Saturday, May 30, 2020

Great Questions From A Novice Writer





These are from Deanna Harrison who’s thinking of becoming a professional writer and, from the nature of her questions, it’s obvious that she’s put a lot of thought into it. I like the questions a lot and I’m pretty find of my answers as well. Deanna has given me her kind permission to reproduce the Q&A right here. Maybe this will help others looking to jump into fictioneering.

1. How do you stop switching tenses?

Well, you decide whether your story takes place in the present or the past and try to remain aware of that as you write. If you mess up, you can fix it in re-write. If you miss it there have other people proofread it for you for mistakes. Rewriting is the key! Get to love rewriting.


2. If you had the choice between publishing yourself or an agency/company which would you choose?

The e-book goldrush is over unless you have oodles of money for marketing. If not, you need to go with the publisher. That DOESN’T mean you shouldn’t self-publish first to establish copyright and get the attention of a publisher.

3. Do you start creating a character or world-building first?

I start with the character and a vague notion of the setting. But not every writer works that way.

4. Do you know if right away a story will become multiple books or do you write it and decide it after it's published?

I decide before I start writing. I know before I begin if it’s the first in a series or a one-off.

5. I know it is OK to skip around writing different chapters. That way you can meet a set quota you give yourself. But what if it's too far ahead in the story?

You absolutely should skip around if it keeps your momentum going. You can’t go too far ahead because you can always rewrite. As long as you’re making progress, keep writing.


6. How do you know when not to write say, said, mumbled, or other forms of explaining emotions in a sentence. 

Depends on the book and my intended audience. I usually stick with just “said” or “asked.” When I write westerns, I run the gamut; declared, bemoaned, cried, bellowed. The audience for those seem to prefer it that way.
But, for the most part, the emotion of your characters should come out in dialogue or at least be implied. I use physical gestures sometimes to convey unspoken emotions.

“I’m not frightened at all,” she said, her knuckles white where she twisted the hem of her apron.


7. Do you know of any good sites to help lookup words/items that you don't know but can describe them to get its name? 

I often just Google similar words and see what I can find. And read, read, read. Stock up the memory holes with new words and phrases. A writer collects words the same way a sound effects technician collects sounds.  I’m always stunned at the number of words I can recall while writing that I didn’t even know that I knew.



Monday, February 17, 2020

Holy Moley! More movie reviews!



ROLE MODELS (2008) Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott as two guys who work pushing an energy drink on kids as part of an anti-drug program have a run in with the law and are given hundreds of hours of community service. This takes the form of a kind of big brother organization run by former addict Jane Lynch. Scott's kid is a hyperactive brat with a foul mouth while Rudd's is a withdrawn teen who's into LARPing (role-playing medieval combat with foam weapons) played by the McLovin kid from SUPER BAD. What results is a fast-paced rude comedy that winds up having a good heart without resorting to sentiment. The cast is good and Rudd is at his most acerbic from a script he had a hand in writing. It's grand, silly fun.

Image may contain: 2 people, outdoor

TIGER OF BENGHAL and THE INDIAN TOMB (1959) Really one movie in two chapters. Iconic director Fritz Lang's epic pulp adventure filmed on location in India is a return to the kind of serials that made him an international sensation in the silent era. A German architect takes a contract with a rajah to provide renovations to an island palace in the Ganges. What the hero discovers is a complex series of tunnels and caves that lead to a vast secret temple where beautiful Debra Paget dances and nefarious plans are plotted. All fun, ho-de-ho romp with tigers and chases and fights and betrayals and I'm betting an inspiration for INDIANA JONES and THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. Recently released in a gorgeous transfer on Blu-Ray.

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor

SPARTAN (2004) Val Kilmer is a high level fixer in the middle of a hunt for the missing daughter of the president. David Mamet takes a plot that could have been turned into a quick-play melodrama and gives us a story with spooky suspense sequences that resonate with the darkest paranoia and some sharp observations about the self-appointed elite who make up the rules as they go along. Mamet's usual touch with the dialogue which, I'm learning, is a love-it-or-hate it proposition to film-lovers. The most remarkable thing about this film for me is the way that it consciously avoids as much exposition as possible, often at the risk of losing the audience. But he maintains and emotional through-line that carries us forward even while we're still figuring out what's going on. The effect is unsettling and, I suspect, that was Mamet's intention.

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and outdoor


THE THIN RED LINE (1998) The lives and experiences of members of a US Army battalion tasked with taking key positions from the Japanese on Guadalcanal in 1942. The story presents conflicts between the officers as well as taking us right onto the ground with the forward combat units. Despite the size of the ensemble cast, director Terrence Malick presents each of their stories in an indelible way, making us feel their fear, rage, frustration and sense of their own fleeting mortality. An unblinking portrait of men in war that is superior in every way to SAVING PRIVATE RYAN which came out the same year. Most notably, Malick gets across the chaotic horror of war without indulging in horror movie gore effects. He also allows his actors to impart their feelings with dialogue that runs counter to their intents and emotions and, often, no dialogue at all. A scene where we see the Dash Mihok's metamorphosis from terrified grunt to war hero play out on his face in one continuous take is astounding to watch.
I reviewed this movie shortly after it was released back on my old website and quickly found out that people either love it or hate it. There's just no middle ground here. I agree it's a bit heady and appears pretentious at times. But each time I watch it I understand Malick's intentions more. The narration provided at times by various cast members reads as though from letters home and is read with a solemnity that I find befitting. These men were risking, and giving, their lives and they had every right to wax philosophical now and then. And they did have these thoughts and express them in this way. Thinking you might die at any moment has a way of making you contemplate the infinite and man's place in nature and what the hell it's all about

Image may contain: 1 person, crowd, ocean, outdoor and water




IF I WERE KING (1938) François Villon is a thief and poet in 15th Century Paris. When he's captured for stealing from the king's storehouse, he brought before Louis XI himself. But the wily king plays a cruel jest on Villon and gives him a title and promotes him to royal chamberlain to teach the vagabond that it's not so easy to be a part f the ruling class.
Ronald Colman at his most charming meaning you'll see the most charming actor on the planet at the top of his game. Basil Rathbone appears to be having the time of his life as King Louis, playing him as a cackling, conniving, half-mad monarch. Terrific sets and a huge cast of extras all serve to enhance a fast-paced, witty script by Preston Sturges. And there's one prime example of how Hollywood could get across sexual heat back in the day while the principles kept all their clothes and, this being a period adventure, that means LOTS of clothes.

Image may contain: 9 people, people standing

MESRINE: KILLER INSTINCT (2008)
A combination of gangster thriller and portrait that follows a disaffected sociopath from his army service in Algeria to a crime career with the Paris underworld. Along the way he leaves lives in ruin and begins his own career as, essentially, the subject of a decades long international manhunt.
Vincent Cassel as legendary gangster and bank robber Jacque Mesrine (Meh-REEN) who robbed his way across two continents in the 1960s and escaped from prison on numerous occasions even a remote maximum security facility in Canada.
Based on Mesrine's own bestselling book (written while he was on the lam), director Jean-François Richet creates a crime epic quite unlike any other. It moves swiftly though the late 50's to the early 70's portraying Mesrine's impulsive crime antics and often reckless behavior in one action set piece after another. I will always maintain that the French make the best crime dramas and this one is top drawer all the way.

Image may contain: 2 people

MESRINE: PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE (2008) The direct sequel, a second part really, to the previous Mesrine film. This one continues the story into the 1970's and the inevitable end of Mesrine's career in the streets of Paris; coldly executed by a police task force. No spoiler there, the first film begins with his death.
This film details the decline of Jacques Mesrine as he becomes more and more brash and, to his detriment, plays at being a member of the far left at a time when the Baader-Meinhof gang and Red Brigade were plaguing Europe. Escaping from yet another maximum security facility, Mesrine's former good luck flees him and he engages in one disastrous robbery or kidnapping after another as he simultaneously embraces his own mythic status by pursuing media attention.
Like all great gangster films, a cautionary tale about hubris.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing and outdoor

DANGER CLOSE (2019) In August 1966 a company of Aussie soldiers on a shoot-and-scoot mission near Long Tan in South Vietnam encounter a large force of combined NVA and Viet Cong that will outnumber them twenty-to-one. Unable to withdraw the hundred or so soldiers hold their scattered positions throughout the day taking heavy casualties but managing to punish their attackers who "just won't take a hint."
An exceptional war film that goes right into my favorites pile. Loaded with action, excruciating suspense and real emotional weight, this well-crafted war story makes the complex actions of that day crystal clear and the sacrifice of the men palpable. The large ensemble cast is introduced by vivid to make them memorable. One stand-out performance is a Kiwi artilleryman who, without a scrap of expository dialogue, informs us of his fears and conflicts.
Highly recommend for those who like their military action believable and raw.

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor

THE COURIER (2019) In a lifetime of watching dumb action movies, this is the dumbest one I've ever seen. And as a writer, I've spent my career primarily writing action stories. To write an action story you have to create events to drive the action forward and build suspense and tension. Your hero has to face challenges that he overcomes through guile, skill or just plain strength of spirit. This movie eschews all of that to just make shit happen.This shit happens then this shit happens. If the heroine needs to find a knife or gun, there's one conveniently lying on the floor by her. If she needs to cut the electricity to foil the bad guys, ta-da! there's a circuit breaker box right there. If the story requires that the lights come on, they simply do with no rhyme, reason or cause. Countless times in this movie the heroine is only saved because the bad guy's gun has run out of bullets. Even, at times, after firing only three shots or, as apparently happens to a character arriving on the scene for the first time, carrying around a gun that was never loaded at all! A .50 caliber sniper shot from 2000 feet pierces a bulletproof vest to nearly gut a character. But when the same rifle takes the heroine in the leg from under fifty feet she just hobbles for a bit until she's walked it off and it's never referenced again. There's a fight scene in NAKED GUN where Frank Drebin throws a towel into the face of a hit-man who then clutches the towel and screams as though he can't get it off his face. That's the level of inanity we're looking at here but it's not played for laughs. HOW dumb is this movie? A character quotes Joe Biden on ballistics. Yep.
I could go on and mention how the movie jumps for no reason from New York to Washington DC to London and sometimes characters appear to be in two different cities at the same time.
And the dialogue! It really felt as though they wrote every action movie cliche ("I'm your worst nightmare.") on a slip of paper, put them in a hat, and had the actors read them in whatever order they were pulled out. You could not write a worse script using Mad-Libs.
Oh, and Gary Oldman really needs to be ashamed of himself. It looks like they hired him for two days to just wander around an apartment getting into people's personal space and shouting at them. The brilliant actor of SID & NANCY and IMMORTAL BELOVED reduced to picking up a quick check to be in dreck like this.
My theory on this movie was it was written by:
1) An AI program right after a Windows update.
2) Hunter Biden
3) That room full of monkeys and typewriters we're always hearing about.


Image may contain: 1 person

TIN CUP (1996) Kevin Costner is a washed up golf pro giving lessons at a rundown driving range co-owned with his former caddy Cheech Marin. When challenged by old rival Don Johnson, he decides to enter the U.S. Open with the help of his therapist played by Rene Russo. But will the has-been's old hang-ups and serious OCD problems stand between him and the title?
Ron Shelton's best film by far is an often very funny romantic comedy with all the best tropes of a great sports film. It brings us into the world of professional golf (which I could care less about) in away that keeps us up to speed and makes us care. That's really skilled writing as the cast never stops to explain what's going on and leaves it to us to catch up with them. The actors are adept at comedy enough to make their lines work even when we're not sure of the terms they're using or references they're making. And the depiction of the agony of defeat at the climax of the film is truly agonizing. Costner and Russo have a real chemistry that makes the heart of the movie work. But it's Costner and Marin's bromance that really clicks.

Image may contain: 10 people, including Jason Johnson, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

NAKED GUN (1988) Something inspired me to check this favorite out again. I vividly recall seeing this in a theater with
Flint Henry
and the pair of coming close to wetting out pants at the "season highlights reel" sequence.
The Zucker Brothers bring their Mad Magazine approach to comedy to the cop movie genre in this feature coming off their terrific but short-lived POLICE SQUAD TV series. Their shotgun style fires gag after gag at us, relying on our common familiarity with the cliches of crime thrillers as a source of laughs.
The plot? Ricardo Montleban is an LA business man helping a terrorist organization in their attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth. Leslie Nielson is madcap earnest in the lead role as Frank Drebin but it's his partner George Kennedy who steals ever scene he's in. And who knew Priscilla Presley could be funny.
The marvelously constructed extended climax at a baseball game was clearly inspired by the Red Skelton classic WHISTLING IN BROOKLYN but the Zuckers take it even further in a series of mishaps, gags, parody and wild action. And Montleban's death remains my favorite in all movie history. "My father went the same way."

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, outdoor

HERCULES (2014) Peplum or "sword and sandal" movies have to be the most forgiving genre in cinema. All that's really required to make a decent movie of this type is a muscular cast, at least one torture scene, scantily clad women and loads of bloody violence. This entry checks all those boxes along with the addition of some welcome humor.
The Rock was born to play the mythic son of Zeus but packs on forty pounds of fresh muscle anyway. The rest of the cast offers fine support, chief among them Ian McShane as a seer who doesn't always get it quite right. The idea of having Herc's legend propped up by a lot of PR provided by his nephew is a clever one that offers up some surprises. And the battle sequences are well blocked out, extended and fierce. It's a gorgeous looking production with just enough real drama, high stakes and rising action to make it a durable actioner worth re-visiting.

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor

LOGAN LUCKY (2017) Two West Virginia brothers (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) plan a complex heist of a Charlotte speedway on NASCAR race day. But they need the help of legendary explosives expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) who, inconveniently is in state prison.
A classic heist comedy that keeps moving from frame one to the end credits. It has a lot of heart without any sloppy sentiment and has some dialogue touches you'll probably miss the first time around. The suspense is high and the humor Dixie deadpan with Daniel Craig clearly relishing his role in a transformational role that is astonishing.
Steven Soderbergh at the top of his form in a movie that's witty, endearing and full to the brim with dozens of great comic performances including Dwight Yoakum, Riley Keough and Seth MacFarlane.

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting

BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL (1956) A troubled young soldier (Robert Wagner) who can't get over the loss of three of his pals to friendly fire is assigned to a remote outpost commanded by a manically sadistic officer. (Broderick Crawford)
GIs returning from service in WWII demanded a different kind of war movie, one that reflected their own experiences in service and in combat. This an early entry into the spate of more cynical war dramas that Hollywood would turn out into the mid-60's until the WWII adventure flick, like THE DIRTY DOZEN and WHERE EAGLES DARE, took over the genre.
The oddly structured series of flashbacks to inform us of Wagner's past turn out to be quite effective as an understanding of the main character's emotional state is at the heart of this movie. The only thing that mars the movie is the too-pristine scenes of Wagner's marriage to Terry Moore. Too many of those scenes look like they were trimmed form a Sandra Dee movie. But they're out of the way quickly and we're solidly into the war action.
Wagner is surprisingly strong in the lead as I've always considered him a lightweight. Broderick Crawford is honestly scary in as accurate a portrayal of a personality disorder as you're likely to find. And it's fun seeing Buddy Ebsen give a another fine performance in a straight-up dramatic role.

Image may contain: 1 person, child and outdoor

DAYLIGHT'S END (2016) What you'd get if you re-imagined I AM LEGEND as a men's action paperback series from the 1980's. Not an instant classic by any means but certainly a fun entry in the post apocalypse vampire pandemic sub-genre. Think STAKELAND with a LOT more gun porn. The cast is good and the dialogue is cringe-free though the plot borrows heavily from ROAD WARRIOR. But the body count is huge and the action fast moving and bloody. And it sure looks like EVERY dime is up on the screen. It's free on Amazon prime currently.

Image may contain: 4 people

SHOCK WAVE (2017) Andy Lau, as Hong Kong's greatest bomb disposal expert, is targeted by a sadistic international criminal who will hold hundreds hostage in order to free his brother from prison. Or does he have a more insidious plot in mind. Much of the action, and there's a CRAP-TON of action here, centers on a cross-harbor tunnel that the bad guy has wired with a half-ton of C-4.
The kind of gonzo shoot-em-up epic that Hong Kong filmmakers have excelled at since the 80s. Big stakes and a huge cast lead to a blistering extended action climax that you might want to rewind and watch all over again to catch what you missed the first time.


Image may contain: one or more people

THE LAST LEGION (2007) As I mentioned in a previous interview, peplum is a genre with a low bar. It's a bar that this big-budget extravaganza manages to slide under. This story, that proposes to put the legend of King Arthur into a historical perspective, has lots of action but no blood, no scantily clad babes and not a single torture scene. It's a movie that gets worse with each viewing and I can attest to that as I've seen it several times only because I forget how bad it is.
The genesis of the movie is more interesting than the movie itself especially from a writer's point of view.
Italian novelist Valerio Manfredi was invited to contribute a screen treatment for a movie that proposed to put the legend of King Arthur into a historical perspective. His concepts were rejected and the producers went on to make the godawful KING ARTHUR (2004). Frustrated that his ideas were not used (boy, I know THAT feeling) Manfredi went home and wrote an excellent novel based on his treatment called The Last Legion. In his novel he imagined that the last of the Caesars, a young boy, must flee to Britain in the company of an old philosopher and a cohort of brave soldiers, taking along with him the sword of Julius Caesar. Great book, rousing story and intelligently written. The producers who purchased the film rights tossed out everything but the core of the novel to make a bloodless, senseless, witless, box checker action movie that probably had Manfredi crying into the wads of cash I hope they paid him to turn his peplum to pablum.

Image may contain: 2 people, outdoor

KISS AND TELL (1945) Hyperactive and overly dramatic teen Corliss Archer gets herself in trouble when, by covering up the secret marriage of her brother to the girl next door, she leads the whole town in believing she's pregnant! Based on a play, this comedy picks up steam midway through when Corliss' "secret" goes public. Solid comedic performances by all in the kind of prototypical teen comedy that was gaining in popularity as WWII was winding down. This one's a bit more risque than most of the entries in this genre. Make that A LOT more risque with "air force" jokes passing overhead like a flight of B-17s.
Shirley Temple would play Corliss in two films during the, let's face it, jailbait phase that took up the end of her movie career. And she's marvelous at firing off the fast patter loaded with malapropisms along with that range of facial expressions that were so effective when she was the world's number one child star taking on a sly aspect when she plays a scheming adolescent.
Corliss Archer proved popular enough on film to spawn a radio show in which she was played by Janet Waldo who most of you will recall as Judy Jetson.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing, child and outdoor

RUNNING WITH THE DEVIL (2019) Nic Cage still manages to surprise. I sail into what feels like my weekly Cage movie with zero expectations only to find this serious crime drama with a real mean streak at the heart of it. Ostensibly, the film portrays a cocaine deal from both ends. We meet the buyers, smugglers and distributors while, at the same time, seeing the entire process of making the yayo from picking the leaves through processing and the chain of delivery from Colombia to the Canadian border. Not really a lot of surprises but the whole deal is slickly made and fast-paced with high production values and top drawer acting throughout. Looking for a solid crime drama that doesn't look away when things get ugly? Check this one out. It was partly produced by Redbox so I'm assuming it's not on any streaming service yet.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

LUCKY DAY (2019) Now for a not-so-serious crime film. Luke Bracy is fresh out of the pen and eager to re-start his life with his wife, Nina Doberev, and adorable daughter. But his happiness is marred by the arrival of Crispin Glover as a kind of pantomime Chigurh. Not much more plot than that in this bloody Roger Avary pastiche. It's fun enough and moves along at a brisk pace. But what might have been an excruciating extended suspense scene at the climax is diluted by all the surreal silliness that proceeded it. Avary waits until way too late in the story to ask us to care about the principles. What I want to know is how they controlled Glover for a shoot this long and complex. Perhaps he's finally found the proper balance for his meds. Like I said, it's fun enough in a Tarantino Lite vein and Dobrev is cute as a basket of cartoon puppies.

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor


Symphonie pour un massacre/THE CORRUPT (1963) Five hoods pool their resources to go in on a big heroin deal. But thieves fall out when one of the syndicate members decides he'd rather have it all. But he finds that murder is a hard habit to break. Fine, slow-burn French crime flick in the vein of Jean-Pierre Melville. A well-crafted thriller.

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing, people sitting, people playing musical instruments and indoor

BRICE de NICE (2005) Brice Agostini is a slacker who lives to surf, or so he'd have you believe. He makes his home on a stretch of the French Riviera that's only visited by surfable waves every thirty years or so. When his rich daddy goes to jail for money laundering, Brice is left homeless, moneyless and, as always, clueless until he's dared into a big surfing competition. Wacky, monumentally silly comedy only made possible by the apparently bottomless charm of Jean Dujardin. It's hard to think of an actor with a range as broad as Dujardin. Romantic leads, goofy comic foil, noir protagonist and period dramas. The guy does it all with authority and aplomb like a talent straight out of Hollywood's golden age. Here he is asked to carry a movie on his back as he's lumbered with pretty weak material that he somehow manages to make work playing a character who could have worn out his welcome in act one. It's all fun in the sun and a perfectly good time waster and, apparently, a big enough hit to spawn two sequels.


Image may contain: 1 person, closeup


Mais où est donc passée la 7ème compagnie?/NOW WHERE DID THE 7th COMPANY GET TO? (1973) The fall of France in 1940 might seem like an unlikely subject for a comedy but Jean Lefebvre and a cast of talented comic actors make this story, of a small group of soldiers cut off from their unit as the Germans invade, an amusing romp. It's the kind of slow-burn comedy that the French make so well but picks up speed when the lads commandeer a German half-track and cause havoc behind the lines in their haphazard attempt to reach Paris. Some very funny scenes and a few that might have been a lot funnier if the only subtitles I could find weren't so awful.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

BROKEN LANCE (1954) Spencer Tracy is the scion of a frontier dynasty in a fine example of the kind of empire western Hollywood seemed to be in love with in the 1950's. This sub-genre spawned TV shows like Bonanza, Big Valley and High Chaparral. Most of the drama comes from the differences between his four sons played by Robert Wagner, Richard Widmark, Hugh O'Brien and Earl Holliman. When the old man dies the siblings go to war with one another as their true natures are revealed. Big, Cinemascope entertainment and, while not a classic like THE BIG COUNTRY or THE FURIES, it's a worthy entry in the genre.

Image may contain: 4 people, people standing and hat

La Grande Vadrouille/DON'T LOOK NOW, WE'RE GETTING SHOT AT (1966) The four man crew of a British bomber gets shot down over Paris and must turn to some, often reluctant, French folks for help in escaping the Germans. A lavishly mounted wide-screen production teaming Terry-Thomas and Louis de Funès in an international production that I assume was popular in the UK and on the continent. It certainly deserved to be as it's a very funny and often suspenseful chase film with some terrific extended comedy scenes. Funès is perfect as a fussy, stuck-up symphony conductor dragooned into the underground and Thomas is in his element as a veddy English RAF pilot sporting his most outrageous mustache ever. (he's forced to trim it early in the film.) Some exciting and dangerous chase scenes including one between a farm lorry full of pumpkins and a gang of Nazis on motorcycles.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling

THE EAGLE HAS LANDED (1976) One good movie about Nazis getting their asses kicked deserves another. Adventure/Espionage flick as a team of German commandos is sent to kidnap Winston Churchill as a direct result of a Hitler rant. A sleepy English town is turned into a battlefield as the plan comes part early and US Rangers come to the rescue. Loads of actors get to strut in jackboots including Michael Caine, Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasance. Donald Sutherland plays an Irishman again to the dismay of Celts everywhere. Larry Hagman goes over the top as the over-eager commander of the Rangers and Treat Williams is effective on one of his earliest roles. It's loads of fun and features loads of great details for us WWII geeks. Someone went wild with the costuming budget for the Germans and we see a lot of outfits we don't often see in off-the-rack productions. The extended action sequence at the end is exciting and features, what I believes, are the first new gun sound effects recorded in ages. The M1s actually sound like M1s and we're even treated to an M2 in one sequence.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing

OBLIVION (2013) The Earth is in its death throes following the destruction of the Moon and subsequent invasion by aliens. Though mankind won the war they lost the planet and have fled to a moon of Saturn leaving behind a skeleton force of paramilitary technicians to maintain the giant fusion reactors that create power for the far flung colony. Or is any of that true?
Solid SF action-thriller with a keeps-you-guessing plot and some suspenseful action set pieces. Tom Cruise is excellent on all counts in a story that has real heart but never descends to manipulative Speilbergian sentiment. The pacing is perfection as the story takes it's time to draw us and divert us from the questions both we and Cruise should be asking ourselves. Some marvelous effects are used effectively in the movie without ever calling attention to themselves.


Image may contain: 1 person, cloud, sky, ocean, outdoor, nature and water


Le gendarme de Saint-Tropez (1964) A persnickety by-the-books receives a transfer to the French Riviera where he and his daughter manage to fumble their way into the attention of a gang of criminals using Saint.-Tropez as their base. Louis de Funès leads a cast of comic actors in something like a VERY Gallic, VERY 60's version of the Police Academy movies. One highlight is Louis leading his squad to arrest a beach filled with nudists who, somehow, always manage to be fully dressed when the cops arrive. Extremely popular in France, it was only the first in a long string of sequels.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing, ocean, outdoor and water

MYSTERY ROAD (2013) The murder of a young girl brings an Aborigine cop back to the outback town he grew up in. While the local cops treat it as a forgettable tragedy, Aaron Pederson sees it as part of a greater conspiracy of silence. His seemingly laconic approach to the investigation lulls both suspects and his fellow lawmen into complacency until they realize the hometown town boy is getting close to the truth.
The locations are stunning, even alien, and the movie features one of the best, and most accurate, gun battles ever put in film.
Pederson has become one of my favorite performers for this and its sequel GOLDSTONE as well as his work in TV series like THE CODE and JACK IRISH. This movie eventually spawned an excellent TV series starring Pederson and Judy Davis.
He's terrific in these slow-burn crime stories and a real presence on the screen playing the badass with a wounded heart.

Image may contain: 1 person, hat and beard

THE DETECTIVE (1968) Frank Sinatra is a NYPD homicide detective, the best on the force. The story follows him into the gay underground of the city in a search for a killer that ultimately leads him to the heart of corruption.
Released the same year as Universal's MADIGAN, this Gordon Douglas-directed cop drama attempts with greater success what the Richard Widmark film tried to do. Dealing with, for the time, edgy material such as homosexuality and police corruption, this Sinatra vehicle is not presented as a normal crime drama. It uses flashbacks and a deconstructed plot structure to create a portrait of Sinatra's character. An interesting movie that's rewarding despite it's over-ambitious efforts that lead to some slow spots in act one when all we want is to see the mystery solved. But the "solution" to the whodunnit is only the start of what is effectively a sea change in H'wood's approach to this kind of material. This movie, probably due primarily to Old Blue Eyes' chutzpah and start power, really pushes the envelope hard for the kind of material that was normally censored in American films. It tries very hard to approach the material as realistically as possible.
Two interesting asides: This was based on a novel by Roderick Thorpe. The sequel would provide the basis for DIE HARD (1988).
And this film was influential in more ways than one. As far as I can determine, this is the first appearance of what would be become a stock cop drama cliche; the prostitute being booked as part of the background color in the detective squad room.

Image may contain: one or more people

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Giddyap for movie reviews!

DABAANG (2010) Salman Khan is the toughest (and most crooked) cop in Uttar Pradesh in this full-on Bollywood action comedy. There's epic fights, gun battles, explosions and dizzying dance numbers. Khan is a huge star in India and it's not hard to see why. He's the very picture of an action movie star but is equally adept at being silly when it's called for. Though it's largely satirical, there's an underlying story about what it means to be part of a family that's quite touching and winds up fueling the bloody ending. Corruption must be a source of constant frustration with Indian movie audiences as it's so often the subject in their movies. Here the protagonist takes bribes from criminals to build the family nest egg but remains the hero because the politicians he opposes are openly murdering people to gain power. The movie is a lot of fun and gorgeously shot and Khan appears to be having the time of his life as he shoots, kicks, punches and dances his way into your heart.

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and standing

DUCK SOUP (1933) I'm not alone in considering this to be the Marx Brothers best film. It's free of the usual romantic sub-plot the studio always wanted to lumber their movies with. The musical numbers are all Marx-centric and funny. And, while Chico and Harpo were indeed accomplished instrumentalists, their scenes featuring harp and piano solos always slowed their films down and those are absent here. Instead we have some of the best byplay between Groucho and Margaret Dumont. The trial of Chico for spying with Ming the Merciless as his interrogator! "I sold the code and two pairs of plans!" The marvelous, and often imitated, mirror sequence with Groucho and Harpo. It all ends with the madcap battle sequence with Groucho changing costumes faster than Jean Harlow. And so many great comebacks, zingers, and word play.
GROUCHO: Three men and one woman are trapped in a building! Send help at once! If you can't send help, send two more women!

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing and hat

CRIMINAL (2016) High concept, high octane action thriller with Kevin Costner as a dangerous sociopath selected as the subject for an experimental surgery that transfers the memories of another man into his brain. What's at stake? Only world peace. This had the potential of being a major dog but is turned into a fine piece of crowd-pleasing entertainment with a relentless pace, lots of ups and downs, and a cast who are all-in. Costner approaches his role with a degree of gusto that's in contrast to his usual laconic screen persona and it works. He is, at all times, scary and pitiable simultaneously. It helps that the movie has a deep tragedy at its heart that causes one to care for the fate of the characters involved. Some exciting car action (free of CGI) and believable gun battles help lift this one over the top of the usual thriller offerings.

Image may contain: 4 people, people standing

THE BLACK WINDMILL (1974) Taut, lean, espionage thriller starring Michael Caine as an MI6 officer whose son is kidnapped in exchange for a cache of diamonds in the custody of her Majesty's Secret Service. Directed with no nonsense by Don Seigel from a seamless script that cranks the tension up without melodrama or hysterics. Caine is terrific in this kind of role playing a man who has to keep it together during a stressful time. Shot with a fluid camera that makes the action seem immediate and cinematography by Ousama Rawi using a dense palette of colors that really brings the film to life. Seigel's hand is apparent in the editing process as well with exciting chases and a claustrophobic gun battle at the climax.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Jason Rennie, shoes

THE HOLCROFT COVENANT (1985) Unlike the last movie I reviewed, Michael Caine is hopelessly miscast in a movie that is a total mess from beginning to end. It's almost impossible to believe that this was directed by the same guy who made THE TRAIN and RONIN. It's a flaccid thriller based on a crap novel about a cabal of Nazis who've hidden billions in cash for their heirs. Caine runs and sweats and jumps and shoots and all to no purpose that I could discern. Caine is supposed to be a wiseass making arch remarks at the times of greatest danger. This comes off as unfunny and forced every single time. And I lost count of all the times he had a gun pulled on him. Characters produce handguns out of thin air in the same way Bugs Bunny always has a stick of dynamite handy. The last instance made me laugh out loud as it was just so predictably telegraphed. Painful dialogue, tedious characters and a story that chases its tail until everyone is dead so that the movie can mercifully conclude. A brave cast does their best with simply awful material.

Image may contain: 1 person
THE ADVENTURES OF BULLWHIP GRIFFIN (1967) Always wanted to see this and, thanks to Disney Plus, I could. Roddy MacDowell is a devoted butler to a Boston Brahman family. When the scion dies leaving the family destitute, grandson Bryan Russell (in his last role before retiring from acting) sneaks away to the California gold fields with the butler and his older sister, Suzanne Pleshette, following.
It looks like Disney's idea was to do a comedy western ala the box office smash CAT BALLOU. If so, they failed on an epic scale. The mood is too arch to ever feel like more than a silly pastiche. For some reason, satires of great grandpa's favorite kind of entertainment (stage melodramas and dime novels) was a trend in H'wood movies at this time. And, as usual, Disney is late in the game with a half-hearted effort that might have been decent family entertainment if it weren't for all the "touches" the studio could never resist adding in post-production.
A typical house musical score intrudes on the action calling attention to itself. While underscoring every action with a vamp of horns, tinkle of keys or clash of a cowbell works for Mickey and Donald here it only reminds you that you're watching a mechanically produced fiction. Add to that all the goofy sound effects, silly animations, painfully on-the-nose choral narration, sped-up action and special effects flourishes and whatever fun might have been had here is dead on arrival.
And the songs are so awful that one wishes the lyricist had been beaten over the head with his won rhyming dictionary. But God bless Suzanne Pleshette who brings charm and verve to her two numbers sung as a dance hall chanteuse and in her own voice too.
MacDowell is charming as always but not for one second do we believe that he's enamored of Pleshette's character. And Karl Malden has the time of his life as the indefatigable villain, appearing in lots of different guises and making the most of his comedic opportunities.
It's a shame really. This is a well-mounted production shot on Disney's extensive western back lot (including the Zorro hacienda) and features the one thing that Disney always got right; period detail. Costuming, weaponry, tools and transportation are all richly realized and add much to the proceedings as does the vast array of "characters" serving in minor roles and as extras.
One more thing: before the movie begins on D+ there's a notice that it's been edited for content. The only edit I could spot was the word "Chinaman" edited to "_____man" on two occasions when Karl Malden is in coolie get-up.

Image may contain: 2 people, child and outdoor

GUN CRAZY (1950) This one is considered to be an American noir classic and often makes it onto any list of top film noir movies. I hate to say this, I really do, but this movie's time has passed. Except for a snapshot of quaint ideas about psychology at the time, this flick hasn't aged well. I'm sure it it was shocking in its day. The scenes where a camera is mounted in the back seat as the two leads are casing banks or on the run are still vivid, exciting and, if anything, more exciting as the years go by. But the rest of the film is sadly dated with all the usual scenes of authority figures moralizing, a mawkish scene in a nightclub to promote the movie's signature song ("Mad About You" Get it?) and a protracted manhunt through the wilderness. Still worth viewing but, if you've never seen it before, don't expect it to live up to its reputation.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing and outdoor

THE FIRST KING (2019) The legend of Romulus and Rhemus retold as the bloodiest, muddiest peplum ever made. And this is one peplum that could have used more pep. The opening, with harrowing flash flood and the two brothers forced into combat with one another as part of a sacrifice to a vestal, is exciting and makes us believe we're in for a bloody good time. But from there the movie literally wanders down to the Tiber in its own sweet time with the brothers philosophizing about the will the gods and their place in history. These two guys, a pair of shepherds, have an awfully inflated opinion of themselves that only gets more bloated as it moves along from one scene of witless violence to another.
And unless you're a Roman history buff, the significance of a lot of what goes on will be meaningless. I for one was disappointed that only one of the Velians was wearing a wolfshead even though they are referred to as "the wolfsheads" by the characters in the story. And the Alabans suddenly have horses at the end of the movie where they had none before. And the horses are decidedly not the size and breed anyone on the Italian peninsula would have had almost three thousand years ago. One character also carries a gladius sword. Way too soon for that.
An unusual production that deserves credit for trying. And the decision to have all the dialogue in Latin was an interesting choice.

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

THE INDIAN FIGHTER (1955) Kirk Douglas as famed frontiersman tasked with leading a wagon train through Indian country. His fatal decision to take a detour to visit an Indian maid (the absolutely gorgeous Elsa Martinelli of the Paisano Sioux) doom the settlers and a nearby cavalry fort. The Indians have been stirred up by a pair of whiskey traders played by Walter Matthau and Lon Chaney.
An early CinemaScope picture with all the long, lingering, warped, pan shots of that format's typical features. Untypical of those early 'scope efforts is director Andre DeToth's use of multiple camera angles and (for CinemaScope) fluid edits. DeToth seemed to be able to master any new format thrown at him. He was was also the director of the first 3D movie.
It's all exciting, manly stuff with loads of amazing Oregon scenery and enough knife fights and shoot-em-up for the boys and enough shots of a barely clothed Martinelli for the dads.

Image may contain: 2 people, tree and outdoor

FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964) I know, as a boomer nerd, it's sacrilege to say this, but I've never been much of a Ray Harryhausen fan. Even as a kid, while I loved the monster scenes, I didn't care much for the characters or stories. The mythic movies about Sinbad or Jason were just excuses for "Hey, look at that!" effects scenes that interrupted rather than carried the story. And when the "wow" scene was over the movies would return to tedious, predictable stories loaded with ham actors. But this flick, based on the H.G. Wells novel, is the exception. Here, Harryhausen does more than stop action and has to create an entire panorama of effects shots, matte paintings, pyrotechnics and miniatures that is fully integrated into the story. For sheer scale and inventiveness, this is his best work by far.
After a terrific start, the finding of a Union Jack on the lunar surface by the "first" astronauts to land there, the movie drops into idle for the rest the first act. Pointless Victorian folderol involving chicanery with the deed to a house, a temperamental furnace and a lover's spat have the story spinning its wheels all in a contrived effort to get Martha Hyer aboard the moon capsule. While watching it I thought of a half dozen better ideas involving Russian spies, irate Luddite neighbors or Her Majesty's Secret Service.
But, once the trip to the Moon begins the movie picks up speed and doesn't let up until the end. We're treated to a sub-lunar labyrinth of tunnels, a civilization of insectoid Moon people, giant caterpillars, cave-ins, mysterious alien science and action set pieces in a world of sheer wonder. This is a special effects tour-de-force.
This movie should have been a classic. It should be better remembered. And if it wasn't for the silly Disney movie type opening act, it would probably be as well regarded as George Pal's TIME MACHINE and WAR OF THE WORLDS.
Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

THE FRESHMAN (1925) Harold Lloyd in a rambunctious college comedy about a young man with an unrealistic idea of what life in higher education is about. He's a clueless nerd so determined to be the Big Man on Campus that he becomes the butt of a joke known to all but him when he's told he made the football team when he's only the waterboy. Lloyd if charming, funny and sympathetic as he always he is. He's aided by his most frequent co-star, comic actress Jobyna Ralston who is, as she always was, sweet, long-suffering and knowing.
Lloyd stays on the ground for this one but is not out of danger as the football action is rough and tumble and a lot of the stunts look every bit as dangerous as dangling from high ledges or racing a horse-drawn trolley. In one scene, the teams practice dummy breaks and Harold volunteers to replace it getting tackled over and over again in a scene that had to have left him bruised head to toe.
The football game climax is rousing and suspenseful and a marvelous job of recreating the random events of sports. Nothing surreal or silly is added to the action other than Lloyd's superhuman ability to take punishment and conceal his athleticism as epic klutziness. The man was his own special effect.
The version I watched was a restoration by the National Film Archive and it looks wonderful with the timing corrected, contrast and clarity restored and tinting done to perfection. For once, tax dollars well spent.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people sitting and indoor

TIGER HOUSE (2015) Taut little home invasion thriller from South Africa. Teenager Kaya Scodelario slips into her boyfriend's house to hook up and becomes the monkey wrench in the gears for a quintet of brutal thugs who arrive in the dead of night. Unusual for flicks like this, the heroine's skills are explained in a way that isn't contrived or forced. A thoughtful hide and seek story filled to the brim with suspenseful moments, satisfying turnarounds and a few nasty twists. My only quibble is that, from my understanding, most private homes in SA (with its Mad Max level crime rates) are virtual fortresses but this home seems like a sitting duck.

Image may contain: 1 person, night

THE ODD ANGRY SHOT (1979) A year in the life of an Aussie serving in Vietnam. More a portrait than an action flick with only a few actual exchanges with the enemy. We see the unit come together and build bonds of trust through long period of monotony interrupted by moments of terror. An astonishing amount of Fosters is downed in miserable conditions. There's not much to say about the story as it's merely a series of episodes showing the mates fighting, fornicating and getting plastered. Through it all we see a story of heart, disillusionment and loss. Most memorable is the bittersweet homecoming that closes the film.

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting, child, tree and outdoor

L'aventure, c'est l'aventure/MONEY, MONEY,MONEY (1972) Claude LeLouch directs this crime farce about a gang of crooks (including Lino Ventura and Jacques Brel) determine that the real money is in politics. They begin robbing, kidnapping and hi-jacking in the name of the revolution and extort cash from Marxists, Maoists and terrorists in return for serving the cause. Though definitely a comedy, and it DOES get silly, this movie has something on its mind that resonates today as the world of ideologies and the world of money are intermingled more than ever. LeLouch directs in a laid-back "we'll get there" style and I suspect that much of the cast's shenanigans were improvised. But it's all fun with lots of clever tangents taken and a real sense of a camaraderie among the five leads.

Bleak Australian revenge story that starts out mean and wends its way down the vengeance highway all the way to outright brutal. We don't learn much about the protagonist other than he's single-minded and very good with tools. But we do follow him through every step of his planned payback on the men who raped and murdered his daughter as well as anyone even remotely involved. He has a long list that gets longer as he makes new enemies along the way. The story wisely eschews an "origin" for the character and, instead, we join him as he's well into his rampage. If you like seeing bad guys suffer (REALLY suffer) at the hands of a believable guy who's no kind of superhero then check this out. It's firmly in the Jeremy Saulnier or Craig Zahler zone of film-making.

Image may contain: one or more people and indoor

THE WICKED LADY (1983) Faye Dunaway as a brazen schemer in 17th Century England. Highwaymen, chases, strumpets, rogues, capering, drunkenness and fights abound including a coach whip fight between Dunaway and Marina Sirtis. Lady Skelton betrays her husband and any shred of decency as she robs, murders and rogers her way across the lush landscape of Old Blighty. What might have been a classic in the hands of Richard Lester or Tony Richardson becomes a kind of grindhouse Henry Fielding in the hands of Michael Winner. Not too surprising as this was produced by Cannon and thus is loaded with pointless and protracted sex scenes and gratuitous nudity. Beautifully lensed by Jack Cardiff, the whole affair has a the subtlety of a Chuck Norris movie. A fine cast of British thespians do their best while Dunaway overacts shamelessly, mugging and eye-rolling and leering for the back benches.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

OSCAR (1991) What a surprise this turned out to be! I've long heard this movie maligned and never had any interest in seeing it. A favorable review by Sean Burnham here on FB made me want to check it out and I'm glad I did.
Sylvester Stallone is a depression era gangster having the most eventful morning of his life in this expertly crafted homage to classic Hollywood comedies. Mistaken identities, multiple matching suitcases and a web of lies lead from one epic complication to another. By the deathbed of his father (played by Kirk Douglas!) Sly vows to fly straight. But a wayward daughter and crooked accountant may make going legit impossible.
An assemblage of comic actors are here to help Sly make this movie a charming, and often very funny, farce. The dialogue exchanges are marvelous and everyone seems to be having the time of their lives. Martin Ferraro and Harry Shearer stand out as the Finucci Brothers as does Kurtwood Smith in the kind of role James Gleason was famous for back in the day. The cast even includes Eddie Bracken who starred in a few of these kinds of flicks back in the 40s.

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing

ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968) Alistair MacLean's cold war thriller gets a big screen, epic treatment. A Soviet satellite, with film of a sensitive nature on board, falls out of orbit over the North Pole. A US submarine races under the icecap for the titular outpost with one or more traitors aboard.
Rock Hudson is stolid in the role of the sub skipper. Patrick McGoohan plays his usual acerbic, cryptic spy character. Ernie Borgnine has a ball playing a gregarious Russkie. And Jim Brown is badass as a hard-nosed USMC captain.
The story takes its time getting to the station but, for me anyway, the details of life aboard a nuclear sub are engaging and the actors verbal sparring keeps the tension taut.
If you're familiar with MacLean then you know what to expect; a story fraught with physical danger and continuous betrayals and reversals of fortune. The submarine effects are consistently impressive where the aircraft sequences are not. But it's good, rainy Sunday afternoon adventure stuff.
Two asides on this one. The movie features an entirely male cast. There's not one female cast member seen or even mentioned. At this point, H'wood had moved past the demands that there always be a woman in the story in order to draw the ladies ton the box office, operating under the theory that women wanted to see movies about other women. This led to ludicrous lengths taken to include actresses in the casts of war flicks, SF movies and westerns primarily aimed at a male audience in the hopes that sticking Martha Hyer or Debra Paget on the poster might make Mom or Sis want to see the movie too.
Also, in his final days, this was Howard Hughes' favorite movie. He had his own 70mm print and would have it screened almost daily for months on end. I have a personal theory of what he was so enamored of this movie. The story mirrors his own personal adventure thwarting the commies. If you've never heard of the vessel Glomar Explorer, look it up. It's right out of a MacLean or Cussler novel and actually happened.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing

NAKED ALIBI (1954) Sterling Hayden is a cop so convinced of Gene Barry's guilt in a series of police killings that he follows Barry to a seedy town on the Mexican border. Gloria Grahame is the femme fatale you hired when you couldn't afford Ida Lupino and she's in great form here alternatively tough and vulnerable. A fine film noir that moves along at a good clip.The best part for me is having Chuck Connors as Hayden's sidekick. Who wouldn't have loved a series of flicks with these two paired as badass detectives?

Image may contain: 2 people, child and night

I AM SARTANA, YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH (1969) Gianni Garko is Sartana, the best dressed of all the spaghetti western anti-heroes. he's a gunfighter and a gambler and settles his differences with a deck of cards or his weird little revolver he wears in a vest pocket. In this first film of the series, someone has stolen Sartana's identity to commit a bank robbery and our hero won't be satisfied until that guy, his gang, his family and anyone else standing in range is gunned down, trampled or blown up. Lots of gunplay, punch-ups and sweaty guys trash-talking each other in smoky bar rooms. Klaus Kinski is along to set the sleazy bar for the rest of the bad guys.

Image may contain: one or more people

BORDERLAND (2007) Effective no-budget thriller about three high school pals who run into trouble with a Santeria cult south of the border. Not for the squeamish as it adds heavy horror elements to what is ostensibly a crime thriller. Well acted and crafted with skill to put, I suspect, every dime of the budget o the screen.

Image may contain: 2 people, night

BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE (1958) The first of five westerns that Randolph Scott produced for Columbia with director Budd Boetticher and writer Burt Kennedy. I only recently learned that this was based on one of a series of paperback novels about Tom Buchanan. I had a chance to read a couple and they're quite good. The novels were the result of Gold Medal assigning writer William Ard to re-write his own hard-boiled crime novels as westerns under the pen name Jonas Ward. Anyhow, Scott is an aimless drifter who gets onto trouble in a border town and is just ornery enough to stick around to see justice done. The original crime tropes of the novels show through the western plot with shifts in loyalty, a criminal conspiracy and a corrupt town beyond the reach of redemption. Scott plays his wry, wise-ass persona in this one in contrast to the more dour, world-weary gunfighter he would play in his next four films.

Image may contain: 2 people, outdoor

RIDICULE (1996) A movie that leaves the viewer with a lot to think about. In the French court of the Age of Reason, intellectual discourse gives way to sophistry and word play. Wit is valued over substance and mockery becomes a deadly art form leading to ruined lives, murder and suicide. Does any of this sound familiar? This amazingly prescient film shows the irony of an informed populace consumed with the desire to have the last word at the cost of civil discourse and the open exchange of ideas. Gorgeously photographed with the keen eye for detail that marks most French period pieces.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, night, child and closeup

Spasti Leningrad/BATTLE OF LENINGRAD (2019) Moving, suspenseful war movie about the evacuation of the populace of Leningrad via barges towed across Lake Ladoga as well as the soldiers and civilians tasked with covering the retreat. Grim and fatalistic as all Russian war movies tend to be but populated with a cast of characters to care about. The effects are uniformly excellent and the action scenes well staged. And, like most Russian movies about WWII, this story presents the downside of Soviet society while exalting the personal courage of the people. The original Russian title, Saving Leningrad, is more accurate as this movie doesn't present an overview of the German siege of 1941.

Image may contain: one or more people, outdoor and water

IF YOU MEET SARTANA...PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH (1968) Two businessmen and a Mexican general are playing a shell game with a shipment of gold and Gianni Garko as Sartana puts himself into the mix along with wild cards William Berger and Klaus Kinski. This is the first of the five film series featuring the cool breeze clotheshorse that is Sartana, a mysterious gunman who favors a four-shot (or is it five?) custom pistol he keeps in his vest pocket. This one features one betrayal after another as the bodies pile up in the streets. It's all the sweating, grunting and wholesale slaughter you need in a B-grade macaroni western.

Image may contain: one or more people and beard

THE TIME MACHINE (2002) The classic H.G. Wells story gets the Dreamworks treatment which means it's lumbered with an unnecessary emotional arc, mawkish and obvious attempts at humor and dull action set pieces in place of any kind of real suspense. Guy Pearce is wasted in a vapid version of this SF classic that won't replace the far better George Pal version of 1960. The original film, like the novel, remains thought-provoking and inventive. This movie reveals the blinkered worldview of its creators. The hero's vantage of the future of the world is literally only what he can see from an alley in Manhattan. What he can see there is that everyone in the future of 2030 will ride bicycles and uniformly ignore advertisements shouting at them from the sides of buildings. The dystopic far future he finds himself marooned in is the result of an attempt to mine the Moon for minerals. Exactly how that leads to the human race mutating into two distinct branches is unclear and the resolution of the movie is simply awful. Forgettable tripe.

Image may contain: 1 person

Faites sauter la banque/LET'S ROB THE BANK (1964) Popular French comic actor Louis de Funès is a store owner cheated of his life's savings by an unscrupulous banker. His solution is to dig a tunnel from the basement of his sporting goods store into the vault if the bank across the street. He enlists his wife and kids who turn it into a family project. Of course complications ensue with funny and suspenseful results. It's all fun and breezy and not to be taken at all seriously. Funès' appeal is easy to understand as he plays the put-upon everyman deriving laughs with impeccable timing, subtle facial expressions and kinetic body language. And, from a writing standpoint, I have to admire how they resolved all of the conflicts and problems in as neat a way as possible.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing

GUN BROTHERS (1956) Buster Crabbe and Neville Brand are brothers in this no-budget western programmer that's pretty darned good. Buster is fresh out of the cavalry and ready to join his brother in a Wyoming cattle venture. But Neville's more of a rustler than a rancher and Buster is torn between family loyalty and the law. Some solid suspense moments and top drawer acting for a mostly set-bound cheapie. Michael Ansara is despicable as a villain and Slim Pickens is along as well. All under the sure hand of TV and movie vet Sidney Salkow.

Image may contain: 3 people, hat

6 UNDERGROUND (2019) I don't know where to begin on this Netflix collaboration with Michael Bay. Ryan Reynolds, playing exactly the same character he always plays, is a billionaire who fakes his own death to form a small unit of talented operatives who have also all faked their own deaths. Why? So no one can go after the loved ones they leave behind. Not a bad idea except that they make absolutely no effort to hide their identities and the bad guys who are the subject of their first mission determine who they are early on. This is just the start of a series of the confounding and consternating elements that populate this noisy, frantic and inane exercise in distraction.
The objective of this elite unit is regime change because of a fictional dictator's poison gas attack on his own people. This is based on the widely de-bunked story about gas attacks in Syria. Our heroes also falsely believe that regime change is always for the best even though there's ZERO reason to believe that the "democratic" leader they seek to install will be any better than the louse they're ousting. If the last hundred years has taught us anything it's that regime change (with the exception of ending the Third Reich and Imperial Japan) almost always leads to worse.
Aside from all that, this movie relentlessly treats us to one fast-cut action sequence after another with a shocking disregard for collateral damage. The good guys in this film are responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths as they lead chases and instigate firefights in heavily populated areas. All for the greater good I suppose. Or maybe because they're just too-cool-for-school, gun-toting, thrill-seeking sociopaths.
All is accompanied by dialogue loaded with pop culture references when it's not simply lifting lines wholesale from other movies. It's as if it was written using Facebook posts. Maybe it was.
It's all exhausting rather than exhilarating and populated by characters I couldn't get engaged in. Partly because they're written as ciphers and partly because they're cartoon characters who suffer mortal injuries only to pop up seconds later to perform astonishing feats of athleticism. Hard to take any of it seriously enough to invest emotion in.
Worst of all is the total waste of Mélanie Laurent in a role as a gunslinging badass that deserved to be in a much better movie than this.
I don't think I've ever seen so much money, so much time and so much talent wasted on so little.

Image may contain: outdoor

LIGHTNING JACK (1994) Paul Hogan uses the last five minutes of his fame to make a western written by himself. I have to say I admire him for that. Why not shoot for that dream project in the twilight of your popularity? And he apparently financed it through a kind of early crowdfunding by selling shares in the movie. Goo on ya, mate. What he produces is a fun western adventure with a light touch and good action scenes. Fellow Aussie Simon Wincer directs with his usual skills for the genre on display. Cuba Gooding Jr. makes the most of his role as a mute sidekick and manages a few laughs. And Roger Daltry has a cameo as a vile gunfighter.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, hat and beard

DRAGNET (1987) The movie that launched the (mostly) regrettable tradition of big screen adaptions of well-known television series. A mixed-bag of comedy moments with little effort to create any kind of plot. Dan Ackroyd indulges himself in an imitation of Jack Webb and Tom Hanks whoops, yelps and hollers as a character created only to snark at every opportunity. It's only fitfully funny and wears out its welcome quickly and seems presented with no real point of view on anything. It's not parody or pastiche or any other discernible form of comedy other than a loosely joined series of gags leading to the least exciting gun battle ever put on film. It would be a year before NAKED GUN would show how this kind of movie should be done.

Image may contain: 2 people, hat

MR. MOTO'S GAMBLE (1938) Peter Lorre as the detective/adventurer Moto finds himself embroiled in a murder mystery committed during a heavyweight championship bout. Always a fun series and this one is no exception. Fast paced sleuthing stuff with clever twists, snappy dialogue and quite a few laughs. And this one is a crossover with the appearance of Charlie Chan's number one son (played by Keye Luke) as one of Moto's students. Also features Ward Bond as a boxer and Slapsy Maxie Rosenbloom providing comedy relief. I've been informed that this was actually intended as a Charlie Chan movie but re-written for Lorre when regular Chan actor Warner Oland became ill. 
Image may contain: 4 people, people sitting and suit


SARTANA'S HERE...TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN (1970) Third entry in the official series (there were dozens of unauthorized knock-offs). Once again, Sartana (this time played by George Hilton) is after a shipment of gold that's never where it's rumored to be. The usual huge bodycount, traitorous females, scheming businessmen and vile bandits. The odd addition here is a character named Sabata. Not the "man with the gunsight eyes" played by Lee Van Cleef but a fey mama's boy who favors a pink and white outfit and rides with a parasol over his head. I guess naming him for the uber-macho Van Cleef character is a kind of inside joke.

Image may contain: one or more people

THE DUCHESS AND THE DIRTWATER FOX (1976) I'm always wary of movies with "cute" titles like this and this one proves the rule. George Segal is a crooked gambler and Goldie Hawn is a scheming prostitute in this comedy western that relies on the tee-hee variety of sex jokes and the brittle chemistry of the leads to carry it along. I really don't miss the days when H'wood had a real fascination with whores. Back in the 70's, an actress wasn't considered "serious" until they'd played a sex worker. Anyway, this mess of a chase story has a few moments but is marred by coincidences, chance and the characters' often unwarranted change of heart. And, like way too many westerns following that Newman/Redford thing, this one is lumbered with a syrupy pop song played over a romantic interlude. Lemon Drops, Lollipops and Sunbeams sung by Bobby Vinton. That saccharine enough for you

Image may contain: 2 people, indoor

Les tontons flingueurs/MONSIEUR GANGSTER (1963) This one has the kind of solid concept that makes me wonder why it never got an American remake. Gangster Lino Ventura is asked by a dying pal to take over the his rackets and to watch over his wild child teenage daughter. Of course, every leader in the gang is itching to take over the top spot and willing to kill their way to the head of the table. It's all far too French for me and bumps along at an uncertain pace brightened up by some funny comedy set pieces. Ventura is, of course, perfect in his patented put-upon tough guy role and comic actor Jean Lefebvre is really growing on me.
Image may contain: 2 people
ROMMEL (2017) German-produced TV movie about the final seven months of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's life. From the failed defense of the French beaches to his frustrations with other members of the general staff and, finally, his entanglement with the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler. Well done within the confines of a television budget with the benefit of using the actual locations. It explains with clarity, and a palpable sense of dread, Rommel's part in the Valkyrie conspiracy and what a too-clever-by-half effort that was.

Image may contain: 1 person, standing and outdoor

MR. MOTO'S LAST WARNING (1939) Moto is deep undercover in Port Said to uncover a plot by "a certain foreign power" to destroy the French Mediterranean fleet and close the Suez Canal! What the indefatigable crime-fighter runs up against is a dastardly spy ring ruin by the un-funniest ventriloquist ever. One narrow escape after another as Moto out-wits, out-moves and out-judos the bad guys in the service of international law and order. George Sanders and John Carradine are along as heavies.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people sitting

THE TWO-HEADED SPY (1958) Cracking good spy drama with Jack Hawkins as a British agent operating as a general in the Wehrmacht supply chain. It's the largely exaggerated true story of Alec Scotland who was embedded with the German army for decades. There's plenty of tense moments as Hawkins risks exposure every second of every day. Features one of the most brutal torture scenes I can recall; made all the worse for leaving the details up to one's own imagination. Donald Pleasance is is usual creepy self in a small role and a very young Michael Caine in a blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance.

Image may contain: 1 person

PURPLE NOON (1960) Rene Clement adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's first Tom Ripley novel knows when to get out of the way and let the story tell itself. For those unfamiliar with the series of novels, Tom Ripley is an ex-pat American who seems free of any kind of moral compass and is willing to commit almost any crime, on the spur of the moment, that might benefit him. He's like a predator, with only his own survival in mind, let loose on civilization. Alain Delon is pitch perfect as Ripley and wisely plays him without a hint through facial expressions or body language of what a sociopath monster Ripley is. We see him through his actions only. Set against gorgeous scenery which only makes what happens all the more shocking.
Image may contain: ocean, sky, water, outdoor and nature

THE ONE (2001) It's Jet Li versus Jet Li in this sci-fi punch-up dealing with parallel universes. The gag is that evil Jet grows stronger with each of the alternate dimension versions of himself he kills. His aim is to become the only one of himself and thus gain the powers of a god. He kills nerd Jets and preppie Jets and even a blonde Jet named Sven! He runs into trouble when he shows up in our dimension and meets his match in nice-guy cop Jet. Lots of explosions and iffy wire effects along with a few really good Jet vs Jet fights. Kind of a Dollar Store Terminator movie from Glen Morgan and James Wong that I'm willing to bet started life as an X-Files episode like their far-more successful FINAL DESTINATION franchise. Added bonus" Jason Statham with hair!

Image may contain: 1 person, dancing, standing, shoes, child and outdoor

WOMAN CHASES MAN (1937) Adorable Miriam Hopkins is looking for work and has set her sights high. She wants to be the lead architect on a housing project dreamed up by Charles Winninger. Trouble is that the family fortune needed to finish the project is in a trust held by Winninger's tightwad son played by Joel McCrea, Breezy and fun with a uniformly fine cast. I have to wonder if Preston Sturges did and script doctoring here because so much of a dialogue has his ring. All-in-all and excellent screwball comedy that deserves to be better known.
Image may contain: 2 people, outdoor

IRMA LA DOUCE (1963) Jack Lemmon is a Paris cop who loses his badge and becomes a pimp who becomes enamored with prostitute Shirley MacLaine. This passed for light entertainment in the early 60's. I have never understood Hollywood's fascination with hookers as subject matter for movies. I watch movies from the world over and nowhere but in American cinema will you find these Cinderella fables about whores. These are fantasies about "sex workers" that take place in a world free of sexually transmitted disease, drugs, violence and abuse. It confounds me how Billy Wilder could make something this misguided after making a film that more maturely contemplates the shifting sexual mores of the time two years earlier. THE APARTMENT also starring Lemmon and MacClaine. The film is shot as a kind of musical comedy without the music with characters prancing around in bright costumes against a a drab (and actually filthy) background. The comedy is forced, the scenes go on too long and everyone appears to be straining with the thin material.

Image may contain: 2 people, hat and indoor

Mort d'un pourr/DEATH OF A CORRUPT MAN (1977) Alain Delon in a violent political thriller involving a stolen file detailing corruption at the highest levels of the French government. Alain is on the run as well as trying to protect Ornella Muti from murderers with orders to find the file and kill anyone who's seen it. Good stuff with some great car and truck stunts by Reme Juiienne. This one's a departure from director Georges Lautner and a far cry from the kind of caper comedies he was making prior to this. Also features Klaus Kinski doing his creepy thing and Lautner regular Mirielle Darc as Delon's girlfriend.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

ABSOLUTE POWER (1997) Professional burglar Clint Eastwood is the unintended witness to a high crime committed by a public official and he becomes the target of the Secret Service, the DC police and a hired killer. Clint directs this film version of David Baldacci's potboiler novel with a smart script by William Goldman. Told without melodrama or unnecessary action scenes and a top drawer cast that includes Gene Hackman, Laura Linney, Scot Glen, Judy Davis and Ed Harris.
I was admiring the dialogue touches sprinkled throughout and recognized Goldman "reversal" style before being reminded that this was his screenplay in the end credits.
Example:

Gloria Russell: Bill, I need you to examine her.
Bill Burton: I'm no gynecologist.
Gloria Russell: I just made you one!

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting, people eating, table, food and indoor

TARZAN AND THE SHE-DEVIL (1953) Lex Barker's final swing on the vine as Tarzan fits right into the formula of all the previous films in the series. Ivory poachers turned slavers led by Monique Van Vooren (the she-devil of the title) invades Tarzan's jungle and you know he's not having any of that. He gets especially irritated when he thinks Jane has died when their tree-house is burned to the ground by the bad guys. That's an element borrowed from an early Burroughs novel. We get everything we want in a Tarzan movie, fights, chimpanzee high-jinks, elephant stampedes and Tarzan establishing himself once again as fictions baddest badass. Van Vooren is aided by henchmen Raymond Burr and Tom Conway and. curiously, a tribe of white Africans who look like they might have taken the wrong turn at Albuquerque.

Image may contain: tree, outdoor and nature


ONCE UPON A HONEYMOON (1943) Cary Grant is a reporter covering Europe as Nazism is on the rise and the German army is on the march. He falls for American golddigger Ginger Rogers who doesn't realize that her titles fiance, Walter Slezak, is a closet Hitler-lover. What follows is part romantic comedy, part spy thriller and all war propaganda. But it's entertaining propaganda with a witty script, charming cast and some real suspense moments. My favorite is Rogers in disguise as a hotel maid in order to give two stormtroopers the slip. She's running a sweeper over the rug on her way out and is determined not to miss a spot even if it means the bad guys have to lift their jackboots to let her by. A nice little bit of improv there, Miss Rogers.

Image may contain: 2 people, flower and outdoor

THE HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT (1960) Another example of the once-popular and now extinct service comedy. This time it's Jim Hutton who's transferred to a remote island to hunt for a Japanese hold-out. He has to leave behind a cushy posting on Hawaii where he's been dating Army nurse Paula Prentiss. Talk about sacrificing for the war effort. There's the usual bumbling officers and 4-F reject characters. Charles McGraw, tough guy actor, gets some choice lines as the gruff base commander and Jim Backus is his always-reliable country club nitwit. But the funniest scenes go to Yoshio Yoda (Fuji from McHALE'S NAVY) as a womanizing Nisei soldier. When I was a kid we loved Fuji and here he gives further examples of why. His comedic timing is impeccable and he totally nails the role of the sometimes-clueless, sometimes-brilliant outlier character. This movie also teams Hutton and Prentiss once again and it's not hard to see why. Both being tall and slender they make a cute couple and have such a real on-screen chemistry that audiences assumed they were married in real life.

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting

A VERY HONORABLE GUY (1934) Joe E. Brown is 'Feet' Samuels, a gambler and Broadway loafer in this adaption of a Damon Runyon story. Feet enters into a deal to sell his brain to science with a thirty day deadline underwritten by a loan shark that our hero is in debt to. Everything that could go wrong (and right) happens in a story that has real suspense and high stakes that would have worked in a dramatic thriller. Through the 1930's Joe E. Brown was the Warner Brothers' big comedy star. His very American character, a boastful rube with a good heart and tireless ambition, endeared him to audiences in these well-plotted comedy features. In every instance these short features, running a little more than a hour, had solid and engaging storylines for Brown to riff off of.

Image may contain: 1 person, hat

ZODIAC (2007) David Fincher's telling of the true crime story of the Zodiac killer who terrorized California for two decades becomes a crime epic in the director's careful hands. We go along with cops and newspaper reporters who struggle to uncover the identity of the infuriating and frustrating serial killer. The first time I saw this movie I didn't care for it. I was driven to return to it after enjoying Fincher's work on the excellent Netflix series Mindhunters. I didn't fully see the through story here until my second viewing the other night. The movie is an earnest telling of the enduring mystery of the murderer who was just as likely to lie as to kill. The movie is populated by marvelous, restrained performances by Jake Gyllenhal, Robert Downey Jr, Donal Logue and Mark Ruffalo. The period detail is uniformly excellent and there's even touches of humor (cop humor) in the story that are not out of place. Now I'm curious about the director's cut.

Image may contain: 1 person, night and outdoor

MADIGAN (1968) Richard Widmark is Dan Madigan, a tough New York cop who doesn't play by the rules. Henry Fonda is his former precinct captain now police commander. Widmark and his partner (Harry Guardino) have their guns stolen by a thug and spend the rest of the movie trying to find them. As plot lines go, this one is pretty lame. It's gussied up by pointless sub-plots about adultery and NYPD politics.
A failed attempt to make a realistic cop drama and a genre that had run out of steam on the big screen in the mid-50s. Shot on location (in a whiter New York City than I've ever seen) with side trips to the always-unconvincing Universal backlot. In fact, this looks very much like typical output from the studio at the time; scenes too "hot" and TV-friendly frame compositions and a simply awful over-dramatic musical score. Don Siegel, who made better policiers before this and would after, is lumbered with a screenplay that betrays its fiction-by-the-pound potboiler novel roots. Hard to believe that this came out the same year as BULLITT and we'd have to wait three more years for THE FRENCH CONNECTION.


Image may contain: 3 people, people standing

TIMECRIMES (2007) In this Spanish SF film an everyday schmo finds himself trapped in the loops of a time paradox when he travels to the next day only to discover that he was the cause of the events that happened the day before. Twisty, turny, creepy, mind-bending and entirely engaging slow-boil thriller that will keep you working out the puzzle long after the end credits roll.

Image may contain: one or more people, tree, eyeglasses and outdoor

DRAGONSLAYER (1981) Serfs travel far to hire a wizard to relieve them of the dragon that plagues their manor. But they have to be satisfied with the work of his young apprentice who is soon at odds with those in the kingdom who prefer the status quo of appeasing the dragon in exchange for an uneasy peace. How rare is a fantasy movie set in a fully realized historical context? This movie takes great pains to make this world of wizards and dragons as believable as possible and efforts are impressive. Excellent acting throughout, including Ralph Richardson in a marvelous turn as the aging sorcerer. There's also, for the time, amazing effects sequences using a new type of stop-motion animation call "go-motion" in which every other frame is blurred in order to lose the strobing effect that so often mars these kinds of scenes. The dragon of the title is indeed awesome and very scary at times leading to some terrific suspense moments.
I saw this one at a special preview and went on cold knowing nit a single thing about it. We weren't even allowed to see the movie's poster or know the cast or genre. Always a great way to see a movie; zero expectations and you get in free. This particular experience was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise.


Image may contain: 1 person

RAMBO: LAST BLOOD (2019) John Rambo takes on a human trafficking cartel. I could end the review here but I won't. This is a pure action film wedded to a kind of reverse horror film where we're rooting for the slasher. Lean, dour, bleak and nasty, this movie delivers everything Rambo fans expect and then some. And, thankfully, it does not end in one of those protracted one-on-one fights in which we're supposed to worry if the good guy will win or not. Nope. Rambo just effing punishes these creeps for a good twenty minutes. Hurts so good.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup and outdoor

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) To discuss the plot of this film to any significant degree would taint the experience of anyone who hasn’t seen it. Suffice it to say that this story of the Manson family and the Summer of Love in 1969 California is the feel-good movie of the year. Quentin Tarantino had a lot to make up to me after the abomination that was THE HATEFUL 8. Well, the crazy son-of-a-bitch did it with what is, despite the inevitable descent into glorious exploitation trash, his most mature film. On the surface it’s the director’s most self-indulgent film making it perhaps the most self-indulgent movie in cinema history. But as I revel in the same lowbrow pop culture morass that he does, I will forgive him all day long. And when someone panders to themselves to such a painstaking degree, we can all take it as his gift to all of us. For all of that, he shows real restraint in scenes that would have been cheapened by the tricks and tropes he used in his previous grand grindhouse homage efforts. Scenes of Sharon Tate privately basking in her “moment” in the movie biz are presented without foreboding or telegraphing. Yet, a visit to the Spahn movie ranch stands up there with the Bates Motel or Dracula’s castle for rising suspense and that sweet “get out of there!” feeling. I will say no more about story.
From a sheer technical aspect this movie is a marvel. The OCD-precise recreation of Hollywood in August of 1969 deserves applause all on its own. A massive physical and artistic effort as it’s done with an absolute minimum of CGI as are all of the stunt effects. The whole movie is seen through candy-colored lenses but never devolves into a delirium. Even an acid trip is only seen in the body language of the actor experiencing it. This is end of the 60’s as a nostalgia trip free of melancholy, overdoses, sexual abuse and disease and all of that is made crystal clear by the astonishing conclusion of this magnum opus.


Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting, dog, shoes and indoor

THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (2018) A space-based experiment to create an alternate energy for a fuel-starved Earth goes awry and creates a melding of two parallel worlds. It's a decent enough SF flick with an okay cast, some suspenseful moments and one very clever death scene. And as much as I love Chris O'Dowd, his role as comic relief manages to defuse any building tension the story might have had. The movie has a weird history as it started out as a movie called GOD PARTICLE until someone decided to wedge it into the Cloverfield franchise. The opposite of what they did with THE QUIET PLACE last year. It was also meant to be released theatrically but Parmaount decided to offer it to Netflix instead where it remains to this day.

Image may contain: 2 people

THE TRAIN (1964) A network of rail workers do all they can to stop a train full of France's greatest paintings stolen by the Nazis from reaching Germany in the days before the fall of Paris. Burt Lancaster leads a mostly French cast in an epic thriller loaded with suspense moments and indelible characters. And Burt is here doing most of his own stunts and some of them look quite dangerous. IS there a safe way to fall off a moving train?
The details of how they use their expertise at running (and stopping) trains is as fascinating as it is inventive including a few incredible, full scale locomotive collisions. John Frankenheimer directs from a terse, lean script and chooses to shoot the movie in black and white which only adds to the immediacy of what we're experiencing. I think is the last new-release "A" picture not shot in color that I saw in a theater until PAPER MOON.


Image may contain: 1 person, standing and outdoor

THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) A New York vice cop with a nose for wrongdoing uncovers an international conspiracy to ship a load of heroin into New York in the 1960s.
It's hard to overestimate the effect this movie had on how crime films would be made in the USA going forward. It literally changed everything about how police and criminals were portrayed in every thriller that followed on the big and little screen.
Director William Friedkin put himself on the map by basing his film on a true story with a punchy, script by Ernest Tidyman and borrowing the storytelling style of French auteur Jean-Pierre Melville. A "French" connection in more ways than one.
Popeye and Cloudy are unlike any other cops Americans had seen in their movies. These guys were slobs. They drank and smoked and cursed and fooled around. They would bend the rules when they had too. They were casually racist and abrasive and jealous of their arrest rates. They were also dogged and courageous and fixated on putting hoods in a cell or a grave, whichever worked best.
DIRTY HARRY would be released two months later providing further incentive for the explosion of cops in movies and on TV that pretty much continues to this day.
The movie is loaded with memorable scenes including one of the most thrilling car chases ever put on film; a combination of brilliant editing and a totally unauthorized early morning spin down Stillwell Avenue that resulted in at least one very real car crash with an unwitting driver.


Image may contain: 1 person


PRIMAL (2019) Does Nicholas Cage ever sleep? His latest is an action film with the kind of contrived plot that has kept B movie producers in greenbacks for decades. Nick's a "bring 'em back alive" kind of hunter who deals in selling endangered species. (boo! hiss!) He's got a rare, and VERY pissed off, albino jaguar in his collection this time. He boards a cargo ship with his latest payload only to find out that US Marshals and their charge, a dangerous psychopath, will be passengers as well. Well, you know what happens next, right? Things move swiftly and pretty much by the numbers but the locale is interesting and the feral animals loose in an enclosed environment offer a change from the usual bullets and fists scenario. And, surprise, Nick turns out to be a good guy after all. (yay!) If that came as a spoiler to you I wish you a happy birthday as you were born yesterday. Late yesterday. It's all fun in a rainy Saturday afternoon way and yet another mile in Nic Cage's apparent personal marathon to appear in more movies than anyone who ever lived. Oh, and Kevin Durand is effective as the killing machine bad guy competing with the jaguar for a body count.




DARK OF THE SUN (1968) Rod Taylor and Jim Brown are mercenaries tasked with taking a train across war-torn Congo to rescue refugees. Cinematographer Jack Cardiff presents a sometimes shockingly brutal action-adventure that is like a 1960's men's "sweat" magazine brought to life. Apparently it was intended to be even more violent but was severely trimmed before release and that chop job shows in some rough edits in spots. Still, it's exciting and fast-paced and suspenseful with some stand-out action set pieces and the world's toughest Toyota.
Sidenote: I've seen this movie a dozen times and only learned yesterday that it was shot in Jamaica standing in for West Africa.


Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling

THE DOGS OF WAR (1980) Christopher Walken assembles a team of fellow mercenaries to cause a regime change in a West African hellhole. I was lucky enough to catch it on the big screen on its release and it's has been an annual re-watch for me since it came out on VHS. Deliberately paced and free of the usual action movie fare of cute lines and contrived violence. It spends a lot of time on the more mundane aspects of this kind of extra-legal military action and I loved every minute of those scenes set in London, Paris and Valencia as the team assembles the weaponry needed and the transport to reach their target. Walken is an unusual choice for a lead role like this and that's a lot of what makes the film work, makes it feel more believable since he's not some god-like former wrestler. And the musical score is effective and haunting at times. My only regret? Ed O'Neill's character begs off of the big mission. You can see him back seat right in the photo below in the opening sequence.

Image may contain: 8 people, outdoor

100 RIFLES (1969) Burt Reynolds is a half-breed Yaqui Indian who uses the funds from a bank robbery to buy rifles for his people. Jim Brown is the lawman sent to bring him back over the Mexican border. And Raquel Welch is a firebrand revolutionary seeking revenge for the hanging of her father. Fernando Lamas is the sadistic federale general who chases them all over the desert to get the titular rifles back.
An okay western shot in Spain that should have been better given its pedigree. Directed by Tom Gries but far inferior to his previous western WILL PENNY (1967) with a screenplay by veteran western writer Clair Huffaker. It's fun enough but the attempt to create a bromance between Reynolds and Brown falls flat. Much was made at the time of the interracial sex scene between Brown Welch (rating the cover of Life magazine which even seemed odd at the time for a quick-play actioner) but it's just the typical obligatory montage that appeared in every exploitation flick once the ratings system was in place.
There's LOADS of violent action but much it falls flat as the scenes lack any real cohesion, suspense or sense of rising action. They're each shot Grand Guignol style. A machete to the head here. A bullet to the guts here.
Trivia note: John Wayne's most frequent stand-in was brought in to double for Brown but would have to do it in a wig and blackface. Reynolds objected to this and refused to work unless they found a black stuntman which the studio made Burt pay for.


Image may contain: 4 people, people standing and outdoor