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No classic, but okay of its type., 21 September 2014

Jerry Brewster (Thomas Hunter) and Ken Seagull (Nando Gazzolo) are two ex-Confederates who've successfully stolen some of the governments' money. Realizing that only one of them can make good his escape, they draw cards, and Ken, having drawn the higher card, is allowed to bail out with the money. Jerry is captured by Union forces and imprisoned for five years. Unfortunately, he learns after being released that his wife died poor because Ken hogged all the money for himself. And now Ken is a bigshot in the small community of Austin. It's a given that Jerry is going to be ripe for revenge...

"The Hills Run Red", as directed by former critic Carlo Lizzani, is no great shakes, but offers a decent amount of entertainment. Its pace is acceptable, its photography nicely done, and its action reasonably rousing. Using the pseudonym of "Leo Nichols", Ennio Morricone composes the score; it's definitely one of his lesser efforts, but even so, lesser Morricone is still pretty good. The songs are certainly sung with passion. The script by Piero Regnoli is mostly straightforward, but it's got one interesting detail up its sleeve: the character of Colonel Winny Getz, played engagingly by genre veteran Dan Duryea. You're never quite sure what this guy's deal is until the end.

The acting is variable. Some members of the cast come off fairly well, such as the beautiful ladies Nicoletta Machiavelli and Gianna Serra, Gazzolo as the understated villain, and Geoffrey Copleston as saloon owner Brian Horner. Hunter delivers a performance that is amusingly over the top at certain points. But the most entertaining acting to watch is courtesy of a hilariously hammy Henry Silva, playing Seagulls' minion Garcia Mendez. There's nothing subtle about this guy; even his wardrobe is all black.

"The Hills Run Red" kills time easily enough for those who are devotees of the Spaghetti Western genre.

Six out of 10.

Bound (1996)
Taut, compelling thriller., 21 September 2014

While the lesbian coupling in this film is a plot point, it's actually not the main hook. It's merely one thing that this interesting and enjoyable crime film does a little bit differently. The story, as concocted by "Matrix" series creators / siblings Andy and Lana Wachowski, is very nicely directed, with a twist-laden plot that keeps the viewer riveted. The acting is excellent from our three leads, and the supporting cast is equally fine. As the situation in "Bound" snowballs out of control, you are made to wonder how the characters are going to think their way out of predicaments. Sometimes they might be saved by a deus ex machina, sometimes they're on their own.

Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon burn up the screen as Violet, the moll of money launderer Caesar (Joe Pantoliano), and Corky, an ex-con turned handywoman. Violet is instantly attracted to Corky and turns up the heat, inspiring the other woman to join her in a plot to pilfer over two million dollars in mob money and to try to pin the whole thing on Caesar. Predictably enough, things don't go quite the way they planned.

The Wachowskis do know how to hold your attention. They do go out of their way to emphasize the sexiness of the two leading ladies, especially in a steamy apartment tryst. Lesbian erotica writer Susie Bright served as the technical consultant, and also has a cameo in a bar scene. The story is actually pretty entertaining once it takes off. The tension is undeniable from scene to scene, and we have to marvel at the resiliency and resourcefulness of not just Violet and Corky, but Caesar as well. (He's not a totally unsympathetic person.) Joey Pants is absolutely terrific in the role of Caesar, and John P. Ryan, future TV star Christopher Meloni, and film director Richard C. Sarafian ("Vanishing Point") round out a solid cast. "Bound" is pretty serious, but not without humour, and the Wachowskis bring some of that style that they made popular in the "Matrix" series to this enticing diversion.

Well worth seeing.

Seven out of 10.

"God forgot to wind it.", 21 September 2014

Jack incurs the wrath of a Regal Beagle patron named Max (guest star Terry Kiser) who turns out to be a psychotically jealous type. Max will threaten anybody who ogles his lovely girlfriend April (guest star Pamela Brull). Things eventually get out of hand, with Max remaining a scary presence in Jacks' life, to the extent that he's afraid to go out in the street. It's up to Larry to come up with a plan that will hopefully motivate Max to go away.

While some of the material in this episode may be uncomfortable to watch now, knowing of John Ritters' fate, overall this is a simply hysterical story. All of the cast members bring their A game, and are very, very funny. Kiser, who will likely always be best known as the title character in the "Weekend at Bernie's" movies, is fun to watch, and has some great moments, such as his method of coming through a door. Richard Kline as Larry and Don Knotts as Mr. Furley are likewise a hoot. The antics at the "funeral" are positively gut busting, particularly where the fly and the flowers are involved.

There are some wonderful lines here, such as the one in this reviews' summary. It's first heard coming from Cindy's mouth (referring to the supposed stopping of Jacks' heart during the night), but is even funnier when Max says it. Mr. Furley's actions and reactions during the funeral sequence are just too much.

The coda is just right, with Jack proving that no matter what life throws at him, he'll always be an insatiable guy.

Nine out of 10.

Sorceress (1982)
"Death is only death, SWINE!", 20 September 2014

Sleazy sword-and-sorcery fantasy as only Roger Corman can produce it, "Sorceress" is good fun provided that you're not too demanding. It delivers a generous amount of amusement and fun, especially when it comes to the ridiculous dialogue, and its delivery. For the most part, it doesn't do that much to stand out from the pack of other, similar films during this time. But that all changes when it gets to the climax, a full-on assault of cheese and spectacle, complete with light shows and otherworldly creatures.

A large part of the charm, of course, lies in the casting of luscious twin sisters Leigh and Lynette Harris, playing warrior women Mira and Mara. It seems that one of them needs to be sacrificed by power-hungry villain Traigon (snarling and hammy Roberto Ballesteros). They take the fight to him, aided by such characters as the hunky young Erlick (Roberto Nelson) and the proud Valdar (Bruno Rey), a guy who wouldn't look out of place in a Lord of the Rings feature.

That's really all you need to know, so you can discover the silly pleasures of this lowbrow feature for yourself. John Carl Buechler handles the creature duties, creating a likable "goat man" sort of character as well as a variety of ape-like beasts. The music is liberally borrowed from the earlier New World productions "Battle Beyond the Stars" and "Humanoids from the Deep". The action scenes are basically decent. The Harris sisters aren't exactly very good actresses, but this viewer can't imagine many fans of this type of thing caring all that much.

The sad postscript is that this turned out to be the final directorial credit for exploitation master Jack Hill ("The Big Doll House", "Coffy", etc.), who had a falling out with Corman over the matter of the editing. In the end, Hill retained a producing credit under his name but the direction was credited to a pseudonymous "Brian Stuart" (the names of Cormans' sons).

If you like fantasy features to be on the cheesy, sleazy, low budget side, watching this will be a no-brainer.

Seven out of 10.

A good bet for Bronson fans., 20 September 2014

Charles Bronson plays Arthur Bishop, an experienced hit man with a real skill at what he does. His work is almost like art - very morbid art, to be sure, but he's not content to merely drop victims with a bullet to the head. Unfortunately, he ends up ordered by his bosses to eliminate his old family friend, Harry McKenna (Keenan Wynn). After reluctantly doing the job, he finds himself drawn to Harry's son Steve (Jan-Michael Vincent), a cheerfully unambitious young man. Arthur decides that he will take on Steve as a partner, a move that will not sit well with the people for whom Arthur works.

After their historic first teaming on the Western "Chato's Land", Bronson and director Michael Winner reunited shortly after, for what is essentially a character study. And that character, much like Bronson himself, is fascinating, revealing himself as a careful and precise person and also highly cultured. Not surprisingly, he has little time for such things as relationships (as shown in the scene with Arthur and a lady friend, played by Bronsons' wife Jill Ireland). There are fine action scenes here, to be sure, especially a motorcycle chase, and there are a couple of explosions along the way. But first and foremost, this is a film that takes a clinical look at two fairly icy men. The most telling scene occurs when Arthur and Steve debate how long it will take Steve's suicidal girlfriend (Linda Ridgeway) to succumb to the slashing of her wrists. Originally, screenwriter Lewis John Carlino had intended for the evolving relationship between professional killer and neophyte to be overtly homosexual, with the younger man at odds with his desires, but that idea was nixed, and in order for his script to get filmed, Carlino had to remove almost all of that subtext.

Jerry Fielding supplies a terrific score, and the acting is efficient from our two main characters. Bronson is well cast, and Vincent holds his own quite well opposite his veteran co-star. Wynn is wonderful in his brief time on screen.

Certainly the double twist ending is effective and "The Mechanic" is all the better for it. In the end, this is a good collaboration between a star and director that carried on to the iconic masterpiece "Death Wish".

Seven out of 10.

Entertaining trash., 19 September 2014

As written and directed by George Armitage, "Vigilante Force" is acceptable "turn your brain off", yahoo action fare, albeit with a solid premise. An excellent cast that's full of familiar faces clearly has a fine time with the material. Armitage gets down to business extremely quickly, with an energetic opening credits sequence. From then on it's a series of confrontations that culminate with a whole lot of gunfire and explosions going on.

Jan-Michael Vincent plays Ben Arnold, upstanding young citizen in the small town of Elk Hills. Unfortunately the scores of men who came to work on nearby oil fields have begun to raise bloody hell in the town. In desperation, the towns' bigwigs agree to bring in Bens' brother Aaron (Kris Kristofferson), a Vietnam vet, and Aarons' wartime comrades, to try to restore law and order. Soon, however, the "solution" proves to be another problem, as Aaron lets a position of power go to his head and indulges in all manner of crooked ventures.

Vincent is good, but Kristofferson out-acts him with style, bringing charisma and humour to his juicy role. The sweet and sexy Victoria Principal plays Vincents' gal pal, and the cute as a button Bernadette Peters is endearing as flaky singer "Little Dee", whose shtick involves acting as if she knows everybody. The Who's Who cast of supporting players is most impressive: Brad Dexter as the mayor, Judson Pratt as the police chief, and David Doyle as a banker, as well as Antony Carbone, Andrew Stevens, Paul Gleason, John Steadman, Charles Cyphers, and Carmen Argenziano. Bombshell actress Loni Anderson and cult icon Dick Miller have uncredited cameos.

The folksy music by Gerald Fried adds to the substantial fun factor of this movie. Armitage really gives his audience their money's worth, and knows how to end things in a big way.

Seven out of 10.

A working man who's had enough!, 18 September 2014

Jan-Michael Vincent, at the peak of his charisma and movie stardom, registers strongly as good, honest young man Carrol Jo Hummer, fresh from a stint in the Air Force. He gets a loan, which he uses to pay for his own diesel truck, which he dubs The Blue Mule. Initially thinking of working for family friend Duane Haller (Slim Pickens), he ultimately decides to fight corruption in the transport business, making enemies out of slimy people like Buck Wessle (L.Q. Jones) and Cutler (Don Porter). Kay Lenz plays Jerri, the wife who stands by his side.

The prolific director Jonathan Kaplan, who at this time was firing off one entertaining B picture after another, wrote the script with Ken Friedman. Like so many other young directors during the 70s, he'd gotten his start working for Roger Corman, and was able to hone his craft. Here he creates an adequately paced, sometimes pretty serious (but never overly melodramatic), gritty little movie. It gets a lot of mileage out of its time honoured premise of one good man at war with a corrupt system.

Carrol Jo must do battle both on the road and off, and proves himself capable of handling himself in a number of scraps, which are often instigated by swaggering bully Clem (Martin Kove). The action in "White Line Fever" is well executed, and the photography, by Fred J. Koenekamp, is simply gorgeous. One sequence with Carrol Jo on the road as he makes his way to snowy Utah is breathtaking. This is overall very slickly made and engagingly written and performed.

A bright-eyed and earnest Vincent is extremely well supported by the lovable Lenz, ever amiable Pickens, and an effectively sleazy Jones. The cast features other familiar faces such as the ever reliable Dick Miller, and R.G. Armstrong as a prosecuting attorney. Sam Laws, Leigh French, and Kaplan regular Johnny Ray McGhee also appear. Cinematographer Jamie Anderson ("Piranha" '78) has a rare acting role here as Jamie, and Ann Dusenberry of "Jaws 2" is seen briefly as a barmaid.

David Nichtern does the flavourful score for this solid entry into the trucker cinema genre of the '70s. The ending is more low key than the viewer might expect, and may not be totally satisfying to some people.

Seven out of 10.

Shows its audience a great time., 17 September 2014

"Where Eagles Dare" is an invigorating wartime (in this case WWII) action-espionage-thriller, extremely well directed (by Brian G. Hutton) and engagingly acted. It's very long, but very absorbing. Even at two hours and 36 minutes, it's never boring. The story, as concocted by Alistair MacLean, has got some delicious twists going for it, and it holds your attention from beginning to end. The characters are fun to watch, heroes and villains alike. And there's a fair bit of violence and TONS of explosions to add to its energy level.

The set-up is intriguing. A military operation is underway as a team of British commandos (with American Ranger Schaffer (Clint Eastwood) along for the ride) attempt to infiltrate a Nazi stronghold which is high in the mountains. Their mission is to liberate an American general (Robert Beatty) who's been taken prisoner. At least, that would SEEM to be the case...

Richard Burton is excellent in the lead role of the unflappable leader of the mission, Major Smith. As things go on, he's required to give a performance within the performance, so to speak, and does a commanding job. Eastwoods' role is to largely react to what's going on around him. His consternation is understandable. The rest of the cast does equally praiseworthy work: lovely ladies Mary Ure and Ingrid Pitt, Patrick Wymark, Michael Hordern, Donald Houston, Anton Diffring, Ferdy Mayne, and Derren Nesbitt.

Thanks to the capable second unit direction by Yakima Canutt, the action is first rate and the film really does leave you breathless at times. There are some absolutely convincing and hair-raising set pieces, especially on the sky trams going up and down the mountain. And even when a team of characters is making their escape, it's expectedly no easy task, and the enemy keeps the pressure on constantly. Finally, MacLeans' script has one last wonderful twist to sneak in before things are brought to a close.

Accompanied by majestic music composed by Ron Goodwin, this really is top notch screen entertainment.

Nine out of 10. .

Screamers (1979)
Thoroughly entertaining., 15 September 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Note: this review pertains to the Americanized version, known as "Screamers", devised by Roger Corman. The balance of the original Italian film, "Island of the Fishmen", was kept, and a new prologue, written and directed by Miller Drake, and featuring Mel Ferrer and Cameron Mitchell, was filmed. All in all, this movie is great fun. It's pure nonsense, but it throws a couple of different ideas into its brew, with irresistible results for schlock lovers. We have treasure hunting (in two separate eras), biological mutations, the supposed Lost City of Atlantis, and an international cast also including Claudio Cassinelli, Barbara Bach, Richard Johnson, Joseph Cotten, and Beryl Cunningham.

Cassinelli plays Lt. Claude de Ross, a military doctor who's one of a handful of shipwreck survivors. They come across an isolated tropical island, populated by Creature from the Black Lagoon type monsters, and a number of humans, chief among them the dastardly Edmond Rackham (the charismatic Mr. Johnson of "The Haunting" and "Zombi 2"), his female companion Amanda (the stunning Ms. Bach), and her scientist father Ernest (Mr. Cotten).

The additional American footage actually doesn't stick out that much from the Italian film; the material was pretty hokey from the start. But it's got tons of atmosphere, a whole lot of beautiful scenery, some pretty gnarly creature suits, and flavourful music composed by Luciano Michelini. The acting in the main story is pretty good, with Cassinelli making for a studly hero and Bach as an appealing leading lady. Johnson comes off the best; he's one of those villains you actually can't help but like. People such as Mitchell, Ferrer, and Cotten were clearly hired for name value and don't get to do all that much.

If you're like this viewer, and are partial to this kind of thing to begin with, you should have a fine time watching this.

Eight out of 10.

St. Ives (1976)
Houseman makes it worth seeing., 14 September 2014

Charles Bronson stars as the title character in this twist-laden tale of intrigue. Raymond St. Ives is a crime writer who's currently in need of some cash. He's hired by a devious career criminal, Abner Procane (John Houseman), who's written down several journals of his misdeeds. It seems that Procanes' journals have been stolen, and he needs St. Ives to act as a "go between", or deliver money to the thieves while retrieving the incriminating documents. But nothing goes as planned, and St. Ives, an inquisitive sort as well as a cool customer, becomes determined to find out what he's gotten himself into.

Even speaking as a fan of Mr. Bronson, it's really the supporting cast that brings this one to life. Bronson is fun, but the other parts are very well cast and each actor gets a chance to make an impact. Houseman is utterly delightful, looking like he's having a high old time playing such a likable scoundrel. The incredibly beautiful Jacqueline Bisset plays his associate Janet, and Maximilian Schell his psychiatrist. Harry Guardino, Harris Yulin, and Dana Elcar play assorted detectives (Elcar has the most priceless line reading in the whole movie), and Michael Lerner, George Memmoli, Dick O'Neill, Elisha Cook Jr., Val Bisoglio, Burr DeBenning, and Daniel J. Travanti fill out the rest of the main cast. One great joy is in seeing future stars Robert Englund and Jeff Goldblum (Goldbum having made his film debut in "Death Wish" as one of the muggers) as two of the young hoods who accost Bronson at one point.

The story itself, based on a novel by Ross Thomas, does keep the viewers on their toes while they work, like Bronson, to figure out what's what. Director J. Lee Thompson, who would work with Bronson again throughout the 70s and 80s, handles it all with finesse, with fine cinematography by Lucien Ballard and equally fine music composed by Lalo Schifrin as additional assets.

If you're fan of Bronson, Houseman, or Thompson, then by all means give this one a viewing.

Seven out of 10.

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