Friday, April 29, 2022

#2,746. Greenland (2020) - 21st Century Disaster Movies Triple Feature


The sudden appearance of a new comet, which is projected to pass as close to earth as any celestial body in recorded history, kicks off a chain of cataclysmic events in director Ric Roman Waugh’s Greenland, a 2020 movie that proves to be more a human drama than an apocalyptic disaster film.

The whole world is watching as the newly-discovered Clarke comet flies past earth, so close that it will be visible in the daytime sky.

Our first indication that there’s more to this comet than a colorful display comes when Atlanta-based engineer John Garrity (Gerald Butler) receives a mysterious voice message from the United States Department of Homeland Security, informing him that he, his estranged wife Allison (Morena Baccarin), and their young son Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd) have been selected for emergency sheltering, and must report to a nearby Air Force base by 9:45 pm. John ignores this message, only to realize its significance when a piece of the Clarke comet slams into Florida, destroying most of the state.

As news reports come across that fragments of Clarke will continue to pound the globe - including debris so large it could cause an extinction-level event - John and family drive to their designated rendezvous point, only to be turned away when it’s discovered that Nathan suffers from diabetes (the military has been instructed to reject anyone with an illness).

Separated from his family in the ensuing chaos (the base is stormed by thousands of panic-stricken citizens), John must travel to the home of Allison’s father (John Glenn) to reunite with her and Nathan, all the while thinking of a way to get his family to Canada, where a plane will carry any survivors who make it that far to a military bunker in Greenland mere hours before the comet is scheduled to hit.

The Clarke comet and the devastation it causes (ranging from small bits of debris that crash to earth to the destruction of entire cities) is merely the backdrop for Greenland; this is the story of a man who has made mistakes in the past (we eventually discover John’s infidelity led to his current marital woes with Allison), yet is determined to do whatever he must to get his family to safety. Along the way, John and Alison meet up with all sorts of people, from those ready to help (John learns about the Canadian plane from Colin, played by Andrew Byron Bachelor, who was traveling there himself and invites John to join him) to the desperate few out to save their own skins (when they first arrived at the Air Force base, John, Allison, and Nathan were issued wristbands by the military, identifying them as chosen survivors. After they are turned away, these wristbands make them prime targets for anyone desperate enough to steal them and try their luck at another base).

The cast is strong, with Butler and Baccarin doing a fine job as the motivated couple fighting the clock to make their way to safety. Yet it was young Roger Dale Floyd as Nathan who impressed me the most, giving a performance every bit as good as the film’s more experienced actors. And while the focus of Greenland is placed squarely on its characters, there are some decent action sequences as well (especially impressive is the scene in which a shower of molten debris hits a highway in upstate New York).

Alas, the key ingredient that is lacking in Greenland is suspense; there was never a moment when I felt John Garrity and his family wouldn’t survive, and do so together, regardless of the circumstances (there’s even a brief section of the film where all three are separated from each other).

On a technical level, Greenland is a well-made film, with a good cast, effects that work as intended, and a story of global devastation that is never dull. But it is also far more predictable than a movie of this nature should be.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

#2,745. The Quake (2018) - 21st Century Disaster Movies Triple Feature


A sequel to 2015’s The Wave, we once again join the Elkjord family, which, three years after the catastrophic tsunami, has fallen on hard times.

Blaming himself for not saving more people when the wave hit, Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) has moved back to Geiranger, and dedicates his time to researching other potential disasters, in the hopes of preventing the additional loss of lives. His estranged wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), who now works at the prestigious Radisson Blu Hotel, and their two kids, Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande), live in a small apartment in Oslo, waiting for the day Kristian decides to return to them.

That day may come sooner than expected; Kristian receives word that a colleague of his, geologist Konrad Lindblom, was killed while investigating the Oslofjord Tunnel.

Fearing his colleague may have discovered a fault somehow connected to the tunnel, Kristian pays a visit to Lindblom’s house, where the late researcher’s adult daughter Marit (Kathrine Thorborg Johansen) is busy planning her father’s funeral and getting his affairs in order. She lets Kristian have a look at Lindblom’s research, which includes a map of recent seismic activity, and he makes a frightening discovery: a major earthquake, strong enough to level Oslo, may be days away from striking!

Armed with this information, Kristian tries to warn Lindblom’s former supervisor, Johannes Løberg (Stig R. Amdan), that he should start thinking about evacuating the city, while also telling Inud and the kids to get out of Oslo as soon as possible. But much like what happened in Geiranger three years ago, nobody is prepared when the crippling earthquake finally hits.

As it was with The Wave, The Quake spends more time on its central characters than it does the disaster, and because we know them well enough, we’re just as invested in their plight this time around. As played by Joner, Kristian is a shell of his former self, a geologist who felt he missed an opportunity to save his neighbors three years earlier and has been beating himself up about it ever since, despite the reassurances of his family (and everyone else) that he was not to blame. We see just how far he’s fallen when, early on, young Julia visits him for a week in Geiranger, only to be sent home the day after her arrival by Kristian, who is in no state of mind to have company. We care about the Elkjord clan, all of whom are played by the same actors from The Wave, and we also sympathize with Marid, who was alienated from her workaholic father and teams up with Kristian to see for herself what he was trying to accomplish in his final days.

Of course, it’s the later scenes in The Quake that will take your breath away; the sight of the earthquake rolling into Oslo is impressive enough, but pales in comparison to the devastation it causes, especially to the Radisson Blu, where Kristian, Inud, Marit and Julia are trapped. There are some nail-biting moments scattered throughout the final act of The Quake, and plenty of drama as well.

The Quake is both a solid sequel to The Wave and a strong disaster film in its own right, and I recommend you watch both of these superb movies as soon as you can.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Monday, April 25, 2022

#2,744. The Wave (2015) - 21st Century Disaster Movies Triple Feature


Rolf Uthaug’s The Wave opens with a slideshow of images depicting the aftermaths of real-life tsunamis, which had destroyed several small Norwegian towns (the tsunamis were caused by rockslides). It happened first in 1905, killing 60 people, and again 29 years later in the village of Tafjord, during which 40 lost their lives.

The first disaster film ever produced in Norway, The Wave manages to pull us in during these early moments by reminding us the chaos we are about to witness can - and actually did - happen, giving this 2015 film a step-up on Roland Emmerich and company, whose The Day After Tomorrow and 2012 boasted million-dollar special effects and about $1.75 worth of believability.

Having recently accepted a new job with an oil company, geologist Kristian Elkjord (Kristoffer Joner) spends his last days in the small coastal town of Geiranger saying goodbye to co-workers and packing up his family’s belongings. When it’s time to leave, Kristian, along with his teenage son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and young daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande), heads to the docks to hop the ferry, while his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp), who works the desk at Geiranger’s swankiest hotel, will finish out her last few days on the job before joining them.

But a recent development concerning a nearby mountain, which could very well signal the beginning of a major rockslide, weighs heavy with Kristian, and causes him to make quick detour to beg his old boss Arvid (Fridtjov Såheim) to put emergency protocols into place. Unfortunately, it’s too little too late; an enormous rockslide crashes into the surrounding fjord, sending a wall of water some 260 feet (80 meters) high barreling towards Geiranger, giving Kristian, Idun, and the kids – as well as everyone in town – exactly 10 minutes to reach higher ground.

The special effects generated by Uthaug and his team for The Wave, most notably the tsunami that threatens to wipe the town of Geiranger off the map, are damned effective (we get to see this tsunami, in all its destructive glory, several times before it makes landfall). Yet the reason we’re so terrified of this giant wave is only in part due to computer-generated wizardry; by the time the disaster hits, Uthaug has ensured we’re fully invested in his main characters. Thanks to the performances delivered by Joner, Dahl Torp, and the kids (especially young Edith Haagenrud-Sande), the Elkjord family is as likable as they come, and we hope and pray that, when the water finally recedes, all will still be alive.

Hollywood, and especially Mr. Emmerich, could learn a little something from The Wave: It’s possible to make a special effects-laden disaster film without sacrificing story and character development in the process.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Saturday, April 23, 2022

#2,743. The Blade (1995) - Quentin Tarantino Recommends


When listing his favorite movies released since 1992 (notable because that’s the year he himself became a director thanks to Reservoir Dogs), Quentin Tarantino mentioned - among others - 1995’s The Blade, which he called a “martial arts extravaganza”.

Directed with gusto by Tsui Hark, The Blade is an explosive, crisply edited, action-packed motion picture, and I loved every minute of it!

Siu Ling (Song Lei), whose father (Austin Wai) owns and operates a world-class sword-making facility, has fallen in love with two of her dad’s employees: Ding On (Wehzhuo Zhao), who was orphaned as a child when his own father was murdered, and Ti Dao (Moses Chan), whose temper occasionally lands both himself and good friend Ding On in hot water.

Ding On is eventually chosen to be the new master of the sword factory, a decision that does not sit well with Ti Dao or the other employees. Having no desire to become the next boss, Ding On instead sets out to track down his father’s killer, a tattooed assassin known only as The Falcon (Xiong Xinxin). But a run-in with some bandits results in Ding On losing a portion of his right arm, and as he attempts to overcome his disability by teaching himself martial arts, Siu Ling and Ti Dao set out to find Ding On and convince him to return home with them.

Ding On, however, is set in his ways, and will either get his revenge or die in the process.

A remake of the Shaw Brothers’ 1967 classic The One Armed Swordsman, The Blade has style to spare; the fight scenes are exhilarating, with Hark pulling out all the stops, relying on sharp angles and frenzied editing to get our collective pulses pounding.

Just as impressive is how Hark generates this same level of energy when the action slows down; he lets his creative juices flow throughout The Blade, even during those scenes designed to flesh out its characters. A later sequence, where Ti Dao captures a prostitute (played superbly by Valerie Chow) he claims to have saved, only to anger Siu Ling later that same evening (she catches him having sex with the prostitute), is just as vigorously paced as the film’s epic finale, a confrontation between Ding On and the Falcon you’ll have to see to believe.

Crammed with style and vivacity, The Blade is, indeed, a wild ride, and once it’s over you’ll be dying to hop on again!
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Thursday, April 21, 2022

#2,742. Love and a .45 (1994) - Quentin Tarantino Recommends


Quentin Tarantino is on-record as being a fan of writer / director C.M. Talkington, the creative mind behind the 1994 crime / comedy Love and a .45. Tarantino has even gone so far as to call Talkington – on numerous occasions – his “Favorite imitator”.

While it’s true that the dialogue in Love and a .45 has a very “Tarantino-esque” feel to it, and the film’s penchant for over-the-top characters and sudden violence calls to mind Pulp Fiction, Talkington (who speaks very highly of Tarantino) denies his movie was in any way inspired by the Academy-Award winning filmmaker. “I finished the first draft of Love and a .45 in 1990 or ‘91”, Talkington told Slate magazine back in 2015, “and then I finished the second draft in, like 1992”.

In fact, Tarantino and Talkington first met each other at the 1994 Stockholm Film Festival, which was screening both Pulp Fiction and Love and a .45!

Petty crook Wally Watts (Gil Bellows) is in love with girlfriend Starlene Cheatham (Renee Zellweger), and intends to propose to her in the very near future. His plans are put on the back-burner, however, when he agrees to help his buddy Billy Mack Black (Rory Cochrane) rob a convenience store. The robbery is a total bust, and to make matters worse, Billy shoots the high-as-a-kite cashier (Charlotte Ross), killing her outright.

After a violent confrontation with a hard-nosed Sheriff, Wally and Starlene hit the road, stopping off to visit Starlene’s hippie parents (Ann Wedgeworth and Peter Fonda) before hightailing it to Mexico.

But with loan sharks Dinosaur Bob (Jeffrey Combs) and Creepy Cody (Jace Alexander) - as well as a pissed off Billy Mack - hot on their trail, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the lovers will actually get their “happily ever after” ending or not.

The cast of Love and a .45 is excellent; Bellows and Zellweger (in an early screen role) are pitch-perfect as the central characters, and Jeffrey Combs lights up the screen as the totally unhinged Dinosaur Bob (a scene in which he tortures Billy Mack with a tattoo needle is tough to watch), yet it’s Ann Wedgeworth (as Starlene’s oversexed mom) and Peter Fonda (as her mute, crippled father) who steal the show.

Talkington’s dialogue, often sharp and witty, is also a highpoint (Wally’s give-and-take with a half-crazed Billy Mack in a breakfast café is as tense as they come), and the violence, often sudden, is appropriately brutal. There are some laugh-out-loud moments as well, like when Wally and Starlene stop off at a Justice of the Peace (played by Jack Nance) to get hitched, then spend their first moments as husband and wife tying the Justice to a chair so that he won’t alert the authorities!

Whether C.M. Talkington is a Tarantino imitator or not, one thing is certain: Love and a .45 is a fun, funny, highly-charged motion picture, and I recommend it.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

#2,741. Hooper (1978) - Quentin Tarantino Recommends


Quentin Tarantino has stated that his chief inspiration for the characters of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth (played, respectively, by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt) in 2019’s Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood was the long-time partnership between actor Burt Reynolds and his good friend, stuntman-turned-filmmaker Hal Needham.

Needham, who was Reynolds’ stunt double in such early ‘70s movies as White Lightning and Gator, went on to direct some very popular action-comedies, most starring his good buddy Burt. So it’s only fitting that their second collaboration as actor and director, after the 1977 Box-Office smash Smokey and the Bandit, would be Hooper, a movie in which Burt plays… a Hollywood stuntman!

Sonny Hooper (Reynolds) is believed by many to be the best stuntman in all of Tinseltown. His reputation as the greatest is threatened, however, with the arrival of young hotshot Delmore Shidski (Jan-Michael Vincent), who Sonny nicknames “Ski”.

Ski, it seems, is willing to take risks, performing stunts that have never been attempted before. As for Sonny, both his girlfriend Gwen (Sally Field) and his best buddy Cully (James Best) are pushing him to retire. But when Ski suggests that he and Sonny attempt a long-distance car jump for their new movie, one that will shatter all previous records, Sonny jumps at the opportunity, despite the fact that one more injury might put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life!

Like Smokey and the Bandit before it, Hooper is fun with a capital “F”, an action / comedy that doesn’t skimp on either. Reynolds is as charismatic and lovable as ever playing the cocky Hooper, a guy who knows his best days are behind him but wants to show his new young colleague why he’s still top dog. Many of the stunts Hooper performs throughout the movie are, indeed, exciting. In an early scene, he has to zip line over a city street while holding a dog!

In addition to Reynolds, Hooper boasts a talented supporting cast. Jan-Michael Vincent, Sally Field, and James Best are superb, as are Robert Klein (as egotistical director Roger Deal), Brian Keith (Jocko, a former stuntman and Gwen’s father), John Marley (producer Max Burns), Alfie Wise (as Roger Deal’s diminutive assistant), and Adam West (as himself, the star of the movie in production). Also turning up in a cameo is football great Terry Bradshaw as an off-duty cop who mixes it up with Sonny during a barroom brawl.

As for the final stunt, the car jump across a collapsed bridge, it is phenomenal, not to mention nerve-racking. Sonny was told by his doctors that his back won’t survive another concussion, brining an added tension to the entire sequence.

Needham and Reynolds would go on to make several more movies together, including Smokey and the Bandit II, The Cannonball Run (a personal favorite of mine) and Stroker Ace (which is abysmal), but their first two collaborations as actor and director - Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper - remain their best.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Sunday, April 17, 2022

#2,740. Family Enforcer (1976) - Quentin Tarantino Recommends


In the fall of 2019, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino – filmmakers extraordinaire and master cinephiles – got together at the Director’s Guild of America to shoot the breeze, and over the course of that conversation one of the many titles they discussed was the 1976 crime film Family Enforcer (originally released as The Death Collector). According to Scorsese, Robert De Niro caught this movie on television in the late 1970s, and was so impressed by one of its co-stars that he called Scorsese and recommended they consider him for a role in their upcoming film.

That movie was Raging Bull, and the actor was Joe Pesci.

Written and directed by Ralph De Vito (his only credit on both counts), Family Enforcer takes us inside the crime syndicate of Northern New Jersey. Fresh out of prison, Jerry Bolanti (Joseph Cortese) is looking for a job, and asks his old boss, wiseguy Tony Ladavia (Lou Criscuolo), to send a little work his way.

So, Tony asks Jerry to collect some outstanding debts, including over $26,000 that Bernie Feldshuh (Frank Vincent) owes Herb Greene (Jack Ramage), an associate of Tony’s. But the very night Jerry collects this debt, he’s shot and badly wounded by one of Feldshuh’s henchmen, kicking off a war between Jerry and Feldshuh that won’t end until one of them is dead.

While still recovering from his wounds, Jerry, at Tony’s urging, helps his two friends Joe (Joe Pesci) and Serge (Bobby Alto) steal $40,000 from a local supermarket. This, too, ends badly, causing Tony to wonder if Jerry is unlucky or playing him for a sap.

While discussing this film, Tarantino told Scorsese that, after seeing Family Enforcer, his first reaction was “Wow, this is like an exploitation version of Mean Streets”, and that is exactly the vibe it gives off. Focusing more on its characters than plot or story, Family Enforcer offers viewers a glimpse of mob life from the inside, and does so wonderfully. Joseph Cortese delivers a solid performance as Jerry, whose short fuse and no-fear approach to his job often lands him in hot water, but it’s getting to see Scorsese regulars Joe Pesci and Frank Vincent at the start of their careers that makes this one a winner (Vincent also landed a role in Raging Bull thanks to this movie, and you can see traces of Goodfellas Billy Batts in his portrayal of Bernie Feldshuh).

Much like Scorsese did with Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and Casino, writer / director De Vito mixes some humor in as well; one scene in particular, where a character passes gas in a car, had me laughing out loud.

I’m an unapologetic fan of mob movies, and Family Enforcer proved to be a pleasant surprise.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, April 15, 2022

#2,739. Five Element Ninjas (1982) - Quentin Tarantino Recommends


One of the most prolific directors of Hong Kong cinema, Cheh Chang turned out a number of classic films for the Shaw Brothers, most notably the excellent Five Deadly Venoms in 1978. Standing alongside that movie is 1982’s Five Element Ninjas, an action-packed martial arts extravaganza filled to its breaking point with fight scenes and a whole lot of blood and gore.

Set hundreds of years in the past (possibly during Hong Kong’s Huan Dynasty of the 13th century), Five Element Ninjas kicks off with a showdown between two rival martial arts schools. Chief Hong (Chan Shen) and his understudies challenge the students of Yuan Zeng (Kwan Fung) for the right to call themselves kung-fu masters. Hong’s star pupil, a Japanese Samurai, is eventually defeated by Liang Zhi Sheng (Lo Meng), but before the Samurai commits suicide (for the dishonor of losing) he informs Yuan Zeng that a highly-skilled ninja named Kenbuchi Mudou (Michael Chan) will avenge his death.

Sure enough, Yuan Zeng soon after receives a challenge from the Element Ninjas - five teams personally trained by Mudou whose fighters rely on the elements of Gold, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth to defeat their enemies. When his best pupils are killed by the Element Ninjas, Yuan Zeng and his two remaining students, Liang Zhi Sheng (Lo Mang) and Tian Hao (Cheng Tien Chi), prepare themselves for the inevitable attack.

To gain the upper hand, Mudou sends Senji (Chen Pei-Shi), a beautiful female spy, to infiltrate Yuan Zeng’s school. Winning the trust of Liang Zhi Sheng, Senji gathers enough information to help Mudou defeat Yuan Zeng and his followers. Ambushing the school late one night, Mudou delivers a crushing blow. Only Tian Hao escapes, and seeks the help of a former master and three new “brothers” to avenge Yuan Zeng and defeat Mudou’ s Element Ninjas once and for all.

Five Element Ninjas tells a good story, and features some strong characterizations; initially sent to spy on the Yuan facility, Senji (played superbly by Chen Pei-Shi) instead falls in love with Tian Hao, who will eventually use her feelings for him to his advantage. But it’s the fight scenes that make this movie so much fun.

The highlights, of course, are the battles featuring Mudou’s five element teams, who use everything from gold umbrellas to fire to take out their opponents. The deadliest of the five, however, is the Earth crew, which hides underground, jutting swords upwards when an opponent steps over them, piercing everything from legs to lower regions. The violence is tangible throughout Five Element Ninjas, yet it’s the last act, when Tian Hao and his new brothers take the fight to the Element teams, that the movie becomes a total gorefest, with blood and body parts flying in every direction.

Ranking alongside The Five Deadly Venoms as one of the best Shaw Brothers films I’ve ever seen, Five Element Ninjas is, from start to finish, a bloody good time!
Rating: 9 out of 10

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

#2,738. Red Sun (1971) - Quentin Tarantino Recommends


Like The 5-Man Army, Red Sun was one of several runners-up on Quentin Tarantino’s Top 20 Favorite Spaghetti Westerns list. Directed by Terence Young (who also helmed Dr. No and From Russia with Love), Red Sun boasts some exciting action scenes, a solid revenge story, and the gorgeous settings we’ve come to expect from a European western (it was a French-Italian co-production).

Yet what really blew me away about Red Sun was its amazing cast of international stars, all of whom deliver top-notch performances.

It’s the latter part of the 19th century, and a train carrying a few dozen passengers, $400,000 in cash, and the Japanese Ambassador to the United States (Tetsu Nakamura) is held up by outlaws Link Stuart (Charles Bronson), Gauche Kink (Alain Delon), and their band of cutthroats. After stealing the cash and robbing the passengers, Gauche swipes a gold-crusted samurai sword from the Ambassador - one intended to be a gift for the President of the United States - then tries to bump off Link so he can keep the money for himself.

Desperate to retrieve the sword, the Ambassador orders his only remaining Samurai guard, Kuroda (Toshiro Mifune), to accompany Link as he searches for Gauche and the money he’s owed. Though not exactly thrilled with this arrangement, Link eventually realizes that having a highly-skilled samurai around can be quite handy, especially when the two try to draw Gauche out of hiding by kidnapping his beautiful girlfriend Cristina (Ursula Andress) and dragging her off to an abandoned mission.

But along with the dangerous Gauche and the high-spirited Cristina, Link and Kuroda must also contend with an entire tribe of Comanche warriors that is out for blood!

With renowned French cinematographer Henri Alekan (1946’s Beauty and the Beast, Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire) on board as the Director of Photography, Red Sun is, indeed, a beautiful motion picture that takes full advantage of its picturesque setting. The movie was shot on-location in Spain, in many of the same areas Leone had used for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West. In addition, Red Sun has plenty of action. The train robbery, which takes up the opening 20 minutes of the film, is damn thrilling, and features everything from dynamite to a showdown with a cavalry platoon.

Still, no amount of scenery or action will draw attention away from this film’s all-star cast. Bronson delivers his typical bad-ass performance, and is also pretty funny as the wise-cracking Link (especially during his initial scenes with Mifune’s character). Having already played his share of Samurai (Rashomon, The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo), Toshiro Mifune is perfectly cast as the warrior living by a code of honor, a trait that eventually wins him the respect of his outlaw companion.

Throw in Alain Delon (equal parts suave and ornery as Gauche, the film’s villain), Ursula Andress (absolutely alluring as the cantankerous prostitute who is in love with a bastard), and Capucine (1963’s The Pink Panther) as the Madame of the brothel where Cristina works, and you have an international cast that ranks right up there with Once Upon a Time in the West as one of the best ever assembled for a European western.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Monday, April 11, 2022

#2,737. The Strawberry Statement (1970) - Quentin Tarantino Recommends


1970’s The Strawberry Statement is a dated film, but it’s dated in the same way that The Graduate or Easy Rider are dated. The styles, situations, and values may make it a time capsule of a bygone era, but the film itself features enough heart and (especially) style to engage a modern audience.

A young Bruce Davison stars as Simon, a college student at an unspecified San Francisco-based university, and a member of the school’s rowing team. Unlike other kids, Simon isn’t politically-minded. That is, until his roommate brings home a pretty yet radicalized co-ed, who informs Simon that a group of students plan to occupy the office of the University’s President. They are protesting a planned gymnasium that the school intends to build in an African-American community, without the consent of the locals.

At first seeing this sit-in as a way to meet girls, Simon joins the protestors, who have taken over the entire administration building. Simon does make a few new friends, including the organizer, Elliot (Bob Balaban), and he even falls in love with the revolutionary-minded Linda (Kim Darby). But as Simon gets deeper into the movement, he finds himself agreeing with their cause, and is soon willing to risk his future to help these “radicals” achieve their goals.

As directed by Stuart Hagmann, who was making his feature film debut, The Strawberry Statement is a visually exciting movie, with plenty of jump cuts, spinning cameras, and rapid close-ups. At times, these stylistic choices can be a distraction, especially in the final sequence, when the students and police square off against each other. But for the most part they generate a tangible energy.

The cast does a nice job as well. Davison is convincing as Simon, the apolitical lead character who eventually joins the cause, while Darby, Balaban, Bud Cort (as Simon’s buddy), George MacLeod (as a jock who has a change of heart) and James Coco (in a brief but funny cameo as a grocer) are solid in support. Another strength of The Strawberry Statement is its soundtrack, which features music by Thunderclap Newman (Something in the Air), Crosby, Stills and Nash (several tunes, including Suite: Judy Blue Eyes), Neil Young (Down By the River) and even John Lennon (Give Peace a Chance, which features prominently in the movie’s final scene).

Even if modern audiences have a hard time identifying with aspects of The Strawberry Statement, the film’s kinetic style, its performances, the great music, and the dramatic finale will likely win them over.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Saturday, April 9, 2022

#2,736. The 5-Man Army (1969) - Quentin Tarantino Recommends


In 2015, Quentin Tarantino put together a list of his 20 favorite Spaghetti Westerns. There were some obvious titles; Tarantino has always been a big fan of Sergio Leone, and the legendary director has three movies in his top 5 (Once Upon a Time in the West came in 5th, For a Few Dollars More was second, and Tarantino’s numero uno favorite Spaghetti Western is The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly). Also making the cut were Django (at #3), Navajo Joe (#9), The Great Silence (#14) and Giulio Petroni’s very underrated 1968 film Tepepa (#17).

But he didn’t stop at 20. In fact, Tarantino added a whole bunch of honorable mentions. Fulci’s Four of the Apocalypse got a nod, as did They Call Me Trinity and its sequel, Trinity Is Still My Name.

Another title that made this addendum was Don Taylor’s The 5-Man Army, which is notable (in part) because its screenplay was co-written by Dario Argento, a year before he directed his breakout giallo The Bird With the Crystal Plumage.

Mexico, 1914. The Dutchman (Peter Graves), a former officer in the United States Army and a well-known bandit, is putting together a team to rob a train, which is carrying half a million in gold. Hired by revolutionaries who will use that gold to finance their rebellion, The Dutchman enlists the help of three old comrades: munitions expert Augustus (James Daly); Mesito (Bud Spencer), whose brute strength is second to none; and Samurai (Tetsuro Tamba), who speaks softly and carries a lethal sword. Also joining the team is young Luis (Nino Castelnuova), a petty crook.

After foiling the military execution of revolutionary leader Esteban (Caludio Gora), the five outlaws get down to business, putting a plan together while steering clear of the Mexican army, which would like nothing more than to squash the revolution before it picks up any steam.

But if The Dutchman's ragtag group does manage to pull off what seems like an impossible heist, will he and the others turn over the gold as promised, or will they keep it for themselves?

The first half of The 5-Man Army is dedicated (for the most part) to building its main characters, and we discover why each member of the Dutchman’s crew is vital to the mission at hand. Bud Spencer’s Mesito is a tower of strength, and loves to mix it up, taking on anyone foolhardy enough to challenge him. He gleefully kicks some ass during the chaos that results from Esteban’s rescue (as his colleagues hurry the wounded revolutionary into hiding, Mesito beats the hell out of a few soldiers). Augustus is also given ample opportunity to put his dynamite skills to practice, and a scene in which The Samurai bursts in on some Mexican soldiers, swinging his sword wildly, is cool as hell, and gives the film a temporary martial arts vibe (Tetsuro Tamba’s skills are beyond impressive). The glue that holds the team together is The Dutchman, played to perfection by Peter Graves, a man of intelligence as well as action.

Along with its characters, there's plenty of excitement throughout The 5-Man Army, to the point that we’re not sure if the final act, when the Dutchman and the others put their plan into motion, will seem anticlimactic in comparison. Fortunately, it doesn’t. In fact, this entire end sequence, which features tension, intrigue, and thrills aplenty, is amazing. It is one of the most ingenious heists I’ve seen in quite a while, and had me on the edge of my seat.

It may not seem as big an honor to be one of 21 movies Tarantino included as an afterthought, but The 5-Man Army is, indeed, a worthy addition to that list, not to mention one hell of a fantastic Spaghetti Western.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Thursday, April 7, 2022

#2,735. The Glory Stompers (1967) - Quentin Tarantino Recommends


In March of 1994, actor / director Dennis Hopper sat down briefly with Quentin Tarantino, who at the time was busy editing Pulp Fiction. Hopper had just co-starred in True Romance, which Tarantino wrote, and the two chatted briefly about movies.

Towards the end of their conversation, Tarantino mentioned that one of his all-time favorite Dennis Hopper films was 1967’s The Glory Stompers, in which the noted actor played Chino, leader of the biker gang The Black Souls. Calling it a “wacky, kooky performance”, Tarantino added “I loved you in that. You know, that is the beginning of you as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet right there”.

Story-wise, there’s not much to The Glory Stompers. Chino and the other Black Souls track down Darryl (Jody McCrea), leader of the rival gang the Stompers. They beat Darryl unmercifully, so much so that they are convinced they’ve killed him. Fearful of being arrested for murder, Chino abducts Darryl’s girlfriend Chris (Chris Noel), who witnessed the attack, and he and the Black Souls hightail it to the border.

But Darryl survives the attack, and with the help of aging former biker Smiley (Jock Mahoney) searches for Chino and the Black Souls, hoping to get Chris back before the fugitive gang disappears into Mexico.

Like I said, it’s not the most complex storyline, yet it’s Hopper who makes The Glory Stompers an entertaining watch. Infatuated with Chris (which, in part, led to the initial showdown with Daryll), Hopper’s Chino goes to great lengths to keep her to himself, preventing his fellow gang members (including Mouth, played by a young Casey Kasem) from having any alone time with her.

Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with Chino’s steady girlfriend Jo Ann (Saundra Gayle), and there are a few interesting scenes featuring her and Chris. Throughout the movie, we actually feel kinda sorry for Jo Ann, a woman in love with a guy who doesn’t seem to care much about anyone except his kid brother, fellow Black Souls gang member Monk (played by Lindsey Crosby, Bing’s youngest son).

In addition to the drama within the ranks of Chino’s gang, the occasional cutaways to Daryll and Smiley searching for the Black Souls brings an added - and quite effective – level of tension to the film (at one point, Daryll rides right past the Black Souls, who had pulled off the road to rest).

But it’s Hopper who makes The Glory Stompers so damned intriguing, delivering a performance every bit as manic as Billy in Easy Rider or his title character in the 1976 Australian film Mad Dog Morgan. From start to finish, The Glory Stompers is Hopper’s show, and he does not disappoint (During that same discussion with Tarantino, Hopper said his behind-the-scenes antics drove the film’s original director, Anthony Lanza, to quit the movie. So Hopper stepped in, thus making The Glory Stompers the first time he ever directed a movie).

Tarantino is such a fan of The Glory Stompers that he selected it to be one of the films screened at his very first QT-Fest back in 1996, and while there are aspects of it that make it a good movie, it’s Hopper who brings 
The Glory Stompers close to greatness.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

#2,734. Kedi (2016) - Spotlight on Turkey


Cats have lived in what is now Istanbul for thousands of years
They have seen empires rise and fall
and the city shrink and grow
Though cared for by many, they live without a master
And whether adored, despised, or overlooked,
they are undeniably a part of everyone’s life.

The above text is our introduction to director Ceyda Torun’s 2016 film Kedi, a documentary that also serves as a love letter to the thousands of felines roaming the streets of her hometown.

Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, and for centuries its citizens have shared this ever-changing metropolis with their four-legged friends. Throughout Kedi, Torun and her chief cinematographer Charlie Wupperman intersperse shots of everyday life with those of prowling felines, showing us time and again how cats have become part of the city’s landscape.

Along the way, we are introduced to a number of individuals - from shop owners to local citizens - who have come to love these animals, and do what they can to care for them. We also get to know a fair number of the film’s real stars: the cats themselves. Bengu has just given birth to kittens, and while her caretaker has no idea where she’s hidden her litter, Torun’s camera follows the elusive feline to her hiding place, and watches as she angrily protects her offspring from another cat when it ventures too close to the “nursery”. Each of the cats featured in Kedi has its own unique personality, and the bonds they share with their human counterparts are front and center throughout the film.

In fact, as Kedi shows us time and again, it’s often the caretakers who benefit most from these interactions; one gentleman talks of how he suffered a nervous breakdown a few years earlier, and considers it therapeutic to feed the many cats that live along the waterway. He even purchases medicine to treat one kitten’s infected eye.

Featuring beautiful imagery (there are shots that would undoubtedly make Istanbul’s tourism council beam with pride), Kedi is a thoughtful, upbeat, even touching motion picture about the loving relationship that exists between people and cats, and it will warm your heart like few documentaries have before.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Sunday, April 3, 2022

#2,733. Law of the Border (1966) - Spotlight on Turkey


Credited with kicking off the “New Turkish Cinema”, where theatrics took a back seat to realism, director Lütfi Akad’s Law of the Border was shot on-location along the Turkish / Syrian frontier, and threw a spotlight on many of the social issues prevalent at the time in this particular region.

Hidir (Yilmaz Güney) makes a living smuggling livestock (mostly sheep) across the border. He is well-respected by the people in his village, yet the most important thing to Hidir is that he build a better future for his son. Though it angers his fellow smugglers, Hidir befriends the local military commander Lt. Zeki (Atilla Ergün) and lobbies for his tiny village to be the first in the area to construct a schoolhouse, where teacher Ayse (Pervin Par) will use her skills to show local kids there’s more to life than breaking the law.

But just as Hidir’s plans for his community are taking shape, he becomes embroiled in a tense situation by agreeing to help farmer Hasan (Osman Alyanek) move his sheep across the border, igniting a feud between himself and fellow smuggler Ali Cello (Erol Tas) that is destined to end in violence.

With its documentary-like approach and social commentary, Law of the Border had more in common with Italian Neorealism (Rome Open City, Bicycle Thieves) and the French New Wave (The 400 Blows) than it did the cinema of its own country. Up to that point, most Turkish movies were shot in a studio; by setting his story (which he co-wrote with star – and future director - Yilmaz Güney) out in the open, audiences could see first-hand the crippling poverty that rocked these areas.

Bringing social issues such as hunger and crime to the forefront, Akad established himself as one of that country’s most prominent filmmakers, and helped usher in what became known as Turkey’s “director’s era”. Though well-acted by Yilmaz Güney and Erol Tas (who two years earlier played the lead in Dry Summer), it’s Law of the Border’s realistic approach that will resonate with viewers, and the plight of its characters that will stay with them.

The truth is, we are lucky to have Law of the Border at all. Following a 1980 coup d’etat by the Turkish military, all prints of this film and many others, which were deemed “unflattering” to the new ideals, were gathered up and destroyed. Only a single, badly-damaged print of this movie remained, which Martin Scorsese and his World Cinema Project worked tirelessly to restore. Though rough around the edges (missing frames and audio issues abound throughout, and a grainy Betamax copy was used to fill in a missing reel), the film’s groundbreaking cinematic style as well as its central messages ring loud and clear. Kudos to Scorsese and his team, without whom this movie would have been only a rumor. Make it a point to see Law of the Border, because it’s a miracle that you still can.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Friday, April 1, 2022

#2,732. Dry Summer (1963) - Spotlight on Turkey


A 1963 black and white Turkish film directed by Metin Erksan, Dry Summer relates the tale of a farmer who refuses to share the water that runs through his land.

Despite the objections of his younger brother Hasan (Ulvi Dogan) Osman (Erol Taş) builds a dam on his property to prevent the water in his nearby spring from flowing down into the village. Naturally, his neighbors aren’t happy about this, and try to convince Osman that he does not own the water, which they call “The Earth’s Blood”.

As Osman is battling it out with the locals, Hasan is busy romancing Bahar (Hülya Koçyiğit), a pretty young woman he eventually marries. But along with his desire to control the water, Osman finds himself falling in love with his new sister-in-law, setting in motion a chain of events that may tear both his family and the entire village apart.

Though it won the top prize at that year’s Berlin International Film Festival, Dry Summer met with backlash in its native Turkey, where censors banned the movie for its frank depiction of sexuality (the love scenes between Hasan and Bahar, as well as Osman’s growing obsession with Bahar, are fairly racy for a 1963 film).

But there’s more to Dry Summer than sex; throughout the film, director Erksan tackles the very serious subject of property, and what it means to “own” a basic necessity. Osman’s selfish attitude towards the water on his land sets him up at the outset as - at best - an anti-hero. He feuds constantly with his neighbors, sometimes violently, and seems to enjoy the fact that he alone controls their livelihoods (they are also farmers, and need the water for their crops). By the time his obsession with his sister-in-law Bahar intensifies, Osman has cemented his position as the film’s most loathsome character (at one point, he even sucks on the teat of a cow as Bahar looks on, in a vain attempt to enflame her passions).

While presenting these social and familial conflicts, director Erksan utilizes a robust visual style; from the opening moments, where Osman guides his two mules through the village streets, to the scene where Hasan playfully chases Behar into some tall reeds, Dry Summer is as much an artistic triumph as it is a dramatic one.

Despite a few disturbing moments (angered by his refusal to share the water, a farmer shoots Osman’s dog, and it’s obvious the animal was killed in real-life) and a despicable lead character, Dry Summer is an amazing motion picture, a glimpse at an oft-unexplored area of the world created by a filmmaker skillfully blending art and social commentary into a very satisfying whole.
Rating: 9 out of 10