Archive for the The Mob Category

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

LOOPER (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Bruce Willis Films, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, LL Soares Reviews, Science Fiction, Suspense, The Future, The Mob, Time Travel with tags , , , , , , , on October 1, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: LOOPER (2012)
By L.L. Soares

(SCENE 1: Somewhere in the future. L.L. SOARES has a bag over his head and jumps into a weird pod-like machine. He’s out of breath from escaping from a bunch of thugs and pulls the sack off his head just as the machine activates and sends him hurtling through time…)

(SCENE 2: MICHAEL ARRUDA stands in the middle of a field, holding a large gun. In front of him is a tarp spread out on the ground. He looks at his pocket watch to confirm the time)

(Suddenly, LS appears on the tarp. MA lifts his gun, then stops)

LS: Michael, it’s me. I know I look older, but it’s L.L.

MA: I don’t understand. I was supposed to shoot whoever came back from the future…

LS: Well, you can’t shoot me. Then there won’t be any more Cinema Knife Fight column. Right?

MA (hesitates): I guess so. But I have my orders.

LS: Screw your orders. (he gets up and walks toward MA). I’m here to review the new movie LOOPER, have you seen it yet?

MA: No, I haven’t. Did you come from the future to tell me about it?

LS: Yes, exactly. (points to his gun) So we’re cool, right?

MA: Yeah (puts down the gun)

LS: Sucker! (pulls out a gun from his waistband and plugs MA)

(As LS laughs, we go back to the future, where LS enters a pod, out of breath, and pulls that sack off his head again. The machine activates, and we spiral down a corridor of time)

LS: Uh oh. I think I got trapped in a time warp this time. My karma has finally caught up with me.

(Looks at audience)

Well, looks like I’ve got some time on my hands. Might as well do that LOOPER review I mentioned earlier.

LOOPER a clever science fiction film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt. I actually wasn’t all that excited about it going in. It looked like just another gimmicky sci-fi film, and I felt like I’d seen the whole story based on the trailer. But thankfully, I was wrong. For once, I was surprised and LOOPER was much better than I expected.

The story is told from the point of view of Joe (Gordon-Levitt) who explains that he is a Looper. In the future (30 years from now, to be specific), time travel is illegal, but it’s used by organized crime. Also, due to various tagging methods, it is also near impossible to get rid of a body after killing someone in the future. So the gangsters of the future use time travel to kill two birds with one stone. They’ve sent an emissary to our time named Abe (Jeff Daniels) to set things up. He recruits people to be assassins called Loopers. Victims from the future are sent back in time, the Loopers shoot them and then dispose of the bodies. And it seems to be a very effective way to get rid of unwanted people.

Except every once in a while someone finds that the person they’ve been hired to kill is him or herself, sent from the future to “close the loop.” It’s then that they’re given a big payday and forced to retire, knowing that in 30 years, they’re going to die.

Get it?

Joe’s doing quite well. He’s got money, girls and lots of some weird drug he applies with eyedrops and that keeps him happy. Then one day he goes out in the abandoned field where he kills his victims, and comes face to face with an older version of himself, who he calls Old Joe (Bruce Willis). Old Joe isn’t bound and his head isn’t covered, like most of the victims. He is able to keep from getting shot—since he knows what his younger self is going to do—and cold cocks Joe. When Joe wakes up, Old Joe is long gone and he’s in a world of trouble with his bosses. If he doesn’t track Old Joe down and get rid of him, all hell is going to break loose. But Joe’s superiors are going to think he let his older self go on purpose (some guys just can’t bring themselves to kill their older selves when faced with the prospect), so he’s going to have elude them, too, while he tries to set things straight.

Oh yeah, there’s another subplot in the mix. Aside from Loopers, there’s also a group of evolved people called TKs (as in telekinetics). Most of them can’t do much more than float quarters with their minds, but there’s some guy in the future called the Rainmaker, who can do a lot more than that, and he’s taking over the crime gangs. Which is why so many loopers lately have been coming face to face with their older selves and being forced to close the loop.

That’s the background stuff. But LOOPER is so much more than just a concept. It’s about characters – characters who are pretty well fleshed out for a big budget gimmicky science fiction movie with an A-list cast. This isn’t your average futuristic crime movie. LOOPER is smart, well-written, and well acted.

Aside from Gordon-Levitt (who just seems to get better and better in each movie I see him in) and Willis (people in the audience were actually cheering during any scene where Willis got ahold of a gun), there’s also Emily Blunt as a woman who takes the wounded Joe in after he’s ambushed by his fellow loopers. Her name is Sara and she takes care of a little boy named Cid, who is a lot more important to the story than he first seems. Blunt is excellent here, and Pierce Gagnon is really good as little Cid, who seems smart and inquisitive sometimes and other times is just plain scary.

The rest of the cast is solid and includes Paul Dano, Piper Perabo and the always reliable Jeff Daniels (as I mentioned before).

The movie was written and directed by Rian Johnson  Johnson also made the very interesting “high school noir” flick BRICK (2005), also starring Gordon-Levitt (and it’s so odd, it’s worth checking out), and directed episodes of AMC’s BREAKING BAD and the short-lived FX series TERRIERS. He’s made a compelling little movie with LOOPER and I think he’s going to be someone worth watching in the future.

Because one of the stars is Bruce Willis, and it involves his character being sent here from the future, I guess comparisons to Terry Gilliam’s TWLEVE MONKEYS (1995) are unavoidable, but the stories are very different. They do, however, share the fact that they’re above-average for Hollywood sci-fi films.

I really enjoyed this movie. I thought it was smart and riveting throughout, and it even had a dark humor to it at times. I thought Gordon-Levitt and Willis were terrific here (there’s even one scene where Willis grabs a gun and goes on a rampage in the bad guys’ lair that reminded me a lot of Chan-wook Park’s OLDBOY, 2003).

I give LOOPER, four knives.

(LS is still spinning through time, when he suddenly lands on top of that tarp, in the middle of a field again. MICHAEL ARRUDA stands before him, aiming a gun)

LS: Michael, it’s me. I know I look older, but don’t shoot. It’s L.L.

MA: I feel like we’ve done this before.

LS: Put the gun down. You can’t shoot me. Then there won’t be a Cinema Knife Fight column anymore.

MA (hesitates): Why do I have such a hard time trusting you?

(CLOSE-UP of LS’s eyes, pleading)

FADE TO BLACK

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives LOOPER  ~FOUR knives (out of five).

DRIVE

Posted in 2011, Action Movies, Art Movies, Cars!, Cinema Knife Fights, Crime Films, Highly Stylized Films, The Mob, Thrillers with tags , , , , , on September 19, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: DRIVE (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

 

(THE SCENE: A silver Chevy Impala parked on the street. MICHAEL ARRUDA is at the wheel. Two thugs sit in the back seat.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA (to thugs): You have five minutes. Everything that happens within that five minutes, I’m yours. After that, you’re on your own. Now go.

(Thugs put on bright red hats, grab their pizza boxes, and dash out of the car. They each race to a separate house.)

MA (to camera): Now, that’s what I call an efficient pizza delivery service! If these guys don’t make it back to the car within five minutes, they walk home, without pay, tips included. And if they give me any grief (flashes gun) they go home in a body bag, or if we’re out of bags, a giant pizza box. Either way, they’re not going home happy, since they’ll be dead.

(Another car, this one a big, black Cadillac pulls next to the Chevy Impala. L.L. SOARES is at the wheel, and two even bigger THUGS sit in the back seat of this car as well.)

L.L. SOARES (to his THUGS): Okay, you have— two minutes.

THUG # 1: Two? You said five before?

LS: Well, I changed my mind. Hey, you dummies going to sit there and argue, or are you going to do the job? The clock’s ticking,

(THUGS move to exit the car, but find the doors are locked.)

THUGS: What the—?

LS: You didn’t think I was going to make this easy on you, did you? Hey, if you work for me, you gotta earn it!

THUG # 2: Earn it? We can’t get out of the car!

LS: Two big strong apes like you, and you can’t get out of a car? I don’t think you guys are the real deal. Maybe you ought to go into accounting. (Pulls out a huge magnum and aims it at thugs): Can you get out of the car now?

(THUGS kick open doors and jump out of car. They race onto the lawn and tackle the pizza delivery thugs, sending pizza and dollar bills flying everywhere. The four thugs begin to kick the living daylights out of each other.)

MA (rolls down window and addresses LS): Two minutes? You always have to try to one-up me, don’t you?

LS: Not only that, my guys have been instructed to steal your pizzas and deliver them. So we don’t even have to spend money on pizza dough. No overhead.

MA: You realize, this means war!

LS: Bring it on, Pizza Boy!

MA: That’s Pizza MAN to you!

LS: No, PIZZA MAN is a bad Bill Maher movie from 1991.

(MA steps on gas, and the Chevy peels out , racing onto the road, and at the same time, LS steps on his gas pedal, and suddenly both cars are racing down the road at incredible speeds.)

MA (to LS): Hey! While we’re driving, this might be a good time to review this week’s movie, DRIVE (2011).

LS: Sure. Why don’t you go first? I don’t want to crash. (Barely misses running over a pedestrian)

MA: What? You can’t drive and review a movie at the same time?

LS: I can do better than that! (LS is suddenly driving, texting, and talking on a cell phone all at the same time.)

MA: Show off! Anyway, today we’re reviewing DRIVE, the new action thriller starring Ryan Gosling.

Gosling plays a character known simply as The Driver, which reminded me immediately of a 1970s movie, THE DRIVER (1978) in which Ryan O’Neal also played a character named The Driver who also drove getaway cars, but the thing I remember most—and liked the most— in that movie was Bruce Dern being cast against type as The Detective, the guy who’s out to catch The Driver.

LS: Maybe Dern stood out because Ryan O’Neal was never much of an actor. I know Ryan Gosling could act circles around him.

MA: Anyway, back to this Driver. Gosling’s Driver drives getaway cars when he’s not working as a stunt driver in the movies or as a mechanic at a local garage for his friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston).

LS: Where does he find the time?

MA: In the film’s stylish pre-credit sequence, we learn exactly how The Driver operates. He gives his associates five minutes to pull off the job, and if they make it back to him in five minutes, he’ll drive them, and if they don’t, he’s gone. And once he drives, he’s one cool cucumber, and, as his friend Shannon describes him, he’s never seen anyone as gifted behind the wheel.

When he’s not working, The Driver can’t help but notice his very cute neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her little boy, who live in the apartment next to him. They become friends, and soon they start spending lots of time together, and it’s obvious that The Driver and Irene have feelings for each other, even though she’s married, and her husband’s in prison. When her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns home from prison, he finds that he can’t shake his past, and suddenly his family’s life is threatened if he doesn’t do another job. The Driver offers to help Standard pull off the job in order to protect Irene and her son.

Meanwhile, The Driver’s buddy and employer Shannon makes a deal with a local “businessman”(read “loan shark”) named Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks, in a deliciously dark performance) to borrow money from Rose in order to pay for a race car to be driven by The Driver. Rose and his partner Nino (Ron Perlman) are cold-hearted, brutal men who don’t take anything very lightly.

These two storylines cross when Standard’s robbery attempt goes wrong, and The Driver suddenly finds himself having to take on Rose and Nino in order to protect Irene and her son, as well as himself.

LS: Don’t look now, but here come the police!

(Two black and white police cars are suddenly behind them in high speed pursuit.)

MA: This is what I’m talking about! (Steps on gas and car speeds up even faster. LS accelerates his car as well.)

Anyway, I liked DRIVE a lot. While I called this one an action thriller, it’s really not in the traditional sense of the term. It doesn’t have massive explosions, elaborate gun battles, and beefed up heroes running around kicking the crap out of the bad guys. This one is much more stylish and subtle than all that, and I found it better for it.

The exciting pre-credit sequence captures the feel of this movie right away. The Driver is a man of few words, and he operates as if he’s an extension of the car. There’s something quiet about these scenes. You feel as if you’re inside the car with him, as you hear the engine sounds from the inside rather than the outside.

As a man of few words, The Driver doesn’t do a whole lot of talking with Irene, yet they share strong chemistry, and their relationship works. I believed in their feelings for each other. Granted, a lot of the time spent in the movie on their relationship is slow-paced, but the entire film has a deliberate pace, and so this didn’t bother me all that much.

LS: Gosling is so good that he speaks volumes with very few words. Despite the fact that The Driver is so taciturn, he communicates just fine. Although, you do wonder sometimes what is going through that mind of his. Which makes it all the more unpredictable.

MA: Once The Driver offers to help Standard, and things don’t go as planned, the movie takes off and never looks back, hitting high hear and remaining there. There are some really intense scenes, including a really cool car chase scene, as you would expect, and also some suspenseful fight scenes. The movie also becomes more brutally graphic as it goes along, building more and more tension all the way to its ending, which I found satisfying.

LS (licks lips): Oh yeah, the violence is great in this one.

MA: I really enjoyed the way Nicolas Winding Refn directed this one. I thought it was stylish from start to finish. The car chase scenes were well done, and the violence was sufficiently disturbing but not gratuitous.

I thought the screenplay by Hossein Arnin, based on a book by James Sallis, was excellent, as it also contributed to the style of this movie. The dialogue isn’t the standard action movie dialogue, and these characters aren’t stock action movie characters either. When Standard first meets The Driver, and confronts him about spending time with his wife and son while he was in prison, a lesser movie would have had Standard threaten The Driver, saying something like “stay away from my wife,” but he doesn’t. Yet, you still know he’s uncomfortable and unhappy about the relationship, just by the way he looks.

LS: The guy who wrote the original book, James Sallis, is a really good writer whose style seems cinematic by itself. I’m not surprised it translated so well to the screen. I’m just glad that there was a decent screenwriter who didn’t screw it up.

MA: When Standard is roughed up by some thugs, and The Driver asks him who did this to him, Standard replies, “Why? What are you going to do? Beat them up for me?” Which made me chuckle because I was thinking the same thing. There was something very refreshing about this script.

I also liked that the story was unpredictable. I wasn’t really sure where this story was going or what was going to happen and this remained true all the way down to the film’s final scene. That doesn’t happen very often.

LS: There’s a lot about this movie that isn’t business as usual. Another example is the relationship between The Driver and Irene. Not once do we see them in a hot and heavy sex scene, yet we completely buy that they love each other. Normally this would piss me off, because I think there’s a real Puritanical streak in modern Hollywood movies, but here it actually works. For some reason, you don’t need to see them in the sack to know they really want each other. They yearn for each other.

VOICE FROM ABOVE: This is the police! Pull over! (A police helicopter flies above them).

MA (sticks head out window): Sorry, we can’t pull over. We’re reviewing a movie!

VOICE FROM HELICOPTER: Who do you guys think you are? Cinema Knife Fighters?

LS (sticking head out window): In the flesh! Now go get bent so we can finish our review of this movie!

VOICE FROM HELICOPTER: Oh, well in that case, drive on. Just remember to wear your seatbelts.

MA: Yeah, yeah.

I enjoyed the characters, especially The Driver. I liked the fact that The Driver, as efficiently cool and tough as he was, wasn’t some Sylvester Stallone superguy hero who simply beats the crap out of the bad guys without breaking a sweat. With those types of characters, you know they’re going to come out on top. The Driver was different. He was vulnerable, and so you weren’t sitting there EXPECTING him to blow all the bad guys away. You weren’t so sure, and this worked to the film’s advantage. I thought Ryan Gosling did an excellent job creating this quiet heroic character.

LS: There’s something about existential heroes and fast cars. My favorite action film of last year was FASTER, where Duane “The Rock” Johnson played an amped-up, no-nonsense guy who gets revenge with very few words, and a fast car to get him there. DRIVE is like the smarter version of that movie in some ways. Hell, all of the acting here is top-notch, but Gosling owns the camera every time he’s onscreen.

I’ve been aware of Gosling ever since his mesmerizing performance as a neo-Nazi in 2001’s THE BELIEVER. He was also pretty great as a crack-addicted teacher in HALF-NELSON (2006). He’s an exceptional young actor who is capable of great intensity. DRIVE might just be his best movie yet. The fact that he is able to do so much with so little dialogue is amazing. I can’t praise this guy enough.

MA: But a movie is only as good as its villain, and Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose is every bit as good as he appeared to be in the previews. He’s one cold-hearted son of a bitch. I loved Brooks in this role. He’s GOODFELLAS scary, and he’d make Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci proud. He actually reminded me of someone else in this movie, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Even now I’m baffled. At times, his performance reminded me of Rod Steiger, but I don’t think that’s who I was thinking of. Anyway, there are lots of good parts about DRIVE, but the best part is Brooks’ performance. It’s Oscar-worthy.

LS: Well, I think Gosling is just as good and his role is just as Oscar-worthy, but it’s a very different performance. Brooks stands out because he is playing against type, and doing a terrific job at it. Remember, Brooks started as a comedian, directing and starring in movies like REAL LIFE (1979) and MODERN ROMANCE (1981). Heck, I remember when he was starting out making short, funny movies for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in the early days of that show. But he has come into his own as a dramatic actor. There’s a real likability to Brooks, and he plays off that here perfectly, as a man who seems to be your friend one minute and then turns deadly at the drop of a hat. He really is perfect in this role.

MA: Ron Perlman is also excellent as Rose’s partner Nino, but he’s not as good as Brooks. I enjoyed Carey Mulligan as Irene. She’s good looking, sure, but her quiet performance made her the perfect match for The Driver.

LS: I think Perlman is underrated here. He turns in another great performance. But he’s playing the kind of gangster who is violent and intimidating and who is the exact opposite of Albert Brooks’ character. That’s why their scenes together are so good. Perlman’s Nino is a musclehead who thinks he’s a lot smarter than he is. But he defers to Brooks’s Bernie Rose. Why? Nino appears to be the more threatening bad guy. But Brooks is even scarier, and he sells it. And part of why that works so well is because he has Perlman to play off of. The two have perfect chemistry as the bad guys here.

MA: Hmm, sounds like two other guys we know.

LS: Who?

MA (chuckles): Never mind.

LS: I also really liked Carey Mulligan as Irene. She got a lot of attention from her role in the 2009 film, AN EDUCATION, but it wasn’t a fluke. She’s a really good actress and is perfectly cast here. Like you said, she’s also cute as hell.

Hell, even the kid, Kaden Leos as Benecio, is really good here, and I rarely like child actors.

MA: That’s an understatement. You hate child actors! You’d rather eat them for breakfast than watch them in a movie!

LS: That’s not true at all. I never eat children— for breakfast.

MA: Bryan Cranston does a fine job as The Driver’s friend and employer Shannon. Cranston was just in CONTAGION, and he was very good in that too.

LS: I don’t care about CONTAGION. If you want to see Cranston at his best, just watch the amazing AMC show BREAKING BAD, where he’ll dazzle you every Sunday night as a high school chemistry teacher turned meth cook. This guy has come a long way from playing the goofy dad on MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE.

MA: And as Irene’s husband Standard, Oscar Isaac, who we saw earlier this year in SUCKER PUNCH (2011) does a nice job. He makes the guy a real person, not just an ordinary ex-convict cliché.

LS: Yeah, Oscar Isaac is good here, too. And don’t forget Christina Hendricks ( who plays the uber-sexy Joan on another AMC series, MAD MEN) as Blanche, a woman who is forced to go along with Standard on his little “mission.” It’s a small role, but Hendricks does a fine job trying to be less glamorous as usual (but hell, glamor is in this lady’s genes) as a woman without many options in her life.

I think the casting here is a big part of why the movie is so good at what it does. With a less-talented cast, DRIVE wouldn’t be half as much fun.

MA: Yep, DRIVE is the real deal. It’s a slick production that is as smooth and polished as a freshly waxed Thunderbird. It draws its audience in immediately, and then moves along with a quiet efficiency on all cylinders, taking them on one fulfilling thrill ride. I give it three and a half knives.

LS: Oh yeah, well I give it four knives. What do you think of that? I loved this movie, and it’s easily one of the best movies we’ve seen this year.

MA: Always trying to one-up me!

What’s sad about this is I saw DRIVE in a theater that was practically empty. I hope people go out and see this one.

(MA and LS suddenly realize they are headed straight for a cliff. They both jump out of their cars at exactly the right moment before the vehicles hurtle to their destruction)

LS (brushes himself off): Well, that was fun.

MA (gets up): Sure was. Now, what?

LS: How about a pizza?

MA: Sounds good. (Pulls out his cell phone). Hello? Guys, you there? Listen, I’m by the cliffs. I want that pizza. You have five minutes.

LS (Pulls out his cell phone): Okay, dummies, listen up. In two minutes—-.

-THE END-

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives DRIVE ~three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives DRIVE ~four knives.

BLACK SHAMPOO!

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, Blaxploitation, Chainsaws!, Exploitation Films, Grindhouse, Soft-core, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, The Mob, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , on June 9, 2011 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES: Modern Memories
Hair Salons and Chainsaws!
By Nick Cato

Brooklyn’s “reRun Gastropub Theater” was the setting on Wednesday, June 1st for a screening of the 1976 blaxploitation classic, BLACK SHAMPOO. The reRun Theater is a fun little indie cinema, located in the back of a trendy restaurant. Its stadium-styled seating is made up of 60 seats ripped from mini vans (!), and a full bar with snacks are located right alongside them. A 12-foot screen features digitally projected, locally made films as well as independent features from around the world (so, if you’re ever in NYC I strongly suggest a visit). Back in January, I had the pleasure of viewing Alejandro Jodorowsky’s SANTA SANGRE (1989) here, and the picture and sound were phenomenal.

The BLACK SHAMPOO screening was actually part of author Mike White’s book tour (his collection of pieces from his long-running fanzine, “Cashiers du Cinemart,” has been compiled in a hefty volume titled IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY [2010 Bear Manor Media]—and although I’m only halfway through it I can HIGHLY recommend it to any serious film geek). Mike has a large section dedicated to the film BLACK SHAMPOO (his all-time favorite movie), featuring commentary and interviews with a few of the films’ stars, as well as director Greydon Clark (who is responsible for countless 70s/80s exploitation classics, such as SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS (1977), WITHOUT WARNING (1980) and the infamous arcade sex comedy, JOY STICKS (1983)). While Mike did a brief intro for the film and a reading/book signing afterwards, it was the film that was the highlight of the evening.

This was my first screening of BLACK SHAMPOO, and as a life-long fan of the blaxploitation genre, I can safely say you’ll be hard pressed to find a more entertaining, funny, violent and downright FUNKY film. While the first 20 minutes play out like a really bad 70s porn film (complete with some of the coolest music ever to grace this type of feature), BLACK SHAMPOO soon turns into a hybrid love/gangster/revenge story complete with everything we psychotronic film fans love about these types of films: stereotypical black men and women and stereotypical gay hairdressers that would probably cause a protest were they done this way today; a party sequence that’s so out of place it almost gives the film a surreal edge; insane violence that includes chainsaw mayhem, pool cue mayhem and a mob-orchestrated curling-iron anal rape shakedown (you read that correctly); deplorable acting; and so much more, it’s hard to remember half of what went down after just one viewing.

The film centers around Mr. Jonathan, the owner of “Mr. Jonathan’s” hair salon on the Sunset Strip. His reputation as the ultimate ladies man has caused an endless line of women to book appointments for his “services.” And while he’s in the private back room “shampooing” his clients, the front of the place features women having their hair done by Mr. Jonathan’s staff, which includes Artie and Richard, two gay hairdressers who are done so over the top you can’t help but laugh every second they’re on the screen (fans of “classic dialogue” would do well to keep a pad and pen on hand during the entire film).

Mr. Jonathan gets so much action he actually begins to find shagging a real chore (even when two seemingly underage rich white girls seduce him during a house call…only to get their butts whipped by their mom’s belt for stealing her appointment [in a sequence that brings the “roughie” films of the early 70s to mind]. The mother then goes on to shag Mr. Jonathan as the two girls watch from the pool!).

After all this opening soft-core madness, BLACK SHAMPOO gets down to business. It seems the new black secretary at the salon has actually run away from her white mob “boyfriend,” who has kept her in his mansion as a modern day sex slave. When Mr. Jonathan catches wind of this, he takes his new receptionist, Brenda, out on a date and the two quickly fall in love. When the mob finds out Brenda’s whereabouts, they come down to the salon and trash the place (after kicking Artie’s poor little white ass in one of the most unconvincing “fight” scenes ever filmed). Brenda’s ex-boyfriend turns out to be underworld kingpin Mr. Wilson (an amazingly non-stereotypical name for a gangster), who is now on a mission to get Brenda back. He employs three of the goofiest goons ever to grace a trash film (Maddux, appropriately nick-named “Schumck;” an unnamed, tall black guy who looks like he played for the Knicks in the mid-70s; and a hysterical chauffer who has a few scene-stealing lines and actions).

Feeling guilty over the beating Artie took (which left him in a neck brace) and the trashing of the salon, Brenda goes back to the mob’s mansion. Mr. Jonathan—by way of a mob “invite”—takes a trip to the mansion so Mr. Wilson can explain that Brenda’s now back where she belongs—and Brenda seems happy about it. Confused and pissed off, Mr. Jonathan heads out to his cabin in the woods to get his head together—and Brenda eventually meets him there with Mr. Wilson’s top secret book of money laundering information. Before long, the mob catches wind of this, and we’re all set for a bloody-good showdown in the woods.

BLACK SHAMPOO is unlike any blaxploitation film out there, mainly due to the character of Mr. Jonathan. He’s not a cop or pimp ala SHAFT (1971) and DOLEMITE (1975), just a heterosexual hairdresser who happens to be quite handy with a chainsaw and pool cue. And while his onscreen persona is actually quite boring (John Daniels has the acting skills of a parking meter), for some strange reason the audience revels in his booty-shaggin, belly-slashing schtick.

I mean, come on folks: what other film features a chainsaw-wielding black hairdresser dishing it out to the mob after laying pipe on half of Hollywood? Mr. Jonathan just may be the COOLEST blaxploitation character of all time (I’ll let you all know if this holds up to repeated viewings as good as DOLEMITE, the granddaddy of all blaxploitation films). Also, major kudos for a sonically-funky soundtrack that will stay in your head long after the film concludes.

I also recommend watching BLACK SHAMPOO with an audience of like-minded fans: while I’m sure I would have loved this had I watched it alone on DVD, I’m not sure how many non-fans of this subgenre will be won over by it.

But I still say give it a shot. Until next time, I’m off to the salon . . .

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

NOTE: For more about Mike White and his book IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY, check out his site: http://impossiblefunky.blogspot.com/

 

Mr. Jonathan (John Daniels) is seduced by two rich white girls, Meg (Kelly Beau) and Peg (Marl Pero) in BLACK SHAMPOO.