Friday, March 31, 2017

#2,328. Tomboy (1985)


Directed By: Herb Freed

Starring: Betsy Russell, Gerard Christopher, Kristi Somers




Tag line: "It's not just a man's world anymore"

Trivia: Kristi Somers wore her own dress in this film








Tomasina “Tommy” Boyd (Betsy Russell) isn’t just another pretty face. For one, she loves sports, and was quite the ballplayer in her younger days (the film opens with a flashback of Tommy hitting an inside-the-park home run during a little league game). Now all grown up, Tommy still plays basketball, but dedicates most of her time to her true passion: cars! See, Tommy is one hell of an auto mechanic (her boss Chester, played by Richard Erdman, says she’s the best he’s ever seen). Seville (Kristi Somers), Tommy’s closest friend, tries her damnedest to get Tommy to go to parties and act like a regular girl, but to no avail. That all changes, however, when Tommy meets her idol, race car driver Randy Starr (Gerald Christopher), who she’s had a crush on for years.

These days, Randy works for millionaire playboy Ernie Leeds Jr. (Eric Douglas), owner of what many insiders say is the fastest race car in the city. With Randy as his lead driver, Ernie hopes to win the Daytona 500. But instead of focusing on his career, Randy has been spending time with Tommy, and before long the two are an item. Their relationship hits the rocks, however, when Tommy tells Earl (Philip Sterling),the Leeds family’s top investor, that she’s built a car even faster than Ernie’s, and to prove it she challenges Randy (who says no girl can beat him on the track) to a race. Will Tommy’s big chance to show what she’s made of cause her to lose the only guy she’s ever loved?

If nothing else, I give 1985's Tomboy points for originality; not many ‘80s sex comedies featured an independent woman in the lead role, and while she may not be the best actress you’ll ever see, Betsy Russell is extremely likable as Tommy. In fact, aside from Tommy and her boss Chester, the rest of the characters in Tomboy aren’t worth a damn. Though a loyal friend, Seville is a gold digger, ready to hop into bed with any guy who can further her career, and for a time she even hooks up with Ernie Leeds Jr. in the hopes he’ll finance a TV pilot she wants to star in. There are moments when we like Randy, Tommy’s love interest, but he’s also a male chauvinist; minutes after Tommy shows up at a party at Ernie’s mansion, she walks in on Randy and his friends, who are watching a porno movie. Disgusted, Tommy storms out, and when Randy catches up to her, instead of apologizing, he tells Tommy she needs to learn some “social graces”.

Worst of all is Ernie Leeds Jr., who is such a prick in almost every scene that I kept hoping someone would knock some sense into him (preferably with a crowbar). At the party Tommy attends, Ernie isn’t so much the host as he is a pimp, setting pretty (and often topless) young women up with influential (and lecherous) middle-aged men. This, combined with the way he talks to his own girlfriend (he tosses insults at her while she’s doing his nails, for Christ’s sake), makes Ernie Leeds Jr. one of the most contemptible characters ever to grace this sort of film (and for an ‘80s sex comedy, that’s saying something).

The real problem with Tomboy, though, is its script; the movie meanders from one scene to the next, as if it was searching for a story to latch onto, but coming up empty. In one sequence, Tommy sits and watches Seville’s dance audition, then follows her into the shower afterwards, where Seville (naked, of course) insults her dance partner's manhood (as uncomfortable as the dialogue is in this scene, it’s nothing compared to the cringe-inducing payoff). A later sequence involving two leather-clad hoods in a sports car goes absolutely nowhere; and I have a feeling the whole point of the motorbike race between Tommy and Randy (which takes place early on at Ernie’s estate) was to get Betsy Russell’s top off (Tommy falls into the water, and quickly sheds her wet T-shirt). For a large portion of its runtime, Tomboy feels like a series of unrelated moments strung together to make a feature-length film, and it isn’t until the last 20 minutes or so that the movie finally finds its legs.

With its strong lead character and Betsy Russell’s almost cherubic performance, I really wanted to like Tomboy. But in the end, there simply wasn’t enough meat on its bones, and as a result I cannot recommend it.







Thursday, March 30, 2017

#2,327. Climb It, Tarzan! (2011)


Directed By: Jared Masters

Starring: Corsica Wilson, Maura Murphy, Nicole Marie White




Tag line: "Scandals from a turned on generation"

Trivia: This film featured an all-female cast








Co-writer / director Jared Masters’ love letter to the softcore sexploitation films of the ‘60s and early ‘70s, Climb It, Tarzan features, according to the DVD cover, “a vast, all-female cast of over 50 budding starlets”. To be honest, I didn’t count how many actresses were in Climb It, Tarzan, but the “all-female cast” claim is 100% true. There is not a single guy in this entire movie!

You know what else is missing from Climb It, Tarzan? A cohesive story.

Set in the swinging ‘60s, Climb it, Tarzan tells the tale of Paula (Jennicka Andersson), a lesbian photographer specializing in “salacious” photographs who uses her position to lure young women into her studio. Whenever one of her subjects tickles her fancy, Paula knocks the poor girl out with chloroform, and then shoots photos of her in compromising positions. Her newest model is Ginger (Jamie Devitt), a happy-go-lucky sweetheart whose wealthy parents recently passed away. With the will tied up in legal red tape, Ginger and her older sister Janet (Jessica Hichborn) have no choice but to hold down jobs to make ends meet. Ginger has pinned all her hopes on her modeling career, while Janet agrees to work as a go-go dancer for Dolores (Jennifer Preston), who owns a strip club.

Paula, Ginger, and Janet might be the main characters in Climb It, Tarzan, but their exploits are in no way the film’s singular focus. Over the course of the movie, we also meet drug dealers Darlene (Claire Kim) and Wanda (Ingrid Franklin), who introduce Ginger and her friend Lila (Aliza Podwol) to LSD (during their ensuing “trip”, Ginger and Lila steal hundreds of dollars’ worth of drugs from Darlene and Wanda, who then spend a good portion of the film plotting their revenge). Renee (Maura Murphy) is a socialite who hosts a swinging party at her posh estate, and Tina (Olivia Curtis) is a model with a bad attitude who, unlike the others, has no problem taking her clothes off for Paula.

Oh, and to ensure that Climb It, Tarzan has just the right amount of nudity, there’s a scene where Sheryl (Madison Liddy) changes into a bikini, and another in which Gay (Alejandra Bursik-Cervantes) takes a bath. That’s a grand total of 11 “starlets”, meaning there are still 39 more scattered throughout the movie! As for the performances, they range from mediocre to pretty bad (and, truth be told, “mediocre” is being generous).

Yet, despite all this, Climb It, Tarzan is an effective homage to the softcore movies of yesteryear, which were themselves thin on plot and heavy on female flesh. And while the film's ‘60s setting wasn’t the most convincing, I give director Masters credit for doing his best to recreate the time period (via costumes, some vintage cars, and about a dozen rotary telephones) on what must have been a very limited budget. In addition, I spotted posters for a number of skin flicks hanging in the background (including 1962’s The Female and 1967’s The Naked World of Harrison Marks), yet another nod to a cinematic era that the filmmakers obviously hold dear.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say Climb It, Tarzan is the definitive tribute to ‘60s sleaze, its heart is definitely in the right place.







Wednesday, March 29, 2017

#2,326. The Edge of Seventeen (2016)


Directed By: Kelly Fremon Craig

Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner




Tag line: "You're only young once... is it over yet?"

Trivia: Kelly Fremon Craig's Directorial Debut








In the 2010 remake of True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld showed the world that, even at the age of 13, she was a very talented actress.

Thanks to writer / director Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen, Ms. Steinfeld has proven that True Grit was no fluke. With wit and charm to spare, she takes what would have otherwise been a so-so coming-of-age comedy/drama and transforms it into something quite special.

Nadine Franklin (Steinfeld) has never felt comfortable in her own skin. It doesn’t help that her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) is the most popular kid in school, or that her widowed mother (Kyra Sedgwick) is too busy with work and new boyfriends to notice her daughter has an inferiority complex. Even Nadine’s favorite teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), doesn’t seem to care about her troubles. In fact, the only bright spot in poor Nadine’s life has been her best friend Krista (Kaley Lu Richardson). Ever since grade school, the two girls have been inseparable, and the times they’ve spent together have been the happiest that Nadine has ever known.

That all changes, however, when Krista gets herself a new boyfriend: Darian! All at once, Nadine feels as if her life is spiraling out of control, and she has no idea how to put it back on-track.

Teenage insecurity has been a hot cinematic topic since the 1980s (John Hughes became the spokesman for an entire generation with movies like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink), and Hollywood has been churning out one teen drama after another ever since. Story-wise, there’s not much that separates The Edge of Seventeen from the plethora of movies that preceded it. What does set this 2016 film apart from the others is its star, Hailee Steinfeld.

Though painted as an outcast from the very first scene, we feel an immediate connection with Nadine Franklin, and Steinfeld’s quirky, almost frantic performance is the reason why. In the hands of a lesser actress, Nadine would have come across as a whiny, obnoxious brat; she argues frequently with her brother and mother, and is prone to bouts of self-pity (“I had the worst thought”, she says at one point. “I have to spend the rest of my life with myself”). Thanks to Steinfeld, what might have been annoying is instead endearing. We sympathize with Nadine’s plight, and laugh at her acerbic observations (the various scenes in which she interacts with Harrelson’s Mr. Bruner are pure gold). There were even times throughout The Edge of Seventeen when I wished I could talk directly to Nadine. I wanted to tell her she’ll be okay, that she should forget about Nick (Alexander Calvert), the “bad boy” she has a crush on, and instead hook up with the awkwardly shy Erwin (Hayden Szeto), whose feelings for her were genuine. I enjoyed every moment I spent in Nadine’s company, and it’s because of Steinfeld that I found the character so engaging.

For those of you wondering who the next great American actress might be, check out True Grit and The Edge of Seventeen. It’s probably a bit early to rank her up there with Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Meryl Streep, but if Ms. Steinfeld continues on this same path, odds are she’ll be standing on-stage, thanking the Academy in the very near future.

And if there's any justice in Tinseltown, she will do so more than once.







Thursday, March 23, 2017

#2,325. Simon, King of the Witches (1971)


Directed By: Bruce Kessler

Starring: Andrew Prine, Brenda Scott, George Paulsin




Tag line: "The Evil Spirit Must Choose Evil!"

Trivia: Some of the female extras in the black mass sequence were actual practicing witches








My name is Simon. I live in a storm drain. When it rains, most people go in. But I go out. Some people call me a warlock, but I really am one of the few true magicians”.

This is our introduction to Simon (Andrew Prine), a most unique individual. See, Simon claims to be an honest-to-goodness magician, with power over good and evil. While out and about one evening he’s picked up by the cops and arrested for vagrancy, and during his time in jail he meets fellow prisoner Turk (George Paulsin), a young man who will eventually become Simon’s closest friend. Shortly after the two are released, Turk introduces Simon to Hercules (Gerald York), a well-respected socialite; and Linda (Brenda Scott), the pretty daughter of the city’s District Attorney (Norman Burton).

At one of Hercules’ patented soirees, Simon wows the crowd with a series of parlor tricks. But when Colin (Angus Duncan) stiffs him by writing a bad check, Simon demonstrates to a skeptical Hercules just how deep his powers run, putting a curse on Colin that takes effect rather quickly. The truth of the matter is that Simon really does control the dark forces, and believes himself a God. To leave his earthly existence behind, Simon has been trying (for several lifetimes, according to him) to open a portal through which he will cross into another realm, taking his place among the immortals. 

Alas, the law and some corrupt politicians, including Linda’s father, are conspiring to put Simon in jail for good. Bringing these powerful people to their knees would be a challenge for any other man. But for Simon, it should be a piece of cake!

Andrew Prine is one of those actors you may not know by name, but have probably seen in a number of movies and TV shows (I thought he was strong in 1974's The Centerfold Girls, and he’s appeared on television in everything from Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color to Freddy’s Nightmares). As the lead in Simon, King of the Witches, he shows us just how talented he truly is, creating a character who is so utterly fascinating that, much like his buddy Turk, we immediately want to know more about him. Prine is both funny and charming in the party sequence, where Simon reads tarot cards and tries to sell some of his trinkets, but it’s the various scenes in which he is performing hexes and spells that the actor really struts his stuff; the curse he puts on Colin is incredibly potent, as is the love spell he casts for Turk, who longs to romance a married woman. Best of all, though, is a later scene in which Simon and Turk visit a witches coven, where the Queen (Ultra Violet) is in the midst of conducting a ceremony (Simon thinks the whole thing is nonsense, and his reaction to it all leads to one of the film’s funnier moments).

The script was written by Robert Phippeny, who was himself a practicing Warlock, and his insight into this strange and mystical world helped the movie immeasurably. That said, I would categorize Simon, King of the Witches as “horror light” (in an interview Prine himself said neither he nor director Bruce Kessler set out to make a horror film). There are moments that definitely cross the line into the macabre; after each incantation, Simon is hounded by a malevolent spirit in the form of a floating orb, and there’s a freaky psychedelic sequence towards the end that looks as if it was lifted straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But Simon, King of the Witches is not the kind of movie that will scare the pants off of you. Instead, it’s a clever, engaging, and sometimes hilarious motion picture about the black arts, and I for one enjoyed it.







Tuesday, March 21, 2017

#2,324. Something's Gonna Live (2010)


Directed By: Daniel Raim

Starring: Robert F. Boyle, Henry Bumstead, Conrad L. Hall



Tag line: "Conversations with Six Great Hollywood Cinema Artists"

Trivia: This movie premiered in August 2010 at the Cinema Village in New York City







A series of shorter interviews pieced together to make a feature-length film, director Daniel Raim’s Something’s Gonna Live is a love letter to classic Hollywood, reuniting six artists who, during their decades-long collaborations within the studio system, helped turn out some of the greatest motion pictures ever made.

It was in 1997 that Daniel Raim first met Robert F. Boyle (North by Northwest, Cape Fear, Fiddler on the Roof), a former Hollywood Art Director / Production Designer who, at that time, was teaching a class at the AFI Conservatory. Over the course of the next several years, Raim and his documentary crew followed Boyle around, tagging along as he toured the Paramount Studio lot with fellow Art Directors Albert Nozaki (The Ten Commandments, 1953’s War of the Worlds) and Henry Bumstead (Vertigo, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sting). All three were hired by Paramount in the early ‘30s, and spent decades working side-by-side (Nozaki, a Japanese-American, was sent to an internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and for years lived in the Midwest, only to return to Paramount and his old buddies once the war ended).

In addition, Something’s Gonna Live joined Boyle and Storyboard Artist Harold Michelson (Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, The Graduate) as they paid a visit to the California locations where Alfred Hitchcock shot his classic horror film The Birds (Boyle handled that movie’s Production Design, while Michelson drew hundreds of storyboards for Hitchcock). In the remaining two segments, Boyle shoots the breeze with a pair of noted cinematographers: Haskell Wexler (In the Heat of the Night, Medium Cool) and Conrad Hall (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, American Beauty, Road to Perdition). Boyle and Hall even attend a screening of 1967’s In Cold Blood, on which they collaborated.

With plenty of stories flying around, not to mention the odd movie clip thrown in from time to time, Something’s Gonna Live pays tribute to the Hollywood of yesteryear, which each of its six featured artists refer to as the “good old days”, before computers took special effects to a whole new level. That’s not to say these men are against the modern methods of filmmaking; Boyle and Michelson agree that Alfred Hitchcock would have loved computer graphics (he was always looking for fresh and exciting ways to tell stories). But all of those interviewed also talk of the relationships that developed during their time together, something they feel is missing from Hollywood nowadays, and for them, camaraderie was what it was all about.

Yet what makes Raim’s film so invaluable is the fact it’s a living, breathing history of a bygone era, told by people who were there. All six of these men are no longer with us (Boyle, Nozaki, Bumstead, Michelson and Hall died before this film was released, whereas Haskell Wexler passed on back in 2015), and that alone makes this motion picture one that should be treasured. Whether you love movies or are interested in learning more about the old studio system, Something’s Gonna Live is a documentary you’re sure to enjoy.







Saturday, March 18, 2017

#2,323. The Girl in Room 2A (1974)


Directed By: William Rose

Starring: Daniela Giordano, Angelo Infanti, John Scanlon



Tag line: "A bold look at the bizarre world of abnormal sexual behavior!"

Trivia: Lead Actress Daniela Giordano won the Miss Italy pageant in 1966, and was runner-up in 1967 for Miss Europe






At first glance, you might think The Girl in Room 2A, a 1974 film directed by William Rose, is a typical Italian shocker, a la Bloody Pit of Horror, with scantily-clad beauties being subjected to all forms of torture by a sadistic thug in a red mask. That’s what I thought, anyway, when I sat down to watch this movie. But aside from a few scenes of brutality and a smattering of naked flesh, The Girl in Room 2A is an engaging mystery / thriller, with likable lead characters who do their damnedest to try and figure out why every girl that stays in room 2A ends up dead.

After serving two weeks in a women’s prison on a minor drug charge, Margaret (Daniela Girodano) is set free, and as part of her rehabilitation, case worker Alicia (Rosalba Neri) gets her a room at a local boarding house. The landlady, Mrs. Grant (Giovanna Galletti), lives alone with her son Frank (Angelo Infanti), and both seem anxious to make their new tenant feel right at home. But there’s something about the whole situation that doesn’t sit right with Margaret, and she starts having nightmares about a person in a red mask entering her room and watching her as she sleeps.

It isn’t until Margaret meets Jack (John Scanlon), however, that she begins to believe her life is in great danger. A while back, Jack’s sister stayed in the very room that Margaret now occupies, and while there she supposedly committed suicide. Jack believes his sister would never take her own life, and that she was the victim of foul play. Together, he and Margaret dig into the Grant’s past, eventually discovering they’re part of a strict religious organization run by a man named Drees (Raf Vallone), who preaches that only through physical pain can your sins be cleansed.

And it’s likely that Margaret is the next “sinner” they intend to save!

There is both violence and nudity in The Girl in Room 2A, often occurring in the same scene (those who are kidnapped by Drees’s group are stripped naked, then whipped). But it’s the film’s story that ultimately grabs our attention, thanks in large part to lead actress (and former Miss Italy) Daniela Giordano, who is quite convincing (not to mention very sympathetic) as a distraught young woman trying to get her life back on track. Yet as good as Ms. Girodano is on her own, The Girl in Room 2A is even better when John Scanlon’s Jack enters the picture. He and Giordano have a great chemistry together, and their characters' attempts to delve into the strange happenings at the Grant house make for some very tense moments.

Though more of a mystery than a horror film, The Girl in Room 2A has a lot in common with the Giallo pictures of this time period, and will, on occasion, send a shiver up your spine. In addition, several scenes (mostly towards the end) cross the line into seedier territory. But with its intriguing story and talented cast, The Girl in Room 2A offers audiences a bit more than they’ll find in the average ‘70s exploitation flick.







Friday, March 17, 2017

#2,322. The Devil's Sword (1984)


Directed By: Ratno Timoer

Starring: Barry Prima, Gudi Sintara, Advent Bangun



Tag line: "Sex, Savagery, and Mystical Martial Arts. An Astounding Voyage into the Unknown"

Trivia: In France this film was released as Queen of the Crocodiles







Moments after popping in the DVD for 1984’s The Devil’s Sword and hitting the ‘play’ button, I found myself mesmerized by the colorful, almost psychedelic logo of Rapi Films, the company behind this movie’s production. Struck with a sudden desire to know more about Rapi, I hit ‘pause’, sat down at my laptop, and did a quick Google search. 

Founded in 1968, Rapi is an Indonesian production house that, over the years, has turned out a large number of exploitation and horror titles, a few of which achieved international success (primarily those released in the 1980s). Today, Rapi focuses more on television, but still make the odd feature film from time to time (their Wikipedia page, which may not have been updated in a while, lists 2011’s My Blackberry Girlfriend as their most recent movie).

I can’t remember the last time a company’s logo inspired such curiosity, and it had me chomping at the bit to see what other treasures were hidden inside The Devil’s Sword. As it turns out, there were too many to count!

The warrior hero Mandala (Barry Prima) is sent on a mission to find the fabled Devil’s Sword. He must hurry, though, because four arch-criminals are also looking for it, one of whom, Banyujaga (Advent Bangun), plans to turn the sword over to the insatiable Crocodile Queen (Gudhi Sintara), the ruler of an underground realm who collects husbands on the side (she has about 8 of them). Mandala realizes that if the sword falls into the wrong hands, it could mean the end of the world. But is he strong enough to defeat his enemies, or will Banyujaga and the Crocodile Queen win out in the end?

This is just scratching the surface of what happens over the course of The Devil’s Sword, a wild and raucous sword and sorcery / martial arts mash-up the likes of which I have never seen before. Even by ‘80s fantasy standards, this movie is batshit crazy (there are sequences so incredibly insane that, by comparison, they make 1982’s Conan the Barbarian look like Kramer vs. Kramer). Take, for instance, the film’s main subplot: the Crocodile Queen’s abduction of a groom on his wedding day. He was about to marry a local Princess (Enny Christina), but the Queen ordered Banyujaga to visit the village, stop the ceremony, and retrieve the groom by any means necessary.

Anxious to please his Queen, Banyujaga hops on the nearest rock and rides it across the sky (yes, the rock flies) until he reaches his destination. Naturally, the villagers try to stop him from completing his mission, leading to a major battle in which a good many people lose their heads (literally). Then, just when you think it can’t get any crazier, a half-dozen crocodile men, the Queen’s personal minions, leap out of the dust to help Banyujaga! Combining martial arts and magic with Z-grade special effects, this entire sequence is gloriously bizarre, and sets the stage perfectly for the madness yet to come.

Jam-packed with mythical heroes, evil witches, magical weapons (including one that was obviously inspired by Master of the Flying Guillotine), and even a little sex (like I said, the Crocodile Queen is insatiable), The Devil’s Sword is guaranteed to blow your mind.







Thursday, March 16, 2017

#2,321. Lady Terminator (1989)


Directed By: H. Tjut Djalil

Starring: Barbara Anne Constable, Christopher J. Hart, Claudia Angelique Rademaker




Tag line: "She Mates... Then She Terminates"

Trivia: On video in the U.S., this film was released as Shooting Star








Here’s an awesome bit of ‘80s Indonesian sleaze! A violent, nudity-packed action / fantasy flick that steals entire scenes from 1984’s The Terminator, Lady Terminator is cinematic insanity at its absolute best.

The story begins a hundred years in the past, when the evil Queen of the South Sea ruled her kingdom with an iron vagina; when a lover wasn’t satisfying her, the Queen would unleash a snake that lived inside her love nest, which would castrate the poor guy before he knew what hit him. The Queen met her match, however, when she made love to Elias, who managed to grab the snake before it could strike. In a fit of rage, the Queen vowed that, in 100 years, she would take her revenge on Elias’s great-granddaughter. Shortly after, she disappeared into the sea.

Cut to modern day (otherwise known as the late ‘80s). Anthropology student Tania (Barbara Anne Constable) is writing her thesis on the legend of the Queen of the South Sea, and convinces a ship’s captain to take her to the spot where the Queen vanished all those years ago. Once she gets her scuba gear working, Tania dives to the bottom of the sea, where, instead of uncovering ancient artifacts, she is attacked and possessed by the Queen’s evil spirit.

Picking up where she left off a century ago, the Queen uses Tania’s body to kill three men (by having sex with them), then sets to work trying to locate Erica (Claudia Angelique Rademaker), a famous rock star and Elias’s only living descendant. The Queen eventually tracks Erica down, but her attempt to kill the unsuspecting girl are thwarted by Max (Christopher J. Hart), an American cop living and working in Indonesia.

Impervious to bullets and even fire, the Queen pursues Erica relentlessly, forcing Max and his police buddies to do whatever is necessary to stay one step ahead of this psychotic sovereign. Should they slow down, even for a second, Erica will surely die.

With gobs of gory violence (including one very disturbing scene involving an eyeball), a rocking ‘80s dance tune (performed by co-star Claudia Angelique Rademaker), and a villainess who kills men by having sex with them, Lady Terminator is a tasty slice of ‘80s cheese that only gets better with age. Sure, the dialogue is outrageous (when the ship’s captain calls her “Lady”, an angry Tania replies “I’m no lady. I’m an anthropologist!”) and the special effects (which consist mostly of green lightning) are lame, but this only adds to the fun of it all.

As for the key performance in the film, Barbara Anne Constable overacts early on when she’s still Tania, but is a total bad-ass once the Queen takes control of her, shooting up everything from a dance club to a police precinct in her single-minded attempt to get Erica (the possessed Tania is merciless as well, executing every wounded cop she comes across during her attack on the police station). In addition to its ultra-violent shootouts, Lady Terminator features some intense car chases, almost all of which end with an explosion.

As its title would suggest, Lady Terminator owes a lot to The Terminator. Much like that film, it’s almost impossible to kill the main baddie (Tania/the Queen is shot about 200 times, but keeps on comin’); and the melee at the precinct kicks off with the Queen driving a car straight through the front door (like Arnold did in the 1984 film). But odds are you won’t mind the many scenes that blatantly rip off James Cameron’s sci-fi / action classic. You’ll be having too much fun with Lady Terminator to even care.







Wednesday, March 15, 2017

#2,320. Tony Rome (1967)


Directed By: Gordon Douglas

Starring: Frank Sinatra, Jill St. John, Richard Conte



Tag line: "The action is so fast... it's a wonder Tony Rome stays alive... and single!"

Trivia: The character Tony Rome appeared in three novels by Marvin H. Albert in the early 1960s








I’m a fan of Frank Sinatra’s music (my favorite being “Summer Wind”, probably because it figured so prominently in The Pope of Greenwich Village), but it’s his movies I really enjoy. In fact, taking into account his superb performances in The Man with the Golden Arm, The Manchurian Candidate and From Here to Eternity, I’d say he was almost as good an actor as he was a singer (I said “almost”). While I wouldn’t rank his turn as the title character in 1967’s Tony Rome among his best (it wouldn’t even make the top five), the movie itself is a slick crime / mystery that keeps you guessing ‘til the very end.

Private investigator (and compulsive gambler) Tony Rome (Sinatra) is hired by his old partner Turpin (Robert J. Wilke) to give a drunken young heiress named Diana Pines (Sue Lyon) a ride home (she was barely conscious when she checked into the hotel where Turpin now works, and both he and the manager are anxious to avoid any scandal). Tony agrees, but soon after dropping her off, the young lady’s father, real estate tycoon Rudy Kosterman (Simon Oakland) hires Tony to find out what’s bothering his daughter. Tony isn’t on the job for more than a few hours, however, when he’s visited by a couple of thugs, demanding that he return Diane’s diamond pin (which, apparently, went missing while she was drunk). Tony says he doesn’t have it, but the two guys knock him out and ransack his place anyway.

Things get even more interesting when Diane herself shows up at Tony’s houseboat the next morning, asking for her pin; and later that day Kosterman’s second wife (and Diane’s step-mother) Rita (Gena Rowlands) also inquires about her step-daughter’s missing jewelry. Tony’s suspicions that there’s more to this case than a diamond pin are confirmed when he swings by his office and finds Turpin’s dead body lying on the floor! Now a murder suspect, Tony has to keep his old pal police Lt. Dave Santini (Richard Conte) off his back as he tries to figure out who killed Turpin, and how (if at all) his death is linked to the Kosterman’s jewelry woes.

Accompanied by pretty divorcee Ann Archer (Jill St. John), Tony visits some of Miami’s seediest clubs looking for clues. But no matter how many rocks he turns over, he can’t seem to find that one worm he’s looking for.

As I mentioned above, Sinatra’s performance in Tony Rome isn’t one of his strongest; the fire he displayed in earlier films like From Here to Eternity and The Manchurian Candidate is missing here. Still, he has an undeniable charisma, and his street-smart attitude convinces us his character is the perfect guy to tackle such a complex case. The supporting cast fares a bit better than its star, especially Jill St. John (as the voluptuous love interest Ann Archer) and Simon Oakland (whose Rudy Kosterman is as naïve as he is powerful). Also good in a brief role is Jeanne Cooper as the alcoholic Lorna, Diane’s real mother; while the always-reliable Richard Conte gives the films lead the one ally he can fully trust.

But what really impressed me was how the movie’s plot twisted and turned in so many directions, pitting Tony against some very unusual characters (including a stripper and her live-in girlfriend) as he attempts to solve a case that gets more perplexing with each passing scene. And thanks to its smart script (written by Richard L. Breen, based on the novel Miami Mayhem by Marvin H. Albert), never once did I find Tony Rome confusing or hard to follow. 

So, while it may not be Frank Sinatra’s best film, Tony Rome definitely ranks up there with Bullitt, Harper, Blow-Up, and In the Heat of the Night as one of the late ‘60s most intriguing crime mysteries.







Tuesday, March 14, 2017

#2,319. Hitchcock / Truffaut (2016)


Directed By: Kent Jones

Starring: Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, David Fincher



Tag line: "The Greatest Story Hitchcock Ever Told"

Trivia: Kent Jones went over 27 hours of recorded material from the Hitchcok Truffaut interview








Initially published in 1966, Hitchcock / Truffaut was one of the first movie-related books I ever owned (I picked it up when I was in high school), and to this day I still occasionally thumb through its pages. Featuring a series of interviews that Francois Truffaut conducted with Alfred Hitchcock (Truffaut’s friend Helen Scott acted as translator), the book is an exhaustive examination of Hitchcock’s career, from the silent era through to his later Hollywood films, and is today considered an invaluable resource for filmmakers and fans alike.

Hitchcock / Truffaut, a 2016 documentary directed by Kent Jones, takes us behind-the-scenes of the writing of this great book, with audio clips of the actual interviews and still photographs of the two men seated at a table, picking apart what is arguably the single most impressive body of work in cinematic history.

This alone would be enough to capture the heart of every die-hard movie buff. But by delving into its subject matter even further, inviting modern-day filmmakers to offer their take on Hitchcock’s career while also giving us a brief history of both the men who made this book a reality, Hitchcock / Truffaut also has something for the casual fan, and is the perfect starting point for younger cinephiles who may not be familiar with the Master of Suspense or his filmography.

In addition, director Jones throws in a few tidbits about Truffaut’s early directorial efforts, with clips from such classics as The 400 Blows and Jules et Jim, reminding us that, along with penning such an essential book, Francois Truffaut was an extraordinary filmmaker in his own right.

Among the directors who discuss Hitchcock, including how his movies influenced their own work, are such modern-day masters as David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, and Richard Linklater. But they do more than just praise Hitchcock; they take part in a lengthy analysis of some of the great director’s best-known films, like Vertigo and Psycho. By doing so, Hitchcock / Truffaut proves itself to be more than a companion piece to a classic book; it is also a world-class documentary that takes us beyond the margins, giving us more than we hoped for.







Friday, March 10, 2017

#2,318. Pickup on South Street (1953)


Directed By: Samuel Fuller

Starring: Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter



Tag line: "How the law took a chance on a B-girl... and won!"

Trivia: Marilyn Monroe sat in on a rehearsal and actually read for the role of Candy








One of director Sam Fuller’s favorite anecdotes centered on a meeting that he and Fox studio president Darryl Zanuck had with FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, who took issue with Fuller’s script for the 1953 movie Pickup on South Street. The story of a pickpocket named Skip McCoy who inadvertently swipes a government microfilm (which was about to be delivered to an enemy agent) from a woman’s purse, Hoover wasn’t happy with the fact that, smack dab in the middle of the Cold War, the lead character not only refused to turn the film over to the authorities, but laughed at the police interrogators when they accused him of being unpatriotic (“Are you waving the flag at me?”, McCoy says with a smirk).

Fuller and Zanuck stood firm. That was the character, they argued, and, for better or for worse, Skip McCoy wasn’t the kind of guy who’d put country, God, or anything else above his own well-being. Hoover likely left the meeting unsatisfied, but by sticking to their guns, Fuller and Zanuck ensured that Pickup on South Street would go on to become one of the most fascinating motion pictures to emerge from the 1950’s.

A three-time loser, Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) knows that, if the cops pinch him once more, he’ll be sent away for life. But he’s got to make a living, and the only thing he’s good at is picking other people’s pockets. McCoy gets more than he bargained for, however, when, while riding the New York subway, he lifts a wallet from a purse belonging to Candy (Jean Peters), who, without knowing it, was being used by her ex-boyfriend Joey (Richard Kiley) to deliver a sensitive government microfilm to a Soviet spy. FBI agent Zara (Willis Boucher) had been following Joey and Candy for some time, and personally witnessed McCoy stealing the wallet (which also held the microfilm). But McCoy got off the subway car too quickly, and before Zara could even react, he was gone.

Teaming up with Capt. Tiger (Murvyn Vye) of the New York police department, Zara hires the services of professional stool pigeon Moe Williams (Thelma Ritter), who, for a price, fingers Skip McCoy as the likely pickpocket and tips them off as to where he’s shacked up at the moment. McCoy is brought in for questioning, and is even offered immunity for committing the crime if he agrees to turn over the microfilm. But he refuses, saying he’s innocent, and demands to be set free. With nothing to hold him on, Tiger and Zara release McCoy, then assign an undercover detective to keep an eye on him.

But the authorities aren’t the only ones interested in the film. None too happy that she lost it in the first place, Joey tells Candy that it’s up to her to recover the microfilm, and before long she also crosses paths with Moe, who demands $50 to reveal where Skip McCoy lives. As Candy is sneaking around his abode in the dark, McCoy walks in and gets the better of her. But as the two trade insults, a funny thing happens: Candy starts to fall for the very man who has turned her life upside-down! As for McCoy, he now knows he’s holding something quite valuable, and tells Candy that he wants $25,000 for the microfilm. The question is, will Skip McCoy live long enough to collect it?

A director writes with the camera”, Sam Fuller used to say, and nowhere is this more evident than in the opening scene of Pickup on South Street. Set on the New York subway (which was replicated across three sound stages on the Fox lot), the entire sequence plays out with no dialogue. We see a woman (Candy) on a subway car, staring off into space, and there are cutaways to two men (Zara and his partner), a few feet away, clearly watching her. Then, another man (Skip McCoy) enters the car. After looking over the crowd, he stands next to the woman, pretending to read the newspaper. As he does, we see (via close-up) his hand gently open her purse and rifle through it. Finding the wallet, he slowly removes it, then, by bumping into her, closes the purse before the woman knows what’s happened. Every so often, the camera reminds us about the two men, who are obviously confused by what’s going on.

At this point in the film, we the audience don’t know the characters or story, but Fuller shoots the scene in such a way that it builds tension all the same. It’s a good introduction to the world of Pickup on South Street, and we can’t wait to see what happens next.

What really impressed me, though, were the characters that populate the movie, chief among them Skip McCoy and the paid informant Moe Williams. Both Widmark and Thelma Ritter deliver excellent performances, but it’s the “unwritten code of honor” between their characters that stuck with me. When dealing with the cops, the FBI, Candy, or anyone else, Skip McCoy is a total wise-ass, refusing to cooperate and acting as if he’s untouchable (the scene where he’s interrogated by Tiger and Zara is my favorite in the entire film). Still, despite his callous attitude towards everyone and everything, he doesn’t get upset when he finds out it was Moe, an old friend of his, who turned him into the cops in the first place. “Moe’s ok”, he says to Candy at one point, “She’s got to eat, too”. As for Moe, she genuinely likes Skip, and when the chips are down, he’s the only one who has her back.

As laid out in Fuller’s sharp, witty script, each knows the others' role within the criminal underworld, and accepts it with no questions asked. It may seem like a minor footnote in a movie about thieves and espionage, but it’s important all the same because it gives us insight into two characters who, at first glance, don’t respect anything (as it turns out, they do).

The rest of the cast is also strong (as Candy, Jean Peters is both street-wise and naïve), and the story twists and turns in all the right ways. But while the supporting players, Fuller’s direction, and a well-told tale add up to a damn good motion picture, it’s the characters of Skip McCoy and Moe Williams that make Pickup on South Street a great one.







Thursday, March 9, 2017

#2,317. Vanishing Point (1971)


Directed By: Richard C. Sarafian

Starring: Barry Newman, Cleavon Little, Dean Jagger



Tag line: "It's the maximum trip... at maximum speed"

Trivia: Charlotte Rampling had a role as a hitchhiker whom Kowalski met while en route, but her scenes were deleted before the US release







Director Richard C. Sarafian’s 1971 film Vanishing Point plays like a modern-day western, with its lead character Kowalski (Barry Newman) thumbing his nose at the law as he travels the highways of America, a journey that will turn him into a folk hero. With plenty of action and even a little pathos, Vanishing Point is one of the seminal road pictures of the 1970s, and it has lost none of its charm over the years.

Employed as a cross-country driver, Kowalski (armed with nothing more than a handful of uppers) hops into a white 1970 Dodge Challenger in Denver, Colorado on Friday evening, promising to deliver it to its new owner in San Francisco by Monday morning. In fact, Kowalski is so eager to finish the job that he makes a side bet with his drug dealer Jake (Lee Weaver), swearing he’ll make it to California by 3 p.m. the next day!

Of course, to pull off this seemingly impossible feat, Kowalski has to drive that souped-up Challenger as fast as it can go, and in the process draws the attention of every cop in Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. With the help of Super Soul (Cleavon Little), a blind DJ who follows the action via the police radio frequency, Kowalski manages to avoid some of the road blocks set up to stop him. But will he reach San Francisco in time, or will fate, and the law, catch up with him first?

Vanishing Point features a number of pulse-pounding car chases; and John A. Alonzo’s gorgeous cinematography gives the movie an almost epic sensibility. But it’s Kowalski (played so well by Barry Newman) who holds the picture together. At the outset, he is an enigma; we know what his job is, yet nothing at all about the man himself. Such revelations come later in the film, by way of a series of flashbacks that reveal how life has beaten him down. A Vietnam Veteran who won the Medal of Honor, Kowalski is also a former cop (he was thrown off the force for stopping his partner from raping a girl); and the sudden death of his girlfriend (Victoria Medlin) five years earlier left him a shell of a man.

The only thing Kowalski has is his freedom, and it’s because of this that he does whatever is necessary to outrun the cops (he even takes an unexpected detour through the desert, where an old prospector, played by Dean Jagger, helps him hide from a police helicopter). We get the sense throughout Vanishing Point that Kowalski himself knows this journey could end up costing him everything, including his life. But he will fight like hell to ensure that, if this is the end, he goes out on his own terms.

Yet as imposing as Kowalski is, it’s Cleavon Little’s radio DJ Super Soul who takes his story to the next level. Calling him an American hero and “The last beautiful free soul on the planet”, Super Soul transforms Kowalski into a media sensation. He convinces thousands of his listeners to root for the feisty underdog while, at the same time, using the airwaves to speak directly to Kowalski, advising him on which routes are being watched by the police, and which are safe. Vanishing Point is, indeed, exciting and dramatic, but it’s exploring the fine line between Kowalski the man and Kowalski the myth, handled so well by director Richard C. Sarafian, that gives the film its heart and soul.

There are moments when Vanishing Point loses its way: a scene with two homosexual hitchhikers (Anthony James and Arthur Malet) will offend a good number of people; and Kowalski’s unlikely encounter with a nude beauty on a dirt bike (Gilda Texter) plays out like a teenage boy’s sexual fantasy. But with its well-staged action sequences, strong characterizations, and central theme of freedom at all costs, Vanishing Point is a motion picture that viewers of every generation can appreciate.







Wednesday, March 8, 2017

#2,316. When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)


Directed By: Kent Jones

Starring: Victoria Vetri, Robin Hawdon, Patrick Allen



Tag line: "Enter an age of unknown terrors, pagan worship and virgin sacrifice..."

Trivia: Victoria Vetri refused to dye her hair blonde, and instead wore a wig








Having reviewed both One Million Years B.C. and Creatures the World Forgot, I honestly thought I’d closed the book on Hammer’s “Caveman” series of films.

Then I saw the poster for 1970’s When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. Let’s just say I found it too… enticing to pass up!

Set in prehistoric times, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth opens with a mountaintop religious ceremony, with three blonde beauties about to be sacrificed to the Sun God. But moments before the girls are struck down, a violent explosion in space triggers an earth tremor, causing Sanna (Victoria Vetri), one of the three sacrificial victims, to tumble into the sea. She is eventually rescued by Tara (Robin Hawden), a member of a seafaring tribe, and over time the two fall in love with each other. This doesn’t sit well with Ayak (Imogen Hassall), Tara’s current mate, who is more than ready to fight for her man.

To add to their worries, the priests who tried to sacrifice Sanna come looking for her, and convince the seafaring tribe that the newly-formed bright object in the night sky (the moon, actually; the creation of which triggered the earlier explosion) appeared because their ceremony was never completed. To avoid capture, Sanna flees into the surrounding wilderness, where, along with trying to outrun her fellow tribesmen, she must dodge some very dangerous dinosaurs!

Much like Hammer’s previous film One Million Years B.C. When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth features some truly gorgeous women, starting with former Playboy model Victoria Vetri (who looks great in her extremely tight animal skin bikini). But aside from Vetri and some of her more bodacious co-stars, the scenes centering on the human characters are easily the movie’s weakest. The opening sequence (the attempted sacrifice) is more silly than it is dramatic, and while I understand the filmmakers’ decision to concoct an entirely new language for their characters, sitting through extended scenes of people spouting gibberish to one another proved a difficult task (If I had a dime for every time someone said “ataki” in this movie, I’d be a rich man. And no, I haven’t a clue what that word is supposed to mean).

While the film’s caveman-centric moments were definitely a letdown, the dinosaurs themselves, courtesy of Jim Danforth’s stop-motion animation, are incredible. From the beached sea monster that several tribesmen attempt to subdue to the pterodactyl that attacks Tara, the creatures Danforth conjures up for this movie are every bit as impressive as what Ray Harryhausen created for One Million Years B.C. In fact, the dinosaurs look so good that you’ll swear it was Harryhausen himself who breathed life into them. And that is high praise, indeed.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth may not be perfect, but Danforth and his team got it as close to perfection as they possibly could.







Friday, March 3, 2017

#2,315. No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)


Directed By: Corey Yuen

Starring: Kurt McKinney, Jean-Claude Van Damme, J.W. Fails



Tag line: "When life is on the line there can be ..."

Trivia: Jean-Claude Van Damme knocked out Peter Cunningham twice with a spin kick while filming their fight scene







They say confession is good for the soul. Well, I have seen Plan 9 from Outer Space more times that I have 2001: A Space Odyssey. That’s strange, I admit, especially when you consider that I rank the 1968 Kubrick classic among my top 50 favorite films, not to mention my all-time favorite science fiction flick, while Plan 9 From Outer Space is…, well, simply awful. But there can be joy in watching a bad movie with a group of people: Ed Wood’s atrocious dialogue, the ridiculous situations, the pathetic special effects, all amount to a rollicking good time, allowing you and your friends to become, for a while anyway, honorary cast members of Mystery Science Theater 3000. When it comes to the cinema, bad can sometimes be good, and, on rare occasions, even great.

With an opening like that, I suppose it’s easy to guess my take on the 1986 action / kung-fu flick No Retreat, No Surrender: I think it’s bad. Very, very bad. But much like Plan 9 from Outer Space, Eegah, The Crater Lake Monster, and pretty much every live-action kids show that Krofft put out in the ‘70s, it is so bad that it’s good. 

No, check that: No Retreat, No Surrender is so bad it’s great.

He may not be the most gifted martial artist, but Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney) loves karate. He idolizes the late Bruce Lee, and spends every free moment practicing at the Sherman Oaks, California dojo owned and operated by his father Tom (Timothy D. Baker). One day, a representative from a New York crime syndicate demands that Tom sell his school to them. When he refuses, the rep has one of his cronies, Russian martial arts champion Ivan Kraschinsky (Jean-Claude Van Damme), break Tom’s leg. Not willing to fight it out with such a powerful organization, Tom closes his dojo, packs up his belongings, and moves his family to Seattle.

Shortly after their arrival, Jason befriends a smooth-talking breakdancer named R.J. (J.W. Falls) and, a few days later, reunites with Kelly (Kathie Sileno), a girl from Seattle who he met and fell in love with when she spent the summer in California. Unfortunately, Jason also makes some enemies, including Scott (Kent Lipham), a pudgy karate student with a bad attitude. When Jason tries to join the local dojo, Scott spreads rumors about the new kid, saying he heard him bragging about how California karate is better than what’s available in Seattle. This puts Jason at odds with assistant trainer Dean (Dale Jacoby), and before long he finds himself an outcast.

Visiting the grave of Bruce Lee (who is buried in Seattle), Jason asks the late master for help. To his amazement, the spirit of his hero (played by Tai Chung Kim) pays him a visit one evening, and agrees to assist with his training. And when the syndicate, once again with Ivan Kraschinsky in tow, makes its way to Seattle, the new and improved Jason may just be the local dojo’s best chance to retain its independence.

Like many micro-budget productions, No Retreat, No Surrender suffers from poor acting, and the action scenes (with the exception of the final showdown, which is pretty kick-ass) lack excitement. But that’s just scratching the surface of this film’s problems. For one, the chief baddie, Scott, may talk like a villain, but in almost every scene feels more like the comic relief (when we first meet him, he’s smearing chocolate cake across his face, lamenting the fact a Bruce Lee fanatic has moved into the area). In addition, the dialogue is trite, and some scenes end so abruptly they leave us scratching our heads, wondering what happened; a sequence where R.J. walks in on one of Jason’s training sessions with Bruce Lee (who only Jason can see, by the way) ends with a pratfall before R.J. has a chance to ask his buddy who he was talking to.

Throw in a handful of laughable ‘80s-style montages, a story that rips off both The Karate Kid and Rocky IV, and the mysterious appearance of palm trees in Washington State (aside from a few pickups, the Seattle scenes were shot in sunny California), and you have a movie that simply cannot be taken seriously on any level.

In my write-up of 1985’s Gymkata, I mentioned how my friend John and I watched that movie fully expecting to be blown away by its awfulness. But that never happened; the fun, laugh-filled experience we were hoping for was instead a slog through a film that sapped all the energy out of the room. Gymkata is just plain bad. But while that travesty let us down, No Retreat, No Surrender was everything we hoped it would be, and the afternoon we spent watching, and laughing at, this ‘80s treasure was truly a memorable one.

Most great movies are windows to the world, transporting us to exotic places and touching our souls in ways we never dreamed possible. Bad movies, on the other hand, including No Retreat, No Surrender, unleash our inner comedians, and that can be every bit as rewarding in the end.







Thursday, March 2, 2017

#2,314. Dark Angel: The Ascent (1994)


Directed By: Linda Hassani

Starring: Angela Featherstone, Nicholas Worth, Daniel Markel



Line from the film: "My name is Veronica Maria Theresa Iscariot of Hell"

Trivia: The film's trailer reuses music from Stuart Gordon's The Pit and the Pendulum







For centuries, hell has been depicted in Christian folklore as a realm of fire and brimstone, where the wicked, damned for eternity, burn for their sins. But thanks to Angela Featherstone, who plays a gorgeous demonic being named Veronica in Full Moon’s 1994 horror / romance Dark Angel: The Ascent, I see that hell can also be "hot" in ways I never imagined before!

Ignoring the wishes of her father (Nicholas Worth) and mother (Charlotte Stewart), Veronica, a demon-in-training, leaves hell behind to explore the world of the living. Once there, she meets Dr. Max Barris (Daniel Markel), a physician at St. Mary’s Hospital and one of the few people in the entire city with a heart of gold. Over time, Veronica falls in love with Dr. Barris, who, in turn, develops feelings for her. 

What the good doctor doesn’t know, however, is that while he’s working nights at the hospital, Veronica, along with her trusty dog Hellraiser, is walking the streets, exacting her own deadly brand of justice on any and all evildoers who cross her path. The police are convinced that the bodies Veronica leaves behind are the work of a psychopath, and assign detectives Harper (Mike Genovese) and Greenberg (Michael C. Mahon) to crack the case. But will the veteran cops track Veronica down before she kills again?

Dark Angel: The Ascent is one very strange motion picture, and has its share of scenes that don’t work as they should. For starters, the film’s depiction of hell (which is where we spend the beginning of the movie) is on the generic side, and not very frightening (Fire? check. Brimstone? Check. Tormented souls being whipped and beaten for their sins? Check), though I admit I was amazed to learn that the fallen angels forced to work in hell don’t do so 24/7; after a hard day of snipping off the tongues of liars, Veronica’s father heads home to enjoy a relaxing dinner with his family.

We’re also not quite sure what the rules are for Veronica or her kind. She and the others pray to God, and bow down before heavenly angels and clergy alike (on the street one evening, Veronica is approached by two nuns, causing her to immediately drop to her knees), yet they also have the ability to do some terrible things, as we see in those moments when Veronica takes the law into her own hands (in what is easily the film’s goriest scene, she yanks out a would-be rapist’s spinal column, then offers it to his potential victim as a souvenir of her terrible ordeal). 

But aside from a few lingering questions about hell and its various regulations, Dark Angel: The Ascent works as a romance (Veronica’s desire to experience love in all its forms, especially physical, makes for some interesting sequences, including one where she drags Max to an adult movie theater) as well as a tale of vigilante justice (despite her desire to live among mortals, Veronica does not shirk her duties, dispatching bad guys in as violent a manner as she possibly can. She even sets her sights on the city’s corrupt mayor, played by Milton James, in an effort to get him to change his ways).

Though definitely understated in her approach to the part, Miss Featherstone successfully conveys her character’s confusion and disgust with the human world while also convincingly portraying a young woman in love; and the story offers enough twists and turns to ensure it never gets bogged down by its own morality. This, along with one of the strangest sex scenes I’ve ever witnessed, is enough to help Dark Angel: The Ascent overcome its various flaws, making it yet another worthwhile release by Full Moon Entertainment, a studio that continues to surprise the hell out of me.







Wednesday, March 1, 2017

#2,313. Joe Bullet (1973)


Directed By: Louis de Witt

Starring: Ken Gampu, Joe Lopez, Abigail Kubeka



Tag line: "In the criminal underworld of soccer, one man will have to save the championship"

Trivia: While shooting one of the film's climactic scenes, star Ken Gampu was nearly killed when a rolling barrel struck him in the head







The fact that 1973’s Joe Bullet resurfaced at all is a miracle in and of itself. Produced in 1971, it was one of the first South African movies to feature an all-black cast, and after only two public screenings the film was banned by the country’s Apartheid government (according to writer / producer Tonie Manwe, one of the many reasons given for the ban was it showed a black man driving a sports car in an upper-class neighborhood).

Following an appeal, the ban was reversed, but Joe Bullet never screened again, and sat on a shelf for well over 40 years. Thanks to the gang at Gravel Road Entertainment, the original print of Joe Bullet has been remastered, giving the film a second life on DVD while, at the same time, providing viewers with a unique perspective of South Africa at a very tumultuous time in its history.

A mysterious crime lord and his cronies are trying to fix the championship soccer match between The Eagles and The Falcons, which is only a few short days away. After killing the Eagles’ trainer (Richard Khumalo), the mob threatens the team’s two best players, Flash (Cocky Tlhotlhalemaje) and Jerry (Sydney Chama), warning them that if they don’t agree to play for the Falcons instead, they’ll never make it to the stadium alive. With nowhere else to turn, Flash asks his good friend Joe Bullet (Ken Gampu), a master marksman and kung fu expert (who’s also handy with a knife), for help. Joe agrees to watch over the team, and before long has the mob on the run. But this crime boss has deep pockets, and hires a professional assassin (Matthew Molete) to eliminate Joe Bullet once and for all.

As the assassin and the mob will soon realize, however, getting the upper hand on a guy like Joe is easier said than done.

A low-budget crime / thriller, Joe Bullet is definitely rough around the edges. At times, the pacing is lethargic, and some of the action sequences are pieced together haphazardly (as a result, one of the big fight scenes, which takes place on a train, doesn’t generate the excitement it should have). In addition to its cinematic limitations, the film features a scene that is sure to turn off a good number of people: the actual killing of an Egyptian cobra (while not nearly as graphic as the animal deaths in Cannibal Holocaust, it’s still tough to watch). But the snake wasn’t the only one hurt during the making of this film; a late sequence involving a rolling barrel put star Ken Gampu in the hospital for two weeks, and damn near killed him!

On the plus side, Joe Bullet contains a handful of pretty nifty scenes, the best of which has Joe rescuing the Eagles’ team president (Dan Poho) and his daughter (Abigail Kubeka) from their car, which is almost swept away by a raging current when explosives (planted by the mob) destroy a nearby dam. As for Ken Gampu, he may not be the most charismatic action star you’ll ever see, but he has a good screen presence and handles himself well enough in the lead role. On top of this, the movie was shot on-location in areas of Johannesburg that were rarely explored in films from this era , and the movie’s awesome title song (recorded by a group called The Silver Threads) will be rattling around in your head for hours (“Joe… Bullet. Joe… Bullet. He’s the man… the man who fights evil”). 

Yet the truly wonderful thing about Joe Bullet is that it’s once again available. Over 40 years have passed since this film was last seen by an audience, and in the DVD commentary, writer / producer Tonie Manwe said that, for the longest time, he believed it was lost forever. But it wasn’t, and it is discoveries like this that make being a cinephile so rewarding. In a way, watching Joe Bullet is like finding a hidden treasure, one that lives and breathes with the spirit of the time and place in which it was made.

I can’t help but wonder how many other lost films are out there, sitting in garages, attics, and warehouses, just waiting to be found.

It sets the mind to spinning, doesn’t it?