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Stone Hotel: Poems from Prison
Rusty String Quartet
Siege of Station 19
The Killer Elite (1975)
The Killer Elite
The Killer Elite 1975 by all accounts, a legendary fiasco of a production, the director drunk most of the time and everyone else snow blind. This is the film where (allegedly) a crew member introduced Sam Peckinpah to cocaine, which didn't seem to help "Bloody Sam's" moody irascibility. James Caan and Robert Duvall give bizarre performances, manic and weird (cocaine is a hell of a drug) and even Burt Young looks glassy-eyed and ringy. The resurrection of the body is the theme. Caan's collapse in a restaurant is briskly cut for maximum shame and helplessness, followed by "Cleft chins and true hearts are out." Then it is mid-70s martial arts on the road to rehabilitation and revenge. After reinstatement, Caan announces, "I'm gonna need some things." and Arthur Hiller says, "Get em," and hands over a huge wad of cash. Burt Young and Bo Hopkins have Caan's back: "One is retired, the other is crazy." Hopkins makes his first appearance shooting skeet with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, "The Poet of Manic Depressives" with his shy smile and aw shucks charm, surely the stand-in for Peckinpah: "I didn't think your company would hire me." Mako gets to sword fight at the end. Absurd. The surprise is how watchable it is.
Il sergente Klems (1971)
Man of Legend
Based on a true story, believe it or not. Poor Josef Otto Klems. The man has problems. First seen cowering in a shell crater in 1918, he trades uniforms with a dead soldier (reasons remain unclear due to choppy and abrupt editing of the copy I viewed) Flash forward to Morocco in the early twenties. Otto Klems still has problems. Posted to some god awful desert hell hole, for one thing, and one of his superiors in the French Foreign Legion has designs on his booty (the man all but twirls his moustache to signify his evil intent). And if that isn't enough, the local Arab population isn't happy about the Spanish and the French putting boots on their precious desert hell-hole homeland, yadda yadda yadda. During a skirmish Sgt Klems manages to get captured by the locals but rather than get castrated (the usual punishment meted out by the heroic freedom fighters) he gets adopted. Becoming a sort of Lawrence of Arabia figure, he joins the natives in their fight against imperialism. He shows them modern weapons and tries to teach them tactics.
Hard to really judge this film. The version I viewed is chopped apart so bad that major chunks of exposition are missing, making it difficult to tell what is happening at times.The battle scenes pack a punch, however. The director has watched his Sergio Leone and he has seen the Wild Bunch, that is obvious. I am sure the full version is a better film. Peter Strauss looks like Viggo Mortensen. Based on a true story.
The Traveler (2010)
"They Pay You for the Bad Ones Too..."
When asked about a particular cinematic floater in which he had appeared, Robert Mitchum replied, "They pay you for the bad ones too!" I am assuming that Val Kilmer has adopted that as his personal mantra to get him through this latest phase of his career. So far in the past week I have watched Kilmer in The Traveler, Streets of Blood and The Thaw and all of them are terrible.Not his fault, of course, he's just an actor. He is forced to deal with the scripts he is given.
The Traveler shows promise at the start, despite the derivative nature of the script and the stereotypes that take the place of characters. Once the supernatural huggery-muggery begins that promise rapidly begins to fade. The story makes no sense. At first it is hinted that Kilmer is the ghost of a wrongly killed man and he is going to enact revenge on the deserving occupants of the police station a la High Plains Drifter. If the script would have stayed with that angle it might have produced an interesting film,if only on the simplistic and preachy level of an old Twilight Zone. But the pernicious influence of M. Night Shyamalan on a whole generation of screenwriters forces the offending scripter to try a big twist at the end and--a common failing with gimmicks of this type--the big reveal is absurd and makes no sense. It also invalidates everything that came before in terms of logic or coherence. Ah well, better luck next time.
Five Minutes to Live (1961)
Desperate Hours for the Drive-In Crowd
This movie plays like a low-rent version of the Desperate Hours. The plot involves crooks who invade the home of a bank manager and hold his wife hostage while they force him to rob his own bank. This would be just another drive-in programmer were it not for the fact that none other than Johnny Cash plays the psycho who terrorizes the bank manager's wife and his restless energy is compulsively watchable. He strums his guitar and sneers. He makes lewd remarks to the June-Cleaver wife. He knocks over her knick-knacks and threatens to kill her every five minutes.He appears to rape her, though being a film from the early sixties, it was implied, rather than shown, thank goodness. (Who wants to see Johnny Cash rape a woman?) The movie itself is routine.
Hickey & Boggs (1972)
gritty modern noir
Fans of neo-noir should take note of Hickey & Boggs, made in 1972. It has a tart and tangy early script from the great Walter Hill and stars Bill Cosby and Robert Culp as two private dicks who are so down on their luck they can't afford to pay their phone bill. The I-Spy duo give excellent performances Bill Cosby is great. This is my favorite Cosby film. Robert Culp, recently deceased,also directed, and he shows a very sure hand behind the camera.
I was quite surprised by the quality of this film after hearing about it for a number of years. Hickey & Boggs has a gritty downbeat vibe and it feels more desperate and low-rent and real than most private detective movies. A forgotten gem from the 70s.This is certainly one of my favorite films.
"Just getting up in the morning is a risk."
Based on a novel (which I've read) by Victor Canning. Mexico stands in for a squalid town in the Sudan where a group of seedy characters are stranded. Barry Sullivan is the grumpy honcho with the shady moves. A fortune in submerged gold in a shipwreck in shark-infested waters is the prize. Burt Reynolds, channeling the Wages of Fear, has reason to sweat: he has to carry a long and boring sub-plot concerning his "relationship" with a scroungy little street kid until the main plot kicks in. Arthur Kennedy(I think he was supposed to be an Arab. He's wearing a fez, anyway) shamelessly hams it up as the town drunk.Sure, Burt Reynolds is trapped in the dead-end of the Sudan, yet shirtless in some tight white pants he comes across as cocky as his chest is hairy.
Sam Fuller's hard-boiled sensibilities surface in the existential dialog: "Just getting up in the morning is a risk." The main trouble with the film, aside from the horrendous post-production hack-job performed upon it by the clueless producers, is the dull and draggy pace. With a few judicious trims and without the wholesale chop chop this could be a much better film. Also the old source print is so dark at times it is impossible to tell what is happening. As it stands it is a curiosity, worth watching at least once, but nothing more.
path to savagery
Based on an excellent book called Path To Savagery by Robert Edmond Alter and then butchered beyond recognition in typical Hollywood fashion, Ravagers is a lack-luster film pretty much from start to finish. Unconvincing matte paintings of a destroyed city starts things off and before you know it we are introduced to a forlorn Richard Harris with hang-dog face and soon-to-be-killed wife. After being sniffed out by scruffy "ravagers"and suffering loss of said wife Harris (even more mopey)takes to the road. His journey is not conducted with any sense of urgency but is marked by some striking scenery. The rocket graveyard is particularly effective. So is the ship used as a hang-out for Ernie Borgnine and his crew of authoritarian head-busters or whatever the hell they were supposed to represent. Judging by the names in the cast it is obvious that a fair amount of money was spent on the project. But the film lacks excitement. The pace drags.Richard Harris gives a bad performance. The story meanders. It is all very vague. Fans hoping for another post-apocalyptic adventure like 1975's The Ultimate Warrior will be disappointed. Ravagers is rather flat and dull. What interest it does hold owes to its 70s period flavor.
superior sci fi horror
Some rednecks who were the victims of alien abduction in the past decide to turn the tables on the malevolent ETs. They catch one of the reptillian critters, ferry him to their warehouse hide-out, tie him to a table and get busy...
This is how its done. A tightly written script. The perfect combination of prosthetics and CGI (just a touch) for the creature effects. A wildly tension-fraught premise. Unknown actors giving serious, committed performances.
Altered is one of the best indie flicks I've seen in a long time. Along with the recent "Splinter" and "Alien Raiders" this is a refreshingly well-done thriller. Eduardo Sanchez shows a very sure hand behind the camera.
High Risk (1981)
Blue Collar Guys-on-a-Mission Movie
A group of unemployed auto-workers decide to rip off a South American drug lord in this very enjoyable "blue-collar-guys-on-a-mission" movie.
In the wryly amusing first act the desperate group of amateurs tell their wives they're going fishing for the weekend. Then they buy a crap-load of guns from Ernest Borgnine.("You guys aren't going to be doing anything to hurt any animals, are you?" he asks before selling them the weaponry.) Finally they hire some sketchy mercenary-types to fly them to South America, with a promise to return in two days. What could go wrong?
James Brolin has the right flinty charm as the nominal hero.("I sold everything I own for this deal! I sold my house, my car, hell, I even sold my damn dishes to raise the money for this!" he snaps at one point when morale is flagging.) Cleavon Little, Chick Vennera and Bruce Davison provide reliable 2nd banana support. Lindsay Wagner is sparkly and sweet in her role as a hippie they meet and help spring from jail during the course of their misadventures. James Coburn smiles like a shark in his cameo as the vicious drug lord. But it is Anthony Quinn as a feisty bandit/revolutionary who could've stumbled in from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre who steals the show. He is clearly having fun and it is infectious.
Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (2007)
tongue in cheek monster bash
Tightly wound plumber Trevor Mathews has serious anger issues due to the fact that his parents were killed by monsters when he was just a wee lad. When his college professor played by Robert Englund unleashes an ancient horde of evil creatures, it is up to the plucky plumber to realize his destiny as a monster slayer and save humanity. The ranting of Trevor Mathews in the title role is very amusing but it is really Robert Englund who steals the show. He is clearly having a ball with the material and his enthusiasm is contagious.I laughed quite a bit.The SPFX are pretty good and refreshingly old-school.Lots of gore and prosthetics as opposed to lame CGI. I wouldn't mind watching Jack Brooks slay monsters thru a whole series of films like this!