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The Killer Elite

The Killer Elite
The Killer Elite 1975 by all accounts, a legendary fiasco of a production, the director drunk most of the time and everyone else snow blind. This is the film where (allegedly) a crew member introduced Sam Peckinpah to cocaine, which didn't seem to help "Bloody Sam's" moody irascibility. James Caan and Robert Duvall give bizarre performances, manic and weird (cocaine is a hell of a drug) and even Burt Young looks glassy-eyed and ringy. The resurrection of the body is the theme. Caan's collapse in a restaurant is briskly cut for maximum shame and helplessness, followed by "Cleft chins and true hearts are out." Then it is mid-70s martial arts on the road to rehabilitation and revenge. After reinstatement, Caan announces, "I'm gonna need some things." and Arthur Hiller says, "Get em," and hands over a huge wad of cash. Burt Young and Bo Hopkins have Caan's back: "One is retired, the other is crazy." Hopkins makes his first appearance shooting skeet with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, "The Poet of Manic Depressives" with his shy smile and aw shucks charm, surely the stand-in for Peckinpah: "I didn't think your company would hire me." Mako gets to sword fight at the end. Absurd. The surprise is how watchable it is.

Il sergente Klems

Man of Legend
Based on a true story, believe it or not. Poor Josef Otto Klems. The man has problems. First seen cowering in a shell crater in 1918, he trades uniforms with a dead soldier (reasons remain unclear due to choppy and abrupt editing of the copy I viewed) Flash forward to Morocco in the early twenties. Otto Klems still has problems. Posted to some god awful desert hell hole, for one thing, and one of his superiors in the French Foreign Legion has designs on his booty (the man all but twirls his moustache to signify his evil intent). And if that isn't enough, the local Arab population isn't happy about the Spanish and the French putting boots on their precious desert hell-hole homeland, yadda yadda yadda. During a skirmish Sgt Klems manages to get captured by the locals but rather than get castrated (the usual punishment meted out by the heroic freedom fighters) he gets adopted. Becoming a sort of Lawrence of Arabia figure, he joins the natives in their fight against imperialism. He shows them modern weapons and tries to teach them tactics.

Hard to really judge this film. The version I viewed is chopped apart so bad that major chunks of exposition are missing, making it difficult to tell what is happening at times.The battle scenes pack a punch, however. The director has watched his Sergio Leone and he has seen the Wild Bunch, that is obvious. I am sure the full version is a better film. Peter Strauss looks like Viggo Mortensen. Based on a true story.

The Traveler

"They Pay You for the Bad Ones Too..."
When asked about a particular cinematic floater in which he had appeared, Robert Mitchum replied, "They pay you for the bad ones too!" I am assuming that Val Kilmer has adopted that as his personal mantra to get him through this latest phase of his career. So far in the past week I have watched Kilmer in The Traveler, Streets of Blood and The Thaw and all of them are terrible.Not his fault, of course, he's just an actor. He is forced to deal with the scripts he is given.

The Traveler shows promise at the start, despite the derivative nature of the script and the stereotypes that take the place of characters. Once the supernatural huggery-muggery begins that promise rapidly begins to fade. The story makes no sense. At first it is hinted that Kilmer is the ghost of a wrongly killed man and he is going to enact revenge on the deserving occupants of the police station a la High Plains Drifter. If the script would have stayed with that angle it might have produced an interesting film,if only on the simplistic and preachy level of an old Twilight Zone. But the pernicious influence of M. Night Shyamalan on a whole generation of screenwriters forces the offending scripter to try a big twist at the end and--a common failing with gimmicks of this type--the big reveal is absurd and makes no sense. It also invalidates everything that came before in terms of logic or coherence. Ah well, better luck next time.

Five Minutes to Live

Desperate Hours for the Drive-In Crowd
This movie plays like a low-rent version of the Desperate Hours. The plot involves crooks who invade the home of a bank manager and hold his wife hostage while they force him to rob his own bank. This would be just another drive-in programmer were it not for the fact that none other than Johnny Cash plays the psycho who terrorizes the bank manager's wife and his restless energy is compulsively watchable. He strums his guitar and sneers. He makes lewd remarks to the June-Cleaver wife. He knocks over her knick-knacks and threatens to kill her every five minutes.He appears to rape her, though being a film from the early sixties, it was implied, rather than shown, thank goodness. (Who wants to see Johnny Cash rape a woman?) The movie itself is routine.

Hickey & Boggs

gritty modern noir
Fans of neo-noir should take note of Hickey & Boggs, made in 1972. It has a tart and tangy early script from the great Walter Hill and stars Bill Cosby and Robert Culp as two private dicks who are so down on their luck they can't afford to pay their phone bill. The I-Spy duo give excellent performances Bill Cosby is great. This is my favorite Cosby film. Robert Culp, recently deceased,also directed, and he shows a very sure hand behind the camera.

I was quite surprised by the quality of this film after hearing about it for a number of years. Hickey & Boggs has a gritty downbeat vibe and it feels more desperate and low-rent and real than most private detective movies. A forgotten gem from the 70s.This is certainly one of my favorite films.


"Just getting up in the morning is a risk."
Based on a novel (which I've read) by Victor Canning. Mexico stands in for a squalid town in the Sudan where a group of seedy characters are stranded. Barry Sullivan is the grumpy honcho with the shady moves. A fortune in submerged gold in a shipwreck in shark-infested waters is the prize. Burt Reynolds, channeling the Wages of Fear, has reason to sweat: he has to carry a long and boring sub-plot concerning his "relationship" with a scroungy little street kid until the main plot kicks in. Arthur Kennedy(I think he was supposed to be an Arab. He's wearing a fez, anyway) shamelessly hams it up as the town drunk.Sure, Burt Reynolds is trapped in the dead-end of the Sudan, yet shirtless in some tight white pants he comes across as cocky as his chest is hairy.

Sam Fuller's hard-boiled sensibilities surface in the existential dialog: "Just getting up in the morning is a risk." The main trouble with the film, aside from the horrendous post-production hack-job performed upon it by the clueless producers, is the dull and draggy pace. With a few judicious trims and without the wholesale chop chop this could be a much better film. Also the old source print is so dark at times it is impossible to tell what is happening. As it stands it is a curiosity, worth watching at least once, but nothing more.


path to savagery
Based on an excellent book called Path To Savagery by Robert Edmond Alter and then butchered beyond recognition in typical Hollywood fashion, Ravagers is a lack-luster film pretty much from start to finish. Unconvincing matte paintings of a destroyed city starts things off and before you know it we are introduced to a forlorn Richard Harris with hang-dog face and soon-to-be-killed wife. After being sniffed out by scruffy "ravagers"and suffering loss of said wife Harris (even more mopey)takes to the road. His journey is not conducted with any sense of urgency but is marked by some striking scenery. The rocket graveyard is particularly effective. So is the ship used as a hang-out for Ernie Borgnine and his crew of authoritarian head-busters or whatever the hell they were supposed to represent. Judging by the names in the cast it is obvious that a fair amount of money was spent on the project. But the film lacks excitement. The pace drags.Richard Harris gives a bad performance. The story meanders. It is all very vague. Fans hoping for another post-apocalyptic adventure like 1975's The Ultimate Warrior will be disappointed. Ravagers is rather flat and dull. What interest it does hold owes to its 70s period flavor.


superior sci fi horror
Some rednecks who were the victims of alien abduction in the past decide to turn the tables on the malevolent ETs. They catch one of the reptillian critters, ferry him to their warehouse hide-out, tie him to a table and get busy...

This is how its done. A tightly written script. The perfect combination of prosthetics and CGI (just a touch) for the creature effects. A wildly tension-fraught premise. Unknown actors giving serious, committed performances.

Altered is one of the best indie flicks I've seen in a long time. Along with the recent "Splinter" and "Alien Raiders" this is a refreshingly well-done thriller. Eduardo Sanchez shows a very sure hand behind the camera.

High Risk

Blue Collar Guys-on-a-Mission Movie
A group of unemployed auto-workers decide to rip off a South American drug lord in this very enjoyable "blue-collar-guys-on-a-mission" movie.

In the wryly amusing first act the desperate group of amateurs tell their wives they're going fishing for the weekend. Then they buy a crap-load of guns from Ernest Borgnine.("You guys aren't going to be doing anything to hurt any animals, are you?" he asks before selling them the weaponry.) Finally they hire some sketchy mercenary-types to fly them to South America, with a promise to return in two days. What could go wrong?

James Brolin has the right flinty charm as the nominal hero.("I sold everything I own for this deal! I sold my house, my car, hell, I even sold my damn dishes to raise the money for this!" he snaps at one point when morale is flagging.) Cleavon Little, Chick Vennera and Bruce Davison provide reliable 2nd banana support. Lindsay Wagner is sparkly and sweet in her role as a hippie they meet and help spring from jail during the course of their misadventures. James Coburn smiles like a shark in his cameo as the vicious drug lord. But it is Anthony Quinn as a feisty bandit/revolutionary who could've stumbled in from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre who steals the show. He is clearly having fun and it is infectious.

Seventh Moon

Ancient Chinese Secret....
Amy Smart and Tim Chiou are a vacationing couple in China. Dennis Chan is their smiling tour guide. After a brief credit-sequence he drives them to a remote rural area and vanishes. The two Americans are stranded in the countryside. Suspicious villagers,duplicitous taxi drivers and hungry "moon demons" figure into the rest of the tale.

This is two thirds a good movie, because the last act is a bit weak. But for the most part this is a superior little chiller. Spooky use of sound, silence and darkness.Some have complained of the hand-held camera-work but I was not bothered by it.Along with ALTERED, this is the best film from Eduardo Sanchez.

Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer

tongue in cheek monster bash
Tightly wound plumber Trevor Mathews has serious anger issues due to the fact that his parents were killed by monsters when he was just a wee lad. When his college professor played by Robert Englund unleashes an ancient horde of evil creatures, it is up to the plucky plumber to realize his destiny as a monster slayer and save humanity. The ranting of Trevor Mathews in the title role is very amusing but it is really Robert Englund who steals the show. He is clearly having a ball with the material and his enthusiasm is contagious.I laughed quite a bit.The SPFX are pretty good and refreshingly old-school.Lots of gore and prosthetics as opposed to lame CGI. I wouldn't mind watching Jack Brooks slay monsters thru a whole series of films like this!

Welcome Home Soldier Boys

welcome home...
A bus dumps our returning veterans back into the United States while country & western plays. Joe Don Baker channels Elvis Presley with his puffy-eyed, thick-lipped pouting, while their homecoming falls apart around them. A Cadillac is procured. A road trip out west is on the itinerary, where dreams await. At every stop along the way, something happens to dampen the enthusiasm of the returning heroes. Locals cheat them at every turn and grumble about the war. "Back when we fought a war, we didn't come home til the war was over!" growls a gang of grumpy Korean War Vets while Joe Don Baker does the slow burn.Things come to a head during a stop in New Mexico when our boys take all the crap they can swallow and explode in a killing frenzy.Rambo and Rolling Thunder were soon to follow...

Alien Raiders

Attention shoppers....
The jazzy title sequence starts things rolling nicely. The green-hued sickly neon of a supermarket in Bumf**k Nowhere is the setting.Camera-wielding and gun-toting alien hunters pile out of a van and into the supermarket. Hostages are taken. A weird bug-eyed geek stares into customers eyes, looking for "something". An undercover cop produces a gun, shoots the spotter and we are off to the races. Which of the remaining customers is infected with an alien parasite? This is one of the best indie flicks to hit screens in a long time.The cast of relative unknowns give it their all. The special effects serve the story instead of the other way around. Plotting is tight. No one does anything glaringly stupid or obvious.Along with the recent Splinter and Altered, this is a superior example of clever low-budget film making that puts the bloated floaters plopped by Hollywood into their proper place: the toilet.

The Offence

Connery's Cop Goes Off His Rocker!
Devastating performance from Sean Connery in this criminally under-appreciated tour-de-force. A wet gray chilly England is the setting. Connery's cop has seen too much in his 20 yrs on the force. A series of sex attacks on children is just the latest in a long line of horrors to be dealt with on a daily basis. How can a man see such things and still stay sane? This is without a doubt Sean Connery's finest screen performance.Sidney Lumet conducts the whole affair with his usual precision and expertise. The whole cast is excellent in their respective roles. But this is really Connery's film. He should have won an Oscar for this. Viewing The Offense is not a pleasant experience. But it is as powerful as a keg of nitroglycerin. Once seen, not a film to be forgotten easily.


frenetic french action film
If you crossed Wages of Fear with Killing Zoe you might end up with something like SWEAT. The plot involves four crooks who hi-jack a truck load of gold from an airport.Then they drive it across the desert. The North African desert, to be precise. They drive that truck over an endless vista of sun baked sand dunes. The location photography is stunning. As the heat works on them the men start to turn on each other. (Maybe there is a bit of Treasure of Sierra Madre in there too.) Jean-Hughes Anglade gives another of his patented ferocious Frenchman performances. Joachim de Almeida plays the Air Traffic Controller who plans the heist. The director shoots everything as if he were overdosing on amphetamines. The editing is similarly jagged. But the overdose of style clashes somewhat with the material.I had to watch it twice to digest all of the information thrown at me. Still a great thriller in the Gallic tradition, complete with excellent downbeat ending.

Violent Road

"Drivers Wanted. Dangerous Work. High Pay."
While I can't say I prefer this film to either Wages of Fear or Sorcerer, I agree that it is pretty enjoyable. Some of the wisecracks and banter are pure 1950's hard-boiled pulp, and Brian Keith has never been better as a certain type of swaggering man's man particular to that Era.

"Walker would shrink his own mother's head for a dollar."

"I'm not allergic to a buck, either."

"You pull a stunt like that again I'll rub yer head in the sand til its hamburger!"

While all of this is certainly amusing in a time capsule kind of way, the film itself plays like the storyboards to a much more tension-filled film. Compared to the trials and tribulations undergone by the doomed men in both Wages of Fear and Sorcerer, the journey in Violent Road is rather muted. But still, an enjoyable way to spend an hour and twenty eight minutes.

Brown's Requiem

excellent neo-noir
It is definitely Michael Rooker who carries this film with his likable working-man persona.He really manages to show the heart and humanity under his character's rough exterior and when he needs to be menacing he delivers the goods;the scene where he takes a pair of brass knuckles to a creep in order to beat some information out of him is worth the price of admission alone. He is well-served by a snappy script that captures the gritty funk of Ellroy's writing. Capable direction by Jason Freeland keeps things moving nicely. There are excellent character turns by Will Sasso, Brad Dourif,and Barry Newman. And Harold Gould takes a bow as a slimy mobster.I am surprised this isn't more celebrated. Good show, all around.

The Outfit

Tidy crime thriller with good characterizations
A nicely drawn revenge piece starring Robert Duvall and Joe Don Baker. The script is by the renowned Donald E. Westlake adapting one of his own "Richard Stark" novels. If you've ever read a Richard Stark novel featuring the character "Parker" then The Outfit, even though i do not think its an actual "Parker" story will seem familiar: Cool Professional thief gets the shaft from old associates and then sets about rectifying the problem. The books are intriguing for being very consistent: Westlake's protagonists aren't kill crazy revenge machines; they always want the money owed to them and in todays world of millions, billions and more, their demands often seem very reasonable; here Robert Duvall demands only $250,000. But schmucks and wise-guys are always trying to play it cheap in these novels and the films that they often become, leading to much enjoyable mayhem.

I'm also of the opinion that John Flynn had an effective no-frills directorial style. This film, along with Rolling Thunder and Best Seller, showcases his quiet formalism and knack for using simple set-ups and long takes to achieve a realistic, down to earth grit and everyday realism that works well for sleazy crime thrillers and revenge melodramas. I suppose now that he has recently passed away, his critical standing will only improve. Cheers to him. RIP John Flynn

My Friends Need Killing

disturbing zero-budget anti war film
One of the great titles in grindhouse cinema. Greg Mullavy gives an excellent performance as a guilt-ridden Vietnam veteran who decides to track down and kill the men who forced him to commit atrocities during the war.This is a straightforward, no-frills, zero-budget enterprise. The camera set-ups, lighting schemes, film stock, and locations reek of extreme poverty, but give the film an undeniably gritty feel. At times it is like watching a cheap snuff film. What stands out in the film is the agonized performance of Greg Mullavy. He seems to be giving it his all. The results are almost painfully raw. The film is one long scream. This is by no means a pleasant thing to watch, but it is a powerful viewing experience.

Animal Factory

Where They Put the Human Waste
Pay no attention to these other reviews; the people who wrote them don't know what they're talking about: In 1996 I was convicted of armed robbery and sent to prison in Washington state for eight years (of which I did seven)and I'm here to tell you that ANIMAL FACTORY is the real deal; I was a lot like the character played by Edward Furlong and I was lucky enough to meet men like the character played by Wilem Dafoe, guys who didn't want to rape me, guys who didn't want to kill me, guys who acted decently amidst all of the indecency.

Since my release from prison in 2003 I am invariably asked the two big questions when it comes to incarceration in this country: A) did I get raped? and B) is prison really like you see on OZ?

Well, luckily, I didn't get raped and I've never seen OZ but anyone who wants to see what prison is like should get a gander at ANIMAL FACTORY. The entire film drips with authenticity. Within 2 minutes I felt that old queasy feeling in my stomach--exactly as if I were back there myself, all over again.

For those of you out there who might think there is still a bit of rebellious glamour left in going to prison, watch ANIMAL FACTORY and take it from me: being locked up is not cool and its not fun and it is not something that anyone should aspire to.

Der Mann nebenan

Anthony Perkins pays the rent...and what's wrong with that?
Toward the end of his tragically short life, after being blacklisted by scumbag cowards in Hollywood because of his HIV positive status, Anthony Perkins had to pay the rent somehow and so, being offered nothing but a steady stream of PSYCHO rip-offs and twitchy lunatic roles(which he'd been turning down for years) he finally relented and took jobs like "Edge of Sanity" and "A Demon in My View" to try to put a little money in the bank for his wife and kids before he shuffled off this mortal coil.

"A Demon in My View" unlike "Edge of Sanity"( which is awful garbage) is a decent film and not a bad note for Perkins to go out on at all; the film is a faithful adaptation of Ruth Rendell's novel about a man who , let's face it, has a lot of similarities to a certain Motel keeper from somewhere out west; a predilection for killing people would be the biggest, I suppose, but hanging out with inanimate objects (in this case department store mannequins)and forming deep emotional attachments to them is another; I imagine Perkins could do stuff like this in his sleep and its to his credit that he resists going the full-tilt Klaus Kinski route (think CRAWLSPACE)and makes his character a shade more interesting than the usual Norman Bates clone.

Dead Man's Shoes

Revenge served up cold
With it's storyline of an ex-soldier who returns to his hometown to take revenge on the bullies who mistreated his mentally-challenged brother, Dead Man's Shoes,directed and co-written by Shane Meadows,could be described as "Get Carter" for the 21st century. But whereas Mike Hodges 1971 film with Michael Caine was filmed with an icy detachment and featured a cold and distant central hero, Dead Man's Shoes, is shot with a restless hand-held intimacy that evokes feelings of dread and sympathy simultaneously for the mysterious but rather likable character played (very well) by Paddy Considine, who also had a hand in the script. As the bodies pile up and the bad guys begin to panic, the revenge dished out seems to be all out of proportion to the mistreatment of Considine's brother. But then, in a very clever twist, a surprise is unveiled and it's this little jolt that really makes Dead Man's Shoes a memorable and haunting experience.

I Love a Man in Uniform

"Got a black Uniform and a silver badge...playing cops for real or playing cops for pay?"
This was an excellent film. The central performance by Tom McManus is very tightly controlled and well-developed. With its premise of a mild mannered man suddenly going on a violent power trip,I was expecting something more over-the-top and lurid,something closer to "Taxi Driver" or "God's Lonely Man",but"Man in Uniform" is actually under-played and, with the exception of a few scenes involving Kevin Tighe near the end, rather low-key. The protagonist at first seems like a typical well-behaved non-entity but Tom McManus, aided by David Wellington's excellent screenplay and direction, invests him with an alienated sense of sadness that I found somewhat touching. This is a film worth seeking out.

Zone 39

Well done sci fi thriller
This is not an easy film to find; I was astonished to discover not even the world-famous MOVIE MADNESS in Portland carries it. After locating a reasonably priced used DVD I can say I am happy to own ZONE 39. It hovers in a strange realm between traditional sci fi action film and slower, more cerebral and arty science fiction fare such as SOLARIS.

Peter Phelps is a hugely likable actor. His central performance dominates the film and he shows he is fully up to the task of carrying a major motion picture; he has a lot of scenes where he is alone and they never drag on into dullness. Why he isn't as big of a star as Russell Crowe is a mystery.

The "future world" scenario that ZONE 39 presents is rendered extremely plausibly within the confines of the tight budget; this movie really shows what a dedicated production team can do in conjunction with a tightly written script. Nothing is attempted that cannot be pulled off convincingly.

This is yet another one of those films that should be more well-known.

God's Lonely Man

Hard Hitting West Coast "Taxi Driver"
An intense and touching performance by Michael Wyle drives God's Lonely Man, a gritty powder keg of a film that plays like an updated west coast version of Taxi Driver, its most obvious influence. Indeed, some may dismiss God's Lonely Man as nothing more than a pastiche but I strongly disagree. The central performance by Michael Wyle is reason enough to see the film—he has the uncanny ability to go from Deniro-like intensity to almost Woody Allenesque neurosis in the blink of an eye; it's an entirely convincing piece of acting and his tortured-loser persona had me rooting for him from the first reel to the end credits.

Paul Dooly shows courage for taking the part of a creepy child pornographer and Tom Towles proves he can do more to suggest hidden depths of depravity in one scene than most actors can in an entire film.

The writing is good, the characterizations dead-on and there are some genuinely unnerving touches that set a tone for mid 90s Los Angeles that is every bit as decayed and frightening as anything seen in the New York of Taxi Driver or Bringing Out the Dead. In contrast to those two films, which are steeped in darkness & the stylings of noir, most of God's Lonely Man transpires in the daytime--but the sunlight provides no comfort or protection. It's a nightmare world of Porno shops and AA meetings where sirens scream on the soundtrack at unexpected times accompanied by the sound of children crying while crack-dealers abuse their customers in sleazy passive-aggressive power games.

A scene set in a baseball-park where a child pornographer peddles his wares (right during the little league game he is coaching) carries a slimy, unsettling edge that reminded me of the fiction of Andrew Vachss in its depiction of evil lurking just under the surface of wholesome everyday appearances.

The violence, when it comes, isn't as over the top or nightmarishly gory as Taxi Driver but it packs a wallop.

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