Thursday, April 30, 2009

GO-GO KILLERS! opens May 8th!

GO-GO KILLERS! will play at The Sage Theater in Times Square (711 Seventh Avenue, 2nd floor) May 8-30, Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets ($15) are available online HERE. Sell-out shows are expected, so you should get your tickets as soon as possible!

Film Review: TRANCERS (1985, Charles Band)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 76 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Tim Thomerson (Altman's A WEDDING, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, RHINESTONE) , Helen Hunt, Richard Herd (F.I.S.T., ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN), and Art LaFleur (FIELD OF DREAMS, WARGAMES).
Tag-lines: "2247 collides with 1985 . . . when a 23rd century crime fighter heats it up in L.A., today!"
Best one-liner: "Welcome to the twentieth century, Jack Deth!"

Of all the Full Moon franchises (PUPPET MASTER, SUBSPECIES, DEMONIC TOYS, etc.), TRANCERS is probably the best. Well, perhaps that gives it a BIT too much credit. Instead, let's say it's the most charming. Kind of a straight-to-video fusion of BLADE RUNNER and THE TERMINATOR (with later installments drawing more on HIGHLANDER and XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS), its aim is not REALLY quality- its sights are set a tad lower. It's not trying to give you your money's worth on a 1985 movie ticket ($2.75), it's trying to give you your money's worth on the 25¢ rental, and in doing so, it succeeds. The DVD even (unintentionally) duplicates the experience with a flawed transfer that looks like a well-loved, ratty VHS.

But on to the movie: what we have here is a pretty hamfisted one-liner fest in the vein of (but lacking the wit of) Shane Black and Fred Dekker. As a side note, it happens to be set at Christmastime in L.A., and prefigures, in this aspect, both DIE HARD and LETHAL WEAPON.

Anyway, actor/comedian Tim Thomerson is rather likable as Jack Deth, as is a young Helen Hunt (who continued to appear in the series through its third installment).

There's the requisite 80's punk club scene ("Looks like a room full of Trancers!"); a Tangerine Dream rip-off score; weak jokes ("Dry hair's for squids!"); not one, but two awesome time-stopping sequences; a washed-up hobo ballplayer; futuristic ruling councils; and then it somehow all ends on a freeze frame. Inexplicably, all of these things add up to something I consider fairly effin' sweet entertainment. (Funny, the same thing happened when I saw HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN.) So if you like your 80's fare inundated with bad one-liners, equal doses of low-budget creativity and cretinous cliche, and the delightful magnetic warpings of a defective VHS, then, by all means, help yourself to some TRANCERS. Three stars.

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Film Review: HEARTBREAK RIDGE (1986, Clint Eastwood)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 130 minutes.
Tag-lines: "... the scars run deep."
Best one-liner: "Be advised. I'm mean, nasty and tired. I eat concertina wire and piss napalm and I can put a round in a flea's ass at 200 meters. So why don't you go hump somebody else's leg, mutt face, before I push yours in."

"Why don't I bend you over the table there... send you home with the 'I just pumped the neighbor's cat' look on your face?" So maybe this is a valentine to Reagan-era Jarheads or maybe it's a wry look at the state of institutionalized masculinity, but whichever way you choose to see it, it's a damned entertaining film. Clint brilliantly fuses some very specific genres: the 'irascible old man' flick, the military training drama, the trashy barroom romance, the zany war picaresque, and, most importantly, the summer camp movie. It could practically be MEATBALLS 5: BOOT CAMP.

Clint prepares to fling a boom box with extreme disdain for the box and its listeners.

This is the ideal movie for an afternoon in July; perfect for those days when you've got an ice cold beer, the swivel neck and the ceiling fans going at once, and the volume turned way up so you can hear it over the racket the locusts (and the fans) are making. Good. Now you can hear Clint growl "Shut your face, hippie!" at Mario van Peebles, who could be accurately described as any number of things- 'hippie' definitely not being one of them.

Tom 'Gunny' Highway might be the crabbiest, crankiest character Clint has ever played (though Walt Kowalski in GRAN TORINO certainly gives Gunny a run for his money). You even get the sense that Gunny would narrow his eyes and scowl at Dirty Harry. He would definitely scowl at Philo Beddoe.

Everett McGill (Big Ed on TWIN PEAKS) makes a great villain as the wet behind the ears officer who thinks he can tell Gunny what to do-

but he forgets Gunny didn't attend some fancy pants Ivy League university: he attended a nasty, little-known place of higher learning known as HEARTBREAK RIDGE. It was there he was educated in cluster fucks, pencil-necks who "asshole to asshole couldn't make a beer fart in a whirlwind," suckheads who write home to momma, and in the process became basically the toughest sonofabitch to ever wear the uniform. And he did all this while Christ was still a corporal. Five stars. Beers to you, Clint.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Film Review: SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964, John Frankenheimer)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Rod Serling, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner, Fredric March (THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE), Martin Balsam (PSYCHO, TWO EVIL EYES), Edmond O' Brien (Oscar-nominated here, THE WILD BUNCH, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE).
Tag-lines: "I'm suggesting Mr President, there's a military plot to take over the Government of these United States, next Sunday..."
Best line: "He's not the enemy. Scott, the Joint Chiefs, even the very emotional, very illogical lunatic fringe: they're not the enemy. The enemy's an age - a nuclear age. It happens to have killed man's faith in his ability to influence what happens to him. And out of this comes a sickness, and out of sickness a frustration, a feeling of impotence, helplessness, weakness. And from this, this desperation, we look for a champion in red, white, and blue. Every now and then a man on a white horse rides by, and we appoint him to be our personal god for the duration. For some men it was a Senator McCarthy, for others it was a General Walker, and now it's a General Scott. "

God damn, do I miss Rod Serling. His work at once effortlessly managed to tackle complex political subject matter whilst never appearing overly preachy or hitting you over the head with his generally grim assessments of the human condition. Serling's writing possessed a certain fluidity, mystery, and intellect that almost couldn't exist today; for it struck that near-impossible balance between universal accessibility and a refusal to pander to the masses.

Serling's obviously not the only creative force behind this film (along with director John Frankenheimer and original novelists, Charles Bailey and Fletcher Knebel), but his screenplay definitely sets the tone for the subject matter, which, given the events of November 22, 1963, could be just at home in reality as in the Twilight Zone. And given those then-current events, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY is jaw-droppingly, courageously bold; audacious for any time period, much less in the year after Kennedy's assassination.

Now, John Frankenheimer at his best (SECONDS, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) can easily match Hitchcock for pure foreboding and dread-inducing quoditian suspense, and with the narrative involving the slow unraveling of a hostile takeover of the U.S. government by the military elite, Frankenheimer has plenty of chances to shine. The acting is not only top-notch, it has a tremendous amount of class.

Burt Lancaster was a true razor-edged powerhouse, and to see a sharp battle of wits, politics, and logic between him, Kirk Douglas, Fredric March, Edmond O'Brien, and Ava Gardner shows off the classic Hollywood machine at the height of its powers. This film is beyond excellent; subversive, compelling, entertaining, artful, and a complete masterpiece, and without a doubt, the major template for every political thriller that followed in its wake.

-Sean Gill

Monday, April 27, 2009

Film Review: BLUE COLLAR (1978, Paul Schrader)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 114 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Harvey Keitel, Richard Pryor, Yaphet Kotto (THE PARK IS MINE!, ALIEN, EYE OF THE TIGER), Cliff de Young (THE HUNGER, DR. GIGGLES, THE SUBSTITUTE), Ed Begley, Jr. (CAT PEOPLE, Stan Sitwell on TV's ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, TRANSYLVANIA 6-500).
Tag-lines: "Whatever became of the "American Dream?"
Best exchange: (while watching THE JEFFERSONS) "Now that shit is pitiful. I dunno how in the fuck a nigga like that gets some money anyway. This is the dumbest shit - look at this muthafucka. Look like a muthafuckin' ostrich. Look at that shit . . ." "––If you hate it so much, why dontcha just turn it off?" "Turn it off? Are you kiddin' baby? Took me three years to pay for that muthafucka. We gon' watch everything they show on it. All the shit they show. Even the snow when the muthafucka go off, I'm gonna sit here and watch that."
Fun trivia note: Pryor evidently punched Keitel and hit Kotto with a chair during filming.

Possibly the greatest movie ever made on the subject of how, no matter what machinations, logic, luck, or hard work are in play, the Average Joe still gets screwed. Paul Schrader is an absolute genius when it comes to channeling existential masculine frustrations (and the raw fury and/or crippling impotence that generally results), and has made this (sometimes self) examination the centerpiece of his oeuvre. Whether it be a cabbie's hatred of society achieving catharsis through pimp-killing (TAXI DRIVER), a Bible Belt father's quest to find his daughter amidst the grime of the sex industry (HARDCORE), a palooka's attempts to reconcile his life with his fists (RAGING BULL), a male prostitute reassessing his self-worth (AMERICAN GIGOLO), or a writer who feels that that words are no longer enough (MISHIMA), Schrader makes sure that you UNDERSTAND them, understand clearly how their thought processes work, and how they get from point A to point B. In BLUE COLLAR, our heroes (a pugnacious but sympathetic Harvey Keitel, a hot-tempered but family-minded Richard Pryor, and a jaded but passionately loyal Yaphet Kotto) are certainly flawed, but they're men that have been forced into a corner. (The performances are insane, intense, and perfect: Keitel, as always, is semi-nude and fully committed, Kotto is at his most raw and powerful since BONE, and Pryor brings a crazed desperation to the role that makes you wish he had taken the dramatic route more often in his career.)

The problem is, the powers that be have such an immaculate system- pitting poor against poor, black against white - that all of that bottled up righteous anger ends up getting unleashed at the wrong time, at the wrong people. Its a tragic drama that plays out over and over and over, and Schrader's film is a as much a Fuck You to the fatcat bosses and corrupt unions as it is a begrudging realization that there's just no way to stop people from marching to their doom. The performances are astounding, and Schrader, in his directorial debut, reveals the true breadth of his talent.

I really don't want to reveal a single detail about this film, but one scene involving industrial chemicals and a confined space, is one of the most claustrophobic, viscerally horrifying things I have ever seen, and for that, it bears special mention. Five stars.

-Sean Gill

Friday, April 24, 2009

Film Review: ENTER THE NINJA (1981, Menahem Golan)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 101 minutes.
Tag-lines: "Warriors of a lost martial art! Hired assassins ...human killing machines!"
Best one-liner: " I want a ninja. Find me a ninja. I want Lander's land!"

The words 'Cannon Films,' 'Golan,' 'Globus,' and 'Ninja' indicate one thing, and one thing only: supreme awesomeness. They usually involve land-developer villains, bad dubbing, lots of slow motion whooshing sound effects, spit-take inducing dialogue, and the moral of the story is usually that 'you can't fight a ninja without another ninja.' All of this is gold, and Menahem Golan (THE APPLE, OVER THE TOP) is a veritable 80's King Midas. The film begins with ten minutes of sheer ninja action (and no dialogue- but this ain't ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST).

When the big unveiling comes, and we finally see the face of the newly anointed's a sweaty white guy with a bad hangover?! that Franco NERO?! And indeed it is. Nero is legendary: he's worked with Fassbinder, Bunuel, Castellari, and John Huston; he's played Jesus, Valentino, Versace, Django, and Lancelot! At first I thought he was phoning it in, but if he hasn't won you over by the half-way mark, you really shouldn't be watching these kinds of movies anyway.

"This is the Ninja symbol for mastery of time and space."

It really is!

Ohhh, it was just a fake head!

There's Nero versus 500 guys with tight jeans; dudes are impaled with benches; Sho Kosugi looks real pissy;

Christopher George chews scenery like its his job (and it is);

and there's a baddie named The Hook ("When he had both hands, he was a real sonofabitch. Now hes a lot worse.").

Nero to Hook: 'Hang around, I'll be back.'

Cockfighting is presented as good, clean fun ("Sir, would you like me to set up a cockfight for your guest?") and the soundtrack is very FRIDAY THE 13TH with crazed strings, some 'nee nee jaa jaa' whispers (like THE OCTAGON!), and a 'wah-wah-wah wuhhh' trumpet thrown in for flavor.

I think they used up their smacked in the nuts quota for like 12 movies here- there's hooks, fists, feet, knees, billyclubs, etc. all making serious contact with balls in extreme closeup. And, I gotta say, the ole 'ninja hiding the tree above you' trick NEVER gets old.

The vague misogyny of Cannon Films never gets old, either!

All of this ends with the best freeze frame since HOOPER.

I could go on, but I think you should really just see it for yourself.

Oh, and of course, there's this:

Five (ninja) stars.

-Sean Gill

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Film Review: THE PRINCE OF PENNSYLVANIA (1988, Ron Nyswaner)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 87 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Keanu Reeves, Fred Ward, Bonnie Bedilia, Amy Madigan, Jay O. Sanders (JFK, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD).
Tag-lines: "He's The King Of The Badlands... The Rebel Of The Road... "
Best one-liner: "We offend the common rabble with our truth." (but said in the Keanu Reeves-voice it takes on a more colorful quality).

Well, let's see here. First, let's talk about why I rented this. The cover. The rookie Photoshop floating heads combined with Keanu's side mullet and muttonheaded smirk made this seem like it could be a forgotten trash gem.

It's not. Instead, it's a pretty thoughtful indie dramedy. It's exactly the sort of movie that, if it were made today, would be a mawkish, groan-inducing shitstorm starring a bunch of CW actors or worse on their summer hiatuses. And I'm not talking current films getting trumped by the nostalgia factor, or unintentional laughs, or anything I usually talk about when I talk about an 80's film. It's just a fact. This is the kind of movie they fuck up when they try to make it today. Written and directed by Ron Nyswaner (the writer of PHILADELPHIA and the underrated SOLDIER'S GIRL) and starring Keanu Reeves, Fred Ward (REMO WILLIAMS, SOUTHERN COMFORT, many an Altman film),

Bonnie Bedelia (DIE HARD), and Amy Madigan (POLLOCK), THE PRINCE OF PENNSYLVANIA manages some solid moments. It even played at Cannes!

The main thrust is the bleak, overcast, suburban depression caused by living in Buttfuck, Pennsylvania, and the painful values systems therein. It tackles these themes similar to Hal Hartley would, and creates some memorable scenes- a drugged Fred Ward having flashbacks to a Vietnamese brothel and confusing his son for a prostitute (which is wisely not played for laughs), biker punks crashing a prim 'n proper high school dance, Keanu wandering around in oversized winter clothes, and Amy Madigan acting as intense as the wife of Ed Harris should. Madigan even wears a Freddy mask at one point,

which is probably an in-joke from Rachel Talalay, production exec here and line producer on several NIGHTMARES and director of FREDDY'S DEAD.

Bonnie Bedelia in Keanu's garage bedroom. Side note- why do so many 80's characters randomly have mannequin parts in their living spaces (i.e., Ferris Bueller, Pee-Wee Herman, etc.)?

Anyway, there's likable, relatable characters, believable quirk, and some existential angst that works.

(Without a doubt it's what made Gus van Sant want to use Keanu in MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO.) And see Keanu pronounce "Socrates" properly, one year before BILL AND TED. Four stars.

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Film Review: UNDER SIEGE (1992, Andrew Davis)

Stars: 3.5 of 5.
Running Time: 103 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Director Andrew Davis (THE FUGITIVE, CODE OF SILENCE, ABOVE THE LAW), Gary Busey, Steven Seagal, Tommy Lee Jones.
Tag-lines: "It's not a job...It's an Adventure! "
Best one-liner: "This little piggy went to market... This little piggy stayed home... And this little piggy... oh, mama... oh, mama... went wee, wee, wee, WEEEEEEEEE...! ALL THE WAY HOME!" [Tommy Lee Jones air-guitars to "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the missile takes off]

As I've said before, the 90's were all about remaking movies and putting them on a boat. Why? Because boats appeal to our vapid 90s sense of fun. Or tragedy. Cause if you need to wipe the slate clean, you can always sink the boat, and that's always high drama. So WHAT ABOUT BOB? becomes CAPTAIN RON, SPEED becomes SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL, LOVE STORY becomes TITANIC, THE ROAD WARRIOR becomes WATERWORLD, and DIE HARD becomes... UNDER SIEGE. And UNDER SIEGE would just be another low caliber DIE HARD rip-off were it not for two key elements: Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey.

More on them in a minute. Now, I'm not opposed to Steven Seagal as a rule, but he just hasn't won me over in the way that, say, Chuck Norris or Carl Weathers have. Maybe that's a character flaw on my part, but it's something we're all just going to have to live with.

Seagal's bland. He may be an asskicker, but he's got the charisma of a dead fish (which I guess is the appeal). Toss Busey and Jones into the mix and it's another story entirely.

Tommy Lee Jones is wearing a studded leather jacket and acting only slightly more restrained than he is as "Two-Face" in BATMAN FOREVER. He calls himself 'the Roadrunner' and says "Mee-meep." Gary Busey is in drag, dancing, and smoking a cigar.

I guarantee you that he personally requested to be in drag. (The pilot episode of I'M WITH BUSEY sheds some light on this.)

He says things like "OutstAInding," "Do I look like I need a psychological evaluation?" and spits in Seagal's soup. This is still not a riveting movie, per se, but Busey and Jones push it over the edge into definite likability. Three and a half stars.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Film Review: DEAD HEAT (1988, Mark Goldblatt)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 86 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Treat Williams (HAIR, PRINCE OF THE CITY, MARATHON MAN), Joe Piscapo (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, SIDEKICKS), Vincent Price, Keye Luke (GREMLINS, the #1 son in the 30's CHARLIE CHAN movies), Darren McGavin (THE NIGHT STALKER, RAW DEAL, A CHRISTMAS STORY) , Lindsay Frost (COLLATERAL DAMAGE, Shannon's stepmom on TV's LOST, THE RING), Professor Toru Tanaka (THE RUNNING MAN, PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, DARKMAN), Shane Black (here, in a cameo, writer of LETHAL WEAPON, LAST ACTION HERO, KISS KISS BANG BANG).
Tag-lines: "These cops are on the biggest murder case of their lives... their own." or "You can't keep a good cop dead."
Best one-liner: "Lady, I'm fuckin' dead!"

You have to wonder about the siblings Terry and Shane Black. Shane's first screenplay to get produced was LETHAL WEAPON in 1987. Terry's was DEAD HEAT in 1988. They share a similar meta sensibility, a penchant for witty banter, and a love of the absurd. Only the thing is, LETHAL WEAPON made twice as much in its opening weekend than DEAD HEAT made in its entire run, and Terry just went on to write a few episodes of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, while Shane got a slew of A-pictures.

Shane, here in a cameo as a Patrolman.

But it doesn't matter, because DEAD HEAT is a fine achievement in and of itself. It's a lower budget LETHAL WEAPON infused with equal parts ROBOCOP and DAWN OF THE DEAD, and the result is a whacky ride that continually ups its psychotic stakes. Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo are our cops, Piscopo playing the unhinged Neanderthal jokester and Williams the sensitive straight man. Unlike, say, Mel Gibson in a similar role, Piscopo forgets to make the role likable.

He's SUCH a dick, though, that it still manages to work, even if unintentionally ("You are under arrest. You have the right to remain disgusting."). Williams, as always, is stellar, and as the film progresses, he undergoes a transformation into slick, punk, Bill Paxton in NEAR DARK-esque one-liner dropping tough guy.

Then we got several minor horror icons from Darren McGavin (THE NIGHT STALKER) to Keye Luke (GREMLINS), all culminating with an appearance by the legendary VINCENT PRICE.

Just when you think you know where the film's going, it throws completely maniacal twists at you...I don't want to give anything away, because half of this film's charm is its ability to induce spit-takes in the viewer as the madness exponentially increases. But still take note of the film's point of no return, which pits our cop buddies against a horde of viscous, undead Chinese food.

If you're at all a fan of Shane Black or the buddy cop genre, you really do owe it to yourself to check this one out. Five stars.

-Sean Gill