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Joe... cercati un posto per morire!
(1968)

Another Above-Average Spaghetti Western
This interesting Spaghetti western remake of Henry Hathaway's classic South American western "Garden of Evil" starts off strongly but flounders into formula during his final quarter-hour. As Joe Collins in a shield shirt, Jeffrey Hunter makes a convincing amoral gunslinger who smuggles guns and has a spurt of consciousness when a desperate woman, Lisa Martin (Pascale Petit) pleads with Collins to help her husband, Paul Martin (Piero Lulli of "My Name Is Nobody"), who is trapped at a mine after he triggered a landslide driving off Chato's pistoleros with bundles of dynamite. Eventually, the wife offers $100 in gold to anybody who will help them. Future "Sartana" director Giuliano Carnimeo refrains from gimmicks and even has his characters reloading their revolvers in some scene. Instead of lethal Indians with poisoned arrows, "Find A Place to Die" replaces them with notorious Mexican bandits. Okay, that was entirely expected. The two villains fight over the gold, and the body count mounts into double-digits. The Spanish scenery is appropriately rugged, and Gianni Ferrio's orchestral musical score overshadows this shoot'em up with its melodic artistry. Actress Daniela Giordano plays a guitar-playing gal who warbles tunes and curries favor with the chief outlaw, Chato (Mario Dardanelli of "Django Kills Softly"), while her boyfriend, fast-draw gunman Paco (Reza Fazeli of "Tears of an Orphan") watches over her. At one point, Paco challenges Joe Collins and shoots Collin's Stetson off his noggin. In classic "For a Few Dollars More" style, Collins not only shoots Paco's hat off with his Winchester repeater but also he drills the hat as it flies overhead. Plenty of action.

Torpedo
(2019)

The Dirty Dozen Meets Das Boot!!!
During the American Civil War, pugnacious Union General William Tecumseh Sherman said, "There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell." By the end of World War II, Sherman's blasphemous anatomy of war achieved its ultimate impact with the detonation of two atomic bombs over Japan. Belgian writer & director Sven Huybrechts' gritty World War II submarine saga "Torpedo: U-235" depicts war as Sherman saw it. This outrageous, but unforgettable undersea epic doesn't overshadow director Wolfgang Petersen's "Das Boot" (1981) also known as "The Boat," the best World War II adventure opus about Hitler's U-boats. Nevertheless, not only does "Torpedo" rank as thoroughly sensational in a compelling way, but it also registers as a spine-tingling exercise in escapism that should appeal to anybody who craves maritime combat movies. Huybrechts and co-scripter Johan Horemans have conjured up a vivid, often cynical, sometimes blood-curdling submarine extravaganza. Indeed, the filmmakers have cherry-picked from a catalog of formulaic scenes which you probably may remember if you've seen other spectacular World War II naval escapades.

Although their film is often far-fetched, Huybrechts and Horemans have done a splendid, slam-bang job of conjuring up an air of plausibility for their outlandish, high-octane shenanigans. Moreover, they have generated enough grisly, white-knuckled scenes to keep you poised on the edge of your seat. Certain sequences in "Torpedo" may be a bit brutal for the squeamish. Specifically, an early scene shows one of the heroes dunking a stubborn German officer repeatedly into a tub brimming with water to wrest secret information from him. Finally, when the hero realizes he is wasting his time, a cohort drops a hand grenade into the tub, and the explosion obliterates the officer's head. Worse scenes than this that lack gory prosthetics ensue and attest to the wrath of our heroes. Everything that can go awry aboard the titular submarine as our heroes and heroine struggle desperately to accomplish their suicidal mission seems destined by fate.

These intrepid Belgian resistance fighters amount to a rag-tag team of patriots. Gifted with a sense of ingenuity, they will leave you gasping with surprise at their initial subterfuge. These stealthy combatants mow down an unsuspecting company of Nazis who're gloating over several dead Belgians that they have dangled from the gallows. I've seen every major World War II movie, and I've never seen a more cleverly orchestrated ambush with poetic justice. Huybrechts and Horemans do an exemplary job of differentiating each of these fighters. Tragically, the father who supervises these resilient warriors suffered a fate that nobody should ever experience. Wrists chained behind his back to a brick wall, Stan (Koen De Bouw of "The Dark House") must watch in horror as an odious Gestapo officer conducts an interrogation without mercy involving the fate of the hero's infant grandson. If you can survive this scene without hurling everything but the kitchen sink at your television, you'll probably savor this raw-edged, gritty war picture. Stan and his tough guy cohorts, including his sharpshooting adult daughter Nadine (Ella-June Henrard of "Portable Life"), have three weeks to learn how to maneuver a seized U-boat. Afterward, they plunge into the stormy Atlantic Ocean, carrying a consignment of uranium, bound from the Belgian Congo to New York City for the classified Manhattan Project. Happily, neither Huybrechts nor Horemans give either these reckless Belgium heroes or their ruthless Nazi adversaries an easy way out of this nerve-racking account of sea valor.

The claustrophobic setting of a U-boat is convincingly rendered on a low budget. Huybrechts knows how to confine himself within that budget without undermining authenticity. During the first hour, a captured U-boat commander, Kriegsmarine Kapitänleutnant Franz Jäger (Thure Riefenstein of "Dark Blue World"), teaches them the basics of submarines. Mind you, "Torpedo" isn't as frightening as some of the scenes in "Das Boot," but some of its combat is still mighty devastating. If you dread small spaces, you'll be hunching your shoulders and crouching in fear that you may bang your head or scrape your arms as you watch these fellows scuttle about in this sweaty little coffin of a U-boat. The pressure cooker suspense and subsequent release of tension during some death-defying scenes is awesome. A Nazi spotter plane tries to sink them when they embark on their mission. Unwisely, the Luftwaffe pilot delays his attack until the last moment as the U-boat is submerging, when the boat is most vulnerable to his weapons. Wow, does he ever get the surprise of his short life!

The scene when a torpedo snaps its overhead chain and smashes into an unsuspecting sailor, pinning his legs helplessly beneath its bulk, is harrowing! Moreover, a German submarine lurking in their wake is preparing to fire a torpedo at them, and they have mere moments to retaliate with their own fish. Later, Stan must swim an incredible distance at an unfathomable depth to save his daughter. Nadine is trapped in a flooded compartment of the submarine after a German destroyer has rammed them. This scene reminded me of James Cameron's sci-fi fantasy "The Abyss" (1989) where a husband desperately struggles to revive his drowned wife. Despite all this mayhem, Huybrechts doesn't strive to sicken you so much as spellbind you. Your own imagination must complete what he leads up to without indulging in gruesomely graphic CGI to recreate. Most of the drama in "Torpedo" occurs without warning and seems doubly terrifying when it strikes as well as who it strikes.

The biggest obstacle for anyone who watches this atmospheric World War II movie is its unknown cast. Nevertheless, the performances are all vivid, and the action is visually credible even when it defies reality. Remember, you don't watch a movie simply to complain about how implausible it seems, but whether it entertained you sufficiently that you overlooked its mind-boggling antics. "Torpedo: U-235" qualifies as a must-see for armchair admirals.

Snatchers
(2019)

Whole Lot Of Snatching Going On!!!
The first twenty minutes of Stephen Cedars & Benji Kleimen's "Snatchers," a farcical horror chiller about the perils of unwanted pregnancy, come laden with a familiar message for titillated teens embarking on recreational sex. Use a condom! After this introductory, standard-issue, public service campaign message, we see our distressed teen Sara Steinberg (Mary Nepi of "Not Cool") venture into a Free Clinic. A lone abortion protester outside shames Sara for seeking counseling. As the OB/GYN guy examines Sara, the spawn of Satan erupts from within her, painting the walls red with blood geysers, and decapitating the unfortunate OB/GYN. Earlier, this OB/GYN snickered that he had seen everything. Abruptly, the OB/GYN's head disintegrates in a burst of blood, leaving behind only his neck stump. The ferocious creature that created this chaos ricochets about the exam room, behaving like the face hugger in Ridley Scott's classic "Alien" (1979) which had burst forth from a crewman's chest.

Eventually, this unsightly critter comes to a rest atop the head of the OB/GYN sonogram technician. A gnarly looking lobster with a brown, skeletal body, it clings tenaciously to her noggin with its alert, beak-shaped head snarling as Sara and her friend flee the premises. Apparently, a day after her bawdy boyfriend, Skylar Cole (Austin Fryberger of "Rainbow Time"), had impregnated Sara with his apocalyptic sperm, this hideous organism spawned itself. Sending Sara into hysterics, this insidious alien abbreviated the normal nine-month pregnancy cycle and came out of her far ahead of time! After the critter "vag-cannoned" its way out of Sara, our heroine discovers she still has her bump. Worse, the critter is cavorting around the clinic when the obnoxious abortion protester sneaks inside. His curiosity kills him. Happily, for their cinematic debut, Cedars and Kleimen maintain a breathless pace throughout this formulaic, splatter, screwball comedy. The inspired hare-brained antics and the genuinely charismatic cast compensate somewhat for several weird encounters smeared with slippery, slimy, blood and gore.

At the half-way point in this nimble 96-minute saga, Cedars and Kleimen broaden the playing field considerably beyond the Free Clinic. At the outset, the filmmakers had focused primarily on Sara, her loyal classmate Hayley Chamberlain (Gabrielle Elyse of "More Than Enough") and her lusty boyfriend Skylar. Sara persuades a reluctant Hayley to help her. After the local police enter the fray, everything changes. Sara's single-parent mom, Kate (J.J. Nolan of "Scavengers"), who attends night school blunders into this pandemonium. Kate suspects what has happened to her daughter. However, she doesn't have a clue about its broader ramifications. Meantime, in their haste to leave the clinic, Hayley loses her automobile license plate. The patrolman dispatched to the incident, Officer Oscar Ruiz (Nick Gomez of "Drive Angry"), tracks them down easily. He uses Sara's blood-splattered patient health questionnaire combined with info from the LoJack which Hayley's parents had installed on her car. Naturally, Hayley knew nothing about the LoJack. As a result, our two screaming mimis end up in police custody with an idiotic story. Earlier, they had gone to a scatterbrained veterinarian, Dave (comedian Rich Fulcher), to see if he could purge the parasite from Kate. Dave injects our heroine with some orange concoction designed to evict the alien and launch it into a wood-chipper assembled just beyond Kate's arched legs. This way the critter will fly out of Sara like a cannonball and get crunched in those grinding mechanical chipper blades in Dave's office. Meantime, the cops aren't prepared for the ravenous parasite which invades the police station. Ultimately, this monster snatches the body of a cop who had wandered outside for a cigarette break. Under its influence, he turns his gun on his own colleagues. They mow him down in a fusillade of gunfire. Meanwhile, Hayley struggles to explain to Sara's deluded mother Kate about how the alien on the rampage apparently wants to hook up with the other alien still holed up in Sara's womb!

The simplicity of it is the filmmakers rarely let the zany action slow down. Indeed, the main characters stop occasionally to discuss things. After her crazy boyfriend deflowered her, Sara wants nothing to do with Skylar. Hayley argues Sara shouldn't let the culpable Skylar off so easily. Hayley blames Skylar for Sara's predicament. Later, they learn Skylar spent some time fooling around in Mexico. Taking in the sights, the teen had visited a pagan museum replete with artifacts and relics from antiquity used in tribal fertility rites. Accidentally, Skylar smashed the sex organ on one such fertility figurine. The broken statue wafts some mysterious gas into his face. Under the influence of this mysterious pagan artifact, Skylar relieved Sara of her virginity in the white heat of passion. The scene where the pregnancy test displays a shriveled-looking baby's face is amusing, too. Now, our two heroines set off in pursuit of Skylar, and Sara discovers later that her mom has disappeared. As it turns out, Kate has been cocooned by a gigantic queen version of the smaller alien which had attached itself to the heads of its victims. Kate's captivity scene is reminiscent of a similar scene in the grisly "Alien vs. Predator" (2004).

More than likely, the filmmakers appropriated "Snatchers" for its title from the cult classic, sci-fi masterpiece "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956). The grotesque, animatronic creature that clings to the heads of its victims and drives them haywire is a formidable little brute. Actually, this tacky looking parasite reminded me of "Fiend without a Face" (1958) where an albino brain attached itself to its unfortunate victims. The big showdown for our two heroines occurs during the final quarter hour when they crash a teen house party where Skylar desperately wants to have sex with any girl is willing to wallow with him. Although the cast consists of little-known actors and actresses, these thespians never act deliberately as if they are playing for laughs. Cedars and Kleimen keep things frivolously spontaneous throughout "Snatchers" without wearing out either their welcome or their shenanigans.

Un par de asesinos
(1970)

A Spaghetti Western Version of "Jules and Jim"
"Hands of a Gunfighter" writer & director Rafael Romero Marchent's "Sartana Kills Them All" with Gianni Garko as the eponymous gunslinger is a standard-issue, picaresque Spaghetti western about a couple of outlaws and a girl searching for a $100 thousand in loot from a robbery. The Spanish landscape is impeccable and Garko bears a close resemblance to Robert Redford. His brother in crime Marcos (Guglielmo Spoletini of "Last of the Badmen"), and he fight over the girl, María Anderson (María Silva of "Cavalry Charge"), and then she double-crosses them. Marchent's gritty (and it is gritty) seems like a rehash of François Truffaut's classic French comedy "Jules and Jim," though it isn't as carefree. The comedy is constantly interrupted by tragic gunfire. The subplot about the murderous Kirby clan, led by the crippled father Richard (Andrés Mejuto of "Chimes at Midnight"), who loves to guzzle whiskey when he isn't making his sadistic sons kill everybody in sight, belongs in another movie. However, these homicidal hombres meet their match in our anti-heroic heroes. Meantime, Sartana and Marcos are tirelessly pursued by a posse. Sheriff Laughton (Luis Induni of "Sabata the Killer") vows to follow them to Hell if necessary. Neither does Laughton catch them nor do Sartana and Marcos escape him, and the scenarists Mario Alabiso, Santiago Moncada, and Joaquín Romero Marchent adapted Marchent's story that he co-wrote with Rafael Romero Marchent. Mind you, this isn't "Trinity" type comedy. The body count is pretty high, running into double-digits and sometimes our heroes are a little trigger happy themselves. Marcello Giombini's orchestral score is a big, plus. By no means a top tier Spaghetti, "Sartana Kills Them All" could even be compared with "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in some respects. The violence is rugged, especially with a stagecoach pulls into a relay station and they find everybody who worked there has been murdered by the Kirby clan. Incidentally, Andrés Mejuto reminded me of Piero Lulli.

Ringo del Nebraska
(1966)

Above-Average Spaghetti Western with a Film Noir vibe
Brawny Ken Clark plays Ringo in another incarnation in Antonio Román's "Savage Gringo," aka Ringo of Nebraska, an above-average, but convoluted outdoors Spaghetti western finished by the legendary Mario Bava after Román was fired by the producer. This time around Ringo is another itinerant gunslinger who get hired on as a cow hand by rancher Marty Hillmann (Alfonso Rojas) after he demonstrates his proficiency with a six-gun. Marty keeps a woman, Kay (Yvonne Bastien of "Apache Fury") around the place to cook and clean for him. Mind you, these two aren't married, and they have a history that involves the chief villain, Bill Carter (Piero Lulli of "My Name is Nobody"), who wants to recover the loot from an El Paso bank robbery. Bill isn't too bright. As much as he needs Marty alive, he has his men ambush him along with Nebraska one night. Later, when the alcohol-soaked Sheriff Bert (Livio Lorenzon of "Texas, Adios") rides out to Marty's ranch, Bill has his right-hand henchman shoot him in the back twice. The new sheriff is told that Nebraska killed Sheriff Bert, and Marty never recovers from his gunshot wounds because a storm swells the river nearby and the doctor cannot cross it with dying because the water is at flood stage. Earlier, Nebraska blew the six-gun out of Carter's hand during a saloon showdown before Sheriff Bert died. Jesús Navarro Carrión, Antonio Román, and Adriano Bolzoni, along with Grazia Benedetti wrote the complicated screenplay and dialogue. There is a lot of backstory that isn't sufficiently cleared up by fadeout. Suffice to say, Nebraska doesn't succumb to Kay's charm, turns over the stolen $50-thousand in loot to the new sheriff. There is a scene when Kay tempts Nebraska and they embrace and kiss. Whether it was Román or Bava, they have the camera circle the two lovers. You get a sense that this western comes close to treading on film noir thriller turf with Kay struggling to seduce Nebraska. At times, "Savage Gringo" seems more like an imitation of a traditional Hollywood western. Eventually, as evidence of guilt piles up against Nebraska by the lying Carter, our hero turns to his gun and forces two of Carter's gunslingers to make incriminating confessions against Carter. Not bad, and Ken Clark makes a sturdy hero, while Piero Lulli qualifies as a slimy villain. Nino Oliviero's orchestral score lives up to the standards of Spaghetti westerns.

The Old Guard
(2020)

Charlize Theron and Immortal Warriors
Imagine the mercenaries in the Sylvester Stallone film franchise "The Expendables" endowed with powers such that they can miraculously heal their own wounds in combat, and you've got the gist of the new Netflix action epic "The Old Guard," starring Charlize Theron, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and KiKi Layne. Clocking in at 125 minutes, this $70-million, B-movie melodrama chronicles the tireless efforts of a crime-busting, "A-Team" quartet of apparently immortal warriors, commanded by a woman, who have fought for centuries trying to save mankind from its own destructive urges. Mind you, Greg Rucka's 2017 graphic novel of the same name, illustrated fantastically by Leandro Fernandez, provides the basis for this outlandish but imaginative adventure outing. Moreover, Rucka adapted his graphic novel for African-American director Gina Prince-Bythewood, whose credits include "Love & Basketball" (2000) and "The Secret Life of Bees" (2008). This unusual change-of-pace helming represents Prince-Bythewood's first foray into blood and guts cinema. Rucka and she have excised some of the excessive elements from his deliriously graphic novel. For example, nobody smokes cigarettes. Since nothing can kill these pugnacious warriors, the last thing they worry about is lung cancer. In our politically correct, ultra-sensitive era, a mass media conglomerate cannot produce a movie that clashes with our current ideology. While this streaming Netflix movie landed an R-rating for blood-splattered, CGI-violence, Rucka's "fairy tale of blood and bullets" goes overboard exotic with violence galore. The first installment of "The Old Guard" series is far more chilling and thrilling than the straitlaced film could ever contemplate. Anybody who reads the graphic novel or craves such literary material is forewarned that Rucka and Fernandez have written and illustrated the story in a five-part series.

This band of warriors follows the lead of the oldest warrior, nicknamed Andy (Charlize Theron of "Atomic Blond"), who has been fighting for over two millennia. Andromache of Scythia is her actual name, but she calls herself Andy. During a flashback sequence, she straddles a horse and wields an enormous tennis racket-shaped ax with devastating savagery in the company of another ferocious female, Quynh (Van Veronica Ngo of "Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi"), and these two dames endure the ravages of war and social unrest. Eventually, in the Middle Ages, they are captured and hanged as witches. For once the religious zealots who quote scripture over them as they swing from the gibbet know they are genuine witches since they don't die. These zealots decide Andy and Quynh are too formidable to be destroyed together, so they separate them. They lock Quynh up in the equivalent of an iron maiden. Andy vows to rescue her, but the evil priests ship Quynh off on a long ocean voyage and sink the iron maiden in which she is trapped at a random spot on the high seas. Neither Andy nor her team has ever been able to get enough eyewitness accounts to pinpoint where the priests plunged Quynh into the briny deep. Predictably, this sours Andy's appetite for life, but she soldiers on despite Quynh's disappearance. Since this tragedy, Andy has recruited Joe (Marwan Kenzari of "Aladdin") and Nicky (Luca Marinelli of "Martin Eden"), who crossed swords during the First Crusade then later became eternal lovers. The most recent recruit was Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts of "Red Sparrow"), who served under Napoleon during his disastrous Russian campaign. Booker emerges as the weakest link. Like vampires who have lived too long to appreciate life, Booker wants to die. Nevertheless, like Andy, Booker keeps on keeping on with his agenda. These immortal warriors, it seems, are destined to meet. Nightmares plague them about a warrior like them who has mutated from ordinary to extraordinary! Moreover, the nightmares don't cease until they can trace their new chum. The latest recruit is a U.S. Marine, Nile Freeman (KiKi Layne of "Captive State"), a black female in charge of a squad in Afghanistan. She dies trying to save an enemy soldier hiding behind women to create bombs. One of her buddies cradles the mortally wounded Nile in her arms as Nile bleeds out from a knife wound in her neck. Everybody is shocked when she recovers none the worse for wear at a military field hospital, and her superiors book her a flight aboard the next transport for a U.S. base in Germany for further scrutiny. Looking a lot like rock star David Bowie, Andy penetrates the base security and abducts Nile. Of course, Andy has a tough time convincing this incredulous Marine that she has the gift of immortality. Eventually, after an acrobatic fight aboard a C-47 in flight over the desert, Nile abandons her escape attempts from Andy and joins the team. By this time, a former CIA spook, Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor of "Serenity"), has double-crossed Andy and her covert team. He leaked word of their supernatural status to Merrick (Harry Melling of the "Harry Potter" movies), a depraved magnate of a British pharmaceutical firm. Merrick wants whatever these immortals have to market eternal life to millions.

"The Old Guard" qualifies as an above-average, but preposterous combat potboiler with unique heroes. Nevertheless, the film lacks the rampant cynicism and wholesale violence of Rucka's graphic novel. Although she has a lot to learn about choreographing blood and guts action epics, Gina Prince-Bythewood never lets the exposition drown out the fireworks. The performances are all vigorous, with Theron and company nimbly knocking down Merricks' black-clad commando henchmen like bowling alley tenpins. The body count mounts into double digits, but sometimes the action seems farcical, especially when Nile shoots herself in the foot on purpose. The scene where we first learn about their survivalist skills is surprising, but things settle down into business as a bloody routine. Harry Melling steals the show as the ruthless big pharma CEO who trusts nobody and stabs one of the "Old Guard" elite repeatedly before he believes Copley's incredible video of their massacre and subsequent revival.

Per il gusto di uccidere
(1966)

A Tast of Spaghetti Western!!!
Tonino Valerii's first Spaghetti western showed that Sergio Leone's former assistant director had talent to spare. Craig Hill stars as Hank Fellows, a shrewd bounty hunter of sorts who wields a Winchester with a telescopic sight as well as the usual six-shooter on his hip. He is a little odd. First, Hank is illiterate, meaning that he cannot read. Second, he doesn't rush in like a fool where angels fear to tread. He sticks to the high ground and uses that telescopic sight to keep track of lawbreakers. In the first quarter hour, he knocks three baddies, one of which is the prolific Spanish character actor Fernando Sanchez, who usually endures for the length of the picture. George Martin plays Gus Kennebeck, a black-clad, mustached ruffian in Hispanic apparel. He wants to rob the Bank of Omaha of approximately $100-thousand dollars in gold. Typically, Hank waits until the outlaws have appropriated the loot, like Fernando's gang during in the opening gambit robbery. Here, things are changed. Hank must keep the villains from getting the gold. If he can frustrate their efforts, he will receive an $10-thousand along with his own $10-thousand that he picked up for the Mexican bandits. So his character has to change his modus operandi from letting the outlaws steal to stopping the outlaws from stealing. Thoroughly satisfying and entertaining throughout its 85 minutes, "Taste for Killing" also benefits from an exceptional Nico Fidenco orchestral score that is lively and memorable.

Allagash
(2020)

A Minor Gem of a Thriller
Crime thrillers like first-time writer & director John Barr's "Blood and Money" are few and far between. This minor gem won't cater to anybody with the attention span of a soap bubble. Indeed, you'll probably abhor this contemporary account of a casino robbery gone awry in the bleak, ghostly, snow-laden woodlands of remote Northern Maine. A brooding, slow-burn, exercise in suspense and tension, this B-movie melodrama takes its own sweet time cultivating its characters and the conflicts that they encounter. The inevitable clash between an ailing deer hunter with lung issues who wants to bag himself a buck for the hunting season and a quintet of dangerous criminals determined to recover their stolen loot seems to take forever. Although it clocks in at a minimal 89-minutes, "Blood and Money" feels like it is twice as long owing to Barr's methodical storytelling. Barr shuns all the usual clichés and coincidences on behalf of his complicated hero as well as a mandatory happy ending. Incidentally, don't confuse "Blood and Money" with a lackluster, low-budget thriller "Blood Money" (2017) where villainous John Cusack bails out of a propeller-driven plane high over the woods with a duffel bag of cartel drug money and winds up clashing with civilians hiking through the forest over his swag.

"Major League" actor Tom Berenger stars as the protagonist Jim Reed, a retired Vietnam veteran who served with the Marines, and his fastidious performance is unforgettable. Berenger evokes sympathy for this tortured individual who is far from being an exemplary role model. An alcoholic who have fallen off the wagon with grim memories of his notorious drinking days, Reed is haunted by his past. Earlier, he was drunk when he crashed his car, and his teenage daughter Katie died in the mishap. Somehow, Reed got off without a conviction and never did time. Now, he cruises around in a deluxe, custom-made RV. A deeply lonely man, he hasn't spoken to his son in over a year. Furthermore, he is well into his seventies and suffers from declining health. Watching Berenger hobble through the woods, you'd think he is just a huff and a puff away from a coronary. At a diner in the small town of Allagash, Maine, Reed strikes up a conversation with a pretty, twentysomething server named Debbie (Kristen Hager of "Wanted") who reminds him of his daughter. Debbie mentions a nearby casino robbery that she heard about on television. The robbers shot the place to ribbons, stole a mite more than a million in cash, and killed a few security guards.

Meantime, Reed plunges into the frozen wilderness and catches a buck in the cross-hairs of his sniper scope. He fires, but he misses! Troubled with his sloppy marksmanship, he shambles on in search of another buck. Something catches his eye ahead amid the trees. Snapping his rifle to his shoulder, he takes careful aim and pops off a round. When he finds his quarry sprawled in the snow, he realizes to his chagrin that he has accidentally shot a twentysomething woman. Writhing in the snow, she chokes on her own blood and dies as he watches. Horrified, Reed takes flight. Later, he has to return because he remembered he dropped one of his filter-tipped cigarettes near her body. Reed is a rampant chain-smoker. By the time he goes back to the girl, rigor mortis has set in, and she is frozen stiff. Close by her in the snow is a duffle bag. Reed finds the stolen cash inside and slings it over his shoulder. Taking it to a secret ice cave he had visited long ago, he stashes the loot out of sight. Eventually, he will burn some of it to stay warm. On his way out, he crosses paths with another hunter, George (Jimmy LeBlanc of "Spotlight"), whom he had met earlier at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Allagash. Reed listened as George admitted his military service in the Middle-East had traumatized him and damaged his marriage. Reed discovers later, Debbie was George's wife!

At the 60-minute mark, when Reed encounters George out hunting on his own, the quintet of casino robbers spots them. When the shooting starts, Reed flees, if trudging desperately through the woods constitutes flight. Meantime, the robbers seize George as a hostage and insist Reed return their money. If he refuses to relinquish their ill-gotten gains, they vow to kill George. Reed doesn't accommodate them, and he watches as they murder George without a qualm. Things get worse Reed. These ruthless miscreants torch his beloved RV. Now, our outnumbered hero must contend with criminals half his age in the wilderness. Reed musters his strength and relies on his familiarity with the woods to elude his murderous pursuers.

Ultimately, Reed emerges as a tragic hero. Writer & director Barr emphasizes Jim Reed's ominous frailty and his questionable behavior when he allows an innocent man to die at the hands of the villains while he kept the loot. Basically, Barr and co-scripter Alan Petherick spend the first hour of "Blood and Money" acquainting us with Jim, George, and Debbie, and then the final 30 minutes to a game of cat and mouse. Miraculously, Jim Reed triumphs over evil. At one point, he loses his hunting rifle, and things turn chaotic as he improvises and manages to dispatch his adversaries. No sooner has he killed one villain than he confiscates the guy's assault rifle since he doesn't have one. Unfortunately, he learns the ammo clip is empty, and there isn't a bullet in the chamber. This inconvenience occurs more than once, and our disadvantaged hero fears that his luck has run out. Everything Reed accomplishes against these wrongdoers comes with a grave price. Beautifully photographed by Barr in both Maine and Mexico, "Blood and Money" is a small, pared-down, independent thriller that doesn't bite off more than it can chew and benefits from Tom Berenger's nuanced performance.

Becky
(2020)

One Tough Thirteen Year Old!!!
The anger management issues that our 13-year old heroine contends with in the gritty home invasion thriller "Becky" may surprise as well as shock you. In this graphic, suspenseful, often profane, R-rated, 93-minute melodrama, a despicable goon squad of escaped White Supremacist convicts meet their match in the figure of a pubescent 13-year old girl whose mom has just died from cancer. Indisputably, she is still distraught about her mom's death, and her clueless father aggravates matters when he surprises Becky with his plans to wed his new African-American girlfriend. Now, Becky has an adolescent step-brother to look forward to once they are married. The eponymous heroine, Becky Hooper (Lulu Wilson of "Ready Player One"), hasn't recovered sufficiently from her mom's demise to sympathize with her father's urgency to start afresh with a new wife. As far as Becky is concerned, her father's rush to the altar amounts to blasphemy! She remembers strumming a guitar in her mother's hospital room. So overwrought was she by her daughter's performance, she had to stop her from playing. Meantime, Becky can neither forget her dead mom nor excuse her father's audacity to replace her mom without her permission. Nope, dad didn't think this one out, and Becky winds up hating him with a passion. When things couldn't possibly get any worse, White Supremacists show up at their lake house, looking for a wooden key one had left in their basement. Indeed, these dudes don't have a clue about Becky. By the time they get a clue, each's expiration date has passed.

"Becky" opens with our troubled teenage heroine sitting nervously in an interview with a thirtysomething sheriff's deputy and a social worker. She doesn't say much when they inquire about the home invasion. Nevertheless, Becky remembers vividly some of those alarming moments. In a way, "Becky" is somewhat anti-climactic, because we know our heroine survived the traumatic events about to be chronicled. Co-directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion, who helmed "Cooties" (2014) with Elijah Wood and later "Bushwick" (2017) with Dave Bautista and Brittany Snow, display only a modicum of restraint in their depiction of grisly violence. By comparison, "Becky" makes the classic revenge thriller "Death Wish" (1974) starring Charles Bronson look tame. Of course, it's different when a juvenile heroine puts the bad guys to death.

The convicts in "Becky" are stereotypical bigots. Two weeks earlier, before they invaded the Hooper's lakeside house, these racist dastards participated in the stabbing murder of an African-American inmate in a prison yard. Later, the four managed to escape during an inmate transfer. No, the filmmakers don't show how they subdued their two heavily armed guards. The leader of the bunch, Dominick (Kevin James of "Paul Blart: Mall Cop"), belongs t0 an arm of the Aryan Brotherhood. The cretins with him as just as evil. Dominick is an older, bald, obese Caucasian, with a huge, bushy, black beard. Prominently tattooed to the back of his clean-shaven noggin is a giant Nazi swastika.

These suspicious characters show up at the Hooper's lake house. Dominick lies about having lost his pet dog. Actually, he is there to root out a key. By this time, Becky and her father Jeff (Joel McHale of "Assassination Nation") have stopped talking. Furthermore, she wants nothing to do with either Jeff's girlfriend, Kayla (Amanda Brugel of "Jason X"), or her son, Ty (newcomer Isaiah Rockcliffe) at the lakeside residence. Plunging into the woods like a renegade, she holes up in a sturdy fort with a pit bull named Diego. When neither Jeff nor Kayla knows anything about this mysterious key, Dominick suspects they are lying. He doesn't have time to waste on these antics, so he shoots Kayla in the thigh without warning. Afterward, he tries to reason with Jeff to do everything he can to reach Becky. Meantime, Dominick finds Becky's phone and launches a manhunt to find her. He sends out his henchmen to locate her. He knows she cannot be far away. He knows, too, that she lied about calling the cops. You'll love the incident that finally elicits a response from local law enforcement.

As it turns out, Becky can take care of herself. She improvises, resorting to basic garden tools and writing implements to annihilate her adversaries. She turns into a sadistic "MacGyver" girl. She devises booby-traps. She catches her prey. She does horrible things to them. They die. She drowns a thug in a pond with an outboard motor churning his face into hamburger. She gouges Dominick's eye out. When he collapses in the kitchen, his right eyeball wobbles out of its socket on its sinewy tether across the counter like a rubber ball attached to a paddle. Desperately, Dominick struggles to catch it. Incredibly, he recovers and has his own anger management Armageddon. Channeling "John Wick," Becky saves the best for the hooligan who shot her poor dog full of holes. For good measure, he dies with a splintered, foot-long, kindergarten ruler sticking either way out of his neck with inches to spare! When she commits all these murders, straight-faced Becky is dressed in an absurd looking child's knit cap with ears, eyes, and nose, and with tie cords dangling in front.

Apart from Lulu Wilson's electrifying performance as the revenge-driven Becky, Kevin James deserves recognition for his villainous turn as Dominick. Some may not even recognize him. He looks nothing like he did in all his previous movies and both television sit-coms. Honestly, despite being an offensive character, Dominick doesn't utter the kind of soul-eroding profanity that such a lout would spout. Nevertheless, he makes a malevolent jailbird who deserves his just comeuppance. Scenarists Nick Norris of "The Evil Eye," and Ruckus Skye & Lane Skye of "Devil to Pay" have penned a preposterous but engrossing paean to female empowerment as a cathartic revenge fantasy. "Becky" ends where it began. The deputy and the social worker fear the effect of the killings on her mental state. Smell a sequel?

VFW
(2019)

A Profane, Skull-Smashing, B-Movie
If you love to howl at movies, whether at theaters or on home video, "Bliss" director Joe Begos' retro-1980's exploitation crime thriller "VFW" will make your lungs sore. Predictable but entertaining from fade-in to fadeout, this profane, skull-smashing, B-movie conjures up a fictitious narcotic Hylophedrine--nicknamed Hype for short--that junkies will commit suicide to score. Clocking in at a nimble 92-minutes, this hard-boiled "Grindhouse" epic wallows in clichés and conventions galore, with hard-luck heroes you'll admire as well as vile villains who'll make you swear. Nothing about this brass-knuckled, Fangoria-produced nail-biter pulls any punches when it comes to orchestrating slam-bang action with a double-digit body count. Indeed, the heroes of this hair-raising hokum are primarily Vietnam veterans, and one from the Korean Conflict, who defend their hometown VFW Post with a vengeance against a desperate legion of zombified addicts dying for Hype.

"VFW" opens with a dystopian prologue. "As America's opioid crisis worsens, addicts turn to a new drug. Hylophedrine. Street Name: Hype. Cities become war zones. Neighborhoods crumble. Law enforcement retreats. With dealers struggling to meet demand, Hypers resort to any means necessary to get their fix." This bizarre, adrenaline-fueled fracas, throbbing with an atmospheric, heavy-metal soundtrack, evokes memories of "Escape from New York," "Big Trouble in Little China," and "Assault on Precinct 13," three of John Carpenter's best, ultra-violent, lunatic fringe action classics. Begos doesn't waste time setting up the premise and pitting our virtuous heroes against some genuinely nasty pieces of work.

The mayhem in "VFW" transpires on the outskirts of an anonymous metropolis. Reportedly, the film was lensed on location in Dallas, Texas. Despite all the chaos ravaging the world, Fred Parras (Stephen Lang of "Tombstone") cruises off for another day of tending a wood-paneled bar at VFW Post 2494. Abe Hawkins (Fred Williamson of "Original Gangstas") and Walter Reed (William Sadler of "Die Hard 2: Die Harder"), two of his best buddies, accompany him. Eventually, flashy car salesman Lou Clayton (Martin Kove of "Rambo II"), medical marijuana puffer Doug McCarthy (David Patrick Kelly of "Commando") and barfly Thomas Zabriski (George Wendt of TV'S "Cheers") belly up to the bar. At midnight, they plan to knock off and visit a strip joint to celebrate Parras' birthday.

Across the street from the VFW post sprawls a derelict multiplex movie theater. Dozens of Hypers congregate in the parking lot in front of the dilapidated edifice. They depend on evil drug dealer Boz (Travis Hammer of "Dominion") for their fix. Meantime, Parras doesn't think these "28 Days Later" rage-crazed millennials pose a peril. He adopts a live and let live stance until a teen runaway, Lizard (Sierra McCormick of "The Vast of Night"), bursts into Post 2494. She is carrying $500-million of Hype in cinder block sized packages. So addictive is Hype after you use it, you're hooked forever and will commit suicide for more! It seems that depraved Boz, looking piratical in his spike-studded, black leather jacket, refused to give vial of Hype to Lizard's sister. Instead, he tossed it over the edge of the theater's second-floor balcony. Trembling with the mute fear, Lizard's sister Lucy (Linnea Wilson of "Rogue Warfare") shrives with fear and then performs a header off the balcony! In one of the more graphic scenes, we watch as Lucy's body-arms spread as if crucified--plummets face down into the floor and crashes in a pool of blood. Since Boz knows where Lizard has fled, he summons his bloodthirsty throng of mindless mutants. He vows to give anybody who recovers the Hype enough of the stuff to liquify their tonsils. One of his henchmen warns Boz that VFW means Veterans of Forever Wars. A sadistic smile creases Boz's narrow face, "Good. Soldiers know how to die." Mind you, these grizzled, past-their-prime, war dogs wanted nothing more than to booze the night away and toast Fred's birthday. Unfortunately, everything at VFW Post 2494 went sideways when that fugitive teenage girl on the lam barreled into the place. She knows Boz will kill her to recover the backpack bulging with Hylophedrine but she is relieved the old-timers will fight for her. Rampaging hot on her heels storms a horde of homicidal hellions who aren't going to let anybody interfere with their objective. Not only does Boz want his narcotics back, but he also wants to slay Lizard and slaughter the veterans!

"VFW" aspires to be nothing more than an exciting, popcorn-munching, B-movie melodrama. Watching these Vietnam veterans wade into a host of Hypers, slugging, stabbing, and skewering them without a qualm, is something to see. Sensitive souls who couldn't stomach either Robert Rodriguez's "From Dusk till Dawn" or S. Craig Zahler "Brawl in Cell Block 99" should probably abstain from this rambunctious rabble-rouser. Camaraderie runs high among the ensemble cast of cantankerous of old farts, even after they exhaust ammo for their firearms and must improvise like "MacGyver" for an imminent Armageddon. Tearing apart bar stools, they convert the legs into cudgels. If you're craving an old-fashioned but formulaic outing about grumpy Boomers versus ghoulish Millennials, you won't go wrong with "VFW."

The Wonderful Country
(1959)

Lackluster Oater
This drab Robert Mitchum western set in Mexico has little to distinguish it in terms of either action or drama. Robert Parrish's "The Wonderful Country" looks scenic and the locations are genuine, but there isn't much to the screenplay by Robert Ardrey of "Khartoum" and Walter Bernstein of "That Kind of Woman." Basically, Mitchum is a Missouri native who gets mixed up with Mexicans, especially the governor and the general in Mexico. Everything gets off to a sluggish start with Martin Brady (Robert Mitchum) losing a consignment of rifles after he crosses the border into the United States and suffers a broken leg when his horse falls. Three weeks later after he has recuperated, Brady has the hots for the lonely, unfulfilled wife of an Army commander, Helen Colton (Julie London), but he finds himself on the wrong side of the law when he kills a man, Barton (Chuck Roberson of "McLintock!"), who beat up a friend and tried to draw on him. Brady flees back to Mexico, but the die has been cast and he yearns for Helen's love. Eventually, he runs into Major Stark Colton (Gary Merill of "Mysterious Island") who has been sent into Mexico to track down renegade Apaches. Everything works out in the end for everybody, but there is little in this film to inspire anybody. Mitchum looks befuddled most of the time. Something big was made of Mitchum wearing a poncho, but we only see it draped across his shoulder in the first scene when his companions and he cross the Rio Grande.

Force of Nature
(2020)

Above-Average But Contived Heist Caper
Not only does Mel Gibson deliver the best lines of dialogue in "Astronaut Farmer" director Michael Polish's predictable but entertaining crime thriller "Force of Nature," but he also steals every scene he has with Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth, and Stephanie Cayo. Gibson is the 'live wire' here who knows when to joke and when to croak. This contrived but suspenseful heist thriller takes place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, during a Category 5 hurricane when a pair of uniform cops are dispatched to evacuate residents from various buildings around the city. Meantime, a sadistic thief nicknamed 'John the Baptist' scours a claustrophobic, four-story apartment complex for a treasure trove of priceless paintings that the Nazis had stolen from Europe during World War II. Clocking in at 91 lean and mean minutes, this occasionally violent, R-rated, suspense saga suffers from its flashback and flash-forward narrative, but its lively cast and David Zaya's bravura performance as the ruthless villain compensates for the film's many lackluster scenes that clutter up this fracas.

Originally, Bruce Willis of "Die Hard" fame had been cast as the grumpy, profane detective, but Gibson replaced him after Willis exited the production. The obstinate Gibson character prefers to ride out the devastating hurricane rather than enter the hospital for his dialysis treatment. He provides a performance like a force of nature itself as he tangles with a gang of heavily armed, trigger-happy hooligans. A criminal mastermind, with no qualms about killing anybody in cold blood who gets in his way, leads these dastards. Apart from an early scene in a grocery store, practically everything that occurs in "Force of Nature" is confined to the claustrophobic rooms and narrow hallways of the apartment complex. Like so many thrillers nowadays, "Force of Nature" jumbles the chronological order of its storyline.

Basically, this thriller starts in the middle and then flashbacks to the beginning. Eventually, the action resumes where it left off initially in the middle. A policeman, Cardillo (Emile Hirsch of "Speed Racer"), and his assailant are locked in mortal combat in the rain at an apartment house after each has managed to disarm the other. The ruffian repeatedly slugs and stomps the cop without mercy. Meantime, a bearded, grizzled, white-haired, former cop, Ray (Mel Gibson of "Blood Father"), packing a pistol in a two-fisted grip, struggles to draw a bead on the ruffian beating Cardillo to a pulp. He cannot risk taking the shot because he fears his bullet might strike the cop. Suddenly, a gunshot rings out like an artillery blast, and director Michael Polish takes us abruptly back to the beginning. The suicidal Cardillo sits in his bathtub and ponders the automatic pistol he has shoved into his mouth. He cannot pull the trigger, so he reports to work with the memory of a tragic incident that happened to him in New York City where he had been a detective.

A hurricane evacuation notice has been issued, and Cardillo's supervisor pulls him off desk duty to help escort citizens to emergency shelters. Cardillo finds himself paired up with a rookie female cop, Jess Pena (Stephanie Cayo of "Yucatán"), and they wind up at the grocery store where an African-American resident, Griffin (William Catlett of "Charm City Kings"), and the rent-a-cop await them. Earlier, Griffin had piled his grocery store shopping cart high with meat. Indeed, he has all but cleaned out the cooler. An incredulous father and son approach Griffin. The father asks if they can have some meat products. They summon a security guard. The father lies that Griffin snatched a pack of ground beef from his son. The security guard not only detains Griffin after Griffin threatened the father but also notifies the police. Since the father pressed no charges, Cardillo is willing to release Griffin. Before Cardillo lets him go, Griffin must explain why he was buying a hundred pounds of meat. Saying anything more would spoil an unforgettable last-minute surprise.

Meantime, a professional criminal, John the Baptist (David Zayas of "The Expendables"), has been searching for millions of dollars in stolen paintings looted by the Nazis and taken to the Caribbean. Baptist has tracked down an old man, Paul (Jorge Luis Ramos), who has hidden paintings his Nazi father stole when they fled from the Third Reich after Germany surrendered. As it turns out, Cardillo and Pena give Griffin a ride back to his apartment complex. Coincidentally, Griffin's apartment is in the same complex where Paul has hidden the purloined artworks. Cardillo and Pena call on a physician Troy (Kate Bosworth of "Straw Dogs") and her crotchety father, Ray. She has reserved a hospital room for Ray, but cannot persuade him to leave his apartment. About this time, John the Baptist and his henchmen arrive at the apartment complex. Murdering the manager in cold blood, Baptist sends in a quintet of thugs armed with assault rifles to storm the premises.

Appropriately, for the sake of authenticity, director Michael Polish filmed "Force of Nature" on location in Puerto Rico. He doesn't let the action malinger. He maintains a fast-pace, cross-cutting between both heroes and villains as they scramble around the apartment complex in the downpour, swapping lead with each other. The free-for-all fights are believably chaotic. Nobody decks anyone with one punch alone. Meantime, few of these characters are memorable, but the cast does their best to give these shallow characters charisma. Again, Gibson invigorates the melodramatics with his cantankerous banter and volatile disposition. Emile Hirsch is a gun-shy cop who flees from violence, but then rallies during the last half to redeem himself. He went from being a gung-ho detective to a pusillanimous policeman in Puerto Rico. As John the Baptist, David Zayas has a field day shooting people at point blank range in the head. Happily, Baptist receives the comeuppance he so richly deserves. "Force of Nature" amounts to a tolerably entertaining potboiler.

Die grünen Teufel von Monte Cassino
(1958)

Good Germans and Bad Germans
This is the kind of World War II told from the German perspective that you rarely see. The backdrop is the historic abbey at Monte Cassino in Italy as the Allies pursued the Germans to Rome. The good German is a veteran of Russia who is a member of a paratroop battalion that is dispatched to Monte Cassino. He refused to obey an order to shoot a prisoner. Meantime, the lieutenant in charge of paratroopers is your typical bad German who lusts after a pretty German nurse. Naturally, she chooses the corporal over the Lieutenant. At that point in World War II, the abbey proved to be a roadblock for the Allies on their way to Rome. Director Harald Reinl does a good job of alternating the narrative between the enlisted men and the officers. One officer fears that the priceless paintings and artwork stored in the abbey will be destroyed when the Allies commence bombing mission. He persuades the holy fathers to let him collect the art, load it into trucks, and convoy everything to the Vatican in Rome. You won't see a Nazi swastika in sight or heard any defeatist talk about the glories of the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler. A movie worth watching!!!

The Hunt
(2020)

Run for Your Life!!!
You won't have to wait long for the blood, gore, and violence to erupt in "Compliance" director Craig Zobel's "The Hunt," an entertaining, but derivative socio-political jeremiad about conspiracy theories in the Google age of misinformation. Disgraced cultural elitists on the Liberal Left start shooting, slashing, and slaying adherents of the populist Right without a qualm. This pretentious but polished yarn evokes memories of Richard Connell's classic short story "The Most Dangerous Game," published on January 19, 1924. A mad Russian aristocrat stalks an unarmed big-game hunter for amusement on his privately-owned Caribbean island. Similarly, in "The Hunt," ten men and women die gruesome deaths from bullets, boobytraps, and bows & arrows during the first thirty minutes of this 90-minute massacre. Clearly, producer & director Craig Zobel admires George Orwell's allegorical novel "Animal Farm" as much as "The Most Dangerous Game." Not only do Zobel and co-scripters Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof insert frequent "Animal Farm" allusions in the dialogue, but they also let a cute little pig cavort amidst all the savagery until its trigger-happy, Liberal owners ambush it by accident. Parenthetically, Cuse co-scripted the HBO mini-series remake of "Watchmen" (2019), while Lindelof created "Lost" (2004-2010).

Primarily, "The Hunt" features only two fully fleshed-out characters. The heroine is a Mississippi native, Crystal Mae Creasy (Betty Gilpin of Netflix's "Glow") who served in Afghanistan and knows how to shoot, while her wealthy antagonist is Athena (Hilary Swank of "Boys Don't Cry"), one of the disgraced CEOs who planned this sadistic hunt for humans. Everybody else is typecast. One victim (Emma Roberts of "Aquamarine") wears a yoga outfit. Literally, her character is listed in the end credits as 'Yoga Pants!' Indeed, the Liberal Left label these populists as "a basket of deplorables." Mind you, Hilary Clinton coined this ugly term during her 2016 Presidential campaign. TheNew York Times wrote that she identified half of Trump's supporters as "deplorables." Clinton reviled them as racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic. Meantime, dastardly villains here constitute a faction of snobbish, affluent, but ostracized Whites in seclusion. They had been chastised for the texting thread shown in the opening scene. Naturally, they were shocked to learn that somebody had hacked their thread. Accordingly, these CEOs were either fired or resigned voluntarily. Later, in retaliation, these CEOs executed what they had contemplated initially as a farce. Meantime, Zobel and co-writers frustrate audiences because it is virtually impossible to choose a character with which you can align your sympathies before the first hour elapses. No sooner do you warm up to one character than that person suffers a sudden case of death. For example, a fleeing brunette stumbles into a pit studded with huge wooden spikes. Miraculously, another character hoists this fatally wounded brunette off those blood-soaked spikes. Staggering away with her arm around his shoulder, he realizes too late he has just stepped on a land mine. BLAM! The explosion atomizes him, while the poor brunette is blown back into the same pit. Landing in it again, she recovers only to find herself skewered on those same spikes. Sadly, the explosion has obliterated everything below her navel!

Ultimately, the hopelessly random but CGI-enhanced carnage may divert action purists as much as it may prompt thoughtful audiences to grumble about its contrived third act. If you abhor movies that waste too much time setting up a premise, then you'll relish "The Hunt." Zobel and company stall audiences until the 60-minute mark before they clear up the plot's mystery. Two flashbacks before the ultimate showdown between the two leading ladies signifying both the populist Right and Disgraced Liberal Left clarify everything. Had they presented these revelations in chronological order, the filmmakers would have spoiled their own grand finale. The initial critical response to "The Hunt" serves as a testament to the filmmakers' creativity. The white-knuckled suspense and the blood-splattered spectacle of "The Hunt" overshadow its complicated shenanigans. Basically, the message in "The Hunt" is don't believe anything you either read or hear on social media. The violence in the trailer for "The Hunt" plunged it into hot water when Universal Studios unveiled it. President Donald Trump condemned this cinematic sophistry on Twitter in the aftermath of the tragic shootings in both Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. Trump's text argued: "Liberal Hollywood is Racist at the highest level, and with great Anger and Hate! They like to call themselves "Elite," but they are not Elite. In fact, it is often the people that they so strongly oppose that are actually the Elite. The movie coming out is made to inflame and cause chaos. They create their own violence and then try to blame others. They are the true Racists, and are very bad for our Country!" Instead, since the President never saw "The Hunt," he didn't know the film slammed the Liberals far more than the Right-wing populists. Similarly, other critics derided Zobel for glamourizing wholesale bloodshed. Mind you, neither the President nor the critics saw the movie before they leveled their criticism. Basically, Trump and the critics jumped the gun! Ironically, the movie's message about people who leap to conclusions about media content was played out in real life by its impetuous detractors. Consequently, Universal delayed "The Hunt's" release until the controversy waned. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus engulfed the nation just as the film opened on theater screens. When the theaters were shuttered, Universal released it on cable strictly as a rental until its recent availability on home video. Indeed, the violence is graphic but no more violent than any number of R-rated actioneers. Furthermore, the villains who orchestrated the murders in "The Hunt" turned out to be just as half-witted as both the Dayton and El Paso gunmen. You have to wait until the third act of "The Hunt" to understand its complicated plot.

If you enjoyed subversive thrillers, such as "The Purge" franchise, you'll probably appreciate this outlandish opus that shows the shortcomings of both sides.

Capone
(2020)

"Capone" is Kaput!!!
Prohibition Era bootlegger Alphonse Gabriel Capone has been the subject of several memorable Hollywood movies. Initially, character actor Rod Steiger played the notorious Chicago mobster in director Richard Wilson's black & white classic "Al Capone" (1959). Later, Broadway actor Jason Robards appeared as Capone in director Roger Corman's "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre" (1967) and this movie depicted the notorious bloodbath in a Chicago garage that Capone orchestrated so he could topple rival gang headed up by Bugs Moran in 1929. Ben Gazzara donned the gangster's distinctive fedora for director Steve Carver's "Capone" (1975), and Sylvester Stallone co-starring as Capone's right-hand gunsel Frank Nitti. Robert De Niro, who parlayed a career out of portraying both factual and fictional gangsters, played the Italian crime boss in director Brian De Palma's Oscar-winning epic "The Untouchables" (1987) opposite Kevin Costner's Elliot Ness. If you saw "The Untouchables," it is hard to forget the scene where Capone wields a baseball bat to deal with one of his treacherous minions. Mind you, actors Steiger, Robards, Gazzara, and De Niro shared one thing in common, they impersonated the FBI's Public Enemy #1 during his seven-year reign as the murderous chieftain who oversaw gambling concessions, brothels, loansharking operations, protection services, and homicidal escapades. These four movies rank as worth-watching if you fancy yourself an aficionado of American crime sagas.

Now, English actor Tom Hardy joins them in "Fantastic Four" director Josh Trank's "Capone," but this glossy but gloomy movie provides only a glimpse of the mobster's underworld exploits. Basically, "Capone" covers the final days of the Chicago bigwig's career after the U.S. Government released him from the confines of the escape-proof Alcatraz Prison in the heart of San Francisco Bay. While all other Capone biographies have focused on his rise and fall, Trank's "Capone" covers the final days of the gangster's life. If you enjoy glamorous, bullet-riddled mobster melodramas, you may want to think twice before you sit down to see this version of his life. When we meet Capone here, the hoodlum is no longer the flamboyant mob boss who made national headlines. Capone's seriously declining health constituted the main reason that the Government allowed him to leave the Federal Penitentiary with only ten years served on his eleven-year sentence. Hardy's Capone is racked by troubling 'crime doesn't pay' memories, few of which are gratifying either for him or us. Indeed, gifted writer & director Josh Trank presents the thoroughly unsavory side of ex-con's life. By this time, Capone had been afflicted by a festering case of neurosyphilis. Reportedly, Capone contracted syphilis during his early years as a bouncer in "Big Jim" Colosimo's houses of prostitution. Unfortunately, when Capone acquired this nasty social disease, medical science had not yet found a cure. Penicillin was not available until after World War II. The bacteria in Capone's untreated syphilis would spread to and devastate other organs, including eventually his brain. When the authorities released him for good behavior, Capone was too far gone to ever reclaim his prominence in the crime world.

Virtually everything that occurs in "Capone" transpires during his last woebegone days at his sprawling Florida mansion where he died on January 25, 1947, at age 48, from heart failure. Tom Hardy delivers an inspired performance of the former mob boss nicknamed 'Scarface,' but he spends most of his time suffering in pain as he relives parts of his past. Worst of all, neither Trank nor Hardy pulls any punches in their gruesome depiction of Capone's final days. Twice in "Capone," the gangster experiences the shame of fouling his underwear, once while he is dressed up for a formal occasion with his family and then later when his wife awakens in the middle of the night to the stench of his bowel movement in their king-sized bed. If there has ever been a crime movie that expunged every trace of glamor from a gangster's life, "Capone" never misses a chance to show how the man degenerated into mindless dementia and eventually died. Nothing about this polished production, with its sturdy cast, including Linda Cardellini as Capone's wife Mae and Matt Dillon as one of his former criminal accomplices, is memorable. Throughout "Capone," the former gangland boss scours his addled brain for $10-million that he thought he had stashed somewhere. Sadly, Capone cannot recall where he hid those millions. Similarly, IRS officials have been eavesdropping on his telephone conversations in case his memory improves. At one point, Capone arms himself with a gold-plated Thompson .45 caliber machine gun and shoots up the premises. He is furious because Mae and his family have been forced to sell his collection of priceless statues on the grounds of his estate to pay for their bills.

It is difficult to imagine what prompted Tom Hardy and director Josh Trank to make such an altogether depressing film that drags interminably for an hour and forty-three miserable minutes with little relief in sight. Originally, "Capone" was scheduled for a theatrical release, but the coronavirus pandemic ruled that out that possibility. Nevertheless, why anybody would willingly produce such a disgusting film, even for home video release defies analysis. Skip "Capone!"

Rev
(2020)

A Revelation of Sorts!!!
If you fantasize about stealing exotic, high-end cars, co-writer & scenarist Ant Horasanli's "REV" will make your mouth water with anticipation. Even after H.B. Halicki's original "Gone in 60 Seconds" (1974) and the Nicolas Cage remake of 2000, along with the entire "Fast & Furious" franchise, there is still room for another derivative stolen car movie. Mind you, Harsanli's polished Toronto-based, grand theft auto thriller isn't crowned by a celebrity cast. You've probably never heard of actors and actresses, such as Francesco Filice, Sean Rey, and Hannah Gordon. Nevertheless, they make charming, but convincing crooks. The biggest name in "REV" is Vivica A. Fox, and the "Independence Day" actress hasn't been in anything notable since "Independence Day: Resurgence" (2016). Cast as a hard-boiled Toronto Police Detective after the bust of the century, she radiates a rather villainous vibe. The standard-issue screenplay by "Gear" writer Reza Sholeh and Harsanli careens around all the preposterous curves with the usual scenes and suspense you would expect from such an auto-theft thriller.

Occasionally, this nifty, low-budget, stolen car saga delivers a surprise or two, including an upbeat ending, that will help you handle the speed bumps that get in the way. Most of the criminal activities depicted here are familiar. Ironically, our protagonist--who doubles as the narrator--comments that if movies like "Gone in 60 Seconds" weren't made, then he would never have started stealing cars. The filmmakers don't approach their subject matter as a primer for car thieves. The chief difference between "REV" and all those other spectacular stolen car thrillers is "REV's" South African connection. Not only do these car thieves boost high-end autos, but they also load into shipping containers and send them on voyages across the Atlantic with narcotics crammed in every crevice. Warlords and other crooked officials in Ghana take possession of these dream rides as well as the contraband concealed within them. They live the high life under the watchful eyes of their heavily armed sentinel warrior children.

Unlike "The Fast & the Furious," the protagonist in "REV" is a career car thief. Toronto PD arrests him, but then allows him to continue his criminal capers. Now, however, he acts as their informant. Mikey Barley (Francesco Filice of "Detainee X") gets caught early on stealing police cruisers, but he stays out of jail until the Toronto Police nab him for something bigger. Mikey pinches a Shelby Cobra Replica and stashes it in an underground parking lot. He figures if the car contains a tracking device, the vehicle won't be there when he returns for it. A week afterward, Mikey finds the Shelby untouched in the same parking slot. Slipping behind the wheel to crank it up, he fails to notice two Toronto PD cruisers pulling up behind him. Armed policemen draw a bead on him with their pistols and then arrest him. Detective Reid (Vivica A. Fox) gives Mikey a choice: work with them or serve an eternity in prison. Naturally, Mikey prefers to be a snitch. Now, he regrets he ever quit his quaint computer store job.

Now, Mikey must find somebody who traffics in stolen cars. He attracts the attention of one of Toronto's more notorious car thieves that the police have had no luck busting. Audaciously, Mikey targets Charlie (Sean Ray of "Betrayed") and steals Charlie's car, a 2004 Lamborghini Gallardo. Later, he finds himself in deep with the notorious car thief. Stealing cars for Charlie, Mikey grows fond of the exhilarating nightlife, the booze, and the broads, until Charlie's stunning girlfriend Ava (Hannah Gordon of "Scarecrows") wants to lay more than her eyes on him. Mikey realizes he is fiddling with forbidden fruit. Earlier, he saw Charlie fly into a violent rage when a guy tried to dance with his babelicious. Charlie nearly stomped the poor dude to death! Even Ava realizes she is juggling more than dynamite when she starts sleeping with Mikey behind Charlie's back. When Charlie's ambitious but treacherous accomplice, Sammy (Alex Loubert of "The Heretics") unveils his plan to load the cars with narcotics galore, Charlie dreads the extra heat such a scheme may draw. At about the same time, Detective Reid learns Mikey's cover has been blown! Altogether, neither the criminals nor the cops claim total victory at fadeout. Each suffers setbacks to their grand schemes and withdraws from the field frustrated. Clocking in at a nimble 91 minutes, with a boisterous techno musical soundtrack, "REV" generates enough engine revolutions per minute to keep you occupied with its slick sights and sounds.

Enemy Lines
(2020)

An Above-Average World War II Secret Mission Thriller
The above-average World War II action thriller "Enemy Lines" depicts a daring Allied commando raid to snatch a Polish scientist from the clutches of his villainous Nazi captors. Washington wants to add this Pole to the ranks of other scientists toiling over the top-secret Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb. Not only do the Allies-the British and the Americans-want this Brainiac for his particular genius, but a Soviet undercover squad of NKVD also wants him, too. Although the British, the Americans, and the Soviets waged war against Hitler's nefarious Third Reich, the Soviets are just as anxious to abduct this gifted scientist for Joe Stalin. Swedish director Anders Banke and "Amsterdam Heavy" scenarist Michael Wright, working from producer Tom George's story, have fashioned a competent, death-defying mission movie. The endless horde of Germans never gives them a break. "Enemy Lines" evoked memories of director Walter Grauman's vintage epic "The Last Escape" (1970), where Americans disguised as Germans nabbed a rocket scientist from the Nazis before Joseph Stalin's cronies can claim him themselves. Meantime, Hitler's henchmen were spitting bullets at their heels. Most World War II movies these days like "Enemy Lines" suffer from inadequate budgets, like my earlier review of "We Go in At Dawn." More often than not you had to fill in the gaps between the missing scenes for yourself in "We Go in at Dawn" because the tight budget excluded them. Happily, "Enemy Lines" doesn't suffer from that kind of shortcoming.

"Enemy Lines" is one of those movies that starts in the middle, with our stealthy heroes attacking the sentries outside the house of Dr. Fabien (Pawel Delag of "Schindler's List") during a freezing night. They slay the unsuspecting guards silently with their knives. Abruptly, however, the movie reverts back to the beginning. U.S. Army General McCloud (Corey Johnson of "The Bourne Legacy") and British Colonel Preston (John Hannah of "Sliding Doors") give U.S. Marine Major Kaminski (Ed Westwick of "Billionaire Ransom") his orders about his suicidal mission. Kaminski will command a quartet of professional British commandos as his team. This quintet will travel by trawler under cover of night to Poland, go ashore and usher rocket scientist Dr. Fabien and his family to the safety of a submarine. The best action movies always complicate the best-laid plans of heroes and enemies, so nobody has a picnic. No sooner have our heroes rescued Dr. Fabian than a lone German officer takes his wife hostage at gunpoint. Although a British sharpshooter kills him with a near impossible shot, the stubborn Nazi lives long enough to put a fatal bullet in Fabien's wife. Our heroes move out on foot, across icy terrain with the scientist and his grieving young daughter, but they lose contact with London when their radio craps out on them. Not only are the Nazis in hot pursuit, but also that lethal NKVD squad is following with their own ideas about grabbing Fabien. Indeed, "Enemy Lines" observes all the clichés and conventions of the war movie genre, especially the self-sacrificial displays of heroism by the British. Few survive the repeated firefights. Meantime, the Nazis mobilize literally everything in their pursuit of the Allies, including a couple of tanks!

Apart from John Hannah, who plays the irritable, tight-lipped Colonel Preston in the tense headquarters scenes, the cast consists entirely of either unknowns or foreigners. You may remember Hannah from the first two Brendan Fraser "Mummy" movies or perhaps the romantic comedy "Four Weddings and a Funeral." Leading man Ed Westwick has appeared in some big-name films, such as "Children of Men" (2006), "Son of Rambow" (2007), "S. Darko" (2009), "J. Edgar" (2011), "Romeo & Juliet" (2013) and "Freaks of Nature" (2015), but he hasn't attained celebrity status. Clocking in at 93 suspenseful minutes, this white-knuckled, wartime thriller delivers nearly everything any armchair general could ask for in a high-octane World War II actioneer. From fade in until fadeout, "Enemy Lines" qualifies as an entertaining, sometimes surprising yarn. The narrative twists and turns in the action will keep you guessing.

We Go in at Dawn
(2020)

A Lackluster Remake of "Where Eagles Dare" without the Castle
You know you're in trouble when the DVD case for a World War II movie promises action that the filmmakers don't deliver. The cover depicts American Mustang fighter planes strafing an enemy airfield. At best, British writer & director Ben Mole's "We Go in at Dawn" gives us a glimpse of an airplane parked in a hanger. However, this is the only plane we are shown in the entire movie. Basically, this modest World War II movie concerns espionage behind enemy lines. One of the planners of the Second Front, i.e., D-Day, has been captured after his plane was shot down over occupied France. The only thing good about this unfortunate accident is the Germans don't realize the importance of this Englishman. Meantime, they keep him under close guard in a chateau in France until a high-ranking Gestapo officer can arrive to interrogate him. As it turns out, this Gestapo officer knows who the prisoner is, so the Allies can expect immediate action out of the Nazis. If the enemy are able to loosen this man's tongue, the plans for the historic invasion of Fortress Europa along the Normandy coastline on June 6th are compromised. Predictably, a seasoned English commando, who has survived behind enemy lines in the Balkans, is dispatched either to liberate this very important person or slip him a cyanide pill. The setting and the action of Mole's World War II thriller duplicates on a micro budget with considerably fewer explosives and bullets what highlighted Brian G. Hutton's explosive epic "Where Eagles Dare" (1968) starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. In "Where Eagles Dare," the Allies infiltrate a heavily armed castle nestled in the Bavarian Alps and rescue one of the chief coordinators of the Second Front before the Gestapo can extract value information out of him about the invasion. British commando officer John Seabourne (television actor Kelvin Fletcher) has grown as tired as anybody about the course of the war, and his daughter has suffered without a mother. She is going to visit relatives when the German Luftwaffe bomb the area and killed her. Naturally, Seabourne isn't happy about this tragic turn of events. Were this not enough bad news in his life, he learns that his superiors have a mission for him in France. Seabourne is one of their best commandos, but he has been operating in the Balkans and doesn't speak a syllable of French. Nevertheless, he is briefed and sent across the Channel to rendezvous with a small group of French Resistance fighters. These intrepid French Resistance fighters are led by a ruthless young woman, Ellie (Audrey L'Ebrellec of "Arthur & Merlin: Knights of Camelot"), who has no qualms about shooting Germans dead at point blank range. Indeed, we see her stand over the supine body of an unarmed German soldier and shoot him dead without batting an eyelash. Since "We Go in at Dawn" is a low-budget feature film, the filmmakers refrain from showing how our hero is transported from London to France. Suffice it to say, Seabourne is tromping through the French countryside when he links up with Ellie and her small band of guerrillas. No sooner has Seabourne sneaked into the German compound at a French chateau than he learns to his chagrin that his objective, Victor Laurence (Christos Lawton of "Hugo"), doesn't want to risk his life again to escape. Laurence argues that the German were learn too late about his identity and the D-Day landings that the Allies have scheduled will have taken place. Laurence ponders the problem that Gestapo officer Richter (television actor Guy Faulkner) may recognize him. At first, the villainous Gestapo officer doesn't remember Laurence, but it doesn't take him long to search his memory. What "We Go in at Dawn" lacks in budget, Mole struggles to compensate for his shortcomings by emphasizing suspense, suspense, and more suspense. Ellie and Seabourne clash throughout the action, particularly after they kill two Germans prowling the woods and some of her Resistance fighters are captured. Eventually, Seabourne convinces Laurence that he has no choice but to escape and return to England. Seabourne rallies the prisoners-of-war serving time along with Laurence in the chateau, and Ellie relies on a bag of explosives to distract the Germans long enough for our heroes to make their getaway. Mole conjures up several moments of suspense as our heroes risk their lives against a superior force. You don't often see in movies like this the practice of battlefield salvage. Meaning, an unarmed soldier picks up the firearms cradled in the arms of dead enemy soldiers and use them against them. The biggest problem with "We Go in at Dawn" is credibility. The Allies have it far too easy and the Germans are a day late and a dollar short in every encounter against our heroes. Clocking in a minimal 85 minutes. "We Go in at Dawn" ranks as the kind of World War II movie that only die-hard movie warriors will find tolerable in the best of the conditions.

Guns Akimbo
(2019)

A Blast From Fade-In to Fadeout
Daniel Radcliffe has been struggling since the "Harry Potter" franchise ended with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" (2011) to distance himself from J.K. Rowling's adolescent warlock and prove his chops as an actor. Just about every movie he has appeared in since "Harry Potter" bears little resemblance to "Harry Potter," with the unforgettable "Swiss Army Man" (2016) topping the list. Indeed, Radcliffe has taken roles not only like "Swiss Army Man" where he played a corpse, but also other bizarre co-starring roles like Igor in "Victor Frankenstein" (2015) with James McAvoy as Mary Shelley's mad scientist. In the biographical "Kill Your Darlings" (2013), Radcliffe played Allen Ginsburg, one of the germinal poets of the Beat Generation. Ginsburg and fellow writers William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac rose to prominence during this post-World War II literary movement. Flatly rejecting status quo social values, these writers fooled around non-Christian religions and fiddled with psychedelic drugs, sexual freedom, while shunning materialism. Radcliffe followed "Kill Your Darlings" with the supernatural saga "Horns" (2013) where a pair of satanic horns erupted from his forehead after his girlfriend died under mysterious circumstances. In "Imperium," he portrayed a clean-cut FBI agent who infiltrated a terrorist group and thwarted their goal to build a dirty bomb. Before he starred in the 'anything goes' histrionics of "Guns Akimbo," he played real-life, anti-apartheid protester Tim Jenkin who broke out of a South African slammer in "Escape from Pretoria." Mind you, for the moviegoers weaned on the runaway success of the "Harry Potter" franchise, Radcliffe will always be the perennially youthful magician apprentice.

Imagine Daniel Radcliffe replacing Keanu Reeves as sharp-shooting assassin John Wick, and you'll have a clue what occurs in this driven, punk-rock rehash of "The Tenth Victim" (1965) meets "Hard Target" (1993). "Deathgasm" writer & director Jason Lei Howden's second film "Guns Akimbo" qualifies as a slam-bang, high-octane, adrenaline-laced, action-comedy that neither squanders a second nor wears out its welcome. Not only will Howden's film hypnotize you with its giddy, gymnastic, action choreography, but it will also horrify you with its gratuitous gunplay and exploding, splatter-gore headshots. Our inconspicuous hero, Miles Lee Harris (Daniel Radcliffe of "Jungle"), lives and works in Shrapnel City as a computer game code monkey. An adolescent hero worshipper in mind and heart, he clutters the shelves of his man cave with action-figures galore and papers his walls with movie posters like "Rambo: First Blood, Part 2" and "Commando." Of course, he shares nothing in common with John Wick, but he will find himself dodging almost as many bullets from a relentless opponent.

Somehow, Miles has managed to maintain the curiosity of his ex-girlfriend, Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo of "Hotel Mumbai"), despite their break-up. If two can tango, you wonder what Nova still sees in Miles. Perhaps, Harry Potter! Radcliffe takes full advantage of his little, lost, puppy dog looks. Naturally, as the lowest man on the totem pole Miles must suck up to his abusive boss, Zander (Richard Knowles of "Out of the Blue") who stops at nothing to bully him at work. Happily, Howden introduces these colorful characters and their complications in the first ten minutes and then devotes the remaining 87 minutes earning the MPAA's R-rating "for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and brief graphic nudity" as they collide with each other in a hail of gunfire. Our harmless hero gets himself in trouble when he slights the wrong message board trolls. Bursting into his apartment, they rough him up and smash his laptop. When he doesn't succumb to a poke in the face, they shoot a tranquilizer dart into his neck. In a grimy surgical suite, automatic pistols are bolted into each of his hands, with traction pins sunk into his fingers, so his hands are wrapped around the handles of the two pistols. Each of the ammo magazines that feed his guns bristles with fifty rounds. A digit counter on each automatic tallies the ammo remaining. No, Miles cannot physically remove the firearms from his hands. Opening doors, using his cell phone, gobbling the occasional snack, and even urinating pose supreme challenges. One of the funniest scenes finds Miles sharing an alley with a crackhead, Glenjamin (Rhys Darby of "Pirate Radio) who convinces him suicide is never a viable option.

The man behind the maniacs who abducted Miles is a wicked-looking, skin-head with a heavily tattooed face who doesn't suffer fools gladly. Richter (Ned Dennehy of "Child 44") presides over a no-holds-barred, underground, on-line, murder game called SKISM. Richter broadcasts real-world death grudge matches, with no rules except the winner survives while the loser dies. This scaled-down version of the venerable "Battle Royale" (2000) finds our vegetarian protagonist ill-prepared for the gauntlet that awaits him. Before this manhunt ends, Miles has to add the police to his list of adversaries. When the cop stuns him with a Taser, our hero accidentally shoots the cop as a reaction to the Tasing. Meantime, this death-defying showdown is nothing compared to the bloodthirsty foe that Richter dispatches to blast Miles into mincemeat. Earlier, Nix (Samara Weaving of "Mayhem") escaped from prison, and she is described as "armed and extremely dangerous." She has no qualms against killing, and she packs some pretty heavy artillery to each firefight. Nix destroys an illegal cocaine factory and wipes all 26 hoodlums inside without running out of bullets. Nothing Miles pleads with Nix to call a truce. According to Nix, SKISM has promised to wipe her criminal record clean once she ices Miles. Daniel Radcliffe never misses a chance to make a laughingstock of himself. He cuts quite a woebegone figure scrambling desperately around town in his bathrobe, shorts, and striped tiger slippers with SKISM drones hovering on his heels. Every character here displays more depth than you would imagine, especially Miles' trigger-happy foe Nix who still suffers from some bizarre family memories. Whether you enjoy it or not, you won't forget "Guns Akimbo."

Tombstone-Rashomon
(2017)

Coxic Western Rehash
Eccentric British filmmaker Alex Cox, best known for avant-garde movies such as "Repo Man" (1984), "Sid & Nancy" (1986), and "Straight-To-Hell" (1986), has directed a shoddy western mockumentary, "Tombstone Rashomon," about the Wednesday in October 26, 1881, when men swapped lead around 3 PM near the O.K. Corral, in Tombstone, Arizona Territory. Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp, along with tubercular gambler & dentist Doc Holliday, slapped leather with a cattle rustling clan led by Ike Clanton, his brother Billy, the McLaury brothers, and Billy Claiborne. During this historic, 30-second gunfight, when reportedly 30 gunshots rang out, Billy Clanton and the two McLaury died from bullet wounds. Several vintage Hollywood epics, such as "Frontier Marshal" (1939), "My Darling Clementine" (1946), "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" (1957), "Hour of the Gun" (1968), "Doc" (1971), "Tombstone" (1993), and "Wyatt Earp" (1994), have venerated this landmark. Traditionally, Hollywood has hallowed the Earps and Doc Holliday with heroic halos, but demonized the Clanton & McLaury brothers and Claiborne as dastards. "Hour of the Gun" and "Doc" are the only two films that have cast suspicions on Wyatt Earp's virtue and portrayed him as callous assassin intent on exacting revenge against Clanton and his henchmen for attacking his family after the gunfight. Eventually, James Garner, who played Earp in "Hour of the Gun," reprised his role as an older Wyatt Earp in Blake Edwards' seriocomic saga "Sunset" (1988), about the Tombstone lawman flirting with Hollywood during his twilight years.

Basically, Cox has adopted an arthouse format influential Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa originated with his classic movie "Rashomon" (1950). Kurosawa staged a samurai warrior's murder as well as the rape of the samurai's bride from the multiple perspectives of the bandit, the bride, the samurai's ghost, and a woodcutter. Basically, these characters offered opposing perspectives about the two crimes to render a greater truth. Not surprisingly, Cox paid tribute to Kurosawa with his 1999 documentary about the Japanese filmmaker called "Kurosawa: The Last Emperor." Meanwhile, Paul Newman toplined in a western "Rashomon" remake "The Outrage" (1964), co-starring William Shatner. Similarly, "The Outrage" depicted the crime from another variety of viewpoints. The multiplicitous ambiguity of this treatment lends it a sophistication which otherwise it would have lacked. If witnesses were posted at all four corners of an intersection, their comments about a traffic accident would reflect their unique perspectives. Biased as each of us inherently is are by what we witness, nobody ever remembers an event exactly the same way as other people may.

Recreating the O.K. Corral gunfight for "Tombstone Rashomon," Cox searches for clarity amidst the chaos of the aftermath, with this multiple-perspective format. According to the film, time-traveling documentarians (yes, we're talking science fiction) have been teleported back to 1881 to review the shootout from the standpoints of both the participants as well as the witnesses. Unfortunately, owing to a glitch in the space-time continuum, the crew arrives a day late! Nevertheless, despite this sidesplitting blunder, our robust time-travelers manage to compensate for their tardiness and embark on their project. In many ways, "Tombstone Rashomon" resembles an earlier Cox film "Walker" (1987) about an opportunistic, antebellum, American soldier-of-fortune, William Walker (Ed Harris), who ruled Nicaragua as its president from 1856-57. Cox cluttered up "Walker" with several outrageous anachronisms, such as helicopters, automatic weapons, Newsweek magazine, and Pepsi Cola. Predictably, "Walker" audiences were puzzled, while infuriated critics panned the film for its inconsistent ambiance. Cox used these anachronisms to draw parallels between the present and the past. This schizophrenic approach created nothing short of incoherence for "Tombstone Rashomon." Remember, these documentarians arrived too late to cover the shootout! So how did they get all that violent footage? Indeed, the survivors and the bystanders provide nothing new about the O.K. Corral. Meantime, the time-travelers are guilty of tampering with the perspectives of the participants. Interviewing several people, they advise them about their on-camera demeanor. For example, Wyatt Earp refuses to tell what happened at the O.K. Corral. Instead, he relies on factual information so he doesn't incriminate himself. Nevertheless, in reality, after the gunfight, the authorities arrested the Earps and Holliday, but a courtroom trial exonerated them of all murder charges.

Writer & director Alex Cox lensed this half-baked rehash on location at the venerable Old Tucson Studios in Arizona. Hundreds of 'Golden Era' Hollywood horse operas, including the John Wayne oaters "Rio Bravo," "El Dorado," and "The Sons of Katie Elder," were produced on those premises. Although it resembles a standard-issue, low-budget, B-western shoot'em up, with sturdy production values, "Tombstone Rashomon" never attempts to sensationalize the fracas. Initially, armchair frontier historians may find this faux documentary approach provocative, until the recurring anachronisms skewer its authenticity. Since the camera crew is never shown, you wonder why Cox didn't delete this preposterous premise which provides few factual revelations. While this approach may have benefited the political agenda of "Walker," it doesn't lend itself to the O.K. Corral material.

Cox's experimental antics won't amuse typical moviegoers who prefer straightforward westerns that maintain status quo conventions. The worst "Tombstone-Rashomon" surprise takes place when the Earps and Holliday pile into a contemporary SUV, complete with municipal police decals, and cruise off to the gunfight. If this doesn't shatter the atmosphere for you, you may have few objections about this farce. Primarily, Cox undermines this documentary with so many anachronisms that it makes "Tombstone Rashomon" look like an Edward D. Wood movie. Ranked as the worst Hollywood filmmaker ever, Wood not only made the world's worst horror movie "Plan 9 from Outer Space" (1959), but also the world's worst documentary "Glen or Glenda" (1953). Cox subdues the melodrama, which is monotonous at best, and the primary characters never generate enough charisma to engage our sympathies. Clocking in at a mere 80-minutes, "Tombstone Rashomon" amounts to a complete catastrophe as a speculative documentary and divulges nothing new about a trigger-happy chapter of western history.

Escape from Pretoria
(2020)

The Great Escape!!!
Movies either with "Escape" in their titles or that depict an escape constitutes as a genre of their own. Whether war, western, horror, crime, sci-fi, fantasy and/or comedy, these movies share similar characteristics. Usually, we are inclined to sympathize with those yearning to escape, while we abhor the warden and his thuggish guards who torment these lost souls without mercy. Unfortunately, the title to British co-writer & director Francis Annan's "Escape from Pretoria," reveals far too much about its outcome. Nevertheless, despite its title that tells all, this modestly-budgeted, but tense thriller about two real-life, white, South African, anti-apartheid activists who break out of a notorious prison for advocating the agenda of the African National Congress is riveting fare from fade-in to fade out. Naturally, our heroes escape, but not before freshman scenarist L.H. Adams and Annan turn the audience into a hopeless wreck. Examples of nerve-racking tension will have you climbing the walls long before this 107-minute, PG-13 escapade arrives at its inevitable conclusion. Annan orchestrates the action around the fewest number of sets possible to enhance the claustrophobia which makes for clenched fists and teeth gnashing. Naturally, the warden and his prison guards behave like ruffians, with no qualms about meting out brutal repercussions for the least infraction. Confined largely to the prison cell block, the mess hall, the workshop, and some exteriors inside and outside of the prison, "Escape from Pretoria" unfolds in close quarters, so the filmmakers can conceal their bare-bones budget. Largely, apart from the filmmakers' own anti-apartheid message, "Escape from Pretoria" confines itself to the incredible plot logistics of the escape rather than undercutting the suspense with garrulous political babble.

South African authorities arrest Tim Jenkin (Daniel Radcliffe of "Swiss Army Man") and his friend Stephen Lee (Daniel Webber of "Danger Close") for setting off leaflet bombs in public. Basically, our heroes stack sacks of pamphlets touting the outlawed ANC party around trash piles along the sidewalks and time them to blow up. Keeping explosives to a minimum, and the pamphlets burst in the air after a loud pop and then flutter down onto bystanders. The police nab Jenkin and Lee on the spot. Tim draws a 12-year sentence at Pretoria Central Prison, while Stephen receives 8 years. Happily, Annan dispenses with the expository premise for this epic in about ten minutes. The rest of the film comprises our heroes' extraordinary plan to liberate themselves and another inmate, a mysterious Frenchman, Leonard Fontaine (Mark Leonard Winter of "The Fear of Darkness"), from the slammer. Mind you, the guards display the pugnacity of pit bulls, and they regard the inmates with nothing less than contempt. Another anti-apartheid prisoner, Denis Goldberg (Ian Hart of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"), warns Jenkin about the sadistic sniper atop the prison walls. Goldberg opposes Jenkin's mad scheme. Instead, he counsels them to do their time as "prisoners of conscience."

Madness accurately summarizes their outrageous escape plan. Utilizing the prison's carpentry workshop, Jenkin whittles wooden parts to create keys and then perfects them to open the locks. As preposterous as it sounds, this is how Jenkin and company escaped from the grim maximum-security prison! Jenkin fabricated 34 keys for the 15 doors! He made poles that could be threaded into longer lengths, with a lever mechanism which enabled him to reach through his prison cell windows and unlock the doors! Each cell in a unit featured a large window so the guards to eavesdrop on inmates during their rounds. At night, between the guards making their rounds, Jenkin and his collaborators patiently improvised with those keys. If one didn't work, Jenkin would tinker with it until he got it to work! Nevertheless, as audacious as all this sounds, Annan intersperses moments of white-knuckled agony when Jenkin loses a key with which he was experimenting outside of his cell window and must now recover it with chewing gum, before a guard ambles into the scene brandishing his nightstick. At one point, the warden ransacks Jenkin's cell because our hero slept through roll call. The warden suspects Jenkin hasn't been getting enough sleep. When he tosses Jenkin's cell, the warden hopes to find incriminating evidence. Cleverly, without calling attention to himself, Jenkin manages to hide the key facsimiles in plain sight without attracting curiosity. These meticulous inmates spent at least a year and a half perfecting these counterfeit keys. The most exciting moments of "Escape from Pretoria" occur when complications crop up. You'll cringe every time these incidents happen, and your heart will skip beats as our heroes struggle to elude discovery. To reveal anything more would dilute the many surprises which ensue.

Annan and Adams relied on Tim Jenkin's 1987 autobiography, Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison for the basis for their screenplay. Although the actual events transpired in South Africa, the film itself was produced on location in Australia. Annan and "Dylan Dog: Dead of Night" lenser Geoffrey Hall stage every scene of this prison drama with ingenuity as well as visual flair. Nick Fenton's spine-tingling editing aids and abets Adams and Annan at every twist and turn. Ironically, none of the entire cast or crew, apart from Jenkin's cameo as an inmate, were South African. Meantime, Annan has shrewdly suppressed superfluous political philosophizing and accentuated nail-biting thrills and pulsating chills. Daniel Radcliffe delivers a subdued performance as the shaggy-haired Jenkin. He spends most of his time sweating over getting the keys to fit the locks and suffering from all the anxiety involved in his efforts to escape. Ian Hart stands out of one of Jenkin's antagonists. Not surprisingly, characterization takes a back seat to the action. Indeed, the suspense and tension that "Escape from Pretoria" drums up is harrowing. "Escape from Pretoria" joins the ranks of some of the greatest escape movies ever made, such as "The Great Escape," "Papillon," "Escape from Alcatraz," "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang," "The Midnight Express," and "The Shawshank Redemption."

Rabid
(1977)

Stunning Second Picture for David Cronenberg
The classic David Cronenberg chiller "Rabid" (1977), which starred Marilyn Chambers as the bloodthirsty nymph, was the Canadian director's second feature film. An accident early on nearly dooms the human race because a carload of tourists finds themselves lost in the back woods. The husband and wife argue about their position with regard to their destination. In an effort to implement a course correction, the husband tries to turn his long vehicle around in the two-lane highway, but his vehicle stalls out and he is attempting to crank it up with a young couple on a motorcycle come highballing into view. The motorcyclist literally has nowhere to go, so he launches himself and his passenger sitting in tandem behind him and they plow into a field. greater afflictions The Marilyn Chambers' protagonist winds up in a nearby plastic surgery clinic because she could never had made it with her stomach injury to the regional hospital. She has no alternative but experimental plastic surgery to alter her desperate condition. "Rabid" dwells primarily on the horror that arises from this predicament. Basically, the obsessive Chambers' character embarked on a hitchhiking road trip of terror after her transformation. Improbably, she had acquired an appetite for human blood as a side effect of her surgery. You can do anything in either a horror movie or a sci-fi saga, no matter how preposterous it seems. When Chambers gnawed on her unfortunate victims, she infected them with a deadly rabies virus with no known cure. Once stricken, her victims mutated into raving maniacs. Slobbering green drool, these ravenous fiends stop at nothing to kill! The only way to combat the virus, the authorities discover, is to exterminate the carrier with extreme prejudice. They launch a nationwide manhunt for our protagonist and the authorities track her down and kill her, ending the insanity. Masked sharpshooters riding atop garbage trucks roam one city as they hunt for these devils. Cronenberg's vision is certainly sinister, a dystopian B-movie, with a positive ending.

Rabid
(2019)

Better Than The Original "Rabid"
Not only does Jen & Sylvia Soska's inspired remake of the classic David Cronenberg chiller "Rabid" (1977), which starred Marilyn Chambers as the bloodthirsty nymph, top its vintage predecessor, but it also proves horror movie remakes sometimes surpass their predecessors. John Carpenter's "The Thing" (1982) is the best example. Although they have taken liberties with the storyline, the Soska sisters capture the essence of the original film. However, they have gone overboard with their gruesome visual effects, reminiscent of Carpenter's "Thing." Some seventeen minutes longer than Cronenberg's 90-minute version, "Rabid" features a troubled heroine who suffers greater afflictions than Marilyn Chambers' protagonist in the original. In this updated remake, our homely heroine finds herself disfigured after a gruesome traffic accident. She has no alternative but experimental plastic surgery to alter her hideous appearance. Naturally, she cannot afford this surgery that utilizes stem cells. Ugh, as a word, stem cells evoke an ominous sound all its own. Nevertheless, a compassionate surgeon proceeds with the operation out of sympathy for her plight.

The original "Rabid" dwelled primarily on the horror, unlike the remake. Basically, the obsessive Chambers' character embarked on a hitchhiking road trip of terror after her transformation. Improbably, she had acquired an appetite for human blood as a side effect of her surgery. You can do anything in either a horror movie or a sci-fi saga, no matter how preposterous it seems. When Chambers gnawed on her unfortunate victims, she infected them with a deadly rabies virus with no known cure. Once stricken, her victims mutated into raving maniacs. Slobbering green drool, these ravenous fiends stop at nothing to kill! The only way to combat the virus, the authorities discover, is to exterminate the carrier with extreme prejudice. They launch a nationwide manhunt for our protagonist and the authorities track her down and kill her, ending the insanity. Masked sharpshooters riding atop garbage trucks roam one city as they hunt for these devils. Cronenberg's vision is certainly sinister, a dystopian B-movie, with a positive ending. The remake ramps up the horror, but it also bolsters the humanity of the protagonist. She amounts to more than just a germ carrier.

No strangers to horror movies, the Soska sisters made their debut with "Dead Hooker in a Trunk" (2009), about four friends who found a dead prostitute in their car. The sisters followed it up with "American Mary" (2012), about a medical student performing underground surgeries on eccentric clients. The Soskas have fleshed out their remake and set it in the fashion industry, unlike Croneberg's straightforward original. Actually, the twin sisters have handled the material with greater finesse. Our heroine Rose Miller (Laura Vandervoort of "Ted") is an ugly duckling dress designer. She toils as a seamstress for an egotistical boss, Gunther (Mackenzie Gray of "Man of Steel"), who spouts bizarre fashion ideology. An imperious presence from start to finish, Gunther is strictly a supporting character, but you won't forget this weirdo. He humiliates Rose for showing up late for conferences. Nobody but Rose's foster sister, Chelsea (statuesque Hanneke Talbot of "Ready or Not"), struggles to help her. At one point, the sensitive Rose flees from abuse and careens into traffic on her motorcycle and crashes. No matter how abysmal her predicament was, to begin with, Rose has gone from terrible to tragic. Awakening in an ICU ward, she learns the motorcycle accident has made her face look like a grisly Halloween mask. Appalled at her ugliness after she removes the bandages, Rose cringes in horror at her ghoulish jaw--wired shut--with her teeth exposed like predatory incisors. Clearly, the Soska sisters didn't pull any punches with their unforgettable remake.

Chelsea blames herself for Rose's accident. Meantime, a plastic surgeon sees a grand opportunity for himself to recreate Rose as a veritable Cinderella. Cronenberg simply had the surgeon apply experimental skin grafts. However, the side effects turned the protagonist into a bloodsucking monster. She cannot digest any kind of food, but she binges on blood. Inexplicably, the Cronenberg heroine spreads a rabies virus after she flees the clinic and searches for her boyfriend. In the original movie, Rose held onto her boyfriend as he raced his bike along a back-country road, oblivious to everything until he spotted a minivan parked sideways in the road. A lost tourist is struggling to crank up his stalled minivan without success. Left with nowhere to go, Rose and her boyfriend plunge into a field. The boyfriend escaped harm, but Rose nearly died when the bike exploded.

The Soska sisters change things entirely. In the remake, Rose rushed into traffic and got injured. In the original, Marilyn Chambers wasn't disfigured. Basically, Chambers was a distressed damsel who only wanted to reunite with her boyfriend. The Chambers' surgeon was a modest doctor, nothing like his notorious Dr. Frankenstein counterpart in the remake. Once Dr. William Burroughs (Ted Atherton of "Hollywoodland") wields his scalpel on Rose, he remakes her into the image of a beauty queen. Rose's newfound confidence wins back her job, and Gunther promotes her as one of his fashion designers! Like Marilyn Chambers in the original "Rabid," Laura Vandervoort's Rose Miller acquires a crevice in her left armpit. A living, needle-tipped organism that resembles a glowing cigar haunted it. Whenever she embraces a victim, this eerie organism protrudes from her armpit, punctures them, and turns them into maniacs. The Soska Sisters turn that small organism into a menacing whip-like tentacle. You'd think the scene where this tentacle springs from her armpit would be the most outrageous scene in this remake, but it isn't. Vandervoort endows her protagonist with a greater sense of humanity than Marilyn Chambers did, and the Soska Sisters rely on heightened spectacle but with more sympathy for the maligned protagonist. You don't have to watch the original "Rabid" to appreciate the impressive remake, but it probably wouldn't hurt, if you're confined at home.

Wanted Sabata
(1970)

In-Name-Only Sabata Western Rip-Off
"Wanted: Sabata" has nothing to do with either the Lee Van Cleef original or any of the other "Sabata" westerns. Apparently, Gianfranco Parolini's original "Sabata" enjoyed considerable popularity during the Spaghetti western craze, enough for other European filmmakers to appropriate the name of the protagonist and attach it to their own westerns, which no absolutely nothing to do with Lee Van Cleef or "Sabata" (1968). Meanwhile, in co-scenarist & director Roberto Mauri's in-name-only shoot'em up "Wanted: Sabata," former peplum star Brad Harris stars as a gunfighter who is wrongly accused of killing another man's brother by the brother, Jim Sparrow (Vassili Karis of "The Ten Gladiators"), who makes an evil nemesis. The interesting part about the screenplay by Mauri and "The Tartars" writer Ambrogio Molteni is the idea that while Sabata is on the loose, his sagacious adversary Jim Sparrow pins the deaths of several other men on Sabata. Mind you, Brad Harris' Sabata is a brother with two brothers and a sister, and he has no derringers up his cuff. "Wanted: Sabata" isn't a top-notch Spaghetti and the production values aren't as sturdy as those Alberto Grimaldi spectacles with which Sergio Leone revolutionized the genre. Nevertheless, Mauri and Molteni keep things interesting throughout its minimal 82-minute running time as the villainous Sparrow masquerades as Sabata--when nobody else is around to witness the murders-to drive up the bounty on our eponymous hero. As Spaghetti westerns rank, "Wanted: Sabata" shuns humor and lowest common denominator comic relief for gunfight galore. Mauri knows how to imitate Leone when it comes to alternating extreme close-ups of eyes with close-ups of hands fanning a revolver during a shootout. Happily, the filmmakers maintain a modicum of suspense as the hero and the lawman figure out that Sparrow has been impersonating Sabata.

The Executioner, Part II
(1984)

Awful, Egregious, and Insipid!!!
Abysmal sums up "The Executioneer, Part 2" with Chris Mitchum wasting his time and talent in a sleazy, grade-Z police thriller about combat pals from Vietnam to make it home to the mean streets of Los Angeles. A maniac is on the loose, but this particular maniac has his sights aimed on the underworld, much to the chagrin of a sadistic crime boss who loves to torment prostitutes with the glowing tip of his cigarette. Apart from Mitchum, most of the performances in this lame, slapped together law & order opus are truly awful. Reportedly lensed on weekends to compensate for the high production costs, "The Executioneer, Part 2" has all the hallmarks of rank amateurs. It is a shame to see a once gifted actor like Aldo Ray play a corrupt mayor in scenes that look like they were improvised as most of this uninspired crime melodrama was. Adding insult to injury, the top cop on the case, Lt. Roger O'Malley (Christopher Mitchum of "The Summertime Killer") has a grown-up daughter that loves to lift dollars from his wallet to support her drug habit. Eventually, when she cannot steal enough, she turns to prostitution and collides with evil crime boss, Antonio Casallas (Frisco Estes of "Kiss Daddy Goodbye") who loves to burn holes in the whores that he has sex with for giggles. Forgettable from fade in to fadeout.

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