the mafia in AMERICAN GANGSTER.

A much welcomed supporting cast includes the criminally underrated Vincent D'Onofrio as the sole Italian gangster who is allied with Greene. Val Kilmer is a no-nonsense cop who has conflicted feelings about Danny, a childhood pal from the neighborhood. Mike Starr appears as a enforcer, Robert Davi as a soft spoken hitman, Vinnie Jones as a collector and the incomparable Christopher Walken who has some good scenes as a Jewish numbers runner. Walken is always a treat to see and writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh is wise enough to provide him with a great first line: "Do you like stroganoff?" Paul Sorvino is a standout in a memorable cameo as a New York crime boss.

A mafia film is only as good as it's actors and acting. KILL THE IRISHMAN treads too familiar territory but it does so with fine direction and a first rate ensemble that keep it very engaging.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A bloody fistful of shells: HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN

HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN delivers what it promises and it's the first Canadian film in years that is soaked in grimy, visercal exploitation. It harkens back to the years of the tax shelter boom in Canada in the 70s and 80s in which sleazy B-movies (many good, many bad) received government tax breaks and funding. But this movie is unusual in that's shot in the Maritimes (Halifax and Dartmouth, N.S.) and has a venerable Danish character actor in the lead, the one and only Rutger Hauer (BLADE RUNNER).

Hauer is a homeless man who just steps off the rails and enters the town of Hope but quickly discovers that the town's name is a major misnomer. Hope is a cesspool of vile, immoral and anarchic violence and destruction. It's ruled over by a merciless dictator named Drake and his two equally evil and reprehensible brat sons who take great joy in everything from intimidating the town whores to incinerating a bus load of school kids.

The titular hobo grabs a shotgun from the local pawn shop and goes to work as a vigilante, while becoming a ally to a good hearted prostitute (Molly Dunsworth) who is smarter, tougher and more resourceful than she looks. Blood is shed (or to be accurate, sprayed) bones are broken, limbs are severed and every crafty and shocking way a person can be killed is on display in all it's gory glory, though never for a second is anything remotely believable (nor is it intended to be). Director Jason Eisener originally shot HOBO as a fake trailer in a contest inspired by the release of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez's GRINDHOUSE. It's popularity resulted in this feature version, which has the spirit of a grindhouse film mixed with the over the top cruel black humour of a Troma movie.

Hauer brings much more pathos and baggage to the character than you'd expect. Eisener is skilled and creative behind the camera, never taking any prisoners with his warts and all approach that earns it's very hard R rating, which in Canada is similar to the U.S' NC-17. The cinematography and production design are inspired and first rate, with sharp neon colours to accentuate the ultra seediness of what the film offers. The music is evocative of John Carpenter's classic synth scores from his films like ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13.

There's even a hint of DEATH WISH 3 in this production as a poor urban setting is transformed into a chaotic slice of hell in which average citizens are constantly abused or killed by punks. You could even be reminded of another film about ultra violent punks: CLASS OF 1984, although compared to this, that had far more restraint, even though it didn't seem that way at the time. I don't think for a second that HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN will seem more restrained as it ages, but then again, who would expect or wish that?

**Footnote: Notice the bouncy 80s pop song during the end credits. Remember what animated TV show that was from? What a strange choice, eh?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Movies lost and found Pt. 2: RAINY DAY FRIENDS (1986)

More than ten years after THE PYRAMID was released (then unreleased), Gary Kent made his second feature film RAINY DAY FRIENDS (also known as L.A. BAD). It stars the very underrated actor Esai Morales (La Bamba, NYPD Blue) as a young petty thief named Neekos who lives in the Barrio of east L.A. and spends his time smoking grass and stealing car stereos. One day he's almost caught by some cops when he hides underneath a pickup truck, gets his leg caught on some loose wire hanging out of the back and to his horror, the driver takes off with him in tow, dragging him along the highway. He lands himself in the hospital and X-rays show that he has more than a leg injury to worry about: he also has lung cancer. In denial, defiant and angry, he makes for a difficult and unruly patient. He steals painkillers, smokes his own dope freely and graffitis his hospital room wall.

A sympathetic cancer specialist with a sense of humour (Janice Rule) is the only one willing to put up with him. The surly head nurse (Carrie Snodgrass) is eager to kick him out, especially when it becomes a possibility that he's an illegal alien.

An older counterpart to the wily sick youth is Jack (Chuck Bail) a wealthy lawyer also battling cancer. Neekos and Jack become an unlikely set of allies who battle the cold and inhumane bureaucracy in the hospital. They even manage to ditch the grounds to get into trouble on the streets.

RAINY DAY FRIENDS is a sweet and warm film, almost a little too sentimental but extremely likeable and entertaining. Morales carries the film with a commanding performance. His character is somewhat reminiscent of Jack Nicholson's McMurphy in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, both characters are rebels who have a sarcastic and wild wit that mask deep pain and fear.

Bail is exceptional as the cantankerous old man who takes a liking to Neekos. A solid supporting cast includes Leila Goldoni as Jack's caring wife, Tomi Barrett as a committed social worker and John Phillip Law as a hospital bureaucrat.

The film is a little contrived at times and the ending is too rushed, pat and predictable (although the last line of dialogue is a keeper) but I did invest some care into these characters and their situations. Some nice editing and cinematography that captures the gritty reality of the Barrio add to a pleasant mixture.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Movies lost and found: THE PYRAMID (1975)

THE PYRAMID is a lost curio of 1970s regional independent cinema. Released in 1975 in Texas before being pulled from theatres over a dispute with the distributor, the film was shelved for over 30 years until a recent DVD release via Kent's website ( has made it available.

It's a prime example of the Me Decade and the growing interest of existentialism and self-exploration during the angry and violent sociopolitical climate in America. The dialogue certainly reflects this: "Christ was a Capricorn and so is Nixon. Now how in the hell do you figure that?" The film is an ambitious and at times meandering docudrama that explores television news and it's exploitative tactics.

The main character is Chris Lowe (Charlie Brown) a disenfranchised TV news cameraman who along with his reporter buddy known as L.A. Ray (Ira Hawkins) trek out on the street with their mic and camera and cover everything from a whiny movie actress promoting a movie to a fatal inner city shootout between young offenders. Sick and tired of cynical news, Chris defies his boss and takes his camera out to record positive human interest stories. His superior wants nothing of it and eventually fires him. This doesn't stop him from hanging onto his camera and filming documentaries of his subjects which act as a counterpoint to the strife and bloodshed that dominate the local news. He meets a sexy primal therapist (Tomi Barrett) who opens his eyes to conciousness raising and self help therapy...remember primal screaming?

THE PYRAMID was written and directed by Gary Kent, a stuntman and actor on various low budget exploitation pictures. His film wants to cover the many bases of the 1970s zeitgeist: news media, street violence, politics, depression, self help therapy. It wants to tackle so much that it seems to lose focus at times although never becoming unengaging. It's also very dated but it made me consider how this film would work if made (or re-made) today. No doubt the character of Chris would be even more outraged and resigned in the age of incendiary 24 hour cable news and internet blogging like The Huffington Post. The Pyramid does retain a certain relevance in terms of cynicism in news broadcasting and the hopelessness people feel in the face of a world going down the tubes. Comparisons can be made to films like MEDIUM COOL (1969) and NETWORK (1976). A devastating scene involving an on camera suicide conjures up thoughts of the real life televised suicide of local TV host Christine Chubbuck a year before THE PYRAMID was released. A bus crash involving young children, which Chris lingers over with his 16mm camera, is also jarring and it displays Kent's master of stunt coordinating.

With it's Age of Aquarius style new age idealism, it's a rather hippy dippy affair but as a very modest lost indie, it does paint a illuminating portrait of the turbulent 70s and it contains some genuine performances.

**Footnote: A podcast interview with Gary Kent will be streaming on this blog very soon!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"You're a hard woman Hannie Caulder"

There's nothing sexier than Raquel Welch learning how to properly shoot a pistol, especially in the old west. HANNIE CAULDER is a revenge western with a offbeat comic twist in which three grimy bankrobbing brothers (Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam and Strother Martin) rob a Mexican bank, elude the Federales, and then stop at a farm where they make the mistake of a shooting Raquel's husband and then take turns raping her and setting her home on fire.

The widowed Hannie Caulder is left dazed, violated and half naked and a stranger sets foot on her property: a stern, focused bounty hunter named Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp) Hannie begs him to be taught how to shoot a gun so she can wreak revenge on the trio who took her husband's life. Reluctantly he agrees and puts her through a tough training process while they stay at the home of a custom pistol maker (Christopher Lee).

What makes HANNIE CAULDER more than the average female revenge picture is that the antagonists have an odd Three Stooges complex. Borgnine channels Moe while Elam is Larry to Martin's whiny goofball Curly. The fact that these murderous, merciless rapists are some sort of bizarre comic relief gives the film a very unusual angle.

The relationship between Caulder and Price is also unique in the way that they share some light affection without any sex. They are teacher and student respectively and respectfully. Welch always embodies great sexuality combined with a fierce resolve. She's never tiring to look at, especially in this picture, but aside from her presence there is no sexual activity. Her vendetta leaves no time for that.

The scenes in which Price instructs Hannie on how to focus and hit her target with intent are well written and acted. He knows very well how to kill someone but in one scene in which he tenderly plays with Lee's children, you get a sense that he doesn't enjoy bounty hunting very much.

The only loose thread in the film is the appearance of a mysterious man in black (Stephen Boyd) whose purpose in the film, aside from being an apparently tough gunfighter, is never explained.

They don't make women like Raquel anymore. Nor do they make westerns or revenge films like HANNIE CAULDER any longer. This is some sort of unsung gem that combines hard violence with gallows humour in a very entertaining blend.

*Footnote: Take a look at the poster. Why is Raquel's character being photographed sitting amongst the three men she wants to kill? They sure don't make posters like this anymore either!


A rare 35mm print was unearthed recently at the Mayfair, the movie theatre I work at. A 1987 martial arts extravaganza entitled THE MIAMI CONNECTION, produced, written and co-starring one Y.K. Kim, an earnest Korean man with questionable English skills who now runs his own website ( and sells motivational DVDs and conducts speaking engagements Ala Tony Robbins. His foray into cinema belongs in the ranks of TROLL 2 and THE ROOM as a hilarious piece of inept filmmaking.

THE MIAMI CONNECTION tells the "story" of a new wave band called Dragon Sound who enjoy their regular gigs at a Miami nightclub where they have adoring fans. Their cushy gig is threatened by a nasty group of biker thugs who hold reign over the cocaine business in the city and for some inexplicable reason, they really hate Dragon Sound. To make matters worse, the gang leader's little sister is the lead singer! Also, a rival band is extremely resentful of Dragon Sound to the point of hiring the coke gang to battle them!

The band, which includes a multi racial group of the nicest musicians you'd ever want to meet, are also roommates who are super supportive of each other and this strong sense of friendship is reflected in their songs like "Friends Forever" and the immortal "Against The Ninja", which foreshadows their bloody battles in the final act.

Yes, ninjas do figure into the plot but don't tell me why or how. Embedded into the violent proceedings is a genuine attempt at having a moral center. Y.K. Kim wants to convey a message of non-violence, but not before ears are sliced open and throats are cut.

What makes this film so bad aside from the obligatory 80s cheesiness is the utter lack of pacing, continuity, as well as pointless montages that go on and on, and worst of all, performances and dialogue readings that are all over the place. In most scenes, the characters speak overlapping dialogue that is often indecipherable and nonsensical. It gives you the sense that the script was written on takeout napkins and most of the dialogue was improvised with competence thrown out the window.

The gleefully entertaining and hilarious nonsense that is THE MIAMI CONNECTION makes it a real midnight crowd pleaser. The 35mm print that I saw came courtesy of the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin,Texas who are hoping to make it a new cult classic. The trailer posted below speaks volumes of it's unbelievable campiness that make it almost surreal.

*The film is available on DVD only at

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

R.I.P. David F. Friedman

A giant and important figure in cinematic history has died. David F. Friedman, producer and distributor of several exploitation films since the 1940s, has died of heart disease. He was 87.

Whether you love or hate exploitation films, there's no denying how important Friedman was in the world of low budget, independent cinema. He was a charming and smart huckster of what many would label trash films or sleaze. He was responsible for movies such as SHE-FREAK (1967) BLOOD FEAST (1964) and TWO THOUSAND MANIACS (1965) both films which ushered in the subgenre of splatter films. Other standout titles he produced: TRADER HORNEE (1970) JOHNNY FIRECLOUD (1975) THAR SHE BLOWS! (1968) and THE EROTIC ADVENTURES OF ZORRO (1975) He was a vital force behind sexploitation movies and the "nudie-cutie" pictures that flourished in the late 50s to the mid 60s. He was a pioneer and a wise old businessman who got his start by working in the carnival business. He was a close pal of Russ Meyer and together they fought puritanical censorship against their productions. My friend, filmmaker Lee Gordon Demarbre, met Friedman in L.A. years back after Meyer died and together they toasted a drink in his memory.

A notorious film he was behind was the 1975 epic ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS! which starred busty Dyanne Thorne as a dominatrix Nazi running a brutal war camp.

Friedman even got in front of the camera. A notable appearance was his cameo in the 1984 skin flick BLONDE HEAT: THE CASE OF THE MALTESE DILDO starring Seka.

Below is a video that is a nice way to remember the man.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Goodbye Pussycat (Tura Satana 1938-2011)

"I never TRY anything. I just do it. Like I don't beat clocks, just people! Wanna try me?"

Men smart enough knew NEVER to try Tura Satana.

She had an onscreen journey that went from the witty and regal cinema of Billy Wilder in the 1950s (Irma Le Douce) to the rough and raw exploits of filmmakers like Ted V. Mikels (The Astro Zombies) and Russ Meyer in the role that made her a cinematic icon: as the violent and fierce go-go dancer Varla in Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! in 1966. She was exotic beauty with a background in strip clubs. She had a towering build and a robust chest. She didn't stand down from an ornery man onscreen nor off.

Tura passed away on February 4 at the age of 72. She lived a full and unmerciful life. She was tough and had to be. She experienced rape and abuse as a child but lived to strengthen herself and build a larger than life sense of character that made her a survivor. She was the only woman to stand up to the iron fisted ways of Russ Meyer. Meyer demanded that while shooting Faster Pussycat that no cast member was allowed to have sex while the film was being made, as a calculated way of controlling his actresses and keeping any sexual tension saved for the camera. Satana was brave enough to object to Meyer's orders and she enjoyed a roll in the hay with the assistant cameraman in defiance. Despite her insubordination, she gained Meyer's respect. She solidified herself as a true individual and standout cinema siren of the 1960s. She was one of a kind and has been imitated but never surpassed.

Back in 2006, I made a goofy short film entitled Naked Democracy which was basically a cutesy little comedy about nudists who stand up to the ultra conservative Prime Minister of Canada. I sent it to Tura eager to hear her opinion on it. She politely commented that she thought the storytelling was unpredictable but overall said she really didn't care for it. I was little crushed by the response but after thinking about it I did appreciate her honesty and attention. She was nice to her fans and appeared at conventions to meet them. An acquaintance of mine sat on her lap at a Toronto convention while she signed her autograph for him.

Her contribution to cult cinema is an important one and she paved the way for strong and dominant females in the movies in a unique and powerful way. She won't be forgotten.

The WTF Files: THE FOREST (1982)

THE FOREST is the bastard child of the extremely large slasher film family of the early 1980s. A very low budget independent affair from director Don Jones (an ex-boxer who went by the name of Irish Frankie Conway), The Forest is an anomaly in the slasher genre. There's no pre-kill T&A with nubile teenage bodies, in fact there's no teenagers at all. The victims here are adult couples who decide on a whim to take a camping trip, with the wives getting a head start on the highway in an unwise move to prove to their dunderheaded husbands that they're safe and competent on their own (they're not).

The two husbands fall behind because their truck breaks down and after they are overcharged by a grinning, gap toothed mechanic, they finally make it to the forest only to find themselves lost and unable to find their wives. A sheriff pulls up in his truck to give them the obligatory warning that people who come round' these woods go missing and are never found. He tells them, he'll come back in a week to check on them. Since law enforcement officers are useless in these kind of movies, he never returns. The two men go through an arduous search for their loved ones and one minute it's bright daylight and in the next frame it's pitch black only to return to sunniness. The inconsistency of night and day is reminiscent of the filmmaking of Ed Wood.

Not only do they go missing, but they fall prey to a grizzled, cannibalistic killer (Gary Kent, from Satan's Sadists) who lives in a cave dressed with candles and a rocking chair where he enjoys his victims roasted and crispy. His dead children and wife appear, disappear and reappear all over the forest to haunt the unlucky campers. The children, two cheerless and creepy kids doing something of a cheap Shining imitation, warn the campers that "daddy is going hunting".

The Forest is beyond bizarre and the kind of movie you find covered in dust in the .99 bin at a pawn shop next to the 8 track players and top loader VCRS. It's soundtrack alternates between bad 80s synth to really bad soft rock to horrible theme songs with lyrics such as "You'll have to pay the cost, cause many of died, in the dark side of the fooorrest!"

The dialogue, especially in the opening scenes, is wonderfully laughable. When the spouses are planning their trip and teasing each other in a battle of the sexes verbal exchange, one of the men makes an inexplicable joke: "Listen honey, the only backpacking you ever did was in bed!" Huh?

If the dialogue is funny, the killing sequences are jaw dropping and hilarious. The film's most memorable scene is a flashback which explains how the killer was driven mad by his slutty wife whom he finds in bed with the refrigerator repairman. Why is it that in movies unfaithful wives are always doing it with repairmen? In the middle of the afternoon when the husband is due home no less?

Anyways, the repairman flees the scene wearing only his black undies and our soon-to-be-killer is taunted by his wife as she teases him about being impotent. Meanwhile, she has locked her children in the closet. Horrified and angered, our vengeful husband passionately kills his wife and goes outside to deal with the fridge man, who has actually returned to fixing the appliance! Hey, at least the wife was honest about his profession!

The two men enter into a fight but Fridge Man is overcome by the husband's unexplained power to disappear and reappear with a new weapon every time the Fridge Man turns his back and runs in a different direction from him. He meets his painful fate when his stomach kisses a buzzsaw courtesy of the jilted husband. His kids are witness to this and after Mr. Maytag is finished off, he embraces his children and tells them they must leave this awful place. To the Forest they go! End scene.

It's not enough to explain the surreal madness that is this film. It's degree of badness can only be compared to the 1983 Spanish splatter pic PIECES, although it's no where near as gory as that film. Code Red, a great distributor of lost 70s and 80s exploitation titles, released this lost oddity on DVD and fans of slasher films should seek it out. It's awful, but fascinatingly so. It's bungled ambitious storytelling and lack of convention make it an atypical entry of the genre. Gary Kent plays his man eating murderer to the hilt, complete with an intense daze and monotone speech that show that he's one basket short of a picnic...but he has plenty of human limbs for his lunch.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Quick update!

Quick update to anyone interested...

I have a new blog! One that contains my attempt at humorous writing about any topic that strikes my mood at any given moment: sex, current events, news, pop culture, personal matters, etc. It's entitled The Amateur Muse ( and I hope you check it out. Also, I jumped on that all too crowded and noisy bandwagon that is Twitter. Please follow me so that I can feel popular in that hollow sense you felt in high school:

And remember, if you enjoy my posts on either blog, feel free to drop me a line! Or twitter, tweet or twatter me or whatever the hell you call it!

All the best!


*Photo above courtesy of

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thank you Walter Murch: 3-D

Walter Murch, award winning film and sound editor on such films as APOCALYPSE NOW, JULIA, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, has written a letter to film critic Roger Ebert, stating the limitations and faultiness of 3-D. Here, he explains why audiences need to practice a lot of stressful brain power in order to have the illusion work, which in the opinion of myself and many other filmgoers, doesn't work at all. When I'm watching 3-D, I feel as though I'm envisioning images as though my head was chopped in two and hastily reattached, negatively altering my eyesight.

3-D is not merely a technical process but also an overhyped marketing gimmick that Hollywood keep resurrecting in times of desperation. This digital era being the most desperate, with tickets prices going up and the cinematic experience being cheapened to inferior digital projection. The last film in saw in 3-D was TRON: LEGACY, which began with a disclaimer stating that many scenes were not in 3-D. Actually, it seemed like wearing the glasses throughout most of the film wasn't necessary at all. The film has great art direction and visual effects and are not at all augmented by 3-D, which in a film that is dim and neon in it's visual design anyway, is extraneous.

To me, 3-D is all about marketing instead of innovation. Even sound is becoming part of the 3-D experience with the advent of DBox seating which, much like B movie producer William Castle's vibrating seat gimmick of the 50s, supposedly has the audience members' asses feel effects like earthquakes and cars being struck during chase sequences. This is another example that can tell you with good 2-D cinematography and great sound design, you can be immersed in the action without over the top gimmicks.

*This letter is courtesy of and After reading the letter, make sure you read the comments section on Roger Ebert's website and take part in the discussion!

Hello Roger,

I read your review of "Green Hornet" and though I haven't seen the film, I agree with your comments about 3D.

The 3D image is dark, as you mentioned (about a camera stop darker) and small. Somehow the glasses "gather in" the image -- even on a huge Imax screen -- and make it seem half the scope of the same image when looked at without the glasses.

I edited one 3D film back in the 1980's -- "Captain Eo" -- and also noticed that horizontal movement will strobe much sooner in 3D than it does in 2D. This was true then, and it is still true now. It has something to do with the amount of brain power dedicated to studying the edges of things. The more conscious we are of edges, the earlier strobing kicks in.

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the "convergence/focus" issue. A couple of the other issues -- darkness and "smallness" -- are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen -- say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

If we look at the salt shaker on the table, close to us, we focus at six feet and our eyeballs converge (tilt in) at six feet. Imagine the base of a triangle between your eyes and the apex of the triangle resting on the thing you are looking at. But then look out the window and you focus at sixty feet and converge also at sixty feet. That imaginary triangle has now "opened up" so that your lines of sight are almost -- almost -- parallel to each other.

We can do this. 3D films would not work if we couldn't. But it is like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, difficult. So the "CPU" of our perceptual brain has to work extra hard, which is why after 20 minutes or so many people get headaches. They are doing something that 600 million years of evolution never prepared them for. This is a deep problem, which no amount of technical tweaking can fix. Nothing will fix it short of producing true "holographic" images.

Consequently, the editing of 3D films cannot be as rapid as for 2D films, because of this shifting of convergence: it takes a number of milliseconds for the brain/eye to "get" what the space of each shot is and adjust.

And lastly, the question of immersion. 3D films remind the audience that they are in a certain "perspective" relationship to the image. It is almost a Brechtian trick. Whereas if the film story has really gripped an audience they are "in" the picture in a kind of dreamlike "spaceless" space. So a good story will give you more dimensionality than you can ever cope with.

So: dark, small, stroby, headache inducing, alienating. And expensive. The question is: how long will it take people to realize and get fed up?

All best wishes,

Walter Murch

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

These bikers ain't heroes: SATAN'S SADISTS (1969)

There were the bikers films of Roger Corman (THE WILD ANGELS) Anthony Lanza (THE GLORY STOMPERS) Tom Laughlin (THE BORN LOSERS) and of course, Dennis Hopper (EASY RIDER) but then there were the ones produced and directed by prolific exploitation filmmaker Al Adamson.

Adamson (1929-1995) had a large output of films in the late 1960s until the early 80s. Titles like DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971), THE NAUGHTY STEWARDESSES (1976) NURSE SHERRI (1978) and BLACK SAMURAI (1978) just to name a few, were all the cinematic babies of Mr. Adamson, working under the banner of producer Sam Sherman's Independent International Pictures company, a more rugged and impoverished version of Sam Arkoff's American International.

Adamson's SATAN'S SADISTS is an example of an atypical biker film from the era in which they flourished at drive ins. Most biker pics ennobled and mystified the outlaw biker. Adamson's fly-by-night, el cheapo production rebelled against the rebels by having the bikers be sociopathic bastards while the square folks were the innocent heroes. This film was released the same year as EASY RIDER and while that film is far superior, SATAN'S SADISTS eschews the mythos that American cinema created for biker culture. Although the film's ad campaign, like most exploitation cinema, makes the spurious claim of being "the most violent film of the decade!" They seemed to ignore or forget about Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH.

The savage cruelty of the bikers is established in the opening scene in which the gang kills two teens and pushes their car down a cliff. The explosion of the vehicle cues up the opening credits and the theme song (in the tune to Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come": "I-WAS-BORRRRRRNNNN mean. By the time, I was two, they were calling me...calling Satan."

The leader of these grimy degenerates is none other than Russ Tamblyn (Riff from WEST SIDE STORY) Tamblyn gives a creepy and believable performance as a despicable psychopath named Anchor who does everything from commit sexual assaults to shove stew into his old lady's mouth. He is given a monologue that sums up the cynicism and frustration of the 1960s America:

I *am* a rotten bastard. I admit it. But I tell ya something. Even though I got a lot of hate inside, I got some friends who ain't got hate inside. They're filled with nothing but love. Their only crime is growing their hair long, smoking a little grass and getting high, looking at the stars at night, writing poetry in the sand. And what do you do? You bust down their doors, man. Dumb-ass cop. You bust down their doors and you bust down their heads. You put 'em behind bars. And you know something funny? They forgive you.

This moment in an otherwise silly B picture stands out and puts the volatile and troubled milieu of hippies vs. the establishment into an interesting perspective.

Anchor and his motley crew roam Southern California looking to bully people unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time--such as an out of town police officer and his wife on vacation, and the staff of a roadside cafe.

The film's stalwart hero, a hitchhiking Vietnam vet is played by Gary Kent, a jack of all trades in the exploitation field--he was a stuntman, actor, writer, director, and all around bruised survivor of rough and tumble guerrila filmmaking in that time. Kent's character is an upstanding, square jawed heroic archetype who will slam a greasy biker's face into glass and shove his head into a dirty toilet to defend the honor of innocent women in peril. His dialogue even digs into the cultural zeitgeist of the time when he exclaims in anger "At least in Vietnam, I got paid to kill people!"

SATAN'S SADISTS isn't by any means a very good film. It's budgetary and technical limitations are more than apparent--in one scene you can hear the motor of the 16mm camera running, drowning out some dialogue. The performances range from the uneven to downright bad. But there are good actors in the cast who try their best. B-movie veteran Scott Brady (Film noir badboy Lawrence Tierney's brother) Tamblyn, Kent and Bud Cardos as a half breed, mohawked gang member who begins to detest Tamblyn's vile ways--far best in the performance department. Shortcomings aside, what makes it watchable are the sometimes telling moments of nasty truth and some amusing moments of action characteristic of these kinds of films: Kent's character throws a rattlesnake at a biker in self defense.

Films like these are dusty, gritty examples of a bygone era in which the anger and frustration of a nation besieged by violence, protest, drug experimentation and rebellion, seeped into even the cheapest examples of B-moviemaking.

Footnote: Gary Kent's book SHADOWS AND LIGHT: JOURNEYS WITH OUTLAWS IN REVOLUTIONARY HOLLYWOOD is available at or through his website and it is a very insightful and entertaining account of how films like these got made...and how it was miraculous no one got killed, at least most of the time!

The WTF Movie Files: POOR PRETTY EDDIE (1975)

Also known as BLACK VENGEANCE, REDNECK COUNTY and HEARTBREAK MOTEL, this 1975 southern fried, exploitation melodrama is quite a find. A bizarre, eye popping and jaw dropping northerner-in-the-wrong-part-of-the-south flick that makes DELIVERANCE look like a tourism video.

Broadway actress Leslie Uggams plays a famous singer named Liz Wetherly who decides to take a break from the stress of showbiz by getting into her Rolls Royce alone and driving south for a rest. Unfortunately her car breaks down at the wrong service station where Ted Cassedy (Lurch from The Addams Family) can take a look under the hood. The service station is also a motel/bar run by a good ol' boy/Elvis wannabe named Eddie Collins (Michael Christensen) whose wide smile and manners hide a sinister and brutal nature. Lurch can't have Liz's car fixed until the next morning, so she is forced to stay in one of the cabins (sound familiar?) Eddie, starstruck by Liz's unexpected appearance in his next of the woods, is more than happy to give her the best cabin in the place, the one with air conditioning! He tells her it's normally a $1.50 extra, but he waves it because of her celebrity.

This doesn't sit well with Bertha (Shelly Winters) the co-owner of the establishment and Eddie's delusional, drama-queen paramour, who had a vague show business past. She takes an immediate disliking to the black star who has no choice but to make herself at home in redneck central. Despite Eddie's aw-shucks, eager to please manner, he is really a twisted psychotic with a desire for Liz's mind and body and a penchant for sexual assault.

Poor Leslie Uggams goes through alot of mental and physical anguish and terror in this picture, including more than one rape--one such horrific scene has Liz being sexually compromised and the slow motion events are intercut with the locals snickering at the sight of two dogs having sex!

POOR PRETTY EDDIE plays like a cross between a 1970s rape revenge pic and a Tennessee Williams saga on LSD. What on the surface looks like a typical gritty grindhouse sleaze epic is a movie with some fairly impressive artistic ambitions and qualities. Stunningly photographed by David Worth and complimented by solid editing by Frank Mazzola and Worth, this film has a real hypnotic and startling style to it, highlighted by an inspired and transgressive script credited to B.W. Sandefir, reportedly based on the Jean Genet play THE BALCONY. The dialogue in the film is strangely comical. The cast is equally good too, with exceptional performances by everyone including supporting turns by Slim Pickens (as a horn dog sheriff) and Dub Taylor (as a potbellied degenerate who relishes' Liz's torturous ordeal.)

Within the extensive litter of exploitation cinema of the 1960s and 70s, there are certain standouts that defy the seedy expectations and elements of the genres involved. This film falls into that category as a strange, trippy but worthwhile story of delusion and human horror.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Last of 2010 Roundup

I've seen four very good films in the past week in theatres. I had to see them right away because the Oscar buzz they're being lauded with and the heavy praise my friends are giving some of these pictures makes me eager to rush out to see them so I can finally make up my own mind.


The unproven boxer with the odds against him as he sets out to take the title. Been there, done that, but director David O. Russell and actors Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo make it fly. An arresting and visually striking execution of otherwise cliched material with masterful performances and a good dose of humour to balance the gritty drama make this one of the year's best surprises.


Joel and Ethan Coen, no strangers to remakes since their update of the 1955 British comedy The Ladykillers, tackle John Wayne/Henry Hathaway territory. Theirs is a version with more grit and truth than the 1969 original, although the first version was a strong picture with a great story (The Dennis Hopper scene is a compelling and dark standout.) Here the Coens stay fairly faithful to the source material, with the intermittent turn into sequences that highlight their quirky sensibilities, especially with a deliciously black ending that strays far, far away from the cozy finale of the Duke version.

The performances of the cast prove why I believe that the Academy should create a Best Ensemble category. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Barry Pepper and impressive newcomer Hailee Stanfield are outstanding and believable. Bridges' portrayal of Rooster Cogburn is a dirtier, grungier, cynical version of the character. His first scene is him talking to the heroine while he does his business in an outhouse behind a saloon. Look at Tron: Legacy and True Grit and you'll see Bridges further proving that he has much versitility.


I wonder if the praise Darren Aronofsky's latest film is getting makes this film sound more serious than it probably is. In the right frame of mind, Black Swan is enjoyable as a bold, operatic piece of joyful silliness. Natalie Portman goes all out in her performance as a frigid and fearful ballerina whose quest for balletic perfection leads to mental destruction...and mistaking herself for a lesbian. Her self-pleasure scene is the most erotic thing I've seen on the big screen in a long time. And am I the only one who thinks that Barbara Hershey is underrated?


Colin Firth plays King George VI, a man whose ambition to be the king Britain needs in the wake of Hitler's rise to power, is hindered by his stammering speech. The always dependable Geoffery Rush plays the speech therapist who challenges the king to overcome his disability. The two men develop a poignant friendship in the process.

This is the kind of film the Academy relishes, an historical drama about unlikely triumph, but this movie really works and it's a simple and elegant story that's consistently entertaining, moving even and funny. Danny Cohen's great cinematography adds some welcome visual flourish. Do I need to mention that Firth, Rush and Helena Bonham Carter (as the King's loving wife) are fantastic? I guess I just did. The climax is very well handled without overdoing it.