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 (garywarnerkent.com) 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 (ykkimonline.com) 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 ykkimonline.com