Monday, March 31, 2008

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

Director: Peter Yates

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Alex Rocco

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: It's a grubby, violent, dangerous world. But it's the only
world they know. And they're the only friends Eddie has.

Plot: Eddie's friends are numerous, but the term friends is suspect. As a small time hood Eddie is about to go back to jail. In order to escape this fate he deals information on stolen guns to the feds. Simultaneously he is supplying arms to his bank robbing/kidnapping hoodlum chums. But who else is dealing with the feds? Who gets the blame for snitching on the bank robbers?

My Rating: 8/10

Would I watch it again? You betcha

Here's a little gem of a flick I bet you've never even heard of. If you love gritty crime films from the 70s like I do then you owe it to yourself to seek this one out. I eventually got mine in a trade from some cat in the Netherlands. It's a fullscreen TV dub, which sucks, but I FINALLY got to see it. WOW!

It's the kind of picture that stays with you for a few days after you watch it. It's only been a few weeks since I saw it (I'm THAT far behind with these reviews) and I'm ready to see it again. It's a subtle picture, kinda sneakin' up on you. Even after it's over you feel it still creeping around, expecting something else to happen. I can't shake it.

Mitchum is dead-on perfect in his role as a worn out, aging criminal trying to make ends meet. Boyle's great as the bartender who passes on information to the Feds. This guy's cold, man. The story unfolds slowly not telling us everything we need to know but giving it to us peace meal. You're not quite sure where it's going and you don't mind either because it's quite gripping, realistic and gritty. This is not like any crime/gangster story you've ever seen. This one's more of a snapshot in time than anything like THE GODFATHER films or pictures like THE FRENCH CONNECTION or THE SEVEN-UPS. There are no large action set pieces but there's plenty of real drama and intrigue. I found it most compelling.

Something else that is surprising is that director Peter Yates had, just a few years earlier, directed the high octane crime action film BULLITT (1968) with Steve McQueen. He's at the polar opposite within the same genre. He definitely didn't churn out "more of the same" as so many do.

There's a GREAT little scene in the first ten minutes where Coyle is in a diner putting together a gun deal when he tells the story about honor and integrity. It runs for a full two minutes and shows you just how good of an actor Mitchum was. You REALLY feel for this guy and that one monologue puts you in his pocket for the rest of the film.

The ending is...well, it's...uh...not much of what you would expect. Without spoiling it, it does continue on a bit after a HUGE surprise you don't see coming. That's not to say I don't like the ending; I do...a lot. I suppose I can equate it to the down time, the breather you need after a tragic event to soak everything in while you're still in disbelief. I personally felt betrayed, left alone. Like I said before, it stayed with me for several days/weeks afterwards.

It really is a crime that this film, with one of Mitchum's finest performances, is not on a proper DVD. If this sounds interesting in any way I encourage you to do what it takes to find this film. I've just bought the novel it was based on from Ebay and I can't wait to dig into it and then watch the film over again. Find it.

Red Sun (1971)

Director: Terence Young

Starring: Charles Bronson, Toshiro Mifune, Ursula Andress, Alain Delon

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: 2 Desperados ... 1 Hellcat ... and a Samurai ... the greatest fighting force the West has ever known!

Plot: The Japanese ambassador is travelling through the Wild West by train, when gangsters hold up the train, to rob a gold shipment. They also carry an ancient Japanese sword the ambassador was carrying as a present for the US president. The ambassador's bodyguard (Toshiro Mifune) will go after them, with the aid of one of the gang's leaders betrayed by his pals...

My Rating: 8/10

Would I watch it again? Yep

#127 on Drive-In Delirium Volume 2 (part of the TRAILER TRASH PROJECT)

Bronson = Badass! He doesn't say much...he doesn't have to.

When I first saw this a few years ago I was struck by two things: Charles Bronson smiles (frequently) and, surprisingly, the fish-out-of-water Japanese Samurai is treated with respect instead of the usual goofy-type Asian kung fu character found in westerns. With the kung fu craze of the early 70s becoming increasingly popular in films the East-meets-West theme was usually treated as broad comedy. It's refreshing to see the subject matter taken so seriously.

It's also really neat seeing Bronson play someone so lighthearted - certainly a nice departure from his stone-faced serious roles. Mifune is great as always. Having Bronson and Mifune in the same picture is gold. And then there's Ursula...mmmmmmmm...Ursula...well, she's fun to watch and Delon is good. The action is sometime raw and gritty (just what you've come to expect in a Spaghetti Western) but is nicely balance by Bronson's humorous turn and the sporadic bursts of very bleak funny from Mifune.

And here's one of those "They don't make 'em like this anymore" moments. There's a scene where Bronson is lying down listening to Ursula (his captive) ramble on. She slinks over to him for the seduction and as she moves her hands from his chest on down she quickly grabs his pistol from the holster throws herself back, points the pistol at Bronson and says, "Don't come closer...I kill you". He moves closer. She starts firing the pistol but there are no bullets in it. Bronson moves in, grabs the pistol and...

WHACK (and it's HARD), right across the face. Mifune walks in at this point and Bronson says, "That's Christina for you. You never know which gun she's gonna reach for." Nice.

Everything about this film is great except for the music.

I'm not much of a fan of composer Maurice Jarre. I've seen quite a few of his films but the only scores I really like are for LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962), although somewhat repetitive but quite good, and WITNESS (1985) which would have been better if it had been recorded by an orchestra instead of electronic. He's definitely got his own "sound" but I don't care for it at all. In RED SUN it's just plain annoying, childish, and amateurish. It hurts an otherwise outstanding picture.

Other than that the only thing I would have changed is the ending.


Someone dies...and and the other one doesn't have a scratch. That's the problem. It didn't feel like it was really necessary and the film could have been better served by either A) no one dying or B) someone else snuffing it or C) all of them buying the farm.

Other than that, it's all good, Buddy.


Unfortunately, the film has only been released in fullscreen. There's not an awful lot worse than watching a western in fullscreen. Yeah, there is. Watching ANY Paulie Shore movie.

The Limey (1999)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Starring: Terence Stamp, Lesley Ann Warren, Luis Guzman, Peter Fonda

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: Tell Them I'M Coming

Plot: An extremely volatile and dangerous Englishman goes to Los Angeles to find the man he considers responsible for his daughter's death.

My Rating: 9/10

Would I watch it again? Oh, yeah

It's the art-house British gangster flick you've been waiting for. This film oozes with style. Soderbergh tells much of the story with the audio not always matching the video. For example, there's a scene where Wilson (Stamp) is telling Elaine (Warren) about his strained relationship with his daughter. As he does, the camera cuts all over the place with him telling her in different locations but never breaking up the story. I think I'm having trouble trying to explain it. There are many times where you see something that has happened in the past few minutes/hours or in the future (minutes/hours) but is being spoken by the characters in the 'now'. It creates a really neat effect.

The performances are spot on. Stamp is a motherfucker in this. Badass. Guzman is great as always, Warren is fine, and Peter Fonda turns in a surprisingly good performance as a pussified record producer/promoter that has capitalized and made his career on the music of the 60s. There's a great extended uncredited cameo by Bill Duke. He's great. We need more of this guy in the movies. If the name doesn't do it for you he's the bald black guy from Predator. Now you know. Nicky Katt does a hilarious job as Stacy the Hitman.

The pacing is just right and the film clocks in at a quick 89 minutes and leaving nothing out. And damn, is this movie funny. Wilson is so sure of himself and isn't afraid of anything so seeing his Cockney British ass in Los Angeles going up against huge muscle-bound thugs is a riot. His machine gun delivery is just this side of James Cagney. There's a great scene where he's been taken in by the DEA and he's placed in the room with Bill Duke (the top DEA guy on the case) and before Duke says a word, Wilson yammers on for a full minute or two about what's going on, essentially trying to talk his way out of it and he doesn't know why he's there to begin with. It's a friggin' riot. Then Duke speaks ever so slightly, "The thing I don't understand is every mother fucking word you're sayin'." Classic.

And I've got to comment on Cliff Martinez's score. He uses two notes played on a piano that has been tuned a quarter tone apart which creates a VERY uneasy feeling when played against the drone in the background. Henry Mancini used the quarter tone effect in a much larger way with his outstanding score in WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967). Martinez's music kind of holds your hand to sooth you as you walk across a dangerous intersection at the same time make you worried that you're going to be left in the middle.

My friend commented about Stamp not too long into the picture. You see we had just watched STAR WARS THE PHANTOM MENACE last night and he wasn't familiar with Stamp's work. Tonight he piped up with, "Hey, I didn't know that guy could act!". He was briefly in SW 1 but wasn't allowed to do any acting. It was funny at the time. George Lucas has that effect on actors I guess. THE LIMEY is a top notch British gangster story of a different kind and fortunately for us it's been treated with class, dignity and humor by director Steven Soderbergh. Fun stuff. Check it out.

The Terminator (1984)

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: The thing that won't die, in the nightmare that won't end.

Plot: A cyborg is sent from the future on a deadly mission. He has to kill Sarah Connor, a young woman whose life will have a great significance in years to come. Sarah has only one protector - Kyle Reese - also sent from the future. The Terminator uses his exceptional intelligence and strength to find Sarah, but is there any way to stop the seemingly indestructible cyborg?

My Rating: 9/10

Would I watch it again? Yup

I've probably seen this a half dozen times since catching it in the 80s on video. It's a great story masterfully executed by Cameron. There's not much for me to say about it, really. The acting, for the most part, is great. Linda Hamilton wasn't that great until the action scenes kicked in and that's where she shined best. Some of the dialogue was hokey like at the end when the Mexican gas station attendant says, "There's a storm comin'" and she says, "I know." Plus it's the way she says it. It's a minor gripe, sure, but still pretty goofy.

To this day I can't help watching it and thinking about the time it was made. I was a kid then and Arnold was king. At least he became King with this picture. Conan had pretty much made him famous and this one solidified his box office capital. Considering Cameron had a budget of about 6.4 million he did a hell of a lot with it. We got to see a future we hadn't seen before and robots that seemed more real than ever before. One of the coolest parts was the opening with the terminators killing everything in sight and the end with the skeletal terminator trying to kill Sarah Connor in the big final battle. Which brings me to something else. I TOTALLY DIG STOP MOTION ANIMATION!!! That's just one of the techniques used to bring the terminator to life at the end. It's just badass cool. I know what it is and you know what it is. It's just so neat.

"We're Fritos, man!"

There aren't very many electronic/synth scores that I like but this is one of those few. For the most part it's great. There are a couple of cues here and there that don't work for me but I can overlook that because it's rare. Great main theme and some good action cues.

I'm in the minority on this but I've always liked this one a lot more than the sequel. I've always felt T2 was just more money but less originality despite the fantastic twist. I'll watch that one for next weeks movie night. It's been a lot of years since I've seen that one. I don't feel the need to revisit the third picture. I liked it OK but there's just something about the original that no one is going to be able to top. That doesn't mean they can't make great sequels with something original to say it's just that they haven't. I keep hoping that someday someone will send a terminator back in time to stop George Lucas from making the Star Wars prequels as bad has he did or at least kill the Ewoks before it's too late.

Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace (1999)

Director: George Lucas

Starring: Actors at a low point in their careers

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: Every generation has a legend. Every journey has a first step. Every saga has a beginning.

Plot: As imminent conflict brews between the powerful Trade Federation and the peaceful planet of Naboo, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi travel to Naboo to warn the Queen of the galactic fallout which is to follow. Eventually, Naboo is invaded forcing the Jedi to evacuate the planet with the Queen and her court. They travel to the desert planet of Tatooine where they meet a slave boy called Anakin Skywalker who is evidently one with the Force.

View a MUCH better Trailer:

My Rating: 5/10 and that's generous

Would I watch it again? Not likely (pay close attention to this, Future Self)

Here's where I'm coming from. In 1977 I was 8. STAR WARS changed everything for me. I was a classic SW freak. For the next few years I wanted anything and everything SW. The toys, I had most of them. When ESB came out I was even more into it. By the time ROTJ came out in 83 I was 13. I liked ROTJ but not nearly as much as the first two. I hated the Ewoks. Every time I saw the film I imagined Luke tossing a few onto Vader's funeral pyre at the end to stoke the fire. That never happened. I didn't want teddy bears in my SW movies. Too cutsie.

George Lucas: My Viceroy has no nose.
"Yes" Man A: How does he smell?
George Lucas: Awful!

Lucas once said, back in the late 70s I think, that he made STAR WARS for the child in all of us. Now, after coming back and making episodes 1-3, he's made these movies for the children, not us adults who've supported his fat ass all these years. And that's my biggest problem with this film in particular. I watched it last night. I really see no need to see it again. Ever. I was there for the first show on the first day. I didn't like it. I thought maybe it was me so when a good friend asked me to tag along a month later I went. I didn't like it then, either. I bought the DVD (used and dirt cheap, btw). I tried to watch it but turned it off after the first half hour. Then I gave it a go with the commentary. I made it all the way through. Go me. That was 5 or 6 years ago.

There were two friends with me last night. I can honestly say I couldn't have done it without them or the alcohol that started pouring during the pod race after the lame-ass line, "I don't care what planet you're from; that's GOTTA hurt." I'm not going to rant much. There's plenty of that all over the Internet. You've seen it so you know what I'm talking about. Fart jokes in a SW movie? Poo poo jokes in a SW movie? A main character that's lamer than an Ewok in a SW movie? If you had told that ten years ago I wouldn't have believed it.


Lucas has always had an amazing imagination and a talent for realizing it. He shouldn't be in control of absolutely everything. With the first two SW films he had people telling him NO. It's my belief that beginning with ROTJ he started surrounding himself with YES men which culminated in episodes 1, 2 and 3. He's a horrible horrible director for actors. I've never seen Samuel L. Jackson, Liam Nieson, Natalie Portman or Ewan McGregor act so poorly. McGregor did, however, a fantastic job with episode 3 but the others are terrible. Both actors that played Anakin stink on ice. The only actor that really pulls it off and in a big way is Ian McDiarmid as Senator Palpatine/The Emperor. That guy amazingly pulls himself through some lame dialogue and makes something out of it.

Small children, I'm sure, love this movie. Jar Jar is one of the most idiotic characters in film history. Hell, Jim Varney with his vest and baseball cap running around going, "KnowhutImean, Vern" would have been a crapload more entertaining than that creature. That he was allowed to live lessens the credulity of the main characters.

Lucas has said recently that he's working on converting all six SW films to 3-D to release in theaters. I'm excited but then I'm afraid. I'm afraid for the person who sits in front of me when Jar Jar shows up and I start beating the living shit of him because he'll look so real. I'll go to jail knowing Lucas won't bail me out but I know that millions of Star Wars fans will come to my rescue in solidarity against this travesty to cinema.

The following sums up how I feel:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Westworld (1973)

Director: Michael Crighton

Starring: Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: Westworld ...where robot men and women are programmed to serve you for ...Romance ...Violence ...Anything

Plot: Set during an unspecified future era on Earth, Westworld features Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and John Blane (James Brolin) on their way to a new kind of amusement park, Delos, located way out in the middle of a desert. Delos is divided into three "virtual reality" areas, Roman World, Medieval World, and West World (or Westworld). These are not mere computer simulations, however. Guests are immersed in a complete recreation of the relevant eras--they wear the clothing, sleep in the accommodations, eat the food, and so on, relevant to the era. They also interact with robots that are nearly indistinguishable from humans, and can talk to, have sex with, and even kill some robots. It's an escapists dream, at least until something goes wrong.

My Rating: 8/10

Would I watch it again? Hell, yeah

The late 60s and early 70s were great for Sci-Fi. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, A Clockwork Orange (well, it’s futuristic), THX 1138, and so on. They weren’t the retarded space pictures that came in the wake of STAR WARS (1977) but were intelligent, thought provoking films; more Rod Serling than Michael Bay. There’s something about the “good” films of this period that sets them far apart from the “good” films of today. I prefer those to the later ones. They just feel more real and tangible.

The performances are great, the story is great, the atmosphere is great, the setup is great, the execution is great, the finale is great – it’s just great. It’s well ahead of it’s time as we’re likely to have an amusement park like this in the next 40 years. We’re already at the cusp of civilian space flights. The Japanese are feverishly developing robots that look, feel and perform human tasks. Why not?

If the plot for WESTWORLD sounds familiar it kind of is. It’s written by the same guy who, years later, wrote Jurassic Park, Michael Crighton. I like both films but this one is much more grounded in reality and plausibility. And the implications of using robots for pleasure/fantasy role playing raise more than a few questions. How would our minds wrap around killing someone, albeit a robot, without consequence? Would your spouse consider it infidelity if you had sex with a lifelike robot? It’s one thing for this to happen in a video game but to actually simulate real life with real behaviors is another. I think it’s cool all the way around but then I’m a different breed of cat.

"(sniff) They're using REAL bullets!"

I’ve always enjoyed Richard Benjamin’s performances. He’s so goofy, aloof and effortless. But in this film it’s Yul Brynner that steals the show as the robot gunslinger that runs amok. He’s creepy. You BELIEVE he’s a robot. Brynner is a badass. Charles Bronson would still kick his ass but Brynner would certainly put up a great fight. WESTWORLD came at the end of his career with just three more movies to follow including the sequel, FUTUREWORLD (1976), his last picture as an actor. It’s too bad his declining health kept him from making more action pictures because he could have made some truly great badass pictures in the 70s, the greatest decade in film for daring, gritty and off-the-charts pictures. He would have made a GREAT Terminator but for his age. 37.68 times more menacing than Arnold.

"I'll be back!"

The story does take its time to develop and it’s especially fun during the first half hour as we travel with our “heroes” to the park and through their preparation for their stay in Westworld. The more you find out about the park, as they do, the more you want to be a part of it, too. It sounds really neat. Once things go wrong the suspense is kicked up a few notches you really feel like you’re on a ride.

For me, a western/sci-fi flick is appealing. Just like crossing the western genre with horror is. I like the meshing of multiple genres when it works. This one works. I was into it every step of the way. It’s remarkably serious for what it sounds like and, for that, I REALLY dig it. I haven’t seen this since the 80’s and now that I’ve seen it again I’m looking forward to watching once more by the end of the year. I’m also looking forward to seeing the sequel, FUTUREWORLD, for the first time. I’ve heard that it’s not as good but that doesn’t matter too terribly much. I’m sure it’ll be entertaining enough to hole my interest. I hope. Now if I could just get my hands on a copy…

Highlander (1986)

Director: Russell Mulcahy

Starring: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown, Roxanne Hart

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: There can be only one.

Plot: After centuries of dueling to survive against others like him, an immortal Scottish swordsman faces his final opponent: a bloodthirsty barbarian who has chased him across time to 1985 New York City, where they fight for the Prize: the spiritual ability to know everything.

My Rating: 8/10

Would I watch it again? Sure

Because everyone and his kid sister have seen this I’m going to be brief. I like it. I really like the concept. Sure, the film makers potentially shot themselves in the foot by not leaving it open for a sequel but somehow making a dozen of them and various TV shows. I’m OK with the rock score by Queen although I wasn’t when I first saw this in the 80s.

What I’m not OK with is how Lambert’s character is Scottish but speaks with a crazy French accent! It’s annoying as hell when he’s so obviously supposed to be Scottish. He’s also not that great of an actor. And then there’s Connery. I LOVE me some Sean Connery but he’s the one with a Scottish accent but his character is a Spanish Egyptian!!! WTF? It wouldn’t have been that difficult to have at least come up with a reason why he speaks like he does. Hell, they could have at least done SOMETHING to explain Lambert’s character’s lack of Scottish accent. Especially since he’s surrounded by dozens of his kin that ARE speaking Scottish. For fuck’s sake. They could have easily passed it off as Lambert spending time in France or a speech impediment or slight mental retardation or ANYTHING.

I know, I know, I’m being petty. But when you consider the laughter it generates while watching the film it’s a painful point with me and detracts from the effectiveness of the film.

It reminds me of a poem…

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Beheadings are cool
And so is this movie if you can get past the messed-up accent thing.

Ronin (1998)

Director: John Frankenheimer

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard, Sean Bean, Jonathan Pryce

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: Your ally could become your enemy

Plot: A freelancing former US intelligence agent tries to track down a mysterious package that is wanted by both the Irish and the Russians.

My Rating: 7/10

Would I watch it again? Debatable but likely

This is my second viewing. I originally saw it in the theater and remembered it mostly for the car chase. Now that I’ve seen it again I’m not so sure I’m going to remember that much about it.


It’s a good film, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I found myself ready to move onto something else. Maybe it was just the mood I was in at the time which was nothing unusual. It’s a solid film directed by a solid director and performed by solid actors from a solid script (by one of my favorites, David Mamet).

"Boromir gets his ass kicked by The Godfather"

One thing I think I will remember is the tension between De Niro (an ex-CIA guy) and Sean Bean (an ex OSS dropout). De Niro’s character is a professional and will not tolerate under any circumstance working with someone who is not (like Bean’s sorry excuse for a mercenary). His mind is on the mission and on nothing else. It’s all about the job. I really dig characters like that. They don’t fuck around. A lot of the rolls Charles Bronson played in the 70s were like that. No nonsense until the gig is over. THAT is cool. To have someone that will not bend makes the character more respectable and watchable. Oh, and before I forget, French actor Michael Lonsdale is in this and kicks all kinds of acting ass. Don’t know his name? He played the bad guy, Hugo Drax, in MOONRAKER (1979) as well as appearing in a number of high profile films like THE DAY OF THE JACKAL (1973), THE NAME OF THE ROSE (1986), THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993) and MUNICH (2005).

It’s a good cat and mouse story with everybody’s eyes on the briefcase. Everybody wants it, and I mean EVERYBODY so there’s lots of double crosses; enough to keep scratching your head for the last hour. And, for me, it’s the last half hour that really picks up steam. While the car chase is good (much better in the theater than on my 60” TV) and I don’t think it brings anything new to the table, it is considerably better than most found in the past twenty years. As far as I know, there’s no CGI which automatically gets major points in my book. Tarantino’s car chase in DEATH PROOF (2007) is great for that reason alone.


I like surprises. I like to see innocent people die simply because you don’t see it coming and it can be a more powerful death when they don’t deserve it. We get one in RONIN. The main bad guy is sponsoring a Russian ice skater. At the end of the film someone has a sniper rifle trained on her during a public performance and has orders to kill her (and she knows nothing of her sponsor’s dealings) if they do not receive the all clear. They don’t receive the all clear and POW! There’s blood on the ice. NICE. NICE. NICE. As film goers we’re so accustomed to being saved at the last minute so when someone isn’t saved it’s a shocker. There was a collective, “AWESOME” cheered from everyone who was present with me. Nice.


At just over two hours it starts to overstay its welcome but it is worth a look. At the very least it’ll show you that old dogs (Frankenheimer) can still show the new ones a thing or two about film making. In an age of the rapid fire edits loaded with CGI it’s nice to see someone take their time with their craft and produce something with tension and intelligence. Say, that reminds me. I’ve been dying to CHINESE SUPER NINJA.

They Call Me Trinity (1970)

Director: Enzo Barboni

Starring: Terence Hill & Bud Spencer

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: He Was On the Side of the Law and Order. He Was On the Side of Crime and Chaos. He Was On Any Side That Would Have Him.

Plot: A drifter comes to town where his brother is sheriff. His brother is actually a robber who broke the real sheriff's leg and left him for dead, and became sheriff in order to hide out. They team up against the local land baron who is trying to get rid of the Mormon settlers in a valley he wishes to own.

My Rating: 8/10

Would I watch it again? Yup

The Italians started making westerns (set in the SW US and Mexico) around 1963. When Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood hit the scene in 1964 with A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and became a worldwide hit, a new genre exploded in European cinemas. The Italians, but not exclusively – many other European countries joined in on the action, over the next 13 years or so, cranked out over 500 of these very popular Spaghetti Westerns. They were relatively inexpensive to make and the Spanish coastal town of Almeria geographically looked just like the American South West.

These Spaghetti Westerns often starred American actors who were either on their way up in fame or on their way down. Clint Eastwood is the best known. Lee Van Cleef (THE BIG GUNDOWN 1968) for a time in the mid to late 60s was THE biggest American star in Europe. They also grew their own stars like Franco Nero (DJANGO 1966), Tomas Milian (FACE TO FACE 1967) and Giuliano Gemma (A PISTOL FOR RINGO 1965). Then came two actors, who had previously worked together, that hit the big time with the international hit, THEY CALL ME TRINITY. Terence Hill and Bud Spencer went on to star in more than twenty films over the next two decades.

"Just look at those eyes!"

Their “buddy” films are largely action comedies and by comedy it’s slapstick. The films are good-humored and the violence is largely softened and void of killing. Their films were safe for families and it’s largely with children they became very popular and remain so to this day. Show a child who likes westerns this film (and I’m not degrading it by saying this) and they will laugh themselves silly. You can do the same to an adult and get the same reaction.

The stories are usually simple but with enough variety as to not lose your interest. The real showcase is the two actors’ individual and combined charisma and how well they work together. You get a real sense that they were great friends off camera, which they were.

The opening theme song sounds corny as hell to the average viewer. I thought so when I saw it years ago on some crappy fullscreen VHS tape. I couldn’t believe how dorky it was but by the end of the film it grew on me and today I totally dig it. I’m a lot more knowledgeable about Spaghetti Westerns now, too, and I’ve got hundreds of them as well as a large collection of SW soundtracks so my “taste” in them has developed considerably. I LOVE this genre. Under the song and credits we see Hill riding his horse in a most unusual and casual way. If you don’t have an idea about what you’re in for by now then it’s probably best to stick with staring out the window and watching for squirrels.

It’s not long before you find out he’s the fastest gun alive and is the Left Hand of the Devil with his brother (from another father) being the Right Hand. Spencer hates, and I mean HATES, Hill and gets a lot of laugh mileage out of it. I’m pretty sure Spencer’s trademark head bonk fight move originated here. And something else that originated with this film that would carry on to many of Hill’s films and the recent Sprint commercial (lifted from either in this film or the sequel a year later, TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME), is the sped-up gunfighter bit where Hill would show his unbelievably fast skill at gun play at the embarrassing expense of his opponent. EVERY time I see it in any film it cracks me up. Sure, it’s silly, but it’s damn funny.


The film is so lighthearted and funny it’s hard not to like. This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve watched it and it won’t be the last. The sequel is just about as good as this one and it’s well worth a look. I’ve got an old European non-anamorphic widescreen DVD of both films. It is available here in the U.S. from Hens Tooth Video for about $22 for both films but I have no idea of the quality. I do recall their release of Sam Peckinpah’s CROSS OF IRON (1977) was disappointing. Nevertheless avoid any fullscreen version of ANY Spaghetti Western because even the shitty ones deserve to be seen in their original widescreen format.

Flesh + Blood (1985)

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Starring: Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: Betrayed by power. Corrupted by love. Bound by honor.

Plot: A band of medieval mercenaries take revenge on a noble lord who decides not to pay them by kidnapping the betrothed of the Noble's son. As the plague and warfare cut a swathe of destruction throughout the land, the mercenaries hole up in a castle and await their fate.

My Rating: 8/10

Would I watch it again? Yes

I've always dug Rutger Hauer. I've seen some of his Dutch, pre-Hollywood, films from the 70s like TURKISH DELIGHT (WOW is this F'd up) and SOLDIER OF ORANGE, both by director Paul Verhoeven. And his early American films like this one, BLADE RUNNER, THE HITCHER and LADYHAWKE (which came a little later) show that this guy, despite his good looks and charm, is a very good actor. I've always found it strange how his career, after such great promise and high profile films, took a turn into B-movie obscurity. Years ago when I saw
CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND I was pleasantly surprised to see him turn up
in that kicking all kinds of acting ass and then a couple of years ago in BATMAN BEGINS. It's just too bad that he didn't stay in a more high profile light, cranking out tons of badass genre films.

In this one he's re-teamed with Verhoeven in a great little Medieval picture you probably haven't seen. One thing that a lot of Hollywood pictures set in this time get wrong is they aren't dirty and grimy enough. This one drops you right in the middle of it and forces you to wallow around in it a bit. From what I understand there is quite a bit of accuracy in the film maker's
attempt to bring the middle ages to us. Especially the hot tub scene.

The cast does a great job with Leigh particularly turning in one of her best performances. And the film is aptly named, too. There's plenty of nudity and violence, just like it was in 1501. It's true. I've seen paintings. Mmmmm. What I Haven't seen before in film is a rape scene like the one between Hauer and Leigh. I won't go into details but it's brutal but in a gentle, horrific, erotic way. You've got to see it to understand. On the flip side we get to see A LOT of Leigh unclothed. It's not all roses, though, 'cause we also get to see Bruno Kirby naked. Yes, that's right, Bruno Kirby. For anyone who's ever wondered, here's your chance.

"Jane, you ignorant slut!"

I do have to gripe about something and that's the character of Steven (Tom Burlinson). At first I was excited to see someone with a scientific and skeptic mind, at least having someone of reason in a time filled with the uneducated and religious nut jobs. But then the film jumps the shark and Steven, in the course of a few hours, designs and builds a giant wooden wheeled device that will allow his men to storm the castle without being harmed. This thing is HUGE and is basically an armored fire truck with an extension ladder. I couldn't help but recall the scene from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975) where the knights build a Trojan Rabbit. It's about as silly. But that's not it. Later, he pulls THIS out of his ass...

That's right, a rocket! If it hadn't been for this childish bullshit I'd have given myself 100% to it. But,no, they have to ruin it with this kind of crap.

Basil Poledouris's (who did CONAN THE BARBARIAN a few years earlier) score is very good. Despite the small budget his music adds much to the film. At least it's an orchestral score. Many in the 80s had synthesizer scores; even some Sword & Sorcery flicks. Ugh. One of my favorite movies of this type, LADYHAWKE (1985), had some electronics in the score but that's another story...

"Bill Clinton: The Estrogen Years"

This film looks like a big Hollywood picture but with a European eye for pushing the envelope in its realism, brutality and sexuality. It's easy to see why Hollywood gave him his first blockbuster with his next picture, ROBOCOP, the first in a string of hits followed by TOTAL RECALL, BASIC INSTINCT, SHOWGIRLS (to a lesser extent) and STARSHIP TROOPERS. I liked his pictures up to BASIC INSTINCT. After that they just fell flat. But that's another story...

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Mechanic (1972)

Director: Michael Winner

Starring: Charles Bronson, Jan Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn, Jill Ireland

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: He fixes people so they never work again.

Plot: A professional hit man (Bronson) is planning to retire, always a difficult move for one in such a profession. A young apprentice (Vincent) appears to be eager to learn all the skills of the trade - but is that all he wants ?

My Rating: 8/10

Would I watch it again? Oh, yeah

Bronson = Badass! He doesn't say much...he doesn't have to.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Bronson = Badass. He didn't say much 'cause he didn't have to. Here he plays an assassin. A very methodical assassin. You get the feeling he's the best. I just assume he's the best because he's Bronson. I'd say that's a good assumption. Take it to the bank, Put that in your pipe and smoke it. I did. Mmmmmmmmmm.

The story's pretty good with him reluctantly taking on the son of his most recent kill as an apprentice. It takes a while for him to accept him but that's OK by me. It's Bronson. Then we go through their first job together which doesn't go as planned. There's a pretty good motorcycle chase with Bronson (although you KNOW it's a double 'cause they're wearing shielded helmets blocking out any facial features) that has an AWESOME ending with the (SPOILERS) victim flying right off a cliff. I didn't buy the chase so much 'cause, even though I can see Bronson making chase on a motorcycle, I can more easily see him lifting the bike over his head and throwing it at the victim several dozens of yards away and knocking him off his bike so Bronson can stroll over there and kick the living shit out of him. Why would he do that? Because the victim made things more difficult for Bronson so the road to death naturally has to take a little longer to go down. THAT'S how much of a badass he is.

Now that Jan Michael has Bronson's confidence and trust they go on another job together in Europe. This is the only spot for me where it started to drag. But I've seen this a couple of times before so I know what's coming. And I adjust myself in my seat with excitement because it's a beaut of an ending and some of my friends hadn't seen this. I know what to expect - a
collective "HOLY SHIT" during the last 15 seconds of the film.

I cant' spoil that because it really is an AWESOME ending to a very good film. You know how so many of the 70's kung fu films ended so abruptly, usually as the hero strikes the villain with the death blow and then there's a freeze frame with THE END slapped on? It's sort of like that but don't read into what I just said. It's just that abrupt but completely satisfying. There's a particularly chilling scene when Bronson and Vincent are at the home of one of Vincent's jilted lovers where she's threatened to commit suicide. Vincent is aggravated by the whole affair and doesn't believe she will kill herself. He also doesn't care. He needs to show Bronson he's got
the goods to make it as an assassin. He even gives her advice on how to do it quickly. She cuts herself and they three of them wait for what seems like a couple of hours. Bronson is cool as can be and does not interfere except to explain in cold detail what happens to your body after you cut yourself. Badass. Simply badass. Does he let her die? Nice.

"Groovy, baby, yeah!"

Bronson's badassicity (and, yes, that's a word 'cause I just made it up) has a way of reaching across any natural or unnatural boundaries and affecting everybody he touches. So far I haven't seen any Bronson film I didn't thoroughly enjoy in some way. THE MECHANIC is just another in a string of great action films he did in the 70s. It's simply a helluva lot of fun with an ending that will leave a sting on your face from the massive bitch slap he delivers in the final seconds of the film. And if I'm going to be bitch slapped it's going to be from Bronson because where do you let Charles Bronson sit? Anywhere he wants.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Funny Games (1997)

Director: Michael Haneke

Starring: Germans

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: Ein Alptraum. (English translation: A Nightmare)

Plot: Two psychotic young men take a mother, father, and son hostage in their vacation cabin and force them to play sadistic "games" with one another for their own amusement.

My Rating: 9/10

Would I watch it again? As sure as Britney Spears will do something kooky

This movie should be titled, "HOLY FUCKING SHIT!", 'cause that's the most common phrase heard by anyone who watches it. And I thought the Japanese had the marked corned on brutality and torture. The Germans, apparently, never lost their touch - they just kept it in storage for a couple of generations.

I cannot avoid talking about this without spoilers so THERE WILL BE SPOILERS...YARRRRR

It's great watching this one for the second time knowing the outcome. As the film unfolds the unsuspecting family meets their killers by being introduced to them by their neighbors. We later find out that the neighbors were killed shortly thereafter and the new family ends up introducing the killers to their friends and next victims after they themselves are killed. NICE! The two boys are pitch perfect in their care free torturing, murdering ways. In fact all of the acting is great. The family in captivity do a fantastic job in delivering very believable performances. The two killers are in complete control and it's obvious that they're not new at this and know exactly what they're doing. The mind-fucks these guys dish out are extraordinary. They are able to exact whatever they like from their victims albeit reluctantly at first.


In one of the most daring and challenging scenes I have ever seen the boys have just blown the son's head off with a shotgun. There is blood all over the immediate area of the kids' former head. We are forced to watch this scene...

It easily lasts a full minute or two with no moving whatsoever until the mother finally gasps in horror that her son is dead. It's gripping, startling, emotionally piercing. It's one of the fucking ballsiest shots by a filmmaker EVER. EVER! You're forced to soak it in. In other films the kid is killed, we mourn for a few seconds and it's onto new business. Haneke holds the audience captive and makes us slowly digest what just occurred. Fucking brilliant.

What follows is a long drawn out quiet section where the mother and father are taking advantage of the suddenly empty and quiet house by deciding on what to do. His leg is broken so he stays. She leaves to find help. The boys are nowhere to be found but they find her. Just when you think you've seen all that can be shown Haneke gives us a few more shocks. Dad is stabbed multiple times and mom is bound with tape at her feet, hands and mouth. They take a nice little sail across the lake, push mom overboard and proceed to the cottage of the family's friends they were introduced to earlier in the film where the process of taking over this new family begins. OH FUCKING YEAH!!!


The use of hardcore thrash metal music hits all of the right notes, so to speak. It's a remarkably jarring technique which plays up the tone of the film to a tee. Other than that I don't recall any music at all and that's a good thing. A score would have removed some of the shock value and would have lessened the impact by the shots and performances. Sometimes the lack of music can work and this is definitely a case for it.

One technique I particularly enjoyed was the main killer's point of breaking the fourth wall. That's where a character in some way acknowledges the audience. Here he turns and looks (and sometimes speaks to) the camera. It's actually amusing as the director implicates us in the crimes because we are watching it happen. VERY effective. And what the character says is
sickeningly funny. The final shot of the film will forever be burned into my memory. It's gloriously fucked up.

I L-O-V-E movies with raw, fucked-up endings. I enjoy films that pick you up by the short hairs and smack you around a bit before they kick you to the curb without any money or idea of who you are and why you're there. If you're having trouble breaking up with your girlfriend, just invite her over for a movie night double feature with MAN BITES DOG (1992) and follow it up
with FUNNY GAMES. She'll probably leave quietly and never look back and all you did was show a couple of films. If she stays and asks for more then send her over to my place. THAT'S my kinda gal.

Indentity (2003)

Director: James Mangold

Starring: John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, Alfred Molina, Jake Busey, Rebecca De Mornay

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: The secret lies within.

Plot: Stranded at a desolate Nevada motel during a nasty rainstorm, ten strangers become acquainted with each other when they realize that they're being killed off one by one.

My Rating: 8/10

Would I watch it again? Yup

I just watched this for the second time and even though it loses a little bit
of it's shock value with the end it still holds up as a great little

I'm not big on spoilers so I'll keep this free but it's going to be short. The movie's filled with character stereotypes but by the end you're totally OK with it when the reason is revealed. I love how the film is almost entirely set at night in a rain storm. It makes for a fantastic atmosphere. For all intents and purposes it's another story of Ten Little Indians, with each of the 10 unexpected secluded motel guests being murdered one by one. Throw in the side plot of a convicted mass murderer who's hours away from execution and you've got IDENTITY.

I recall first seeing this years ago and getting to the part where one of the "guests" says the explanation of the killings could be that the motel is located on an ancient Indian burial ground. If I hadn't been captivated by the film at that point I would have likely turned it off. I hate crap like that. I stayed with it and was glad I did. After it was all over and re-thinking the film I realized the reason for that scene's inclusion and it ks - once you know the entire story.

It's great fun and the performances are good. John Cusack is great as usual nd it's always fun to see the underrated Ray Liotta. His character's got a great little back story, too. Alan Silvestri provides a suitable score. It's not his fault, I'm sure, but the director's by including one or two "jump" scare shots where the music bursts suddenly when something jumps out t you. It's the cheapest and easiest scare tactic in film making and it pisses me off to see it used so liberally in films. There's a solid story and direction here and I don't think that they needed to lower themselves to using this tactic. Knowing the full story I can forgive them for it "IF" they used it not for a scare but because it's a stereotypical horror device hich would fit the big picture.

There's an "alternate ending" on the DVD but all we could tell was there were a few very minor additions that hardly constitutes calling it an alternate ending. It's the same ending but with more padding. There's still the director's commentary to check out. I'm not rushing to hear it but I expect could find it interesting.

Although this film has character stereotypes, plot devices and film making techniques for a horror film, it's anything but. It feels like a typical Hollywood horror/thriller but they're just playing with the conventions of the genre and with you, the audience. This one's fun.