Archive for the Revenge! Category

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)

Posted in 1980s Movies, 2013, Action Movies, Crime Films, Cult Movies, Detectives, Exploitation Films, Gangsters!, Grindhouse Goodies, Nick Cato Reviews, Revenge!, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Tough Guys!, Vengeance!, Vigilantes, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on July 11, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 64:
Flamethrowers, Meat Grinders, and State Senators…
By Nick Cato

 

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 Released six years after DEATH WISH (1974) but two years before FIRST BLOOD (1982), 1980’s THE EXTERMINATOR is a combo of these two classics with a dash of TAXI DRIVER (1976) thrown in. I recently revisited this on DVD, but in the fall of 1980 (when I was in the 6th grade), me and a buddy managed to get into this violent R-rated flick one Saturday afternoon at the always reliable (and now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema, Staten Island’s best bet of being admitted when you were underage.

After an opening flashback scene set in Vietnam (which features a grisly, non-CGI decapitation courtesy of FX whiz Stan (ALIENS) Winston), we flash forward to 1980 New York City. John Eastmand (played by popular TV star Robert Ginty) works at a meat packing plant along with his best friend Michael, who had saved his life in Vietnam. When they bust a group of thugs robbing beer from an adjacent warehouse, Michael again comes to John’s aid, but the gang follows Michael home and throws him a severe beating that leaves him paralyzed. Fueled by this event, and fed up with the state of the city’s crime rate in general, John goes on a mission first to get the guys who crippled his buddy, then wage all-out war against the mob, pimps, and all kinds of low lives.

John transforms into a vigilante a bit too quickly (in the scene immediately after he visits Michael in the hospital, John already has a gang member tied up and threatens him with a flame thrower). But this is a sleazy action flick, so subtly and character build-up be damned! His arsenal includes a .44 magnum with custom, poison-tipped bullets, an AK-47, and a foot locker full of military-issued hand grenades and knives.

Minutes later, John goes to the gang’s hideout (one is played by THE WARRIORS’ (1979) Irwin Keyes), tells the girls to leave, and then proceeds to shoot one thug and take two others hostage. But his partial-heart leads to one guy surviving, and one of the hookers he let go is interrogated by Detective James Dalton (played by Christopher George), who is on the trail of the vigilante the news has labeled “The Exterminator.” Former ABC-TV news anchor Roger Grimsby appears as himself during a newscast, giving the film a real-time feel (at least if you lived in NY at the time).

With the gang taken care of, John sets his eyes on a mob boss who has been shaking his employer down for years. He does some stake-out work and manages to drug him and drag him to an isolated warehouse, where he chains him from the rafters and dangles him over a huge meat grinder, then proceeds to shake him down for money to support his fallen friends’ family. After he gets the mobster’s keys, safe-lock combination, and a promise that there are no surprises at his house, John goes out to his NJ home and is attacked by a guard dog the gangster “forgot” to tell him about. Now severely ticked, John returns to the warehouse and lowers the Don into the meat grinder, and while nothing is shown (besides shadows and chop meat coming out of the bottom), the scene is still quite disturbing. It also received the loudest cheers from the evidently blood-thirsty (or justice-thirsty?) audience I was with.

In the second most memorable sequence, John visits a hooker (ala TAXI DRIVER) who gives him info on an underground operation that exploits young boys. John shows up at the illegal brothel and quickly destroys the place by burning the owner and shooting a freaky-looking pedophile in the groin (said pedophile is played by FRANKENHOOKER’s (1990) scene-stealing freak David Lipman). The pedophile also turns out to be the State Senator from New Jersey!

In-between investigating the vigilante killings, Detective James manages to find the time to date a doctor (played by Samantha Eggar). In one scene they meet for a late-night shag session in an empty hospital room, but as things heat up they’re interrupted by an alarm: it seems Michael’s ventilator has gone off, and little do the detective or doctor realize John had come by to help his buddy pull the plug on himself. This John’s a real angel of mercy I tell ya…

With plenty of shoot-outs, a motorcycle vs. car chase scene, a goofy side-plot involving the CIA that leads to a partially head-scratching finale, a poor old-woman getting a beat-down, and a nasty scene of the aforementioned State Senator burning/raping a hooker with a red-hot soldering iron, THE EXTERMINATOR is a trashy revenge/vigilante film that has developed quite a cult following over the years. And like most NY-lensed genre films from this time, there are plenty of shots of Times Square back in all its sordid glory, complete with pimps, hookers, and glorious theater marquees that will have cinema-philes hitting the pause button to read the film titles (of course we couldn’t do this in the theater so it was nice finally seeing what was playing!).

This is a genuine blast of old-school, politically incorrect action film-fare that has almost no conscience whatsoever, and it manages to work despite its ho-hum performances from most of the actors. Too bad the sequel, 1984’s THE EXTERMINATOR 2, failed to deliver the goods.

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

John (Robert Ginty) about to make mince-meat out of a local mob boss in THE EXTERMINATOR.

John (Robert Ginty) about to make mincemeat out of a local mob boss in THE EXTERMINATOR.

 

 

Geisha of Gore Review: BLACK RAT (2010)

Posted in 2013, Asian Horror, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Enigmatic Films, Foreign Films, Geisha of Gore Reviews, Killers, Revenge!, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , , on April 30, 2013 by knifefighter

GEISHA OF GORE REVIEW: BLACK RAT (2010)
By Colleen Wanglund

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BLACK RAT (Kuronezumi) is a 2010 Japanese horror film written by Futoshi Fujita—whose only other writing credit is for a film titled KILL (2008)—and directed by Kenta Fukasaku, son of legendary director Kinji Fukasaku, known for such films as BATTLE ROYALE (2000), THE GREEN SLIME (1968), and the Japanese sequences of TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970) (after the studio fired Akira Kurosawa for going way over budget). As a matter of fact, Kenta worked as an assistant to his father on BATTLE ROYALE and finished directing the sequel BATTLE ROYALE II (2003) after Kinji’s death.

Six high school friends each receive a text message telling them to meet in a classroom at their school at midnight.  The message comes from Asuka, who committed suicide a few months earlier.  Four of the teens arrive on time where they are greeted by a girl in a rat mask—the big kind that team mascots would wear.  The masked girl takes attendance and tells the teens there will be “tests” that they must pass in order to gain her forgiveness.  She communicates with them through the use of flash cards. Upon challenging her, the kids are presented with the bloody body of one of the friends who didn’t arrive to the meeting place on time.  He clearly was beaten to death.  “Rat Girl” then attacks the four kids in the classroom, sending them all scattering throughout the dark building. 

The rat girl catches up to one of the boys outside and tells him his test will be to stop her from scoring on a penalty kick on the soccer field.  The boy fails to stop the goal and is put out of his misery, to put it mildly.  One of the girls—a brainiac type—is strapped into a chair wired for electricity.  Her test is to score at least one hundred points in karaoke….which she fails to do.  As another of the friends arrives late to the party, the remaining boy and girl—a tough guy and his Lolita-styling girlfriend—face off in a dark hallway against “Rat Girl.”

The chronology of the film gets a bit skewered after a bit.  There are a myriad of flashback scenes showing how mean the teens were to Asuka.  Asuka had an idea for the school’s year-end festival.  She wants them all to do a variation on a dance they all learned as children that tells the story of seven little black rats who were friends (thus the reason for the mask).  Each one of the teens, we discover, is supposed to represent one of the little rats.  This is also why the girl is wearing the rat mask….to remind the friends of what they did to Asuka.  There are other scenes where the teens were supposed to meet to rehearse the dance but were goofing off, instead.  Asuka manages to smile and stay positive through all of the crap she gets from her supposed friends….though why they’re still her friends is anyone’s guess. There are a few interesting twists and we do eventually discover who the perpetrator behind the mask really is, although as with all good Asian horror, the identity of this person (or persons) is still a bit vague.

One thing that drew me to BLACK RAT is the fact that it is a slasher film…a genre sorely lacking in Asian cinema.  The best example of Asian slasher flicks is probably BLOODY REUNION (2006, South Korea), whose original title is TO SIR WITH LOVE, which makes no sense, but I digress.  BLOODY REUNION, directed by Lim Dae-wung, is a very good movie with some intense torture and death scenes, as well as some psychological terror.  It’s better than a lot of American slasher films.  BLACK RAT, on the other hand, tries to be a really good slasher flick—and it succeeds in some ways—but for the most part it falls short.

The film does a good job of insinuating violence without showing it, particularly with the death on the soccer field and the electrocution after the karaoke failure.  The focus here is on the psychological aspects of the horror.  What makes it effective is the viewer’s imagination making the deaths more gruesome than anything that could be shown on-screen, so it makes your heart race a little faster in anticipation of further horror.  Where BLACK RAT fails to deliver are two particular fight scenes that don’t ring true to me and are pretty much just filler—although one leads to a decent beating where again, the final kill blow is off-screen. 

The story ultimately falls flat, as well.  The film begins with Asuka’s suicide—a jump off the top of the school building—but nothing in the story that follows convinces me that these teens should or could be held responsible for her death.  Nothing they did could even be construed as bullying.  Yes, they were cruel, at times, but nothing to the degree that would convince me this chick was suicidal. And there is nothing else to make me believe that this girl had (or thought she had) reasons to kill herself. There is virtually no character development.  Am I supposed to feel empathy for Asuka and rally behind her, or whoever the rat girl is, in the quest for vengeance?  Am I supposed to feel sorry for the teens who are the objects of misplaced vengeance?  I don’t know because I’m never really given a chance to learn who these kids are.

On the other hand, I appreciated the fast pace of the film (minus the flashbacks).  The blood begins to flow very early on and the kills themselves are well-done.  The rat mask, which is mangled and bloody (Asuka wore it when she jumped) is quite creepy. The only SFX issue I had was a scene where a motorbike explodes.  It was a bad CGI job that was completely unbelievable in how it translated to film. 

Comparatively speaking, BLOODY REUNION gives a better and more original story effectively mixing slasher and psychological horror, and the characters are more fleshed out.  There’s also the subtext of mental illness and obsession that BLACK RAT doesn’t have.  BLACK RAT is not an original story and is full of clichés, which is fine, but it becomes so convoluted that whatever I found interesting can get lost.  I admit I’m a bit schizophrenic with BLACK RAT.  It’s not a film I would recommend to any hardcore slasher fan, but I still found it fascinating.  Even after everything I found wrong with it, I still don’t feel as though I wasted my time—and it’s a short 75 minutes. 

© Copyright 2013 by Colleen Wanglund

The "rat girl" shows them a particularly disturbing flash card in BLACK RAT.

The “rat girl” shows them a particularly disturbing flash card in BLACK RAT.

Bills’ Bizarre Bijou visits the COMMON LAW WIFE (1963)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, 60s Movies, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Drive-in Movies, Exploitation Films, Hillbillies, Just Plain Fun, Revenge!, Romance, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on April 25, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

by William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

COMMON LAW WIFE (1963)

VideoBox Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

In the wild, wild world of exploitation films, bits and pieces of one movie can often make a ‘guest appearance’ in another film, spliced into the new film as padding for the running time, or as a way to save on the budget.  Most of the time, this created annoying sequences that have nothing to do with the movie you’re viewing at your local drive-in, distractions to the main plot.  Other times, the footage was inserted so well a casual viewer never noticed he’d been duped.  A lot of film buffs, such as me and you, my fans in the dark, take great pleasure in noticing such scenes and shouting out, “Hey, that was stolen from INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES!”  It’s a fine, old exploitation tradition, and we at the Bijou salute the filmmakers who managed to pull it off.

In 1960, Larry Buchanan, the infamous director of such sublimely awful fare as THE NAKED WITCH (1961), ZONTAR, THING FROM VENUS (1966), MARS NEEDS WOMEN (1967), and THE LOCH NESS HORROR (1981) started shooting a hicksloitation epic called SWAMP ROSE.  Starring Lacey Kelley (NUDE ON THE MOON – 1961, THE DEAD ONE – 1961), the unfinished film dealt with a moonshiner obsessed with a woman of easy virtue.  This footage was purchased by M.A. Ripps, who wanted to make it into a hit drive-in feature, as he so famously transformed the movie BAYOU into POOR WHITE TRASH (1957).  New director Eric Sayers used many Buchanan regulars: (Anabelle Weenik (going by Anne MacAdams) of CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION (1967), A BULLET FOR PRETTY BOY (1970), DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973); Max W. Anderson of HIGH YELLOW (1965), IN THE YEAR 2889 – (1967); and THE NAKED WITCH herself Libby Hall (as Libby Booth)).  Sayers shot a whole new storyline with these actors, including an unbilled woman to take Lacey Kelley’s role (and they don’t look much alike) using only bits and pieces of Larry Buchanan’s SWAMP ROSE.  There is a scene with Lacey Kelley walking down the street, her boom-boppa-boom stride mocked by a little girl, some scenes in a park, and a chase between a crazed hillbilly moonshiner attacking Lacey that make up most of the old footage.  Everything else is newly shot with actors from other movies.  Confused yet?  You won’t be once you watch COMMON LAW WIFE (1963), Sayers’ adults-only white-trash melodrama set in Texas.  It’s easily one of the greatest exploitation films from the period.  Other than a few film stock mis-matches and a character that switches actresses several times, you’d never know this was once two films edited into one trashy grindhouse gem.

But what about the story of COMMON LAW WIFE?

The film opens on a typical night at the Raineys’ rather tacky abode.  Old man Shug is playing darts in his bathrobe before drinking the biggest damn glass of wine in existence.  When his live-in mistress, Linda, tells him he’s not supposed to drink, he throws five darts at her head, embedding them into the wicker chair behind her.  He asks, “Do you want me to put one right between your eyes?”  Turns out, she’s lived with him for five years, and it’s taken a toll on her beauty.  He wants her to get out so his niece Jonelle (“Call me Baby Doll”) can come live with him.  “What’s she got?’ she shrieks.  Shug answers, “My attention right now, which you haven’t.”  Linda, shocked says, “Why she’s your own blood niece!  That’s incest!”  He replies, “Words don’t mean much to me.  I’ve already sent for Baby Doll.  Go pack your things.”

In New Orleans, we are introduced to Jonelle, a gorgeous stripper in a nightclub who resembles Traci Lords.  She packs her dresses and heads for rural Texas to stay with her uncle (Eww).  Turns out, Jonelle’s sister, Brenda, is married to the Sheriff, Jodi, who was having flings with both sisters during high school.  Jodi’s more than a little interested in rekindling his torrid affair with Jonelle, while good wife Brenda stays at home.

Shug and Jonelle, what a cute couple!

Shug and Jonelle, what a cute couple! (Ewwww)

Meanwhile, Linda consults a lawyer and discovers she’s lived long enough with Mr. Shug Rainey to be his common-law wife.  Mrs. Rainey buys herself a wedding ring and informs Shug that she is his legal wife, and if he wants his niece serving him in his house (Eww), he has to divorce her and pay alimony or give her the house.  Secretly, though I have no idea why, she loves the old dude.

Jonelle kick-starts her affair with Jodi (what a nice sisterly thing to do), but she throws a hissy fit after he says he doesn’t want to help her murder Shug for the old man’s money.  In spite, she gets up and starts stripping and dancing in front of what looks like several farmers and their wives who are either shocked or bemused.  She leaves with another old beau, Bull, who takes her out to the swamp to see his moonshine still.  Ah, romance in Texas!  When he gets fresh, she runs away through the swamp.  This whole part is Larry Buchanan’s, and it’s a bit rougher and grittier than the newer footage. 

She runs all the way back to her sister’s house (the actress changes here), but Brenda has figured out what’s happening between her husband and Jonelle.  She tosses her sister out of her house, but not before Jonelle steals the booze.  With nowhere to go, Jonelle hunts down Bull and they return to the swamp (wait, wait, didn’t he try to rape her the previous night?  Ah, romance in Texas!) 

The original Jonelle.

The original Jonelle.

Jodi goes after her (the heel!) and tracks her to Bull’s house, where a gunfight erupts over Jonelle.  He abducts her to his home, where the cold facts about their past relationship come to light.  Brenda catches them together and holds them at gunpoint!

Will Jonelle get one over on Linda?  Who will get old man Shug Rainey’s money when he dies? What about the cyanide-laced bottle of whiskey?  Will we ever get to see a full print of SWAMP ROSE?  Probably not, but this common-law version is a real hoot!

COMMON LAW WIFE is filled with great, hateful dialogue delivered in authentic, delightful accents.  It was Grace Nolan’s only writing credit, and I wish there’d been a lot more.  Some choice cuts of the nasty, mean-spirited dialog include:

“I was a stray cat lookin’ for a home, and I took it however I could.”

“Folks around here might think the circus has come to town.”  “They might be right!”

“From now on, this is my house.  And I don’t want any tramps hangin’ around it!”

“The only way I’ll see any of that old man’s body is over his stinkin’ dead body.”

“You couldn’t hit a bull with a bass fiddle.  Let alone that cap gun.”

“I met a couple of strangers in town today, and they claimed they didn’t know you.  You want their names so you can bat a thousand?”

“You’ve put on weight.  City food must be good.”

“A girl can learn a lot of lessons in the dark.”

Vengeance, thy name is Linda!

Vengeance, thy name is Linda!

The black and white photography is crisp and full of noir shadows.  The music is great jazz, heavy on the sax and trumpet, but the composer is unbilled.  Who knows where that great score came from?  The acting is campy and over-the-top, as it should be in a swamp melodrama like this one.  And the ending is brutal and shocking in a way few films of that era ever were.  COMMON LAW WIFE may be confusing sometimes, what with actresses switching and film stock not matching, but it’s loads of fun.  It’s like Douglas Sirk on tainted moonshine. 

I give COMMON LAW WIFE three and a half revolving actresses out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

DEAD MAN DOWN (2013)

Posted in 2013, Crime Films, Gangsters!, Hit Men, Killers, Michael Arruda Reviews, Revenge! with tags , , , , , on March 12, 2013 by knifefighter

MOVIE REVIEW:  DEAD MAN DOWN (2013)
By Michael Arruda

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DEAD MAN DOWN might be the best film playing right now in theaters that no one is talking about.

It’s the latest thriller by Niels Arden Opley, the man who directed the original THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009) and stars Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace, who of course played the lead in Opley’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.  It’s both an intense actioner that goes for the throat, and a love story that is as sincere as it is offbeat.  I loved it.

New York City crime lord Alphonse (Terrence Howard) is not having a good week.  Someone is killing his men while leaving him cryptic, yet threatening messages.  He’s coming unglued.  In a fiery shoot-out, Alphonse is nearly killed, but he’s saved by one of his boys, Victor (Colin Farrell), and as a result, he rather trusts Victor.

Not a good move on Alphonse’s part, as it turns out Victor is the man behind the threatening messages and deaths, as he’s seeking vengeance for the death of his family, which came at the hands of killers hired by Alphonse a while back.

Victor is one slick operator, and his meticulous plans for revenge are moving forward without a hitch, until he meets his neighbor, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), who lives in the apartment across from his.  Beatrice is a shy young woman with a scarred face, the result of a car accident in which she was struck by a drunk driver.

Victor and Beatrice go out on a date, and it’s there that she drops a bombshell on him: she knows that he’s a killer and she’s seen him kill a man.  She tells him she won’t go to the police as long as she does one thing for her:  kill the man responsible for her scarred face.

To further complicate matters, Victor’s best friend, Darcy (Dominic Cooper), is intent on moving up in Alphonse’s organization.  To do this, he makes it his mission to find out who is terrorizing his boss, and as an investigator, Darcy is no slouch and continually creeps closer to the truth, that his best friend Victor is the culprit.

And when Victor and Beatrice begin to share genuine feelings for each other and fall in love, giving them something to live for, their “all in” attitude towards vengeance takes a hit, but with Darcy busy uncovering the truth for his boss Alphonse, there’s no going back.

DEAD MAN DOWN is an adult thriller that pushes all the right buttons.  Its screenplay by J.H. Wyman tells a compelling story about intriguing characters, both good and bad, who I really cared about.  The dialogue is first-rate, and the plot solid, all the way down to its riveting conclusion.

This one includes a lot of memorable scenes.  From Victor and Beatrice’s poignant first date, where Beatrice says she swears when she’s drinks, and Victor says he does too, and they proceed to take turns swearing at their dinner table, to the sad scenes of Beatrice being antagonized and called a “monster” by the neighborhood kids.

There are also several explosive action sequences, including a couple of fiery shoot-outs, a car chase, and, better yet, some excellent scenes of suspense, one of which features some hungry rats.  Director Niels Arden Opley operates at the top of his game here.

You may ask why Victor allows himself to be blackmailed by Beatrice in the first place, and why he doesn’t just kill her to shut her up.  The fact is that Victor hates killing, which makes his quest for revenge against Alphonse all the more effective, as it shows how deeply Victor has been scarred.  Beatrice has scars on her face, but Victor has scars on his soul.  There’s a powerful human element in this movie that, in spite of its preoccupation with retribution, shows a value for life and love that I found refreshing.  Victor and Beatrice may hate the people who hurt them, but they don’t hate the human race, and they’re saved from falling into an emotionless abyss when they fall in love with each other.

And the love story between Victor and Beatrice works.  I totally bought their relationship, mostly because Farrell and Rapace share some nice chemistry together.

Beatrice lives with her mother, and these scenes reminded me of similar scenes in the recent Jason Statham actioner PARKER (2013).  In PARKER, it’s Jennifer Lopez who lives with her mother, but that love story between Lopez and Statham didn’t work, mostly because strangely—what were the writers thinking? — Statham’s Parker was interested in another woman.  Here, in DEAD MAN DOWN, there’s no “other woman,” leaving little doubt that Victor and Beatrice have feelings for each other.

I’ve never been a big fan of Colin Farrell, but he’s grown on me.  He surprised the heck out of me with his portrayal of the vampire in the remake of FRIGHT NIGHT (2011), and while he did little for me in the remake of TOTAL RECALL (2012) he’s superb here in DEAD MAN DOWN.  As a very quiet and introspective killer, his performance reminded me a lot of Ryan Gosling’s in DRIVE (2011).

And Noomi Rapace is just as strong.  She makes Beatrice such a vulnerable character that you can’t help but feel for her, even when she’s coercing Victor to kill a man for her.  She’s an incredibly gutsy woman, driven by her thirst for vengeance, and she has no problem standing up to a known killer like Victor and getting him to do what she wants.  Rapace succeeds in making both sides of this woman believable.

Dominic Cooper, who has turned in two very memorable performance in recent years, as Iron Man’s father Howard Stark in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), and as Abraham Lincoln’s vampire hunter teacher in ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER  (2012), shines here as Victor’s buddy Darcy.  It’s a gritty performance that works on more than one level.  Darcy is kind of a slimy guy, yet he genuinely values his friendship with Victor and is legitimately upset when he ultimately learns the truth about his friend.

Terrence Howard, another actor with an IRON MAN connection, as he played Tony Stark’s buddy Rhodey in the first IRON MAN (2008), is solid as crime lord Alphonse, even though the character is anything but.  Alphonse is not the most successful criminal, and he allows himself to be rattled and shaken a little too easily for my liking.

Isabelle Huppert adds fine support as Beatrice’s mother Valentine, and Armand Assante makes for a chilling baddie in his scene-stealing cameo as the bigger crime lord who pretty much tells Alphonse to get his ship in order or else.

If I have any complaints it’s that crime boss Alphonse crumbles too easily.  I expected him to show more of a backbone.  I also thought Darcy’s investigative efforts went too smoothly.  Everything he does seems to turn up a lead.   The guy’s a regular Sherlock Holmes, for crying out loud.   And the concluding gun fight was a little far-fetched and reminded me somewhat of the overblown conclusion to DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012), only not as bloody.

But these are minor complaints.

DEAD MAN DOWN is an exciting thriller wrapped around a touching love story that is every bit as satisfying as its vengeance plot.  It’s well acted by top-notch actors of the field, directed by a talented director making his American theatrical debut, and sports a screenplay that gets just about everything right.

I give it three and a half knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda  gives DEAD MAN DOWN ~three and a half knives.

The Final CKF Review of 2012: DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Plot Twists, Revenge!, Tarantino Films, Vengeance!, VIOLENCE!, Westerns with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Django-unchained-131112

(THE SCENE: A saloon in the old west. L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA sidle up to the bar. The bartender is washing glasses and suddenly looks up at them and his eyes bug out of his head)

BARTENDER: You boys are from that Cinema Knife Fight gang, aintchoo? We don’t want no trouble ‘round here.

LS: And there won’t be any trouble, as long as you bring us a bottle of whiskey and two glasses.

(BARTENDER grabs a bottle and puts it in front of them, with two glasses)

MA: Wow, what fast service! Thank you, my good man!

BARTENDER: Sshh-sure (goes to the other end of the bar)

LS (pours whiskey): And here we are, doing our last Cinema Knife Fight review for 2012, and it’s probably the movie I’ve been looking to most all year, Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED.

MA (lifts his glass): Why don’t you tell the fine people in the audience what the movie is about.

LS:  Sure thing, pardner!

DJANGO UNCHAINED opens two years before the Civil War, and Django (Jamie Foxx) is one of a group of slaves being transported across some rough terrain, when along comes a traveling dentist, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who rides a wagon with a big tooth on top. But Schultz stopped being a dentist five years earlier. Now, he’s a bounty hunter, and he is after the reward for three outlaws named the Brittle Brothers, but he doesn’t know what they look like. Instead, he’s tracked down one of the slaves from the plantation they were working at, Django. Schultz offers the man his freedom if he will help him identify and capture the Brittles.

Django would like nothing better than to hunt down the men who beat him and sold his wife and himself  to separate buyers (when they tried to escape from the plantation), so he readily agrees. When the men transporting the slaves (which include Django) protest, Schultz makes short work of them. Soon, the two men are making their way to small town in Texas, to discuss their partnership, and to kill the local Sheriff (you’ll find out why when you see the movie).

Schultz finds out that Django is desperate to get his wife back, so he makes him a deal. If they get the Brittle Brothers, Django will become a free man. But if he continues to work for Schultz, collecting rewards for outlaws who are wanted dead or alive (and they just about always bring them in dead) throughout the winter months, Schultz will help him track down his wife in the spring, and help him free her.

Their hunt for the Brittle Brothers take them to the plantation of a man called Big Daddy (Don Johnson), and Django relishes the chance to get revenge. This begins the partnership between Django and Schultz, which turns out to be quite profitable, since Django is a natural shooter and the fastest gun Schultz has ever seen.

Come spring, their journey takes them to the plantation of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a sadistic Southern Gentleman-type who treats his slaves viciously, especially the men he buys to participate in fights to the death for his amusement. Schultz pretends to want to buy one of his fighters in order to get close enough to confirm that Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) is indeed on the plantation, and he and Django plan to get her out. Django pretends to be a “black slaver” who is there to be Schultz’s consultant, and everyone is astounded to see a black man who rides a horse and acts like an equal to the white men around him.

The odyssey Django undertakes to free his wife parallels the German legend of Sigfried and Brunhilda, where Sigfried traveled through hellfire and slew a dragon to free the woman he loved. What Django goes through is just about as dangerous, once Candie gets wind of what is really going on, thanks to the keen observation skills of his right hand man, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

DJANGO UNCHAINED is a violent, but highly stylized revenge drama set in the old South. And it continues Tarantino’s streak of making great movies, as far as I’m concerned.

MA:  I hated it.

(LS spits out his whiskey.)

MA (laughs):  Just kidding.  You just looked so happy talking about the movie, I couldn’t resist.

LS:  You scared me.

MA:  There’s a first time for everything.

LS:  A new Tarantino movie has become s0mething of a big event for me, and I was more than happy to check it out at the matinee on Christmas Day (when it was released). However, I was shocked to find the theater packed so early in the day. I thought most people would be home with their families, but the theater appeared to be sold out at the showing I saw. It was a good crowd, though, and it was nice to see that there are so many Tarantino fanatics.

MA:  I saw it this past Friday night, and the theater was packed then too, and it was a very enthusiastic lively audience.

(YOSEMITE SAM gets up from the table where he’s playing cards and approaches the bar)

YOSEMITE SAM: So you varmints think you’re tough, huh?

LS: Yup.

MA: Well, to be honest,  we never actually said that.

YOSEMITE SAM: The last hombre who spoke to me that way is now six feet under…

LS: Is that where Bugs Bunny lives these days?

YOSEMITE SAM: Why, you!

(MA pulls out his gun and fires at SAM’s feet, making him dance as LS claps his hands)

LS: Hey, this is fun!

MA: You tired yet?

YOSEMITE SAM (breathing hard): Damn you, Knife Fighters.

(MA stops shooting and YOSEMITE SAM topples over in exhaustion)

LS: Rats! I wanted to see more dancing.

Anyway, back to our review.

Nobody makes movies like Quentin Tarantino, and DJANGO UNCHAINED is just another in a long line of powerful epics. Not only is DJANGO the tale of a man yearning for freedom and the freedom of the woman he loves, and thus there is a love story at the heart of this film, but it’s also a chance for Tarantino to recreate American history in his own image. Because his movies are not so much set in certain point in time as they are events that unfurl in a world of Tarantino’s creation. In his world, things don’t happen exactly like they did in ours. For example, in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009), his last film, a rag-tag group of soldiers actually succeeded in assassinating Hitler.

Tarantino also has a sense of style that sets him apart from everyone else making movies today.

MA:  That’s certainly true.

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LS:  It’s a mixture of art (because there is an artistic eye to the way his movies are filmed) and pure grindhouse adrenaline. Even though DJANGO is over two and a half hours long, I never once felt bored, and it never dragged—in fact, I wanted even more. For once, every scene was necessary, and expanded upon what came before it, like the petals of a flower in bloom. There are several reasons why his movies are so satisfying. First off, there’s that artistic eye of his. Tarantino pays attention to detail and, in so doing, he fleshes out his world quite nicely, and makes it feel like a real place.

MA:  I would argue that it feels less like a real place and more like the world seen through an artist’s eyes, which doesn’t make it any less satisfying or believable.  Watching DJANGO with its rich imagery and fine attention to detail was like looking at an artist’s painting, only this artist is also a helluva writer.

LS:  Which brings me to my second point, his dialogue, which is second to none in modern cinema.

MA:  It’s great dialogue. I could listen to Dr. King Schultz all day.

LS:  There are also his soundtracks, which treat music as a character in the film, and he draws from everything from the music scores of other films (the opening song, “DJANGO” is from the 1966 spaghetti western of the same name, and it works just as well here), obscure pop songs, and music written just for his movies.

MA:  I agree.  The soundtrack is second to none.  My favorite part of the soundtrack is the variety he uses, the combination of pop songs—which amazingly don’t seem out of place here—with traditional film music.

LS: My favorite songs, aside from the title song, included ones by John Legend and Brother Dege. Hell, Tarantino even uses a Jim Croce song (someone I normally don’t like) to maximum effect in the middle of the film.  (And this is probably a good time to mention that the soundtrack album is pretty damn cool, too.)

And then there’s the casting. Tarantino’s movies always seem to have amazing casts, and DJANGO UNCHAINED is no exception. I wasn’t a big fan of Jamie Foxx before seeing this movie, but I consider myself a fan now. Foxx turns in a terrific performance here, full of anger, heart, and frustration with the world his character finds himself in.

MA:  Yeah, I’m not the biggest fan of Jamie Foxx either, but he is excellent here.  He really brings Django to life, and pretty much everything he does with this character in this movie is spot on.  He makes Django one bad-ass bounty hunter, yet he never sacrifices the sympathy we feel for him as he tries to rescue his wife.  It’s a very satisfying performance by Foxx, and I enjoyed him here much more than I did in RAY (2004) and DREAMGIRLS (2009).

LS: Alongside him is Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz. If you remember, Waltz won an Oscar for his role as a Nazi officer in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, and he’s just as mem0rable here. Waltz is fascinating to watch as the self-assured and morally righteous Schultz, and he and Foxx play off of each other really well.

MA:  Waltz is great.  Not quite as mesmerizing a performance as he pulled off in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, but it’s a much different role and is satisfying in a different way.  Dr. Schultz is a much more enjoyable character than the intense Nazi officer Waltz played in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.

LS:  I’m not a big Leonardo DiCaprio fan, either, and I still don’t understand why so many directors want to use him so much (Martin Scorcese comes to mind), but he is brilliant here, playing against type as a sadistic villain.

MA:  Directors want to use him so much because he’s a terrific actor!  Admit it, he’s a great actor!

LS:  I’m not admitting anything!  But I will say that it may be the best performance I’ve ever seen DiCaprio give, and one scene where his Calvin Candie makes a point with an old skull and a hammer is especially intense.

MA:  Very intense.  That’s a testament to both DiCaprio’s acting skills and Tarantino’s direction.  I mentioned that I saw this movie with a very lively enthusiastic audience.  There was definitely a buzz in the theater before and during the movie, but during this scene, you could hear a pin drop.

(Sheriff QUICK DRAW MCGRAW and his deputy BABA-LOOEY enter the saloon and walk over to the bar)

QUICK DRAW: I hear you gents are disturbing the peace in my town.

BABA-LOOEY: Yeah!

LS: So what if we are?

MA: Actually, we’re trying to mind our own business and review a movie here.

QUICK DRAW: Why, you! How dare you speak back that way to a lawman!

BABA-LOOEY: Yeah!

LS: A law-horse you mean. Make him dance, Michael, I want to see the funny horse dance!

QUICK DRAW: I think you need to be taught some manners. (reaches for his gun)

(LS fires first, and a fountain of blood spurts out of QUICK DRAW, splashing all over BABA-LOOEY)

QUICK DRAW: I’m shot!

BABA-LOOEY: I’m getting out of here!

LS: Someone call the glue factory.

MA: Back to our review, after being so rudely interrupted.

While my favorite performance in the film belonged to Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz, I wouldn’t say he gave the best performance in the movie.  That honor goes to DiCaprio.

DiCaprio delivers a riveting, delicious performance as Calvin Candie.  He’s the perfect antagonist for Waltz’s and Foxx’s protagonists.  And as you mentioned, once you get to that scene with the hammer and skull, he’s one scary guy.  It’s the best DiCaprio performance I’ve seen since THE DEPARTED (2006) and BLOOD DIAMOND (2006).

LS:  Sam Jackson is just as villainous as Candie’s sidekick Stephen, a man who appears to be a fussy old “Uncle Tom” type, but who is, in reality, Candie’s confidante and pretty much his equal behind closed doors. And he’s just as vicious as his “master.”

MA:  It’s my favorite Jackson performance in years.  Stephen is one aggravating, vicious son of a bitch.

LS:  Kerry Washington is perhaps the heart of the film as Broomhilda, a slave who speaks German as well as English (which Schultz finds delightful and which they use in their plan). She’s undergone much brutality by the time Django finds her again – the first time we see her in a scene that isn’t a flashback, she’s being pulled naked out of a hotbox, where she’s being punished, and screams when a bucket of water is splashed on her—and you immediately want him to succeed in his plan to rescue her from the hell that is Calvin Candie’s plantation, called Candieland.

MA:  Yep.  Washington is great and does a terrific job evoking our sympathy throughout the film.

LS:  And those flashbacks are pretty potent. There are several times where Django’s mind wanders during their journey and he sees fleeting images of Broomhilda behind a tree, or bathing next to him in a stream, and you can feel Django’s yearning for her. His passion. And his remembrances of the abuse inflicted on him and “Hildi” (as she’s called) keeps him focused throughout to exact the vengeance he so rightly deserves.

The use of flashbacks in this movie is another plus. The cinematography in these scenes looks different from the rest of the movie—kind of dreamy—and evokes the way flashbacks were used in the best movies of the 1960 and early 70s (MIDNIGHT COWBOY comes to mind).  I loved that effect.

(DEPUTY DAWG enters the saloon)

DEPUTY DAWG: Dang it, you shot Sherriff McGraw!

LS: Yeah, what of it?

DEPUTY DAWG: Y’all think you can come into this town and shoot our sheriff in cold blood?

MA: He’s just a cartoon. So are you.

DEPUTY DAWG: Just a cartoon? Do we not cry if you hurt us? Do we not bleed if you shoot us?

(CLOSE-UP of DEPUTY DAWG’s face, as tears stream down his cheeks)

MA: If you put it that way, I feel kind of bad.

LS: Me, too.

DEPUTY DAWG: You two are so lucky that I wanted to be Sheriff of these parts, otherwise I’d take you in. But since QUICK DRAW’s dead, now I can take his job. Barkeep, drinks for everyone! Put it on my tab!

SALOON PATRONS: HURRAY!

BABA-LOOEY (hiding behind a barrel of beer): Looks like I better make like a banana and split (runs away).

DEPUTY DAWG: Let’s get back to your review. I want to see how this ends.

LS: What were we talking about? Oh yeah, the cast. The rest of the cast in DJANGO UNCHAINED is top-notch, and there are lots of really great actors in small roles here.

MA:  Which is always a lot of fun.

LS:  Just some of them include: Walton Goggins (from THE SHIELD and more recently the FX series JUSTIFIED) as a cowboy on Candie’s crew with a mean streak; Franco Nero (the Italian star of the 1966 DJANGO, you can identify him by his piercing blue eyes) as another slave owner who pits his man against Candie’s in a brutal fight scene that is going on when Schultz and Django first meet Candie. James Remar (Dexter’s father on DEXTER) as both one of the Speck brothers who are transporting the slaves in the beginning of the movie, and later as Candie’s hired gunman, Butch; Tom Savini as a man who handles Candie’s vicious dogs;  Bruce Dern in flashback as Django’s former slave owner; Jonah Hill in one of the movie’s more humorous scenes as a complaining Klansman – with Brad Dourif as another one of that gang;  M.C. Gainey (one of the more memorable “Others” from the TV series, LOST) as one of the Brittle Brothers; and Lee Horsley as a corrupt sheriff. The only actor here who seemed a little off was Tarantino himself, in a role as an Australian mercenary. But considering how great a job he’s done here as a director, it’s easy to give him that. (besides, rumor has it another actor backed out at the last minute, and Tarantino had to fill in for the scene, because it was the easiest solution).

MA:  It was fun seeing Bruce Dern, even for just the one scene.

And don’t forget Don Johnson in a memorable bit as Big Daddy, a southern plantation owner who serves as a sort of precursor to Calvin Candie.

LS: You’re right. Don Johnson is terrific in this movie as well. I loved him in every scene he’s in.

MA: I also enjoyed seeing Dennis Christopher as Candie’s lawyer, Leonide Moguy.

I’m not quite sure what Jonah Hill was doing in this movie.  He seemed a bit out of place, even if he did appear in the film’s funniest scene.

LS:  DJANGO UNCHAINED is gory. When bullets enter flesh, there is a fair amount of blood.

MA:  And it’s not of the CGI variety, which is a good thing.

LS:  During a big shootout towards the end, things get messy. But there’s a kind of visceral authenticity to it.

MA:  Yeah, but I thought things got a bit carried away at the end.  It seemed unnecessary, and didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the movie.  I could have done without the big concluding bloodbath.  I don’t have a problem with the fates of any of the principal characters, but to have an army of nameless gunmen riddled with bullets nonstop while spewing blood showers all over creation did nothing for me.

LS:  Between the top shelf acting, terrific script and dead-on direction, DJANGO UNCHAINED is easily one of the best movies I have seen in 2012. I just wish I didn’t have to wait all year long to see it. I give it four and a half knives.

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MA:  I liked it too, but not as much as you.  I agree that it has phenomenal acting, directing, and a top-notch script.  All three of these things are equally terrific.

One of my favorite parts of the script is that it runs the full gamut of emotions.  It’s  a love story, an actioner, a revenge tale, a statement on the evils of slavery, and the moods range from that incredibly tense scene near the end where Candie delivers his spiel with the skull and hammer to the funniest Ku Klux Klan scene in a movie this side of Mel Brooks.  It’s laugh out loud funny, and not of the nervous laughter variety.  It’s simply hilarious.

LS: It’s also a western—Tarantino’s take on the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s, to be exact—as well as a homage to the black empowerment films of the 1970s. Two genres with their feet firmly planted in grindhouse cinema. Tarantino takes these elements and uses them to transcend his inspirations with something new and epic in scope. But the grindhouse elements here mean this movie is also entertaining as hell.

MA: There are lots of well-crafted scenes.  I thought the initial meeting scene between Dr. Schultz and Django, which comes right at the beginning of the movie, is one of the film’s best sequences.   It sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

The “Mandingo” fight sequence is a particularly brutal scene, as is the scene where a slave is torn apart by dogs.  These scenes aren’t overly gory, but they’re tough to get through.  Tarantino does a nice job with reaction shots of his characters.  You don’t need to see what’s going on.  You can tell by looking into the pained eyes of Dr. Schultz, for example.

But the film’s not perfect.  While I would agree with you that the pacing is very good throughout, I did think it lost momentum towards the end.  The movie reaches an obvious climax when the plot to rescue Hildi comes to a head, but from there, as the story continues, I thought it lost a few steps.

It’s not that I didn’t like the ending to this movie.  I did.  It’s just that I thought the last twenty minutes or so didn’t have the same edge as the rest of the movie, and I didn’t find the final few events of the film as believable as all that had come before it.   And once it became obvious where the tale was headed, it didn’t have the same sense of unpredictability towards the end as it had during the beginning and middle.

LS: The only moment in the film that seemed to strain believability for me was the outcome of the deal between Candie and Schultz for the freedom of Hildi. It seems that Schultz could have resolved it much easier, and that his motives were almost forced to take the movie where Tarantino wanted it to go. I can’t fully complain, because what happens afterwards is so spectacular, but it just seems that Schultz was a little unnecessarily stubborn in that scene for the sake of the plot.

MA:  See, I didn’t find what happens afterwards all that spectacular.  To me, the film hit its peak during that scene where Candie and Schulz make their deal, and what followed, while good, was less intense.

It’s tough to keep up the kind of intensity found in DJANGO UNCHAINED for an entire movie, and I think, as this one made its way to the finish line, it slowed down somewhat.  I don’t mean the pacing slowed down, but the story did, if that makes any sense.

Still, I liked DJANGO UNCHAINED a lot, and it’s also one of my favorite movies of this year.  I give it three and a half knives.

LS: That’s all you’re giving it? What are you, insane?

MA:  I’ve only given a handful of movies more than a three knife rating this year, which puts DJANGO UNCHAINED in the upper echelon of movies I’ve seen this year, where it belongs.

Hey, bartender!  How about another round of whiskeys?

BARTENDER:  S-sure.  Then you folks’ll be leaving?

LS:  We’ll be leaving when we’re good and ready.

BARTENDER (pouring whiskey, nervously spilling some):  No hurry.  Take your time.  You’ll get no trouble from me.

LS (downs his drink):  I’m good.

MA:  And I’m ready.

LS:  Let’s blow this watering hole.

BARTENDER:  Please!  Don’t blow up my bar!

MA:  It’s just an expression.  Keep your shirt on.

BARTENDER:  Why would I take off my shirt?

MA:  You don’t get out much, do you?  Let’s get out of here.

LS:  So long folks!  We’ll see y’all next year with lots more movie reviews! So stay with your pals here at cinemaknifefight.com for 2013!

MA:  Adios, muchachos y muchachas!

BARTENDER (scratches his head):  You’re Mexican?

(CLOSE-UP of DEPUTY DAWG who’s asleep at the bar, snoring loudly)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives DJANGO UNCHAINED ~ THREE AND A HALF knives (out of five)!

LL Soares gives DJANGO UNCHAINED  ~ FOUR AND A HALF knives!

JACK REACHER (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Crime Films, Fast Cars, Hit Men, Martial Arts, Revenge!, Rogue Cops, Tom Cruise Movies with tags , , , , , , , on December 24, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: JACK REACHER (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

jack-reacher(THE SCENE: A Shooting range. Strangely no one is there shooting.  All is silent.  MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES approach.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Today’s movie, JACK REACHER, has as its villain a sniper who shoots some innocent people in a rather jarring opening scene.

L.L. SOARES:  In light of the recent horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut, we’re just not in the mood to joke about this stuff.

MA:  That being said, our somber mood doesn’t in any way detract from our feelings towards this movie, one way or the other.

LS:  Nor do we believe such movies cause people to commit violent acts.

MA:  We both have seen our share of ridiculously violent movies, and we, like you, readers, take them for what they are: fiction, not reality.

LS:  Anyway, moving right along, hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s Cinema Knife Fight review. This time around we’re reviewing the new movie JACK REACHER, starring Tom Cruise.

MA: I’m not a Tom Cruise fan, so I wasn’t really looking forward to this one.

LS: You mean a new Tom Cruise movie isn’t a big event in the Arruda household?

MA:  Nope.

LS: So, does that mean you hated JACK REACHER?

MA:  You know me better than that.  You know I have an open mind.

LS:  You have a mind?

MA:  I have a mind to throw a cream pie in your face!

LS:  Yummy!

MA:  Anyway, why don’t you tell everyone what this movie is about first?

LS: Sure.

JACK REACHER is a character who has appeared in numerous novels by writer Lee Child (real name Jim Grant). This particular movie is based on Child’s novel ONE SHOT.

As the movie opens, we see a man in a multi-level parking garage aiming a sniper rifle. He looks around at various people in a park before he starts firing on them, killing five people. The police are able to track down a suspect and arrest James Barr (Joseph Sikora), who is back home after a stint in the Army in Afghanistan. When he is being interrogated by the police, he writes down “Get Jack Reacher,” but the police cannot find this man, since he lives off the grid and does not have a permanent address, or anything else that leads back to him. Reacher (Tom Cruise) sees Barr’s face on the news, however, and goes to the police station to investigate. The police, who have been unable to find Reacher, are surprised when he shows up on his own.

Reacher is a former military policeman, and at first, it’s not clear why Barr asked for him. Everyone assumes that Reacher is his friend, but Jack denies this. He discusses the case with the arresting officer, Emerson (David Oyelowo) and the District Attorney, Alex Rodin (Richard Jenkins, who we recently saw previously this year in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and KILLING THEM SOFTLY), who is prosecuting Barr, but when they are not willing to involve Reacher in their investigation (they only give him a limited number of facts), he says he is leaving town. What stops him is Rodin’s daughter Helen (Rosamund Pike) who is also a lawyer like her father, but she is defending Barr.

Reacher reveals that, in the Army, he tracked some murders down to Barr, but Barr was able to avoid being imprisoned. However, Barr is afraid of Reacher and swore to the man at the time of his arrest back then that he would never do anything like that again. It turns out that Barr asked for Reacher’s involvement because things may not be as they seem in this particular case. And if anyone can uncover the truth, it’s an investigative pit bull like Reacher. Jack works with Helen Rodin to find the truth, both for Reacher’s peace of mind, and for Helen to be able to defend Barr in court.

The more Reacher snoops around, the more it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want him sticking his nose in the investigation. Things are done to get Reacher to drop the case, but he isn’t so easy to get rid of. The storyline eventually involves a long, high-speed car chase, and a bloody showdown at a construction site.

Just what is Barr’s involvement in this case? Who is trying to eliminate Reacher? And who can he trust? These are just some of the questions that pop up during the course of JACK REACHER.

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I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. Based on the trailers, I thought it was a movie where Cruise would be playing an unstoppable killing machine, like he did in the movie COLLATERAL (2004), where he played a merciless hit man. But JACK REACHER was different than the way the trailers made him look.

MA:  Yes, the movie did play out differently from what was hinted at in the trailers, which for me, was a good thing. I expected a DIRTY HARRY clone, a glossy and superficial storyline with Cruise smart-assing his way through the script, but that’s not what JACK REACHER is at all.  Fortunately, it’s better than that.

LS:  Instead of playing an over-the-top vigilante, Cruise is rather low-key as Reacher, keeping things intense throughout. You’re never exactly sure what Reacher’s limits are, and if he is willing to cross certain moral and legal lines to achieve his goals. While reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s iconic Dirty Harry character, Reacher is more complex, and it’s interesting to see Cruise bring the character to life.

In the books, Reacher is six foot five and about 250 pounds. He’s an intimidating character. Obviously, Tom Cruise does not share the same dimensions, and yet, he’s able to make it work. You believe he is a driven, formidable individual who is not to be messed with.

MA:  And that’s the best part of Cruise’s performance for me.  I believed him in this role, and I bought that he could do the things he does in this movie.  While watching the film, I believed I was watching a guy named Jack Reacher, not golden boy actor Tom Cruise doing his shtick.

So, I have to admit, I enjoyed Cruise a lot in this movie.  He did a good job bringing Jack Reacher to life, especially since he’s not a huge hulking figure like the character in the book.  The other thing that worked for me is that while Cruise still looks great for his age (he’s 50) he’s looking a little older here, a bit more weathered and rougher around the edges, and it added to the believability of his character.

Cruise seemed natural in the role, and he never came off as arrogant, which I liked.  All in all, he makes for a very compelling Jack Reacher.

LS: The rest of the cast is pretty good, too. Especially Rosamund Pike as Helen.

MA:  Really?  I wasn’t as crazy about Pike.  I thought she ran hot and cold.  While I believed Helen was a smart attorney, she too often took a back seat to Jack Reacher and his unconventional methods. She spends most of the movie reacting to things he’s done, rather than doing things on her own.  Now, I realize this is a movie about Jack Reacher, but this is what I’m talking about in terms of Pike’s performance:  she didn’t flesh out Helen as much as I wish she had. Ultimately she’s there just to be rescued, and for a dedicated attorney who really wanted to keep her client off death row, I never really felt this passion.

I enjoyed her more, going back a ways, in the Pierce Brosnan James Bond flick DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002), in which she had a small but memorable role.

LS: I thought Pike’s character in JACK REACHER was believable as a woman who is not totally confident in what she is doing; who wonders if taking on this case was a mistake at one point. She is willing to let Reacher take over, because he is much more determined and not easily swayed when people try to put him off the scent. She’s not a particularly self-assured character, and I liked that. The fact that she does become sort of a damsel in distress toward the movie’s end was a little distressing, but it fit the storyline and didn’t strain believability The fact is, not everyone’s brave all the time, or indestructible.

Richard Jenkins as D.A. Alex Rodin, and German director Werner Herzog, as a mysterious man called The Zec, are also very good. I am a big fan of Herzog, as a director. He has made some cinema classics, like AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972) and FITZCARRALDO (1982), both of which starred the great Klaus Kinski, and he has recently been making some documentaries as well, some of which have been quite popular, like GRIZZLY MAN (2005).  He has done some acting before, mostly in independent films like Harmony Korine’s movies JULIEN DONKEY-BOY (1999) and MISTER LONELY (2007), and he’s quite good here.

MA:  Jenkins delivers another excellent performance in what is becoming a regular occurrence, and Werner Herzog is very creepy as the villain The Zec.  The only problem I had with the character is when all is said and done, his villainous plans don’t seem anywhere near as dastardly as you would expect from a guy as scary as he is.  While Herzog creates a disturbing heavy in The Zec, the guy’s not exactly the most ambitious villain you’ll see in a movie.

LS: I agree. Herzog goes to all this trouble to make The Zec creepy as hell, and you think this is going to lead to some truly intense confrontation between him and Reacher at the end, and what happens is a bit of a disappointment. Although, what happens is believable behavior for both of their characters.

Even Robert Duvall shows up late in the film, as a former Marine named Cash who runs a shooting range, and who becomes Reacher’s unlikely ally.

MA: I thought Duvall was great.

And I also really liked Alexia Fast as Sandy, a young woman who crosses paths with Reacher when her not-so-smart friends are hired to rough up Reacher, and she’s used as bait.  Things don’t turn out too well for them.  But Fast makes Sandy both sexy and vulnerable, and you really feel for her, as does Reacher, in an almost paternal way.  For a small role, I thought Fast stood out as Sandy

LS: I agree, I liked Fast a lot as Sandy. I thought she would have a bigger role in the movie as it developed, but she’s in it just as long as she needs to be. She’s a stand-out here, and I want to see more of her. She really shines.

I also really liked Jai Courtney in the role of Charlie, who turns out to be the main villain here. Courtney previously played Varro in the Showtime series SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE (2010), and I think he is just as intense as Reacher by the end of this movie. Early on, you think he’s going to be a pushover, but he’s not at all, and there’s a great fight scene toward the end between him and Reacher.

MA:  Yes, that is a great fight scene, and I liked Courtney a lot too.

LS:  Aside from the acting, I also found the storyline pretty riveting.

MA:  Ditto.

LS:  The screenplay is by Christopher McQuarrie, who also gave us the scripts for the excellent THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995), and another Tom Cruise movie, VALKYRIE (2008). McQuarrie also directed JACK REACHER, and this is his second time in the director’s chair (the first was THE WAY OF THE GUN (2000) starring Ryan Phillipe and Benicio Del Toro, which I also liked). The script and the direction here are quite good.

MA:  I agree.  JACK REACHER is a riveting movie, and one of the reasons why is the direction by Christopher McQuarrie.  There’s some pretty cool fight scenes in this one, and one helluva car chase sequence that was as good as anything we saw in DRIVE (2011) and reminded me of one of the all-time best car chases on film, the Steve McQueen movie BULLITT (1968) directed by Peter Yates.

LS: There are also some great scenes of dark humor, like whenever Reacher goes up against the local thugs. I actually laughed out loud a couple of times.

MA:   You’re right.  There were some genuine funny lines.

And while I enjoyed the script, in that Reacher has a lot of memorable lines, and the dialogue rings true throughout, I thought the plot grew more contrived as it went along.  The whole conspiracy aspect gets old, and then it plays the “someone you trust is really working for the bad guys” card.  While the character of Jack Reacher remains compelling throughout the movie, I can’t say the same for the plot.  I thought it grew predictable towards the end.

LS: The last 15 minutes or so are the weakest part of the movie in my opinion, and things tie up a little too easily after the complexity of the rest of the movie. But it’s not enough to ruin what came before it.

MA: While I liked the pacing for the most part, I thought at two hours and ten minutes that it ran a little long.  I could have used about 15 minutes shaved off this one.

LS: I’m always complaining about how movies seem to be longer than they need to be. It’s quantity over quality, with directors and studios thinking movies have to be long to seem worth the price of a movie ticket, often to the detriment of the movie itself. But, in this case, I thought JACK REACHER was fine at its length. There never was one part that I felt went on longer than it needed to. And I thought the pacing was good.

Except for some issues I had with the ending, JACK REACHER works, and it’s a good vehicle for Cruise, who clearly would like to turn this into a franchise (there are about 18 books so far in the series, so there’s a lot of possible material there).

MA:  And that would take him into his 70s, where he’d still be sporting dark brown hair and kicking bad guys’ butts.  Will Cruise ever show some gray hair?

LS:  One word of warning, however. Some audience members may have an issue with the overwhelming use of guns throughout the movie.

MA:  Guns in a movie?  Oh my!  It’s guns in real life they ought to be worried about.

LS: I agree, and I hesitate to bring this up. But in the beginning of the film, especially, where the sniper kills his victims, it may be too much for some viewers after the recent real-life tragedy in Connecticut. This will not be true of everyone, but I wanted to put it out there. As time goes on, and people see this movie later on DVD or Netflix, they’ll wonder what all the hubbub was about. It’s all about timing.

MA: Yeah, in that way, the timing for the release of this movie couldn’t have been worse.  In fact, it was supposed to open in some markets last week, but the producers delayed its premiere.

And yes, the opening scene is very jarring because of what just happened in Connecticut.  I found it painful to watch, as I’m sure a lot of other people will as well.

But moving away from real life for a moment, another reason this scene is so riveting is the way it’s shot by director McQuarrie.  It’s shot through the eye of the shooter, and as such it’s a very uncomfortable scene to watch, and yet, it’s not tasteless in terms of graphic violence.  I’m not even sure we actually see someone shot.  I think the shots occur off camera in quick clever cut-ways just at the dreaded moment.

LS: Yet it’s intense, and it works.

MA: This scene would have been tasteless if the movie were glorifying sniper shooting, but it’s not doing that at all.  Sure, there’s a lot of killing in this movie, but none of it is glorified.

For a PG-13 movie, I thought JACK REACHER did a good job cranking up the intensity.  In addition to this opening scene, there’s also a disturbing scene involving someone chewing his own fingers off.  Now, nothing is shown here, but it still works.  It’s compelling storytelling.

LS: That scene involves The Zec, and again, I was disappointed they built him up to be such a scary character and then pretty much don’t do anything with him.

I was surprised it was PG-13, because it didn’t seem to be sanitized or dumbed down, like a lot of movies are to reach a wider audience.  JACK REACHER has teeth. It’s a solid thriller, and a better movie than I expected.  I give it three knives.

MA:  I give it three knives as well.   I also liked it more than I thought I would. Jack Reacher is a character who I enjoyed watching, and I think I’d enjoy seeing him in other movies as well.  And Tom Cruise does a nice job bringing this guy to life.

Jack Reacher is a character who I enjoyed watching, and I think I’d enjoy seeing him in other movies as well.  And Tom Cruise does a nice job bringing this guy to life.

In addition to being a solid action movie, JACK REACHER is also a decent detective film, as it’s fun seeing how Reacher goes about piecing together clues and figuring out the answers to many of the movie’s questions.  The evidence against his friend is overwhelming, yet Reacher sees a something right away at the crime scene which raises a red flag for him, and what he sees, as he explains it, makes perfect sense to us the audience.

LS: As Reacher says several times in the movie, Barr is not his friend.

MA: Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher probably does more sleuthing than Robert Downey Jr. in the recent SHERLOCK HOLMES movies.

While I found the plot somewhat more contrived towards the end, the concluding segment to JACK REACHER, where Reacher has to come to the rescue of Helen, I found very satisfying.  It’s an exciting sequence.

That being said, things do get wrapped up neat and tidy by the end of the movie, probably too much for my tastes, although I didn’t have a major problem with this since it sort of  fits in with Jack Reacher’s style.  He’s a slick professional who never leaves traces of himself behind.  When he finishes a job, he makes a clean exit, disappearing into the night once more.

JACK REACHER is a very good movie, solid and compelling throughout, well worth a trip to the movies.

And on that note, we leave you.

LS:  Until next time.

(MA & LS exit in silence, as 26 candles illuminate the field behind them.)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives JACK REACHER ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives JACK REACHER ~three knives.

Me and Lil’ Stevie Totally Get THINNER (1996)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2012, Body Horror, Gypsy Curses, Horror, Me and Lil' Stevie, Peter Dudar Reviews, Revenge!, Stephen King Movies, The Mob with tags , , , , , , , on November 28, 2012 by knifefighter

Me and Lil’ Stevie
Totally Get
THINNER (1996)
By Peter Dudar

(Exterior/Night.  Establishing shot of a carnival midway filled with bustling activity.  Slow pan over the rows of tents where food is being served and games are being played.  We see carnival posters fixed to telephone poles, advertising that the Gypsy Carnival is in town for one week only.  At the end of the midway we see a tent where an old Gypsy man is seated next to an oversized “fool the guesser” scale.  Next to the old man is a beautiful woman, scantily clad, shifting slowly back and forth, as if in the midst of some hypnotic dance.  A crowd has gathered around the tent, and a figure steps forth and mounts the scale.  He stands there for a moment with his back turned to us.  He steps off the scale and turns toward the camera, and we see it is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Lil’ Stevie:  I told you that you’re up a few pounds.  Pay up!

Peter:  If I’m heavier, it’s because I’m carrying your wooden butt.  What did you eat for breakfast…a piano?  Greetings, Constant Viewer.  We’re here at the carnival today to discuss Tom Holland’s (CHILD’S PLAY, 1988) adaptation of Stephen King’s THINNER (1996).  Now, this film…

Lil’ Stevie:  Ahem.

Peter:  …is Holland’s second foray into the realm of Stephen King, after directing the 1995 made-for-television adaptation of THE LANGOLIERS.  He…

Lil’ Stevie:  Ahem, hem, hem, cough, sputter.

Peter:  WHAT!  What is it, Lil’ Stevie?

Lil’ Stevie:  Somebody wants to speak with you.

(Lil’ Stevie pulls his arm out from behind his back, producing a smaller ventriloquist dummy that looks like King with a full beard.  This dummy is covered with burns and scorch marks from a previous column.  It’s a puppet of Richard Bachman).

Lil’ Richard:  I’m Ba-ack!

Peter:  What?  How can this be?  I killed you last time.

Lil’ Stevie:  You didn’t kill him…you only pissed him off.

Lil’ RichardTHINNER was MY book.  I published it back in 1984!

Peter:  Mayhap you did and mayhap you didn’t.  But the title credits for the movie specifically state, “Stephen King’s THINNER,” and “Based on the novel by Stephen King.”  Which means that you ain’t necessary for this review!

(Peter reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handful of termites.  He tosses the insects at Lil’ Richard, who screams in horror.  Lil’ Stevie also screams and drops the second puppet on the ground.  Peter and Lil’ Stevie watch as Lil’ Richard flails in agony while the termites feast on him.)

Lil’ Richard:  Ugh!  Not again…

Lil’ Stevie:  Nice touch.  Where on earth did you get a pocketful of termites?

Peter:  (Chuckling) It was supposed to be your Christmas gift.  Now, where was I?  Oh yes, Holland co-wrote the screenplay with Michael McDowell (TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, The Movie, 1990), based on the King/Bachman novel.  The story concerns William Halleck (Robert John Burke, ROBOCOP 3, 1993), a morbidly obese attorney from Connecticut who apparently has life by the cojones.  He is very successful at his practice, has a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife and daughter…

Lil’ Stevie:  (singing) “Letting the days go by…let the water hold me down.”

Peter:  Same as it ever was!  Anyway, the film begins with Halleck defending mafia wiseguy Richie “The Hammer” Ginelli (Joe Montegna from television’s CRIMINAL MINDS) in a case where Ginelli is accused of hiring a hit on a rival.  Halleck gets Ginelli off on a technicality, and is considered the hero of the day.  His law firm loves him.  Ginelli loves him.  Things are good in the world of Billy Halleck.

Lil’ Stevie:  I just want to point out how beautifully I work some common clichés and metaphors into my story.  The Fat-Cat lawyer.  The corrupt system.  Gluttony being a symbol of success.

Peter:  That’s very true.  And it’s important for the REAL King’s Wheel of Karma to spin full-circle before the story is over.  While Billy’s celebrating his victory, a Gypsy caravan is pulling into town and setting up their carnival right in the town square, just outside his office window.  We’re introduced to Tadzu Lempke, the Gypsy King (Michael Constantine, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, 2002) and his clan of traveling…erm…entertainers, including his ravishingly hot granddaughter Gina (Kari Wuhrer, EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS, 2002).

Lil’ Stevie:  Where do Gypsies come from?  Is there like a country called Gypsylvania or something?

Peter:  You dope.  Gypsies, or people or Romanic descent, have roots of European and Indian heritage.  They have no true home country, per se, but rather are of nomadic traditions that concentrate between Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Eastern European territories.  Does that answer your question?

(The crowd parts, and suddenly Cher is standing at the front of the tent).

Cher:  (Singing) Gypsies, tramps and thieves, we’d hear it from the people of the town.  They called us…

(Lil’ Stevie pulls out a pistol and shoots Cher in the chest.  Cher immediately turns to dust and floats away in the breeze).

Lil’ Stevie:  I hate this carnival.

Peter:  No more interruptions, m’kay?  Well, just like in Cher’s song, the town-folk (Judge Rossington, in particular) look down on the Gypsies and want them gone.  Obviously these people lack some sort of moral turpitude and do not belong among all the decent upper-crust citizens, and Judge Rossington wants them gone as quickly as possible.  Of course, the Gypsies prove him right that very evening, when Tadzu Lemke and his kin go to the pharmacy to pick up medication for his rotting nose, and his kids start shoplifting to the horror of the store owner.

Lil’ Stevie:  KING CAMEO!  Stephen plays the pharmacist, aptly named Dr. Bangor!

Peter:  While this is happening, Halleck and his wife Heidi (Lucinda Jenney, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, 1998) are driving home from a celebratory dinner.  Heidi has been complaining about her husband’s weight problem for ages, out of concern for his health and the role model she wants him to play for their daughter.  On the drive home, she decides to “continue the celebration” by…erm…performing certain “wifely duties” on him.  This, of course, distracts Halleck as he tries to navigate the car.

Lil’ Stevie:  Tadzu’s daughter leaves the store and steps out into the street, and WHAMMO!  Billy runs her down and kills her.

Peter:  Of course, the system is broken, and Billy escapes the incident without even getting any points on his driver’s license.  Judge Rossington handles the legal proceedings, Chief Hopley conveniently skips the breathalyzer test, and the whole ordeal is ruled to be an accident.

Lil’ Stevie:  But the Gypsies want justice for their dead kin.  Tadzu Lempke approaches Billy after the hearing, brushes the large man’s cheek, and whispers one word.  Thinner.

Tadzu Lempke brushes Billy’s cheek, and whispers one word. THINNER..

Peter:  A gypsy curse!  Billy Halleck begins losing three pounds every day.  At first, the loss is welcomed after all the struggling with his weight.  Billy goes and buys a whole new wardrobe, continues to play golf and associate with the other town bigwigs, and continues with his incessant (and now shameless) eating habits.  But after a few weeks slip by and he’s down fifty pounds, the concern over his sudden weight loss grows into outright fear.

Lil’ Stevie:  And rightly so.  The storyline very much resembles Richard Matheson’s THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), where fear of dying and fear of the unknown blend together in one dark, terrible nightmare.

Peter:  And Billy isn’t the only one to be cursed.  Both Chief Hopley and Judge Rossington have also been cursed with their own respective ailments by Lempke.  As Billy races to figure out how to save himself, he’s forced to witness the tragic deaths of his friends, which compound the terror of what he’s going through.  He realizes just how much the system which he plays a part in is broken, but he continues to try and justify to himself that Lempke’s daughter’s death was an accident. Only now he’s devising a notion that his wife is complicit (she WAS distracting him), and it looks as if she is having an adulterous affair with Billy’s doctor.  All of this is beginning to drive him into madness as his body slowly withers away.

Lil’ Stevie:  So he calls his mafia buddy, Richie, to help him out.  Billy tracks the Gypsies to Maine at the end of the carnival season, and Richie joins him in trying to convince Lempke to remove the curse on the “White Man From Town.”  Blood is shed, and eventually Billy comes face to face with Lempke, who finally removes the curse and places it inside a pie.  Lempke instructs Billy that he has to pass the curse on to someone else if he is to be rid of it forever.  Or else…

Peter:  Indeed.  Overall, THINNER is a very good adaptation of the novel and an above-average (underrated, in fact) horror film.  The uncredited star of this movie is the special effects that turn actor Robert John Burke from grossly bloated to gaunt and skeletal through the movie’s progression.  The story of Billy’s plight is interesting and terrifying.  The characters (particularly the Lempke clan) are fun and very well cast.  And Joe Montegna’s performance is priceless.  This film is definitely worth the price of admission.

Billy turns to his “buddy” Richie Ginelli (Joe Montegna) for help in THINNER.

(The old Gypsy man in the tent stands up and shouts at Peter and Lil’ Stevie)

Lempke:  Hey, Mister.  You just won a free pie.  You should eat your own pie, mister!

(The young girl dancing beside the old man takes the pie and rushes down to give it to them).

Lil’ Stevie:  Aren’t you a hottie?  White Man From Town says, “Take it off!”

Peter:  Oh, no thank you, Miss.  We’re not hungry today.  I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Lil’ Stevie:  I’ve got an idea.  There was this one time, at band camp…

Peter:  On second thought…

(Peter takes the pie from the girl and smashes it in Lil’ Stevie’s face).

Peter:  I’ve been cursed with you long enough.  Thanks for joining us, folks.  And be sure to check in next month for our Second Annual Holiday Turkey Shoot.

© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar