Friday, March 29, 2013

Film Review: BRONCO BILLY (1980, Clint Eastwood)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 116 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke (THE GAUNTLET, SUDDEN IMPACT), Geoffrey Lewis (DOUBLE IMPACT, MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL), Scatman Crothers (ZAPPED!, THE SHINING), Bill McKinney (THE GREEN MILE, DELIVERANCE), Sam Bottoms (APOCALYPSE NOW, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW), George Wendt (HOUSE, CHEERS), and Merle Haggard.  Cinematography by David Worth (BLOODSPORT, director of KICKBOXER).
Tag-line: "The most outrageous of 'em all."
Best one-liner:  "We're barroom buddies and that's the best kind..."

I'm not gonna lie: I had some pretty low expectations for BRONCO BILLY.  Its always sat at the back of my unwatched Eastwood pile, keeping films like PINK CADILLAC and CITY HEAT company.  (Now that I've actually seen the thing, I guess we can stuff TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE back there in its old spot.)  Anyway, my point is this:  BRONCO BILLY is actually a good movie.  It's low key and occasionally goofy, but overall it's a strong, dramatic ensemble piece that effortlessly (sort of Howard Hawks by way of Robert Altman) recreates the atmosphere and camaraderie of what it's like to make your way in the world with a group of traveling players.

The players in question are Bronco Billy (Eastwood) and company, a touring old-timey Wild West show in an era (1980) that may have outgrown them.  Bronco Billy hasn't paid his crew (who include Scatman Crothers, Bill McKinney, and Sam Bottoms, among others) in ages, and their ramshackle show sometimes plays to crowds in the single digits.  Billy can't get female assistants to stick around for more than one performance (there's plenty of knife and horse tricks that go easily awry), local law enforcement's bustin' their balls, and things in general simply ain't lookin' too good for the gang.  At least not until they meet a stranded rich bitch with a heart of gold (Sondra Locke, Clint's real-life girlfriend at the time) and a whole variety of zany, salt of the earth characters along the way.
This film is also notable, because it may have been the first time that the upper echelon of the critical establishment began to take Clint's films seriously: it garnered a special screening at the Museum of Modern Art.

Anyway, let's get right down to brass tacks:  here's eleven reasons why you should consider joinin' up with BRONCO BILLY and the gang:

1.  "Barroom Buddies."

The subtle majesty of the classic duet as performed by Merle Haggard and Clint Eastwood is truly something to behold.  Here, Clint sings along with Merle on the radio, much to the chagrin of Sondra Locke and a snoozing Scatman Crothers.  The simple joys of this kind of raggedy friendship are what "Barroom Buddies" and this film are really about–  "We're barroom buddies and that's the best kind, nobody fools with a buddy of mine– I laugh when you're happy, and I cry when you're blue-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoooooooooooooooooo!"  Simply poetry.

2. Post-coital "Barroom Buddies."

 After a wild night with Clint, Sondra Locke awakens the next morning, alone, dreamily singing "Barroom Buddies," a cappella, to herself.  This is patently insane, and I appreciate it.

3.  Speakin' of barroom buddies, look- it's Normie!  The original barroom buddy!  He's lookin' a little slimmer than usual, and he's got unexpected sideburns, but that's an uncredited George Wendt, all right.

Hopefully there's enough CHEERS fans around to appreciate the fact that in this universe, Wendt tends bar, instead of functioning as the sort of ultimate, beer-swilling, one-liner quipping barfly.  He even razzes Scatman Crothers about paying his tab; interesting since Norm never pays for a beer in the entirety of CHEERS unless he absolutely has to (his enormous tab is a constant source of amusement).   Also, the whole Clint & Sondra romance here has a real proto-Sam & Diane vibe to it, as well.  Anyway, yeah... CHEERS, ladies and gentlemen.

4.  Continuing on this tangent– the mood of the film is fantastic.  It's a little straighter and squarer than URBAN COWBOY, say, but that's fine too.  Smoky bars, wood-paneling, cheap beers,
barroom brawls worthy of a Burt Reynolds movie, and a place where the goddamn house band is Merle Haggard himself!

5.  The custom revolver door handles on Clint's car. 

If you can't appreciate the inherent genius and trashiness of it all, then you probably shouldn't be watching BRONCO BILLY anyway.

6.  This can't really be illustrated by a screencap, but at one point, Clint and the gang make a stopover at a mental hospital.  One of the night shift guards can be heard whistling Eddie Rabbit's wondrous theme song to "Every Which Way But Loose."  This, A: made me really happy, B: caused the song to be stuck in my head for several hours afterward, and C: reminded me that I really need to get around to reviewing the EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE novelization.

7.  Classic Eastwood crony Geoffrey Lewis.

He's a serious old-school country boy character actor in the vein of Bruce Glover, M. Emmet Walsh, and Joe Don Baker.  He's collaborated with Eastwood seven times, fathered Juliette Lewis (!), and always delivers offbeat, nuanced performances.  Playing Sondra Locke's ex, he's sort of a kooky antagonist throughout the piece, and he gets a lot of great glowering reaction shots.

8.  Scatman Crothers.

1980 was a good year for Scatman (see also:  THE SHINING and LAVERNE & SHIRLEY), and he personally rated BRONCO BILLY as one of his favorite performances.  As a quack doctor and the master of ceremonies, he brings a positive energy to the piece that makes the brotherhood of the troupe all the more believable.

9.  Rotating balloon-target POV in the knife-throwing sequences.
'Cause who doesn't like this sort of thing?

10.  Seems like Clint has to save Sondra Locke from getting raped in almost every movie (see also: THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES).  This entry in particular refers to the hilariously deranged expression upon Eastwood's face as he pulls a would-be rapist off of Ms. Locke (of course this leads immediately to a Philo Beddoe-esque parking lot brawl).

11.  Art imitates life: aka, Clint's a cheapskate.
I've heard on multiple occasions (most thoroughly in Sondra Locke's tell-all, THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE VERY UGLY and Patrick McGilligan's CLINT: THE LIFE AND LEGEND) that Clint is something of a real Scrooge McDuckin', penny-pinchin' cheapskate.  I'm not here to sling mud, but it seems that Clint's pretty self-aware of this, and in fact inserts references to it throughout his canon.  (The first that comes to mind is in DIRTY HARRY, when he doesn't want his expensive pants cut with scissors by the doctors trying to treat his bullet wound: "For $29.50, let it hurt.")  Well, here in BRONCO BILLY, we get Clint hassling Sondra Locke and deducting a dime from her paycheck when she needs to make a phone call.  Then there's the big robbery scene, whereupon two hoodlums stick up a country bank and Bronco Billy, with his trick shooting prowess, blasts their weapons out of their hands and saves the day.  But what is it that pushes him over the edge and into action?  It's when he sees the robbers shove a little boy, whose piggy bank explodes onto the floor, and the pennies go everywhere.
I'm going to choose to believe that it's not violence against the child– it's the sight of all those sweet, sweet pennies that gets his blood up.  In fact, later in the film, we learn that Billy and his gang are almost all ex-convicts, and they later even attempt a half-hearted train robbery.  So Billy's not against robbery in general– he simply was distraught because (and I'm going to paraphrase a Man with No Name quote from THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY)  "I've never seen so many pennies, wasted so badly."

In closing, BRONCO BILLY's a wonderful little Western slice of life that proceeds at its own pace and charms you with its scruffy, wood-paneled, Barroom Buddy charisma.  Four stars.

–Sean Gill

Monday, March 25, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... THINGS TO COME

Only now does it occur to me...  what an inspiration THINGS TO COME must have been on everyone from George Lucas to George A. Romero.

A heavy does of H.G. Wells future history that was designed as a sort of retort to the world of METROPOLIS, THINGS TO COME is an enjoyable, extremely well designed piece of classic science fiction.

I knew that it was influential, but I didn't quite realize what an impact its visuals had on everything from LOGAN'S RUN's domed metropolis to THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK's Cloud City.

Then, the most curious thing:  "the wandering sickness."  Wells describes a plague in the latter stages of his Second World War (which stretches into the 1960s), spread by a poison gas dropped from airplanes.  Though it seems to be a vague prediction of the radiation sickness from atomic bombs, it immediately reminded me if the zombie film canon:  the victims wander a post-apocalyptic landscape in a daze, arms outstretched, and are highly contagious.  Infected family members must be killed immediately in order save other survivors; difficult decisions must be made.

I had always heard of I AM LEGEND/THE LAST MAN ON EARTH being the primary influence on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, so this came to me as a surprise.  Even the name, "the wandering sickness," evokes latter-day zombie fiction like THE WALKING DEAD.  So:  H.G. Wells predicted (often in roundabout ways) devastating aerial bombing, the Second World War, genetic engineering, automatic sliding doors, cell phones, flat-screen TVs... and the zombie genre!

Friday, March 22, 2013

FRESH PISS screening this Saturday at the Atlanta Film Festival

Fresh Piss, which has played previously at Bideodromo in Bilbao, Spain, and won the 2012 "Best Transgression Short" at the PollyGrind Film Festival in Las Vegas will be appearing this Saturday at the prestigious, Oscar-qualifying Atlanta Film Festival.  For those in the area, it will screen as a part of the "Unconventional Shorts" program on Saturday, March 23rd, at 8:00 p.m. at the Plaza Theatre (1049 Ponce De Leon Ave. NE) in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood of Atlanta.  Tickets and more information are available here.  The Atlanta Film Festival describes the screening as "boundary pushing storytelling that will make you laugh, cringe, and think, proving that puppets and animation aren't just for kids.  They are artforms to be reckoned with."

The film is described thusly:  "A nasty little scene, set in a cesspool. A nefarious, masked man hires two fun-loving, Thunderbird-swilling hobos to assist him in a specialized task."  It's dark, political, and features a curious combination of masked men and ventriloquist's dummies.  It stars John Sellers, Isaiah Piper, Astrid Ferrari, Scooter Pie, and Eric Schmalenberger, and was written, shot, edited, and directed by Sean Gill.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Film Review: NEITHER THE SEA NOR THE SAND (1972, Fred Burnley)

Stars: 3.8 of 5.
Running Time: 96 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Starring Susan Hampshire (LIVING FREE, THE LEGEND OF DOOM HOUSE), Frank Finlay (LIFEFORCE, THE PIANIST), Michael Petrovich (TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS, ESCAPE 2000), Michael Craze (DOCTOR WHO, SATAN'S SLAVE), David Garth (SUPERMAN IV).  Cinematography by David Muir (GIRLY, AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT).  Based on the novel by Gordon Honeycombe.
Tag-line: "A bizarre story of love, life, and death."
Best one-liner:  Not really that kind of movie.

Readers of this site know of my obsession with "melancholy horror," the designation I gave to a sub-genre of mostly 1970s films that are incredibly atmospheric and just as likely to depress you as they are to scare you.  The seaside is a melancholy horror standby (THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, THE FOG, DEAD AND BURIED, many stories by H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James, et al.), as it's a site of desolate beauty and primal, existential mystery.  The mood practically builds itself: the crashing of waves, the calling of the seagulls, the overcast skies, the hands thrust in overcoat pockets, the windblown hair...
Now, every once in a while, I like to venture up the coast and spend the weekend in a fishing village.  I always go in winter, and that's a matter of personal preference; I'd much rather spend time on an barren, snow-covered beach than a crowded, sunbeaten one.
Having received a heartfelt, anonymous endorsement of NEITHER THE SEA NOR THE SAND from a reader last fall, I figured that the perfect ending to the day would be to have a glass of brandy outdoors in the cold ocean breeze, and then to watch the film before retiring.  It was a fine choice!

Atmospherically, NEITHER THE SEA NOR THE SAND is brilliant; David Muir's cinematography capturing that primal, existential mystery of the ocean that I alluded to earlier.

Neither the sea nor the sand?  Well, I'm happy to report that there's a hell of a lot of sea and sand in this movie, and that's a big part of why I like it.
There's also a nice, haunting, Morricone-esque score by Nachum Heiman that goes a long way toward establishing the proper ambience.

NEITHER THE SEA NOR THE SAND is primarily a love story, albeit a tragic and occasionally ghoulish one.  On the beaches of Jersey (no, not New Jersey), Anna (Susan Hampshire) and Hugh (Michael Petrovich) begin a whirlwind romance, the sort that feels oddly natural because they're both brooding, solitary-types.
For a long time, it feels simply like a mildly gloomy seaside romance, and you nearly forget that you're watching what is ostensibly a "horror film."  Not wanting to spoil the plot, I'll say that it soon thereafter takes a hard turn into territory usually mined by say, NIGHT GALLERY or TALES FROM THE CRYPT.  There's a little "Monkey's Paw" in there, and a little Lucio Fulci-style filmmaking, too, which leads me to my next point.

NEITHER THE SEA NOR THE SAND is a much-maligned film, and while I did enjoy it, at times I could see why it has been beset by this reputation.  It's fairly uneven in tone, which becomes most laughably apparent in a bicycle montage that jarringly switches out the somber music to which we've grown accustomed with an unrepentantly zany tune that would be more at home in perhaps a Benny Hill sketch or a 70s gum commercial.  (Inexplicably, the Image DVD chooses this music to accompany its main menu!)

Then there's the matter of some bordering-on-soft-core love scenes that go on for a touch too long and silly melodramatic dialogue like "Is this more than an affair?... it's a love affair!" Also,  the supernatural "rules" of the film's universe seem arbitrary and needlessly cryptic, which can sometimes result in the kind of pretentious Euro-camp that is best left to Lucio Fulci.

All that being said, those drawbacks are certainly not deal-breakers, and the film overcomes its imperfections to build to a poetic, doleful finale that is pure melancholy horror.

Also, we have David Garth and Betty Duncan as a fantastic, bickering Scottish couple,

the prolific character actor Frank Finlay (who here sort of looks like a young David Warner) as Hugh's mincing, weirdo brother,

and, hey, they even manage to work in a van explosion.

In the end, NEITHER THE SEA NOR SAND is an emotional, intriguing misfit of 70s horror, like a  battered, hand-carved fisherman figurine collecting dust at the far end of a curio shelf, out-peacocked by the more colorful knick-knacks, but retaining a certain, rare, grim dignity.  Nearly four stars.

–Sean Gill

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... ARGO


Of course, I would've been happier if it was THE FOG or CREEPSHOW or ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, but hey, it's still something I never figured would happen.  She still looks great, too, as "Serski the Galatic Witch" in the fake film-within-the-film, ARGO.

Also, the film gets a few bonus points for having a blue Chewbacca (Bluebacca?),

 who I'm going to go ahead and pretend is actually Chewie's relative from all that Life Day nonsense in THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The return of Michael Ironside... on eBay?!

Longtime readers of this blog know of my deep appreciation of all things Michael Ironside.  So you can imagine my shock/delight/jealousy upon seeing this fantastic eBay listing for the actual sword that Ironside used in the masterpiece HIGHLANDER 2.  

I've written about the glories of Ironside in that film before (albeit in the context of a tie-in movie beer commercial) as General Katana, the irritable, ratty-long-haired, possibly alien villain of the piece.  Now I'm desperately wishing I had the $9,500.00 necessary to make this obscure piece of movie ephemera from a notorious bomb my very own.

You gotta love lasher33's listing, though:

"Have you seen the "Highlander Katana"?  Of course you have...
Up close & personal probably, because there are so many copies out and about it isn't even funny anymore...
The Kurgan sword?
Strong & stylish & brutal & well... boring... (but that is just MY impression...)
There is, however, ONE sword that had it all: style, design, power, size and a nice twist...
Unfortunately, it was lost...
The battle was fierce, the clashes real and one after the other was destroyed until there wasn't any left.
Or so they thought... 8 were made, but only 7 were destroyed during the filming of the movie.
The sword Michael Ironside used in the fighting scenes of Highlander II: The Quickening has proven to be immortal itself.
Granted, the movie itself was erm... crap... and yet, the sword is the most powerful ever made. Period.
As far as I can tell, it has never been on display anywhere as I bought it straight from the guys that made it way back in 1991, right before the film was released.
Remember: "There can be only ONE!"

Anybody who bellows "THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!" in regard to a HIGHLANDER 2-related eBay auction probably deserves your $9,500.00.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


I wrote previously about my new film GIRLS BEFORE SWINE, which debuted this year at Love Fest, but now there is an official Love Fest site whereupon you can view some of the other films in their entirety as well as a new trailer for GIRLS BEFORE SWINE.  Indiewood/Hollywouldn't also gave us some coverage here.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Film Review: DISORDERLIES (1987, Michael Schultz)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 86 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Starring The Fat Boys (Mark Morales, Darren Robinson, & Damon Wimbley), Anthony Geary (FISH TANK, BLOOD SABBATH), Tony Plana (VALLEY GIRL, JFK, UGLY BETTY), Marco Rodriguez (COBRA, THE CROW), and Ralph Bellamy (HIS GIRL FRIDAY, ROSEMARY'S BABY, THE WOLF MAN).  Written by Mitchell Klebanoff and Mark Feldberg (BEVERLY HILLS NINJA).  Directed by Michael Schultz (THE LAST DRAGON, CAR WASH).  Featuring music by Bon Jovi, Bananarama, The Fat Boys, Ca$hflow, and The Art of Noise.
Tag-line: "Lapping up luxury and rapping up a storm!"
Best one-liner:  Every... single... line.


The Fat Boys are back
And you know they can never be whack
The Fat Boys are back
As thespians they've a natural knack

To film goers they had nothin' to prove
Cause they stole our hearts already with the masterpiece KRUSH GROOVE

Disorderly orderlies with skills you can't dismiss
They say "Let's do this like Brutus... or maybe (Jerry) Lewis"

A gold-diggin' son sprouts an scheme quite cockamamie
Holy shit,  his dad is played by Ralph Bell-amy!?

Anyway the son, he wants his wealthy dad dead
So he hires on the Fat Boys to nurse him in his bed

Son leaves 'em alone because he's content
That sooner or later dad'll meet with an acc-i-dent

With Hawaiian shirts and Davy Crockett hats
The Boys aren't quite ready for tuxedos and spats

First they play poker, ante-in' up with his pills

Then they get the idea for some Bellamy cheap-thrills!

You think he's gonna hate it at the roller discoteque
But he ends up fittin' perfect, like a cassette fits a deck!

The Fat Boys are back
And you know they can never be whack
The Fat Boys are back
As thespians they've a natural knack

There's a Fuller-style WHITE DOG who needs to be fought
Whoa!  Social commentary!  Who woulda thought?

Hey– Remember when COBRA was drinkin' the beer
and told this guy "Go ahead, I don't shop here"
Well that Cannon Film baddie of Golan n' Globus
Shows up here with his same old sour puss
He could maybe even pass for– well he could almos' 
STAND AND DELIVER like a poor man's Ol-mos

The Fat Boys are back
And you know they can never be whack
The Fat Boys are back
As thespians they've a natural knack

Dressed to the nine
Scottish pine
Fine red wine...


They're livin' the high life cause they're such good guys
Hell, I think the Fat Boys rate a Nobel Prize

Well to the evil son that don't mean a thing
Who I forgot to mention looks a lot like Sting

He assaults dad's mansion 'stead of eatin' some crow
And the denouement seems culled from a RAMBO

The baddies get Krushed by the weight o' the boys
Even in combat they've got a natural poise

It gets real zany n' there's a fire jet of flame
but dontcha worry kiddies cause we end on a freeze-frame!

The Fat Boys are back
And you know they can never be whack
The Fat Boys are back
As thespians they've a natural knack


-Sean Gill